“Getting Ready to Get Ready”
Psalm 16 & Mark 13:1-8 ~ November 14, 2021 ~ Northwood United ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook
Where have you had an epiphany from God? A moment where you found God to be guiding you, speaking to you? Urging you in the way of light? We are coming to the end of the church year that focusses on Mark’s gospel and, for him, it frequently occurs on mountaintops. It is even in this morning’s text. God’s presence revealed on the mountain’s peak. Is that a location you have felt God? A mountain’s peak? Or perhaps…the water’s edge? A forest trail? I wanted to share one experience that occurred to me at, of all places, Costco. It was November the 2nd. I had parked my car, showed my card and entered the store with shopping list in hand. And there it was and Epiphany…Christmas on display. I checked my calendar, as I was wearing a poppy on my coat. And sure enough it was November 2nd…yet Christmas had somehow arrived at Costco! Presents, decorations, sumptuous food…the nativity was all there!
Now you might take issue with this, as I have in the past. Christmas items on display in early November? This seems…somehow wrong. And as I thought about this growing phenomenon of the earlier and earlier arrival of Christmas, I came to think about the wisdom of what I was witnessing. As I took it all in, I think there is a deep learning for us in our spiritual preparations. It is good, and faithful, and wise to get ready…to prepare early…in order for a deep and meaningful journey to occur in the upcoming beautiful season of Advent. And here is the challenge with the way we have been doing it: here is what I’ve witnessed, and sometimes experienced myself. In the church, we tip people off on the 1st Sunday of Advent (about December 1st) that it is time to spiritually prepare for Christmas...To prepare for one of the most significant days of the entire year. We then have four weeks for this process to be planned and executed. And we start considering what such preparations might look like far too late. People, amidst their busy preparations for holiday plans, try to force-fit some form of spiritual practice amidst this busy season. And, Advent may be spiritually enriching, but more often than not, it becomes a hectic and busy time where shopping is prioritized over spiritual practices like prayer; where wrapping presents takes precedent over prayer and meditation; where cooking and entertaining comes ahead of our spiritual needs. So, this year, I wanted for us to take a lesson from the retailers and start early. To take time over the coming few weeks to consider what a meaningful and life-changing season of Advent might look like. A meaningful season, in addition to the shopping, the wrapping, the cooking and entertaining…to consider how we might keep Christ at the centre of this life-changing season.
And, to be sure, the potential of what I am considering is truly life-changing! The text that Barbara read for us speaks of the ending of an era and the arrival of a new one. We don’t often dabble in the apocalyptic realm of texts in the liberal Christian tradition; however, there is an important place for them in our considerations. This text speaks of a time of endings and new beginnings. There was an active conflict between the Jewish community against the ruling forces of Rome. They were actively fighting to take back their sovereignty and be free. This, of course, is in line with their history of centuries of being overthrown by the warring neighbours: Egypt, Babylon and now Rome. They dreamed; they yearned for the coming of a Messiah who would liberate them from the oppression under which they suffered. All three of the parallel gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, all hold predictions of apocalyptic end times and the ushering in of the Kingdom of God.
There are some deep challenges in our hearing wisdom in this text: Hollywood has done a grand disservice to this type of theological consideration, rendering it to the realm of fantasy. But, if we spend time, we can reclaim the wisdom and power that is alive in the text. Thursday’s observance of Remembrance Day is a more apt setting for us to hear this text. The text speaks of wars, false prophets, famines and national calamities. Lest we forget the suffering…the “birth pangs” as Jesus puts it…lest we ever forget. It is wise for us to consider how we might interpret the challenges to relations between different people in the last decade: violence thrust upon some based on their culture, their colour, their sexuality. We think of the victims of disaster…in our very own backyard in Lytton, BC (for example) where an entire town was swept up in a wildfire. And, as a community, we are left to respond ~ or not ~ to these challenges of brother/sister in need. These are but the beginning of the birth pangs, Jesus prophesies! What Advent promises is the movement towards a new age, a new world, a new Messiah coming to be birthed into our midst. And, if there ever will be a time to prepare, it is now! As, we prepare to welcome the Child Messiah of Peace.
So…how will you prepare? This is the question that we should be asking! And the good news is that there are as many ways to prepare as there are people in the world! And, if we take some time now, we might find our own version of a meaningful way to open our eyes and see what God is birthing.
The common aspect that all preparations require is that precious call for…time, that precious resource which is especially short supply in December. Being mindful of how we spend our time, each day, is the key to each and every Advent practice. Have you ever thought about time from a monetary perspective? Financially, we think about how much things “cost.” But an equally important consideration is ‘how we “spend” our time’. At the store, we consider if a certain item is worth the price tag; however, do we consider the expenditure of time in the same way? Whenever people inquire into growing spirituality, the response always begins with time. It takes time to grow, time to bask in God’s light, it takes time. And we must commit some of our time, each day, to our faith if we wish to grow spiritually. Most find that consistency is always best…finding the ‘best time’ for you in the flow of your day will lead towards the most consistent practice. First think in the morning, or at dinner time, or right before bed. There will be a ‘best’ time in the flow of your day. What is it? And, celebrating the successes is important. Rather than getting bogged down on those times when you weren’t able to fulfill your plans is important too. Logging your practices on the calendar will allow you to see your growing success. What if your chocolate advent calendar was opened after the completion of your spiritual plan for the day? However you get ready, time will be the first (and most significant) consideration.
So, how will you plan to spend your time? The good news is that there are A LOT of options! As many as you can imagine…all to prepare your soul and deepen your walk with God. Next Sunday, you will receive the Advent package with this year’s Advent prayer calendar and candle: devotional time for each day. You may wish to take advantage of the new “Prayer Room” that is open before Sunday worship, thanks to our Worship Committee. Dinner time provides an opportunity for personal and family time to pray, prepare, and ponder the meaning of the season. Turn off the TV and grow in your faith as you enjoy a meal each day. But don’t turn off all the media for the season. Television and other media provide wonderful opportunity to listen…to Christmas songs, hear Christmas stories, watch Christmas productions…ponder the season from other people’s perspectives.
There are also many service opportunities we might consider. What if we were to hold in prayer, different groups of people who are in need each day? What if we considered outreach during the season? Many of us have taken an opportunity to support the Salvation Army “kettle campaign”, to serve meals to those in need through the holidays, to support and participate in the White Gift ‘Christmas Hamper’ program at Northwood. These are just a few, of the many opportunities, to prepare room at the manger for the humble Christ to be born.
A final story…that takes us, this time, to the grocery store. I had a very friendly cashier in my checkout line earlier this week. I listened in to the shoppers ahead of me and I heard her offer the same greeting to each shopper as she scanned our selections: “Hello….are you looking forward to the holidays?” When it came my turn to go through the line, she asked me the same question. “Hello….are you looking forward to the holidays?” I replied: “why, YES, I am excited. I’m starting to make plans. It is going to be a very special Christmas! How about you?” As I was paying, I asked question: “It seems that you are asking that holiday question to everyone. What do people respond?” Sadly, she said: “well…you are the first person who said that you ARE looking forward to it.”
I wonder what December will bring? A hectic, frenzied, Christmas panic? Or a mindful season of preparation where we can tend to our spiritual needs, balanced alongside the joy of parties and celebrations? THIS is the time to prepare for how can we ever begin to prepare in December’s Advent.
I am so excited to walk that journey with you! Let us prepare NOW!