In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 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.’”
Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Matthew 3:1-6 ESV
A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:3-5 ESV
In 2015, King Harald V of Norway came to visit Pacific Lutheran University in Washington State. The university had to do many things to prepare for their royal visitor, even months before he came. They inscribed some stones on campus to honor the king. They invited people to come and wave flags and perform Norwegian dances and greet the king when he arrived on campus. The university made sure they had a Norwegian flag to fly on the campus square and arranged to have it flying when the king appeared. They had to make sure they had an appropriate gift to give the king. They had to plan to let the media–TV and radio and newspapers and the internet–know about the visit, but they had to make sure that the announcement they made was okay with the king’s employees at the royal palace in Norway. Parking plans for the visit and seating arrangements for a special luncheon had to be arranged. In all, it was very stressful and challenging to prepare for a visit from the king!
When Jesus was about to begin his ministry, John the Baptist began his work of preparing the people to receive their king. But John didn’t arrange for flags and luncheons and dancers and royal heralds. Instead, he made his announcement out in the wilderness, and the people came out to hear him. John dressed in camel’s hair with a leather belt, and he ate wild honey and locusts–which taste a little bit like shrimp when they’re cooked. But as unusual as John’s location and clothing and diet were, his message was very simple. He called on people to repent, to turn away from their sins. And people who were sorry for their sins and wanted to be ready for the promised Savior were baptized in the Jordan River.
When an earthly king comes to visit, people work hard to make sure things go smoothly, and usually they don’t make any serious mistakes. But preparing for Jesus perfectly isn’t possible for anyone. We might try really hard not to sin anymore and to do better, but we always fall short. We need the forgiveness that only Jesus can give us, and that’s the reason he came. He died on the cross to pay the penalty for all our sins, and he washes us in the water of Holy Baptism. He sends us his Holy Spirit to give us hearts that want to turn away from sin and walk in God’s ways. Because of Jesus, we are forgiven every day, and he helps us to follow him and is with us every day with his love and blessings.
Dear Jesus, thank you for doing everything we needed to make us ready for you. Please forgive our sins and help us to walk with you. Amen.