• Introduction: What does it mean to prepare?  Last week, it was mentioned that the Lord told us about the tribulation of the End Times not so we would live in fear, but that we could be ready for them and expect them.  The analogy was given of bracing one’s self when a car crash is imminent.  Bracing one’s self is preparation for the impact.
    • However, both the OT and Gospel readings for today refer to preparing the way for the Lord. We confess Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, so that would make today’s message one of preparing for a king to visit.  What would you do to prepare for the king to visit you?
      • A king actually visited St Olaf College in Northfield, MN in 2011.  King Harald V and Queen Sonja visited the college in 2011.[1] It was their third visit, but if I recall, their first with Harald as King. Norwegian immigrants formed the college in 1874, which is about the time my forefathers, the Rendahls, came from Norway and settled in Freeborn Co, MN.  A king from Norway visiting a place I lived or worked would be a big deal!
      • I’m sure the college cleaned up every spec of dust that was within 3mi of the campus, so that the college would be presentable for the king and his wife.  I’m sure the students were told to clean up and be on their best behavior.  Videos I have seen of the event indicated these and other steps were taken to prepare the campus and its people for the king’s visit.
    • In the season of Advent, what is it we should do in order to prepare for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to visit us? That is the question we will explore this morning from the scriptures.
  • Let us Pray:  Lord God, Heavenly Father, just as John the Baptist prepared the way for Your one and only Son to come, we too should prepare for the coming of Jesus a second and last time to this Age when You tell Him to harvest the earth.  This means we need to make straight the crookedness which exists in our soul.  Unfortunately, we cannot straighten ourselves out without the work of Your Spirit in us. Please send Your Spirit to sanctify us with Your word, for Your word is truth.  We pray this to You, Heavenly Father, who reigns with the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.
  • Prophesy: As one reads Isa Ch#40, those familiar with G.F. Handel’s Messiah will recognize several of the movements of the Messiah based on the first several verses.  In fact, the first sung parts of Handel’s Messiah, the Recitative, the Aria, and Chorus are all based upon Isa 40:1-5. These verses are critical to setting the table so to speak about the purpose our Lord Jesus was to accomplish. Jesus Himself quoted from Isa 61:1 in the synagogue of Nazareth His whole purpose for taking on our flesh. He did this in order to redeem us from certain eternal death in hell. 
    • The Gospel according to Luke quoted Jesus reading from Isaiah - 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.[2]
    • John the Baptist was told to proclaim Jesus as the Lord’s redemption for His people.  The work of John the Baptist was foretold in Mal 3:1 - “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. Malachi wrote 400-some years prior to John the Baptist even being thought of by mortal beings.  But, God had Him in mind to essentially run ahead of Jesus to prepare the way for Jesus to be reveal to mankind as the Savior of the World.
    • Another prophesy of the OT is found in Mal 4:5 - “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.  Jews to this day integrate the meaning of that verse into their Seder Dinner in celebration of the Passover.  As part of the Seder ritual, they leave a place for the prophet Elijah at the table because of this prophesy in Malachi.  They still are waiting for the Prophet Elijah to return.  The problem is Elijah did come!  John the Baptist was confirmed by Jesus to be the Elijah who was to come in Mat 11:13-15 - 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.  Before we think we are so enlightened relative to the Jews, let me repeat v15 one more time – He who has ears to hear, let him hear. Our soul cannot hear the Word of God any more than the Jews or those of other religions without the Holy Spirit working faith in us to believe the Word.  We need to constantly humble ourselves in the presence of the Lord’s Word knowing that without Him sanctifying us with the Truth, we would be as blind as any non-Christian.
    • John the Baptist’s actions consistent with the words of Isa 40:3 are a fulfillment of someone anointed by God to prepare the way of the Lord.  John preached to people in the desert around Bethany near the Jordan River.  However, people were coming from all over the region, even from Jerusalem, to hear the word John was preaching.  He was setting people up to receive the King of Kings and Lord of Lords by preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  People would repent of their sins, and the Lord would provide the forgiveness of sins through the Father’s one and only Son.
  • Application: It is unfortunate the ESV translation of Isa 40:4 misses out on some key words which show up in Mark 1:3.  The KJV actually rendered Isa 40:4 more accurately than the ESV.  Let me read from the KJV v4 – Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: The Septuagint version of the OT has two key words which are rendered clearly in the KJV: σκολιὰ; εὐθεῗαν.  σκολιὰ from the Greek means “crooked”.  For example, someone suffering with scoliosis is someone with a crooked spine.  We get the English word, scoliosis, from this Greek word, σκολιὰ.  εὐθεῗαν from the Greek means “straight”.  In Mark 1:3, we read from the Gospel - the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,[3]’”  The Gospel writer of Mark was paraphrasing the Septuagint to make the point inspired by God the crooked path will be made straight.
    • I’m nit-picky about words in the Greek, because words mean things.  Translations that want to be contemporary may be overzealous in their mission to the point of actually missing the point in God’s word. There is another example, this time from Ps 78:8.  The KJV has - And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God.  We didn’t hear the word “straight” in the KJV, but in Ps 78:8 the Greek word, κατηύθυνεν is used.  The root of the Greek κατηύθυνεν is the same root as εὐθεῗαν found in Isa 40:4. Taking the KJV rendering of Ps 78:8 and substituting “straight” for “aright” would sound like - a generation that set *not* their heart straight,
      • Why am I making such a big deal of English translations missing the simple word “straight”?  It’s because making our heart straight with God’s word is exactly what it means to prepare the way for the Lord.  Ps 78 is about exhorting the Lord’s people to follow God’s word.  When we follow God’s word, we are aligned “straight on” with His will, instead of acting on our crooked nature.  This is proper preparedness for meeting with our Lord and King.
    • I mentioned in the introduction to this message the students and staff at St Olaf College most likely prepared to meet with King Harald of Norway by cleaning up. It is a simple thing to clean the outside of the body.  We take a bath or shower and we are clean – on the outside.  What does that make us on the inside, in our soul?
      • Jesus said to His disciples after celebrating the Passover that they were already clean because of the word He spoke to them. (John 15:3)  Judas Iscariot had already left the Passover meal to go to the church leaders and set up the betrayal of Jesus for a measly 30 pieces of silver. He was not clean.  It is not clean to be in the presence of the King with such malice toward the King as Judas displayed.  Before our baptism washed away our sins, we too were filthy.  Noah Hoffstetler will be coming before the Lord on the 27th to be baptized, thereby being cleansed from his sins. You might ask what could a 6mo old possibly have done to sin from which he would need to be cleansed?  Answer: being conceived in sin, because of the sin he inherited from his dad, who inherited sin from his dad, and the list goes on all the way back to Adam.  Noah and everyone of the human race including you & me already have in them the desire to sin and rebel against God.  Washing the skin may clean off dirt and grime, but it does not cleanse the soul of this sin.  Baptism cleanses the soul, and the word of God with the water of baptism made us clean. In order to be prepared to meet the King, we need to be cleansed with the waters of baptism and continue in our baptism by staying in the word of God.
    • In our St Olaf scenario, I mentioned people probably wore their clean clothes and the best that they had.  I made a mistake in the outline on the back cover of your bulletin when I referenced Gen 19:10 for putting on clean clothes.  That should have referenced Ex 19:10 where 10 the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments 11 and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people[4].
      • God wanted the people He had just redeemed from the slavery of Egypt to be gathered before Him at Mount Sinai.  I get the impression from reading the account of the exodus from Egypt that the two million or so Israelites didn’t have a lot of smarts when it came to relating to the one true God.  There were gods in Egypt, but I don’t know a thing about how one was supposed to approach any of those so-called gods.  Neither do I know whether the Israelites knew anything about those gods.  I do know that the Lord made it clear in Ex 19:10 the Israelites had three days to prepare for meeting with Him at the base of Mount Sinai.  That preparation included meeting Him with clean clothes.  Even more important, the symbolism of what it represented to the people to be clean before the Lord.
      • I don’t know what detergent you use to clean clothes at your home.  I do know that even the most dazzling clean clothes cannot hide any sin from the Lord.  I’ve heard people say over the years that it doesn’t matter what you wear to church. I think it does matter to a point, and I base that thought in part on what I just read to you from Ex 19:10.  We should be clean in order to meet with the King!
      • Additionally, Jesus told the parable about a wedding feast in Matt Ch#22.  There was someone at the feast without wedding clothes on. The person was speechless when confronted with why they were at the feast without wedding clothes.  The end result for that person is summed up in Mat 22:13 - 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ Did the person in the parable get tossed out just because of not wearing the appropriate attire?  That wasn’t the point of the parable.  The point was being invited into the wedding feast comes with it a reasonable expectation of preparedness, and of cleanliness in the sight of the Lord.
      • The best means of being prepared to meet with the King is to be clothed in Christ.  The Lutheran Confessions to which we subscribe constantly refer to the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  The reason for that is because the Apostle Paul made a big deal of these sacraments.  Remember: a sacrament is something instituted by God that uses a visible means for the forgiveness of sins.  As said a few moments ago, baptism is done with the visible means of water instituted by God with the words, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  With this in mind, we can understand what Paul referred to in Gal 3:27 - 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.[5]
      • Baptism prepares us for attending the wedding feast those in Christ will some day attend in heaven.  We will attend the feast with the appropriate wedding clothes provided by Jesus.  He is the one who has prepared us to meet Him and the Father, by His Spirit.  The prophet Isaiah wrote about the day we will get to sit down at the Lamb’s high feast - 10 I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, My soul will be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a groom puts on a turban, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 
  • Conclusion: We covered a lot of detail about how to prepare to meet with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  That is the point of the Advent season and I have laid out for you from the scriptures some thoughts on preparation for Jesus to enter and stay into your soul.  I want to go back and emphasize just a couple points.
    • From our Isaiah text for today, we prepare the way of the Lord (Isa 40:3) through repentance (Mark 1:4).  John the Baptist did not mince words with anyone of the need to repent of sins.  Luther made it clear in the Confessions that it isn’t possible to confess every sin we have ever committed.  Even the most enlightened in the faith is still blind to their own sins.  The take-away from the call to repent is to confess to God you are a sinner and in need of His pardon.  I can assure you a contrite heart our God will not despise.
    • The prophet Joel wrote by inspiration something that helps us understand what a contrite heart looks like - 12 “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping, and mourning; 13 And tear your heart and not merely your garments.” Now return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in mercy
      And relenting of catastrophe[6].
      • What God said through Joel is we need to be sorry with all our heart and not hang on to some pet sins.  We shouldn’t go through the motions of confessing our sins at the start of each church service here at Christus Rex.  We need to be sorry we have disappointed our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, by rebelling against His word when we sin.  With that, we then need to make the effort to go forth and sin no more, out of gratitude that our sins are forgiven.  The effort to go and sin no more is what straightens the path which would otherwise be crooked.   Amen.


 


[1] https://patch.com/minnesota/northfield/st-olaf-welcomes-royal-majesties

[2] Luke 4:18-19 from ESV at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%204&version=ESV

[3] Mark 1:3 from ESV at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=mark+1&version=ESV

[4] Ex 19:10-11 from ESV at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=ex+19&version=ESV

[5] Gal 3:27 from NASB at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians%203&version=NASB

[6] Joel 2:12-13 from NASB at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=joel+2&version=NASB