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Summary: The inbreak of God, whether now or in the day of His return, is both judgment and blessing. But if we are always prepared, we can handle the judgment without being destroyed and can receive blessings even though disguised.

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If we prepare, we can handle just about anything. Preparation allows us to handle both negatives and positives. If we are ready, we can take the negatives and deal with the blows that fall on us. And if we are ready, we can also enjoy the positives and receive the blessings.

When I was growing up, on the 5th of September each year we would celebrate my dad’s birthday. The ritual was always the same. My mother would prepare some of his favorite foods, Hoosier stuff from where he grew up in Noble County, Indiana. There would be a cake with candles, from which he would, on this one day a year, serve himself an extra large slice. Most of the time he was concerned that everybody at the table get exactly the same size portion of everything, but on his birthday, he indulged himself a little. And then, when the last crumb of cake had been consumed, he would sweep aside the dirty dishes and would clear a space on the table, saying, “Now IT should fit right about here.” “IT” was, of course, whatever he had been hinting about for weeks. Small or large, he anticipated that what he had been mentioning would show up as his birthday gift, and so he was prepared. Sometimes, however, we did not meet his expectations. Sometimes the gift was not what he thought it would be. But still, in one fashion or another, he was prepared, my dad, to accept his gift. It was, after all, a gift; and whether it was what he expected was irrelevant. It was a gift, though it might not fit exactly the space he had marked out on the dining room table.

If we prepare, we can handle just about anything. Preparation allows us to handle both negatives and positives. If we are ready, we can take the negatives and deal with the blows that fall on us. And if we are ready, we can also enjoy the positives and receive the blessings.

The Advent season is one for which we generally prepare a gift-sized space. We think we know what this is all about. It is about getting ready for Christmas. It is about shopping and dropping hints. It is about celebrating the birth of a lovely infant on a starlit night, surrounded by adoring shepherds and caroling angels. We are preparing for tidings of great joy again, right?

Except that there is an edge to Advent. There is a harsh edge to this season. The passage we read today reminds us that the other side of blessing is judgment. The other side of God’s gift is disappointment for those who are not ready. This passage warns us to be prepared, always prepared. This Scripture refers to the coming of the Son of Man on the Day of the Lord; that’s Old Testament language that speaks of judgment. The prophet Amos cried out, “The Day of the Lord is darkness and not light.” For, mark it down, whenever God breaks in, there is always both judgment and blessing. Whenever God intervenes in human history, He comes with both wrath and mercy. He is not always the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” of our naïve songs. He is also the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the ending, the terror of those who walk in darkness as well as the bright and morning star. Advent says, “Be prepared, always prepared, for the coming of our God.” Semper paratus – you know it as the motto of a number of military units – always prepared.

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Consider what it means to be prepared to receive judgment. Start with me on the dark side. The Bible speaks of the coming of the Lord as a day on which some will be taken and some left behind, some given rescue and some denied. There is judgment when the Lord breaks in – something we try not to think about. But we must – and we must be prepared, semper paratus. For if we are not prepared for judgment, then the blows that fall on us may shatter us, and the consequences of our unreadiness may destroy us.

Some years ago, early on a Sunday morning, I set out from my home in Lexington, Kentucky, to preach in a church toward the western part of the state. The only effective way to get there was to use two toll roads, the Bluegrass Parkway and the Western Kentucky Parkway. I struck out with no advance thought and no preparation for the drive, with no stash of cash to get me through the tollgates. Well, I made it down to my preaching appointment just fine; I did my thing, spent the afternoon visiting with a church family, preached again for the evening service, and somewhere around 9:00 p.m. headed for home. It was then that it hit me – I don’t know whether I have enough money to pay the tolls. I went through one tollgate and found enough to get through. I hit the second tollgate, and discovered that I had nothing but a big bunch of pennies, and so started throwing in my pennies. It must have taken five minutes for the machine to count all those coins, but I got through once again, with scarcely anything at all to spare. What would I do on the next Parkway? I did the only thing I could do; I got off the highway and drove a myriad of old twisting two-lane roads home, there to be confronted by a very worried wife who said some things not normally repeated in a church pulpit. “Where have you been? I thought maybe you had been abducted!” No, not abducted, nor raptured either, just not prepared. And did judgment ever fall on my head that night! Something about leaving her alone all day and most of the night with two squalling children! If that’s not judgment, I don’t know what is!

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