Advent


But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8: 3

 

This idea is somewhat the opposite of the way that we often view our relationship with God. At least I tend to think in terms of loving God and so seeking to know Him ever more fully, deeply, and completely. Yet, if I think about it, consider what Paul is saying, and meditate upon these few simple words, it begins to make sense. Love is something that changes people. It reshapes the way that we see the world round us as it takes us into a deeper form of engagement with its object. In love, we seek out the beloved, and we desire to know that person very well, but love also opens up the lover to the other. This is true in romantic love relationships, and it is also true in other forms of deep, personal relationships.

 

In fact, there should be no place where this confident openness is more present than in our love for God. There is no one who is more trustworthy than is the Lord, and there is no other relationship that we can enter into that has the same degree of commitment inherent in the nature of the beloved than that which is present in God. God is in relationship with each of us who know Him for the duration of time, and there is nothing that can change His perspective on loving and on being present with us. The Lord is the definition of the sort of unfaltering promise of loving others that is missing in our world, for He does not hold our weakness, failure, and inconsistency as a form of ransom over us so that we think that we need to perform in order to retain that affection. Instead, God gave Himself up as a ransom of love in order to set us free for all of eternity from our own sinfulness and its shame.

 

So, my love for God leads to giving Him my heart, mind, and soul. I allow Him into my inner life in a way that is not even possible for any other to do. As Christ has given each of us who know Him His Spirit to dwell with and in us, we are inhabited by God’s love as it is poured out upon His people. There is no other experience in this life that is like this in its fullness and totality. God’s love is what brings this rare element into our world, and His love given to me is what defines, enables, and empowers all of the love that I have to give to others. Thus, as I love God, I come to relax the protective barriers that life in this world has taught me to place around my heart, and I allow Christ access to the full range of my feelings, my responses to others, and to my willingness to trust and to engage with people. In Christ, I know perfect love, and He pours Himself into me so that I can, in turn, be that sort of committed lover in all of my other relationships.

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And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Hebrews 11: 6

 

This past weekend we worked on taking down the last of our Christmas decorations. I know, it is already a month after Christmas and Saint Valentine’s Day is the theme around most of our neighborhood; in truth, winter and its snowy vistas are the real theme in my world this year. One of the last décor items to go back into storage for next year is a little wooden sign that has been hanging on the outside of our house near the front door. It reads, “Wise men still seek Him.” We know that it is a reference to the coming of those eastern mystics and astronomers that God specifically called to come to meet their newborn king and the savior of their souls. These were learned men. They studied the heavens for its signs and they searched their world in order to gain its wisdom and to understand the truths that God had implanted in it from the dawn of creation. Now they traveled a great distance on nothing more than faith in order to meet the person who was the greatest advent in all of history.

 

God sought them out, and He presented to them a message that required the utilization of all of their wisdom to comprehend and to interpret. Yet, acting upon that knowledge was not an act of intellect alone, for critical thinking would tend to lead to the rejection of this strange and wondrous idea of God come to dwell with people as one of us in order to bring all who would believe into a restored relationship with our Creator. This idea is too wild and impossible to act upon, and these societally well-placed and highly regarded Iranian or Iraqi scholars would be risking much to follow the prompts in the heavens in pursuit of Daniel’s prophesy about Messiah. Yet God called to them, and their faith in the reality of His existence and in the relationship that He desires to have with each person on this earth led them to pack up and set out along the hard road of discovery that took them to the deep humility of submission to the singular Great King of the Universe.

 

God called these men from a foreign land with their strange language and different customs out of their ancient religious practices, beliefs, and understanding into the presence of Christ. They were truly wise in that they did not allow any of those strong traditions and long-held beliefs to keep them from coming to that place and time for their encounter with God, Himself. This same sort of wisdom when combined with faith is what leads each of us to turn from the life that we have been leading and the culture that is supporting it and to come to Christ. For some people this is a new journey, and it leads them away from the comfort of old practices and associations and into the new dawn of life that reflects eternity. For everyone who does know Christ, regardless of whether that relationship is newly formed or life-long in duration, we are still called to seek out Christ as we surrender more and more of ourselves and our old ways of thinking and acting to God’s ancient will and desire for peace on this earth and for reconciliation with all of its inhabitants.

Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 6: 10

 

God’s will can seem to be a strange and a mysterious thing. This earth just doesn’t feel like it is present all that much of the time, and if it is what prevails here much of the time then I just might not want to have anything to do with it. Perhaps Jesus is talking about some ideal situation, or an understanding of the future, or perhaps He is telling us about the reality in heaven where God resides full time. For from what I can see as I look outside my door, this world is willfully calling its own shots much of the time, and God is not very visible in what transpires as a result.

 

Yet, I think that Jesus was not merely setting out a model for prayer form or talking about some sort of visionary ideal. He was speaking about a central idea that related to His presence among us. Jesus was God’s Kingdom come to earth in its fullest form and expression. Although Jesus was a person in the same way that you and I are also people, He was also God among and God with us. Jesus, the Christ, walked our streets and felt our pains and our joys. He also brought the truth, righteousness, and love of God to a place where they and their Creator touch our lives and effect the way that we conduct them. God’s perfect will was present here in Jesus, and it remains with us in the real and tangible presence of Christ’s Spirit.

 

So, God’s will is really not so strange, except when considered from the point of view of a world that has lost its righteous way, and its mystery is resolved by knowing Christ deeply, intimately, and personally. God’s will is manifest in Christ, and it is carried out through the committed prayer, words, and actions of people like you and I who seek to know it and who courageously live as Christ calls and leads us to do. God’s will brings the love, the grace, the right living, and the peacemaking of His Kingdom to the streets of this world. God’s will is expressed as we love Him completely and so love others sacrificially. It also brings people to a place where we no longer view ourselves as citizens of this world, but instead, we know that our true home is found in the presence of Christ both now and into eternity.

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”

Exodus 33: 18

 

This is the moment when it all turns. The wandering is over as God and Moses dialogue in the wilderness of the Sinai. This time of seemingly endless drifting and seeking was not caused by God but came about because the people were not ready to trust in the Lord fully. They thought that they needed more when, in fact, they already had everything that would be required for survival and to thrive in the land of their deliverance from slavery. Finally, Moses is ready to stop bargaining with God and opened up himself to be fully in the presence of the Lord.

 

This holding back and holding onto control is too human a characteristic. We can even know in our minds that God is real, we can accept the fact of salvation as coming through Christ, and we are able to claim the heritage of Christian faith as our own; yet, we are still not ready to let these facts become the identity of our passions. So, we love the Lord, our God with most of our mind and with a faltering heart and with a dispassionate soul. This all continues so long as the strength of our grip on the things of this world that we treasure can hold out. It is this approach to faith that often keeps us from entering into life as people who are truly and strangely different from our world. On the one hand, we may belong to the social order known as Christian, but on the other one, we are embedded in the flow of our culture in a manner that makes little to no difference in the world.

 

Yet, when Moses was ready to leave the worldly journey behind and was prepared to pay the price of being distinctive in a hostile land, he turned to the Lord and asked God to reveal Himself fully to His servant. God’s glory is powerful and brilliant beyond the words of our languages. God in His glory demands that we do fully surrender to Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength so that we can be the lovers of others that He is. The glory that Moses was seeking is present in our world. It was fully revealed in the person of the risen Christ, and He is with us to this day. Just as the Lord did with Moses so does Christ with us, He demands that the totality of our passions be turned toward Him. Seeking the glory of Christ means that we worship Him and do this by following His great commandment to love others as the natural outworking of our absolute and total love of our Lord.

Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13: 13

 

Faith, hope, and love existed on this earth through all of the years that came and went between creation and the birth of Jesus. People had faith in many things and in many gods; they also had faith in the one true God, Yahweh. They also hoped for much, and the followers of that one true God carried an enduring hope of His return and the freedom that it would bring. They loved much and expressed it passionately. They created great art to demonstrate those passions and they sang of love’s virtues and challenges much as we do today. Yet, that love was without its fullest expression and its greatest rendition. It, like faith and hope, was incomplete.

 

 

God did not intend to leave His creation in this incomplete state of being. He had finished the work once and He would move it along the path to finality through an act of total loving sacrifice. The God who carried absolute and total authority over the entire universe chose to enter into this world as the humble and powerless baby that was born into the oppressed Jewish culture of those days. Jesus left eternity and entered into our humanity. He joined with us and walked along our roads, and Christ knew our pain and shared in our struggles; then, He allowed us to torture and to crucify Him in order to complete God’s plan for our salvation.

 

This is a love beyond any other. The love that Jesus lived out is the human demonstration of the infinite love that the Father has for each and every one of the people on this earth. We all are His beloved children, and Christ came to save every one of us from the sin that separates us from God’s eternal presence. Because of God’s love, as carried to completed expression by Christ, we can have true and lasting faith in that one God, and we have hope for today that is based upon the real and tangible presence of Christ in our lives and in our world. Love is the gift of Christmas and faith and hope are its lasting legacy.

Merry Christmas!

And we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3: 18

 

When W. Chatterton Dix wrote his classic Christmas hymn he asked this question, “What child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping?” Then, in the chorus he answers his own question, “This, this is Christ the King!” This baby whose birth we celebrate at Christmas is the Christ, the one who God sent to end the separation from Him that sinful rebellion had created in a movement of the creature away from its Creator. Now, in the advent of God in the flesh on the earth, we have complete access and acceptance before the great and perfectly holy glory of God.

 

God established a system of acts and sacrifices that were intended to demonstrate the desire and the willingness of people to come into His presence and that worked to continually remind us of our loyalty to our Lord. Yet, that loyalty was frail and often failed to last. We are sinful beings, this is our natural state of being, and it is impossible for us to escape sin’s imprisonment without God’s intervention. This point of intervention is where our lives and the child on Mary’s lap intersect. For this humble baby and the Great King that He is do have the power and the authority to overcome any and all conditions of the body, mind, and heart that enslave people.

 

As we turn to Christ, He removes all that separates us from standing before God in the full revelation of our humanity and the complete appreciation of His glory. Then God works in and on us to transform what was previously lost and dead into people who are living human bearers of that same glory of heaven, which brings the light of salvation and the soothing oil of peace into the world. In Christ we are made new and by the work of Christ’s Spirit we are transformed. So, followers of Christ are called upon to, “Haste, haste to bring Him praise” and the way that we do this is by living boldly in our world as people who bring this revealed glory of God into the darkness of sin’s night of death.

 

 

“For the mountains may depart

and the hills be removed,

but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,

and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”

says the LORD, who has compassion on you.

Isaiah 54: 10

 

The language of Isaiah 54 has an emotional and a highly figurative quality to it. Yet, the nature of what is described is quite real. Mountains are a point of reference for us. If you live within sight on them, they create a frame in which the home environment is set as in a statement like, “The mountains are to the north, “ or, My city is surrounded by mountains.” So, the idea that the mountains and their foothills would be destroyed by an act of God’s hand or by the destructive forces that seem to operate at will in this broken world is powerful. This is the sort of societal upheaval that is on display here. This is a description of a world where the sorts of things that we use to set our frame of reference and to get our bearings are torn apart and turned over.

 

So, this statement from about 2,700 years ago seems to be accurately directed at our times and this world today; thus, the point that the prophet was making is also for us in our culture. He is saying that regardless of the upheaval and the chaos of the world where we live, God’s love remains constant and is poured out onto His people. The Lord has called upon us to trust Him and to trust in Him because God’s trustworthiness never falters or fails. The Lord is with us in and through the tumult and trials of living in this land where evil conceal itself in order to pounce upon the unwary and the innocent, and He protects our souls and brings peace to our hearts in all circumstances.

 

In simple terms, God cares deeply about people. He desires to be in relationship with all of us. There are no limits or limitations on God’s willingness to pursue people in order to save our souls from destruction and to bring our lives into the peace of His presence. He will even allow evil to operate with little restraint at times and in places in our world if that will bring some of us into that place of realization that we need Christ in order to truly live. There is nothing that anyone can do; there is no act of violence, anger, or oppression that can defeat the unceasing love that Christ has for us. Thus, we can walk with confidence in our world, and we can love others without reservation by pouring out this same love that Christ is constantly giving to us.

 

 

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