These are my thoughts for this Sunday, the 4th Sunday in Advent. The Scriptures were 2 Samuel 7: 1 – 11, 16; Romans 16: 23 – 27; and Luke 1: 26 – 38.
One of the things that you absolutely, positively must do when you set up your e-mail account is prepare a signature file. It is that signature that defines who you are to the recipients of your electronic missives.
In my signature file, I have three quotes. Whether they define who I am or not is probably open to debate; whether they influence how people see me is also open to debate. Those three quotes are
If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. (Henry David Thoreau)
And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8: 32)
Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind (John F. Kennedy)
I suppose that I have always been fascinated by the Thoreau quote for it speaks to how society sees individuals and how individuals see themselves. I do know that the validity of the quote is still true today in a society that proclaims its desire for individuality as longs such individuality fits within the context of what everyone else is doing. I cannot say why Thoreau said this but I am pretty sure that it was not in the context of Christianity or religion in general. But as a proclaimed evangelical Christian, it says that I have chosen to walk a different path, even if society has no clue as to what that path is or where that path leads.
But it is society’s misconception as to what evangelism truly is and what Christianity truly is that perhaps is the greatest problem that we have today. Someone sent me a rather detailed commentary on my use of these quotes and included in their commentary the suggestion that we cannot avoid war because it is part of God’s plan.
I have heard this before from others and it bothers me that there are people who, in the name of God, feel that war is inevitable or that there is nothing we can do about it. If war is inevitable, if the destruction of mankind is inevitable, then Advent is meaningless.
For if the destruction of mankind is inevitable, then there is no hope. And if there is no hope, then the birth of Christ is meaningless. We live in a time where there must be a source of hope. Whether or not Christ was born in December, whether or not his earthly parents were poor or not, whether or not he was born in one Bethlehem or another, the fact remains that Christ was born and in his birth we were given a new sign of hope.
The question we face today is whether we will allow that hope to grow and encompass everyone. There is much discussion these days about the “big tent” and whether or not we are all invited to come inside. What would the prophet Nathan say to us today if he saw the churches of today, massive monuments to a God who serves the people instead of buildings where people worship God? What would Nathan say today to the people in these massive monuments who go out of their way to exclude people from entering because of their race, their creed, their lifestyle, or economic status? How would we explain to Nathan the dichotomy that exists in today’s churches when social barriers were cast aside when Jesus was first born? Remember that the birth of Jesus was first proclaimed to the shepherds in the field. Shepherds in those days were among the lowest in social order; to announce the birth of a King to them was a reversal of the social order.
God demanded of David that he, David, build Him a house. It wasn’t to be the other way around; yes, God does build the House of David and David’s son Samuel will build the temple that David cannot build. And the House of David will be established and it will lead to the birth of Jesus. But the house that David was to build for God was to be built first. And we have failed just like David failed; the house that we have built is not for God but for our own glory and our own satisfaction. Isn’t it time that we build the house that God intended to be built?
How can we proclaim the glory of God as Mary did when our interests in the glory of Christmas are in the salvation of the American economy while people go starving and naked and cold? We proclaim ourselves to be the people of God, echoing our place in history as His chosen people; yet we ignore those who have little or nothing and reward those who have more than enough. Shall we proclaim Hosanna to the highest when the rich decide to give away everything they don’t need? We hear there is a war on Christmas but it is only a war in the minds of those who get upset because businesses don’t put up “Merry Christmas” over the materials they so desperately want us to buy. Such a proclamation is not about helping others but helping oneself in the name of God and Christ.
Mary was told of her special place in this process and she rejoiced in her role in this process. But we see God as our servant and we demand of God that He build our houses.
There will be those who see in Paul’s words to the Romans for today the proclamation of God’s Kingdom on earth. Paul speaks of all nations knowing the truth and being brought into obedient belief, carrying out the orders of God, who got all of this started (as translated from The Message).
Now, as I noted earlier, I use the quote from John 8: 32 that we should seek the truth and it will be the truth that sets us free. And we know that the truth found in God will set us free from slavery to sin and death. But obedience to God means following what Jesus taught us 2000 years ago and what has to be the single overriding message of the Bible, to care for others, not keep it for ourselves.
And those who proclaim that they and they alone know the true meaning of God’s words seek to enslave us just as those who worship the dollar seek to enslave us for their own benefit.
Jesus came to this word not to bring riches to the already rich; He did not come to bring health to the healthy; nor did He seek to repress the lower classes. NO, Jesus came to bring hope to those without hope and who are lost and forgotten in this world. He came to bring health to the sick and dying; He came to bring freedom to the oppressed. He came to this world to bring light into a world of darkness.
He came so that everyone could enter God’s House. And when He left, carrying the burden of the world on His shoulders, He empowered us to continue that work.
But that work cannot be done if our house is only big enough for ourselves. If we do not let Jesus into our hearts, we will find that our house will become very small. If we do not let Jesus into our hearts, we will find that we will not have much room in our house either. But if we let Jesus into our hearts, we will find out that our house is bigger than we could ever imagine.
So it is that this 4th Sunday of Advent, we are asked how big is our house and are we prepared to make it bigger.