Christmas, Devotionals, Faith, Life, The Bible, writings

Preparing for Christmas

Well, we’ve made it through the first week of Advent! We focused a lot on hope during the first week, and we may come back to it from time to time, but now we’re going to focus on a new word: Preparation. That word doesn’t sound so snazzy, does it? I mean, no one sends a Christmas card with the word “preparation” written in a glittery font, do they?

But preparation is part of waiting, part of Advent, and a big part of the Christmas story. Our word prepare comes to us from Latin via French and it means to procure beforehand. Today, the dictionary says that prepare means “to make ready beforehand for some purpose; to work out the details of the plan in advance; to put together”. And when you look at the first coming of Jesus, all those definitions work in some way or another.

God the Father had been preparing for the appearance of God the Son since before the beginning of time. Imagine how strange it would have been if Jesus just randomly showed up? Nobody would have believed him. There would have been nothing to confirm his identity as Messiah. He would have seemed to have been just another in a long line of deranged false messiahs.

But God is wise beyond our comprehension. Starting in Genesis 3:15, right after sin entered Eden, God began showing that He was sending a savior. Interestingly, Genesis 3:15 promises that there is coming the “seed” or “offspring” of Eve, the woman. If you didn’t do so well in biology or Jr. High health class, let me tell you that women do not possess “seed”. They are unable to fertilize on their own the egg they carry for a child. Most Bible students, yours truly included, believe this to be a prophecy of not just a coming Messiah, but a virgin-born Messiah.

But it’s not just in Genesis 3 that we find God preparing the minds of humanity that a savior is coming. The entirety of the Old Testament is pointing ahead to the person and the ministry of Jesus Christ. It is actually the preparation and fulfillment of this preparation that gives us hope in God’s many promises.

One particular prophecy helps us to be “prepared”. And that is found in Malachi 3:1- “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” Isaiah 40:3-5 gives us more detail on this messenger- “A voice cries ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.’

There is a lot to unpack there. Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to do that today. Instead, I want to zoom out a little. There are several difficult things about reading prophecy in the Bible. First, it’s largely poetic in nature, using figurative language. In other words, most of the time, you cannot take prophecy to be 100% literal because it’s not meant to be taken that way. You have to consider the environment, language, and understanding of the author.

Secondly, we spend a lot of time trying to understand specifics about prophecy that is yet to be fulfilled when often it is clearly seen through hindsight. What I mean is the people of Jesus’ day may not have understood fully that he was the “Root of Jesse”. But afterward, it would become clear as day to them. In our day, so many people are looking for specific clues in the Bible and in the news to try and pinpoint how and when Jesus is coming back. That is simply foolishness. The point of Jesus telling us signs of the future isn’t so we’d be careful to not roll out the red carpet for a coming “anti-Christ”, but rather to show us the need to always be ready.

This passage in Isaiah is calling the Jewish people to be ready and to be anticipating a day when a messenger comes to prepare the way for the Messiah. So what about us today? You don’t have to search very long for people who have made false claims about the return of Christ. Jehovah’s Witnesses took a failed prophecy (of theirs) that Jesus was to return in 1914 and changed their minds after the fact to say that Jesus returned invisibly (and Jesus told us his return would be visible). Harold Camping promised several dates, with the last being in 2010.

No, friends, the call for us today is to be ready for Christ’s coming. That means that we should be connected to Christ, following him, and sharing the Good News of Jesus with others. We have work to do. Let’s be prepared.

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