Today is the first Sunday of Advent. The season of Advent is the time in the church calendar when many Christians try to reflect on how we can better imitate Jesus to our family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. It’s a season during which many Christians try to step back from their routine day to day activities and prepare their hearts for the day on which we celebrate the birth of our Savior.
I’ve heard it said by those in the Church that EVERY day is the day in which we should prepare our hearts for the Lord. Every day is the day in which we should better reflect Jesus. And that is true. And I have said such things myself.
But God gave the Church – as He gave to ancient Israel – various seasonal celebrations to serve as reminders that we can all do better in our relationship with God. We can all do better in reminding ourselves of His presence with us at every moment of our day and night, hearing every thought, watching our every action.
Listen, we can all always do better practicing obedience to His whispering voice.
Some think all that is required to be a Christian is to be
baptized, or to go down to an altar and make a confession of faith. But that viewpoint
has no basis in Biblical truth. Salvation cannot be reduced to a simple baptism,
or a confession of faith at an altar. Such a shallow idea of conversion devalues
the cost of the cross. It cheapens what Christ did on Calvary.
The Christian walk is a continual, daily walk. Jesus told us, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23). A daily walk means obediently following Jesus in good times and bad times, in sickness and in health, in times of wealth and times of poverty, when it’s convenient and when it’s inconvenient. God did everything He possibly could to save us. For us to reduce His sacrifice of His beloved Son to a once-in-a-lifetime commitment to Jesus demonstrates just how little we consider the cost of the cross of Jesus.
That our walk with Christ is an ongoing journey is a critically important biblically based concept. Those who ignore that truth, or make light of it, may find themselves at the Judgment Seat of Christ, hearing Him say, as He said to those who thought they were Christians, “Depart from Me, you workers of iniquity. I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:21-23. Matthew 25:31-46; and Luke 13:24-28).
So, on this first Sunday of Advent, as we consider how we might better prepare ourselves for our Bridegroom, I want us to focus on a text in Luke’s gospel: “And he [John] came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight. (Luke 3:3-4)
And so, how might we be a people doing a better job preparing ourselves for the Lord and making our own paths straight as we follow our Shepherd?
I think many of us, either unconsciously or semi-consciously – are far too willing to make excuses for our sins – especially sins of our thoughts and our tongues. We too easily rationalize them as simply part of our sin nature – and then we move on with other things in life. I know what I am talking about, because I do that too often in my own life.
Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is not inclined to let us get away with any of our excuses and rationalizations. He gives us several lists of sins to which we must remain constantly vigilant. However, I will not take time talking in any detail about those sins. Everyone in this room knows intuitively what constitute sin – such as immoral thoughts, lying, pride, gossip, and an unwillingness to forgive others, having a critical spirit toward others, promoting ourselves at the expense of others. The lists go one, as you well know.
That is why the Holy Spirit warns us through St Paul’s pen: “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8).
Reaping and Sowing. That’s why preparation for the Lord Jesus requires “cleans[ing] ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and perfecting holiness in the fear of God,” as the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth. (2 Corinthians 7:1)
Reaping and sowing. Don’t think for a moment Satan is not aware of that spiritual principle. That’s why he tries his best to first twist our understanding of God, planting lies and half-truths in our hearts, because if he is successful in corrupting our thoughts about God as our heavenly Father, it becomes like child’s play for him to reap disaster in our thoughts and lives.
What is that lie Satan wants to plant in our hearts? It’s the idea that paints God as an angry, capricious, and hard taskmaster who stands in front of His throne with a whip, watching our every move, eagerly waiting for you and me to mess up so He can lash into us.
Such a dark view of God, in many cases, is rooted in the experiences of some who had earthly fathers just like that. Mean-spirited. Critical. Always finding fault. Nothing they ever could do was good enough for their earthly father. And so, for many, they transfer their childhood experiences with their earthly father to their heavenly Father. And Satan, having planted that lie about their heavenly father in their minds, he reaps a damaged soul who cowers from the One whose arms are spread apart on that wooden beam, inviting them into His embrace.
Jesus, through the ages, even to this very day, invites all of us, each of us, into His embrace.
Many years ago, when I was stationed with the navy in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, I lived with two other guys in a two-bedroom house. Neither Jeff or Gary were Christians, but of the two, Jeff was the atheist. He always found a reason to poke fun at my faith.
One Sunday morning as I dressed for church service at the base chapel, Jeff asked, “Hey, where’re you going? On a date?”
I remember being taken aback with the question. In all my years as a Christian, I’d never thought of going to church as going on a date with the Lover of my soul. But with Jeff’s question came the sudden realization – yes, I AM going on a date. I am meeting my Bridegroom, my Lover, my Lord, my best Friend.
And that is what I told him: “Yes, I am going on a date to meet Jesus.”
And the point of my story? You and I are betrothed to our Lord Jesus Christ. You and I are the Bride of Christ. Let me remind you of only one passage of Scripture that speaks of our marital relationship with our Savior. It’s from Ephesians 5:
“So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:28-33)
This biblical principal of our marriage to our earthly spouse forms the basis of the God-centered relationship with Christ by which, and from which, we should prepare our hearts for His coming – that being the love and devotion of a bride for her beloved.
What faithful bride-to-be would corrupt herself with another man? What faithful bride-to-be would live in a morally cavalier fashion? The answer is, of course, none. All brides in love with their groom keep themselves morally pure, perfecting their own holiness in anticipation of being joined with her beloved.
And THAT is the reason we want to live holy lives – not out of fear, but so we can please our Groom because we love Him. We adore Him. We want to exalt Him.
So, what are some ways in which we can conduct our lives so that we are preparing ourselves for the Lord, moving toward holiness and pleasing our Groom? How might we better cleanse ourselves of all defilements of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear and reverence of the Lord? The answer is not as difficult to uncover as one might think. Much of it rests in the principal behind this simple song we’ve sung to children: O be careful little eyes what you see. O be careful little ears what you hear.
You’ve probably heard the axion: Garbage in – Garbage out. Or as St. Paul warned in Galatians 6:7-8) “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”
Can we watch television shows or movies that promote violence, anger, hatred, greed, and lusts and not be dirtied or burned? Can we night after night watch the news and not find our attitudes becoming consumed with anger and frustration? We can’t walk through mud and not get our shoes dirty. We can’t put our hand onto a hot stove and not be burned.
There is a better way to live. A better way to prepare ourselves for our Groom. A better way this Advent season – and throughout the year – to prepare our hearts for our Lord.
What is that? Fall deeper in love with Jesus. Keep seeking, every day, keep seeking the Holy Spirit to draw you to fall deeper in love with Jesus.
Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, learned the answer to the question we’ve been looking at this afternoon: How can we prepare ourselves afresh for the Lord’s Advent into our hearts? Here is what you and I need to discover ourselves:
Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.
Falling more deeply in love with our Groom is the only right answer to the question, “How can we better prepare ourselves for His coming afresh into our hearts?” And how do we fall deeper in love with Jesus? In much the same way as any bride learns to fall more deeply in love her spouse:
Number one (and these are not in any particular order): Turn off the TV. Turn off the computer. Open your Bible. Read it slowly. This is not a sprint, to see how much of it you can read in a sitting, or a month, or even a year. Meditate, ruminate on what you are reading.
You might find it helpful to keep a notebook with you and write out in long hand what the Lord teaches you. Write out any verse that speaks to you, and then spend some time praying back to God what He just showed you in scripture.
For example, this passage in Psalm 119 caught my attention: “With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You. (Psalm 119:10-11)
And so, I prayed: “Lord, do not let me wander from your commandments. Help me to treasure your word in my heart.”
Another time I read this verse in Luke 6: “It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles.”
So, I prayed, “Lord, I also want to always be Your disciple, always sitting at Your feet and learning from You. Please always draw me to Yourself that I might always learn from You.”
Number two: Be quick to repent. Ask the Holy Spirit to train your spiritual ears to better hear His voice, and when He tells you that you have done something wrong, repent. And determine with His help to not do it again.
Number three: Be quick to FORGIVE others who have hurt you, or offended you, or used you. If you’ve consistently read your Bible over the years you know as well as I do, Jesus REQUIRES us to forgive others their sins against us. It was He who taught His disciples to pray: Forgive us our SINS AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO SIN AGAINST US (Matthew 6:12). He then added two verses later: For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. (Matthew 6:14-15)
Number four: Try to make a conscious effort through the day, and especially at the end of the day, to thank God for the big things and the little things that happened in your day. I have a small notebook in which I record things that day for which I am thankful.
We have entered the season of Advent. Yes, many of you prepare your hearts every day through the year for the coming of our Lord. But you and I can still do better. And yes, there are some here who might not prepare your heart through the year for a deeper relationship with the Lord. But you can do better. Why not start today, on this first Sunday of Advent?