Someone asked me yesterday if I was “ready for Christmas.” They wanted to know if I had prepared for the holiday– had I bought and wrapped presents for the family, sent out Christmas cards, decorated the house, baked cookies, etc.? I had to admit that I was not ready in that sense. I don’t generally do much in the way of decorating, and I’ve cut back on the cookie baking, too. I’m not sending greeting cards this year, and I don’t have all the presents purchased or wrapped.
But I AM ready for Christmas– I’m ready to celebrate the coming of Jesus to Earth; His life, death, and resurrection; the new life and hope that resulted from God’s boundless love. I’m ready to sing carols and light candles and rejoice! I’m ready to be awestruck again by the ancient story of shepherds and angels and wise men from the East; of the little town of Bethlehem and the manger stall and a bright star; of a newborn child; the Lord of all Creation wrapped in rags; the Word of God willingly limited to unintelligible cooing and soft cries, to nakedness and infant human weakness.
Being “ready for Christmas” means different things to different people. To many, it means surviving the stress of shopping, going to rounds of holiday parties, and trying to remember that it is supposed to be a season of “peace on Earth.” For others, it means watching the celebration from the outside looking in; facing loneliness, grief, regret, and envying or resenting those who have found joy when all they see is darkness. For some of us, it means reflecting on the amazing transformation we experience because of the coming of this single baby. We remember that there was a time when there was no Christmas– only a dim hope that God would someday send a Savior. Once the prophets could only speak of what had been promised, but not yet seen– could only remind people to “get ready” for something they had never known.
The world was waiting for the Messiah’s coming, yet it was unprepared for His actual arrival.
But the story of Jesus Christ didn’t end with Christmas. It didn’t even end at Easter, with the glorious resurrection. We await the triumphant return of the risen Christ. He is Coming! He will return in an instant…no long period of Advent; no countdown calendars or lists of things to get ready; no angels or stars to announce His arrival; no Christmas pageant or Easter sunrise service–just a trumpet blast and an explosion of Glory. He will not arrive as a helpless babe, or a suffering servant, but as a conquering King. There will be no carols about little towns and sleeping cattle; no time to “let every heart prepare Him room.”
Today, we prepare to celebrate Messiah’s coming. We spend time and money and energy getting “ready” to recreate the Advent of Jesus Christ. How much time have we spent getting ready for His return? I pray that this Christmas season will mean more than just a happy celebration of one event– even one as joyful as the Birth of Christ. Let us prepare our hearts to live out the joy of His Salvation, and prepare to receive our King in triumph.
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe,—
Sailed on a river of crystal light
Into a sea of dew.
“Where are you going, and what do you wish?”
The old moon asked the three.
“We have come to fish for the herring-fish
That live in this beautiful sea;
Nets of silver and gold have we,"
The old moon laughed and sang a song,
As they rocked in the wooden shoe;
And the wind that sped them all night long
Ruffled the waves of dew;
The little stars were the herring-fish
That lived in the beautiful sea.
“Now cast your nets wherever you wish,—
Never afraid are we!”
So cried the stars to the fishermen three,
All night long their nets they threw
To the stars in the twinkling foam,—
Then down from the skies came the wooden shoe,
Bringing the fishermen home:
‘Twas all so pretty a sail, it seemed
As if it could not be;
And some folk thought ‘twas a dream they’d dreamed
Of sailing that beautiful sea;
But I shall name you the fishermen three:
Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes,
And Nod is a little head,
And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies
Is a wee one’s trundle-bed;
So shut your eyes while Mother sings
Of wonderful sights that be,
And you shall see the beautiful things
As you rock in the misty sea
Where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three:—
What does a child’s poem have to do with the Bible and prayer?
I’m not sure there is an exact answer to that..I was wistfully thinking of something to write about, and as I looked for a Bible verse for inspiration, I came upon an odd Proverb (which I’ll get to in a minute) about winking. This set me to thinking about the old child’s poem and song– one of my favorites. I wondered– if the Bible has something to say about winking, does it also address blinking and nodding? And, if so, can we draw a connection between the three and then from all three to prayer?
I think we can… bear with me. Since the poem has to do with sleeping as well, I want to start, (and come back in the end) with this passage from Mark, where Jesus is praying, and the disciples are nodding off.
Mark 14:32-42English Standard Version (ESV)
Jesus Prays in Gethsemane
32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled.34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.”35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words.40 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him.41 And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.42 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
How often have you prayed early in the morning or late in the evening, only to find yourself nodding off? I’ve certainly done it– more embarrassingly, I’ve seen (or rather heard) it happening in a group setting! It’s not a laughing matter at any time, but in this setting, Jesus is in anguish so powerful he was sweating out blood– he even describes it as being “sorrowful even to death”–yet his disciples failed to stay awake, keep watch, or help him pray.
Hold onto that image for a minute.
When I was first thinking about what to write, I didn’t start with nodding. I found a verse about winking in Proverbs 10:10: “He who winks maliciously causes grief, and a chattering fool comes to ruin.” (NIV) There are other verses throughout scripture that talk about the danger of winking.
Winking isn’t exactly the same as nodding or sleeping, but it involves closing ones eyes (or eye) to evil– giving it a momentary pass. Winking “maliciously” is not only turning a blind eye, but actually colluding with evil– giving it a figurative “nod” of approval. We don’t often think of winking as a sin. Winking is winsome, flirtatious perhaps, but it is passive. How can it hurt to wink? We don’t wink at war, or genocide, or injustice…do we? How often do we excuse what is clearly bad behavior because we don’t want to offend someone else, or come across as “judgmental”? How often do we fall into the false justification that “the ends justify the means”–that a small lie or bad habit can be ignored or overlooked in light of “the greater good” we expect will result from our overall actions?
God calls us to integrity– being honest with ourselves as well as with others. When we wink at so-called small sins, we begin to close our eyes (or at least one eye) to the truth. Sin disguises itself as winsome and flirtatious, but it is not passive– it eats away at truth, life, peace, and joy–it is corrosive, poisonous, and deadly.
1 Corinthians 15:52New English Translation (NET Bible)
52 in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
2 Peter 3:8New English Translation (NET Bible)
8 Now, dear friends, do not let this one thing escape your notice, that a single day is like a thousand years with the Lord and a thousand years are like a single day.
Winking at evil is especially dangerous if we lose sight of the urgency of these last days. There is a tension in the Christian view of the future–on the one hand, we expect the “soon” return of Christ. He will come in the “blink of an eye”; like a “thief in the night” with no warning, and with judgment. On the other hand, he is patient, not wanting any to perish. God is beyond and above Time– he is slow to anger, and slow to judgment–but he is also eternally aware and omnipresent.
We don’t choose to blink– and we do it often throughout the day. In fact, it is good and necessary that we do so. But, because blinking is an automatic function, we don’t think about it–even when we are tired and blinking turns into “nodding off.” If we continue to look about, or try to read, or worse, drive in this condition, we will miss important information, and we risk making mistakes and getting into accidents.
The same can be true as we walk through our days waiting for the return of Christ. Sometimes, instead of resting in Grace and looking to God for help, we get focused on all the distractions around us. In our restlessness we put much of our focus on what will happen in the “blink of an eye” and less focus on the single day or even the thousand years that God has given us to bring in a harvest.
And this leads me to the nodding…Jesus had something to say about this very tension of waiting and anticipating his return. He gave several parables, but I want to focus on just one– the parable of the virgins in Matthew 25.
Jesus pointed out that even if we are invited to have a role in the wedding feast, we need to be prepared. The virgins in the story were not punished for having fallen asleep (as all of them might have been), but the five foolish virgins had no oil when the bridegroom finally came. They didn’t just “nod off” waiting for the groom, they were winking at their own lack of preparation, blinking back their false expectation that what they had in their own lamps would be enough, and nodding off with no concern that they might be left out of the festivities.
In the same way, we can be guilty of winking at our own lack of obedience and commitment, blinking in the flashy distractions of the world around us, and nodding off unprepared for the very event we claim to hope for most. If we were with Jesus in the garden, would we be any more faithful or watchful than the disciples? Are we sending up vague and half-hearted prayers as we get sucked into the distractions around us? Are we so busy pointing fingers at others or excusing our own lack of diligence that we have nothing left to bring to God in earnest prayer? Have we given up on prayer in favor of social media or social action to “let our light shine”? Are we winkin’, blinkin’, and nodding off in our Christian walk?
Instead, Jesus asks us to “watch and pray” during these dark and dangerous times.
I love being “in the know”–being part of a great secret and knowing that I got the information first (or at least earlier than someone else). But I don’t like spoilers– learning about things that I was hoping to discover for myself. I don’t want to know the ending to that new novel from my favorite author until I read it. I don’t want to know how the new blockbuster movie ends before I have had a chance to see it. I don’t want to know that my favorite character in a TV show dies at the end of season three (Downton Abbey!) before watching it in all its tragic impact.
There are, however, some spoilers that should be shared, and God has given them to us in His word.
First and foremost– in the battle of good and evil– God Wins! The victory has already been won, and the outcome is certain.
Second– Christ Messiah will return to earth. He will come in triumph and glory. While none of us know the hour or the day of that return, it will come quickly, like a flash.
Before Christ’s return, we will face chaos and trouble in this world. That is also certain, though we have the power to face it and God has the power to turn it to good.
We will face death and the judgment of God–those who trust in Jesus Christ will still die; we will still be judged. Only the blood of Christ, and our faith in his finished work will save us from the wrath our acts deserve.
Every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of the Father (Phil. 2:10-11).
Knowing these “spoilers” doesn’t ruin our prayer life– instead, that knowledge gives us the power, the passion, and the promise to pray as if our lives depend on it! Moreover, it should move us to pray and act on these truths in all our dealings with others. Not to become arrogant about our knowledge, but to be compassionate and forgiving toward those who don’t have it or haven’t accepted it.