Are You Ready?
The Rev. Laurel Hart
Scripture: Matthew 1:18-25
Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
Are you ready? Of course, as the grocery store clerk repeats this phase over and over again their meaning is “are you ready for Christmas?” I swear the next one who asks me that question is risking bodily harm. Oh, I know these store employee have been trained to be polite to customers, to fain interest in our well-being – “did I find everything I needed today”. But frankly it drives me up a wall – scratches my chalkboard - OK - I say to myself dig deep and see if you can find some of that HO HO HO spirit. Are you ready? The question is a painful reminder that I’m never ready for the flood of memories from holidays past. But in reality, I’m not the only person who finds this time of the year hard – I deeply miss the surprises and excitement of the Christmas Eves of my childhood. These were festive family celebrations spent with my parents, my siblings, and grandparents, plus my aunts, uncles and 11 of my cousins. I miss the knock on the front door which when opened - welcomed a real live Santa Claus to come inside - his bags over flowing with presents for me and all those cousins. I miss the Christmas morning breakfast which my grandparents prepared for the whole family - we children sitting around the table in our soft new flannel PJ’s. I miss planning surprises for my two small sons and the fun of watching them decorate the tree with their daddy. I miss cooking a big turkey for a table full of family – but I don’t miss the clean-up. I really miss all the people whom I loved and lost to death. This time of year is hard for so many people. Outside the doors of this church is a city of hurting people – one person is a friend who is fully aware that he may be spending his last Christmas on earth. There are individuals living in our community who are struggling with two or more low paying jobs or even no job. How do they make the choice between paying the rent, purchasing food for their families or a few gifts? Everywhere we look there are people, even children living outside in small tents during these dreary months of winter – God have mercy on them. How can a human being spend the entire day; not to mention the night sitting on a cold slab of concrete with nothing more than a few layer of cloth for protection? Not to forget, the numerous people who might have the financial means, but little time away from the pressures of work and other responsibilities to prepare for this day. The ads playing on local TV stations asking for donations for toys and / or money to pay for holiday dinners serve to constantly remind us of our neighbors without enough food or warm shelter from the cold. How do any of us cope with the emotional overload? Where do we find the hope and the strength to continue?
In the church calendar, every period of celebration is preceded by a time of preparation. Historically, Advent, the liturgical season that begins four Sundays before Christmas Day, is a way to prepare our hearts (and minds and souls) for Christmas. During Advent we are encouraged to pause and to look, with complete honesty, at the darkness in our world and our own very human contributions to this gloom occasioned by our own personal episodes of unkindness or impatience or selfishness. As you recall, the parish community gathered on the last Sunday of November and made Advent wreaths together. Because we took that lovely fragrant circle of evergreen foliage and candles home, our family made a much more conscience effort to lean into Advent this year with some times for prayers and sharing. I was surprised when I experienced a little reprieve from my on slot of mostly negative feelings during these rituals and that was an unexpected gift.
The pre-lighted Christmas tree came out of our storage closet last Sunday and was place in our front windows. We enjoyed watching the tree twirl and twinkle with lights for a few days before unboxing and hanging the ornaments all of which are only depictions of Santa Claus. We can’t rush this time I tell our young resident roommate. Thoughts of the promises from the book of Isaiah, which we’ve heard over the last weeks, lingered in my mind. I found myself beginning to calm down and to sense with mild anticipation the coming of the light to the world. In a few short days, the promises we’ve heard during this time of waiting will come to fruition and the light will make its appearance again, as it has for over the past two thousand years.
How do any of us cope with the emotional overload? Where do we find the hope and the strength to continue?
For us Christians seeking an answer to these questions - this is where we find the hope – in the word made flesh and the promise come to life for us once again and in this parish community. This is a place where we join together to offer mutual support thereby giving some additional strength to cope with all the ups and down this journey through life brings to each of us. It is also by having that elusive intangible feeling in our hearts – faith. A faith grounded in the belief and understanding of the meaning of the word Emmanuel – God with us. Today we listened to Paul remind the Romans of the promises of the prophets – the coming of our Emmanuel – God with us – as fulfilled in the person of Jesus. The one who prophets promised since ancient times – but as Paul explained with a new understanding of messiah, as one who came - not for a select few but for the whole world. I’m going to repeat that very important phase – not for a select few but for the whole world. A promise given to all - assuring each individual that none of us are ever really alone - Emmanuel – God is with us.
The lessons for today closed with the passage about the angel appearing to Joseph. This man totally amazes me - Joseph listened – really listened and then obeyed. He was willing to go against the social norms of his time and to face the possibility of intrusive questions or even rejection from the community. It’s impossible to imagine this story turning out the way it did without the grace and willingness of this one righteous man. Here we are – three days counting down to Christmas. We can’t stop it – we can’t slow it down - Christmas is coming – the light is coming. Life as a Christians is - as it has always been – it is living out this promise – Emmanuel – God is always with us – our job is to listen and open our hearts – to follow the example of Joseph to listen and obey– then to allow the Holy Spirit inside our hearts - letting the spirit work within us and through us out into our world.
Are you ready?