The Big Event - 2nd Sunday of Advent
That's my primer on church history stuff for the day...
The word Advent means "expectation." Last week I challenged our congregation to expect something incredible this Advent season. We also learned that we live in a time that is "now" and "not yet." The Messiah has arrived and the Messiah is also on his way. We need to live with a sense of urgency and hopefulness about the future, but we also need to be aware that God is doing amazing things all around us right now.
This week I'll be focusing on a passage of Scripture from Romans 15. The key verse that I'll be centering my thoughts around is verse 13 where Paul says to the early Christians: "...may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."
I know that this time of year---probably more than other---far too many Christians are forced to come face to face with their emptiness. Perhaps they've been able to ignore the fact that they are empty every other season of the year---or at least bury it deep within. There's something about Advent, however, that brings our innermost feelings to the surface. Maybe it's the memories we have of Christmastime... both good and bad. Perhaps it's the realization that another year is passing. Whatever the reason, for many of us Advent can easily become a time where we lose our sense of expectancy and wonder.
How do we get so empty?
I believe it begins when we forget that God is faithful. In the middle of our trials and tribulations it's easy to bury our memories of the ways that God has shown up in our lives.
I also believe that we become empty when we lose sight of the joy of our salvation. The salvation that comes from God through Jesus should give us the kind of eternal life that begins in the present, not just down the road in some hazy, not-so-distant future. When we lose sight of this, our lives can lose meaning and purpose and we quickly become shells of the people we could be.
We also become empty when we become focused on our own (fill in the blank)... needs, desires, wants, problems, struggles, joys, successes... you name it.
And here's something that makes us all empty as Christians... when we lose the plot of God's great story of redemption.
Why is it that Christians insist on reducing Christianity to slogans and isolated doctrines or rules rather than focusing on the great story that God is writing? I refer us back to Romans 15:3... the gifts of Advent--hope, peace, joy & love--cannot be conjured up by human efforts. They are God's gifts by his Spirit. Try as we might, we are not going to be able to duplicate the Shalom of God on earth through any work of our own hands. And sometimes when we realize this... we feel empty.
One of my favorite Disney movies of late is "Up!" At the beginning of the movie we are introduced to Carl and Ellie a young boy and girl who meet, grow up and get married. Ellie was an adventurer, who had always dreamed of living in a house that was perched right next to the exotic Paradise Falls somewhere in South America. When her greater dream of wanting children was crushed due to medical reasons, Carl decided to give her the dream of Paradise Falls. But life sort of got in the way. The money they tried to save for their trip always seemed to go for some pressing need--a flat tire, a broken arm... By the time they are able to afford the plane tickets to Peru, Ellie is old and sick. She dies and leaves Carl with nothing but a house and a scrapbook from their childhood that is filled with visions of adventure. Carl becomes bitter, lonely and empty. He also becomes obsessed with somehow making Ellie's dream come on his own true even after she is gone.
The story of "Up!" is a parable for so many of us Christians. We try so desperately to make our own destiny and fill up the emptiness inside with everything but the One we claim to follow.
This passage in Romans illuminates the reasons we mentioned earlier about how we become empty...
1st - We are part of a larger plan by God. God has something going on--a wonderful story that is being written even as we speak--and we are invited to be a part of it. We aren't the focal point of the story, but we are the focal point of God's love---if that makes sense. When we lose sight of God's larger plan--a plan that centers on God's faithfulness--we fall prey to pride and selfishness and so become empty.
2nd - This greater plan by God is one that is focused on inclusion and not exclusion. We have to remember that it is not God's will that any should "perish, but that all should come to repentance." While we believe that even though God's message of redemption is universal, there are some who will refuse it. It's not our task to focus on who is "out," rather it is our task to embrace the inclusive message of the Gospel and share it boldly. When the sum total of our Christian experience is all about exclusivity, we become empty.
3rd - God also desires Christians to be unified as an essential part of who we are called to be. We have splintered ourselves into multiple denominations. We argue over the most petty of things. We can't agree on much of anything because we are focused on our own experience and our own sense of "rightness," and this empties us of hope, peace, joy and love.
But what does it look like when I overflow?
Maybe you've met someone who just seemed to be full to overflowing with hope, peace, joy & love. You know them when you see them. There's a glow about that person.
Here's some things I know about overflowing...
I have a heart ready to overflow when I begin to truly trust God because his word, his story, his promises are true.
I have a heart ready to overflow when I embrace the story of salvation as my own with Christ as it's foundation.
I have a heart ready to overflow when I begin to have a realization of hope. When my "present" is given joy by the promises of the future.
I have a heart ready to overflow when I realize that the differences between people (particularly my Christian brothers and sisters) were meant to glorify God, not tear us apart.
I have a heart ready to overflow when I bear witness with my life to the hope and peace that can only come through faith in Jesus as the Messiah who has come and is coming.
Spoiler alert... at the end of the movie "Up!" Carl comes to the realization that the real joy, the real fullness of his life came not from what he could create or do, but by the simple task of living, loving and embracing hope, peace joy and most of all love. The adventures that he had longed for happened along the way, and even greater adventures awaited him in the future.