Sermon: What Does It Take to Be Ready?

A complex painting on the back wall of a chapel with a Christ figure at center surrounded by human figures. Redeemed humans at lower left with a hell scene at lower right.

December 1, 2019
First Sunday of Advent

Matthew 24:36-44

by Eric Anderson

Welcome to another Advent season. We have enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday without, I hope, too many disasters in the kitchen or too many conflicts around the table. Those who enjoy the excitement of the crowds have had the thrill of Black Friday. Here in our sanctuary, trees stand, angels soar, and a star glows. We are ready for Advent – if not for Christmas (I’m not ready for Christmas), then at least for Advent.

What does it take to be ready for Christmas?

If you’re a shop owner, it’s ordering the goods your customers will want or need in enough quantity, placing them in the proper spots around the store, taking on the employees needed to serve them, and making sure the rent and electric bills are paid. If you’re a teacher, you’re trying to get your students prepared before the holiday vacation and hoping they don’t forget too much in this distracting time. If you have a family, you’re making your gift list, perhaps even checking items off, and making plans for get-togethers. You may be working on travel arrangements for the holiday. If you’re a pastor, you’re writing or finding Advent candle liturgies, preparing Christmas Eve services, and thanking God that a Conference Minister and a Christmas Pageant will take on two of the sermons this month.

If you’re a Christian, what does it take to be ready?

That’s what Jesus wanted his followers to do: to get themselves ready for a new day of God’s peace.

What does it take to be ready for that?

It does not take knowing when God’s day will come. Jesus was very clear both that nobody knows when that will be but God – not even he, Jesus, knew. Deadlines can be handy things when you’re coordinating different tasks performed by different people working on a common project. It’s useful to get the right materials in the right place at the right time; it reduces delays. The day of God, however, is not like building a bridge. We’re not assembling it, God is.

The day of God is much more like learning and maintaining and honing a skill so that it’s ready when you need it. It’s like fishing. You learn to bait the hook or cast the net, then you learn to watch for the signs of fish, then you learn the times to watch for fish, and then you learn the fish to let go so that there will be fish to catch tomorrow. There’s not deadline. You have that skill when you need it. You’re ready to fish.

What does it take to be ready for God?

It begins with prayer. God’s day, whatever else it may be, will certainly be a deepening of every human being’s relationship with God. God may know everything about us, but as Paul put it, we still see in a mirror dimly. On God’s day, we will see face to face. The best way to prepare for a deeper relationship is to nurture that relationship as we go. How do you get a best friend? Just the way our ‘amakihi did in the story today. You meet them. You chat with them. You make time for them. You make more time for them and do things with them. You talk about what’s important with them. You listen to what’s important with them.

Do that with God. Prayer is the way. Worship is the way. Silence – listening to God – is the way.

Kathryn Matthews writes at “I confess that I grew up with an inordinate fear of the End of the World, and it didn’t help matters that we were regularly reminded of the threat that the atomic bomb (that’s what we called it in those days) posed to our everyday existence.

“At any moment, we were told, a siren could go off and we were to jump under our desk for cover–that was the sum total of our preparedness, our watchfulness, for what would have surely been a sudden, unexpected, unpredictable End of the World.

“And now there is also the slow-motion but anxiety-producing ‘end’ of many things we ponder because of global warming and our failure to care for God’s beautiful creation: the extinction of species and the exhaustion of marine life, the pollution of the sea (plastic is found in living creatures around the world) and the burning of our forests, coastlines being redrawn because of rising oceans, including one of the greatest cities in the world, Venice, underwater… we bring such sorrows on ourselves.”

But you don’t need to prepare anxiously. That was an insight of Carol Morioka’s during Bible Study this week. As urgently as Jesus spoke to his disciples, he did not say, “Worry.” In fact, he warned often against spending time in worry. Worry never made anything go faster. It never deepened a relationship. It won’t bring you closer to God, either.

Michael J. Chan writes at Working Preacher, “The point is that Matthew 24 is not calling Jesus’ followers to engage in prediction. They are called to preparation. The former nourishes certitude whereas the latter nourishes vigilance and attentiveness. When Jesus enjoins his readers, he tells them to ‘keep awake,’ ‘understand this,’ and ‘be ready’ (verses 42-44). In doing so, Jesus calls his audience to shape its life as if it were living in ‘the golden hour.’ The golden hour is a term familiar to photographers. It refers to that brief window of time just before the sun fully exposes itself to the earth. It’s a transitional period between the darkness of night and the light of day. He calls his disciples to live as if day were just about to break.”

This is one of the harder things for me. I can be very deadline driven. The golden hour, for me as a photographer, is something I plan for, something I can place in the calendar and set an alarm to alert me.

But what if every hour is God’s golden hour? What if every hour could be the dawn of God’s special day? Then I’d better have my camera ready – I’d better have my relationship with God ready.

It’s not just about God – or rather, it’s also about God’s people. David Bartlett writes in Feasting on the Word, “As the next chapter of Matthew’s Gospel will make abundantly clear, we also keep awake to the needs of others (see Matt. 25:31-45). One day Jesus may appear in the clouds, suddenly, like a thief in the night. But before that – as Matthew reminds us – Jesus will appear just around the corner, suddenly, like a hungry person, or a neighbor ill-clothed, or someone sick or imprisoned.”

(Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 1, (Nashville, Westminster John Knox Press), 2010)

This section of Matthew’s gospel, all through chapter 24 and chapter 25, is about preparing for the day of God. What words of Jesus did Matthew gather here? Jesus’ story about an abusive senior servant who didn’t believe the master would return to hold him accountable. Jesus’ story about five bridesmaids who brought extra oil and five who didn’t. Jesus’ story about three money managers, two of whom took risks and did work, and one of whom played it safe and ended up failing. Jesus’ story about a judge who asked people when they had cared for him, or failed to care for him. “Just as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Daily compassion. Daily kindness. Daily love is preparation for the day of God.

Melissa Bane Sevier writes on her blog: “If we’d only known there was a serious problem, we’d have gone to the doctor sooner.

“If we’d only known that children were being abused, we’d have done something about it.

“If we’d only known that white nationalists were going to kill someone at Charlottesville, we’d have spoken up.

“If we’d only known that there were hungry kids in our neighborhood, we’d have made sure there was a program to feed them.

“If we’d only known that the climate crisis was real, we’d have been more active in connecting with our representatives.”

If we’d only known…

To which I can only add:

If we’d only known that Jesus was really coming back, and that he really expected us to deepen our faith in prayer, and that he really expected us to prepare without fret and worry, and that he really expected us to love our neighbors as ourselves, well…

What does it take to be ready?

We know.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon

What Does It Take to Be Ready?

Once again, the preacher has… adapted… from the prepared text. Just so you know.

The image is The Last Judgment in the Scrovegni Chapel of Padua, Veneto, Italy, by Giotto di Bondone –, Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on December 1, 2019

Social Networks: RSS Facebook Twitter Google Stumble Upon Digg Reddit

1 Comment

  1. by Leigh G McCaffrey

    On December 2, 2019

    “But what if every hour is God’s golden hour?” I’ll hold on to that this week.

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