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The Church’s season of Advent is a time to ‘prepare.’ “Be prepared” is a good rule to live by for more than just for Boy Scouts. It’s good to ‘be prepared’ for Christmas. And it’s good to ‘be prepared’ for disasters. It’s good for men and women to ‘be prepared’ for marriage, and husbands and wives to ‘be prepared’ for children and we’re told that if you’re ‘prepared’ for retirement its going to go a lot better than if your not.
The Church’s season of Advent is a time to ‘prepare.’ The question is, “prepared for what?” If you ask Kohls, Best Buy and Home Depot, they’ll tell you that Advent is a time to “be prepared buy everything that money can buy.” And a lot of people observe the season of Advent as if that were the most important thing to ‘be prepared’ for.
L.L. Bean and Amazon have the slickest advertising and know how to get our attention and our orders. But today, it’s a very poorly dressed man, who only has a first name, and if you look closely you’d probably see locust legs stuck in his teeth. He’s no slick marketing guru. No consumer survey’s to determine what you want to hear. He says what we NEED to hear more than anything else. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
Like a ‘town-crier,’ he rings his bell and swings his lantern – ‘in the WILDERNESS’ – far removed from every billboard, where there’s no cell phone reception. He’s wants our undivided attention. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
• “Be prepared for the coming of the Lord” – not just ‘into the world.’ That’s pretty vague and hard to prepare for.
• “Be prepared for the coming of the Lord” – not as baby born to Mary, wrapped in swaddling clothes. How do you ‘prepare’ for something that already happened 2000 years ago?
• “Be prepared for the coming of the Lord – TO YOU.” As though there was no one else that He is coming for.
• “Be prepared for the coming of the Lord” – who is not coming to die for your sins or be raised for your justification. Once is enough for that. Once is all it takes. “Christ died for sins, ONCE FOR ALL, the righteous for the unrighteous.” (1 Peter 3:18).
• “Be prepared for the coming of the Lord” – who will judge between the ‘prepared ones’ and the ‘unprepared ones,’ between those who have been waiting for His coming and those who bet their life on the fact that it would never happen. Or as the Church has been putting it for last 20 centuries, “be prepared for the coming of the Lord,” for “He comes to judge between the living and the dead.”
See if that doesn’t give your ‘Christmas season’ a new perspective. So what if you don’t get that ‘I-Pad Air 2’ or that ‘X-Box One’ or that new ‘Super-lite Orvis 5 weight fly-rod.’ (Hint, hint). It’s not the end of the world. But when Jesus comes again, it is. And this is what the Church wants to prepare us for during this season of Advent.
Peter says that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief.” Which, if you ask me, is a strange way to put it. The 7th Commandment says, ‘thou shall not steal.” But Peter says that when Jesus comes again, He is going to break in and steal what belongs to you. I have never personally had my house or car broken into, but people who have say that it’s very disturbing. It’s not just the loss of the ‘things’ that were stolen, but it’s the invasion of privacy.
So, as similes go, I don’t like this one. I like it when Jesus is ‘like a good shepherd,’ or ‘like a loving father’ or ‘like a LAMB WHO WAS SLAIN.’
I’d like to say that this is just Peter, because you know how Peter can be, always saying the wrong things. But Paul talks about Jesus in the same way. To the Thessalonians, Paul writes, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” (2Thess. 5:2-3)
So, where would Peter and Paul get the idea to compare Jesus to a thief of all things? Well, from Jesus actually. Jesus warned His disciples saying, “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.” (Matthew 24:42-43)
In his “Revelation,” John hears Jesus say, “Behold, I am coming like a thief.” (Rev. 16:15).
So what are we to think of this? We lock our doors and install security systems to prevent thieves from breaking into our cars and our homes. Are we supposed to burglarproof our lives so that Jesus Christ cannot break in and GET AT US and steal what BELONGS TO US?
Certainly not! For what is rightfully ours is sinful and unclean. What is rightfully ours is idolatry and selfishness.
LIKE A THIEF, this HEAVENLY BURGLER comes to steal what belongs to us. He comes to STEAL all of our idols and selfishness, all of our pride and prejudices, all of our trespasses and sins. AND HE INTENDS TO CLEAN US OUT, ROB US BLIND, and leave you with NOTHING TO CALL YOUR OWN.
And after He has accomplished this GRAND THEFT, the only thing you’ll be left with is what is rightfully His and what He leaves behind. And what is rightfully His is PURE RIGHTEOUSNESS and SINLESS HOLINESS and the BUSTING AT THE SEAMS PLEASURE OF GOD THE FATHER.
This is what we are to prepare for. And as strange as it may sound, it takes careful and diligent preparation to be so robbed by this divine thief. Because sad to say, we don’t want to part with what belongs to us. We cling to it as tightly as we can. We build high walls to keep this thief from breaking into our hearts. We install alarms that warn us when He is getting too close so that we can create some distance. We hold tightly onto what is ours and guard it with our life, which is really our death.
We need to REPENT. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Let this heavenly thief break in and steal your life from you. Rejoice and be glad that He comes to rob you blind of all of your blindness. FOR HE INTENDS TO REPLACE WHAT HE STEALS FROM YOU WITH WHAT HE GIVES TO YOU.
Every other thief “comes only to kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10).
But there is something else that this season of Advent and ‘criers in the wilderness’ call us to “BE PREPARED” for. “And then the heavens will pass away with a roar and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”
Now we’re talking not just about a ‘SPIRITUAL’ BREAK-IN but a ‘MATERIAL’ BREAK-IN as well. A material break-in that will be the end of the whole affair.
• Everything that money can buy – ‘burned up and dissolved.’
• Everything that we have carefully stored up and horded for ourselves – gone, the whole thing – dissolved in the heat.
Let that sink in a bit. And let that put all your THINGS into their proper place. How much of your life is devoted to the things that money can buy – those “treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where THIEVES break in and steal”? And how much do those ‘treasures on earth’ that are here today and gone tomorrow, distract us from what is eternal? Are we living for ‘today?’ Or are we living for ‘THAT DAY?’
If this doesn’t make us stop and examine our lives, then I’m not sure what will. It certainly caused Peter to examine his life. “Since all these THINGS are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be…”? There’s a question that will PREPARED THE WAY OF THE LORD, if you’ll let it.
First, we ought to be BELIVING PEOPLE. People who hear this word as the word of the thief Himself, giving fair warning so that no one will have an excuse. We dare not be disbelieving people, arrogant people, ignorant people, who say “where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”
Don’t count on it. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
Second, we ought to be CONFESSING PEOPLE. People who confess that they are sinful and unclean are people who are ready for the thief to come and pull off His GRAND THEFT in them.
Those who cannot admit that they are sinful and have sinned against their Creator and the only true God, have nothing that this divine thief is interested in. He will pass them by and they will possess FOREVER what they refused let Him steal – their sin and all the misery and death that comes with it.
Third, we ought to be GENEROUS PEOPLE. Since everything that we have stored up in our barns and bank accounts is going to be destroyed in the end, we ought to be generous with it WHILE WE HAVE THE CHANCE. It’s all going to get burned up and if you refuse to let go of it – then you’re going to get burned up too.
Let me suggest to you that you let that thought be the meaning behind every gift that you give this Christmas. With each gift you give, you’re practicing and training and preparing to let go of the things that will eventually be taken away from you when Christ comes again.
The ‘crier’ cries – “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Not in fear, but in faith. Listen to His Word that He speaks “tenderly,” to your heart, “Comfort, comfort, my people, says your God.” “Nakum, nakum.” “Breath deeply, breath deeply.” This thief calls you MY PEOPLE and is delighted to be YOUR GOD.
This divine thief carried out the greatest heist the world has ever known and ever will IN YOUR BAPTISM. You belonged to the devil and He stole you from him and made you His own.
Your iniquity is pardoned. You have received from the Lord’s hand, double for all of your sins. FOR OUR SIN UPON SIN, WE HAVE RECEIVED GRACE UPON GRACE.
So what shall we say to that? Let’s try this, “all flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it. Surely [you and I] are like grass. But the Word of OUR GOD will stand forever.”
In the end, there is only one thing that will not be taken away from you. Only one thing that will not be burned up and dissolved. “The word of our God will stand forever.”
The Word that stands forever is the Word that was made flesh on Christmas morning and who crucified under Pontius Pilate and who rose again on the 3rd and Ascended into heaven. We cling to what will “stand forever.”
“What sort of people ought you to be?” People who lead holy and godly lives, ready and anxious for the day of the Lord to come, completely confident that when He does, everything will melt away in one big bonfire of vanities and lies and every idol that has ever been worshipped by man.
And when the smoke clears and the last embers grow cold, we will awake in the arms of our Lord, like little lambs in the safety of the Good Shepherd, like prodigal children in arms of our Father, who has brought us through the unharmed, and into “a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
“The day of the Lord will come like a thief.” For that, we are prepared. And to that we say, “even so, come Lord Jesus!”