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Scharf: Are you ready?
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T minus 14 days and counting. Are you ready? According to the Internet (and you know if it's on the Internet it has to be true, right?) ...according to the internet on Dec. 21st, 2012, at exactly 11:11 a.m. there will be a conjunction of the Winter Solstice with the crossing point of the Galactic Equator and the Ecliptic path of the sun. The Mayans predicted it 2500 years ago and ended their calendar on that day. Nostradamus called it the "Galactic alignment of 2012" way back in 1555. And it is now just 11 days away, this cataclysmic event, some say "the end of the world."

Are you ready? Are you freaking out? Truthfully, I think it would be a bigger deal if the Mayans hadn't picked a day so close to Christmas. They needed better publicists. Didn't they know the schools will be on break, people will be traveling, there will be gifts to buy - the 21st will be a prime shopping day - and it's a Friday so there is sure to be a party or a get together for work or school or friends, whatever it is. There's almost a conflict of interests between Christmas and the end of the world.

Really, there is a lot to get ready for for both things. And there is some overlap there, isn't there? Both have the same message: "Jesus is coming!" Think about that - God himself is coming to visit us. Are you ready for that - whether it is on Christmas or the end of the world - are you ready to see God? Well, just seeing how worked up we get just to prepare to celebrate a holiday and welcome our guests into our homes doesn't really speak highly of how we'd ever be ready to welcome God.

So God gave us a promise in Malachi 3:1-4 ...and he fulfilled it. Verse 1 says: "See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me." He will prepare us. In Matthew 11, Jesus quotes this promise and tells us exactly who he was talking about in his word through his prophet Malachi. The messenger was Jesus' cousin, John the Baptist, that great preacher of repentance. In fact, this is how his work is described: "Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth" (Luke 3:5).

Now, of course, John wasn't a physical road builder. This work is done on hearts - but the physical picture helps, doesn't it? Think of what it takes to build a road, especially in a place like mountainous Israel. Last Friday, instead of shopping for Black Friday deals, my family and I went hiking on part of the Appalachian Trail. The hike was pretty difficult, making our way up and down the dramatic changes of elevation on that trail. But that was nothing compared to the thought of trying to build the road that got us to that trail. If you've driven any of those mountain roads, try to imagine building one. The mountains literally needed to be chipped, chiseled and blasted off; the valleys filled with load after backbreaking load of rock, dirt, gravel and asphalt - not easy work.

And that's just a road. The surface our text is describing takes much harder work. We're talking about human hearts. Think of the work that needs to be done to sinful human hearts to be prepared to meet holy God.

You see, in the book of Malachi - the first two chapters deal with the problems people were having in his day. In them, God condemns the all too common things like materialism, less-than-heartfelt worship, marriage and relationship problems, divorce and just doubting God, saying "life isn't fair" and asking "where is God and why does he let all this bad stuff happen?"

Wait a second - did I jump tracks there? I was talking about Malachi's day, wasn't I, 2,400 years ago? But that whole list perfectly describes 2012, doesn't it? Materialism, worship that's not always from the heart giving glory to God, struggles and disputes in our marriages, too many divorces, doubting God is in control or his promises that even the junk of life is for my good.

We need that same messenger to prepare our way, don't we? We need John's message of repentance. We need our hearts prepared. And that is not easy work. What does it say? "Every valley" needs to be filled in and "every mountain and hill" made low - the crooked places straight and the rough places smooth.

Here's the picture. The mountains of our pride and the offenses we take need to be knocked down. And they are all around us, especially this time of year as we get worked up about all those family dynamics when people don't act like we want them to and we get offended at the parties we aren't invited to or the people who don't appreciate us like we think they should. "Get over it," Malachi says. That selfishness needs to be taken out. All it does is get in the way.

And the shallowness needs to be filled in, the shallowness of our celebrations and our worship that become all about us, when we let this time of year become about the gifts instead of the givers, and worship becomes tradition instead of celebration. Plus the hills of disobedience need leveling with the law and the valleys of depression need filling in with his promises.

And the promise is that Jesus is coming. So repent. Turn away from yourselves for your solution and to your Savior. That's where Malachi points us. We'll look at that next week. In the meantime, may God bless all your Christmas celebrations as you remember how wonderful it is that God did come, not to condemn us, but to be our Savior.

Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at