“Ready or Not”
Advent 1 – Year A – November 27, 2016
The stars twinkle, house lights sparkle, and the delight in children’s eyes reveal the unmistakable anticipation for the Holy season of Christmas. But as people of faith, we know that we cannot jump to Christmas without journeying through the 4 week period of preparation of Advent. Advent is that time of analysis, reflection, and anticipation. We utilize our Advent study booklets and reflect on this year’s theme “Unto Us a Child is Born” by Henri Nouwen. Perhaps you plan on spending more time in focused prayer. Possibly you support the needy of our community and abroad in an intentional way. All this, and more is part of the Advent preparation leading up to Christmas.
Are you ready? Are you prepared for the journey toward Bethlehem? I ask this because ultimately, we all must journey in our hearts and our souls to the side of our Redeemer and friend. Many years ago I had a Minister remind our group of lay preachers that every sermon must either begin or end in Jerusalem and Bethlehem and must also be grounded here at home. So, we do journey in our hearts to Bethlehem and we see the unrest between the Israeli people and the Palestinian people. And we realize this tension has been going on since before Jesus’ birth. And we wonder “how long, O God, How long?” We move our attention a little north to Syria and we think about the fighting going on in Aleppo. We ask, “how many more lives must be lost before we hear Isaiah’s cry to turn our swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks?” We look at the ads in our newspapers and on TV and we question if the coming of Christ into the lives of non-believers will break this senseless cycle of greed. But we listen to the gospel writer Matthew who encourages us to be ready, for Jesus comes at an unexpected hour.
“How might we be ready?” you ask. From both scripture texts, we are called to live each day faithfully doing deeds filled with love, forgiveness, and peace. If we do so, we model ourselves after Christ. Well – that sounds easy enough, doesn’t it. Love – forgive – peace. The short word for all of this is “shalom.” That is the vision that is heralded in the oracle of Isaiah 2. It is more than just a cessation of hostilities between nations or individuals. This Hebrew word means wholeness, completeness, and peace. When the world is whole in the way God intends, hostilities cease, prosperity abounds, and people experience safety and security. Peace in this complete sense is dependent on God’s righteousness being established. When God arbitrates between nations, weapons are needed no more. What was once a sword raised in hostility is transformed into a plough to till the earth and feed the people. Walking in the light of God is to walk toward a world so transformed by love.
I hear these two scripture texts alongside the anxiety of the world as we wait and see what will happen when Donald Trump takes over leading the United States. There is no doubt that the fear and anxiety about the United States and Russia heading into power struggles is cause for concern. We find it hard to imagine that behind all the rhetoric will be sane heads and a spirit of (dare I say it) “shalom”. For, ready or not, the word needs leaders who are conciliators, not retaliators. Surely the deep longing in our hearts is addressed by Christ’s shalom, not a false prophet! We are at a time when nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Will sane heads prevail? Will the Advent and Christmas message of hope in the midst of despair guide world leaders? We must keep them in our prayers.
“Are we there yet?”, is the question of children on a long car ride. “Ready or not” is the cry of the hide and go seek game of by-gone years. “I can hardly wait” says the impatient fidgeting one, as they yearn for the coming event. Surely it is all of this and more that we feel as we wait for the wonderful celebration of Christ in our lives. Advent seems like a long 4 weeks of anticipation when we are bouncing in the pews anxious for the Christmas celebration. Can’t you just picture Amber and Steve’s home as Damian gets more and more excited about Christmas with each passing day. The count down is on. There are cookies to be made, presents to be wrapped, and hearts to be made right, before the big day of celebration is upon us. The waiting period is now. May we use this time well. For, ready or not, Advent is much more than school concerts and a spending frenzy. May our prayers be sincere – our hearts open and ready for Christ’s light – and may peace be deep in our bones. Amen.