We’re Never Ready

Mark 1:1-8 – The 2nd Sunday of Advent – for December 4, 2011

“‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight…’” (Mark 1:3)

When I write the opening sentence of these musings, I’m about four mouse clicks away from a file on my hard drive labeled Backpacking. There, I could find a list of 90+ items essential for a multiday hike. It’s a checklist, with gear like liner socks, tent stakes and water filter. I know where all the 90+ objects are stashed for easy access.

Let’s say you called right now and lured me with, “Let’s go for a three-day hike along California’s Lost Coast*. But we have to leave tomorrow morning, crack of dawn.”

My reply: “Who’s driving?” I’m ready to rumble. I’m . . .


Advent’s Second Word: PREPARE!

*     *     *

An examination of my legs would find miniscule scars and smooth divots encircling both kneecaps. On four occasions I’ve been wheeled into an operating “theater” to snip and reshape a torn meniscus. Arthroscopic surgery is relatively simple, using precise, minimally invasive tools to repair damage. At each procedure I observed machines ready to monitor my status, the coolness of the room, snippets of dialog between the surgeon and nurses. Before drifting into unconsciousness, I sensed their readiness. They were . . .


*     *     *

4 5-oz pieces of salmon
2 scallions
14-oz can of chopped tomatoes

Okay, fine, I borrowed this from Ms. De Laurentiis’ website to hope a few more extra web visitors would read about Advent.

I took that list (and more) on a supermarket excursion for a recent meal. Giada De Laurentiis’ “Salmon Baked in Foil” was on my mind and soon to be on the table, along with rice pilaf and sautéed kale. Sometimes I “hunt” for groceries without much of a list, but when I’m planning a nice meal for friends I like to be on thyme and . . .


 *     *     *

The second Sunday of Advent whispers, “Prepare!”

Actually, it seems to shout the word. Isaiah—deutero or second Isaiah for you Biblical scholarly types—declared the importance of preparing the way of the Lord, “make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Isaiah wasn’t talking about an asphalt ribbon slicing through Death Valley’s harsh landscape for a weekend retreat in the desert. Instead, Mr. Isaiah, as familiar with a real desert as he likely was, demanded believers to prepare their weary souls for hope, good tidings, God’s guidance . . . even when everything around the Israelites seemed as bleak as, well, a desert.

More shouting. John the Baptist, as the Gospel writers echo Isaiah, bellows preparation. Prepare for repentance. For the Holy Spirit. For (at least with our modern sensibilities and the quirks of the lectionary) the coming of the Christ child. Yes, those familiar with Advent and churches and Christmas preparations know the very adult John the Baptizer unexpectedly and yet predictably arrives to whip believers into spiritual shape for the impending birth.

We could argue with great enthusiasm about whether or not Isaiah “predicted” the coming of the Christ, or if John saw his role as a welcome mat for Jesus. Those might be contentious or rewarding debates, but whether we ended up at each other’s throats or went out for a slice of pumpkin pie afterwards, we’d likely agree on one thing as it relates to Isaiah, John, desert highways and swan dives into the Jordon river . . .


Christ comes at Christmas.
Christ comes soon.
Christ comes now.

Christ in the form of your Aunt Matilda, with her incessant stories about once meeting Elvis in a supermarket when she was a teen. Christ in the form of the guy in the middle of the intersection with his “I’m homless and hunry” sign. Christ in the form of your best friend asking you to keep a secret about a cancer diagnosis. Christ in all forms, usually the most unsettling and least expected.

In Advent, preparing for new birth isn’t just baby talk. It’s about telling old stories over and over and seeing people you want to avert your eyes from and hearing information we dread. And yet, truth be told, we can prepare all we want, and we’re never ready. I’ve never been on a backpack that went as planned. Every surgical procedure hurt for a long time before healing took place. No recipe ever tastes quite like Ms. De Laurentiis promised. And these are the trivial things.

Prepare for faith. Prepare for grace. Prepare for forgiveness. Prepare for a loving God who loves you even when you glare at the mirror and scowl.

We prepare in this expectant season and we’re never ready.

Still . . . however I interpret or ignore Isaiah, John or the Santa ringing a bell by the supermarket, help me prepare my weary soul to welcome Christ.


*Or . . . where would you like to take a hike?

And speaking of preparation, and how things can so easily fall apart…have you seen this video about the “proposal?” Dogs are great plan-breakers for human preparers!


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  1. For someone who lives alone, Advent and Lent are far more rewarding than Christmas or Easter, since they are both about anticipation. It’s even better if you follow the daily Lectionary, since the end of Series A has been ramping up to Advent for the last three weeks, with lots of readings from Revelation. Of course, I hate writing about Revelation, because how can you infuse life into something which is already so far over the top as to have us wanting to go out and buy many copies of Renaissance Brass music. Of course, if you are Moravian, you already have your ipad loaded up with trombone music. I’m also fond of Advent because it reflects that great Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared”.

  2. I recently discovered this site and appreciate what you have to say so very much.from a Retired UM Pastor(Holston Conf).

  3. Thanks for your work! Just ‘discovered’ you. Will check in to see what comes of your next publication. As one UMC pastor to another, I wish you much fulfillment in your ‘non-church’ writing. I despair of a religious publishing field saturated with one more book-of-the-week that will save/revive/transform your congregation, etc. etc. After awhile they all sound alike. I’m thrilled to know that some of us are putting our talents to other uses. I believe God blesses those uses, as well. And, I love mysteries. Hope to find you on my Kindle soon!

  4. Hi, I’m a Methodist Local Preacher from the UK and I also love long distance hiking (and cycling!) But I’m not sure even with all my gear I could get ready that quickly. However I’m preaching on this passage this coming Sunday so I need to be ….


    Thanks for your blog and God bless.

    1. Thanks for your comments and for reading, Ruth. Okay, maybe you couldn’t get ready by tomorrow…but what trail would you take me on “across the pond?”

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