Prepared to Meet Thy God - Redux


I preached this theme in 2006; hence, the redux. It comes from the red-neon sign in my inner-city-Detroit church neighborhood. Over the dull, dirty, gray post-industrial landscape it preached 24-7 the words of Amos 4:12: "Prepare to meet Thy God." If this is the ultimate message of Advent, then Advent is more a time of despair than repentance.

Who here thinks they can prepare to meet their God? Don't we sing the question, "O Lord how shall we meet Thee and welcome Thee aright?" Maybe if Advent came at a different time of year we'd have a chance of preparing. Maybe if it came in the dog-days of summer when there's no holiday to look forward to we'd have a chance. Maybe retailers are right; Christmas should be in July. But what chance do we have of being prepared in the midst of so much holiday clutter. Answer truthfully now. Aren't you focused on anything but your Lord coming to you? I'll bet some of you can't even focus on this sermon because you're thinking about all of the holiday details yet to be done. Odds are you'll be prepared for Christmas, but there's little chance you'll be prepared for Christ.

Prepare to meet thy God. How can I when I'm focused on the wrong thing? You know how I can tell? I don't see in myself the longing, the near desperation I find in the OT. Isaiah says, "O that You would tear the heavens and come down" (64:1). The OT sang and meant, "O come, O come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here." Ps. 80 begs God, "O Lord God of armies, how long will You be angry with the prayer of Your people? O God of armies, restore us, and cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved. O God of armies, turn again now we beg You." I want to long like that; I want to desire God like that; I want to ache for God as the only answer to whatever ails me. But I don't see that in me. I desire to shoot a deer as much if not more than I desire to meet God. I long for peace in my place on earth more than I do for the Prince of peace. I ache for things in this life rather than the Lord of life.

Maybe I desire wrong things because I can't prepare for the right thing. To be prepared to meet my God I need in Paul's words to be "pure and blameless...filled with the fruit of righteousness." Or using John's picture, I have crooked paths to make straight, valley's that need filling in, mountains to make low, and rough places to make smooth. So, the words of the OT reading haunt me, "Who can endure the day of His coming?" I know I can't, maybe you can. Maybe you don't have impurities in your character and things wrongs in your life. Maybe you don't have crooked paths, deep valleys, high mountains, and rough roads like I do in my life. But I think you do. And don't think a few quick thoughts about Jesus in the manger are going to cut it. Don't think hatred for the commercialization of Christmas is enough. We're fooling ourselves if we think our "Jesus is the reason for the season" pin prepares us to meet God. When Jesus falls into one of your deep valleys or takes a wrong turn on one of my crooked roads, there's going to be hell to pay.

If the lasting message of Advent is prepare to meet thy God, then Advent is a time of despairing because I can't prepare myself. The holiday clutter gets in the way; I lack the intense longing, and my sins assure me that I can't endure the day of His coming. I won't be able to stand when He appears. Thanks be to God then the final message of Advent isn't "Prepare to meet thy God" but "PreparED to meet thy God." The call, "Prepare to meet thy God" is Law; it's meant to show you that you can't do it. The Gospel of Advent is God has prepared you to meet Him.

Yes, Paul speaks of being pure, blameless and filled with the fruit of righteousness on the Last Day. But he also says, "He who began a good work in you will finish it until the day of Christ." Don't think that God gets you started on the road of salvation but it's up to you to finish. Hebrews calls God not only the Author of our salvation but the Finisher (Heb. 12:2). What about all of my crooked paths, deep valleys, high hills, and rough roads? Praise be to God! He says your crooked roads shall become straight; your valleys shall be filled in; your high mountains will we be made low; your rough roads will be made smooth! John tells us what God will do. The Law tells us what we should do; the Gospel tells you what God does. You can see this in the Introit and Collect for today. The Introit says God restores us and makes His face shine on us so that we may be saved. We can't restore ourselves or produce our own light. And we pray in the Collect that God would stir up our hearts because we can't stir them ourselves.

The final message of Advent is Good News. We are prepared by God to meet our God. The next question to is how does God do it? Here's where we can go wrong quick. We think as long as we have the knowledge in our heads that Jesus is coming we're prepared to meet Him. We think that if we have a good feeling in our heart about meeting our God we're prepared to meet Him. We think that God operates directly on our heads and hearts, that He prepares us by His Spirit in some mystical way. This could not be further from the truth, and to see this look how God did prepare people for His first coming. Look at our lessons. We find God operating through means. He prepared sinners for His coming by preaching God's Word to them by means of a man considered weird and different by others.

Do you think it's any different for the Second Coming of Jesus? No, God prepares you to meet Him by means of the preaching of this weird, strange man. If you believe you come to hear the preaching of the Word for my benefit, or worse yet for God's, you have it backwards. The Word proclaimed here on Sundays, and now on Wednesdays too, is for your benefit not mine or God's! But that's hard to believe, isn't it? You'd think the One who sits enthroned between the cherubim would send angels to prepare us. But God sends - in the words of 1 Cor. 4:13- what the world considers filth and trash to prepare people to meet their God. And the world does what the Pharisees did to John. The world turns up it's nose at the Lord's messengers. Yes, the Word they preach is foolishness to those who are perishing. According to Isaiah their word will be just line upon line of boring stuff to them (28:10). And so they won't be prepared to meet their God.

Those who reject God coming to them by means of the preached Word can't be prepared to meet Him. But that's not the only way He prepares them. He prepared people to meet Him at His first coming not only by preaching but Baptism. He sent John preaching a "baptism of repentance" and baptizing people for the forgiveness of their sins. Baptism was God's means of making the crooked straight, the low high, the high low, and the rough smooth. He didn't send them determination to straighten things out or humble themselves. He didn't send them determination to be pure and blameless. He didn't even send an abundance of the fruit of righteousness. He sent Baptism to them. How many of you think at all of your Baptism at Advent or any other time for that matter? How many of you go to your Baptism when you're depressed, worried about your sins, hunted by death or haunted by damnation? How many of you return to your Baptism for the preparation necessary to meet your God?

We may be Lutheran in name but we're Catholic and Baptist in practice. Like Catholics, Baptism is a one time event that forgave our Original Sin, but that's it. It's over and done with. It began a good work in us all right but we must keep it going until the day Jesus appears if we wish to be prepared. Or it doesn't even do that much. With the Baptist, it's something we do for God. It is not His means for preparing us but our means of showing Him we're prepared. Repent back to Baptism this Advent. There God's at work. There God takes our sinful flesh that is impure and full of blame and buries it with Christ. There, God raises us pure and blameless to walk before Him just as Jesus does - free of sin and in newness of life. That means in our Baptism no sin sticks to us, and death can't touch us.

God prepared people for Christ's first coming by preaching and baptism. That's how He intends to prepare us for His Second Coming. But there's more. We see it in the OT reading: "See, I will send My messenger who will prepare the way before Me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple." That's what happened. God's Word went out, "Prepare the way," and then the Lord Jesus Himself came in the temple of His Body preaching, "The kingdom of heaven has arrived." He didn't just leave it up to His messengers but came and prepared people Himself.

Where does the Lord come today in the temple of His body? Right here in Holy Communion. And He comes in Bread and Wine so that He might not scare us but might rather prepare us. Why do you think we have this meal every Sunday? Do you think it is something we do to please God? No, we have it so often because He said "do this often" and because this is one of the means by which the Lord refashions our bodies and souls to be like His and so be prepared to meet God.

We cannot in anyway prepare to meet our God, but He will prepare us. Not through your willpower, your love, your right intentions, but through things that are so common that the wise and learned of the world look down on them: preaching, Baptism and Communion. Things that are foolishness itself to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved they are the very power of God! Be washed, be absolved, be communed. Be prepared. Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Second Sunday in Advent (20211205); All 3 Lessons