December 8, 2013
Did you happen to watch NBC’s live stage version of The Sound of Music on Thursday night, with Carrie Underwood playing the part of Maria which Julie Andrews played decades ago?
Or over Thanksgiving did you go see Jennifer Lawrence renew her role as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire?
Good movies invite us into a different world, like, 1930’s Austria as the Nazi’s take over, or into a world in which the superrich, in order to punish the lower classes for rebelling, once a year have a child from each district fight to the death the kids from the other districts, all shown on TV for entertainment for those in power.
Both worlds are filled with unspeakable evil, yet our heroines manage to live in the face of evil with courage, grace, and even beauty.
Our world also knows deep evil, though we often shield ourselves from the suffering through psychic Novocain. But when we numb our guilt we also numb our joy; when we numb our anger, we put love to sleep at the same time.
So our lives become flat, two-dimensional, anesthetized.
In order to break out of this funk our local retailers this time of year create another alternative world—this time it’s the happy-clappy world of Santa in which all elves are smiling, all snow is beautiful, and all stomachs are full.
While the culture makes it possible for you to shop, even from the comfort of your own home, for some reason the Spirit of God brought you to church today, so you could enter yet another alternative world—but this time it is a world that has the power to awaken us and transform us.
It’s the Biblical world in which God is not a jolly ole, but the Creator-Redeemer God who acts here and now: God acts in creating, God acts in leading Israel out of slavery into freedom; God acts in Jesus of Nazareth; God acts in the Spirit in our lives so we might throw away the drugs and wake up.
Wake up like Dorothy in Oz, into a full color four-dimensional world in which heaven is the control center for earth and God is fully invested in our lives—our joys and our suffering.
But something in us resists this God-infused world because it isn’t hip, brilliant, or wicked cool. It makes us uncomfortable, like wearing clothes that are way out of date.
But actually, our deepest resistance comes from the fact that in Jesus’ God-framed worldview I’m no longer in charge. I’m not the decider-in-chief, but an actor in a story I didn’t write.
In Jesus’ world, we’re been called to follow, not to lead.
So we may resist and stay away.
Sure, it’s okay to come to the Christmas pageant to watch the little bathrobed shepherds and paper-winged angels, but worship the living God who acts? Who calls us to follow?
C. S. Lewis reminds us that there will only be two types of people, “those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in hell choose it.”
Advent is 4 weeks of preparing for our God who comes in Christ so we can say “your will be done, O Lord.”
So how does one prepare the way of the Lord?
We prepare the way of the Lord by believing in the reality of God’s approach. Believing is opening the door and leaving it open to God.
To believe in Jesus as God’s Son, means we drop our belief in a flat disenchanted world and take up residence in the Biblical view of reality, arranging our lives accordingly.
It means to put the sun back into the middle of our solar system where it belongs, so the earth can find its proper orbit.
It’s the change that rearranges and heals everything.
In the Message translation of Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus says:
“Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.”
Of course we don’t put Jesus in the center of our life, we wake up to the fact that he is in the center of our life and once awake we realize everything now has changed.
C. S. Lewis explains his conversion from atheism in just this way: He writes “You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen [College at Oxford], night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him [that is God] whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England” (Surprised By Joy, ch. 14, p. 266).
From each moment of believing awareness life begins to shift.
Paul says today, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing…”
This believing is not something we can generate by our own effort. All we can do from our end is to follow John the Baptist’s admonition to prepare the way of the Lord and pray the God of hope will fill us with all joy and peace in believing.
But it still takes a lot of energy to prepare for guests and requires a total reorientation of focus—from me to my guests.
My sister, Mary Jo, and 13 year old nephew, James, from Atlanta were our guests this weekend. They flew to us, but it still takes work on our part to clean the house, make the beds, rearrange the schedule, and be willing to lose sleep. When we were guests at her house over Thanksgiving she had worked very hard to prepare for us.
Preparing for God is the same sort of thing: you clean house, you set the table, and most of all, take your focus off yourself and put it on the Lord who is coming.
It is a trap of the evil one to keep our focus on myself—MY sins, MY shame, MY weakness, MY fear, MY unworthiness—all MY messy rooms!
Our focus is on the One who is coming: the One who is more than able to clean us up and set us on the Father’s lap in joy and peace.
So we leave ourselves to Christ who comes.
I was in the Christian section of Barnes and Noble on Monday and I overheard this middle-aged woman talking to a man with Downs Syndrome about some book she had just read. It was clearly over the man’s ability to grasp but it occurred to me she was treating him like an ordinary person.
Interesting, I thought.
So when the man left I was attuned to her when she started talking to an attractive 20-something couple about a book they were looking at.
She said to them, “I died when I was 24 and went to heaven, but God said it wasn’t my time, that I had work to do for him, so he sent me back. I’m not real sure what that work is, but I go to a Pentecostal Church now.”
It occurs to me at least part of that work involves letting people know of God’s coming into her life so they may wake up to God’s coming in their lives.
This woman talking to strangers seemed a bit different, a little odd, but then living in an alternative world in which God is in control will automatically make you different.
Take John the Baptist–he dressed in camel hair and ate bugs.
When the movie’s over and I walk outside there are a few minutes in which I can still feel the pull of its magical world.
Worship is like that too, except unlike movie stars, God doesn’t stay on the screen, but meets us moment by moment disguised as our life.
So we can wake up anytime, anywhere—take a deep mindful breath and start believing and acting in faith, because God is.