Be prepared! Stay awake! Be watchful! Be steadfast!
All of these could easily be the headlines of the government’s latest Coronavirus campaign. You only need to add, “Keep your distance and wear your mask!” and, in theory, you would know exactly what’s expected of you. But even so, we manage to get quite confused. How many people? Inside or outside? Am I in a bubble or caring for a needy person? And the rules for Christmas are looking likely to be even more confusing.
But if you apply those headlines to Advent, which is where they actually come from, it’s no easier at all.
Prepare for what? Why? And how?
What we are preparing for should be straightforward; the end of the world; Armageddon; the second coming.
But as soon as you say these words, you think of the old boy with a sandwich board, “The end of the world is nigh!” Time after time people have wrongly predicted when that will be. Some have claimed that Covid is one of the plagues of the Apocalypse. It isn’t. It’s a virus.
All that stuff is associated with a very unhealthy strand in Christian faith – indeed it’s more associated with mental illness – and yet we are called to “be prepared.” Jesus constantly illustrates this call, with parables and teaching about tough times to come. Paul seems to expect the conclusion of everything to be imminent.
So, have all the generations of Christians who have lived in the expectation of – and “been prepared” for – a second coming that didn’t arrive, wasted their time and effort?
That brings us to, “Why?” If the only reason for living in a state of preparedness is the (remote) possibility that the world might end in our generation, then, yes, we’ve wasted our time. But if that state of readiness and watchfulness is the right and most loving way to live out our lives in this mortal world, then being in an “Advent” state of mind makes complete sense. We might think of St Benedict who, when asked, “What would you do if you knew you we going to die tomorrow?” replied, “Plant an apple tree.” It’s a state of mind that sees things in a bigger perspective, where me and my needs are only a tiny part of the whole story.
Why be prepared for something that (probably!) won’t happen for billions of years? Because it helps us to live better.
And so we come to, “How?” It’s all very well saying, “Be prepared”, but we need to know what a state of preparedness is. Be alert because the world needs more lerts.
At this point, you might expect me to say, “be more good”, “do more kind things”, “say more prayers”, “try harder to overcome those bad habits”.
But it is none of that.
Put yourself more in the way of grace.
Why not take a week to think about that? and then we’ll chat some more.