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2nd Sunday of Advent
Mark 1:1-8

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, we spend a large percentage of our lives preparing don’t we? Whether we consciously think about it or not, we do a lot of preparing. When your growing up as a child you’re being prepared for many years to learn how to live on your own and function on your own. You go to school to be prepared for life in our society and world, to have a foundation of knowledge. Generally you have to spend time being prepared by someone else for the job or occupation that take on. You prepare to get married, you prepare to have children, you prepare for retirement. And preparations are not just in the big things of life, you prepare meals to eat, you probably did some preparations to come to church this morning, you’re probably making Christmas preparations – setting up a tree, decorating your house, maybe making Christmas treats, organizing plans for who’s coming over. We spend a lot of time preparing, don’t we?

Well, the advent season is also a time when we focus on preparations. But it’s not so much preparations that we make on the outside, but on the inside. How are you preparing for Christmas on the inside? What heart preparations are you making to be prepared for your Savior’s coming? Well, in our text this morning God tells us about how He prepared people to be ready for Jesus’ ministry through the work of John the Baptist. We’ll also see this morning how the Lord wants us to prepare for Jesus’ coming. We’ll take a look at these preparations under three points: Listen to the forerunner, Go out into the wilderness, and Anticipate the King’s arrival.

First, listen to the forerunner. Hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth God’s prophets foretold of the work that John the Baptist would do. “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way – a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” The Prophets had the privilege or preparing the people so that when the Messiah came there would be no confusion as to who he is and what he came to do. “And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John the Baptist had the distinct privilege of preparing the way for the Lord, making straight paths for him. Back in these ancient times it was customary that if a king was coming to your territory you would build a highway to honor him. But normally these highways – and this still happens today – would zig-zag around monstrous roadblocks. You know, if you have a huge rock formation and you’re building a road, you’re probably just going to route the road around the rock. But notice what this road is going to be: straight. You know what that means? That means huge valleys- canyons are going to be filled in, rock formations and mountains have to be dug out and removed and leveled.

But now we have to remember that the preparation God is looking for is heart preparation, inward preparation. So what valleys need to be filled in? What mountains need to be leveled in there? The valleys of self-pity and despair need to be filled in. The mountains of pride and arrogance need to be leveled. And what does God use to do that? Notice what John the Baptist is: He’s not a celebrity, not a rock star, not a military hero, he’s not even a mouth or a tongue, just a “voice.” He’s a messenger who came to deliver a message. And what’s his message: “A baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Repent of your sins and turn to the Lord for forgiveness. Be washed clean in the waters of your baptism.

God still does this, doesn’t he? He still sends forerunners to help us prepare for Jesus’ coming. Perhaps you had parents who faithfully brought you to the baptismal font where you received the forgiveness of sins as a little child. Perhaps you had teachers or Sunday School teachers or pastors who taught you God’s Word, shared the message of salvation, the law and the gospel with you. Perhaps you still have Christian relatives or Christian friends or a Christian spouse or Christian mentors who continue to confront you when you begin to grow mountains of sin between you and God. Perhaps you still have those same Christian loved ones who fill in the valleys by pointing you to Jesus for full and free forgiveness of sins. Thank the Lord for the forerunners he continues to send in our lives to prepare us for Jesus’ coming. Listen to those forerunners.

Prepare also by going into the wilderness. “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” Notice that John the Baptist is in the “wilderness.” That’s not really the best translation for the word, though. When we think of wilderness in northern Minnesota, we think trees, we think wildlife. In our idea of wilderness there’s a lot to sustain life- animals and plants you can eat. Perhaps a better word here would be “desert.” The wilderness in Judea is desert. There’s really no life. Nothing can survive. Nothing can grow. It’s a place of thirst – there’s no water. There’s no food.  It can’t support life.

What’s interesting is that again and again in the Bible, that’s where people encounter the Lord. The Lord appeared to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai – desert, the Lord appeared to Moses – desert, the Lord appeared to Elijah – desert wilderness, the Israelites wandered in the desert wilderness for 40 years. And here, the people had to leave behind their lives and go into the desert wilderness. It was probably like 20 miles away at least for the people to go. They didn’t have cars, they walked. They didn’t have restaurants or rest areas on the way. They had to rearrange their schedule and leave their lives behind in order to hear the message of God’s prophet. No distractions. Not even any distractions from John – he wasn’t anything special – camel’s hair, leather belt, locusts and honey.

There are so many things in life that can pull our hearts away from God. It happens like this, “Lord, I’ll love you if…” Lord, I’ll trust you, if…” “Lord, I’ll follow you if…” And fill the blank: make my life easy, don’t give me these troubles, make my life comfortable, etc. But what is that doing? God is simply becoming an add-on to your life, a vitamin supplement, an app among many on your phone. But what happens when you go into the wilderness? All water dries up, except the water from God. All food runs out, except the food from God. What did God teach the Israelites in the wilderness? Without God they were dead. Without the Lord, we have nothing, are nothing, and we will face nothing good.

How do you prepare for the Lord’s coming? Go into the wilderness. Realize that without the Lord you have nothing and earth is but a desert drear, but with the Lord and with his love you have everything your heart could possibly desire.

And finally, prepare by anticipating the King’s arrival. Notice what John the Baptist said, “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” As John the Baptist considers Jesus’ coming he declares that he’s not even fit to perform the lowest slave’s job for the King – to unloose the straps of his sandals. Why is Jesus so great? Because Jesus came in order to do what only God could do. Jesus came to use His almighty power to lay His life down on the cross, to take upon Himself the sins of the world and therefore your sins and mine, to die for them paying in full God’s punishment of sin, and then gloriously rising from the dead. And all for what purpose? To rescue you and me for all eternity, to fling wide open heaven’s gates. How do we anticipate the arrival of such a King? We bow in honor, we lift up our voices to praise him, and we can’t help but conform our lives to serve Him and give him glory in all things.

I don’t know what outward preparations you are making for Christmas this year, but far more importantly prepare your heart by Listening to the message of salvation by the forerunners God puts into your life, by going into the wilderness realizing that without God you have nothing, but with him you have everything, and anticipating the King’s arrival- He comes with power and grace to save. Prepare the way in your heart for Him! Amen.