John the Baptist’s preaching is simple: Make straight the way of the Lord. It is appropriate to prepare for the birth of the Savior of the nations as you would prepare for any birthday celebration. Except this birthday celebration is a unique occasion. Never before, and never again, will God become man to save His Father’s people from their sins. No wonder John preaches, Make straight the way of the Lord.
So how is the way made straight for Baby Jesus’ arrival? One way is for you to answer the question posed to John, Who are you? That’s a rather personal question, isn’t it? It’s not good to ask others that question, let alone pose it to yourself. The Jews ask John this question because his preaching and baptism displeased them. When you pose that question to others, more than likely it is to humiliate someone and lift up yourself. “So you call yourself a Christian, eh? How come I see you do this and that and yet you’re in church? Some kind of Christian you are!”
Pose that question to yourself now. Who are you? You are man. Consider what the Scriptures say about man. You are a sinner, an enemy of God. Let’s let Saint Paul speak the truth: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one…. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness…. The way of peace they have not known…. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. How do you even begin to respond to what Scripture says about who you are? The answer is, God, be merciful to me, a sinner. Blessed are you, for now you are properly prepared for Christmas.
Not so fast, though. Ask yourself again, Who are you? You are a Christian. Yet your way of life is not in the way of Christ? You don’t crucify your flesh and die daily to sin in order that the new man may emerge and live in the Good News of forgiveness of sins and eternal life. You love the world. You love your own flesh. You are afraid of death. You do not trust the Psalmist when he sings, I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord. How do you begin to respond to these true accusations? You answer in the way of John the Baptist: “I am not worthy to untie His sandal strap. I am a poor, miserable Christian. I cling to Christ as my hope for salvation.” Blessed are you when you answer this way, for you are properly prepared for Christmas.
But wait, there’s more. Ask yourself one more time, Who are you? Consider your station in life. Do you live in a Christian household? Do you pray without ceasing as Scripture says? Do you read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest Sacred Scripture every day? Are you rebellious against authority figures? What about your children or other members of your family? Where do you stand compared to what Scripture says? Your answer must be with the Psalmist, If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? Your answer must be that of Job: If one wished to contend with [God], one could not answer Him once in a thousand times. Blessed are you when you answer this way, for you are properly prepared for the Savior’s birth.
Now that you have examined yourself and discovered once again you are in need of a Savior, listen to John’s testimony: I baptize with water, but among you stands One you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of Whose sandal I am not worthy to untie…. Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.”
John’s testimony brings great comfort as Christmas approaches. The Christ Child comes to bear the sin of the world, even your sin. You are a great sinner, but you have an even greater Savior Who becomes sin for you that you might become the righteousness of God. Jesus is a man, but also God. Do not fear. He conquers all for you. Though you are a weak Christian, our Father in heaven still delivers salvation for you day after day. He bestows new grace that richly, daily, and abundantly forgives your sins. You deserve death and hell, but on Christmas night the heavens burst open over the sinful world. You shall not die, but live.
Your preparation for Christmas finds its ultimate fulfillment in receiving the Gifts Jesus gives His Church for the forgiveness of sins. You hear the Good News of sins atoned for in the all-availing blood and righteousness of Jesus. You are baptized into Christ; baptized into His perfect life, perfect death, and perfect resurrection. You eat and drink Christ’s true Body and true Blood in His Supper for the forgiveness of sins. So you are actually preparing as much for Jesus’ first coming in Bethlehem as much as you are also preparing for His final coming on Judgment Day. Martin Luther’s Christmas hymn says it well:
Welcome to earth, O noble Guest,
Through Whom the sinful world is blest!
You came to share my misery
That You might share Your joy with me.
In other words, Make straight the way of the Lord.