A Letter for Christmas To the Beloved in Christ at AshmontDear Friends,There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, tis not to come. If it not be now, yet it will come – the readiness is all. Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 2 This is a letter about “readiness,” about being ready, about being prepared, about anticipation. Hamlet tells us that God has a plan. God has a plan even for the life and death of a lowly sparrow – and God has a plan for each of us. Unfortunately, you and I are so busy with our own little day to day plans that we are not aware of God’s plan for us. God’s efforts to reach us just bounce off us.The people of Bethlehem slept through Jesus’ birth. They never heard the good tidings of great joy that the shepherds – awake and expectant – heard in the fields.Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln’s biographer, tells of two farmers exchanging gossip in a country store in Hardin County, Kentucky, one February day in 1809. “Anything happen last week?” The reply: “No nothin’s happened – oh, cept there’s a baby down at Tom Lincoln’s cabin.” To the world, nothing had happened. But God had a plan.You and I are not looking, listening, waiting for God. We’re too busy, too wrapped up in our little lives. We don’t see. We don’t hear. We are not ready, we are not prepared, we do not “wait upon the Lord.” We do not expect to hear from God; we’re not open to God.The three great festivals of the Incarnation beg us to stop, look, and listen:At Christmas, at the birth of Jesus, the lowly shepherds heard the angels sing because they were awake, like the wise maidens with their lighted lamps we heard about a few weeks ago. For them “the readiness was all.” Note how the angels’ song is introduced in the Bible: “And suddenly – suddenly! – there was with the angels a multitude of the heavenly host....” The shepherds were ready, but the sleeping people of Bethlehem never heard a thing. In the parable of the wise and foolish maidens, the bridegroom suddenly appears. The foolish maidens were not ready, and they never met him. “The readiness is all.”At the Epiphany, the three kings were intently searching for God. They travelled long hours in terrible weather, seeking, longing for God, looking intently for a sign from God. For them, “the readiness was all”: they watched and listened, and they saw the star – the star no one else was apparently looking for -- that led them to God Himself in the form of a Baby. Matthew tells us that after they presented their gifts – the treasure of their lives – they returned home “by a different route.” Their lives were transformed; nothing would ever be the same again.The central figures in the Candlemas story are Simeon and Anna. Simeon “was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel....It had been revealed to him that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” Note: Simeon was looking forward. “The readiness was all”: he was waiting for God, preparing, anticipating, ready for the moment when God chose to disclose Himself. Also waiting was Anna: “She was of a great age...She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day,” waiting for God to reveal Himself. Like Simeon, “the readiness was all,” and, like Simeon, she saw what she had waited to see: God Himself in the form of the Child Jesus. “Lord now lettest Thou thy servant depart in peace..., for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation,” said Simeon, as both he and Anna now embarked on a new life.It is our joy at Ashmont to celebrate – to celebrate lavishly -- these three great events of the Incarnation. The question for you and me is: Are we ready? Do we expect to see Jesus? Are we looking for Him to come amongst us? Are we expecting Him to be present in our waiting lives? Are we prepared?Jesus comes into the lives of those who are expecting him, awaiting him, to those who welcome Him. Jesus comes to those for whom “the readiness is all.” Will we, figuratively, be asleep in our beds? Will our hearts and minds be set on other things so that we do not hear and see His coming? Or will we be ready and waiting to greet Him and welcome Him into our lives? One of our favorite Christmas hymns offers us sound advice: Oh, hush the noise, and cease your strife,And hear the angels sing. F.W.J.