25 December 2007

Merry Christmas!

07 December 2007

Friday Five -- Preparation

Sally writes: This has been a difficult week for me, the death of a little six year old has overshadowed our advent preparations, and made many of us here in Downham Market look differently at Christmas. With that in mind I ask whether you are the kind of person that likes everything prepared well in advance, are you a last minute crammer, or a bit of a mixture.....

Here then is this weeks Friday 5:

1. You have a busy week, pushing out all time for preparing worship/ Sunday School lessons/ being ready for an important meeting ( or whatever equivalent your profession demands)- how do you cope?
Scrabulous! no (OK, sometimes). I tend to outline what needs to be done -- then fill in as time permits. That way I can jot notes into appropriate sections as time permits and I can wing what I have to if I run out of time at the end. The things that have to be done (bulletin or agenda or handouts) I do before deadline, but only after I have enough data from the other prep.

2. You have unexpected visitors, and need to provide them with a meal- what do you do?
Pile them into the car. There may or may not be something in my frig/freezer but I doubt they want Mrs Leepers (Gluten free hamburger helper) which is my basic fall-back dinner. (Hey, at least I add frozen green beans to soak up some of the salt.)

Three discussion topics:
3. Thinking along the lines of this week's advent theme; repentance is an important but often neglected aspect of advent preparations.....
no. I want a sterile manger and Mary with perfect hair and baby that doesn't cry or need changing and... OK. Reality. My metaphorical house needs cleaning before the advent guests show up. But that's an unpleasant though with all the holly and candy canes and presents.
I think repentence and preparation are crucial, but so frequently overlooked because we ditch Advent for Christmas too quickly. Some of us even change the purple to blue so it's even less like Lent when it ought to be more like it. In many ways I can even see the whole clean up and prepare for the incarnation more than the preparation for Holy Week.

4. Some of the best experiences in life occur when you simply go with the flow.....
I am with you here. I have often heard the quote "to make God laugh, tell Him your plans" There was a wonderful seen in Evan Almighty where Evan is laying out his life plans to change the world and Morgan Freeman (God) just starts laughing. I could never have dreamed where He would take me. so, quit kicking and enjoy!

5. Details are everything, attention to the small things enables a plan to roll forward smoothly...
This is NOT generally my strong suit. I tend toward the big picture, ask certain people to handle their parts and expect it to happen. I do no micro manage and I resent people who make me do it. I know, I need to get over it. But I'd rather something not be perfect than to do everyone else's job. (That said, I do have mitigation plans for the critical elements).

Bonus if you dare- how well prepared are you for Christmas this year?
Christmas? Well... I've had a few other things on my mind, but the tests have just come back negative. So now I can think about maybe putting up the tree. But sometimes all I can think about is all the work of taking it back down again. Does that make me a Scrooge? I haven't even pulled out the advent wreath this year. And I had the nerve to preach on being ready last week!

01 December 2007

Are you ready?

In a sentence: As we prepare our homes for the coming of the Christ Child, let’s remember Christ the King who is to come and prepare our lives for him.

Well, here we are, the first Sunday in Advent. Many people will have out of town guests coming to stay, others will just have local guests stopping by. Are you ready? Is the frig stocked? House tidied, dusted and vacuumed – plenty of clean sheets and towels? Then there’s the hustle and bustle of the shopping, the decorating, the baking… so much to do before they get here… the wrapping, did we forget uncle George’s gift? They’ll be here tomorrow… have we gotten the cat hair off the guest bed? I thought YOU were buying his favorite soda. AAAARGH. Welcome to the Season of Peace.

Our society -- the endless advertising and store decorations (which have been up since before Halloween) are designed to make you buy, Buy, BUY! That is what Christmas is all about, right? It’s my job to answer that with a resounding NO!

As a matter of fact, if you want to get picky (and I do), it’s not even Christmas time. It’s Advent. Christmas time is historically the time between Christmas day and epiphany – The 12 days between the church celebration of the birth and the celebration of the arrival of the wise men. That was the time for gift-giving and parties. Advent is about contemplation, preparation, examining ourselves and our lives to see if we’re ready to receive the Lord of the Universe who is also our savior. But…it’s hard to market that.

But it is what I’m going to challenge you to do today, to look at advent as a time of preparation. We lit a candle today to remind us of the waiting. but, Today is only the first Sunday in advent. We’re not at Christmas yet – there are 4 more candles in that wreath. We have begun to look forward to the celebration of the incarnation of Christ, but for Christians, Advent is also tied to the expectation of Christ’s second coming. As a matter of fact the passage we read today is about the return of Christ.

In the Christian Calendar, we celebrate the two together – the time leading up to the celebration of the incarnation – Christmas, is also the time of deliberate reflection and preparation for the second coming. 2000 years ago. Christ came as Jesus of Nazareth; one day, Christ will come in glory. The passage challenges us: Are we ready? not just for the little baby safely ensconced in the manger, but also for the King of kings? In order to answer that question we have to ask another -- What does it mean to be ready? I propose that we need to prepare our lives, our hearts, and our souls.

Lives lived in readiness:
The people in this morning’s Gospel reading were going about their everyday lives: farming, cooking, marrying and giving in marriage (which implies generations) when suddenly it happened: “two [were] in the field; one [was] taken and one [was] left”. So we’re not expected to stop our daily living. But there ought to be something different about us. What is a life lived in readiness?

The epistle reading for today gives us more information: Romans 13:11-14 says:
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
We are to live our lives in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our lives are like our houses. All too often life just overwhelms us and the dust and “works of darkness” creep into the corners. In preparation for the coming of Christ, our lives should be swept clean. We can even add the ornamentation of Christ-like behaviors. Now, something out of place in a clean house stands out, just as a bit of sin stands out in an upright life; However, if we don’t keep things cleaned up, it’s far too easy to miss when they start piling up. What’s one more bit of clutter? One more time succumbing to temptation?

Now on a normal, day to day basis, many of us keep our lives like we (well, like I) keep house. We keep the front room clean and tidy and presentable, but don’t dare let anyone look in the junk room! Or under the beds, or in the hall closet -- that’s where I hide all my secret messes! WAKE UP! THE DAY IS NEAR! As Paul said, live honorably as if Christ were coming any minute!

Heart of Anticipation
Over the past several weeks, Martha was awaiting George's return home from Iraq – first to the States, then to Smalltown. She wasn’t sure when he would come. She finally have a date for his return to the States, but for a few weeks she was in constant anticipation of the phone call saying he was here, or even for him to walk in the door. Martha had a heart of anticipation. (For those who don’t know, George was here last week.)

We should all feel like Martha, or like parents anticipating the birth or adoption of a baby – you can’t contain them. Especially for adoptive parents, it’s very much like the church, you don’t know when it will happen. We want it to happen and we’re ready at any moment, but, especially with overseas adoption, it could be months or years. Like this morning’s scripture tells us: no one knows when except the Father.

But if our lives aren’t ready, if we’re too caught up in the things about us, we can’t really be sure we want him to come. Just like those houseguests. If we have soccer games, and business meetings and the house isn’t in order, we’re not REALLY sure we want them to come. On the other hand, when the house is ready, we’re happy to see guests. When are lives are ready, we can joyfully anticipate Christ’s return because there is nothing to stand between us and God. So, if you’re caught in the nightmare of December busy-ness, WAKE UP! for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Soul of Peace
Finally, We know the peace of the holiday season comes when all the chores are done, the house is ready, and you can welcome your guests in the peace of knowing that all is ready and in order. The Soul of Peace comes from prioritizing the things of Christ, NOT the things of this world. As we’re told in Philippians 4:
whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
I don’t know about what you’ve seen, but what I’ve seen at the mall is NOT what is noble, pure, lovely, or admirable. WAKE UP! December mall madness is hustle and bustle, Jesus is peace.

We need to slow down and wait. There are 4 more candles before Christmas. This is Advent, a time of preparation, a time to examine our lives and prepare for the return of the King. The season is not about being so busy we that can’t hear the baby crying for us.

I challenge you to take time this advent to examine your life: where do you need some house cleaning or a thorough remodel? Do you live a life that’s ready, a heart filled with anticipation for Christ’s return, and soul full of God’s peace?

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
Are you ready?