Ready for God

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Luke 1:14-17

“And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth; for he will be great before the Lord, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

Luke 1:14-17 RSV

I’ve been thinking this week about what it means to be ready. A friend of mine is an editor. He frequently speaks of how certain pages of his magazine’s next edition are camera-ready. I listened to a man the other day selling television sets and describing them as cable-ready. In each of these cases, a process of preparation has apparently gone on. Now the printed material can be photographed. Now the television set can receive programs from the cable channels.

We’re familiar, all of us, with that kind of readiness. We know about being prepared for a new experience or equipped for a specific task. We understand how facilities can be fitted, that is, arranged for immediate use, or how people can be inclined in mind and disposition to be open and willing in a certain direction. These are all, in some sense, “ready.” But what does it mean to be ready for God? To be a people prepared for the Lord?

Listen to these verses of Scripture. They’re from Luke, chapter 1, beginning at verse 14. They describe the coming birth of the man who would later be called “John the Baptist.”

“And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth; for he will be great before the Lord, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

THE RIGHT MESSENGER

It apparently took a special kind of messenger to get people ready for the Lord. He, the child to be born to Zechariah and Elizabeth, was to be a great man, not great in the sense of rich and famous, but “great before the Lord,” or “great in the sight of the Lord.” From his youth, he would be a man set apart for a mission. Like the ancient Nazarites, he would abstain from all wine and strong drink. He would be filled instead with the Holy Spirit, alive with God-given enthusiasm and power.

He, John, would be the Lord’s forerunner and go before Him “in the spirit and power of Elijah.” That last was something startling to every Jewish ear. For a long time in Israel, a matter of centuries, there had been no genuine prophetic voice. Now a man was coming who would be a prophet indeed. In fact, Elijah, the greatest of the prophets, would be his model. There would be about John the spirit of an Elijah, and his ministry would be characterized by the same heavenly anointing. After all these years, Elijah’s mantle would fall again upon John, another man of the wilderness.

The prophets were spokesmen for the living God. They brought His word into the life situations of their hearers. Sometimes they heralded great future events. Sometimes they thundered against present abuses. Always they called the people to obey, reminding them of all that the Lord had done for them.

This is a constant, apparently, if any of us are to be ready for God’s fresh coming. We need to hear a word from beyond. We need a prophetic word of judgment and grace. We need someone who comes straight from the presence of God with the fire of the word burning in his heart. If we’re to be ready for God, we need His searching and saving word.

TURNING THE PEOPLE

All right, what will John the Baptist be able to do by his ministry of the Word to make the people ready? He will do, we read, a work of turning. He will “turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God.” He will “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children” and turn “the disobedient to the wisdom of the just.” His prophetic word will turn people around, lead them to repentance, effect their conversion.

What is it to be turned to the Lord? The apostle Paul speaks of that as “turning from idols to serve the living and true God.” To turn to God means to renounce every false lord, to turn away from every sin, committing ourselves to love and serve Him.

You’ve heard the phrase perhaps, “the Copernican revolution”? That describes what happened when the teachings of Nicholas Copernicus became well known. The older Ptolemaic astronomy had held that the earth was the center of all things. The sun and the other heavenly bodies were thought to revolve around it. The view of Copernicus, which almost everyone now holds, is that the sun is the center of our solar system. The earth is one of the several small planets orbiting around this huge sun. Suddenly, the people went from an earth-centered view of the universe to a sun-centered view of our local solar system. It was a dramatic change, a tremendous upheaval in the way everyone thought. Everything was arranged now around a new center.

Turning to the Lord is something like that. We have become accustomed to seeing ourselves as the center of everything, as though God, other people and the universe in general were simply there for our fulfillment and satisfaction. But when we turn to the Lord, we are recognizing Him as the source of all things, enthroning Him at the center of our lives, seeing everything now, ourselves included, in reference to God.

What is it for the hearts of fathers to be turned to their children? You know how fathers (and mothers as well) can sometimes become preoccupied with their own concerns. The father’s career, his recreations, his aims and activities are paramount. Children can easily slip to the fringes of his awareness. They’re handed over to care-givers other than the parents, delivered by default to endless hours of unsupervised television-watching. For too much of their young lives, they are without a parent to talk to, without the affirmation their hearts cry out for.

When that kind of father has his heart turned toward his children, he sees them no longer as toys to enhance his own well-being, as occasional diversions, but as the objects of his deep love and concern. He gives them a new place in his heart, in his time and care. Their concerns become at least as important to him as his own.

What is it when the “disobedient are turned to the wisdom of the just”? That’s when people change their way of thinking, when they begin to be influenced not so much by the media, by public opinion, by their own whims and drives, as by the Word of the Lord. They begin to seek a wisdom greater than their own. They become ready to listen to God. And, laying aside their prejudices and hatreds, they want to learn a new way of living in peace and justice with one other.

All this comes under the heading of repentance and that was the heart of John’s message, wasn’t it? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near.” And if people really were turning toward the Lord, and toward others in love, if they were becoming open to God’s wisdom in their lives, there would be definite signs of repentance, evidences clearly in view. John describes some of those signs in his preaching: like sharing our abundance with those in need, like not using our position and power to take advantage of others, like being honest and not taking what doesn’t belong to us, like keeping ourselves from another person’s spouse, like being content with our lot. All of these things, apparently, are involved in our turning, in our being prepared for the Lord.

“But wait a minute!” someone asks. “It sounds like I’m supposed to become a perfect person and then the Lord will come to me. I’ve got to do all the work of making myself ready and then He comes. Where is the gospel in all of that? I thought God’s love was supposed to come first.”

It surely does. Remember that John told people that the possibility of repentance was theirs because the kingdom had drawn near. God has shown His heart of love. He has given His Son. That’s what makes it possible for people deeply and genuinely to turn toward Him.

What leads us to turn back toward God when we’re running away from Him full tilt? Is it fear? Is it the dread of doom? Hardly. That may make us run all the harder. It’s the knowledge that the One pursuing us is a God of grace, that He’s running after us with pardon in His hands, that He seeks our good. He wants to deliver us from every false lord so that He can reign over us and give us fullness of life. But before we can receive this Lord, we do need to stop running, turn around, and open up.

Do you want to welcome the holy Lord of all into the house of your life? How can He be at home there when one room is filled with buried grudges, hostility toward this person and that group? How can He dwell there if another room is loaded with run-away desires that you’ve been indulging, with no regard for the will of God and little consideration for other people? How can He live there if you have several rooms locked up, that you’re afraid for Him even to see? You may not be able to clear out all that debris by yourself, but you do have to be willing to turn over the keys to Him and let Him get rid of what doesn’t belong there.

WHEN WE’RE READY

All right, when we’re ready for Him, what will the Lord bring when He comes? The prophet’s word tells us about it. When the ways of the Lord are prepared and His paths made straight, when the valleys are filled and the mountains and hills made low, when the crooked places are made straight and the rough ways made smooth, then all flesh, we learn, will “see the salvation of God.” God will come to save, with great mercy and power. John will later assure people that when they come, confessing their sins and receiving a baptism of repentance, there will be forgiveness, cleansing, freedom from a guilty past. More than that, the coming One will baptize with the Holy Spirit. He will breathe into them new, eternal life. They’ll experience what it is to be born again. When you’re ready for God, it seems, what you will receive will be far beyond your expectations. You’ll say afterwards, “The half was never told me.” There will be blessing beyond what anyone could have anticipated. When the Lord comes, all things will be made new.

So this is what John the Baptist would do. He would come to Israel with the Word of the Lord. He would turn their hearts and minds to make them ready for the coming of Jesus, ready for God’s loving reign in their lives.

What does it mean for us today, so many centuries after Jesus came? Remember that the Lord still comes to His people. Every advent celebration is a sign of that. We sing the Christmas hymns, don’t we? “O come, O come, Immanuel . . . O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee. . .” No ear can hear His coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

Jesus said something like that before He left this world. Listen: “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). There it is, you see. Jesus comes to us again and again. It’s hearing the Word of God, setting our hearts to keep it, out of a grateful love to the Lord for His goodness, that opens the doors of our lives, and the Lord comes in afresh to make His abode with us.

The question for each of us is: How much do we want Him to dwell with us? You remember how there was no room for Him long ago in the inn, and how when He came to His own, as John writes, His own received Him not. There’s a deep pathos in that. The Lord comes with seeking love, but He will not force Himself on anyone. It’s a part of our fearful freedom that we can say no. But here’s the great promise on the other side, “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12).

That makes me want to say, “O God, I want to be ready when You come knocking at the door of my heart. I want to be ready to open wide. I want to join with all of God’s advent people and say, `Dear Savior, enter, enter, and leave us nevermore.’”

Prayer: Lord, in our hearts, let the crooked ways be made straight and the rough ways smooth so that there will be in our hearts an openness to You. Come, Lord Jesus, we put our trust in You. We commit our lives to You. Amen.