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Preparing for the Child
a sermon based on Matthew 3:1-12
by Rev. Randy Quinn

Last week, many people were here to decorate the sanctuary and make it a more festive. And I suspect that many of you have also started decorating your homes for Christmas, complete with trees and lights and holly and poinsettias. It won't be long and there will be presents wrapped up to add to the decorations. And then . . . the parties step up the action—office parties, school parties, church parties, family parties. What with all the festivities its easy to get lost in the shuffle, to miss the season altogether.

A friend of mine told me that last week she asked her congregation how many hours they spent preparing for Christmas -- including the decorating and the cooking and baking and shopping and partying -- and then asked them how that compared to the amount of time they spend preparing for Christ?

Good question, I thought. How much time do we spend preparing for Christ? Do we make room for him in our homes? Do we make room for him in our Church? Do we make room for him in our society?

John the Baptist asks similar questions, though not quite as clearly as Michele raises them. He asks people HOW they are preparing for the Messiah. He reminds them that the prophets told them about the coming King; he reminds us that the scriptures make it clear that preparations must be made for him to come, including making the roads straight.

So John suggests that one of the marks of the people of God is a people who are making a path for the Messiah to walk -- a path in their society as well as in their own lives. His message is a startling warning that we have not prepared for Christ as we have prepared for Christmas. We haven't left any room in the Inn with all of our busyness. We are too busy making plans and having parties and singing songs to think about how ready we are for Christ.

Last year Ronda and I had a wonderful surprise happen, a surprise that we are still enjoying. Last October we received a phone call asking us if we could take a newborn infant as a foster child. There was the possibility of adoption in mind, but the more pressing question at the moment was: can we take a newborn foster child into our home? We had two days to prepare for Melissa.

I thought about that again this fall as she celebrated her first birthday with us and as I watched Tonya and Ed prepare their lives and their home for Keith. What a difference! Tonya and Ed had furniture and clothes and bottles and diapers and diaper bags and toys. They even had a crib and a room for Keith when he came home from the Hospital.

We had nothing for Melissa.

Tonya and Ed attended Lamaze classes and learned about the birthing process and began to talk about some of the things to expect in their lives after the baby was born. Ed took a few days off from work to be at home with Keith when he was born, and I suspect that had Tonya been employed she would have taken maternity leave. Ronda and I had to be at work the next morning. We had two days to find a baby sitter who could take a newborn and we were off and running.

What a difference, I thought, as I have watched Tonya and Ed make room for Keith in their lives and I remembered those first few days with Melissa in our home. I didn't even realize how much we had missed until I saw it happen to someone else.

But I also realize that we do the same thing with the Christ child at Christmas. We don't allow for a time of pregnancy. We rush into the birthing room and have a baby before we have made room for it in our lives, in our world, in our church. We induce labor if we don't have time to meet with family at the correct time. We spend so much time preparing for Christmas that we forget the baby is coming. And what is more tragic is that with the Christ child we tend to forget about the child after his birth. Any parent will tell you that parenthood only begins at birth. It never ends.

John the Baptist tells us that we need to prepare for Christ -- the fully grown Christ who will change our lives (not just a baby) -- and that the preparations will require some life-style changes. He tells us we will need to change the way we are living, we must repent of our busy-ness and find time in our busy schedules for God. John suggests that Advent is the time of preparing for the birth in the same manner as Tonya and Ed made room for Keith during the pregnancy.

We must realize that the Christ child will demand some of our energy after birth and that we must continue to nurture our faith throughout our lives, not just at Christmas, not just at the time of our acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior, not just on Sunday morning.

All of life will be affected by Christ.

The Sadducees and Pharisees were the respected religious leaders of John's day. They were the pastors and bishops, the deacons and elders, the Sunday School teachers and Church officers of the Jewish synagogue. They did not always agree with one another in their theology and their understanding of faith, but they were the ones that people respected. They were not much different than most of us. To them, to us, John sends a special warning.

"Don't think that just because you are a member of the church that you are exempt. Don't think that just because you have been baptized that you are above reproach. Don't think that just because you attend church regularly that God will honor you."

The real question is not how you live your lives, but who lives within you. Is there room for Christ in your life? Is there room for God in your lifestyle? Do you honor God in all that you do?

I must confess that all-too-often I fail to make room in my schedule and in my life for Christ. All-too-often my life is wrapped up in preparing for church, preparing for worship, preparing for Christmas -- so much so that I miss Christ. That I forget God. So I, too, am warned by John.

And I suspect that in many ways you are like me. I suspect that you are also so busy preparing for Christmas that you forget about Christ. And to us John the Baptist says, "Repent. Change the way you are living."

Perhaps we could use Advent as a time of preparation. We could use this month as a time to reorganize our lives so that with the coming year we will be able to make commitments to God that we will be able to keep.

In our last Newsletter, there was a page listing the various activities that we have planned in our church this month that relate to Advent and Christmas. With it was a note of caution that I feel was important then and important to repeat.

Do what is important to you as you prepare for Christmas. Do not get so spread out that you don't have room for Christ. At the same time, if you need an additional place to worship so that you can more effectively prepare for Christ, then come and join us.

Together we can all prepare for Christ as we prepare for Christmas. Together we can make preparations for the birth of the Christ child in our world and in our lives.