Preparing Our Hearts

Luke 3:1-6 (Common English Bible)

John the Baptist’s message

3 In the fifteenth year of the rule of the emperor Tiberius—when Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea and Herod was ruler over Galilee, his brother Philip was ruler over Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was ruler over Abilene,2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas—God’s word came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.3 John went throughout the region of the Jordan River, calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. 4 This is just as it was written in the scroll of the words of Isaiah the prophet,

A voice crying out in the wilderness:
    “Prepare the way for the Lord;
        make his paths straight.
5 Every valley will be filled,

    and every mountain and hill will be leveled.
The crooked will be made straight
    and the rough places made smooth.
6 All humanity will see God’s salvation.

Malachi 3:1-4

3 Look, I am sending my messenger who will clear the path before me;
        suddenly the Lord whom you are seeking will come to his temple.
        The messenger of the covenant in whom you take delight is coming,
says the Lord of heavenly forces.
2 Who can endure the day of his coming?

        Who can withstand his appearance?
He is like the refiner’s fire or the cleaner’s soap.
3 He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver.
        He will purify the Levites
            and refine them like gold and silver.
            They will belong to the Lord,
                presenting a righteous offering.
4 The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord
        as in ancient days and in former years.


Thoughts on the passage:

Most of us who grew up with two parents knew which one was the authority figure and which one was as my family described it, the marshmallow.  In my home today, I am the marshmallow.  I am not sure I could have predicted that before my kids were born, but both Marianne and I are in agreement about it now.  For better or worse, she has the ability to practice tough love in a way that I struggle with.  Having children has helped me to learn more and more about what it means to love.

Love is not a just about giving a person what they want.  Love is far more complex, and requires a deep level of caring that goes beyond momentary happiness to something more, a love for the person, not just as they are, but as what they will be.  Sometimes I think that the love we feel for our children is most akin to the love that God must feel for us.  We don’t love our kids because of what they do for us.  We don’t love them because they are perfect.  We love them because of something greater we see in them.  We love them because they are ours.

God’s love for us is similar.  God is not Santa, giving us just what we want and what we ask for this year.  Instead God’s love is trying to provide for deeper needs.  God does not give us the pony.  God gives things we will not get anywhere else: unconditional acceptance, second chances, faith in who we can become.  God’s love goes beyond anything else we can experience.

What does it mean to prepare our hearts for Christmas?  I think we start by looking at what needs to change in our hearts.  Both of our passages talk about changes that will happening, rough places that are made smooth, refining that happens.  When we look at our hearts, we find the things we really need this Christmas are things that cannot be bought in a store, they are changes that need to occur in our hearts.  We need to do some work before we are ready for Christ.

Why do we need to get ready for Christ’s love?  For some of us we might struggle to believe we are worthy.  We need to get our hearts ready to be loved in a way we may not be experiencing right now.  We don’t understand a love that comes without judgements and expectations.  We are too accustomed to conditional love.  We need to get ready for unconditional love.

The other problem we can get into is forgetting we need to be loved.  We have been doing fine for the last year (or more), why will God’s love change anything now.  Just like we might not need anything for Christmas, we don’t think we need God’s love either, because we are doing fine.  In this case we need to take a closer look at our lives, because I know the need is there.  The problem is usually we are too busy trying to fix things ourselves so we forget that God is there to help.  We need to prepare our hearts to make room for someone else to be at work in our lives.

Having a child, a person we love so powerfully and uniquely changes everything.  It gives us a new perspective on what it means to love and to be loved.  The birth of Christ changes the ways we are loved by God.  Now that love becomes personal, wrapped in the same flesh that we know and experience.  The love is spoken in the language that we understand.  Are our hearts ready?

Questions to Ponder:

How do you struggle to be loved by others?

Who is someone you know who loves in deep and passionate ways that you want to learn from?

What changes, what improvements, what refining needs to take place in your heart to be ready for God’s love?

Prayer: God, every year we talk about getting ready for your birth. Every year we try and prepare our homes, hearts, minds and lives for you.  Be with us in this season of Advent as we prepare again for your birth.  Help us to prepare ourselves that we can be ready to be faithful followers of you.  AMEN