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Advent II: Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord

The repeated refrain of our texts today is this: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” In biblical times, when a ruler came to town, they would send a messenger ahead of them to announce their coming, in order to receive a fitting welcome and then bestow favor on the people. This ancient custom captures a basic human impulse. When someone is coming over to your house, you straighten up! But here’s the incredible question raised by today’s texts: How do you get ready for when God comes? What’s the right way to prepare for the Lord?

In Luke 3:1-6, the Word of God came to John the Baptist, giving him this message for God’s people: “Your sins have made you dirty; wash up before the Lord comes! Sin has made your life like a winding rocky road. How is God supposed to bring you salvation when you’ve put all these obstacles in His way? Fill the valleys that sin has dug, make the mountains of disobedience low. Make your crooked life straight by coming to God for mercy.” This is the lesson that John the Messenger has for us: prepare the way of the Lord by repenting of your sins.

Now, having repented, we can move on to Malachi 3:1-4, and prepare to please God. The fact that you need to repent shows that you aren’t perfect yet, and so when the Covenant Messenger whom the Herald Messenger foretold arrives, he comes as a refiner, one who takes precious metal and smelts it down in the fire to purify it. Before we had chemical tests or a karat scale, the refiner would sit by the fire, scraping off the impurities that bubbled up until he could see his reflection clearly in the molten metal. Your Christian life is all about being refined and purified, until Jesus sees Himself clearly reflected in you.

Now, that outcome is great, but the process is painful: God throws us into the fire! But welcoming and undergoing that refining process, rather than avoiding it or complaining about it, is how you prepare the way of the Lord. God is sanctifying you, so that your offerings of worship and praise will be pleasing in His sight. Malachi says that being refined by Jesus prepares you for a life that pleases God.

So far, we’ve see that preparing the way of the Lord is all about repenting and refining. Phil. 1:3-11, shows us a snapshot of refinement at work, and how it results in pure praise. God was refining Paul in prison, and the Philippians wanted to participate and be refined too! Normal people don’t associate with convicts, but God had given the Philippians special discernment and knowledge, so that where Rome found something to reject in Paul and his message, these Philippian Christians found something excellent to approve.

Rejoicing in their partnership, Paul prays that they will abound in this discerning love so that they will be pure and blameless for the day of Christ. He wants their purity to prepare the way of the Lord! Jesus does for the Philippians what Malachi said the Messenger of the Covenant was to do for God’s people, and here’s the result, which comes out as a bit of a tongue-twister, but it’ll set your heart straight: The Philippians participated in Paul’s purification, partaking of this grace to become pure personally. Purified people praise God purely, and our pure praise prepares the way of the Lord.

With that in mind, let’s consider Luke 1:68-79. This is Zechariah’s joyful song of praise when God reveals to him that his baby son John is the messenger that Malachi prophesied so many years before: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.” And he speaks to his son John in vs. 76: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins.

John prepares the people for the coming of Jesus, when God visits His people in human flesh, to live and walk among them, bringing hope and light and blessing and salvation to the world! And the goal of all this preparation is found in the very last phrase of v. 79: God prepares us so that our feet are guided into the way of peace. When Jesus comes, God wants the result to be peace between God and man. And so for us today, preparing the way of the Lord means following Christ into the way of peace by repenting, by being refined, and by offering pure praise to God. So let all who hear, prepare ye the way of the Lord.

Posted on Wednesday, December 12, 2018 by CJ Bowen