A voice cries out; “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord…”Isaiah 40:3 (NRSV)
I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord…”John 1:23 (NRSV)
Preparing the Way
Both Isaiah and John (the baptizer) seem to be saying the same thing. We need to prepare the way for the Lord. This is an ancient custom that is still practiced today. In times of old, as a king was making his way to a village, people would literally run out into the wilderness, and clear the dirt path making it smooth for him to travel on. The way was prepared. Today, we do the same thing, albeit in a different manner. For example, when the President of the United States visits a city, the way is prepared by the Secret Service, the Mayor, and the Chief of Police. Different actions, same reasons.
But I wonder if Isaiah is telling us something different, something the Desert Fathers instinctively understood. In order for the Lord to enter our hearts, we need to prepare the way for him. And to do that, we just might need to be in the wilderness. Allow me to paraphrase Isaiah, “If you want to prepare the way for the Lord, go do it in the wilderness.” When we remain in our busy internet-driven lives, it is really difficult to prepare our hearts for God’s grace to enter. This is why our Youth Pastors always teach our kids about quiet time. Somehow, we adults tend to forget this.
The wilderness, your wilderness, is all around you. It can be as simple as your sofa at 5:30 a.m. It can be a walk along the irrigation canal flowing out of the Snake River. For some of us, it may be a much-needed sabbatical from the work of ministry; not to recharge batteries so we can do more, but to prepare the way of the Lord so we know why we’re doing what we’re doing. Whatever your wilderness is, my prayer is that you carve out time measured in minutes, hours, or weeks, and go find your wilderness place so that your heart is prepared to answer the Lord as he draws near. God bless you all.
Pastor Patrick Jones
Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find the Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’Luke 2:10-12 (NKJV)
Who is this baby? He is the Savior, the Christ, and the Lord of all creatures. Believe these three descriptions of Jesus. To not believe is to not have any true understanding of Christmas. Jesus is the Savior who can free us from our sins and save us to the uttermost. He is the Christ who begins to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies regarding the Jewish Messiah. And He is deity. Not merely a human lord, He is Emmanuel—literally God with us.
Also, it is remarkable to see that this messenger from heaven brought the greatest news at first to humble shepherds of low estate on terraced fields outside of Bethlehem. Secondly, the sign is stunning as it is the birth of the greatest King in human history. His first throne room happened to be a feeding trough with smelly animals in an adjacent shelter outside of where humans dined and slept. How can this even be? Being typically caught up during the Christmas season with ornate decorations, rich foods, and extravagant parties, let us pause for a moment and think of those earthly surroundings of this baby so long ago.
We pray that you all have a Merry Christmas during this Advent season in the year 2020.
Pastor Todd Wood
Shepherd of the Falls Lutheran Church
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:Philippians 2:5-8 (NIV)
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature [b] of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
The Sacrifice of Christmas
Sacrifice – we usually associate sacrifice with Good Friday and Easter, but I want to call attention to another day of sacrifice – Christmas, the birthday of Christ. You say, “He didn’t sacrifice himself for our sins on Christmas, Pastor.” No, He didn’t but He gave up everything to come and be the atoning sacrifice for our sins on Good Friday thirty-three years later.
You may be wondering what did He give up? Here in Philippians 2:6, Paul tells us He gave up heaven and all His glory there.
Why? Because he didn’t consider equality with God the Father as something that only He should get an advantage from nor did he consider it something to be held onto only for Him. He was fully God and felt no necessity to cling to the honor and privilege that were his as God’s Son. In other words, He left his glory in heaven and abstained from using his majesty except when it pleased him on earth. But He never lost his majesty. Rather, he “made himself nothing” in the service of others.
May we remember how He gave up Heaven and came for us this Christmas. Ultimately, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death on the cross. There he satisfied God’s wrath against our sins so that by faith in Him alone, we are justified. Now, our sins are forgiven and we will spend eternity with Him, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit and all believers who have gone before us.
May we, as He did, serve others this Christmas and not look to our own interests but to the interests of others.
Pastor Bruce Grentz
Our Savior’s Lutheran Church
Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love!
Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion!
Wash me completely clean of my guilt; purify me from my sin!
Because I know my wrongdoings, my sin is always right in front of me.
Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow.Psalm 51:1-3,7-13 (CEB)
Let me hear joy and celebration again;
let the bones you crushed rejoice once more.
Hide your face from my sins; wipe away all my guilty deeds!
Create a clean heart for me, God; put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!
Please don’t throw me out of your presence;
please don’t take your holy spirit away from me.
Return the joy of your salvation to me and sustain me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach wrongdoers your ways, and sinners will come back to you.
While we generally think of Advent as a season of hopeful waiting, there’s another aspect to the Advent season that we often forget. Like Lent, the Advent season is a time of repentance as we prepare ourselves spiritually for the birth of Jesus. We take time to hear the words of the Law, convicting us of our sin and challenging us to change our hearts and lives – returning to the Lord we will see on Christmas Day as the Gospel is revealed in Jesus. One of the best examples of repentance in Scripture is Psalm 51, written by David when he was confronted with the terrible acts he committed regarding Bathsheba, abusing his power over her and murdering her husband to cover it up.
The beautiful thing about this Psalm is the progression it shows. King David acknowledges that he has done wrong, and cries out to God for mercy. He doesn’t just pretend he didn’t sin, or trust in potential future forgiveness, he says, “I know my wrongdoings, my sin is always right in front of me.” All too often, we ignore our own sins, never truly acknowledging them or changing the behaviors behind those sins. We count on others to be better than us, and forgive us even when we have not changed our hearts and lives. But that’s not what David is doing: he knows he is in the wrong.
And so he pleads with God to change his heart, through words that are familiar to us. He asks God to cleanse him from his sin and restore him to God’s presence. And then comes my favorite part of the Psalm: “Then I will teach wrongdoers your ways, and sinners will come back to you.” How can we share with others the good news of repentance and forgiveness when we haven’t repented ourselves? But when we do, we want to share; we want others to experience what we have experienced, through the combined efforts of God’s Law and Gospel, so that they may also return and be ready to experience Jesus anew at Christmas.
Pastor Mike Galica
Holy Cross Lutheran Church