Summary: The first Sunday of Advent. It is time to prepare our hearts and be ready for the coming of Jesus, who comes to us in spite of our sins and in spite of the messiness of human existence.
A Time of Heart Preparation
November 27, 2005
First Sunday of Advent
For those of us who live in this northern latitude, this is an interesting, and sometimes confusing time of year. Today, we find ourselves on the first Sunday of Advent; the beginning of a new year, if you count time by liturgical seasons. We are preparing to meet the Christ child in the manger, now only a few weeks distant. We proclaim that God is about to do a new thing in our midst, but sometimes that is so hard to see.
Here, in northern Indiana, the days are long and cold. Snow and storms are on the horizon for the next few months. Winter coats have replaced short-sleeved shirts, and hats and mittens have taken the place of sunscreen and tanning oil. The lovely gardens we enjoyed during the summer are a distant memory. The trees are barren. Many species of birds have flown south to warmer weather. God may be doing a new thing, but maybe that new thing is something that we have to take on faith if we look for evidence in nature.
The winter, if we are honest with ourselves, will remind us of the barrenness in our own hearts. Look across the Christian landscape and you will discover that “Christian” is often a term we claim, but don’t live. Do you need some concrete example of the way we claim the term, but don’t live it? Here are some of my examples. Perhaps you have some of your own.
We claim the name “Christian,” but we have neglected our own spiritual lives. We have let the cares of the world intrude on our lives before God. We have failed to trust God in all things, thinking that we have to be self-sufficient in case of crisis.
We claim the name “Christian” but then forget about the dangers of wealth as outlined in the gospels. We have spent, or are about to spend untold sums of money to buy presents for friends and family members, without too much thought of those who don’t have even a fraction of our financial blessings; those hundreds of millions of people worldwide who exist on $1 a day or less.
We claim the name “Christian,” but we tend to offer up our prayers only when we are in trouble or when we need something. With far less frequency do we just spend time listening to God to try to understand what God is saying in our midst.
We claim the name “Christian.” Bibles grace our bookshelves or coffee tables. The Bible is the most widely circulated book in the world. There are far more Bibles than there are Korans or the works of the Buddha, but for the most part, we remain biblical illiterates.
We claim the name “Christian.” We worship the Prince of Peace, but the United States is a world leader in the selling of arms and military equipment. We arm our friends one day and watch them become our enemies the next day, using our own weapons against us.
We claim the name “Christian,” yet we have radio talk show hosts shouting about the need to maintain our own borders, language, and culture; and forget about the biblical call to welcome the stranger and sojourner.
In the wake of Katrina and Rita and the earthquake in Pakistan, which together claimed untold thousands of lives, the poor and oppressed have almost become celebrities. But it shouldn’t take natural disasters to remind Christians that there are poor among us.
We are called by God to keep an anxious vigil at the bedside of a sick world, but prefer to offer band aids and Pepto Bismol rather than risk radical surgery. We claim the name “Christian” but often don’t live it. The results are hearts which are as barren and cold as the Indiana landscape in December.
Last month, I attended the fall lecture series at Ashland Theological Seminary. The guest lecturer was Dr. Cain Hope Felder, New Testament professor at Howard Divinity School. As he led us through the gospel of Luke, he asked us to notice again, chapter 4. In that chapter, Jesus read the daily lesson in the synagogue. From the Isaiah scroll, he read this.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind; to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
As he sat down, he said, “Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” And they all marveled at his gracious words. But just a few verses later, as he told them that no one was outside the care of God, even the despised, the ignorant, and the heathen; they took him outside the city and tried to throw him off a cliff.