Advent Week 2: Prepare the Way!

This school year has been a doozy. While I normally keep a pretty clean house, and like to live a clutter-free life as much as possible, the parsonage has gotten quite out of hand over the last 5-6 months. This is perpetuated not only by our extreme busyness, but also by the fact that we have not regularly been having people over. No weekly book club or Bible study in the living room means that I will forsake cleaning in order to study or just relax for a bit.  However, if you are anything like me, whenever guests come over, you always gather the troops and ensure that the house is picked up and presentable.  Floors get mopped, cobwebs are removed, toilets are scrubbed, clean towels are hung.  In our house, this is never truer than when my mother is the guest who is arriving.

Having been trained to clean house by a woman whose cleaning prowess knows no rival, the very thought of my mother’s arrival can cause me to experience homemaker anxiety for months. When she is scheduled to come, the cleaning begins weeks in advance, with all necessary tasks carefully outlined on a list so that each item is checked off as it is completed. Furniture is moved and vacuumed, glass is polished, lightbulbs are dusted, the closets are emptied, cleaned, and restocked, bedsheet corners are sharp and crisp. . . it is an all out military exercise. Lord help me if my mother ever just “popped by” as a surprise. I’m sure I would faint dead away if I was not completely prepared for her arrival.

As we look toward the 2nd Sunday of Advent, I am reminded of the teaching of John the Baptizer when he proclaimed to all of Jerusalem: “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him” (Luke 3.4).  John was the human herald of Messiah’s earthly ministry. But hold up just a tick!  The message “prepare the way for the Lord” goes back way, way, way before that!

As we discussed in last week’s meditation, the Old Testament is filled with information about the coming Messiah. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of years before the Christ child was born in Bethlehem, God was telling us to get ready for His arrival. We could spend hours going over the Old Testament prophecies about Christ’s coming, but let’s focus on what God did in those last few months on earth before Jesus was born. Let’s zoom in on the Scripture that tells us about the virgin Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, who was pregnant at the same time as Mary.  Elizabeth’s child, John, was born just before Jesus. Even before Elizabeth became pregnant, an angel announced to her husband that their child would be named John and that he had a very specific assignment.

 Read Luke 1.5-25, and also Luke 1.57-80, and Luke 3.1-20

God was “preparing the way” for the Messiah well in advance of his arrival. Without the anxiety that I experience in anticipation of my mother’s visit, God set out a plan to ensure that the world was as prepared as possible for the arrival of the Son. It is beautiful to me that God provided a prophet within Jesus’ lifetime to preach of His coming ministry long before he began. John was preaching that the Savior was coming, and he was baptizing those people who repented of their sins. In a sense, John was the person who was cleaning the house; preparing for the arrival of Messiah.

John’s life was set apart to prepare the house for Jesus’ arrival. His entire life was spent focused on this single purpose.

We too, are to be preparing a place for Christ in our lives. All too often, our relationship with Jesus seems to be relegated to an hour and a half on Sunday morning, maybe a quick prayer if we find ourselves worried or in need of something, and if we’re really lucky, we’ll incorporate a little worship music, a bit of Scripture, or something else spiritual into our day. But mostly, many of us tend to not give much thought to preparing our day FOR GOD.  What part of our lives we give to God is often whatever happens to cross our minds in the moment, but it is rarely something for which we prepare ourselves.  Said another way, our relationship with God rarely contains sacred and set-apart time when we spend time alone with Him, seeking His will for us that day.

As we meditate on John’s message, “Prepare the way for the Lord!” this week, consider these thoughts and questions, and come up with a plan to incorporate purposeful, sacred time with your Savior into your daily life.

  1.  As we “prepare the way for the Lord” this Christmas season, what does Christ’s incarnation mean to you personally?
  2. Do you relate to your Savior as both God and Brother? As King and the Lamb who bore your sins? As both all powerful and lowly? As both eternal, and the One who died to give you life? Remembering the significance He has in our eternal lives can help us with ongoing gratitude and humility, which in turn helps us to give Him proper place in our daily lives.
  3. Do you let life’s busyness get in the way of having sacred time with the Jesus each day?
  4. Are you willing to make time each day to have sacred time that is reserved exclusively for reading Scripture, prayer, and listening for the Lord’s leading?
    • If so, write out a plan – prepare yourself for the Lord by scheduling time each day that is reserved exclusively for you and Him.
    • Some of us benefit from having a person we are accountable to as we begin developing a new habit. Perhaps you would consider partnering with another person who would also like to have sacred time each day. Together you can help each other be accountable for preparing the way for this new practice.
    • Do you have children in the house? Beginning a sacred time habit with them is precious and biblical. Find a bedtime story to read from the Bible each night, or begin dinner with a Bible reading and prayer, then spend time talking about the Scripture while you eat. Modeling spiritual life is an important part of being an adults or parent in a child’s life.

Advent Week 1

It All Started with Adam and Eve

God is all knowing. That being the case, we must take into account the fact that he knew sin would enter the world through his most loved creature, the human being. How marvelous that before God made man, he was already setting into motion the plan of salvation for the world. But it might cause us to wonder, “If God knew that Adam and Eve would sin, why did he create them with that ability? Why didn’t he create them with a perfect, pure heart that only desired holiness and worship of God?”

Nature of Children

Let’s consider a child. I would guess that many a perplexed parent has wished that they had a toddler who would behave: not throw tantrums, not bite another child, not say, “no!”, and not run away laughing in a mall full of people. I know exasperated parents raising a teenager who at one time or another wished that their teen would just do what she is supposed to do, be where she says she is going to be, and that she would obediently submit to her parents’ expectations. But even the most taxed parents, would not trade the child with his or her own mind for one without the ability to disobey.

A child who is 100% obedient, who never questions your authority, who is endlessly loving and submissive sounds a lot like a programmed toy. If you ever saw the movie A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, where the little robot boy imprinted on the mother and was the perfect child, catering to her heart’s longing for a child, that’s what I imagine such a child would be like.  The important difference is that the robot child is not perfectly obedient because he loves the mother, he is perfectly obedient because he is programmed to be that way. It is not a choice, it is a preprogrammed response.

Love’s Nature

What, then, is the nature of love? Anyone who has been in love understands that love cannot be forced.  Love that is not given freely is not love. Generally, obedience that is not motivated from love is coerced by fear of consequences.

God created us with the ability to turn away from him because he created us to love him; to be in relationship with him. Love was at the core of our bond with the Father from Adam’s first breath. That love-motivated obedience and devotion is evidenced for us in the life of Jesus. It was not out of compulsion that he obediently came to this earth, nor was he compelled out of fear to submit to death on the cross – the actions Jesus took were entirely, purely, wholly done in love.

Our obedience to one whose love for us is so profound that he is willing to die in order to free us from ourselves, and draw us into this embrace and call us sons and daughters, is obedience that can easily be done in love. It is love that draws us to Christ, love that calls out to us while we were enemies of God, it is love that provided a means for reconciliation, and it is love that died so that we could live.

A Plan from the Start

God put the Advent in motion from creation – the plan was always to send the Son to be a reconciler of humanity to himself. Throughout history, as documented time after time in the Old Testament and affirmed by Jesus, God was laying out the framework of his plan so that when Messiah arrived, we would be able to put the pieces of the puzzle together and understand the beautiful picture it formed. From imagery of the temple, the priesthood, the sacrificial lamb, and the prophecies about the coming Savior, to God’s faithfulness to the unfaithful throughout the ages, we have been provided the evidence of God’s plan being set out from the beginning.

Read Isaiah 44-45. God is imploring his people to return to him. He is presenting arguments on his behalf about the love he has always intended for them to know if they will only follow him. They have been seeking after other nations and idols and worshiping false gods in hope of salvation. God is reminding them that their only hope is in him.

Read Isaiah 61 God goes on to proclaim to Israel how great their lives can be if they will only trust in the one true God.

Advent Meditation – Love is the Key

Despite his faithfulness and his unfailing love for them, the people would not remain faithful to God. The need for a Savior was only illustrated more clearly by fickle human affections, and recurring patterns of sin.

As we prepare for Advent, think of the picture of God that we have in these passages. He demonstrates that he is a God who desires our affection and wants to shower blessing on us. However, we often get in the way of the blessings by our disobedience. Consider the love given freely to us from the Creator of all things, and think of how you might increase your love for him this season.

  1. How has God demonstrated his faithfulness in your life? Can you think of times and places when he has provided for you in times of emotional, physical, or spiritual need?
  2. As you read the passages in Isaiah, do you see consistencies with the promises of Jesus in the Gospels?
  3. In what ways have you struggled (or do you struggle) with your obedience to God?
  4. Do you get stuck holding onto parts of your life that you either don’t trust him with or don’t want to let go of?
  5. What would it take for you to stop fighting God, or stop trying to rely on yourself, and instead simply love him fully?
  6. Take time and pray each day this week
    •  That God would help you to lay aside all that hinders you from loving him fully and giving yourself completely.
    • Acknowledge the sins, lack of trust, fear, anger, or anything else that you know gets in your way.
    • Ask God to show you other things that are barriers between you and him.

Finally, rest in God. Rest in his loving arms, and experience the peace that he offers in his perfect love.