Sunday, December 31, 2006

Daily Visitation

Here is my sermon from Christmas Eve/Advent 4. Given that it was a light and fluffy sermon due to the chaos of the day, I thought it wouldn't be an awful second sermon for all of you who didnt get enough from morning worship.

Matt is going to talk brilliantly and wonderfully this evening about the Incarnation so all I want to do this morning, in a very low key way, is offer some scattered and refracted thoughts of my own. And I would like to do this through the prism of this morning’s Collect, which you can find in your bulletin. Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. Collects, for those of you who are new to the church, generally follow a formula—it’s a good way to pray out loud if you’re worried about what to say. You address God—O Eternal God—you say something about him—who makes all things—you ask some thing relating to your description—so renew us by your power—and then you bring in the trinity—through the Son and the Spirit Amen. That’s the formula. Our collect for this morning rearranges the ingredients but we get the same result at the end. First, God is called Almighty. That means bigger than everything here, in control, sovereign, able to do all things. Second, in the ‘description’ part, we find out that the Son, Jesus, will be coming. “that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming…” Most of us make the wild mistake, in Advent, of believing that we’re waiting and waiting—lighting the candles on the Advent wreath, abstaining from flowers on the altar and Christmas music—that we’re waiting for Jesus to be born. I even heard it from a preacher on the radio the other day—here we are waiting for Jesus to be born. Well, that’s not what we’re waiting for. Jesus has already been born. He was born once. He’s not going to be born again.We’re actually waiting, in Advent and in every other season, for Jesus to come back. Before he died, rose and ascended into heaven Jesus promised to come back at the right moment. If you’ve read the book of Revelation, you will know that when Jesus comes back he will judge. He will eradicate evil from the earth and restore all of creation, us included, to himself. He will get rid of every bad thing—all pain and suffering—and it will be wonderful for us who believe in him and have been called to be in his family. But it hasn’t happened yet, right. We’re still waiting. We wait and hope That, third, “at his coming, he may find in us a mansion prepared for himself”. When I am expecting company I usually go into a tail spin. First of all, I never have enough time, so I’m in a rush. And because I’m in a rush, I have to prioritize. So the bedroom doesn’t get touched. In fact, all the clutter and junk from the rest of the house gets dumped in the bedroom. And then I race around vacuuming the parts of the rug that you can see and trying to create a veneer of order and beauty. But if you look under the surface you will find that the house is still really a mess. I have a neighbor who comes over three or four times a week? So for her, unfortunately, I don’t even clean any more. I might clear off the coffee table but I won’t vacuum. So my neighbor might see my house filthy one day and then sort of picked up the next. Well, this is not the kind of preparation we’re aiming for. First of all, along with the fact that Jesus is coming back, we find that we’re being ‘daily visited’ by God—by your daily visitation. When you become a Christian, when you put your faith and trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and the redemption of your whole self, as we’ve said over and over, the Holy Spirit comes and lives inside of you. In other words, God, the Holy Spirit is going to see you every day—every moment in fact. So God is going to see you when you are a mess and he’s going to see you when you kind of have things pulled together. But you won’t be able to fool him either way. You weren’t fooling him before you were a Christian, given that God is Almighty, he can see everything and knows the state of every human heart So trying to come to church and pretend, to God and to everyone else, that everything was fine and you didn’t have any problems doesn’t work. But now that you’re a Christian, you’re going to feel it acutely when things aren’t sorted out God is not going to let you feel comfortable in your sins That’s what ‘purify our conscience’ means. The Holy Spirit moves in and says, wow, this is a mess. Let me get a broom, all this dirt has got to go. And gradually, and sometimes painfully, he cleans away the dirt and sin and brokenness and hurt and makes you beautiful, inside. I say painful because it takes a long time, and sometimes a dirty house can be kind of comfortable—familiar, easy. Getting up and cleaning it is hard. This is most acute for me on the question of pride. I would like to be perfect. And I would like God to notice how perfect I am. Ridiculous, isn’t it? You can see clearly that I am not perfect. I foul things up all the time. Nevertheless, it’s a source of frustration and discouragement to me, in my humanness that I’m not perfect and this desire, to be perfect, this desire is like dust. Every time I turn around, there it is again. And then the Holy Spirit walks through and says, wow, it’s horribly dusty in here. Let’s clean this up. The big question is why. Why do we need our conscience purified? We get the answer in the second line that he, Jesus, may find a ‘mansion prepared for himself’. Why on earth would he want that? Isn’t heaven good enough? Why does he want us to be like a mansion, prepared for him?
Very simple, because God, Jesus, loves us more than we can possibly imagine. From before time, from before the foundation of the world, God knew you, knew what you would be like, and wanted you to be in his family. And this being the case, he doesn’t want bad things for you. He doesn’t want you to be small and lean of soul. Just like you wouldn’t want someone you love to make a mess of their lives. But because he is merciful, God doesn’t swoop in and rearrange everything in your life all at once. He takes his time, he works with you, he works on you, he goes room by room, cupboard by cupboard, putting things in order. It’s a long, sometimes difficult process, but one not without consolation. Today is both Advent 4—we’re still waiting—and Christmas Eve. So in one fell swoop we get to concentrate on the hope by which we live—that Jesus is coming back, this present evil will not last for ever—and the grace that sustains us—both Jesus in his body and blood and the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures. These two—grace and hope—mean that the Christian person, you when you have the Holy Spirit, go from being a mess—sinful and broken—to being made whole—forgiven, healed. That is, you, as a person, beloved of God, go from being small and narrow and impoverished, to being expansive and rich and beautiful in your heart and soul. The more room you give God in your life, the more work he can do in you. Let’s close with this prayer again, pray with me: Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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