(Isaiah 2:1–5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11–14; Matthew 24:36–44)
‘Tis time the get the decorations out and deck the halls with holly. Or maybe you’re one of those who leaves it all until Christmas Eve. I wonder too if you take it all down on Boxing day, or leave it all up until Candlemas?
Christmas. It’s just around the corner, isn’t it? Children getting excited, the marketing’s doing its stuff and the large corporations have been working for months thinking of ways for us to part with our hard-earned cash.
The expectation is that we know what is to come. We know that we celebrate the birth of the Christ child. It is drummed into our heads that knowledge. Knowledge. The knowledge that seems to surpass everything. Even that which is found in God.
You know… one of the things desired in spiritual formation and in pastoral matters is that people discover trust in the future without the need to control what might be to come. All our hope is founded in God. If one controls one’s life to the extent that the Holy Spirit is limited by what it can do, then it’s likely not going to come in and rest on that person.
My desire for the people of this church, this charge is that the need for control is removed. The need for legalistic action ‘by-the-book’ no longer has a look in as the Spirit of Truth reigns supreme. After all, we exclaimed last week that Christ is king, didn’t we?
We discovered that the kingdom of God is within, that Christ is King within us, and yet we are also in His Kingdom. We discovered that each time we come to the Lord’s Table for the Eucharist and kneel at the altar, we are bringing our hurts and worries and anxieties and we lay them on that altar for him to deal with. There’s a prophetic act in there. I don’t know if you realise that? As you lay something at the feet of Jesus, there is a transformation within you. There’s a chance that the cynical part of you rises up at this point and mocks along the lines of: “Yeah, right. Your belief is of the mind. You don’t know anything about a move of God. You know that it’s all theoretical.” But you’re here, so that’s not really the answer, is it?
In Isaiah, we’re invited to go to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of Jacob. To the temple… to the presence of God. As you’re here, you know that the presence of God is not just within these four walls, but he’s outside of these four walls too. Yet, incomprehensibly, he’s within us too. The mountain of the Lord is within you.
How do you find it? By looking. By seeking. By doing what Paul tells you to do in Romans. Take off the old and put on the new. Let us lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us live honourably. This is not fiction. This is part of our transformation in Christ. This is a prophetic act or positive mindfulness springing forward into a new reality.
This is what Advent is all about. A new reality. One, that if we really want it, will spur us into stepping out in faith in a way that we have not done so before. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ in me.” We have a solidarity in grace that is pervading our lives in a way that it has not done so before. It stirs something up within us that we can’t quite put a finger on, or understand, or see.
I wonder… what are our deepest desires as Christians? To feel affirmation? To be loved? To know that it is unconditional? None of these can ever be met by humans in the way that God can reach out. Perhaps, you feel that these desires have a ‘once-upon-a-time’ mentality or finality to them? Perhaps, something or someone happened, got in the way, and these desires have been somehow deadened or defeated? Much of that is because we don’t want to reignite pain in our lives. I’m talking about mental pain or anguish.
I recently watched on telly the documentary into Dag Hammarskjold’s life and death. It occurred about 15 years before I was born but the legacy of the secrecy that surrounded his death pervaded not just my life, but probably the lives of every expat in sub-Saharan Africa. I was reminded of things, events, that I had consciously buried deep. The mental anguish that accompanied that pain still had an effect. I had to consciously stop what I was doing and mentally hand it over to God. To lay it there, at his feet, at the foot of the altar, and consciously step into the new reality that God has for me. Me in Him, and Him in me. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ in me.”
Deadening of pain, of course, can occur in a variety of ways. Some turn to alcohol, or drugs, or work. Deadening the body’s natural responses suppresses the desire to change. By dealing with suffering, we can start dealing with hope. God is hope. He is love. He is relationship. All the things we need and desire in our yearning for affirmation of who we are. If relating to God means we have a relationship, then spirituality – our desire – is the compassion that builds and nurtures genuine relationships. Without spirituality, religion becomes legalistic. Bound in rules and regulations. Without an adherence to a faith community, i.e. a religious community – spirituality can become all about the I. The ego. Self-centred. Presuming to have all the answers.
We need a balance. We need the mystical understanding of grace flowing throughout our lives in a way that nothing else can achieve. We can find that through our participation in the Eucharist. Our participation in the Holy Mysteries of God. Are we willing to allow ourselves to glimpse the light of God and take our first step, this Advent season towards that future? Are we willing to trust, like the patriarchs and matriarchs did? That enough light lies ahead – and trust that God has got our future in mind? Are we willing to bring all of that to the altar of God?
I want you to really think about this. In our Creed. In our intercessions. In the offertory. Are you willing this Sunday to come forward, leave all your worries and pain and anguish at the altar, and go away with the transformation of God in your bodies and out into the world?