Have you ever wondered what happens when you purchase an item at Wal-Mart? Wal-Mart is famous for many things like low prices, and for being the largest retail store in the world. But did you know Wal-Mart is also famous for how it stocks its shelves? When someone purchases any item in any store, the moment the item is entered in the cash register a very intricate computer system immediately informs the Wal-Mart central warehouse to send a replacement item to that specific store where the item was just purchased. Then the computer system continues to inform suppliers for the manufacturing of that product so the item that will be shipped may also be replaced. This complex system allows Wal-Mart to guarantee the fastest delivery system from “request to shelf” in the industry, but this means no “down-time” for the warehouse. The staff of the Wal-Mart central warehouse is in a constant state of motion: either preparing for the next shipment or shipping items to each store. But that’s life isn’t it?
Anyone who has ever had a job understands that life is a cycle of preparation and action; when one action finishes another begins. And our Church, since it reflects the best life has to offer, is no different. We have just completed two weeks of great celebration for the Feasts of the Nativity and Theophany of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. Now, immediately following the Feast of Theophany we embark upon a period of preparation for the next celebration in the Church. Just like the Wal-Mart warehouse, the Church also has a constant cycle of preparation and action (what we call celebration of the Feast) and we see this clearly in this morning’s Gospel lesson.
Immediately following His Baptism, [that is the celebration part] “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil,” (Matthew 4.1) and prepared for His public ministry with fasting. [that is the preparation part] After completing His fasting preparation, He was tempted by the devil. “When Jesus heard that John [the Baptist] had been put in prison, He departed for Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali. From that time Jesus began to preach [action] and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Matthew 4.12-13, 17) These first words of Christ, the first public words of His ministry, are not just a call to repentance, but a call to preparation.
In going out to Capernaum, Jesus’ first words are heard by Gentiles rather than Jews. This gave the Gentiles the chance to prepare for Christ, so when Saint Paul’s message reached them, the Gospel didn’t fall upon deaf ears. It wasn’t until after the Resurrection that the Gentiles were welcomed into the Church. When they finally did hear the Gospel, since they had been properly prepared to hear it, many Gentiles enthusiastically entered the Church.
The same can be said of our daily lives when we properly prepare for something. We just finished celebrating Christmas, and for those who were properly prepared to celebrate the birth of God, the past two weeks were enjoyable and festive. For those who did not properly prepare, the past two weeks I suspect were quite exhausting with the burden of cleaning up decorations and returning unwanted gifts. So let us hear the Gospel this morning for what it is meant to be, a message of preparation. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” So what are we preparing for????
With the beginning of Christ’s public ministry, Jesus embarks upon a three year mission to prepare His Disciples and others to enter the kingdom of heaven, which is already at hand. This is the first lesson we need to understand: THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS ALREADY AT HAND. It is not some future kingdom that we must wait for the gates to open. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3.16) Jesus said, “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life.” (John 6.54) When Lazarus had been dead four entire days Jesus said, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.” (John 11.11) Even the Apostles didn’t really understand what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11.25-26)
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we have been given a promise by God Himself. If we believe in Him and commune with Him, we shall never die…ever! So we must begin preparing for that moment when we will meet the Lord and the Church offers us tools with which to prepare for life with Christ: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These tools, when used with Faith in Christ, will prepare us for what life will be like when the Lord returns.
For example Christ says, “Come you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25.34) He also says to Saint Peter, “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.” (John 21.15-19) When we do works of charity we show our love for God and train ourselves because in heaven we will be serving others. If we don’t like serving others now, we won’t like it then and serving them will be Hell.
Christ teaches us to fast, as He also fasted, as a way of training our bodies to focus more attention on our souls than our bodies, not that we should ignore our bodies. When we fast we exercise control over our physical bodies so when we face a moral challenge in our bodies we can be strong enough to see victory for the glory of God.
Saint Paul teaches us to “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5.17) We must be in a constant state of prayer as preparation for the coming of Christ who Himself reminded us, “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24.44)
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we have celebrated together the birth of Christ. Now together let us prepare to enter His kingdom for all eternity. Make 2010 the year of commitment to Christ.
Make the commitment to take time every day to spend in prayer with Him at home and as often as you can here in the Church. Don’t forget, we don’t come to Church for any other reason than to be made holy by being in Communion with Him.
Make the commitment to fast when the Church teaches us to fast at least every Wednesday and Friday as the Holy Apostles taught.
Make the commitment to be charitable to others. Bring food when you come to Church each week for Harvest Hope Food Bank so those people who need food can eat.
Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving! These three acts of preparation will prepare us for life in the kingdom of heaven. Of course if the computer system at Wal-Mart fails to inform the central warehouse that an item has been sold the worst thing that will happen is a delay in restocking. But if we fail to properly prepare for life with Christ in His kingdom, we run the risk of hearing Christ say, “Assuredly I do not know you.” (Matthew 25.12) “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”