Let us pray: Dear Savior, as we start to approach Your manger continue to fill us with awe, wonder, and a sense of deep joy. Inspire us to be worthy of Your coming. Move us to sweep our hearts clean of all moral dirt so that we can hold You with clean hands and a pure heart. Yes, make our Christmas joy complete. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR COMING CHRISTMAS KING!
TEXT: Matthew 3: 1-12
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Christmas shopping is cranking into high gear. So, how many gift items have you checked off your list? Is it 1/3, ½, or maybe everything is already purchased and you can just sit back and enjoy the season? But perhaps you’ve forgotten someone? Or, how about the present from another at work that you didn’t expect? Isn’t it embarrassing when they give you a gift and it’s too late to give them one in return? So, if you’re wise, you’ll keep a few extra gifts on hand—just in case.
Advent is our season of preparation for Christmas. It’s prime time to make those lists, check them twice, and then do a brain scan as to whether you’ve forgotten anyone. And so today I want to focus your attention on that one issue:
THE FORGOTTEN CHRISTMAS GIFT
John the Baptist was Christ’s second cousin. God caused him to be born for one reason and one reason alone—to prepare the way of the Lord. Or, to get people ready for Christ’s work of saving souls. John was 6 months older than Jesus. So, upon reaching his age of majority, 30 years old, John had a scant 6 months to ready people for meeting God’s Son in human flesh—of preparing them for Jesus’ ministry. Because of this, John never wasted a moment. He didn’t dance around the subject matter; no, he bluntly told it like it was. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’ This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'”
John’s austere message of sweeping one’s heart clean of sin, his austere clothes, and strict diet—all of that was part of the complete package. It all served to accentuate the urgency of getting ready to meet the Savior of the world.
So, are you urgently preparing for Christmas? And no, I’m not talking about cards, letters, decorations, food, or human gifts. They are really the fluff of Christmas, not the real essence of it all. Are you urgently focused on analyzing the state of your faith, the health of your Christian convictions, and whether or not you’ve made room for the baby Jesus in your heart? And if you have, how much room?
When John burst upon the scene, he was so different, so unique, that people of every stripe and background came out to hear him. Many common folk were baptized by him into the truth of the coming Messiah. They confessed their sins, gratefully accepted God’s forgiveness, and had their new-found faith confirmed. Just like little Katelyn Hope Brekken, who was baptized today, they presented to the coming Jesus the gift of their hearts. In short, they were willing to give to God all they had because in Christ God was giving them all He had. In this, they reflected the essence of what Christmas is all about.
But, there were others, Pharisees (who liked to piously put on a good show for all to see so that they could justify themselves in their own eyes) and Sadducees (who also went through the motions of religiosity but never really took any of it to heart)—these folks also went out to meet John. They remind me a lot of similar folks today. You know what I mean.—The people who never come to church during the entire year but might, might come at Christmas in order to placate their conscience, or to hear some emotional music, or just to save face with the relatives. Likewise, there are those who think just by coming to a Christmas service they’ve given the gift of their presence to Jesus. Or by putting a Christmas offering in the plate they’ve made sure that they haven’t forgotten to give the blessed Baby a gift—so that He won’t forget to give them His gift of forgiveness and a cleansed heart.
John knew such folks and had little time for them. He lights into their miserly hypocrisy in our lesson. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’….The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.'”
Advent is the time, now is the time to remember THE FORGOTTEN CHRISTMAS GIFT. And that gift is your humbled heart. The baby Jesus doesn’t just want, expect, demand, and deserve an occasional hour of your time, or a few dollars from you, or a half-way commitment towards repentance. No, He expects, demands and deserves the entire you. He expects, demands and deserves the entire human He raised up and created—both body and soul. He expects, demands, and deserves your heart.
Celebrating the birthday of God’s Son cannot be done in a half-way or a half-hearted manner. He is coming to give His all to you. He is coming to give His life, His soul, and His heart to you. He is coming to focus His total attention upon you in order to lay hold of your heart and transport it into final glory. And to accomplish all that, there is only one thing He needs from us—a heart that really, truly desires to be filled with His love. A heart that actually has room for His love because it is humbled and cleansed from all distractions.
One last thought about THE FORGOTTEN CHRISTMAS GIFT OF THE HEART. A few years ago Debra Ann and I had an especially busy holiday season. We were able to get our tree a few weeks before the big day. I put it into the bucket of water to drink and we fully expected to put it up and decorate it. But, things always seemed to get in the way and Christmas arrived with that tree still sucking up water in the garage. I remember hauling it outside after church on Christmas day so that the birds could perch on it. But, that year we had a very blessed Christmas! We had Jesus. And more importantly, He had us! We had the church services, the carols, the love of others, good health, and the warmth of His blessing. Even though we had no decorations, we had remembered to make time to give Him our hearts. We never forgot about Him and most importantly, He never forgot about us. Ponder that truth alone as you walk toward His manger. Amen