The preparation theme of Isaiah 40:3 is echoed in Luke 3:4. This prophetic voice continues to cry aloud in humanity’s modern wilderness. It rings off the concrete, the architecture, and the man-made valleys in between. On this fourth Sunday in Advent it rings in our hearts: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”
The Biblical story of Christmas is a story of preparation. The preparation actually began in the halls of eternity when the eternal Son of God willingly submitted to be “slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). It is significant that this preparation is remembered in Revelation 13. That chapter describes human government acting without reference to God. It is Babel, Babylon, gone mad in its own self-sufficiency, self-adoration, and self-worship (Genesis 11). It is the manifestation of what Revelation terms “the beast.” It is a self-absorbed beast who requires humanity to bow before it in order to live. This “beast” has appeared numerous times in human history. In our present era it has appeared as fascism, communism, and even in democracies dominated by the spirit of man. But it is not the last word of human history. The “right side of history” is the side of the Lamb, slain from the foundation of the world.
The preparation continued throughout Israel’s history, in spite of the disobedience, the failures, the betrayals. The preparation is reflected in the last book of the Old Testament in words that remind us of Isaiah, “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me, . . . Behold, He is coming, says the Lord of hosts.”
Four hundred years later the preparation began in earnest with the story of the birth of Malachi’s messenger, John. Later tagged “the Baptist,” John’s parents discovered that God’s preparation plans are not restricted to the normal course of human experience. An older woman Elizabeth, barren throughout marriage, becomes a first century Sarah with a promise awaiting a willing womb (Genesis 17; Luke 1). Unable to believe the promise, her priestly husband Zacharias is struck speechless until the prophetic speech of God, John, is born (Luke 1:5-25, 57-80).
The preparation continued with the other extreme of the feminine spectrum. The angel of the Lord announced to a young unmarried virgin girl that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you” (Luke 2:35). From old age to young age, the plans of God operate in dimensions of grace that continually surprise us. We are usually ill-prepared, if not unprepared, for how God’s grace is manifested in our midst.
Matthew 1:18-25 tells us how Mary’s fiancé, Joseph, was prepared to accept the unthinkable and socially unacceptable. When I reflect on both Mary and Joseph, I am constantly amazed at the courage it took for them to believe the unbelievable. One was visited by the angel Gabriel, the other visited through dreams. But in both instances, messages from another realm had the ring of truth. Gabriel declared, “With God nothing will be impossible.” Mary responded, “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:37, 38).
The preparation continues through the apostles and down to our time. The preparation has a promise that is being fulfilled and will be fulfilled. A hint of this is given in the eleven times the Apostle Paul spoke of preparation (counting five times in Hebrews). The preparation ranges from:
• “That (God) might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:23)
• “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
• “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 5:5)b
• “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10)
• “But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:16).
In this final week before Christmas Day, let us prepare ourselves for the Second Advent of the Baby born in Bethlehem. This time He will come as the strong Son of God, full of glory and power, to establish righteousness, justice, and the Father’s dominion forever and ever. Merry Christmas everyone!