Try as I might I cannot seem to lose weight. I used to go to the gym at least three times a week since my doctor told me (in a surprisingly scripturally aware way) that it would help to strengthen my weak knees! SInce then I have bought an exercise bike and do my exercising at home. But while my workout helps my legs – I surely have the firmest thighs in the Church of England – it doesn’t do that much for my stomach. You see, I’m doing the right thing to help one bit of me but it doesn’t take care of the other things I need to do to get the complete benefit.
As we approach Advent in November and indeed during Advent itself, we often hear readings along the lines of the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins in Matthew’s gospel, or Luke’s passage about keeping watch (12: 35-40).
For myself you could say I’m obeying the command of Jesus to dress myself ready for service – or in some translations, “girding my loins” – but I’m not watching my weight or burning off the fat in the right way. And I need to be doing all of the things Jesus says to be ready for when he comes so I can welcome him properly and without delay.
How sad it would be only to be nearly ready to meet Christ. It’s like someone saying, “well, I don’t mind doing the prayer bit but I haven’t got time to study the Bible, or to worship, or to tell anybody else about my faith. Surely me doing the one bit of it is enough?” Well, it’s good but it’s not right! The instructions are clear: dress ready for service, keep the lamps burning, wait and watch in expectation that the master will return at any minute.
Of course, in Luke the story takes a twist. For when the master returns and finds the servant keenly waiting and absolutely ready then he will take on the role of servant himself. He reveals himself as the one who comes not be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. He will give the loyal, the faithful and the eagerly expectant the ultimate reward.
Just as I should be doing a number of things to shed the pounds, so we are urged to do a number of things to be ready for Christ’s blessings: be ready to act, have a ready mind, keep our lights burning and be lights in the world, and be patient and tuned in properly for the sound of his coming.
That doesn’t mean sitting around twiddling our thumbs. Waiting patiently, expectantly and faithfully means always being active and vigilant. It means rolling up our sleeves and being busy for the Lord. It means using our God-given gifts in his service. It means making the most of every opportunity. It means not putting off till tomorrow what is expected of us today. It means going beyond yesterday, working for today and being hopeful for tomorrow. Yes, it means working long hours, it means working hard, it means giving up some things we’d rather hang onto… but we can know that in the end, it’s worth it.