Right now, we’re preparing for the Lord. We’re all getting ready for Christmas: buying gifts; planning dinners; making travel plans. We think the holidays are supposed to be relaxing time, but they’re a lot of work. They take a lot of preparation. But this holiday preparation isn’t the preparation I’m talking about. Right now, at this very moment, as you sit in those pews, you’re preparing for the Lord. You’re getting ready to receive your Savior, not just on Christmas Day, but on the Last Day. You’re preparing for the Lord right now by being prepared by the Lord.
It’s a fact of Scripture that the Lord prepares His people. Ever since the beginning, when He made Adam and Eve, He’s always readied His people. He prepared our first parents for life by giving them His Word of warning, not to eat from that tree. He prepared Noah, telling him about the flood and instructing him to build the ark. He prepared Moses, giving him the words to speak as he stood before Pharaoh. The examples of the Lord’s preparation could go on and on.
But this preparation looks different from how we prepare ourselves. We sit down, make a to-do list, and then get to work checking it off: buy the presents-check; bake the cookies-check; pack the bags-check. Our preparation revolves around what we need to do. But that’s not the way of the Lord’s preparation.
God prepares His people by speaking to them. He spoke to Adam and Eve. He spoke to Noah. He appeared to Moses in that burning bush and spoke to him. Throughout all of Israel’s history, God spoke to His people of old by the prophets (Heb 1:1): Samuel; Isaiah; Jeremiah; Daniel; Malachi.
The prophet Malachi wrote the words of the Lord saying: “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me” (Mal 3:1). The job of a messenger is to speak the message of his sender, to stand in his master’s place speaking the master’s words. The prophets of old did this as they called people to repentance, to turn from their sin. John the Baptist did this, fulfilling Malachi’s prophecy.
The Lord sent John to be the last OT prophet, to prepare the way for Him, to call all people to turn from their sin. This was the message of the Lord, but it was a hard message to hear. John spoke God’s wrath saying: You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance…. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Lk 1:7-9). The Holy Spirit worked through this message and brought many to repentance. The people heard God’s judgement and turned from their sin. And this is the same message that the Lord speaks to us today. Like the people of old who heard John, we need to hear John. We need to hear the Lord’s wrath over our sin.
Sin is no small thing. Sin means death, everlasting death. We need to repent of our sin. None of us is sinless; all have fallen short of the glory of God. All of us have failed to bear fruits of repentance. This is a fact we must confess at all times, just as we confess it every Sunday. During that time of confession we pause for self-reflection, to examine our lives, to think about all our sin, to think about the punishment we deserve because of them. And with the Spirit of the Lord working in us, we turn to the Lord to receive His forgiveness of. We can’t get rid of our sin. There’s no check list we can follow to cleanse ourselves. Only the Lord can do this.
The Lord prepares you for Himself by bringing you to repentance, and He prepares you for Himself by answering that repentance with His forgiveness.
Malachi spoke of two messengers in his OT prophecy. The first messenger was sent to prepare the way for the Savior. This was John. The second messenger was the messenger of the covenant, the Savior Himself that was promised to Adam and Eve when they sinned. This Savior is Christ Jesus, the very Word of God Incarnate, born on Christmas.
God continues to prepare His people through His Word. In many and various ways, God spoke to His people of old by the prophets. But now in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son (Heb 1:1-2a). Jesus is the Word of God. He is the Lord’s Message and the Messenger, sent to proclaim forgiveness and salvation. Like a refiner’s fire and fullers’ soap, Christ cleanses you from your sin. He purifies you; washing you in His blood that was shed on the cross. He makes you ready to stand before God on the Last Day. He makes you ready to receive Him at His Second Coming.
The Lord’s preparation is accomplished through His Word: the Word of God who was sacrificed on the cross and the Word of God that is spoken to you. The Word of absolution that Pastor Peters proclaimed is Christ’s very Word of Absolution. In those words, God does what He says, He forgives you your sins for the sake of His Son. In the words of promise that you’ll hear at the Lord’s Supper, you receive what Christ says. As you eat the bread and drink the cup you receive Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. In all of this, the Lord makes you ready for Himself. In all of this, He prepares you to live a life of repentance and faith.
The people who were prepared for Christ through the message John proclaimed lived a life of repentance and faith as they looked forward to the Savior. This prepared life bore fruits of repentance. You also have been prepared for the Lord, and you also live a life of repentance and faith as you look forward to the second coming of your Savior. You bear the fruits of repentance, turning from your sin, doing instead those good works that God prepared for you. You care for those in need, clothing the naked and feeding the hungry. You faithfully and honestly fulfill your vocations, not for your benefit or gain, but for the benefit and service of others. All of this you do, not to make yourselves ready to receive Christ, but because you’ve been made ready to receive Christ. These good works aren’t the to-do list that you check off to prepare, but they’re the good works you do because you are prepared.
You’re prepared for the coming of our Lord by hearing His Word. You’re prepared for our Lord by being purified and cleansed by the blood of Christ. And you’re prepared for our Lord as you live prepared lives, bearing fruits in keeping with repentance, looking forward with faith to that Day when our Savior comes again. In Jesus’ name...Amen.