The Way of Peace

(Philippians 1: 3-11)

              Doing prep work is something Teresa and I understand.  We’ve lived in a lot of houses during our lifetime.  In the ten years we’ve lived in Jefferson County, we’ve lived in five houses.  We know something about remodeling, refurbishing and refreshing.  As anxious as you might be to get started, it is important to do the prep work.  If you cut corners it will cost you time and money.  Prep work can be as simple as wiping the dust, dirt and grime off a surface before you start painting.  It may involve some light sanding to insure a smooth surface, a coat of primer to make sure the paint sticks so you don’t have to apply more expensive paint than you have to.  Filling nail holes and cracks before you paint is usually a recommended practice because the fresh coat of paint really points out your omission.  Teresa has a steady hand, so she can cut in with a paint brush in as straight a line as I get when I take the time to tape along the edges.  We cringe and talk to the television when we watch programs such as First Time Flippers and other amateur house flipping programs.  It makes you wonder when you buy a recently remodeled house how many corners were cut in the flip and how long before you will have to go in and repair the damage.  If the prep work isn’t done properly, the finished product isn’t really finished, it will be substandard with hidden defects or, worse yet, someone will have to come in and do it all over again.  And, they’ll talk about you.

              Prep work is where we find ourselves on the second Sunday of Advent, preparing the way for the second coming of Jesus Christ.  In 430 B.C., the prophet Malachi wrote to the people in Jerusalem and in chapter three he says: See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.  The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.  But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?  For he is like a refiner’s fire and the fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.  Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.  There are two messengers in this verse.  The first is usually understood to be John the Baptist, the voice crying out in the wilderness.  The second messenger is Jesus, the Messiah, for whom both Malachi and John the Baptist prepared the way.  Malachi tells us that on the day of our Lord’s second coming, he will purify us just as a refiner purifies silver taking out the impurities, and that the offering of God’s people will be as pleasing to Him as it was in days past.  All of our imperfections will be gone and we will be acceptable in God’s sight.

              The Apostle Luke tells us in chapter three of another who proclaimed the coming of the Christ.  He tells of how the word of God came to John, son of Zechariah in the wilderness.  He too is speaking of John the Baptist who went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins.  Luke references the words of the prophet Isaiah when he says that a voice will cry out in the wilderness saying: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.  Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.  This particular message would resonate with the hearers because during those days, before a king would take a trip, messengers would tell those he was planning to visit to prepare the roads for the king so his journey would be smooth.  You know, fill the potholes. This message must have resonated with those who were looking for the promised Messiah, their King, who would restore the kingdom with a reign of peace, righteousness and justice.  Those listening to this message recognized the hidden meaning that the Messiah, their true and rightful king, was coming and to get ready.  But what is it that they are preparing?  They’re not out there doing road construction so the king will have a smooth ride into Jerusalem.  John is telling his listeners to make their lives ready, unencumbered, so the Lord could come to them.  In this context, “preparing the way” means clearing aside the baggage of the past and the doubts of the present in order to let the king come into your life.  Once that’s accomplished, he’ll take it from there.

              In our scripture reading for this morning, the Apostle Paul puts prep work into perspective when he tells the Philippian church how he thanks God every time he remembers them because of their sharing in the gospel from that first day until now.  He says he is confident of this, that the one who began a good work among them will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.  Paul was especially fond of the Philippian church as he had established it ten years earlier during his second missionary trip.  As a result of their accepting the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Philippian church had a reputation for being willing to be used by God for whatever he wanted them to do, without question. Now they were supporting and encouraging Paul during his imprisonment in Rome.  And knowing that Paul was a prisoner because of his bold work in spreading the gospel, they didn’t hesitate in their support.  Their good work continued.  Like the Philippians, the God who began a good work in us continues it throughout our lifetime and will finish it when we meet him face-to-face.  God’s work for us began when Christ died on the cross in our place.  His work in us began when we first believed.  Now the Holy Spirit lives in us, enabling us to be more like Christ every day.  We continue to grow in our faith as we mature as Christians doing all we can, preparing the way for the coming of the Lord. 

              Do you sometimes feel as though you aren’t making progress in your spiritual life?  Sometimes it feels as if we are high-centered and we’re just spinning our wheels and not getting anywhere.  We’re neither going forwards or backwards.  We’re stagnant and don’t like the feeling.  We have to remember that when God starts a project, he completes it.  It just may be that some take longer than others.  Some, like me and maybe you, need more heat and more refining to separate out the impurities.  Be patient for God will help you grow in grace until he has completed his work in your life.  So, when you feel discouraged, remember that God won’t give up on you.  He promises to finish the work he has begun.  When you feel incomplete, unfinished, or distressed by your shortcomings, remember God’s promise and provision.  Don’t let your present condition rob you of the joy of knowing Christ or keep you from growing closer to him.

              Paul closes out this portion of his letter by telling them that his prayer for them is that their love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help them determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ they may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. 

              As we celebrate the season of Advent, the coming of Jesus Christ, the words of John the Baptist still call out to us: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.  The way of Jesus Christ is the way of peace.  We have to ask ourselves, what are we doing to prepare the way of the Lord?  How are we, as a church, making his paths straight so that in the day of his return we may be held pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God?

              Please pray with me.

              Have thine own way, Lord!  Have thine own way!  Thou art the potter; I am the clay.  Mold me and make me after thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.  Use us Lord.  Move us through the Holy Spirt to make the paths of your son straight so that upon his triumphant return he will find us pure and blameless as we have produced a harvest of righteousness that will bring you glory and praise.  How grateful we are that you have started a good work in us and will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.  Show us the way of peace.  In the name of your loving son, our brother, the Prince of Peace, we pray, Amen.