Chilmark Community Church
November 27, 2016
Rev. Armen Hanjian
Perhaps you noticed the sermon title, “Be Prepared,” as the motto of the Boy Scouts. Today is the first Sunday in Advent – that season when Christians start preparing to celebrate the coming of Christ. Advent means “the coming of the Savior.” As far as we know, Advent formally began in the 6th century when the cycle of the Christian year was being established. It implies both anticipation and preparation. I thought it was important for me and you to take seriously the phrase we sing: “Let every heart prepare him room.”
First thing to ask is, did Jesus have anything to say about being prepared? The answer is yes, specifically in his parable of the 10 maidens. He couches the parable of the coming of the kingdom, or better, the coming of the King, in terms of a wedding. The Interpreters Bible tells us that a wedding party was the greatest of all festivities in Palestine. Everything was put aside for the occasion, even the study of the sacred law. Naturally, the neighboring maidens, like all girls, would want to be present. The high point of the wedding was when the bridegroom took the bride from her father’s house to her new home, usually in a litter, and her attendants and guests would escort her there.
They had receptions in those days too. There were 10 maidens whose task it was to welcome the bridegroom when he arrived at the marriage feast. Usually it is the bride that’s late, but not in this case. He came at midnight. Jesus points out the 5 foolish maidens who did not prepare, who did not have foresight, who did not bring any extra oil for their lamps. He compared them to the 5 wise maidens who made preparation and brought extra oil that there might be light for the marriage feast. The fault was not in the fact that all the maidens fell asleep, but that the foolish just feel asleep, while the wise slept only after they made due preparations.
Some of you might feel that the wise maidens were not very Christ-like for refusing to share their extra oil. Parable usually have one major thrust and preparation was the thrust of this parable; however, how true it is that spiritual preparedness just cannot be shared. Christian courage cannot be given on demand to someone who all his days has led a life of a coward. Insight from years of prayer cannot be shared with someone who has been careless toward God all her life.
Jesus pointed to preparedness, too, when he told of the man who built his house upon a rock. Just as we can prepare for the storms and stresses of our physical life, there is value in preparation for our spiritual life – for those inevitable delays when we long for a manifestation of God. The Christian must learn to build up reserves of strength so that in all circumstances, favorable or unfavorable, one may cause his or her light to shine and thereby find a life of joy.
To prepare for the coming of the God-sent redeemer I ask myself the question, “How do I prepare in other areas of my life?”
For one thing, I am always making lists. I make lists of things I have to buy, things I have to do. I make lists for meetings. I make lists at my desk. My appointments I list on my calendars. Lists keep me from racking my brains to remember. Lists are constant reminders. Why not do some listing in your advent preparation -Persons you wish to visit, persons you could bless by calling on the phone, persons or situations for which to pray.
If you care about preparing, you will set time aside in your daily schedule, your weekly schedule. Most of us would like to have God revealed to us in more ways; are we willing to pay the cost of setting the time aside?
The same person who knows to learn mathematics knows he must study, seems to be ignorant that the life of the spirit demands preparation as well. Whether you are painting a house, rebuilding a basement or seeking connection with God, the successful outcome depends on time consuming, effort demanding preparation. I hope Santa Claus won’t be the only one who is “making a list and checking it twice.”
Another way I prepare in life is how I prepare for a sermon. As thoughts come to me that excite me, that I really connect with, I will write them down and place them in a file. When I am ready to prepare another sermon, I review the file, and if its apropos and I am still energized and connected with the words, I will read, pray, think and if all seems right, I will create a sermon to share. No one has the right to such a captive audience as you, unless he or she has tapped the best resources available. So you can see that for a long period of time, I keep in mind that for which I prepare.
A young man tells of a time his church had an outdoor nativity pageant including shepherds, wise men and animals. At the close of the first scene, before starting again, an intermission was held during which the cast would leave the stable to be warmed and have refreshments. After that first showing, a mother sent a note to the boy with this request: “Please don’t allow them to leave Baby Jesus out in the cold alone like that.” It seems, that during the intermission, no one thought to take the doll from the manger. That mother, caught in the drama of the narration, rebelled at leaving Jesus out in the cold. At first, said the young man, it caused us to chuckle, but on after thought, are we not often guilty of becoming so involved with the mechanics of religion and life that we leave Christ out in the cold? The how of it I leave to your ingenuity, but do your best to keep Christ in your thoughts every day.
A third way all of us prepare in life is when we expect guests. You know what you do. Listen to what Christians in Iceland do as they prepare to welcome the King of Heaven. Charles W. Koller describes the peculiar customs in his book Tents Toward the Sunrise. “First of all, everything must be clean for Christmas. Every corner of the house and every bit of clothing must be immaculate. All necessary repairs must be made, however inconspicuous the need. All of this is symbolic and preliminary. The greater preparation is that of the heart. All differences must be reconciled. Then there are gifts, family reunions and fellowship with friends. And over all, there hovers the sweet consciousness of the coming of Christ into the world and into the hearts of men.”(and women)
When you prepare for company what do you do? You make lists. You keep the coming visitors in mind. You clean house. How important all these steps are. One year when Life magazine was preparing its Christmas issue, A photographer was sent to the School of San Roco in Italy to get pictures of the wonderful Tintoretto murals of the nativity. With every conceivable kind of light, the photographer attempted to capture the natural colors of the paintings, but he could not. Upon close examination, it was revealed that these murals of the nativity had been overlaid with 4 centuries of varnish, dust and the accumulation of dirt through which the radiant of colors of the paintings could not shine. Only when polaroid light was used could the authentic colors get through to the camera.
And has this not been the case with Christmas in our day? The real meaning has been overlaid with what Robert E. Luccock calls “….centuries of sentimental varnish and commercial dust until millions see Christmas only the sweet story of a baby shuffled off to a manger for whom we are moved to pity, or the occasion for an organized, commercialized, vulgarized carnival of gaudy splendor.”
An unknown poet in the 17th century has written some lines which, for me, perfectly capture the reaction of such humans as we. He describes in old English what our response would be if our nation’s President, in his case it was a king, should come to visit our home. Then he compares that with the-coming-toward-us of the God-sent Redeemer.
Yet if his majesty, our sovereign lord,
Should of his own accord
Friendly himself invite,
And say, “I’ll be your quest to-morrow night,”
How we should stir ourselves, call and command
All hands to work! “Let no man idle stand!”
Set me fine Spanish tables in the hall,
See they be fitted all;
Let there be room to eat,
And order taken that there want no meat.
See every sconce and candlestick made bright,
That without tapper they may give a light.
“Look to the presence: are the carpets spread,
The dazie o’er the head,
The cushions in the chairs,
And all the candles lighted on the stairs?
Perfume the chambers, and in any case
Let each man give attendance in his place.”
Thus if the King were coming would we do,
And ‘twere good reason too;
For ‘tis a duteous thing
to show all honour to an earthly king,
And after all our travail and our cost,
So he be pleased, to think no labour lost.
But at the coming of the King of Heaven
All’s set at six and seven:
We wallow in our sin,
Christ cannot find a chamber in the inn.
We entertain Him always like a stranger,
And, as at first, still lodge Him in a manger.
If we would entertain the God who befriends us, let us