The Five P’s
Based on Malachi 3:1-4, Philippians 1:3-11, Luke 3:1-6
One of the things that stuck with me from my days as a Boy Scout is the motto: Be Prepared. The founder of Boy Scouts, Robert Baden-Powell, coined this motto back in 1908 and it has been a part of the scout training program ever since. While I learned a lot of things in scouting that I really don’t remember (e.g., tying knots) there is much about being prepared that has informed the way that I have gone about all my days after scouting. Scouts, as service minded young people, were to be prepared to “…become productive citizens and strong leaders and to bring joy to other people. Baden-Powell [he] wanted each Scout to be ready in mind and body and to meet with a strong heart whatever challenges await him….” [Quote from the blog “Bryan on Scouting”] Sounds a lot like what the Church has been trying to properly prepare folks to do for about 2000 years!
Advent is a season of watchful, preparatory waiting. The Roman philosopher and play write, Seneca, wrote that “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. Many of us can attest to the truth of this statement. However, there is a more alliterative saying about preparation that I have found helpful in my academic, work and spiritual life. That saying involves the five P’s: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. It is not enough to prepare if you prepare incorrectly or incompletely (i.e., only perfect practice makes perfect). There is a proper way to prepare for every thing that can come along. Having a first aid kit and actually being prepared to use it, for example. Getting everything you need to start and maintain a fire before you light it. Getting ourselves properly prepared for the second coming of the Christ is what most of the New Testament writings are designed to do for us.
That is why our scripture readings for this week are so important. God is sending a final prophet, Malachi, a name that means “my messenger”, to tell the people of one who is coming who will properly prepare us by clearing away all of our impurities making us fit for God. Paul is praying for his church plant in Philippi and rejoicing in how they are properly preparing for the “day of Jesus Christ” by sharing in the gospel. John the Baptizer is channeling Isaiah, properly preparing the Israelites through a baptism of repentance of sins to get ready for the One who is to come. In a moment of prayer, let us properly prepare our hearts and minds to hear God’s word proclaimed…
Malachi gets the honor of being the last prophet of the First Testament. He follows eleven other “Minor Prophets” (so called because of the brevity of their prophecy, not of their importance to Israel and us). Malachi has done his prophetic thing, pointing out how Israel has been false to the God who loves them. In our reading for today, he tells the people that God is sending someone to properly prepare the way for the One whom they are seeking. All is not going to be fun and games, however, as the preparer is going to remove their stains and impurities like a fuller or a refiner of silver. This cleansing and purifying will make of the people a righteous offering which will be pleasing to God.
Paul’s letter to the believers in Philippi begins with a prayer for them. Paul’s prayer is one of joy for the way that the Philippian believers are always sharing in the gospel of Jesus. Paul is certain that God’s love is at work in them preparing them for the return of the Christ. Paul prays that God’s great love will be overflowing in them bringing them divine knowledge and insight which will lead them to continue to make decisions as those who have developed the mind and heart of Jesus – that is, ones who know salvation in this life. In this way they will be properly prepared and be pure and blameless when Christ comes again.
John the Baptizer, the cousin of Jesus, is beginning his preparatory ministry. Our reading tells us that John was traveling all around the Jordan River valley “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He quotes the prophet Isaiah as he goes saying, “…The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God….’” John is in full prophetic mode as he calls out the people to repent of their sins that they might be properly prepared for the coming of the Messiah.
Proper preparation prevents poor performance. It is clear when one reads the prophets of the Bible that this is what they are all about. They love God and the truth of God’s teachings so much that they are willing to confront the sins of the people loudly and persistently, from the greatest to the least. They are always trying to get the people to change their ways (to repent) and to return to the LORD who has done so much for them. When they are not successful, then they turn to preparing the people for the natural consequences of their sinful behavior. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and all the other prophets spend their lives trying to help the people understand that if they don’t properly prepare themselves that there will be much “wailing and gnashing of teeth” when God punishes them with destruction, death and exile.
John the Baptizer is trying to properly prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah. The Temple leadership is collaborating with the occupying Romans, taxing the people so that they can live lavish lifestyles. The people, lacking strong spiritual leadership, wander away to the gods of the Romans or the gods of the surrounding cultures. The predictable result, from God’s standpoint, is poor performance indeed. John tries to shake them out of their stupor to get off their duffs and come and be baptized with the waters of repentance. To throw off the lesser gods of the world and to return to the only God that can give them the freedom, peace and love that they are seeking.
It is the same with us in our time. We are seeking a Lord of covenant promises who will create for us a world of hope, peace, joy and love. Yet, we spend our time in worship of the worldly gods of power, affluence, acquisition and distraction. We need to listen again to the wisdom and warnings of Malachi, John and the New Testament, so that we might properly prepare for the return of Jesus. Proper preparation here and now will prevent us performing poorly when the Christ shows up again in glory. We know not the day or hour of his coming, but we do want to be found pure and blameless when he comes. Spending all our time and energy preparing for a gift-filled Christmas will not properly prepare us for the coming of the Christ. Advent is a time of preparatory waiting…how will you spend your time? May God’s great love properly prepare us through knowledge and insight, so that we might work with Jesus to produce a harvest of righteousness. Amen and amen!