Let me ask you a question…“Are you ready?”

Well, you might say, “For What?” and that would be a completely reasonable question. Of course, the answer totally depends on the context in which it’s asked.  

If I knock on my kid’s door at 8:30 Monday morning and ask, “Are you Ready?” I mean: Aare you dressed? Do you have your lunch kit? Is your homework done? and Have you put on deodorant? Are you ready to go to school.  

If I slide into the van, look in the mirror and say “Are you ready?” I’m asking: Do you have everything packed? Do you have your seatbelt on? Have you gone to the bathroom? Do you even have shoes on?  

If I walk into the dressing room 15 minutes before game time to address the team and ask “Are you Ready?”. I’m asking the team: Is your equipment on? Do you remember what we practiced? Do you know the lineup and assignments? and Are you excited to get out there and play?

What I’m really asking is “have you prepared?”  

If we are talking about Christmas, and I ask, “Are you ready?”, your answer could come from a few different perspectives. First, you might say “Oh man, yes” I have been so busy, I’m so tired, I can’t wait to just rest, spend some quality time with family and just unwind for a while. Or, you might say “Nope not at all…I have so much to get ready still, so many gifts to buy, so much baking to do, laundry to do, etc.” Which one are you?  

God knew people were both desperately needing, but not at all ready for the first Christmas. The first part of the Christmas story - which is often overlooked in its telling – is the announcement of the birth John, and it’s an important part of Christmas.

At the time Jesus was to be born, life in Israel was bleek. They were horribly oppressed by the Romans, and Luke 1 tells us, they were ruled by Herod, one of the most ruthless, corrupt, vengeful and jealous kings Israel had ever had.  

This was also a time when It seemed like God had gone silent. For 400 years Israel had not had anyone speak the words of God to the nation…400 years.  

The people had grown cold, hopeless, bitter, indifferent and doubtful. Sure, many of them went through the motions. They kept their family and cultural traditions but they had lost personal connection with God. But it was into these dark times that God announces that it is time to “get ready!”.  

The announcement came to an old man named Zechariah. We are told that he and his wife Elizabeth were great people, humble, kind, upright, hardworking and well-respected, but they had no children. I’m sure for decades they had prayed that God would give them children, but their prayers had gone un-answered. But Zechariah and Elizabeth had continued to trust God. Their names acted as a simple, daily reminder that “The Lord Remembers” (which is the meaning of Zechariahs name) and that, “The Lord keeps his promises” (Which is what Elizabeths name means).  

One day Zechariah was going about his work when an angel appeared to him and announced that “His prayers have been heard, and Elizabeth will have a child in her old age” (God remembers, and he keeps his promises). Their son, who they were to name “John” would be “great before the Lord” and would have an important role to play, “To make ready a people” and “to prepare the way for the Lord”. What incredible news not just for Zechariah and Elizabeth, but for everyone in Israel who had been waiting in the darkness for something, someone, anything from God to bring some bit of hope. And now it was time to get ready…He is coming!

Preparing the hearts of the people to receive Jesus would not be easy. People had grown bitter, self-righteous, and cynical towards God. The coming of Jesus was good news, but hard, cold hearts could not and would not receive Him. John’s mission would be to call people to change the way they thought and acted towards God. Rather than their cynical and distant view of God they were to look with joyful expectation for the one who was coming.  

When Jesus did come on the scene and begin his ministry, John the Baptist had already gone ahead of Him preparing people for when Jesus would come. John was indeed“great before the Lord”, speaking and teaching powerfully and amassing a lot of followers. People would come from miles out into the wilderness to hear John and be baptized by him. At one point, John’s followers came to tell him that people had left and had started following Jesus instead. John’s response is striking. “He must increase…I must decrease”. He didn’t get upset because he lost followers or that his popularity had waned. He didn’t do some wild stunt to turn attention back on himself. He had done his job…peoples’ hearts had been prepared and were turning to Jesus.  

This Christmas, “Are you ready to receive Jesus?” Or, have the circumstances of your life left you bitter at God, feeling abandoned, hurt or distant? Or maybe you just feel indifferent, like you’re just going through the motions or following traditions for some unknown reason.

God himself has stepped down into our darkness and given His life for you and me. Like Zechariah’s name; He has not forgotten you! For those who would turn in faith to Him, He promises new and eternal life. He promises to take your burdens of guilt, shame, fear and worry. And, He promises that he will never leave you or forsake you. And as Elizabeths name means. “God Keeps his Promises!”. Are You Ready?

Have a very Merry Christmas

-Sean Brandow