Preparing for Christmas by Rediscovering the Cause of Celebration

SCRIPTURE REFERENCE – Mark 1:1-8

The title I chose for this particular blog’s message, “Preparing for Christmas by Rediscovering the Cause of Celebration,” thinking, this was a great way to begin the holiday season.  You know, like going to the garage and dragging heavy boxes of decorations, putting up the tree (3 in my house), purchasing gifts for love ones, doing all the holiday cooking and baking that my wife and I do, and maybe a thousand other things that NEED to be done before Christmas.  I’m exhausted already from listing the “to do’s”!

But that’s not what I mean at all about preparation.

In addition, you may find the Scripture study an unusual choice for a Christmas message, since in the gospel of Mark, we find the only gospel account in the Bible that has nothing at all to say about the birth of Jesus.  In fact Mark mentions neither the miraculous conception nor the birth of Jesus.

Mark begins his account of the life of Jesus in this way (Living Bible – TLB):

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[1]  Here begins the wonderful story of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.

[2]  In the book written by the prophet Isaiah, God announced that he would send his Son to earth, and that a special messenger would arrive first to prepare the world for his coming.  [3] “This messenger will live out in the barren wilderness,” Isaiah said, “and will proclaim that everyone must straighten out his life to be ready for the Lord’s arrival.”

Though Mark doesn’t give us a CLASSIC Christmas story when he opens his book, he essentially wraps up the Christmas message with just a few words.

There’s nothing wrong with Christmas trees and tinsel along with the children’s delight at the unwrapping of presents and food and laughter and the making of family memories this time of year.  I am thinking of my own memories as I write this blog.  All those things make Christmas special!

The opening line of Mark is “the beginning of the good news” [the “gospel”].

Our task at Christmas is not to chop down the tree of celebration–rather it is to rediscover the cause of CELEBRATION–“What is this GOOD NEWS?”

Mark doesn’t begin his gospel account with the birth of Christ, but instead, he tells about a rather unusual character named John the Baptist.

In my investigation, with the study of the words spoken here, I noticed THREE things about John:

First, he was an unusual messenger.

VERSE 6 states that “John wore clothing woven of camel’s-hair and had a leather girdle (belt) around his loins and ate locusts and wild honey.”

I get the impression that John. who was Jesus’ cousin, was a bit different?  There are some folks who, if invited to a social function, you would feel somewhat uncomfortable to have them around, John was like that.

John wore clothes made of camel-hair, wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locust and wild honey.  He was a man of the desert, he ate the food of the desert and he wore clothing of the desert.

Secondly, he had an unexpected message.

Mark says that John FULFILLED THE PROPHECIES both Malachi (3:1) and Isaiah (40:3-5).  The more lengthy prophecy of Isaiah says,

[3] A voice of one who cries: Prepare in the wilderness the way of the Lord clear away the obstacles]; make straight and smooth in the desert a highway from our God.  [4] Every valley shall be lifted and filled up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked and uneven shall be made straight and level, and the rough places a plain.  [5] And the glory (majesty and splendor) of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.

When John the Baptist comes and acts as a Herald or an announcer that JESUS is coming, “prepare the way of the Lord,” the fulfillment of prophecy takes shape.

The word translated “prepare” is from the Greek word “kataskouazo” meaning to “make ready” or “keeping it ready.”

John wasn’t telling them to PREPARE a literal road, but rather he’s telling them to PREPARE themselves for the coming of JESUS.  He says, “GET READY!”

In our love of the CELEBRATION of the birth of Jesus, I think we sometimes get lost.

We love to prepare for Christ because it’s like preparing for a baby to be born.  We get so wrapped up in the manger scene, we forget that He is not a baby anymore!

We think that somehow he is satisfied to see us make our annual appearance at Christmas, singing a few Christmas Carols.  This One Who was born into a crude manger is now a KING!

John the Baptist was telling people, “you need to get ready because someone more powerful than I is coming.”

John the Baptist tries to get the world ready for Christ.

The world of his day was made up of religious and non-religious people, neither of which was READY for the Lord.

THE NON-RELIGIOUS of his day, like our own, liked their SIN and didn’t want Christ Jesus in their lives.

THE RELIGIOUS of that day, like our own, think they don’t need Christ.

So when Christ came, the RELIGIOUS and the NON-RELIGIOUS alike, rejected Him.  They were not ready for Christ to come in their lives.

John’s voice was one crying out in the barren places.

At this time of year people are expected to be happy, but in fact, there are more suicides than any other time of the year.  In the middle of much cluttered activity and “Ho, Ho, Ho ‘ng” in many lives, there is spiritual dryness.

The question is…”HAVE YOU PREPARED YOUR HEART TO RECEIVE JESUS?”

In verse 4, John uses the word “REPENT”:

“John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a BAPTISM of REPENTANCE for the REMISSION OF SINS.”  [NOTE: capitalized words for emphasis]

John tells us that PREPARATION that we need to make is to “REPENT”.  The Greek word translated “repentance” (metanoia) is a word that means “a changed mind”; “changing your direction 180 degrees.”

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The apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 7:10 (ESV):

[10]  “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”

There are TWO kinds of REPENTANCE possible when you think about it, that’s possible in human experience.

Many of us recognize the unpleasant consequences of our SIN and persuaded of the GUILT that may result in a superficial sorrow–that may lead to a temporary reformation, but not to a genuine turning to Christ for forgiveness.

“Godly sorrow” on the other hand, accompanied by CONVICTION of SIN , which is the work of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:37), comes about from the realization of offending a holy God, which in turn, leads to genuine repentance.

REPENTANCE may begin with a “sorrowful heart,” but to be GENUINE, must lead to a determined action.

The CALL to REPENT is one of the most important things we will hear among the sound of exchanges of CHRISTMAS GREETINGS, the singing of Carols, and the shouts of JOY as presents are opened.

Not only did John have an unexpected message…THIRD, he had an extraordinary ministry…

In verse 5 we read“The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him, confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River” (NIV Bible).

“A once lonely man,” Story:

It was a bright Sunday morning in 18th century London, but Robert Robinson’s mood was anything but sunny.  All along the street there were people hurrying to church, but in the midst of the crowd, Robinson was a lonely man.

The sound of church bells reminded him of years past when his faith in God was strong and the church was an integral part of his life.  It had been years since he set foot in a church, with years of wandering, disillusionment, and gradual defection from the God he once loved.

That love for God–once fiery and passionate–had slowly burned out within him, leaving him dark and cold inside.

Robinson heard the clip-clop, clip-clop of a horse-drawn cab approaching behind him.  Turning, he lifted his hand to hail the driver.  But then he saw the cab was occupied by a young woman dressed in finery for the Lord’s Day.  He waived the driver on, but the woman in the carriage ordered the carriage to be stopped.

hansom

“Sir, I’d be happy to share the carriage with you,” she said to Robinson.  “Are you going to church?”

Robinson was about to decline, then he paused,  “Yes,” he said at last.  “I am going to church.”

He stepped into the carriage and sat down beside the woman.  As the carriage rolled forward, Robert Robinson and the woman exchanged introductions.  There was a flash of recognition in her eyes when he stated his name.

“That’s an interesting coincidence,” she said, reaching into her purse.  She withdrew a small book of inspirational verses, opened it to a ribbon-bookmark, and handed the book to him.

“I was just reading a verse by a poet named Robert Robinson.  Could it be you?”

He took the book, nodding “Yes, I wrote these words years ago.”

“Oh, how wonderful!” she exclaimed.  “Imagine!  I’m sharing a carriage with the author of these very lines!”

maxresdefault-1But Robinson barely heard her.  He was absorbed in the words he was reading. They were words that would one day be set to music and become a great hymn of faith, familiar to generations of Christians.

He could barely read the last few lines through the tears that brimmed his eyes.

“I wrote these words–and I’ve lived these words. ‘Prone to wander…prone to leave the God I have.”

The woman suddenly understood.

“You also wrote, ‘Here’s my heart, O take and seal it!’  You can offer your heart again to God, Mr. Robinson.  It’s never too late!”

[See FOOTNOTE [i] ].

IF your greatest need had been for INFORMATION, God would have sent us an EDUCATOR.

IF our greatest need had been TECHNOLOGY, God would have sent us a SCIENTIST.

IF our greatest need had been MONEY, God would have sent us an ECONOMIST.

IF our greatest need had been PLEASURE, God would have sent us an ENTERTAINER.

BUT HE DIDN’T!

Our greatest need was FORGIVENESS…God sent us a SAVIOR.

Has your Christmas Preparation really begun yet?

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

 


FOOTNOTES & CREDITS

Footnote [i]:  Ron Lee Davis, Courage to Begin Again [Harvest House, Eugene, Or. pp. 145-147] – http://www.crossroad.to/Victory/come-thou-fount-of-every-blessing.htm

PHOTOS:  Google Image Search.

VINE’S COMPLETE EXPOSITORY DICTIONARY of Old and New Testament Words.

Bible Translations:  Amplified Bible, except where noted.

 

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