WHEN Baden-Powell hit on the motto for the Scouts, who have been celebrating the centenary of their founding this year, he could not have found anything better. Perhaps there are Scouts now who do not hear the echo of John the Baptist, and assume that being prepared involves having a penknife handy. None the less, the need for preparedness is at the heart of humanity’s relationship with God, and was central to Christ’s teaching about his Second Coming.
The paradox of Christ’s exhortation is that nothing can prepare anyone for the miracle of Christ’s arrival. Whether or not attended by a heavenly fanfare, Christ’s entry into the world in Bethlehem was of a different order to anything known before. All the preparedness in the world, be it a scourged conscience, a lifetime of study, or a determination to be reformed, nevertheless leaves us empty-handed as we approach the stable.
As Christina Rossetti knew, the least gift we have is the only gift God wants: ourselves. Those young in the faith sometimes fail to realise how hard a gift that is to give. Hearts, like homes, can be at sixes and sevens. The danger is that Christmas exacerbates the condition and focuses attention elsewhere, on the minutiae of shopping, cooking, and present-wrapping — areas where penknife-preparedness is enough. The promise of Christmas is that the Word made flesh and Saviour of the world will set everything to rights.
He hath made every thing beautiful in its time: also he hath set the world in their heart, yet so that man cannot find out the work that God hath done from the beginning even to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3.11)