Thursday, November 17, 2011

What's Next?

In my family, my brother’s birthday is at the beginning of December, and then my niece's birthday is in the beginning of January. One Sunday afternoon my nieces and nephews were having a conversation with my mom about Jesus’ birthday and how we celebrate it on December 25, that it’s not just the day that they wait for Santa Claus. My niece got very upset at hearing about Jesus birthday, and when she was asked why, she indicated it was because she though her birthday was next after her daddy's!

We’re always looking to what is next. After one birthday in our family the nieces and nephews are asking “who’s birthday is next?” impatiently waiting for the next family dinner complete with birthday cake. From a young age we are looking to the future. It may not be the future that adults are thinking about when we consider savings and money-market accounts, advanced directives and wills, but in some form or fashion we are always looking ahead to the future.

The parable in Matthew 25 emphasizes this “habit” as it tells the story of 10 bridesmaids who are waiting on the groom to arrive. Nothing they can do while they are waiting will bring the groom any faster, and nothing they can do while they are waiting will assure that the groom will arrive. In that same manner, the future to which we are looking is also out of our control. We cannot make our ultimate future arrive here any faster, and there is little that we can do to make sure our ultimate future will happen. However, we are assured that the groom, who we see as Jesus, WILL arrive. We are told in many places in the Bible, and can trust that Jesus WILL come again – but we do not need to worry about this part of our future. As Christians, we know and can trust in Jesus’ coming into our lives; in this way we are able to concentrate on this time, the here and now. If I were having a conversation with my niece I would tell her that we can concentrate on THIS birthday, the birthday we are celebrating RIGHT now, because no matter what we do, we know that the next birthday in our family WILL come and it will come in exactly the same amount of time as it did last year.

There is a saying, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.” For Christians, the Good news is that “tomorrow” is not entirely a mystery. We know that God will guide us, that God will be with us and God will direct us in the ways that we are supposed to live until that day when Jesus WILL return. However, the end of that saying still rings true. Today is the present, a gift if you will, because we do not have to be concerned with the future. We are given the gift of being able to live in the here and now, to concentrate on the ways that our oil flasks are filled, that we may be ready for whatever tomorrow brings.

The 5 wise bridesmaids in the parable in Matthew 25 carried an extra oil flask with them in preparation for the time that the groom would eventually come, even though they had no idea when that would be. This begs these questions of us, "how are we ready for the moment when the groom will arrive? Will we have enough oil? Ho are we ready for the moment(s) that Christ will come into our lives? When Christ comes into our lives, are ready to welcome Him? Will we?

When seemingly everyday things present themselves as the Divine, are we ready? Are we ready, and see them as the Divine? Or do we pass it off as the mundane, and fail to see Christ in our life, here and now because we have not kept our oil filled, ready to welcome Christ?

The 5 wise bridesmaids are asked by the foolish bridesmaids if they can have some of their own oil. We might be shocked to read that the 5 wise bridesmaids so "NO! Go get your own!" But this is not because the 5 wise bridesmaids are mean and hope to cause pain by not sharing their resources, it is because they can't. They can't because their resources are not something that CAN be shared. Being ready is not only about stockpiling reserves to be ready for some future time. IN this case, bieng ready is being trained and creating habits that make you ready to welcome the groom into your life.

What are some habits that you have started that will help you be ready to welcome the groom in this parable, Jesus, into your life? You may be able to share your steps that you took in being prepared, but you cannot share the time and effort that spent in the past making yourself ready for this event. The same way that a long-distance runner cannot share their diligence in training for a race with someone who has only started running yesterday, we cannot share our own faithful diligence in preparing our hearts for Christ. A student may be able to share their homework answers with another student if they need the homework assignment completed, but when it comes test time, they cannot share that time and preparation they have put into studying for that exam and knowing that material. These 5 bridesmaids are not being greedy when they will not share - they simply cannot.

I have challenged myself to write more often on my blog.  This is something that no one else can do for me, and I cannot share anyone else's blog writing without doing it myself.  I go back and forth - sometimes wondering why I write, does anyone care, who is my audience, who wants to hear my random ramblings?  But then I have to remind myself that I need to write FOR ME for a few reasons - and if a blog is the way to do it, then why not?  I welcome the comments, the support, the questions, the help from a blog, so why not write here?

I struggle with my "voice" in the pulpit.  Most days of my life I wake up and think, "Really?  People WANT to hear what I have to say?  People want me to be their leader?"  Sometimes this thought comes from surprise, why would people want to listen to ME? And other days it comes from excitement - WOW, people REALLY want to know what I have to say! (Think Stuart Smalley from Saturday Night Live.)  If I'm ever going to become the preacher I want to be, or hope to be, I have to be ready for the Holy Spirit's movement - and that includes being ready to be that prophetic voice when I need to be, the pastoral voice when one is needed.  Those voices, and many more, are not going to develop themselves.  If I'm not ready with that part of my life, and my "voice," how will I be ready for the Spirit's movement in my ministry?

As we prepare for Christ's coming into our lives, as we ready our hearts for Advent and Christmas - what are ways that you cannot share with anyone else, that you have readied your heart for Christ in your life? What are ways that you can share that preparation - the enthusiasm behind that preparation and the love that you have for Christ? Whatever the case may be - I hope we can all be ready to receive Christ into our lives whenever he comes, even in the everyday, seemingly mundane, even in a baby, crying in a feeding trough.