To make ready a people prepared for the Lord." (Lk 1: 17)
How beautiful are these words uttered by the angel of the Lord when announcing the birth of John the Baptist: "He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah … to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Lk 1: 15- 17)! The same also is announced in the prophecy of Malachi the Prophet: "Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me." (Mal 3: 1; Mk 1: 2)
How was John the Baptist to prepare the way before the Lord? Through preaching he announced, "There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose." (Mk 1: 7; Mt 3: 11) "Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight." (Mt 3: 3) He also led the people to repentance through baptism of repentance, saying to them, "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance." "Bear fruits worthy of repentance." (Mt 3: 11, 8) The importance of these words lies in that many people care about leading the others to mere knowledge, not to repentance.
However, knowledge that leads to repentance is indeed good, for such knowledge will not address the mind only, but will also work within the heart to make it attached to the Lord! God created so many people to fill the whole earth, and He desires that all of them be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2: 4).Therefore, he sent them stewards (Lk 12: 42) and vinedressers (Mt 21: 33) to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. He put before them the verse, "He who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins." (Jas 5: 20)
<P> It is well known that salvation is through Christ alone, for there is no salvation in any other (Acts 4: 12); what then is the meaning of the words "save a soul"? They mean to lead souls to salvation through Christ Jesus, or rather prepare them for salvation by repentance and faith.
We read that Samuel the Prophet went one day to Bethlehem to anoint one of the sons of Jesse as a king to the Lord, and he said to Jesse and his sons, "Sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice." Then he sanctified them, and invited them to the sacrifice (1 Sam 16: 5). Here the word "sanctified" bears the same meaning as the words "made ready a people prepared for the Lord". The same was said concerning the people before hearing the Ten Commandments, for the Lord said to Moses, "Go to the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow … And let them be ready." Then Moses went down from the mountain to the people and sanctified the people (Ex 19: 10, 14).
It is clear then that Moses had prepared the people for the Lord to listen to His word. How great it is to make ready a people prepared for the Lord!<BR> How great it is to prepare them to receive salvation, to receive the grace of the Lord in baptism, and to partake of the Holy sacraments, and to prepare them for repentance, and for the communion of the Holy Spirit, or for the service of the Lord and the edification of His Kingdom! See what Paul the Apostle says, "I have betrothed you to one husband that I may present you as a chase virgin to Christ." (2 Cor 11: 2) Who can present chaste souls to the Lord? Who can make ready souls prepared to receive His love and give Him love?
That was the mission of John the Baptist: he made ready that bride, i.e. the church, for the Lord. He made her ready by repentance, through the baptism of repentance, and when he delivered her to His hands, he stood gladly saying, "He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled." (Jn 3: 29)
The bride of the Lord may be one soul, a whole people, or many peoples.She may be a class in Sunday Schools, a church, a whole diocese, a people or many peoples as the case was with the father apostles and other prophets, or the whole church which Christ will offer when He delivers the Kingdom to God the Father (1 Cor 15: 24). She may also be the heavenly Jerusalem which St. John the Visionary saw as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev 21: 2). It is indeed the task of the ministers, the preachers, the priests, the pastors, and all fishers of men: to make ready that bride –i.e. the souls- for her bridegroom, to be adorned with virtues, "perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the merchant's fragrant powders." (Song 3: 6)
They prepare the souls so that they may appear beautiful in the Lord's sight. The soul will put on the garment of righteousness or a garment of light, and they will chant for her that beautiful song: "The royal daughter is all glorious within … her clothing is woven with gold. She shall be brought to the King in robes of many colors." (Ps 45)
That also was the task of the Old Testament Prophets and the Divine Inspiration, who made ready a people prepared to receive salvation, redemption, and the divine Incarnation through prophecies and symbols. It is also the mission of the holy angels who are described as "ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation." (Heb 1: 14) They are the angels who surround those who fear the Lord to deliver them from all evil. We continually ask the Lord in our prayers that He may surround us by them, so that we may be protected and guided by their encamping.
Making ready souls also is the responsibility of those who work in the Lord's vineyard: One plants, the other waters, God gives the increase. All are fellow workers with God (1 Cor 3: 6, 9). However, those who undertake such a responsibility are few, as the Lord says, "The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest." (Mt 9: 37)
The Lord wants special laborers, not like those wicked vinedressers, to whom He said, "The kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it." (Mt 21: 43) He who makes ready a people prepared for the Lord should be longsuffering and do not easily get bored, even if the tree does not yield fruit for many years. He should not cut it down, but let it alone another year, dig around it, and fertilize it, for perhaps it bears fruit (Lk 13: 8)!
Parents likewise are responsible for making ready a people prepared for the Lord. Children are like soft dough in their hands, which they can shape in a way that pleases the Lord, by teaching, training, good example, and strong spiritual foundation that may not shake by outer wars of the enemy.
Regrettably many families neglect bringing up their children properly, relying on the church and Sunday Schools. This is not an excuse for them to neglect their responsibility before God and forget the words of the Scripture, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." (Prov 22: 6) Or the words of the apostle, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord." (Eph 6: 4)
History tells us about saintly mothers who made ready for the Lord good children who led nations, like Jochabed, who brought up Moses the Prophet, Miriam the Prophetess, and Aaron the High Priest. We also read about the holy mother of St. Basil the Great the Archbishop of Caesarea of Cappadocia, and his brother St. Gregory of Nyssa, and their brother St. Peter bishop of Sebastia, and their sister St. Macrina the spiritual guide and mother superior of a nunnery.
Those saintly mothers knew the task of the godmothers in the church.<BR> The Church delivers the children after baptism to their mother to bear the responsibility of bringing them in a spiritual way in the fear of God and in His love. If those mothers fulfilled their spiritual duty, they will be able to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. A mother can give her child more and more abundantly than the Sunday Schools can. She can keep her child with the purity in which he/she has been born in baptism, and even increase it. She can make ready her children for the Lord and His ministry, and bring them up in the life of holiness in the house church.
The Church prepares the people through preaching and disseminating faith, through the Holy Sacraments, especially baptism, Holy Chrism, Confession, and Eucharist. In the past the church prepared the believers for baptism through catechetical classes where the Creed was explained, as we see in the book of St. Cyril of Jerusalem.
The Church even prepared a people ready for martyrdom.The Church taught them how their life on the earth is unworthy, trained them in asceticism, and established them in faith. The Church could do that by revealing to them how death for Christ or with Christ would make them worthy to live with Him in Paradise, and how death is nothing but moving to a better life in the company of God, His angels, and His saints. So many are the books of the Fathers kept for us, urging for martyrdom, therefore the martyrs accepted suffering and death with joy and courage
The Church also prepared people for eternal life.She prepared them for the meeting with the Lord, whether on their death or on His Second Coming of the Lord. So they used to repeat the words "Maran Atha, i.e. O Lord, come" (1 Cor 16: 22). She prepared them for eternal life by training them not to fear death, to lead a life of repentance and holiness, to hold to heaven and eternal life, as Paul the Apostle said, "… having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better." (Phil 1: 23).
The Church prepared people to face doubts and heresies.She established them in the orthodox faith, as Peter the Apostle said, "Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you." (1 Pet 3: 15) She prepared them to refute all heresies by the holy councils held, the books of the Fathers, and the powerful teaching so that they might not deviate from faith due to the views disseminated by the heretics.
By continual teaching the Church made ready a people prepared for the Lord. St. Paul said to his disciple Timothy, "Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you." (1 Tim 4: 16) The Church set it as a requirement that a bishop must be able to teach (1 Tim 3: 2) "… that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict." (Tit 1: 9) Even concerning sinners the Didascalia says, "Remove away guilt by teaching."
The Church also prepared people by disciplining.<BR> Therefore St. Paul said to his disciple Timothy the Bishop, "Convince, rebuke, exhort." (2 Tim 4: 2) "Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear." (1 Tim 5: 20) Moreover, to keep the Church holy, St. Paul commanded concerning the sinner at Corinth to, "deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." (1 Cor 5: 5) He even rebuked the Corinthians, saying, "Put away from yourselves that wicked person." (1 Cor 5: 13)
St. Jude likewise said, "Others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh." (Jud 23) The Church prepared people by prayer, by encouraging the mean spirited and the weak. Therefore the apostle said, "Comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all." (1 Thess 5: 14) "Remember the prisoners as if chained with them and those who are mistreated, since you yourselves are in the body also." (Heb 13: 3) It is also said about the Lord that, "A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench." (Mt 12: 20)
To make ready a people prepared for the Lord, the Church prayed that the Lord may send laborers for the harvest, and to give power to the ministers, wisdom to the shepherds, and hearing and acceptance to the people they serve.The Church encouraged people to watch for their salvation as the Lord said, "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation." (Mt 26: 41) Those who watch by night are describes by the words, "They all hold swords, being expert in war. Every man has his sword on his thigh because of fear in the night." (Song 3: 8) The Church prepare her children to be ready for the spiritual wars, saying to them, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith." (1 Pet 5: 8, 9) She makes them ready for meeting the Lord by self-control, prayer, spiritual exercises, continual confession and communion, and by being on their guard against any temptation, "bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." (2 Cor 10: 5).Now ask yourself, how many souls you have prepared for the Lord, to live with Him and be steadfast with Him.