Isaiah 11:1-10, Romans 15:4-9, Matthew 3:1-12
How to Prepare The Way for the Lord
In the final years of our secondary school, we had a teacher who is very versed in Mathematics. Before our final exams, which are popularly known as mock examinations, the teacher came to the class and instructed the students on how they could prepare for the examination.
He enlisted some areas of concentration and necessary computations required for this. It happened that one of us, who was also my friend, was not in the class when he gave his instructions.
The worrisome part of it was that he came back just a day before the examination was to take place. When he came back, we told him that the teacher had given him areas of concentration. He became quite uncomfortable and was running helter-skelter to meet up with the requirements for the examinations.
So, He knew how tough the teacher was. He also knew how important mathematics is in secondary school, so he became quite troubled.
If he meets a classmate, that person will ask him if he had read a topic, and he would immediately open the topic to read that one.
Whenever he feels that he is prepared, another person would again ask him, if he has read a certain topic, and he will again jump from that topic to the next topic in question. He could not concentrate, and the day of the examination became a laborious race for him.
The point is that whenever we fail to prepare for an important event, we must be caught up by circumstances.
On this Sunday, the church in her wisdom teaches us the need to prepare for the coming of Jesus, spiritually, and otherwise. In essence, as we are preparing for the body, we also have to prepare for the soul. We have to prepare spiritually. Christmas is an important event in the salvific history of the human race. We have to prepare for it also with our whole hearts, with full contemplation and prayerful attention.
What is Preparation.
“Pre” is a word that already indicates something that is coming, in future, ahead, or before an expected event.
Therefore, preparation points to the measures, procedures, and processes that we need to get ready before an expected event. As we said last Sunday, Advent is a season that prepares us for the coming of the Messiah.
As we hold in high esteem some certain events and prepare for them, is the way we must hold the coming of our Lord Jesus in high esteem and prepare for the messianic event. If you take a forthcoming examination as very important to you, you would surely prepare for it.
If you have a show or movie scene you are expected to play a huge part in it, you will spend some time doing rehearsals before the main event. Therefore, whatever we hold in high esteem and take as very important to us, we will surely prepare for it.
If you have a serious examination coming up, you are expected to prepare heavily for it
So, to Prepare is the process of getting something ready for a particular purpose or making arrangements for something.
It is the act of preparing, getting ready, planning, training, or studying with a goal in mind.
The Shoot and the Root of Jesse Shall Spring Forth.
The first reading comes from the book of Isaiah.
Knowing the political nature of the time of Isaiah here will enable us to trace the background of the first reading. Isaiah’s prophetic career was enmeshed in the political and cultural turmoil of the times. He became a voice against the powerful leaders and nations in his time, among whom was Assyria.
Assyria was greatly feared because of how powerful they are. In 734-32, 728, and 724-21 B.C.E, Assyria was a major threat, Isaiah prophesied the Assyrian invasion in Isaiah 8:1-15, and later they invaded the Israelite territory and destroyed Samaria and northern Israel. Therefore before the first reading of today, Isaiah also prophesied the demise of the Assyrian empire ( check Isaiah 10:5-19).
Then chapter 11, Isaiah came with a message of hope for the people of Israel. This message is that “there shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
This root of Jesse shall stand as a signal for the people. The nations shall inquire of him, and his resting place shall be glorious.” Notice that this one who is coming is first called “a shoot from the stump of Jesse,” and then he is called “the root of Jesse towards the end of the first reading.
He is both the shoot and root. This shoot of Jesses “shall bear fruit.” “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” Shoot, root, and fruit.
We know that Jesse was David’s father (1 Samuel 16). When God chose David as King of Israel, God sent the prophet Samuel to the house of Jesse.
After all his sons were rejected, David was later chosen as the king of Israel. It is also obvious that the shoot of Jesse that Isaiah is talking about here is not David, Isaiah is referring to someone who is to come from the lineage of Jesse, and not anyone who has already passed.
Jesus Christ came through the lineage of David, then Jesse, which means that this shoot is referring to the Messiah who is to come, that is Our Lord Jesus Christ.
He will be both the shoot and the root of Jesse. He will bear abundant fruit. And this fruit will be a kingdom of life and peace for people around the world, for all of creation, for every one of us here today.
His coming will bring peace, for the first reading says that The wolf will now live with the lamb, the panther lies down with the kid, calf and lion feed together, with a little boy to lead them. Therefore, great hope is coming. His kingdom will have peace, joy, restoration, love etc.
In essence, this foretells the fruit of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So, Jesus is coming to rescue them from the powerful nations like Assyria. Therefore, Jesus is coming to set us free. He is coming for our sake, to bring peace, justice and restoration to the people of God.
So, to be partakers of this glorious coming, we have to prepare. Therefore, we have to prepare the way for the Lord to occupy our hearts and take control of our lives.
2. Secondly, the messiah that is coming will be fully equipped. He will be fully anointed with the Spirit of God; the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.” Wisdom and righteousness will rest on him in abundance. His rule and his reign will be just and faithful.
Therefore, it means that this Davidic king will always do the right thing. The time of salvation, justice, restoration, peace etc is coming with the advent of the Messiah. Therefore, we have to prepare for him.
How to Prepare.
We prepare different types of events differently. The way we prepare for each event differs from another. Therefore, the way we prepare for Christmas must be different.
In the gospel, our work is to decipher the practical ways any Christian can wholeheartedly prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ.
1. We need A Time for the Desert
The gospel tells us that in due course John the Baptist appeared and preached in the wilderness of Judaea. We know that John the Baptist was a forerunner and prophet who prepared the coming of the Messiah. He prepared people for the coming of Jesus Christ.
Today, John the Baptist appeared from the wilderness. Therefore, he withdrew from the crowd to a lonely place where he is preaching the gospel of repentance and prepared the people for the coming of the Messiah.
People also go to the desert to meet him, in response to his message. Therefore, for us to truly prepare the way for the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we have to withdraw from the world. We need to withdraw from worldly attractions and material temptations. We have to withdraw from anything that will cause our downfall.
2. We have to Repent
Repentance is simply the feeling and expression of sincere regret or remorse over one’s wrongdoing or sin.
The gospel says that In due course John the Baptist appeared and was preaching “‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand. This forms the foundation of His preaching. Therefore, to truly prepare the way for the Lord, we have to repent. We have to wholeheartedly feel sorry for all the wrongdoings we have done.
In essence, We have to repent and truly feel remorseful for the sins we have committed. We have to turn from sin and dedicate ourselves to God.
3. Ready to Produce Good fruits
In the gospel, when John the Baptist saw some Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming?”
Then he said again “ But if you are repentant, produce the appropriate fruit, and do not presume to tell yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father,”.
Therefore, according to John the Baptist, repentance is not the end of what is required, we must also be ready to produce good fruits wherever we are. We have to be ready to touch lives and save souls for Jesus.
4. Be A Messenger
John was the messenger sent by God to go ahead of the Lord and make a way for Him. He is a messenger of repentance, forgiveness, revival, and renewal. He was the lone voice in unfaithfulness calling people back to God. Hence we have to do the same.
We have to be messengers of love, peace, and positive change. Amid fear, moral decadence, faithlessness etc, we have to be the lone voice that can bring change to the people. Hence the question today is “whose messenger are you? And which particular message do you give to the world?
5. Willing to Respond
The gospel says that the man John wore a garment made of camel hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judaea and the whole Jordan district made their way to him, and as they were baptized by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. John’s baptism was to lead the people to repentance. First, there is an invitation that the messiah is coming.
So a baptism is an event that signals the sign of preparation for the coming Messiah which shows how repentant the people are.
We can see this in Matthew 3 when John calls the people to repent because the Kingdom of God is at hand. They responded to Him. We have to do the same. We have to respond to the call by the mother church to come back to God at this time and confess our sins.
1. Advent season is a season that calls us to repentance. Repentance in the Greek understanding means “metanoia” which means to turn around.
Just as John the Baptist is doing, the Church is calling us to turn around, we have wandered so away from God.
To prepare the way for the Lord is a call to turn from wickedness to goodness, from unforgiveness to a forgiving spirit, from jealousy, envy, hatred to love and benevolence, from sin to righteousness, from immorality to decency, from disunity to peace. It is an invitation to encounter God again after years of deserting Him. Etc.
2. The gospel of today gives something positive about the people who heard John’s message. There was a positive response. They have to go even to the desert to listen to Him.
They responded positively to His message. Now the question for us is “how are we also going to respond to this message? Should we continue to fight ourselves and live in peace or not? Should we continue to whirl away in sin and believe that we have so much time to live in the world? Let us prepare the way for the Lord.
When are we going to come back to God? How are we going to prepare? Hence to prepare the way for the Lord is to respond positively to this invitation.
3. We can see in the people, a hunger for the word of God. The people confess their sins and John baptizes them.
In the same vein, the word of God we hear every day should lead us to repentance, change our ways, confess our sins and thus lead us back to God. To prepare the way for the Lord, there should be this hunger to listen for His word. We hear to apply. We do not want to continue from where we stopped.
4. Finally John preaches forgiveness of sins and forgiveness in the Hebrew word is aphesin which indicates cancellation of an obligation or barrier of guilt. It refers to God’s love where our sins are cancelled. So the message is that when we hear the word of God and turn around from our evil ways, the resultant effect is that God will cancel our debts and fill us with His grace. This is an opportunity offered to us by God freely. But the problem is how ready and prepared are we.
5. When we prepare, the first reading says there will be a revelation of His glory. We will see His glory and He will shine on us. John 1-5 while speaking about the Word that will become flesh and dwell among us, says, He is a light that no darkness can overcome.
Revelation 22:5 says His light will shine on the people when He comes. They will need no sunlight or lamplight because He is going to shine on them. In essence, we become light to the world and the people.
The Second reading says that the reason Christ became the servant of circumcised Jews was not only so that God could faithfully carry out the promises made to the patriarchs, it was also to get the pagans to give glory to God for his mercy.
And Acts 1:8 says that when the Holy Spirit comes, we shall receive power and hence become living witnesses of the gospel. So, the question remains, are we going to prepare? How ready are we to be partakers of his mercy? How are we preparing?
May God help us to prepare for the Lord and give us the grace to receive the unfading crown of glory at the end. May He be with you. Amen