Sermon: “I Hope I’m Ready”

November 27, 2016: First Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 2:1-5
Matthew 24:36-44

For the purposes of this sermon, I’m going to make an artificial distinction between two words that mean basically the same thing. I’m trying to deal with two related but distinct ideas which both words can describe, and so I’m going to make one word describe one concept and the other word describe the other concept.

Are you confused yet?

Well, the words are “ready” and “prepared,” and the way I’m going to distinguish them is… Well, let me tell a story instead.

Two men were called out to do a job on a high platform, swaying a little tenuously way above the earth. The first one was prepared. He had brought the tool for the job, which he liked to call a “three-quarter inch by one meter U-ended reluctant material mover,” and which the rest of us usually call a crowbar.

(“Three-quarter inch by one meter U-ended reluctant material mover”: Get it? No? Well, moving on.)

But when he gazed up at that high platform, swaying in the breeze, he was not in the least ready to climb up there with his three-quarter inch by one meter U-ended reluctant material mover. No, he was not ready to climb to those heights. So he took his crowbar and went home.

The next man came out and rapidly climbed the ladders until he stood on the high platform, where he swayed gently with the platform in the breeze. He was ready – but he wasn’t prepared. He had no crowbar, and he didn’t have a three-quarter inch by one meter U-ended reluctant material mover, either. So he climbed down and went home.

Inevitably, this story winds to an end when the supervisors on this project wised up and asked a woman to do it, because she was both prepared with a crowbar and ready to do the work in the high place. And so it got done.

I am usually prepared, but not always ready, when Christmas comes along. I’m not even always ready to prepare. I tend to go Christmas shopping nearly as late as I can. I’ve been seen in stores on the day of Christmas Eve, and boxes I’ve wrapped do not spend weeks and weeks in the holiday apparel. More like a few hours at best.

Last minute or not, though, I’m prepared.

I’m not always ready.

Many, many people feel increased stress during the holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, and I’m one of them. Life and love come with loss, and gathering times like the holidays don’t just remind us of losses, they re-awaken the pain of them. At the same time, American culture demands that the holidays be happy, so the pain can only be acknowledged gingerly if at all, even as everyone present is not just feeling the loss but exploring the ways in which the loss, the empty chair, the missing face, is the new normal.

If you think that papering over a hole in the wallboard without filling it sounds like a bad idea, I’m with you. But that’s what we do year after year with the holidays. Children grow up and move away, leaving a seat at the table. Relationships come and go and so the friend, or the significant other, or the spouse, or even the sibling, does not return the next year. Life begins, so suddenly there are new children to know (and I do know that however joyful it may be, it’s still a lot of work to bring a new child into a family), and life ends, so that some of the empty spaces are permanent. And somehow, we’re supposed to accept this without comment about the pain or the strain.

For many years, my aunt Sonja hosted a big family Christmas party in the couple of weeks before Christmas Day. Scheduling it was always difficult, as there are three members of the clergy in the family, plus children in choirs, on soccer teams, cheerleading, and so forth. We gathered at her house from three or four states and a radius of up to sixty miles (which is something you can’t do in Hawai’i, but you can in southern New England). And we had a great time.

But after a two-year struggle with cancer, my aunt Sonja died in 2014. One of my cousins stepped up and has hosted it the last two years. This year, there will be more missing faces at that gathering. Nobody else has died, mercifully, but I’ll be here, but aunt Sonja’s daughter moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee, this fall.

We’ll all be missing each other when that party is happening in a couple of weeks.

And I don’t think any of us are really ready for that.

Just as I know I’m not ready, and I don’t think any of us here are ready, to say farewell to Ichiko Hisanaga, who died just this week. I am missing her face this morning, and I’m not ready for it.

I’m also not prepared, as the date for her service hasn’t been set, but preparation will come. Even prepared, though, I don’t think I’ll really be ready.

How can we be ready? Ready to adapt to the losses, ready to accept new faces into the family at home and into the church family here? How can we be ready for what we can’t anticipate? How can we be ready to face the heights or to endure the depths?

How can we be ready?

Centuries ago, Christians designated a season before Christmas to get ready – and by getting ready, they meant fasting and repentance.

Kathryn Matthews writes: “We note than an important practice of faithfulness, of course, is repentance, turning away from the paths that have taken us away from God, turning off the things that have drowned out God’s voice in our minds and hearts, turning toward new ways of living that offer hope not just to us but to those we encounter, in our personal lives, and the whole world that God loves.”

If we’re to be ready, we need to shed those things that make us unready. Some of these are pure distraction: the entertainment that deadens the brain rather than awakening it, filling it with clutter rather than emptying it for the Spirit to appear. Some of these things may be rituals that don’t satisfy, things that we do that have become disconnected from our hearts and hopes. Some of these things that make us unready are simple sins: the things we selfishly do for ourselves. Some of them we do and in them, we harm others.

Mark E. Yurs writes: “Matthew’s Jesus has an eye on what is to come and believes something decisive is going to happen in the future, but he keeps attention focused on the present day and the needs of the hour. We find this in the manner in which he directs people to the field, the mill, the daily grind, the ordinary places of human endeavor where life is lived. This region of the mundane is where faithfulness happens, and it is not to be neglected.”

So some of readiness comes in the preparation. Preparation can become a ritual that tunes the mind and heart even as the hands make something take shape beneath them. It’s no wonder to me that the most genuine smiles I think I see at the holidays come from people who bake. I also see them on the faces of the folks who prepared these wreaths, but for the moment I’m focusing on the bakers, and I ask the wreath-makers to forgive me!

Baking: Buying the ingredients, measuring them, stirring them, shaping the cookies or the cakes, the act of putting the trays in the oven and removing them again, applying the final touches: what a remarkably powerful ritual to shape the mind and heart.

I saw something similar yesterday in the raising of the tree and the angels and the Bethlehem star. From the fetching of the ladders (in the rain) to the raising of the tree to the hanging of the Bethlehem star to the soaring of the angels to the placing of the wreaths, it was all a ritual that re-tunes us for the holidays, and readies our hearts for holy days.

Advent offers us a measured time to prepare and to get ready for Christmas – these four weeks observing Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. It also invites us into a greater readiness, readiness for God’s summons to work in the world, or God’s summons to join Christ beyond the world.

Through ritual and through repentance, by exploring what I know and what I have to learn, I hope I’m ready. And I hope you are ready, too, to welcome hope, peace, joy, and love into your hearts: to hear the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and to know the grace of God.


The photo is of the sanctuary of Church of the Holy Cross in the process of decorating for the Advent and Christmas seasons.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , , | Posted on November 27, 2016

Social Networks: RSS Facebook Twitter Google Stumble Upon Digg Reddit

1 Comment

  1. by Gordon Bates

    On November 28, 2016

    Excellent examples of the huge differences between bein ready and being prepared.

Leave a Reply

close window

Service Times & Directions

Sunday School Classes

Sunday 8:45 am

Sunday Worship Service

Sunday 10:00 am

Adult Bible Study

Monday 6:30 pm, Wednesday 9:00 am

(International Young Adults Association)
Bible Study

Wednesday 7:30 pm

The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga

(The Rev. Tevita) Sunday 1:00 pm Wednesday 7:00 pm (Sanctuary)

The United Church of Christ, Pohnpei - Hilo

(The Rev. Ichiro) Sunday 10:00 am (Bdg. of Faith)

The Samoan Church

(The Rev. Sunia) Sunday 4:00 pm (Sanctuary)

440 W. Lanikaula Street
Hilo, HI 96720
(808) 935-1283