Little Johnny says to his mom, “You can take the train set off of my Christmas wish list, mommy.” Intrigued, mom asks, “Why is that, honey?” And Johnny says, “Because I just found one in your closet.”
We’ve all done last minute shopping, I’m sure. Ever done last minute living? That’s when we push everything too much together at high speed and have to hope nothing goes wrong and everything goes to plan or things could get messy. The night before Christmas should be all about sweet dreams, but the night before the night before Christmas is all about whether we’ve got it all together. Sometimes, folks aren’t really good at putting things together in lock step. Procrastination can be an issue. Other times, there is simply a lot, too much, going on and things back up.
Perhaps you’re a student who also needs to work twenty to thirty hours a week to pay your college bills and live. There are times when too many things are demanded from you. You can feel that no matter how ready you are you’re still also flying by the seat of your pants. It’s not a comfortable feeling but you’ll want to get used to it since it’s probably the number one contradictory reality that adulting feels like: feeling prepared at almost precisely the same time as you’re feeling unprepared. You’ve got a handle on things but then again not quite.
Christmas time is that way for a lot of folks. Getting prepared is crucial—but it may not always happen as much as one would like.
I’m going to tell you that it’s not really a cakewalk to get Christmas ready for five kids, two parents, two grandparents, plus two Christmas Eve services, children’s Christmas program the Sunday before, a regular Sunday worship service, and a worship service or two after so that things keep going while we take a break. Christmas meals, Christmas shopping for nine people, cleaning the house, helping the children study for their exams and be a part of any other special school programs—all of it—is incredibly joyful and special and I would never trade any of it! I love Christmas time. But it’s a lot. Now, there is one part that may put be the straw that bends the back a bit too far—wrapping presents before Christmas morning arrives. And I do mean before Christmas morning arrives.
Some years are “better” than others. Marit and I don’t exactly know what it’s going to be like however until we get home around 10:00 p.m.
Christmas Eve and see exactly where we stand with wrapping. I mean we have an idea but the days and weeks right before pass like a dream, and we do as much as our busy life can put together. No matter what, reality always tolls its bell when we get home from here. How many presents do we still have to wrap? Oh my!
I’ll tell you this: we’ve have often wrapped presents long enough to watch both “A Christmas Carol” with George C. Scott as Grinch, fabulous, and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” fabulous. And there have been years when we’re also good for at least one Christmas album, and in those really tough night/mornings another movie. Now if you’re starting to add all that up, you’re getting to about 3 to 4 in the morning. One year, I went to bed while Marit was finishing. I hadn’t fallen asleep yet when Marit come running into the bedroom and jumps in bed. The kids were awake and coming down the stairs. What we don’t do for them….
Someone once said to me what might be on your mind: that Christmas comes every year on the same date and shopping could be done earlier. So much wisdom! Some day when we grow up, and everything slows down because the kids are no longer living with us and checks are what we hand out, yes, then Christmas shopping could be half done six months earlier, and the wrapping! But for now, we’re going to find the blessing in the Christmas eve bustle and sleeplessness. It’s there—at minimum in future years when we look back on those wonderfully crazy Christmas eve nights!
Being prepared is a great thing! One of life’s really important lessons to learn. I can’t recommend enough… except for when it’s not what’s needed or valued. You see, being the prepared type, perhaps even the organized kind of person, isn’t always the characteristic or virtue asked for. I know some here are thinking that can’t be true. I mean, what else is there but to be prepared and ready and organized and have the ducks in a row, the t’s crossed and the i’s dotted. Efficient and effective, that’s what we’ve got to be at home, work, everywhere.
Yes, but here’s the thing: The Bible isn’t always so high on being prepared. The Bible doesn’t always give a first-place award to the person who is the most ready and prepared. God doesn’t always choose the one who has it all together to get the most important stuff done. The Lord needs less administrative help than inspired help.
Get your inspiration on. Put some feeling into your faith. You’re more important to the Lord by what you can become than who you are already.
Let me take you back to someone who lived over 3,000 years ago. Moses kills an Egyptian, runs away from his cushy life in the Pharaohs’ home, and live out in the sticks for years, putting together a life as a herder and husband. One day, he sees a burning bush that won’t burn up, takes off his sandals and hears God call him to set his people free, which means he’s supposed to head back to Egypt, face the only person who might know who he is and has the power to execute him for his crime, and tell this person, probably the most powerful man in the world, that he really needs to let a significant slave population in his nation go free, and get no compensation for it.
For some reason, Moses says I’m really busy the rest of my life but even if I could fit this little project into my busy schedule, which I would really like to do for you, Jehovah, you’ve got the wrong guy. It can’t be me. You want a leader, someone who’s smart; but mostly you want and need someone who has a really great way with words and communicating, a salesman type of guy, someone who can talk Eskimos into buying freezers. I’m shy, tongue-tied, totally unprepared. I’m obviously the wrong person for the job. Thanks, but I’m good, where I am, as I am.
And with that Moses, having convinced God that his lack of preparedness and quality disqualifies him for the job, picks up his sandals, slowly backs away, and sprints down off the mountain to his herd of goats. Israel is never set free, there’s no Passover, no parting of the Red Sea, no Ten Commandments, and of course no Charlton Heston playing Moses in cinematic color.
Fortunately, Moses eventually said yes, no matter how unprepared or unfit for the job he believed he was at first. But how many times have we done exactly what that alternative version of Moses did? In our own little way of course. What we’re called to do, to become, is not what we’re doing and who we are right now. Our sense of ourselves fails to meet up with God’s sense of ourselves.
Now of course it’s not like Moses wouldn’t have been flattered, right? It’s inspiring to picture ourselves being someone even better than we are. Someone more important, better at handling problems, overcoming all temptations, making people happy wherever we go.
But, too often those moments pass.
We don’t want them to pass. That is you. Stop letting yourself be talked out of who you really are. Forget about thinking you know who you are and
it isn’t that. Yeah, so what if you’ve failed in the past, and haven’t always measured up to the situation. It’s OK. We can still get there from here.
God isn’t wrong about you. Don’t pick up your sandals and back away from the Lord. God says there’s something more for you than the little stuff you’ve been handling, or the smaller way in which you’ve been living. Believe it.
You see, here’s the thing: We’re seeing the whole thing with the wrong set of eyes and hearing the call with the wrong tune in our head. We think that being prepared is the issue—or that because we’re not ready that we have the right to say No. We’re judging God’s call to us on grounds that we use all the time for all kinds of things: Are we ready to ask that girl or guy out? Did we study enough? Can I purchase that car with the amount of money I make? Is my sermon ready for Sunday morning? Do I need a haircut?
But God never asked whether you’re ready. The Lord didn’t say do you think you’re up for the job, and if not, maybe I could come back in five or ten years when you’ve got your act together. Why not? Because that’s not what this is.
It’s not always about being prepared and ready and knowing I’m capable and fit for the task. It’s not. And that’s because it’s not always about ourselves. It’s about the simple fact that God called you because God needs you. God needs you. That’s what it’s about. Simple as that.
You’re not on your own. Moses got the help, and so will you.
Somehow, incredibly, beautifully, Mary knew all this, which is just crazy because if you want to talk about someone who is completely unprepared for the job, you can’t picture anyone obviously less and totally unprepared. I mean at least Moses was being asked to do something he could do. Mary was a virgin giving birth. You can’t get any more unprepared than that! Right?
Look, it doesn’t matter if you believe that a virgin can give birth. I mean not in a spiritual sense it doesn’t matter. What matters in this sense is whether you get what the Bible is teaching. Mary is the lesson because her inability to do the work called for is complete. All Moses could say is I’m not a good talker. Mary’s disability I guess you could say goes way beyond his. And she still says “Yes” to it. She says, “I’m in.” She says, “I will do it. I don’t know exactly how but I’m going to trust in God.” It wasn’t a bridge too
far or a leap too long. She would become what God needed her to become! That’s the lesson here.
Gabriel tells Mary in words we all must rely on when we’re willing but not quite prepared to bring to life something beyond our present abilities: “You have found favor with God. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
God knows we’re not quite where we need to be to do what God needs to be done but we’re close. And the Lord hasn’t lost faith in you. God hasn’t said “time’s up.” God’s favor is on you. You are a spiritual work the Lord is willing to work with. The strength you need is at hand. Gather up your joy. Rest in God’s hands. God has you covered.
We’re all supposed to bring to life something else, something more, even something that seems impossible. Don’t resist God’s favor. Don’t judge yourself incapable of giving life to a new you, a new world around you, to God’s creative power to save.
Trust in the Lord. Let God’s Spirit move you. Bring about a new life for yourself and loved ones, to God’s glory.
Can the church say Amen?