Be Prepared

Hurry up and wait. Hurry up and wait. Isn’t that what Advent seems like sometimes? For two thousand years we’ve been told that salvation is coming. Yet, when I look at the news, I can’t help but think, “Any time now, Lord…”

Jesus tells us to be prepared, but what does that even mean? [Interrupted by congregation member]

“Oh, I know! [Sings a verse of “Be Prepared” from The Lion King.]”

Um...thanks, but no. That’s actually the opposite of what Jesus was talking about. The power of God was displayed through vulnerability—through a baby in a manger, and a man on a cross. No, this is about something entirely different. What about the rest of you? What are things that you do to prepare for a big change – any kind of change that you can anticipate?

“Make a list. Clean House. Hide stuff. Honestly accept the need.”

These are all really important things to do, and as they say, “the first step is naming the problem.” You see, the uncomfortable truth is that no one wants real, deep, transformative change. We want things to stay the way that they are. We do not seek disturbance. We seek equilibrium. The problem is that we find it difficult to share in a state of equilibrium outside of those we love and those we agree with.

These very passages that we have shared today may even be thought of differently by many of us, even though we are such a small part of the world. Isaiah cried out for God to comfort the people who had lived in torment under an occupying power, yet we are quick to identify this same plea with ideological struggles. Those who see the refugee or the immigrant as a threat or the person of color as a category or the police as the aggressor or poor as a liability are going to cry out to God for an us versus them kind of comfort. But that is not what God is promising.

Those who feel that the world is divided between good guys and bad guys are looking for a different kind of comfort from those that see all of God’s creation as an imperfect expression of God’s ever-present love. And yet all of us have the same promise – the world will be dissolved with fire, and all will be disclosed. Merry Christmas!

Truly we do not know if these words are a metaphor or hyperbole or some prophetic code for events that either have or will take place. What we know is that they call us to live as though we expect them to happen, to live – like the old country song – like you were dying. Of course, that song is more about living a life of personal fulfilment, but it’s a catchy phrase.

No, I think a better example can be found in the fires that burn out west in California. Many of you have seen the footage of cars rolling past hills that are being dissolved in fire, but have you seen the guy that stopped to rescue a bunny? The whole countryside is engulfed in flames – it looks like the underworld – and this guy stops to rescue a bunny rabbit.

My first thought was, “Wow. That guy is either crazy or stupid.” My second thought was, “What an amazing and reckless respect for life.”

That’s when it hit me. I realized that there are some things that you just can’t prepare for, because you don’t know what will make you fall crazy, stupid, in love until you’re there. At the same time, there is something else that we must prepare for, and that is the expectation of a world where “righteousness is at home.”

For this to be a world where righteousness is at home, we have to recognize what gets in the way of righteousness in the first place. We have to be willing to name abuses of power and stand against them. More than that – we have to be willing to see the part we play, and we have to be willing to stop. We have to be willing to repent – to change inwardly in order to reflect God’s grace outwardly.

I have to say, this is one of the reasons that I think 12 Step groups are actually the purest model for this type of behavior. I mean it would be a lot more direct and honest to be able to claim a particular addiction. Instead I’m left with idolatry of self that shows up in all kind of ways. Still, there’s something to be said for the steps. Really, they’re not too far off from what we do (or claim to do) every week. Listen to the 12 steps, if I replace alcohol with sin:
1.      We admit we are powerless over sin–that our lives have become unmanageable.
2.      We believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3.      We decide to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand God.
4.      We make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5.      We admit to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6.      We are entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
7.      We humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings
8.      We make a list of persons we had harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all.
9.      We make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. We continue to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. We continue to seek, through prayer and meditation, to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we try to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Now, whether you follow these steps directly or not, I think that’s a pretty clear path to getting ready for the coming day of the Lord. In fact, it’s a good way to live after (and during) the Advent of Christ’s birth. Apart from helping you clean up your own house, the point is to be compassionate to others. This compassion may lead you to take a stand for justice and help others to see issues that we’ve looked at like a sleeping dog that might just bite as easy as it sleeps.
It might make you crazy enough to stop for a bunny on a highway, or to advocate for the needs of the immigrant, or stand in the breach between overly stressed law enforcement and people of color. Or it could just make you as compassionate as the coaches and players of JMU’s football team. You probably didn’t see this in all the stories of winners and losers in the sacred temple of the pigskin.

Anyway, these guys won their playoff game in the last few minutes with a 47-yard field goal. Instead of celebrating their playoff win with their teammates, a few players and coaches went directly to the other team to console the guy that thought he had scored the winning touchdown until a field goal crushed his dreams.

As cool as that is, I hate using sports as an example of faith. Faith is not about winning and losing. It is about recognizing God’s love and responding to it. Sometimes that can make us say, “Oh, no! I better get busy.” Always it should make us say, “Thanks be to God! Let’s get busy. Let us prepare. Let us make a home for righteousness – even here, even now; even while we wait with great expectation for the coming of our Lord – and to God be the glory, now and always. Amen? Amen!

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