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Gospel: Luke 3:1-6

1In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,  “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:  ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,   make his paths straight.  5Every 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;  6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”

There was once a church MANY years ago that was making preparations for the Christmas season. The pastor decided it would be nice to get a big sign made to hang above the door of the church to proclaim the good news of Christmas. So the pastor sent a member into town to get the sign made.

On the way to the sign maker however, the parishioner lost the piece of paper that had all the details on it. So when he got into town, he sent a wire to the pastor and in it, he asked the pastor to send a return telegram with the sign’s message and measurements.

So the pastor went to the Western Union office and sent the message. This was long before cell phones and text messages. He kept it as short as possible, to save money! The request was this: “Lost information. Send message and dimensions.”

When the operator at the Western Union office in town received the following telegram, she nearly fainted. Imagine her surprise when she read this, “For unto us a child is born. 3 feet tall, seven feet wide!”

In this Gospel lesson, we receive a history lesson. In it we hear, at a specific time, in a specific place, John gets to work - making the way straight for the coming of Jesus Christ. Prepare the way of the Lord! The Savior is coming!

Before Jesus, there is John. Before one can receive this salvation, one must be ready to do so. In other words, one must know that they need to be saved before they will be willing to be saved. Does that make sense?

If we do not begin with the realization that we need a Savior, then Christmas means nothing more than what the catalogs and stores and advertisers are telling us. It will come and go, and be packed away for another year, till we unpack it next year and do it again.

But if we take this time of Advent to Stop! STOP, and see that we need a Savior, then Christmas means so much more. It means we receive a gift we just can’t live without. Jesus is the gift we just can’t live without.

In a previous congregation several years ago, I made a terrible mistake. It was All Saints Sunday, and I announced that we had no congregational members die in the previous year, my first experience of that in all my years of ministry before and since then. I do not believe in jinxes or superstition, but I am beginning wonder for within the weeks that followed three members passed away, and at least two other family members of members as well.

Over the past 21 months, we have experienced a great deal of grief, sadness and despair. Over five million people have died due to COVID in our world, and we wonder when things will get better. It has been a tough haul.

If anything answers the question for why we need a savior, it is wrapped up tightly in these experiences. In the midst of loss and grief, we look for hope. I remember those funerals that took place that November – three men who were faith-filled men. Their hope was built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. No merit of their own did they claim then wholly lean on Jesus’ name. In the end, there was NOTHING but HOPE. HOPE in the salvation - the saving power - God gives us over sin and death.

And I know that it is because of the hope we hold to so tightly in Jesus Christ, knowing God holds US tightly in God’s loving embrace, that we can face each day in sure and certain hope that God’s love is never-ending.

No matter what we do, what we own, how young or old we may be, what we have done, in the end, what is ultimately important - is hope. In the hundreds of funerals that I have officiated in my 30 plus years of ministry, I have seen the difference between hope-filled funerals, and those that are not.

St Paul tells us that we mourn, but not as people without hope!

John comes to prepare us for the coming of our Hope, our Savior. His message is clear. A baptism of repentance - a turning from the things that pull us away from God, the things that tantalize us with the promise of all that we need, if we just buy it, achieve it, do it! John calls us to turn from that and prepare for the one who we can’t live without!

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Jesus the Christ, Emmanuel, God With Us!

Let us pray: God of Hope, we give you thanks that we can put our hope in you. For there is nothing that can separate us from your love. Thank you for your gift of love, your only Son. We pray in HIS name, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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