Advent and Communion both look forward to the coming of Jesus. Here I would like to talk about Advent.
Luke 16:9-13 reads as follows:
Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.c
“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own?
“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
O Come, O come, Emmanuel is a popular Christmas Carol that tells parallel stories that can help guide us today. The lyrics of the first verse go this way.
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.'
Israel had rejected God and sought its own way, the world's way. In becoming a pagan nation, it determined to refuse a theocracy and chose the chaos of survival of the fittest, kings vying for power. At the time of Jesus' birth, they were truly captives, living dispersed. Those Jews who were in Jerusalem did so as subjects to the Roman Empire. Jews in charge were in a delicate political dance with Rome. They were only in charge as long as they submitted to the ruling empire. They were captives in need of a rescuer. And there were God-lovers mourning in lonely exile. And we know from the stories about people like Simeon and Anna that there was great rejoicing when the long-awaited Messiah finally, finally came!
American Christians are not so different. Our history is of racial tensions that spill into significant hate-filled violence in every decade of the country's existence. We make justice more about politics than true righteousness. Our laws, courts and prisons give grace to the rich and severity to minorities and the disenfranchised. A casual observer could easily believe that Americans read the Beatitudes in Matthew chapter 5 and instituted the exact opposite standards for the meek, merciful, mourning, peacemakers, righteous and pure from what Jesus prescribed.
We trust that 'someone' will take care of the needy. In fact, according to the IRS website, from 2005 to 2010 average charitable contributions went from 2.5 to 2.1 percent, totaling considerably less than 2,000 dollars per income each year. One of the richest nations with approximately 173 billion souls claiming to follow Christ, and these are the numbers on charitable giving! How can that be?
I saw a statistic recently that said if one family in three churches adopted an 'adoptable' child out of the foster care system and the three churches committed to supporting that family, we could effectively abolish the foster care program in the United States as an institution that cares for children who age out of the system without ever being permanently placed in a family. We can make a difference in this world. Believing we can't excuses selfish living and fulfills that prophesy.
All the while we are forgetting that obedience is not about results.“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (1 Corinthians 15:58 NLT)
Can we take a moment and be astonished that we actually stand tall and tell God no just because we think it will not turn out the way we want it to?
"Did you realize that you will find about 800 Scriptures that deal with money in the Bible?
Jesus talked about money more than He did Heaven and Hell combined. He talked about money more than anything else except the Kingdom of God. 11 of 39 parables talk about money. 1 of every 7 verses in the Gospel of Luke talks about money."
Money matters. We all know that loving enemies and forgiving everyone are commands by God that, while difficult, actually are for our benefit. We feel a peace and freedom when we obey them; so much so, that even unbelievers advocate a life of forgiveness and mercy. Could it be that the instructions on money, the singular area of life that God actually invited testing (Malachi 3:10), are for our good, as well?
We are members of the eternal Kingdom of the One true God. Are you happy about that? Can anyone tell? Are you as burdened, stressed, unforgiving and greedy as your pagan family, neighbors and coworkers? Have you invited Jesus to change your entire life? Do you even want that?
I do not ask this to shame. I say it to identify. We are steeped in a culture of sin. Some of it we have become very comfortable with. And we need Jesus. We need Him to forgive us and transform us. His blood washes us from sin and sets us before the judgment seat as righteous. We just need eyes to see this truth so that we live it.
We are here to be living testimonies to a life of freedom that is possible on earth through Christ. But how can anyone believe what we have to say when our own behavior betrays that we do not believe it ourselves.
Christmas is coming and we have some choices to make about how we will experience the Advent season. I guarantee we all celebrate advent, whether you know or like the word. It means Coming. In America, Advent seems to begin earlier each year and the focus is shopping, movies, sweets and decorations: the coming of pleasure and consumerism. In the tradition for Christians, Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and the focus is on the Scripture, welcoming Jesus into our hearts and charity, which means love.
These things are in opposition to one another. Jesus warned us in His great wisdom and care that we could not serve both. This world tells us differently. We like buffets and fear missing out, so blending a little from here and a little from there is super appealing. Tempting. While it is not a sin to be tempted, it most certainly is to not flee from it. What will the focus be for you? What of the world will be welcomed into your homes, calendars and hearts?
Both the pagan* advent and the Christian Advent extend beyond the Christmas season, but they are heightened and glorified at this time that is fast approaching. We will choose no matter what. A passive choice will never land us with Jesus, but it counts as a choice nonetheless.
*I use the term pagan to mean non-Christian, referring to all who do not call on Jesus as Lord and Savior.