(Malachi 3:1-4, Luke 3:1-6)
Billy D Strayhorn
After some last-minute Christmas shopping with her grandchildren, Grandma was rushing the kids into the car when four-year-old Jason said, "Grandma, Susie has something in her pocket." He reached in and pulled out a new red barrette.
Though she was tired, Grandma knew it was important for Susie to take the barrette back to the store, tell manager what she’d done, apologize and then put the item back where she had found it. So, they did just that. Later, they stopped for a few quick groceries and at the checkout, the clerk asked, "Have you kids been good so Santa will come?"
Big brother Jason said, “I've been very good, but my sister just robbed a store.”(1)
Obviously, at four, little Susie didn’t fully understand the Commandment “Thou Shall Not Steal.” Part of that misunderstanding was human nature and the desire to take whatever you want. But part of it was just her age and inexperience. Misunderstandings like that happen all the time, even to people with experience and understanding.
Take for example the character in our Scripture today, John the Baptist. I’ve always referred to John as weird Uncle John, because every family has a relative that nobody really connects with. They only show up at the holidays but their lifestyle is so different and they are so out there that we don’t know what to say or do or how to act in their presence. And that’s our reaction to John the Baptist during Advent. He just seems to break in on our Christmas celebrations with his raucous confrontational message which seems to destroy the mood totally. Let’s look at the 2 passages for this morning and you’ll see what I mean. Malachi 3:1-4, Luke 3:1-6
Malachi 3:1-4 (NRSV)
 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.
Luke 3:1-6 (NRSV)
 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.'"
Now having read John’s message the question for today is this, “Is There Room For A Prophet?” Will the prophet meet the same fate as Mary and Joseph as they tried to find room at the inn? Is there room in our world and in our Christmas for a Prophet? The answer is “Yes!” Why? Because . . .
I. WE NEED SOMEONE TO PREPARE US:
A. We Need Someone To Prepare Us and help us make and take the proper prep time.
How many of you watch the Food Channel? I love Iron Chef, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Good Eats and sometimes Rachel Ray. But one of the things all of the chefs and cooks talk about is Prep Time. I’ve noticed on Rachel Ray’s 30 minute meals, that sometimes, she cheats. On those shows, she pulls all the ingredients out of her little fridge and the onions, celery, carrots and everything else is already diced or chopped or prepped for throwing together so she can get it done in 30 minutes. That’s OK, I really don’t need to watch her chop onions or dice whatever. But I think all of that ought to be included in the prep time.
And we need prep time, especially as we prepare our hearts for Christmas. If we don’t take or make the right kind of spiritual preparations, we are sending the wrong message to our families, our friends and even to God.
B. Dr. James Moore of St. Luke's in Houston, Texas tells about breakfast with a friend. This friend is a sales representative for a large national company, this friend told Dr. Moore about a recent exchange with his new sales manager.
It seems this friend was driving his new boss around town when they happened to pass near the friend's home. This friend asked the new sales manager if he would like to stop by his house and meet his family. His wife was baking an apple pie, and his children would be coming in from school. Would he like to meet them?
“Let's get one thing straight right now,” the manager replied. “I'm not interested in your family. I'm not interested in your wife or your children. I'm not interested in you personally at all or any of the circumstances of your life. All I'm interested in are results. All I'm interested in about you is your sales record!”
The friend told Dr. Moore: “That really hurt. I felt as though someone had slapped me across the face, but you know, I realized something. I realized that God is the opposite of that! God is interested in my home and family. God is interested in my wife and children. God does care about me personally. He is interested in all of the circumstances of my life.” (2)
That is the good news of Christmas. But if we don’t take the time to prepare for Christmas, we are like that boss who didn’t care about anything but bottom line. Sometimes we get in that mode. That’s why we need the Prophet.
We Need Someone To Prepare Us and help us make and take the proper prep time.
II. WE NEED SOMEONE TO REMIND US:
A. We Need Someone To Remind Us what and who this season is really all about.
We need a Prophet, we need lots of Prophets to remind us that we are blessed beyond compare and that we are called to be a blessing. We need a Prophet to remind us that the first ones to know were the poor; the poor shepherds watching their flocks. We need a Prophet to remind us why Jesus came.
We need a Prophet who will confront this season of Gifts and Parties and Commercialism and remind us that it is not about stuff but about a baby and a relationship which is offered by God through this baby. Yet we seem to get it all twisted up with Santa somehow, not that Santa is a bad thing, it’s just that Santa is secondary to what Christmas is all about.
B. Watch This: Jesus and Santa
That’s why we need the Prophet. We Need Someone To Remind Us what and who this season is really all about.
III. WE NEED SOMEONE TO POINT US:
A. We Need Someone To Point Us in the right direction out of the Wilderness.
You see, sometimes we get lost. We lose our way in life. Maybe we used to know who we were. Or we used to know our purpose. One day we wake up and found we’re really lost in the wilderness and can’t remember who we are, whose we are or our purpose in life.
Then, there are those who never knew their way. They either never knew or were never told who they were. They never knew they had a purpose. Their whole life has been lived in wilderness.
We Need Someone To Point Us in the right direction out of the Wilderness. We need a Prophet to point us to Jesus.
B. At the close of a Sunday morning service in a church in Florida, the pastor stepped to the altar table where the communion elements were waiting. After saying a few words of explanation, he asked those who were to serve the elements to come forward. As he handed the trays to the servers, he looked up. Standing before him was a tough-looking fellow with numerous tattoos on his arms.
The pastor had never seen him before, but he figured he was someone who had been designated to serve and he just didn't know about it. He handed the stranger two trays, one holding the bread and the other, the wine. The stranger gave him a strange look but took the trays and walked off with the other servers.
In a moment he was back, standing in front of the pastor and he whispered, “Which of these do I eat first?” The pastor realized this young man was totally unfamiliar with their tradition. He explained that most people ate the bread first, then drank from the cup. "Should I do that now?" the young man asked, his nervous hands shaking as he held the trays.
"Why not?" the pastor chuckled. He took the trays and offered the elements. Gingerly, almost cautiously, the stranger took first a piece of bread, then the cup. "You have just taken Jesus into your body," the pastor smiled, trying to encourage him. The young man's eyes filled with tears. He was embarrassed and quickly returned to his seat.
After the service was over the pastor saw the same fellow coming toward him. Before he could move the young man threw his arms around the pastor's shoulders and began weeping loudly. The pastor stood there and held him as he cried. A few moments later a woman came and stood with them.
"I'm his wife," she said, her own eyes filled with tears. "He's so embarrassed. He's never been in a church service in his life. He has been on drugs and alcohol for years. This week he accepted Jesus as his Savior and asked to come to the service this morning. I told him there might be a time when he could come forward and say he had accepted Jesus. When you asked the servers to come forward, he thought that was the time. Then you handed him the communion trays, and he was confused and embarrassed. He didn't know what to do with them."
The pastor stepped back and looked this young man in the face. His once-hardened features were soft with tears. "God loves you so much," said the pastor, smiling. "He saw you take that tiny step toward Him and was so overjoyed He placed in your hands the most precious thing the church has, the sacrament of the body and blood of His Son. Then He told you to go give Jesus to other people."
"But I didn't know what I was doing," the young man wept.
"None of us knows what we're doing," said the pastor. "We just obey, and God honors our obedience by blessing us with gifts. The only ones who receive nothing are those who do not step out. There is no wrong time' to accept Jesus." (3)
There’s no wrong time or maybe even any wrong way to come out of the wilderness and accept Jesus. That IS why He was born. That Is why He came. We Need Someone To Point Us in the right direction out of the Wilderness. We need a Prophet to point us to Jesus.
In a "Peanuts" comic, good old Charlie Brown says to Linus, "Life is just too much for me. I've been confused from the day I was born. I think the whole trouble is that we're thrown into life too fast. We're not really prepared."
Linus asks, "What did you want . . . a chance to warm up first?"
The Advent season is supposed to be our chance to warm up. It's that time to prepare our hearts and homes for the birth of the Christ child. It's that time when we put all the decorations in their place, the presents are bought and wrapped, the cards sent out and received, and we get ready for Christmas Day.
But if we aren't careful the time of preparation will be over and the big day will be here and it will be just another day. We'll finish opening all the gifts; the room will be strewn with scraps of wrapping paper and ribbon; the turkey or ham will have put up a valiant fight but will be nothing but leftovers; and we'll be parked in front of the TV watching one of the games. Then all of a sudden that empty feeling will hit us. That feeling of "What's the use?" That Charlie Brown feeling of something missing, as if we were thrown into Christmas too fast. That's when we'll realize we needed time to warm up.
We Need Someone To Prepare Us. We Need Someone To Remind Us. We Need Someone To Point Us in the right direction, to The Way Out Of The Wilderness, which is Jesus.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Clara Null, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Christian Reader, "Kids of the Kingdom." Adapted.
2. James W. Moore, Christmas Gifts That Always Fit, (Nashville: Dimensions for the Living, 1996), 64-65.
3. Jamie Buckingham, (Milton Keynes, England: Word Publishing, 1991), pp. 31-32.
Other References Consulted