Getting ready for some church meetings can be an exercise in extreme preparedness. No church leader wants to show up to a meeting not having thought through all the possibilities. But there are some meetings that no matter how much you prepare for it, you can’t see the punch until it lands. For some people quite literally. Case in point, there is a certain legend about the Council of Nicaea, an important historical moment for the Church, that is shrouded in uncertainty and a bit of amusement. It involves a deacon named Arius and Nicolas, Bishop of Myra, an area in Turkey.
The story begins with the teachings of Arius who was a deacon in the church of Alexandria and a skilled rationalistic theologian and clever logician. In short, Arius questioned how Jesus could be the begotten son of God and have existed before the creation of all things. He taught that Jesus was the first of God’s created beings and then Jesus directed the creation of the world thus keeping God’s divinity safe from direct interaction with the world. In his mind, this defined in a better way the indivisible nature of God. This created a heresy called Monarchism, where Jesus and the Holy Spirit are subordinate to God the Father as the primary part of the Godhead. Eventually, Arius was thrown out of the church and declared a heretic, though he continued to gain support for his beliefs.
All of this came to head at the Council of Nicaea, one of the most significant councils in church history. The Arians argued their case before the Emperor Constantine and 318 bishops to no avail. In the end, the Nicene Creed was formulated, and those bishops and priests present signed their agreement to the idea or were stripped of their office and banished. During the proceedings however, a strange little incident was supposed to have occurred between Arius and Nicolas of Myra:
St. Methodius asserts that “thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas the metropolis of Myra alone was untouched by the filth of the Arian heresy, which it firmly rejected as death-dealing poison,” but says nothing of his presence at the Council of Nicaea in 325. According to other traditions he was not only there but so far forgot himself as to give the [arch heretic] Arius a slap in the face. Whereupon the conciliar fathers deprived him of his episcopal insignia and committed him to prison: but our Lord and His Mother appeared there and restored to him both his liberty and his office.
Have you ever gone to a committee meeting or a council meeting and thought to yourself, “I might need to bring an ice pack with me, this seems like the kind of meeting where I might get slapped?” I am certain that Arius came prepared to defend his ideas and beliefs. I am certain that Arius came prepared to be chastised verbally for his beliefs and criticized for his way of thinking. I am not certain that he was prepared to be slapped by the man whose life would form the basis for what would become for us, Santa Claus. The Nicolas story is historically suspect as are many things related to the lives of saints, but it illustrates this idea of preparation for us today.
Speaking of which, I wonder how many times we have walked into situations unprepared? Maybe we got ready for a meeting or a trip or a family gathering and realized that we didn’t quite have everything we were supposed to bring. I know I have gone on a weekend camping trip before and packed everything except the bag with the clothes; another story for another sermon. But when we are prepared there is a calmness for most of us that things, at least the things we need to take care of, are taken care of.
Most of us prepare for things every day. We put our wallets, keys, purses, and phones in the same place, so we can find them. We buy groceries, so we can eat, and when it might get cold enough to drop a few flakes on the ground we buy all the milk and bread across three counties in two states. We put maintain houses and cars and other things that need it so that they are functioning and ready when we need them to be. All of these are things we do to be prepared.
What do we do, though, to be spiritually prepared? We come to Sunday School and Church sure. But much of the time those strike me as community connections and they fulfill more of a need to be with family and friends who are a part of a group that thinks and feels as we do about the world. What about the personal stuff? What about the us and God stuff when we are alone at home or driving down the road or sitting at work? What about the stuff that has to do with our Spirit being connected to the Spirit of God? We are going to look at John the Bapitst and his preparation for the coming Messiah as we think about our own preparation for Jesus way to be part of our lives.
The first part of preparation is repentance (Luke 3:3)
Have you ever done something you felt bad for, I mean really, truly, deeply felt like you had done something bad? I think we can all answer that question with a resounding yes and look back to times when we made mistakes that we had a deep gut reaction to. What did you do after that? Did you try to rectify the mistake? Did you stop doing, thinking, being, whatever it was that lead to that mistake? Or did you continue to repeat the mistake again and again?
Repentance (Greek metanoia) is not mere regret for past misdeeds. It means far more than saying, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” Metanoia means a change of mind and heart, the kind of inner transformation that bears visible fruit. 
What we are talking about here is a change of being from what we have been to what Jesus is. This is the foundation of our very salvation that we can be, as Paul writes, “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation… [where] everything old has passed away…[and] everything has become new!” We turn away from what we were, not just in any direction but in the direct of God through Jesus and this reorientation to the life, way, and being of Jesus, is where true repentance lies.
The second part of preparation is growth (Luke 1:80)
Repentance, turning toward following Jesus as a way of life and being, is the first step in our preparation but not the last. After the turn around, we start on a journey, one that calls us forward to the imitation of Jesus, one that creates change or growth. We see in an earlier chapter of Luke John the Baptist as an example.
Luke picks up and makes use of the above associations in his depiction of John. Notice, too, the often-overlooked detail in Luke 1:80: “The child [John] grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.” John the Baptist does not simply appear one day in the desert. Luke suggests that his growth and spiritual strength actually develop there.
Like any other aspect of our lives, we grow into our spirituality by growing in our relationship to Jesus. The more time spent connecting to Jesus through prayer, meditation, study, and worship, the greater our growth and the more we change to become like Jesus. Looking at John the Baptist here in Luke, we see an example of this as John spent a great deal of time alone with God. Luke 1:80 says, “The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.” This is a great example to us of how to grow in our own faith.
The third part of preparation is connection to the spirit (Luke 1:80)
This same verse also speaks to John being ‘strong in spirit’ while he was in the wilderness. This connection to the spirit as preparation for living into our relationship with Jesus and mission in the Kingdom of God is something modeled not only by John but by Jesus himself. A chapter later in Luke it says, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness…” and after the temptation “…Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.”
Repentance and growth in our faith life are simple not possible apart from the Spirit of God. It is like expecting a blender to work without electricity or a car to go without a source of fuel. Something must create the energy that these things run on. For us as believers we are animated, have life, by the power of the Spirit of God. No Spirit, no life.
The last part of preparation is responding to the spirit (Luke 3:2-3)
We not only change direction toward God, grow, and connect to the Spirit, but finally, we must respond to the Spirit. Notice the text we just read,
…the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…
John has not only turned toward God, not only continued to be changed into the image of God revealed to him as he has connected to the Spirit of God, but John responds to the Spirit of God, leading him to the work God has for him. John becomes a preacher, proclaiming the need to repent, to turn away from the damaging lives of selfishness and brokenness to a life of inner transformation leading others to lives of transformation as well.
Each one of us has such a calling and each calling is different. Some of us are gifted to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers others to have wisdom, knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, the discernment of spirits, and some even to speak in tongues.
The takeaway: Knowing all of this, are you prepared? Not just for Advent and the coming of Jesus but for the life beyond that? Are you ready to be changed into something wonderful to the glory of God and service of His Kingdom?
Butler, Alban. Butler’s Lives of the Saints: Complete Edition. Edited by Herbert J. Thursdon SJ. Toronto: Amazon.com Kindle Edition, 2016.
Clifton, Chas S. Encyclopedia of Heresies and Heretics. New York: Barnes and Noble books, 1998.
Hefele D.D., Charles. A History of the Councils of the Church, Vol. 1. San Bernadino: Veritatis Spendor Publications, 2014.
 (Hefele D.D. 2014, p.297)
 (Clifton 1998, p.14-15)
 (Hefele D.D. 2014, p.294-295)
 (Hefele D.D. 2014, p.299-300)
 (Clifton 1998, p.15)
 (Hefele D.D. 2014, p.356-357)
 (Hefele D.D. 2014, p.329)
 (Butler 2016, Kindle Loc. 57591-57595)
 2 Corinthians 5:17
 Luke 4:1
 Luke 3:2-3
 Ephesians 4:11
 1 Corinthians 12:8-10