Luke 3: 1-6
Matt Raule, the author of our “Gift of the Nutcracker” series we offer on Wednesday nights, noted the human tendency to put off until tomorrow what doesn’t need to be done today. He says tongue in cheek, “If we knew that Christ was returning on Tuesday, our sanctuaries wouldn’t be full until Monday.” He then goes on to say: “It’s like the afternoon that someone came into my office asking me if I thought the recent solar eclipse was a sign of Christ’s return. I asked him what he might do if it was a sign. He said that he would return to church to ‘get right’ with the Lord. I asked him what he might do if the eclipse wasn’t a sign of Christ’s return. He replied with ‘I guess I’d keep looking.’ I invited him to start looking with us in church.[Abingdon Press, 2018, p. 50.] Lots of people talk about what they call “the hereafter.” One woman quipped, “I talk about hereafter all the time! I walk into a room and say to myself, ‘Now what am I here after?’” We in Christianity are always looking for the return of Christ; not as an obsession, but as I said last week, “by watching, and not just waiting. This week we add “preparing” to the plan of “watching.” It is a fool who comes to God to get right just as the celestial railroad is pulling in to your station, or just as you see him descending from the clouds. People time die in their sleep. But are they prepared for that to happen? Just this week I learned of another person who died in her sleep.
Instead, many good teachers know the five “P’s- Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.” What a providential blessing it was to have President George Herbert Walker Bush’s funeral on television for all to see this past week. What planning it took to arrange for the speakers, the spaces, and the transportation! But that President planned beautifully well in advance of his last breath. Presidential biographer Jon Meacham was asked to speak when the time came, and he actually shared his words with the aging president ahead of time to get his approval. After hearing him read it, President Bush turned to Meachem and said in a self-deprecating fashion, “That’s a lot about me, Jon.” But it was part of the preparation for the day. Arranging for Air Force One to become Special Air Mission 41 to honor the late President. And to get the train delivering the body to its final resting place to his library in College Station to be painted in Air Force One in light blue colors with the side reading “George Bush” along with the number 4141 took time to prepare. He even selected the menu of foods that would be served to his family and friends on that train! This week was a textbook case of how things can go if one prepares well.
As we head to the Christmas holiday some here will have guests coming into your home, and some may be the guest in someone else’s home. When that happens, the host begins to get ready: to dust, to straighten, to see that sheets are clean and food is in. Some bake cookies or pies so ingredients are bought ahead of time. I remember one time Mary Ann was missing an ingredient for Christmas dinner, and the only place I could find open on Christmas Day was 7-11! We’ve now pulled our Christmas books and decorations out because we will see four grandsons and their parents Christmas week. Meanwhile we are buying gifts, not just the many adult gifts we gladly bought at our Christmas Market last week, but gifts for the little ones too. The stories of life include times of preparing: preparing for a baby, preparing for death, preparing to welcome Jesus, preparing to take tests. The Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared” is good advice in any situation. An old axiom puts it this way: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
The Advent season is the time to prepare for the coming of Christ into our world. I told our Wednesday class that we push a reset button each year in Advent, almost like other churches have yearly revivals. It is our time to reset; to consider our life; to consider our Lord, and to consider the connections we have with others. Like in the children’s plays when the innkeeper cries: “No room!” to kids dressed like Mary and Joseph, the world seems to have a “No Vacancy” sign for Jesus too. Only in the hearts of Christians does he find a place to, as the carol tells us, “to lay “down his sweet head.” His first bed was a manger perhaps filled with hay with swaddling clothes added. His next bed is in our hearts. John the Baptist drew his message from Isaiah: “Prepare the way of the Lord!! Make straight his paths!” It has been the prophet’s warning for generations. Prophets have neither a crystal ball nor a Ouija Board to predict the future. They listen to God—as we could do—and they watch the world and stars and the sun—as we could do—and they connect dots—as we could do. It is not easy. The paths cows and other animals make are crooked. To get ready for a King, the paths need to be straightened! Good preparations make for a wonderful welcome for a King! In addition, road crews make interstates roads through very hilly or rocky places by leveling off the hills with machines that my Construction son-law-Brian teaches to his 3 year old son Marshall: they are road graders and excavators. They smooth out the hills. We need that preparation to welcome our King; how good it is if he arrives after the work is done instead of before we gat around to the work. The work includes praying, but John the Baptist also insisted on repenting—which is making amends with God and others you might have ignored or hurt—and opening our eyes to see places where we can make a difference, and then engaging our bodies, minds, and souls to do so.
In the 1930s, at the depth of the depression, a play called “Green Pastures” by Marc Connelly was setting a new record on Broadway. It ran for 1,653 performances and continued until it leading actor, seventy-year-old Richard Berry Henderson, collapsed and died. The play depicted God and the angel Gabriel in heaven, peering down at the earth. It was an enlightening interpretation of God’s care and concern for a world in which he allows the freedom of choice, yet he is despairing over the terrible consequences of the people’s choices. God watched over his world and tried to prepare his children to meet the demands of life on earth. After God sent Moses and prophets to the world, he then sent his Son, who shared the sufferings and heartaches of being mortal. Over and over, Gabriel wanted to blow his trumpet and bring an end to all the bad choices and evil deeds going on in the world. “Now Lawd?” he asked, “Now can I blow the trumpet?” The trumpet would mean the end of the world as we know it. But God held out in patience, hoping that people would finally learn the consequences of their choices. “Everything nailed down is comin’ a-loose!” Gabriel told God as he watched chaos and confusions amongst the peoples of the world. Still, as the play goes, God wouldn’t give up, but kept preparing his people for a day when they would welcome him. The time to get ready for God is now; not tomorrow! Even though he comes as a helpless infant at Christmas, he can come with either warning or welcome as he appears in the clouds!
“Get ready!” the prophets said. “The Lord is coming soon.”
Jeffrey A. Sumner December 9, 2018