This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, December 7, 2014.
Reading: Mark 1:1-8
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today. It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray. Amen.
As Chandra and I await the imminent birth of our two daughters, there have been a lot of preparations. The cribs, both of them, have been assembled and the sheets put on. Baby clothes have been sorted, washed, folded, and put away in the dresser. The changing table—which is admittedly, just the top of their dresser—has been stocked. Baby swings—which have some of the worst assembly instructions I’ve ever seen—are being assembled and put in the living room. The overnight hospital bags are packed and ready to go.
We’ve been making preparations; and, there’s still more to be done. The carseats need to be installed in “the bus,” the glider in the nursery needs to be disassembled and fixed, curtains need to be hung, and a dozen other small little “honey-do” projects have yet to be finished.
When you’re expecting a child, you have to make preparations. It’s important to prepare. It’s not that all the preparing will allay all the anxiety, fear, or stress; but, it does make the transition a bit less traumatic.
When you’re expecting, you make preparations, so that when the big day comes (and sometimes you don’t know when that day will be), you’ll be as ready as possible.
While you may not be expecting a child, you are undoubtedly making preparations. The Christmas season is upon us and there’s much to do: gifts to buy, Christmas cards to send, cookies to bake, houses to decorate, Christmas parties to attend, wish lists to write out, trees to decorate, lights to hang, and you’ve got to visit Santa (right?). In the life of the church, we’re making preparations. We’ve hung the wreaths, lit the tree, and started lighting the advent wreath. Yesterday, Sprague Community Center welcomed some 120 people to their breakfast with Santa event. Next Sunday, there will be a kids Christmas pageant in the morning, during worship, and a Christmas Sing-a-Long in the afternoon. And, then, there’s our preparations for Christmas Eve services (5:30pm at Sprague Community Center and 7pm in the Sanctuary). On this first Sunday of December, we’re all preparing for something as we count down the day s till Christmas.
But I’ve just got to ask: what are all those preparations really preparing us for? Are our Christmas preparations fulfilling some sense of duty or obligation? or are our preparations preparing us to meet God—to see God face-to-face in the Christ child? What are we really preparing for?
Prepare the way for the Lord
…the prophet Isaiah reminds us. “Prepare for God’s arrival! Make the road smooth and straight” (Mark 1:3b, The Message).
Our Gospel lesson for this morning reminds us that the most important preparation we can make this holiday season is not to begrudgingly wrap another gift for a relative we barely like, but to demonstrate and show that God’s love really can and does change our hearts and lives.
John the Baptist—Jesus’ cousin, a spectacle to see with his clothes made of camel’s hair, leather belt, and locust wings stuck in his teeth—“appeared in the wilderness” (see Mark 1:4, New Revised Standard Version) calling “for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins” (Mark 1:4, Common English Bible).
In baptism, we acknowledge and celebrate the grace of God, freely offered to us before we were even aware of it. We confess our sin, accept membership in the family of Christ, and vow to trust in and serve Jesus Christ as our Lord. Baptism is the outward and visible sign of our covenant (holy agreement) with God to accept God’s gifts of freedom and power and to grow in faith through the constant efforts of the Holy Spirit and the life-long practice of prayer, study, service, witness, and worship.
John was calling people to an action that would reveal God’s grace and forgiveness in people’s lives. “Produce fruit,” cries John, “that shows you have changed your hearts and lives” (Matthew 3:8, Common English Bible). Show, in the way that you conduct your lives, that God’s love is real and transformative. Commit to God’s way that hope, joy, peace, and love might come on earth as it is in heaven.
Be intentional this year not to be so consumed with the busy-ness of Christmas that you fail to live into the Good News that God’s love has come to make a difference in the world, to transform it, to bring glory to God and peace on earth.
As the second verse of “Wild and Lone the Prophet’s Voice” reminds us, as we make preparations for Christmas, may our lives
“Bear the fruit repentance sows:
lives of justice, truth, and love.
Trust no other claim than those;
set your hearts on things above.”
Make preparations: prepare the way for the Lord this Christmas.
 “Baptism and The United Methodist Church”(Nashville: Cokesbury, 2010) <http://www.cokesbury.com/forms/ProductDetail.aspx?pid=851904&rank=1&txtSearchQuery=brochure> Accessed December 5, 2014.
 “Wild and Lone the Prophet’s Voice,” verse 2 (Words by Carl P. Daw Jr.; music by David Ashley White © 1989 Hope Publishing Co.; music © 1996 Selah Publishing Co.) in The Faith We Sing (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), No. 2089.