Are you ready?

The Covington News - - RELIGION - JONATHAN SCHARF COLUM­NIST Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pas­tor of Abid­ing Grace Lutheran Church in Cov­ing­ton. Wor­ship ev­ery Sun­day is at 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more in­for­ma­tion can be found at abid­ing­grace.com.

T mi­nus 14 days and count­ing. Are you ready? Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­net (and you know if it’s on the In­ter­net it has to be true, right?) …ac­cord­ing to the in­ter­net on Dec. 21st, 2012, at ex­actly 11:11 a.m. there will be a con­junc­tion of the Win­ter Sol­stice with the cross­ing point of the Galac­tic Equa­tor and the Eclip­tic path of the sun. The Mayans pre­dicted it 2500 years ago and ended their cal­en­dar on that day. Nostradamus called it the “Galac­tic align­ment of 2012” way back in 1555. And it is now just 11 days away, this cat­a­clysmic event, some say “the end of the world.”

Are you ready? Are you freak­ing out? Truth­fully, I think it would be a big­ger deal if the Mayans hadn’t picked a day so close to Christ­mas. They needed bet­ter pub­li­cists. Didn’t they know the schools will be on break, peo­ple will be trav­el­ing, there will be gifts to buy — the 21st will be a prime shop­ping day — and it’s a Fri­day so there is sure to be a party or a get to­gether for work or school or friends, what­ever it is. There’s al­most a con­flict of in­ter­ests be­tween Christ­mas and the end of the world.

Really, there is a lot to get ready for for both things. And there is some over­lap there, isn’t there? Both have the same mes­sage: “Je­sus is coming!” Think about that — God him­self is coming to visit us. Are you ready for that — whether it is on Christ­mas or the end of the world — are you ready to see God? Well, just see­ing how worked up we get just to pre­pare to cel­e­brate a hol­i­day and wel­come our guests into our homes doesn’t really speak highly of how we’d ever be ready to wel­come God.

So God gave us a prom­ise in Malachi 3:1-4 ...and he ful­filled it. Verse 1 says: “See, I will send my mes­sen­ger, who will pre­pare the way be­fore me.” He will pre­pare us. In Matthew 11, Je­sus quotes this prom­ise and tells us ex­actly who he was talk­ing about in his word through his prophet Malachi. The mes­sen­ger was Je­sus’ cousin, John the Bap­tist, that great preacher of re­pen­tance. In fact, this is how his work is de­scribed: “Ev­ery val­ley shall be filled in, ev­ery moun­tain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall be­come straight, the rough ways smooth” (Luke 3:5).

Now, of course, John wasn’t a phys­i­cal road builder. This work is done on hearts — but the phys­i­cal pic­ture helps, doesn’t it? Think of what it takes to build a road, es­pe­cially in a place like moun­tain­ous Is­rael. Last Fri­day, in­stead of shop­ping for Black Fri­day deals, my fam­ily and I went hik­ing on part of the Ap­palachian Trail. The hike was pretty dif­fi­cult, mak­ing our way up and down the dra­matic changes of el­e­va­tion on that trail. But that was noth­ing com­pared to the thought of try­ing to build the road that got us to that trail. If you’ve driven any of those moun­tain roads, try to imag­ine build­ing one. The moun­tains lit­er­ally needed to be chipped, chis­eled and blasted off; the val­leys filled with load af­ter back­break­ing load of rock, dirt, gravel and as­phalt — not easy work.

And that’s just a road. The sur­face our text is de­scrib­ing takes much harder work. We’re talk­ing about hu­man hearts. Think of the work that needs to be done to sin­ful hu­man hearts to be pre­pared to meet holy God.

You see, in the book of Malachi — the first two chap­ters deal with the prob­lems peo­ple were hav­ing in his day. In them, God con­demns the all too com­mon things like ma­te­ri­al­ism, less-than-heart­felt wor­ship, mar­riage and re­la­tion­ship prob­lems, di­vorce and just doubt­ing God, say­ing “life isn’t fair” and ask­ing “where is God and why does he let all this bad stuff hap­pen?”

Wait a sec­ond — did I jump tracks there? I was talk­ing about Malachi’s day, wasn’t I, 2,400 years ago? But that whole list per­fectly de­scribes 2012, doesn’t it? Ma­te­ri­al­ism, wor­ship that’s not al­ways from the heart giv­ing glory to God, strug­gles and dis­putes in our mar­riages, too many di­vorces, doubt­ing God is in con­trol or his prom­ises that even the junk of life is for my good.

We need that same mes­sen­ger to pre­pare our way, don’t we? We need John’s mes­sage of re­pen­tance. We need our hearts pre­pared. And that is not easy work. What does it say? “Ev­ery val­ley” needs to be filled in and “ev­ery moun­tain and hill” made low — the crook- ed places straight and the rough places smooth.

Here’s the pic­ture. The moun­tains of our pride and the of­fenses we take need to be knocked down. And they are all around us, es­pe­cially this time of year as we get worked up about all those fam­ily dy­nam­ics when peo­ple don’t act like we want them to and we get of­fended at the par­ties we aren’t in­vited to or the peo­ple who don’t ap­pre­ci­ate us like we think they should. “Get over it,” Malachi says. That self­ish­ness needs to be taken out. All it does is get in the way.

And the shal­low­ness needs to be filled in, the shal­low­ness of our cel­e­bra­tions and our wor­ship that be­come all about us, when we let this time of year be­come about the gifts in­stead of the givers, and wor­ship be­comes tra­di­tion in­stead of cel­e­bra­tion. Plus the hills of dis­obe­di­ence need lev­el­ing with the law and the val­leys of de­pres­sion need fill­ing in with his prom­ises.

And the prom­ise is that Je­sus is coming. So re­pent. Turn away from your­selves for your so­lu­tion and to your Sav­ior. That’s where Malachi points us. We’ll look at that next week. In the mean­time, may God bless all your Christ­mas cel­e­bra­tions as you re­mem­ber how won­der­ful it is that God did come, not to con­demn us, but to be our Sav­ior.

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