Sunday, December 20, 2015

Advent: A Time of Preparation

One of my favorite movies is "A Knight's Tale." Paul Bettany plays a comedic Geoffrey Chaucer, heralding squire William Thatcher as "Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein," and aiding him in his impersonation of a noble. Thatcher's abilities as a jouster (?) earn him the prize, and the girl, of course, but "Chaucer's" heraldry is epic. His embellishment, his seduction, his artistry with words never ceases to leave me captivated.

From conception, John the Baptist was chosen by God to proclaim the arrival of Jesus, the long awaited Messiah. What an honor! What a responsibility! While reading the account of Christ's birth in Luke 2, I couldn't help but notice the attention and placement allotted the account of John's birth in Luke 1. Given the nature of his calling, it's no wonder. And the parallels in the two births is equally striking.

Both were miraculously conceived: one, because of his mother's advanced age; one, because of His mother's virginity. Both sons were an answer to prayer: one, the prayers of his parents; one, the prayers of the entire Israelite people. Both were announced by an angel. Both firstborn sons were circumcised and presented at the temple; and the account of John's circumcision is just as noteworthy as Jesus'. Though John never hesitated to speak of his own unworthiness, Jesus said of him, "Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist." (Matthew 11:11a)

In the culture of ancient Israel, barrenness was a terrible stigma and humiliation, the reprieve of which was an indication of tremendous blessing. John was such a gift to Zacharias and Elizabeth, and a harbinger to the Greatest Gift to come!

Both John the Baptist and Jesus spent time in a place known for its harsh characteristics and challenging situations: the wilderness. For those who have been there, the wilderness may be a place of testing and trial, but it is a place of strengthening and training. When all else is taken from us; when we are alone with the Lord in a difficult place, we find He is all we need, and we are drawn closer to Him in fellowship. John spent years in the wilderness, separated from the world in which he was born, allied only with his Heavenly Father and learning directly from Him how to be a herald for the One True King.

Since ancient days, heralds were appointed to announce the coming of a king well in advance of his arrival, that the people might prepare themselves and their town for the exceptional events that would accompany the royal's visit. The people of Israel had been promised a Savior; their prophets had been quiet for hundreds of years; and they were under terrible persecution by the Roman Empire. They were certain the time of their redemption was nigh. But John, the herald selected by God to announce the arrival of the King of Kings brought them an unexpected message: a message that called for them not to prepare open celebrations, but to quietly prepare their hearts for this King; a message not about gamely taking up arms in war against Rome, but taking up the humble tasks of self-examination and repentance in a spiritual war. God's herald directed the eyes of Israel to One who would redeem much more than their mortal lives; this was a plan for the ages, and John was its messenger!

Every word he said about Jesus was true. He did not gild the lily; there was no obsequiousness or bombastic elocution. His speech was not colored by his own opinions or agendas. He never made himself any more than one who humbly served a worthy King. May I be such a herald! And may we all use this time to prepare our hearts for the One who daily wants to unfold before us the plan He so lovingly designed for each of us. May we prepare in our hearts a place worthy of a righteous and holy King.

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