John’s main job was to get people ready for what was to come.
And so I’d like to talk with you about the nature of readiness. Of preparation. In two weeks, we are having a lot of people over to our house for a Christmas celebration and we have much to do to get ready. We will plan a menu, clean up our house, buy presents, decorate and then… we will be ready. One notion of readiness has to do with preparing a list and then checking items off that list, one by one. When everything is marked as done, then boom… you are ready.
Another way of thinking about readiness is as alertness. It’s to stand guard, to be vigilent, to never taking your eyes off the goal, even for a minute, for we know not when the hour will come.
Yet another way to think about readiness is to get oneself into the right state – physically, mentally, or spiritually. For example, readiness is something we strive for when we prepare to run a marathon, play in a piano recital, or give a big speech.
Readiness is all these things…
… but I would like to suggest one additional way that we can get ready and as I thought about this, I remembered two of my aunts from back when I was growing up. I was very fortunate to have come from a large Italian family and to have had a number of truly wonderful aunts. They were all awesome. Two in particular stand out.
The first had an exquisite home, beautifully decorated in a 1960s minimalistic sort of way with impressive artwork that complemented the decor perfectly. One time as a child, I wandered into the living room and jumped up onto one of the hard plastic seat covers that lined an expensive velvet sofa and remember two distinct things: first, that it was like jumping up onto a huge rock – there was no give whatsoever in that plastic. Second, that my aunt was not at all pleased that one of the little ones was in that room in the first place. She whisked me out of there in a jiffy. You see, her house was like one of the mansions in Newport; the only things missing were the red ropes keeping us from going into certain areas.
My other aunt’s house was not at all like this. No piece of furniture matched any other, whether in color, pattern or era of construction. I think there were things in that house from every decade of the twentieth century, and probably earlier. Hanging on the wall were the childrens’ school artwork projects, family photos and needlecraft of things like sailboats and kittens. On every table and in just about every nook in that house was a pile of games, toys, books, photo albums, knickknacks, stuff. There was stuff everywhere! Us little kids were allowed basically wherever we wanted to go and so each trip there was an adventure.
Both of my aunts loved to entertain, to have us over for the holidays. But at the first aunt’s house, we sat in our assigned seats, spoke little, and basically stared at the clock on the wall. At the second aunt’s, we played, we laughed, and then got very sad when the time came to go home.
Both of my aunts were always well prepared for us to come to their houses. They both worked hard to get ready. They were ready… but their levels of hospitality were quite different. One provided a welcoming place, where we wanted very much to be, to stay, to remain. The other, bless her heart, created an environment that was much, much less welcoming… and so we were happy to leave when the time came.
As we get ready for Christ this Advent season, actually… as we prepare over the courses of our entire lives for his arrival, we have to ask ourselves whether we are truly ready. We might go through all the necessary steps, we might remain alert, we might even follow the instructions perfectly by being “good Catholics”… yet never truly achieve a proper state of welcoming, of hospitality to Jesus.
Jesus talked about fertile ground and seeds falling upon it as opposed to upon rocky, sandy, hardened soil. Fertile ground comes from following the instructions and being a “good Catholic”, no doubt. But the soil is made truly fertile through humility, by doing something difficult like forgiving someone in our lives who is the essence of hard-to-forgive, by enduring suffering, by giving over our worries and fears to Christ, by laying at the foot of his cross everything that keeps us from getting closer to him, by considering others before ourselves, by embracing poverty and doing without, by thinking about someone who is lonely and isolated and then actually doing something about that.
Getting ready is more than a recipe we follow. There is no instruction manual. It’s more like a lifelong quest, something we endeavor towards. You could say that the essence of our entire lives is the experience of Advent.
And when our time comes, may we be thought of as fertile soil. As truly welcoming. As good hosts and hostesses. Let us be the kind of place where love resides and endures, where the light can always be seen, and where he’ll never, ever want to leave us.