Judy and Mike are sitting on the couch watching TV. A commercial for an attorney talks of medical wills and about being prepared for such a time. “Honey,” says Mike, turning to his wife with a serious expression, “I want you to promise me that if there ever comes a time that I am dependent on just machines and bottled fluid, that you will make sure to put an end to it.” “No problem hun,” says Judy. She promptly gets up, turns off the TV, and pours his beer down the sink. One can never start too early. In the movie “Billy Elliot,” Billy grows up in the 1980s rough, mining, working class of northern England. Here boys box; they don’t ballet. Billy’s dad wants him to be the same as all the other boys, but Billy is a kid whose heart and soul dance. The girls’ ballet instructor lets him take her class without telling anyone. As he continues to go, he faces the day when he must learn to do a pirouette. It’s not something that come easily. Proverbs 6:6-8 says, “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.” Being prepared means everything sometimes. Noah didn’t wait until it started raining to build the ark. He got prepared beforehand. Some have a tough time seeing what’s up ahead. Two things you can be sure of are heading your way: Good times and tough times. The best preparation for whatever tomorrow brings is doing your best today. Don’t be caught unaware; prepare. Jesus tells us we do not know the day nor the hour, so watch, be ready, get prepared. I know we can’t be ready for everything, like the Speech therapist who told this story. “I was working with a preschooler on body part identification and the “k” sound. To that end, I had her use Play-Doh to make a sculpture of me. “Is that my neck?” I asked, trying to get her to repeat the word. “No, that’s your chin,” she said. She added more Play-Doh. “Is that my neck?” I asked. “No, that’s your other chin.” Now there’s no doubt nobody is going to see that coming. But often people think what is now is what will be. But that just isn’t true.
If it’s tough now, it’s going to get better, so keep your eyes open for what’s coming. If it’s good now, it’s going to get tougher so keep your eyes open for what’s coming. The Lord blesses us with both the cost of discipleship as a Christian and with the joy of our faithful living. We should have hearts prepared for both. Be joyful when the good times are here but enjoy them more deeply by knowing they don’t always last. Don’t sit in them and demand they stay. Rather they’re more wonderful precisely because things can’t always be that way. And be ready for when things get hard because life isn’t easy. Don’t let such troubles come upon you unprepared, as if such a thing couldn’t have been foreseen. Rather, know tough times are like clouds wrapped around the sun. They will part and the light will shine again but not until the rain has fallen. The truth is where there’s rain there’s growth, if in your heart the seed of God’s grace has been planted. There are two kinds of people: Those who let their character change them into someone better by tough times and those who let their character turn them bitter by tough times. Find out that it’s alright to let others help you and you to be humbled. When we are alright with going at a slower pace, then God will show us all kinds of blessings we never would have seen rolling past them at the speed of life. We’ve all worked on something that required dedication and perseverance. Maybe it was achieving an important educational or professional objective, accomplishing a major athletic goal or conquering a bad habit. How did we do it? Did it just happen? More than likely the achievement required planning, discipline and persistence. Long before the achievement itself, we had to do what was needed to get ready, be ready and stay ready. We prepared ourselves for what we needed. The Second Sunday of Advent usually features the Ministry of St. John the Baptist. Therefore St. John is a prophet who prepared the people of his time for the coming of Jesus, by summoning them to repentance and opening them to the Kingdom of God in its fullness. An old priest once said, “Never think you have preached well unless the line to the confessional is long.” Now that may not be the way any longer but there is some truth in it for sure.
To be prepared for Christ’s birth, we do need to face the wrongs we have done, the pain we have caused, the missteps we have taken, the people that have been hurt. Christ’s birth should happen in a clean as possible environment. We know with God there is forgiveness and claiming ourselves as we truly have been means being able to be forgiven truly as we have been. Each of us has a hitch, like a branch or a log caught up on a riverbank collecting things and keeping leaves and debris from flowing downstream. We’ve got debris that’s been caught for some time now. The problem is not that we have it but that we guard it. We accept it and tolerate it and even protect it. We make it so that everyone else has a problem. Ours isn’t a problem—it’s just me; it’s the way I am. We each have repentance before the Lord for who we are when it comes to this. We have something we need to give over to the Lord, to let go of, from which to disentangle ourselves. Spy out your hitch. Loosen the log jam in your soul. Free yourself from its grasp. You’re ready to move on and move forward but until you cut that stuff loose you won’t be able to do it. A lot of people today seem to think they’re doing just fine. They’ll point out something they did once or twice. They’ll remember some fine work they were involved in, some success they accomplished. Those are good things, but are we preparing to do better? Are we still looking to meet God’s will today and tomorrow? It’s important to stay inspired. Once upon a time, a very strong woodcutter asked for a job in a timber merchant and he got it. The pay was really good and so was the work condition. For those reasons, the woodcutter was determined to do his best. His boss gave him an axe and showed him the area where he supposed to work. The first day, the woodcutter brought 18 trees. “Congratulations,” the boss said. “Go on that way!” Very motivated by the boss words, the woodcutter tried harder the next day, but he could only bring 15 trees. The third day he tried even harder, but he could only bring 10 trees. Day after day he was bringing less and less trees. “I must be losing my strength”, the woodcutter thought. He went to the boss and apologized, saying that he could not understand what was going on. “When was the last time you sharpened your axe?” the boss asked. “Sharpen? I had no time to sharpen my axe. I have been very busy trying to cut trees.”
It’s easy to think our axe is sharp enough. But it’s even easier to have it dulled over time and because of trials. Be prepared for good things. Look for how you can become sharp again. Don’t let life dull your faith. Find your inspiration. Guard your hearts in love. Don’t settle for erosion of spirit. Keep your hope high. And above all let’s prepare for Christ’s birth day by day, prayer by prayer, forgiveness by forgiveness. Can the church say Amen?
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