2nd Sunday in Advent
4 December 2011
St. John's, Chicago, IL
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
"Be prepared!" Lord Robert Baden-Powell, when he founded the Boy Scout movement 104 years ago, found this an important concept. When choosing a motto for his organization of providing training for boys to grow in maturity, citizenship, outdoor skills, and service, this simple phrase was chosen: "Be prepared."
While serving in the British army in 1890's South Africa, Baden-Powell recruited youths to be "scouts" -- boys who aided the military troops as messengers, and who were being prepared for the conditions they were facing against the Dutch.
Saint John the Baptizer was not a Boy Scout. Although he was all about preparing. He was sent by the Father in heaven to "prepare the way of the Lord." When the Angel Gabriel prophesied his birth, already it was clear that John's life's work would be to "prepare the way of the Lord."
So how is the Lord's way prepared? I know. You try to prepare. You try to "make His paths straight" in your home and life. But how do you prepare? Are you better prepared when you put all your effort and concentration into serving God? Are you better prepared by listening only to "Christian radio," or watching only certain films or TV programs? Are you better prepared with only associating with the rights people, and not "sinners?"
Stop and listen to all that, for a moment. Sound familiar? It was a common sin among the Pharisees whom John was calling to repent! The Pharisees felt they could "prepare the way of the Lord" by doing the right thing and associating with the right people. They trusted in their own preparations. And John knew they were on not the straight path of the Christ, but the wide, easy, yet crooked path leading to hell. Don't be a condescending Pharisee! Your attitude can quickly fall into that same trap, and your trust ends up in yourself, not Jesus.
Trusting your own preparations will not get you into God's kingdom. It will help you fall short. It is the same problem that plagued many medieval monasteries; monks were often taught to be comforted in their many prayers and works -- their own preparations, rather than solely in the blood of Jesus.
Trusting in your own preparations makes as much sense as a pre-born baby getting her family ready for her own arrival. She cannot get a nursery ready, purchase diapers and other supplies, strap in a car seat, and get the house baby-proofed, all while still in the womb. Neither can a person prepare himself or herself for the Lord.
But St. John the Baptizer brings a different kind of preparation. He does not have you prepare yourself. He does not give you false hope in segregating and separating from the "undesirables" and sinners around you. He shows you that you cannot save yourself.
That is why "all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem" sought out John. They were cut to the heart by his message, and the Holy Spirit led them to realize that they could not save themselves. They could not even prepare themselves!
Instead, the Lord uses John to bring His preparation. He boldly proclaims God's Law, in order that the crushed sinner may be healed and restored with the Gospel. He baptizes that people may be given "forgiveness of sin, rescue[d] from death and the devil, and give[n] eternal salvation, as the words and promises of God declare."
Yes, John's baptism brought these precious gifts of God, because it wasn't really "John's" baptism, it was the Lord's! And the Word of God, as it attends that water, does what He says. He forgave, rescued, and saved the repentant Judeans who came out and heard the Lord's Word preached, and were cleansed in the Jordan by water and the Word. Just as your Father in heaven forgave, rescued, and saved you through that sacred washing in His font!
Today we welcome a number of brothers and sisters in Christ, who are now officially attaching themselves to St. John's. They have been baptized and received the preaching of Christ's Law and Gospel. They are forgiven, rescued, and saved. They are prepared.
The Holy Spirit has gathered each of you at this specific time, in this specific parish, to be prepared. He is the One making you prepared, as you could never hope to do. He removes your sin and guilt, and cleanses you, making you holy, in Christ.
What amazing joy, dear friends in Christ! The Lord, in His wonderful wisdom and gracious giving, has brought you together as His people here. He prepares you as individuals to receive and be strengthened in His faith, and gives you hope and confidence in His ongoing care and coming in His gifts, as well as the longing for His return in glory.
As you await our Coming King, it is a blessed, hope-filled waiting. He has sent John the Baptizer, and all His other prophets and apostles, indeed all your pastors in your life, to proclaim His Word to you and to prepare you. You are prepared. You are forgiven. You are called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified. You are ready to come to His Table and excitedly exclaim, "Come, Lord Jesus!" Amen!