Preparing For The Unexpected
Opening Question: How many of you have seen something dangerous? What made it dangerous? What happened?
First Reading: Isaiah 11:1-10
Jamie and her mom were returning from a soccer tournament late Sunday night. During the tournament, clouds darkened the sky and the wind blew cold. On a lonely road, Jamie's mom drove in a freezing rain while Jamie sat half-asleep.
Suddenly, the car's motor stopped. Jamie's mom whispered "Oh, no" as she steered the car to the side of the road. Jamie sat straight up tensely. Both mother and daughter sat for a moment in silence. They could not believe they were stranded so far away from home on such a night.
As the car came to a stop, Jamie's mom turned off the lights, reached into her purse, and began to all for help on her cellular phone. At, first she couldn't reach any one. Jamie sensed her mother getting more and more worried. Finally, her mom called for a tow truck. At first she was relieved, until she heard the man say it could take an hour or more. "Alright," Jamie's mom said to the man on the other end.
Cold and afraid, both sat quietly in the car. Then, Jamie began to think how she could help take her mom's mind off he situation they were in. At Jamie's insistence, Jamie and her mom played word games, told jokes, and remembered the goals Jamie scored. Seeing that her mom was still nervous, Jamie asked her mom if they could pray. Her mom agreed. After the sixth prayer, Jamie could see her mom begin to relax; after the tenth prayer, Jamie saw the lights of the tow truck. Jamie and her mom looked at each other; they realized they would be safe.
Hours later, Jamie' mom tucked her in bed. "Thank you Jamie for praying with me." her mom said. "That was the wisest thing we could have done."
Jamie understood they were in danger. She knew what she had to do. She made herself strong and trusted God would help. In this reading, God promises us someone who would be like Jamie, smart, strong, and close to God. With this person in charge, enemies would become friends and no one would get hurt. That person is Jesus.
Bridging Question: Have you ever run a race? Did you win? How did you feel as you stood at the starting line?
Gospel: Matthew 3:1-12
At the right time, John the Baptist showed up in the desert of Judea. "Turn your lives back to God!" John preached. "The Kingdom of heaven will come soon!"
God pointed to John through the words of the prophet Isaiah:
"There is a voice shouting in the desert:
'Prepare the Lord's road!
Make God's way straight to us!'"
In the desert, John wore camel hair clothes and a leather belt. For food, he used to eat locusts and wild honey.
People from Judea, its capitol Jerusalem, and the Jordan river valley kept coming to John. They told God everything they did wrong. Then John baptized them in the Jordan river.
Some religious leaders called Pharisees and Sadducees also came to be baptized by John. But, many of them acted selfishly and did not care about the people. So, the people doubted the leaders really wanted to change their lives. "You bunch of snakes!" John shouted at the leaders when they approached. "Who warned you to run away from God's anger? It will soon be here! So, do something that will really show you're turned back to God! Don't just say, 'Abraham is our father; God loved Abraham, so he will love us, too.' God is powerful enough to make these stones the parents of Abraham's children."
If people were like fruit trees, God would be ready to cut them down! Every tree that has bad fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire!"
"I baptize you when you turn back to God. But, after I'm no longer with you, another person will show up. He has so much more power than I have, that I'm not even worth to carry his sandals. For, he will dunk you in the Holy Spirit and fire!"
"In his hands right now, that person holds the tools to separate the grain from the chaff leaves that cover it. He will gather the grain together in his barn. But he will burn the useless chaff in a fire that will never end!"
Kim stood at the starting line. She loosened up before the big race. Her running shoes were on snug. Her shoulders were relaxed. Her mind was clear. She was ready. Or, was she?
Kim could feel the knot in her stomach as the girls lined up. Her mind began to race ahead, to this turn and that, to challengers she had raced before, to the long uphill sprint she would have to make at the finish line. Her body began to tense.
A shout from the side snapped Kim back into focus. "On your mark. Get set. Go!" Kim ran hard to get out front. "You're fourth!" her mother shouted. "Good," she thought, as she relaxed and planned out the rest of the race in her mind. She felt she would have great race!
"On your mark. Get set." Wouldn't be terrible if no one ever shouted "GO!" But without someone saying "On your mark. Get set," you can't get ready to run a race. So, all three go together; you need someone to get you ready to get going.
John the Baptist helped people get ready for the coming of someone greater than he was. He was like the running coach who prepared people for a race, a race to heaven. What would it be like to have John as a running coach? Let's imagine a race in the desert, a survival relay. Our job is to run in the desert for a week, passing a torch from one person to another. John is perfect for the race because he lived in the desert all his life. He could get us use to the desert; he could show us the things to eat, the places to sleep, the short-cuts around the hill and through the gullies.
Well, John is helping us get ready for a race, the race to Christmas. He isn't helping us shop or watch TV specials, or make lists. He is helping us prepare our hearts. How does he do that?
Change for the better, for someone greater than any of us is coming!
Closing Question: How can John's words help you get ready for Christmas? How can you help others get ready for the birth of Jesus?