Today’s Readings: AM Psalm 45; PM Psalm 47, 48; Zech. 2:1-13; Rev. 3:14-22; Matt. 24:32-44
A Reflection from The Rev. Canon Patrick J. Wingo, Canon to the Ordinary
So many of our Advent readings have the theme of watchfulness, anticipation, readiness. Watch the signs, like the blooming fig tree, Jesus told the disciples. Be ready, he said, because the Son of Man might come just like a thief, when you least expect it.
I must confess: There is something about being constantly aware, always ready that feels like a burden. I remember when my oldest child began to be mobile. All of a sudden, the family picnics at the lake took on a different feeling. I couldn’t get into a deep conversation with my cousin about the upcoming college football season – I needed to keep an eye on the kid (and it was a good thing, too, because she headed for the lake every chance she got). Even though it was still great fun, there was a new responsibility there, and for a new parent who was used to a big party at the lake, just a hint of a burden as well.
Be ready. Be alert. It’s not easy.
Many years ago, as I transitioned out of the business world in preparation for seminary, I worked on a construction crew. One day, as we prepared a house for a large, complicated addition to a large and expensive home, the foreman told us that we were going to cut down a tree next to the house. He had decided that we didn’t need to call in professionals; we were young and strong and had ropes and a chain saw – we could do the job ourselves and save, as he put it, “tens of hundreds of dollars.” The challenge was that if the tree fell the wrong way it would hit the house, and would surely cost tens of thousands of dollars to fix. But he couldn’t be talked out of trying it.
So we tied ropes up in the top of the tree and several of us pulled it away from the house as hard as we could while he began cutting with the chain saw. After a minute or so he stopped and called to us: “Y’all ready?” I wasn’t so sure, but the cocky guy next to me yelled, “Ready as I’ll ever be!” So the foreman cut and we pulled, and for a moment the world seemed as if it was going to end – all the signs were there. There was a crack and a crash, our arms felt like they were being pulled from our bodies and the tree began to fall toward the house. Time stood still for a moment. We pulled with everything we had, and somehow the tree only clipped the gutter on the corner. We saved less than “tens of hundreds of dollars” but the deed was done.
I think about that phrase, “Ready as I’ll ever be,” every time I hear this reading from Matthew and others like it. If I’m honest with myself, even on my best days I’m not really ready for Jesus to come in that unexpected way – in the everyday people and places, in the unexpected joys and sorrows, in the church, and in the world. The eyes of my heart are dim to Christ, and sometimes it seems like more than I want to handle. But what I have come to realize, come to count on really, is that being ready is not meant to be a burden to us in our relationship with Christ, but a gift, a way to grow deeper into the grace of knowing that when Jesus comes to us it is because he loves us. Yes, sometimes he comes to us in difficult people or circumstances, but that must mean he’s asking us – What? To take the chance? To understand the joy of the new responsibility? Maybe he’s asking us to be him. On my worst days, I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready for that. But through his grace, I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.