The camera pooped out this morning, so no video. Enjoy the written copy, though!
I never really knew why people dreaded packing so much until I had a child. 100 changes of clothes, toys, games, bottles, ice packs to keep milk cold, coolers for said ice packs, something for the baby to sleep in… and it’s the same whether you’re going away for a month or for a night! So one day away is like some nightmare in which you spend more time packing than being gone. Zeke’s stuff takes up more space than mine and Carissa’s put together!
But, as annoying as that is, it’s important to be prepared, and start packing ahead of time. The first time we went anywhere with him, we had to delay our trip by like 3 hours because we didn’t really know what we needed, how to pack it, and how much we needed. Now, we’re pros. But back then, we were nowhere near ready for what we were undertaking.
The theme of today’s Scripture is readiness. Being prepared. It’s one of the hardest things to do in life. About 10 years ago, there were all these shows on TV – Man Vs. Wild, Survivor Man – that focused on the idea of survival in the wild. They had these things you were always supposed to have with you. Duct tape, a flashlight, stuff like that. And those things are really useful, if you’re going to be dropped in the middle of the wild and what you need to do is stay alive. But for those of us who are unlikely to experience that particular circumstance, what are we preparing for, and how are we preparing?
Today, we begin the new church year. And we begin it as the church year always begins, with the idea of preparation – preparing to meet Jesus. In particular, we are preparing in three distinct, but absolutely critical ways. The first of those is what I’ll call “historical preparation.”
Historical preparation is all about what’s already happened – the “yesterday” of it all, but the importance of us acting as if it’s happening again. This means, in particular, the telling of the story of Jesus’ birth. We prepare ourselves, in many ways, as those who heard about Jesus first prepared themselves. We ready presents, for example, just like the Magi did. We tell this story over and over and over, so that it’s a part of who we are. We learn the story so well that we almost feel like we’ve lived it. We know all about an angel announcing to Mary; we know about the shepherds fearing at the sight in the skies, and yet how they came running to the side of the manger where Jesus lay; we know all about the travel, and the inn, and everything else.
Part of what I love about our living nativity is that we are able to share this story with people in a way that makes it real, that makes it tangible. It’s a story that we share, and it’s our story. But that’s not the only preparedness we have in Advent.
There’s also what I’ll call “imminent preparation.” Imminent means close-by, either in time or distance. And in this case, I mean it in both ways. It’s imminent because, unlike the historical preparation I talked about before, this is preparation for today, for the here-and-now. But it’s also close-by, because it’s about our own hearts and minds, and making room for Jesus.
There’s nothing closer than our own self. Advent is a perfect time to remember that it is our job to open up our hearts and let Jesus in. We need to let him come into our lives, and what better time is there than Advent for renewed commitment to Jesus?
Many people engage in increased devotional activity during Advent – perhaps reading something, or spending some extra time in prayer. As we think about Jesus’ birth, it’s also worth thinking about how we let him into our lives. How is he changing us? Where do we need to be more open with him? How to we find the connection with him that we need to sustain our faith? These are all problems of Advent, and things worth considering in our imminent preparation.
Our passage today is certainly talking about something else, and it also revolves around preparedness. It’s about “future preparation” – preparation for tomorrow. This passage is a bit of a doozy. There are actually a lot of ways I could explain perspectives on this passage, but I need us to step back and look at, ultimately, what this passage is asking of us. It’s telling us about the “coming of the Son of Man.” In other words, it’s about Jesus’ return to earth.
Now, most churches don’t spend a lot of time talking about Jesus’ return, because it’s not something we can plan for. We don’t know when it will be, or what it will look like. Yet, today’s passage encourages us to think about it a bit.
It is certainly a cornerstone of Christian doctrine. The New Testament is littered with references to it happening. Communion liturgies mention it. When we say the Apostles’ Creed in worship, as we will this morning, we say, “He (meaning Jesus) will come again to judge the living and the dead.” We affirm that belief every week. Yet we don’t talk about it too much.
Christ’s return is the “future preparation” we need to do in light of Advent. This is not just about our stories; it’s not just about our hearts. This future preparation is all about the Kingdom of God that is coming one day when Christ returns, when the dead are raised, and when God’s reign comes fully to earth.
We saw a vision of this in our reading this morning from Isaiah. We see God’s house lifted up, high above mountains, and people stopping their fighting and bickering. Worship becomes the law of the land, and we turn our hearts and minds completely to heavenly things.
That maybe sounds like a lot of mumbo-jumbo to you, I don’t know. But I do know that God intends more for us in creation. We see the fruits of what is coming in the fact that Jesus Christ did not remain in the grave, but rose from the dead to promise us more to come. We have to hope in that “more.”
We have to prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus. He came in the past, to show God’s love for us. He comes in the present to guide us and to keep God in our lives. He will come again in the future to establish justice and equity on earth, to bring about God’s reign fully, and to help us become who we were created to be. Asking us to do all of that in the next month is expecting a lot out of December – but the point isn’t to bring about these things all by ourselves. The point is to make ourselves ready when they come. So prepare yourself, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, so that you are ready to embrace Jesus, in every way in which he comes to you this season. Amen.