Getting Ready

Sunday sees the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the church’s year. The first paper door of many an Advent calendar will be opened, the first of four candles will be lit, decorations removed from tissue paper and hung, drab winter will sparkle once more. Folks will get ready — either by steeling themselves for the onslaught of holiday insanity or making space for the arrival of something ancient, something yet new.

The lections for the day speak of preparedness: Isaiah looking to the day when God will not only certain the sovereignty of Israel and institute justice, but will instruct the nations in righteousness — that is, in how to have a correct relationship with the Divine.

In days to come
the mountain of the LORD’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.
(Isaiah 2:1-3)

The Gospel lesson, however, extends a more sobering tone, an almost ominous warning not of unification and centrality, but of division and separation:

Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.  (Matthew 36:41-44)

While others might see in this passage a foretelling of some unseen day when the observant will be taken to a place of either protection or reward, I see something quite different: a simple reinforcement of a near daily experience. As fortune favors the prepared, so the ready heart — waiting expectantly — will be the first to see that which others, attention focused elsewhere, will miss. One will see it, a companion may not.

One of my favorite movie lines appeared in an unlikely bit of Christmas fluff. Judy the Elf, speaking to an incredulous Scott Calvin says, “Most people have it wrong — seeing isn’t believing; believing is seeing.”

And believing, I look and yet am still surprised when I see. The Son of Man comes at the most unexpected times in remarkable places, but frequently to the one who has readied the fertile heart.