We are in a season that involves a great deal of preparation. We prepare our homes and our church buildings with decorations for Christmas. In northern climates, the local hardware stores offer “winter survival [or preparedness] kits.” Such kits are suggested for a driver who might become stranded in his car during a blizzard.
Such preparations are external. The “winter survival kit” includes blankets to protect our bodies from the bone-chilling cold. Our Christmas decorations are hung to make our homes and church buildings appear more beautiful.
So what are we doing to prepare for the greatest (and last) event to affect this world, namely the promised return of Jesus Christ to judge the living and the dead? What are we going to use to “cover ourselves” from Him who knows our thoughts? What are we going to use to decorate our lives to make them look more appealing to Him who says, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am Holy”
Two thousand years ago, God’s people were preparing for Jesus’ first arrival. At that time, many people thought that external preparations were enough. Some clung to their ancestry, saying that since they were physical descendants of Abraham, they looked good enough to God. Others thought that by an outward keeping of God’s Commandments (not working on the Sabbath, not killing anyone, not stealing, and so on) they were prepared to go to heaven.
Therefore, God sent John the Baptist ahead of Jesus to prepare the people to meet Him. John’s work might best be summarized with the word prepare. The angel Gabriel told a doubting Zacharias that his son’s work was to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). Hundreds of years before his birth, both Isaiah (40:3) and Malachi (3:1) prophesied of how John would “prepare” the people for the arrival of the Messiah, the Savior of the world. After his birth, Zacharias, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to his newborn son, “You will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways” (Luke 1:76).
John the Baptist was born to prepare people to meet the most holy God, the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. What a daunting calling! Where would John even begin? Where would you begin?
Preparing to meet the Lord begins with the heart. John came preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2) Repentance is a 180-degree turn. It is a turning around as you realize you were headed in exactly the wrong direction. John used the Law of God like a mirror to show the people the reality of their sins and to call them to a repentance of heart which was to be reflected in actions. “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:8). Through the Law, John showed the people their desperate condition and their need to be rescued from sins of the heart and sins of the mind. They were then prepared to hear of “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:19).
As we prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus, we need to hear John’s call to repentance. The mirror of God’s Law needs to show us when we are headed in the wrong direction and have made sinful choices. Through such preaching, hearts are being prepared to meet the Lord who comes in the Gospel with His saving love announcing, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
May the message of John the Baptist continue to prepare us to meet the Lord.
Nathan Pfeiffer is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Spokane, Washington.