Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Hope of Preparing

Straight paths begin as crooked roads.

Preparations don't just all of the sudden become as they are.
Everything has a beginning. Even preparations. Especially preparations.
Preparations are the beginnings of something that will come to pass.
Whenever we are going to have guests over to the house it is never something that we just throw together at the last second. My wife plans it out. Sometimes weeks ahead, so that she can plan the meal. The shopping list she sends me to the store with will include items that she might not plan to use for another 2 weeks. Sometimes it drives me a little batty that we are planning that far ahead. I am the spontaneous personality in our relationship. She tends to schedule everything out. But, then I find that even when i think I'm being spontaneous there was much preparation, in my head, that went into the moment of springing the idea upon my unsuspecting love. It's only 'spontaneous" because I hadn't shared any of the preparations with her.

Life tends to be like that for us humans. Spontaneous. Sometimes we have it all planned out. We get to see things happening and we are pleased with the flow of events, even if they are bitter, because we were anticipating their approach. We could prepare for them. We know we can handle what's coming at us. Then there are those moments that come up and slap you up side the face. The spontaneous in life always has a way of spoiling our fun. We want to be prepared and ready for everything. Sometimes there is no way to prepare for the moment. It comes at us. We endure it. We get through it. And, as hard as it may be, we need to move on from it. We are not asked to linger in the wake. We need to learn for our experiences and move along.

What can scripture teach us about preparing?
It is in this time of the year that we hear these words most often. Let us look at them now.

Mark 1:1-8

New International Version (NIV)

John the Baptist Prepares the Way

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah,[a] the Son of God,[b] as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way”[c]
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”[d]
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with[e] water, but he will baptize you with[f] the Holy Spirit.”

John the Baptist is a whole load of spontaneousness rolled up in preparation.
He is only spontaneous to those who weren't ready to see a guy walking around wrapped up in sackcloth and camel hair. God had been planning this moment for some time. In reference to Jesus, the disciple & apostle John would say that "he came to those who were his own, and his own did not receive him". No, the people were not ready for this moment. To them it was completely spontaneous. This guy shows up walking around in the desert, baptizing people in the Jordan, yelling something about repentance, and all the while disturbing the nice plan that was going on in everyone's minds. The people probably had preparations in place. Their daily grind. Their work. Their families. Their own problems to maintain and solve. Now this. In a "stop what you're doing moment" they are cautioned to drop everything and come respond to a call of preparation. Something great is coming. Something people had forgotten about. In all the prep work of life the message that salvation is near got lost in the shuffle. 

What is so great about preparation any way? How does preparation bring hope?
Ask anyone. The OCD person who has to have everything just so, or the person who is ok with things being sprung on them, and you'll find the prep work is not something anybody cherishes. Just ask my wife. She has to have everything just so-so. She likes to have all in place and ready to go. It's not really a joyous process. Not for her. Not for anybody in the house. Getting ready for guests or getting ready for something at school, it's a hard thing to ask someone to be joyous and happy through this time. Peace is fleeting. It is in moments like this that we need peace as we go through it. We can't wait to get through the moment and out the other end so that we can find peace. Some moments are not meant to be traveled so quickly. 

The story is told of a young man who approached the foreman of a logging crew and asked for a job. “That depends,” replied the foreman. “Let’s see you fell this tree.”The young man stepped forward, and skilfully felled a great tree. Impressed, the foreman exclaimed, “You can start Monday.” Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday rolled by — and Thursday afternoon the foreman approached the young man and said, “You can pick up your pay check on the way out today.” Startled, the young man replied, “I thought you paid on Friday.” “Normally we do,” said the foreman. “But we’re letting you go today because you’ve fallen behind. Our daily felling charts show that you’ve dropped from first place on Monday to last place today.” “But I’m a hard worker,” the young man objected. “I arrive first, leave last, and even have worked through my coffee breaks!” The foreman, sensing the young man’s integrity, thought for a minute and then asked, “Have you been sharpening your axe?” The young man replied, “No sir, I’ve been working too hard to take time for that!” Our lives are like that. We sometimes get so busy that we don’t take time to “sharpen the axe.” In today’s world, it seems that everyone is busier than ever, but less happy than ever. Why is that? Could it be that we have forgotten how to stay sharp?

Moments like those transpiring in Ferguson, MO still are rocking our headlines. How do you prepare for the events that taken place in this suburb of St Louis? Life comes at us with the news and decisions that we might not agree with. People stood on the lawn out front of the court house for days waiting. What was going through the minds of the people? There were preparations being made. People were already saying in their hearts that if the decisions went this way or that they would respond this way or that. The rioting that ensued might seem spontaneous to some, because they weren't prepared for it. Some might not have thought in their minds that people could do such things. So did prepare though. The police were out front, waiting, watching. They anticipated that some were going to respond in a harsh manner.

There's hope spreading around Ferguson, Missouri, with many in the community refusing to let the demonstrations and violence of earlier in the week affect their holiday weekend. They're channeling protests over the Michael Brown case into positive energy, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Strasssmann. Cathy Daniels is known as "Mama Cat." The 51 year-old Navy wife was up at 1 a.m. Thanksgiving morning to cook dinner for her large, extended family -- the hundreds of Ferguson protesters she adopted as her own two months ago. "This is a labor of love for real," Daniels said. "Food is a strengthener, so when I can feed my family and they're strong, we are going to be ready for the fight." She normally cooks for them on Sundays. But this dinner was special for two reasons -- Thanksgiving, and the first "family" meal since Ferguson erupted earlier that week. "Our souls are bruised but it's not broken. And it's not a black thing. It's not a white thing. It's not Hispanic, Asian. It's all of us together," she said.

Preparations involve more than one. When my wife has plans mounting up on her shoulders I will admit that I used to get a bit huffy. I used to blame her for getting all bent out of shape. It was all her fault. She didn't have a great attitude about it all, I would entreat.  Well, how was I handling it? What kind of attitude was I bringing to the party? What my wife needed was some support. A hug. Someone to mop the floor or fold a basket of laundry. Something to help take the weight off her shoulders for a bit. How we respond to the trouble is our lives has everything to do with preparation. Because, this isn't the only time we are going to be faced with trouble. It will find it's way into our lives again. And, how we responded to it last time will most certainly have an influence on how we respond to it the next time trouble rears it's ugly head.

A girl named Mary suddenly had an angel appear and tell her she was going to have a baby.
How Mary responded to the message prepared her for what lie ahead. Her family would not understand. After the child was born, a priest at the temple would tell her that the child was destined to cause the rising and falling of many in Israel. And, a sword would pierce her own soul too. She watched the boy grow up. She saw him wander away as a young boy and get lost in the temple for a day. All the searching, the looking, the wondering, it must have tried her heart. Then, the day her son left home to fulfill the work God had set before him. Messages come back about him wandering through Israel. People being healed. People finding hope. People not happy with him. People wanting to harm him or even kill him. All of it was preparation. Finally she would see her son in the most awful of places. Hanging on a cross. The words John the Baptist had spoke. The message she had been given from the earliest moments of her baby's birth, now converge on the hill called Calvary. How would she respond? Was she prepared to face the trouble that lie ahead?

There is hope in preparation.
A hope that comes to us in our darkest moments and carries us to a place of peace.
We light a candle to remind us that the light is still on. One stands for hope. Another means peace. If we are in those dark moments of life, we look for the light and we find it. Because we have trained ourselves that even when life seems spontaneous, God has been making plans all along. He is walking beside of us. He is there to carry us. We can expect it. We long for it.

And God does not disappoint.

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