We are following a particular guide for our worship in advent and the scriptures are already decided. I have to be honest, I read this text for this week and thought, “This is an Advent text? This scripture about sin and disobedience and God’s wrath is good for Advent?! And it was chosen for the week we focus on hope, really?!”
So I reread the passage and I thought about the purpose of Advent. This week, both the youth group and the Wednesday night Advent study examined the meaning and purpose of Advent. And the thing we learned was that in the original Christmas traditions, Christmas day was not just to celebrate the birth of Christ that happened in the past. It was also meant to open the door for his return. Christians were eager for the 2nd coming of Christ and they anticipated that would happen at Christmas. That meant that Advent was a time to prepare to meet Jesus face-to-face. The preparations weren’t for trimming the tree or hanging the lights or wrapping the gifts. The preparations were of one’s spirit and one’s actions to be ready to meet Christ.
In that light and with that purpose for Advent—Ephesians 5 makes more sense as a choice. If we are preparing to meet Jesus face to face then it makes sense that we would follow the instructions offered to the Ephesians.
· We should follow God’s example, mimicking God like a child mimics their parents. We should do as God does.
· And we should follow Christ’s example and act with love. We need to do all in our power to show God’s unconditional agape love.
After encouraging us, reminding us, to become godly in our ways, we are reminded, with the Ephesians, of the things we should not be doing. It’s not a hard list to compile. Any of us could do it. Think about it, in becoming like Christ, what behaviors, habits and actions should we avoid?
Exactly. The Ephesians were given similar advice:
· No sexual immorality
· No behavioral impurity
· No greed
· No obscenity
· No foolish talk or coarse joking
· Don’t get drunk.
Why? Because once we engage in a relationship with Christ, we know better. Once we make Christ Lord of our lives, we become better. So instead of old bad habits, we are called to do something different.
If we aren’t lying, stealing, drinking, etc, etc, then what’s left? What should we do?
Exactly, the author points to similar things.
· Give thanks
· Seek Christ
· Make the most of life
· Do the will of the Lord
· Get together with others who seek God
o Enjoy one another
o Praise God
As Christians, we are called to live differently. We are called to live and love as Christ loved. We know that, right? But sometimes, we need a reminder, don’t we? There are some habits that we have justified for ourselves, and some old practices that we keep holding onto.
In our studies this week, we were asked, “When in your day would you least like to have Jesus walk through the door?” (Repeat for emphasis) Ask yourself. When?
· Would you be caught in a lie?
· Or caught in anger?
· Or caught in gossip?
· Or caught lusting after porn?
· Or caught in addiction?
· Or caught in laziness?
· Or caught in pride?
If Jesus walked in in that moment, what would be see?
These are the areas of our life that need reformation—they need to be changed by grace and made holy. These are our hold outs. These are the spots we’ve been unwilling or unable to work on. And Ephesians 5 comes in and says, “Hey, hey, hey, what are you doing?! You know better than this!”
It has language of wrath and rejectionand some of us may need that to jump start us to action. Fear may be our best motivator. If it’s yours, here it is. However, I don’t think fear is the heart of this message. I think we’re supposed to hear something more like this:
“You’re better than this. You’re not this person anymore. These bad habits should be left in the past—they are not worthy of your identity as a child of God. So get rid of them.”
But we fight that affirmation, don’t we? We argue and say things like,
· I’m not really that good.
· I’m not smart enough, kind enough, or strong enough to be that much like Christ.
We stay stuck in the past or hold onto old habits because we are held by the LIE that we aren’t worthy—for whatever reason. But you ARE worthy. You are worthy of becoming and being all that God created you to be. There is no reason to hold back. There is a beautiful poem by Marianne Williamson called “Our Deepest Fear”. She says it this way:
Our Deepest Fear
By Marianne Williamson
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves,
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It is not just in some of us;
it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
The gift and possibility that we have is to be great as Christ was great. This poem and the passage from Ephesians remind us that our future doesn’t lie in our weakness or our failings or our sins. Our future lies in a promise of greatness. We are called to be awesome and inspiring because of and through Christ. It’s wholly appropriate that we are reminded of what we are pulled from and called to so that we might embrace all that Christ offers. Advent reminds us to have hope. We are to have hope in Christ, that we can find redemption and forgiveness and possibility. But beyond that, we are called not just to rely on Christ but to become like Christ so that we might rely on one another as the embodiment of Christ. In our hope, in our drive to be like Christ, we need to avoid the old sinful things that hold us back from greatness and instead cling to the things of God. We should cling to compassion, cling to generosity, cling to forgiveness, cling to peace, and cling to joy. We should cling to hope. And so this Advent season, we hope, with expectancy and anticipation AND preparation for becoming like Christ so that we might encounter him in tangible and concrete ways.
Today’s “sense” is that of smell. We are called to embrace the scents of Christmas and to breathe in hope. So today you will receive a small satchel of potpourri as your reminder to breathe in and smell hope. In our time of prayer, you are invited to come forward to pray and repent and seek after Christ. Satchels will be here at the altar rail and others will be passed through the pews. Let us breathe deeply and smell hope. Amen.