I never joined the Scouts when I was young or any other uniformed organisation for young people. That was a shame really because these organisations do a lot of very good work with children building confidence, practical skills and social responsibility. You may know that the motto of the Scouts and indeed the Guides has always been: “be prepared.” Good preparation is everything when it comes to achieving an important goal.
This is no less true in the Scriptures where God’s dealing with humankind involves extensive preparatory work with key people, sometimes over centuries. Today is the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers when we remember all those righteous Persons before Christ who contributed in some way to the readiness of Israel to receive its Messiah, the Christ.
Although the prophecies were quite clear that in the age to come the Messiah would usher in a new age for all peoples and not just the Jews, the Jewish people had rather more limited expectations of their Messiah. Whereas Zechariah had prophesied:
Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘In those days ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”’ (Zechariah 8:23)
Jesus Himself had to rebuke those who in converting the Gentiles had enslaved them rather than set the free. In a hard-hitting saying he lashed out at those who had missed the whole point of their vocation as the people of God.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. (Matthew 23:15).
As Christians we really mustn’t lose the plot either concerning why Christ came on what our response should be. As we make due preparation now at this holy season to receive the Christ, the eternal God born as a little Child, it is not so that we can keep Him to ourselves or make Him a burden to others but rather that we might present Him as the Saviour, that is the Liberator of all humankind. Failing to prepare for this great task of evangelisation is to domesticate Jesus and make Him opaque to those who were trying to see Him in us. We must therefore prepare ourselves for the great task that lies before us in the coming year and throughout the rest of our lives of presenting Christ to others such that, as Zechariah prophesied others will say to us: “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you”.
It is the “God is with you” part of the prophecy that ought to set up and makes take notice. The prophecies of our Holy Forefathers concerning the coming of the Messiah referred to Him as Emmanuel, which indeed means “God is with us.” All those Christians taking this name, from our dearly beloved Deacon, Father Emmanuel to our server Amman (which means the same) celebrate their name day on Christmas day when Christ was born. This is true if your name is Manuel and Spanish or Manolis and Greek. You bear the name of the Saviour, the Messiah. That is really special but I am afraid it is not limited to you!
You see, whether we bear the name of Christ or not, all of us are to bear Him within our hearts and for that to happen we must be prepared to meet Him whenever He comes to take up His dwelling in our lives. We, then, are that holy Temple, that dwelling place of the Most High, which used to be the pride of Jerusalem before the Romans destroyed it. Today, God is with us not in bricks and stones but in human lives and everyone can and should prepare themselves to receive Him, not just on Christmas day but every day. How else will others know that ‘God is with us’ unless we cultivate that Presence by preparing ourselves through repentance to receive Him?
We therefore receive Christ as would a little child; not with arrogance but with humility, not with cynicism but with great hope in His power to save, not with formal politeness even, but with ecstatic joy. He is the Saviour that we should want to know Him better and thus make Him better known.
Of course at this time people are making all sorts of great preparations. Who would not want to be prepared for Christmas? But are we prepared to meet Christ? Are we helping to prepare others to meet Him? Are we prepared for the new life that Christ brings and which He longs to share with all through us? This is what being prepared means were Christians so let us take the opportunity afforded by this time to draw closer to our Lord, the God-who-is-with-us, so that at the end of time and indeed at the end of our lives the Lord will not say to any of us: “Who are you? I know you not.” Would we not rather long for Him to say:
Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. (Matthew 25:34)
There is life in that but only death in the other. Let us choose life! Eternal life! God’s life!