(excerpt from Wishful Preaching - Things I Wish I'd Said From the Pulpit)
In preparation for the coming of Christ: We need to not plan the outcome.
There is a saying in 12 Step programs that goes like this - "It is OK to make plans; just don't plan the outcome." How many times have we reached the end of the holiday and felt disappointed? The gift wasn't right. The turkey was dry. The ex-spouse was late bringing the kids. The cake fell. In some small or major way, our expectations for the holiday weren't met. This passage from Matthew warns us about expectations if it does anything. You won't know when, or how, or where the Christ will come, but be ready anyway. But ready for what? It is a fair question, just not the right one. The better question is how to be ready: open-mindedness.
My youngest step-daughter, Christine, had a goal as she prepared to go to school for the first day. She dressed eagerly, got on the bus, and was off. At the end of the day, the bus dropped her off at her driveway, and as her mother stood there to greet her, she placed her hands on her hips, planted one foot soundly and proclaimed with a huff, "I didn't learn to read!" Expectations.
Have you ever exercised with a goal? To run a race, or lose weight (not that anyone here needs to lose weight. In fact, I can't believe I even brought that up right after Thanksgiving), or maybe to recover from an injury.
A few years ago, I went through a round of physical therapy – exercises, actually – for a back injury I had. The physical therapist and the techs would teach me an exercise and instruct me to do it each day. Then each week I would come back for evaluation, some treatments and the next level of exercise – if I was ready for it. We had a plan: to get me healthy. We had a menu: specific exercises done on a regular basis. But, week to week I was surprised by the changes in my body - sometimes more than expected, sometimes less. My body did or didn't do what I expected it to. (I'm still amazed I can't touch my heel to my nose....)
Then one day I realized the back pain was gone. I'm not exactly sure when it happened, but it did. The pain left and ease of motion was there. What Advent requires of us is an openness to God's working. We are not the only ones with a plan. We are not the only ones working. God's coming is more like getting healthy, or getting fit, than it is like catching a cold. It doesn't just happen to us because of proximity; we have to work to benefit from it. God is free. God is available to everyone, but what happens in our life, in our world, when God comes in an unexpected way is beyond our control. And God always comes unexpectedly, so we need to be open-minded to the unusual ways and times God works. And, of course, we need to show up.