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Sermon – December 6, 2009: Prepare

Sermon for Sunday, December 6, 2009 The First Baptist Church of Lewisburg

Prepare

Malachi 3: 1-4; Philippians 1: 3-11; Luke 3: 1-6

There was a hit song in 1950 called “If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d’ve Baked a

Cake.” That’s about the need to prepare for the arrival of someone special. If I’d have

known you were going to come by, I’d have picked up the kitchen. I’d have made the

house more hospitable. I’d have cleaned myself up–I’d have done something to show

that your coming here is something special, something which requires things to be just so.

The point of putting the house right for company is not that we want people to think

we are better housekeepers than we customarily are.. The point is to show guests respect,

to make it easy for them to be there, to make them comfortable. If things seem especially

nice and it conveys that we have taken pains to make it nice for them, so much the better–

they feel, immediately upon their arrival, that they are regarded as important.

I’ll tell you a bad part of a poor job. If you’re a student assistant to somebody, if you

are an intern or a trainee or in one of those kinds of positions, and the person for whom you

are an understudy doesn’t want to go greet the arriving guest, or doesn’t want to go give

the talk to some particular group, you might get sent. You’re young at this point, of course,

so you are worried about how you’ll do. You don’t realize the question is whether you’ll do

at all, whether the arriving guest or the expectant audience is going to feel that you are an

adequate representative to acknowledge their worth. Conversely, if you are invited to

some institution to be part of a program, and the person who is there to greet you is the

president of the place, then, even if you weren’t even thinking in terms of your own

importance before you arrive, you’ll feel important.

The season of Advent is for putting our best foot forward for the arrival of Christ.

We have customs which relate to that– candles in the window might be seen extending

their spirit of welcome beyond holiday company to the Christchild, and the same might be

supposed for all the other sprucing up. Even the moral habits of the holiday season, the

permission we give the Salvation Army to offer us countless opportunities to be charitable,

and the end of the year check-writing we do for our favorite causes, puts a shine on our

souls.

Whether we go deeper than that in seeking to be prepared for what God achieves

in Jesus Christ is a matter for us as persons of faith. This morning’s scriptures offer a

perspective on what it means to be sent salvation, and how to regard it.

Paul’s encouragement to the Philippian church, that he is hoping and praying that

God give them the insight they require to lead blameless lives, and so be prepared for the

Day of the Lord, reminds us that the arrival of God’s agent of change isn’t just about the

world around us getting sorted out. It’s about everything that’s not right getting put right, so

that it won’t pay to be too much out of line when God’s person gets here. Otherwise the

question is: how much of us will be the grateful recipient of redemption, and how much of

who we’ve become will be stuff that has to go for God’s vision to be realized?

The fact that getting ready for an important future event can be both hopeful and hard

may be illustrated by one approach to a class reunion. Some people want to attend their

class reunion, especially if they haven’t seen their classmates for decades, and appear

remarkably fit, and younger, and as successful or more successful than anyone there. How

would that happen? By significant pains being taken between now and next June.

People might hire a personal trainer to bully them into fitness, and get some cosmetic things

done to their teeth, and buy a new wardrobe, and who knows? a new car or something

else, and stroll into the reunion confident of impressing everyone.

They might be remarked upon as looking good and doing well, and at what cost?

Hours and hours forgoing they would have enjoyed eating, and on the treadmill, and doing

aerobics, and sitting in the chair of the cosmetic dentist, and money spent on all those things

and other things.

That’s how the arrival of God is conceived in the Bible. You want to be at your best

when God comes, when your humble mortal existence is going to be elevated by the

presence and attention of the Almighty, but that means effort. That means that the

comfortable customs of everyday self-preoccupation must be put aside, and you have to

be mindful, instead, of what it is that God wants, and how it is that you can show God, when

God gets here, that you have been doing what God wants.

The prophet Malachi warns people that that’s how it is. Don’t be so eager for God

to show up, he says, because God’s going to have to change who people have been in

order to get them to live the right way before God. Those makeovers can be trying.

The apostle Paul is living a made-over life when he writes to the church at Philippi.

One of the things it’s making him endure, at this point, is imprisonment. He’s got a big

perspective about it, though. He’s grateful for the moral support he gets from churches like

the one at Philippi–knowing he’s not forgotten means a lot in his circumstance– and he sees

that they, too, face testing. God is at work to change the world, and Paul is confident it’s all

for the good–but he knows that it is a trial to be true for God until God resolves everything,

and he prays for the Philippians that they be helped by God to do a good job figuring out

how they should live and what they should do in the meantime. He wants them to be

blameless when God arrives, and knows that requires special grace from God.

John the Baptist is the herald of Christ in the gospels, the one God sends as a

forerunner, to announce and prepare. John’s message is the same mix of hope and

accountability. The language of Isaiah’s prophecy–the one fulfilled by John as the

messenger telling the physical world to smooth the way for God’s salvation to come and

be seen–is symbolic; but its image of the power of God to remake and renew in order to

achieve God’s purpose remains both a call to hopeful effort and a promise of new life.

 

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