Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.
Invocation In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1 Today, in the gospel, we see St. John the Baptist preaching, teaching, and baptizing in the wilderness on the outskirts of Jerusalem. St. Mark reveals that he comes in fulfillment of the prophesies of Malachi and Isaiah. Malachi had prophesied:
Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in : behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.
The prophet Isaiah had said long ago:
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
St. Mark summarizes them both and we hear today:
[St. Mark 1.2-3]
Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
2 There is no missing the point here. St. John the Baptist's mission as prophet is to prepare the way of the coming Lord. And how does he do that? By baptizing in the wilderness and preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sin. He prepares the way of the Lord by saying,
[St. Mark 1.7-8]
There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.
3 Everything John does points to the one coming after him. Every word he says, every baptism he performs, every encounter with the people of Jerusalem and Judea preaches and points to the Christ. The Christ, who is greater than John the Baptist. The Christ, who will bring with him forgiveness, life, and salvation. The Christ, who brings with him the baptism of the Holy Spirit. By that same Spirit, St. John does all he can to make the people ready to recognize, receive, and welcome the Messiah when he comes into their midst.
4 Today, his words do the very same thing. As we hear St. John the Baptist from the pages of Scripture, the Holy Spirit makes our hearts ready to recognize, receive, and welcome the Messiah, Jesus Christ, our Lord. During this holy season of Advent, God uses St. John the Baptist to prepare our hearts, and make us ready to welcome Christ when he comes into our midst.
5 This preparation is three-fold.
• The Spirit prepares us to celebrate Christ's birth and mark the day the Blessed Virgin Mary gave birth to the Son of God in the flesh.
• The Holy Spirit also prepares us to receive and welcome Jesus regularly in the sacred word of Holy Scripture and in the blessed sacraments of our Lord.
• And finally, by these words of the prophet, the Holy Spirit makes us ready to receive and welcome Christ in glory when he comes again on the Last Day.
There is much preparation going on in our hearts during these holy days of Advent: preparation worked by the Holy Spirit himself.
6 Seen through worldly eyes, all this getting ready can seem a bit much. For some there are so many other things to get ready. There are trees to decorate and gifts to buy and parties to plan and cards to mail and people to call and meals to cook. Do I really have more preparation to do in order to celebrate Christmas and welcome Christ? Well, yes, you do.
7 For others, it might seem as there's absolutely no preparation to do at all. These days of Advent look pretty much just like all the rest of the days. Someone prepares all our meals. Someone else prepares all our activities. Someone else prepares everything about our lives. Is there really more preparation I have to do? Well, yues, there is.
8 In both cases, the question boils down to this: What is proper preparation. To what exactly does the Holy Spirit call us so that we may properly prepare to welcome the Lord?
9 Each and every one of us, no matter the state of our health; no matter our physical abilities; no matter our trials and struggles and tribulation: We are all called to prepare the way of the Lord.
• We are called to listen to the prophets: to St. John the Baptist, to Malachi and Isaiah, and all the prophets as they proclaim the coming of the Messiah.
• We are called to heed John's preaching of repentance for the remission of sins, that we might welcome Christ in holiness and perfection when he arrives.
• We are called to faithfulness that takes Christ at his word and receives him now by faith as he speaks his Word to us; as he forgives our sins; and as he comes to us in the bread and wine that are his body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.
• And we are all called to a continual longing and yearning for the End of the Age, when we will see Christ coming on the clouds in glory to take us into everlasting blessedness in paradise.
This is our holy preparation. This is how we all prepare the way of the Lord. This is how we make his paths straight in our own hearts.
10 We are called to this holy preparation certainly throughout out lives, but the call increases in its intensity as our preparations increase in their intensity during the season of Advent. But when we look honestly at our lives, it's not difficult to see that we don't always prepare for Christ in the best way.
• We lose sight of our holy preparation in the midst of everything else we're getting ready for.
• We lose sight of our holy preparation when it seems all our preparation will be handled by others.
When we get lost in all the other preparations surrounding this time of year, or when we fail to prepare at all, we find ourselves unready and unable to recognize, receive, and welcome Christ. We find ourselves ensnared and entrapped in sin, for we fall into the sin of complacency on the one hand, or a sinful busy-ness on the other. So today, by the Holy Spirit, St. John the Baptist urges us repentance. He call us once again to return to the holy things of God which do prepare us rightly for our Lord.
• He calls us to return to the Word of God: to read it, hear it, study it, and meditate upon it.
• He calls us to return to the The Sacrament of Baptism: to flee to the font in repentance through confession and absolution.
• He calls us to return to the Sacrament of the Altar, and there receive Christ himself and all his gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.
9 By these gifts, God himself makes ready the way of the Lord in our hearts, for by these gifts he works forgiveness of our lackluster preparation. By these gifts he properly prepares us for the coming of the Lord. So while you make ready for Christmas, or while others make ready for you, do not fail to prepare your own heart through worship, devotion, prayer, and most of all, repentance. For through these, the Spirit prepares our hearts to recognize, receive, and welcome Christ as he is born in Bethlehem, as he comes to us in his Word and Sacraments, and finally as he comes again in glory on the Last Day. Thus made ready by God himself, we pray: Come Lord Jesus. Come quickly. Amen.
Invocation In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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