Semper Paratus

Pastor Dale E. Austin                                                                               Mark 13:24-37

The Coast Guard motto, Semper Paratus, is often interpreted as “Always Prepared,” probably because we associate it with the well-known motto of both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.  Semper Paratus really means “Always Ready”. . . . .  

Today is a day of transition.  Officially, it’s the beginning of a new cycle in our church calendar, marking the start of a new year. But in many ways it’s also the closing observance of the previous year. Before we begin looking backward at the preparations for the Messiah’s appearance on earth two millennia ago, we take a quick look forward to his promised return.

There have been endless attempts to try to unravel the puzzle of Christ’s return and to pinpoint the date when it will occur, despite the fact that Jesus himself often stressed the unknown nature of that return.  Why we so often refuse to listen to him, I’m not sure.  Part of our nature as human beings is that we love mysteries, and we love even more being able to solve them.  Perhaps that explains our need to “break the code” and to determine the time of Christ’s return.

The Scriptures, however, are not a crystal ball.  The future remains unknown, waiting for us to experience it as it unfolds before us.  Jesus does not tell us when the end of this age will be; he only assures us that it will come, probably when we least expect it.  Consequently, he invites us to live in expectation and hope at all times, so that when the secret is finally revealed to us, we are ready.

We often speak of “being prepared.”  Jesus tells us to be alert because we don’t know what the future holds and when God’s ultimate plan will play out.  Being prepared, however, is not enough.  We need to be ready.

To understand the distinction between preparedness and readiness, we need only look as far as our cars.  At this time of year, safety personnel encourage us to assemble a survival kit in case of running off the road in a severe snowstorm.  Most of us will take our chances, but some will assemble that kit.  They’ll place it in the back seat or trunk and think they are prepared – they are ready.  But then. . . something actually happens. Maybe their car goes off the road and into a ditch.  It shouldn’t be any big deal; they’re prepared.  But in the heat of the moment, they begin to panic, perhaps when attempts to call for help are thwarted by lack of cell service.  They forget completely about the emergency survival kit in the back of the car.

They’ve prepared – but they’re not ready. They’ve pre-planned, but in the heat of the moment those preparations go forgotten.  They aren’t ready.

The Coast Guard motto, Semper Paratus, is often interpreted as “Always Prepared,” probably because we associate it with the well-known motto of both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.  Semper Paratus really means “Always Ready.”  Not only have the guardsmen prepared, in terms of training and practice drills, and equipment maintenance; but also they are ready, so that when something happens they can jump into action immediately and do what is needed without a moment’s hesitation or panic.

That’s what Jesus encourages of us.  The Pharisees of his day had prepared.  They practices all the required rituals. They spend time delving into the scriptures. They observed all the designated celebrations and holidays.  But when the Messiah came among them, they weren’t ready.  They failed to recognize him.  In spite of their preparations, they weren’t ready for him when he came – because he wasn’t what they had prepared for.

Our task is to be ready.  The spiritual disciplines which we practice are all good preparation: scripture reading, prayer, meditation, worship attendance, communion.  But being ready is a different matter.  It requires a state of mind and heart to be open and comfortable in God’s presence when He breaks into our lives.

Advent is about preparation.

We await the return of the Messiah even as we recall the “hopes and dreams of all the world” as they waited for him two thousand years ago.

It’s a time for us to get ready, to prepare our hearts and minds for the realization of our hopes and dreams when Christ comes –  again – to dwell within us.

We prepare, so that when the time comes. . . .we’ll be ready.

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