Prepare the Way


Coming to Town


Matthew 3:1-12

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sad′ducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit that befits repentance, 9 and do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Prepare the Way

Sermon given on 4 December 2016 by The Rev. Jon Roberts

Calvary Episcopal Church, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida

Jesus Christ Superstar, rock opera, 1973

Prepare ye the way of the Lord,

the hour is at hand for thy salvation.

Prepare ye the way of the Lord;

repentance is due for this and every nation.[1]

A young and new lay preacher was asked to lead an evening service at a church he had not visited before. A few days before the service he met a farmer who he knew to be a member of the church he was to visit. The hugely over-weight farmer was apologetic, saying that he would not be at church that evening and what was his sermon text? The preacher told him, and even went through how he was to expound the particular scripture. The farmer was delighted that he had shared it with him and went on his way.

The preacher decided that he would attend morning service that Sunday at the church to get a feel for the place and its ambience. As he took his pew he noticed a ladder left against the side of the pulpit. When the service began he was surprised to see that the farmer was the preacher. As he could not get into the pulpit by the narrow door the farmer had to climb the ladder and swing himself over the pulpit side. He then proceeded to preach the same sermon as that prepared by the young preacher. The young man was extremely annoyed after he had put hours of work into his sermon for that evening. When he eventually entered the pulpit that evening, he announced to the congregation, “My text this evening is St John, Chapter 10, verse 1, ‘Jesus said, verily, verily, I say unto you, he that entereth not the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber!’”

This is the season of preparation and sometimes we keep our thoughts to ourselves. It’s OK to share the good news of Jesus. It’s OK to share the testimony of how God has moved in your life in a mysterious and miraculous way. This is the time of announcing our salvation.

When we prepare for the way of the Lord let us not cheat or take a short cut. In the 1970 rock opera film, “Jesus Christ Superstar” set by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the opening is a lively song about preparing for the arrival of one we are not worthy as to tie his sandals. John the Baptizer takes the lead in the desert baptizing all who would come, repent and wish to be clean. There was great excitement of all these people running out into the desert singing that famous chorus line, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” Then, the Baptizer looks at a distance and sees a lone figure coming.

Now there are two ways to prepare the way for our salvation. One is about announcing, receiving the Messiah. The second is about repentance, rejecting and pushing back the things that hold us and keep us in bondage. We see this on the second Sunday in Advent and in the Gospel, we hear from the evangelist that, “He is coming.”[2] Many of us are rushing ahead assuming the coming is about the incarnation of the Christmas event, but it is actually the coming of God; the complete arrival. If we’re not careful we will personify it solely on the Nativity but Jesus wants us to look at his complete nature as he enters into our life.

Yes, there is hope. Yes, there is a new beginning, but most importantly we are being prepared. To prepare the way of the Lord means you have to go through that entrance. You are to prepare by rejecting the things that weigh you down; the sin. Sometimes they are so unbearable you can’t even hoist yourself up. But this is where you need God’s help. This is where you need to seek the coming of the Lord; not waiting for the moment of Christmas, but right now.

Jesus continues to call us individually. As our individual lives are transformed in the knowledge of Christ we take that chorus to heart. We need it during those times when the vipers try to destroy our lives. It is not certain we need to have that same charismatic nature as seen in that rock opera, but the feeling is real. Pray that God will share with you in some miraculous way that you can be found in the desert; in the desert of your temptation and fear.

Prepare ye the way of the Lord,

the hour is at hand for thy salvation.

Prepare ye the way of the Lord;

repentance is due for this and every nation.


[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts

[2] Matthew 3:1-12

Coming to Town

Sermon given on 5 December 2010 by The Rev. Jon Roberts

Good Shepherd Episcopal, Venice, Florida


St. Nicholas, by Jean Poyer in The Hours of Henry VIII, 1500

Oh, You better watch out,

You better not cry,

You better not pout,

I'm telling you why,

Santa Claus is coming to town.

He knows if you are sleeping, he knows if you're awake, he knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.

It's been forty years since Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin directed that Christmas time movie favorite, Santa Claus is Coming to Town. It's an animated classic geared for children of all ages, and it begins with the voice of Fred Astaire who plays a mailman at the North Pole; He is flooded with letters about Santa Claus; letters from children everywhere, who want to know him. They want to know how he grew his beard. They want to know how he began going down chimneys. They want to know what makes his reindeer fly. But the journey for Kris Kringle, heard in the voice of Mickey Rooney, was not so much about beards, chimneys or reindeer, as much as it was about the goodness of giving.

We celebrate the feast day of St. Nich-o-las (Greek), Sinterklaas (Dutch), or Santa Claus (English) every December 6th and the emphasis is on giving. But it's not just giving for goodness sake. It's about giving something unexpected. The story of Kris Kringle in the movie is about this jolly red head with a red beard and a red suit, hopping down chimneys and leaving toys for children.    He sees they have no joy in their lives. They were prohibited to play. In his compassion he slipped a doll in a stocking, a ball in another, simply to give a child hope for a brief moment.            


The story of Nicholas is about a similar youth. One who goes back way further. Living between the years 270-346AD, he hopped from island to island somewhere around Turkey and Greece leaving gold coins for people in despair. Legend has it that a poor man had a debt he could not pay. He could not afford the dowry to marry off his three daughters. Tradition had it that when they came of age, if he could not afford a husband for them, they would have no choice but to become prostitutes to earn money.

One night, while they were sleeping, Nicholas went to the bedroom window where the eldest slept and slipped three bags of gold coins beside her. As you can imagine there was a great rejoicing the next morning, but they did not know who to thank. It was an unexpected gift; a miracle. By the time the second daughter came of age,  the same problem was encountered and once more a miraculous three bags appeared. When the third daughter came of age, the father decided to wait outside to see who would come. Seeing this, Nicholas climbed up the roof and dropped three bags of gold coins down the chimney. It just so happened that the daughter awoke, not to find the money in her bed, but rather in her stockings, drying over the embers in the fireplace.

By now you can see how the original story merges with the one in the movie. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of merchants, archers and children, of course, but did you know this story also makes him the patron saint of pawn shops? Whenever you go by one, look at the emblem outside their window. The three balls represent the three bags of gold coins. It's a place where one can find a rare and unexpected gift to buy.

Unfortunately, much of the relation of St. Nicholas as Santa Claus  is drifting further apart because of materialism. Instead of the charity of giving something unexpected, the story of Christmas is turning into the necessity of getting something expected. It is also drifting further away from the gospel, the good news of Jesus, and how such news can transform the life of simple folk like Nicholas into a saintly man of God.

In many places today, it makes people uncomfortable to associate a venerable, saintly person with Christianity. We can tolerate jolly 'ol St. Nicholas as long as we don't have to mention why he led his life by following Christ or observing the icon of the cross seen on the miter on his head,   worn during a Christmas pageant procession. For many, Christmas is turning into a festive time off from work and school but it needs to be seen for what it really is. We continue to prepare in Advent for an unexpected gift. We discover that we are worthy not by who we are, but who God is.

We were born in poverty, turned over to live on the street. But God knew our coming of age, and he dropped Jesus down beside us, to be the offering that would save us. It is naughty to forget what the gift is that has been laid beside us, or that good news that has dropped down         within us.

In this Advent, prepare the way for the one who comes to town, to wash away all our sins. Let us be like John the Baptist; a voice that cries out in the wilderness areas[1]: to the person frantic in the shopping mall; to that relative at a family gathering; or perhaps the person sitting next to you today. Tell them not to be anxious and to prepare the way.

Tell them “they better watch out; they better not cry; they better not pout, you'll tell them why.

Jesus Christ is coming to town.


[1] Matthew 3:1-12

© 2012. Black & White Chi Rho Ministries 

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