Worship for Sunday, December 5, 2021

Malachi 3:1-4

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.  Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

The Word of the Lord.

Luke 1:68-79

Blessed are you, Lord, the God of Israel,
you have come to your people and set them free.
You have raised up for us a mighty Savior,
born of the house of your servant David.
Through your holy prophets, you promised of old to save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us,
to show mercy to our forebears,
and to remember your holy covenant.
This was the oath you swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
free to worship you without fear,
holy and righteous before you, all the days of our life. 

And you, child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare the way,
to give God’s people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. 

Philippians 1:3-11

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.  It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

The Gospel of our Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I don’t know about you – but I absolutely – positively I love getting ready for things. I like nothing more than to plan and to plot and to prepare. I delight in making lists and checking them twice.

I honestly enjoy things like packing for vacation – because as I pack my mind is busy thinking about the joy of spending tons of time with the people I love most in the world. While I find the water shoes and load the backpacks and gather our hiking shoes – I think of all of the fun we will hopefully have together. I look forward to reading and to hiking mountain trails and to knitting and simply to spending time with my wild – wonderful and slightly weird family.

As I pack – I wonder what strange or bizarre events will unfold during our time away. Because something strange and totally unexpected always seems to happen. What stories we will tell. What joys will come our way. What twists and turns are ahead of us.

Told you we were odd. We spent Boxing Day last year picking up other folks trash.

I anticipate our adventures and our misadventures too.

I spend days – often weeks preparing for these trips. Not because I need to. I could absolutely get our family out the door with the essentials for a week away in less than an hour. Rather – I prepare so much because I find the thinking and the plotting and the planning and the anticipating to be just plain delightful.   Because I love it and it fills me with joy!

In fact – I find at least 50% of the joy in just about anything fun is in the anticipation. Whether it is a vacation – enjoying a special holiday celebration – my first sip of morning coffee – or cuddling up under a cozy blanket at the end of a cold winter’s day.

Scientists call this anticipatory joy. And I am guessing you have all known its delights too.

Anticipating things is fun. Or it can be anyway . . .

If we don’t get carried away and start to ruin the joy with ridiculous amounts of stress.

Sunset in the mountains fills me with anticipatory joy! What fills you with joy?

Which I think so many of us tend to do this time of year. We take a seriously awesome thing like celebrating Christmas too far and we end up making a great big stressful mess of it for ourselves and everyone else in our lives.

Anticipating our Savior’s birth should be fun and exciting.   Preparing for Christmas should be awesome and joyful. But far too many of us make it stressful.

We rob ourselves of the anticipatory joy that could be ours!   All because we put an absolutely ridiculous amount of pressure on ourselves.

We send Christmas cards to everyone we have ever met. Including the girl who sat next to us in high school Chemistry class and to Barbara who is our 3rd cousin 27 times removed on our step-dad’s side of the family.

We insist on baking 47 kinds of cookies from scratch. Even though 7 kinds would make everyone just as happy or even happier!

We have convinced ourselves we need to purchase Christmas presents for everyone in our lives. Even if we can’t afford it. Even if our credit card bills in January will make us ugly-cry (AGAIN this year)! Even if no one in our lives needs more stuff. . .

And then we insist on wrapping these same presents just like the cool lady on Pintrest does. Even though we end up weeping into our hot cocoa or our bourbon at midnight with tape in our hair – glitter on our teeth and absolutely NO Christmas cheer. And the children take to avoiding us because Mom gets “really mean” in December . . .

And then – John the Baptist dares to march into our stressed out – filled up – shockingly busy lives and boldly declares we need to “Prepare the way of the Lord!?!?”

Oh great – what does that mean? Is it hard? Will it be stressful? Where will THAT fit in the schedule? How exactly does that work?

Thankfully when John the Baptist comes to us this week and tells us we need to prepare the way of the Lord – he isn’t talking about wrapping presents or baking cookies.   He doesn’t want us to run the vacuum or to water the Christmas tree. Rather he wants us to prepare our hearts for the coming of our Savior.

John the Baptist asks all of us this week – is your heart as ready for Jesus’ arrival as your house is? Have you spent any time preparing yourself spiritually for Christmas this year?   Or have all of your preparations been focused on presents and cookies and cards? Have you gotten a bit distracted by “all the things” again this year?

For most of us these questions cause us to pause and reflect.   Because we know we have spent way more time writing cards, baking cookies, and wrapping presents than we have spent preparing our hearts for Jesus’ arrival.

It is so very easy to get so wrapped up in our preparations for Christmas that we forget who we are preparing for.

But the good news is we still have plenty of time to prepare our hearts for Jesus’ arrival.

John the Baptist tells us we only need to do one thing to prepare our hearts and souls for Christmas – and that is repent. But what is repentance?

Repentance – isn’t really a word we use all that much in our daily lives. Well – repentance is about facing up to the truth – that we are all sinners who fail to obey God. That we sin and make a mess of things.

Repentance means acknowledging we clutter our lives with all sorts of stuff that keeps Jesus from being the center of our lives.   Repentance means taking an honest look at your life and admitting you need God’s help – that you need God’s grace and mercy. Repentance means admitting we really do need a Savior. That no matter what we do – we can’t save ourselves.

This is a wonderful time of year. So bake your favorite cookies – decorate your Christmas trees –and wrap those presents!

But just don’t forget whose birthday you are preparing for!   Don’t forget you are getting ready for Jesus.

Because our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and God’s amazing grace, love, and mercy really are the reason we celebrate this glorious season.   AMEN.

 

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