4th Sunday of Advent
FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16 | Romans 16:25-27 | Luke 1:26-38
Pour forth, we beseech you, oh Lord, your grace into our hearts that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ your son was made known by the message of an angel, may by his passion and cross be brought to the glory of his resurrection, he who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
AS I’ve often mentioned to you, I’ve become very aware of the value of celebrating the liturgy of the word with a reading every Sunday from the Old Testament. I have to admit that I used to write off the Old Testament as something old, something we’re finished with, something that's past. But it is an essential part of the story, and when you look at the story of the Old Testament and carry it all the way through the New Testament, you have not only the fullness of the story, but a better example of what you and I go through as we enter this world and live the time God has given us on this earth. It’s fascinating to me that we need to get a sense of this time we have on earth. It’s important that people get a sense that this is the only time they have. They have a different perspective, perhaps, on how they’re going to spend their time here, but it’s important to realize how short a period our existence is — how important, but how short. It’s also a good idea, I think, to understand where we are in the history of God’s working with human beings.
For we who are alive today, who live at this particular time, I'd like to give you a sense of our history. Let’s look at it for a moment. According to scientists, the world was created 5.5 billion years ago, and about 3.5 billion years ago, life began to form as sort of algae in water, which then evolved further. It wasn't until about 200,000 years ago that a strange creature formed that looked like us, yet evolved from a very simple beginning over a long period of time. This particular species, called homo sapiens, is the only species God created from the very beginning. His intention was to form creatures like himself, more like him than any other, although everything reflected him. And the destiny of these creatures, these homo sapiens, would be to grow in awareness, in consciousness of who they were, why they were human beings who represent the human race at the beginning of each of these testaments. Adam was the first, and he revealed human nature at the time God entered their lives and began to speak to them and take them on the journey from slavery to freedom, always promising them a home, a place where they could feel safe, loved and important. That mysterious process began with Adam in the Garden of Eden, making clear to all of us what human beings felt they wanted and needed at that time in our evolution. “Give us a law. We want to be in control. We want to know what to do, we want to know what’s right and what’s wrong, and we will surrender ourselves and become slaves to a law, to a rule. And if you don’t mind, we’ll determine what those rules and laws are,” he said. And that’s the way most human beings live, have lived and still live, with an external rule, an external law telling them how to control their lives so that they will be who they feel they should be.
The temple became an incredibly powerful institution in the lives of the Israelites, because as they found this place of milk and honey, they found themselves under the guidance of this great temple. But the temple had lost its focus. It had become something it wasn’t intended to be. It was a place where God’s presence was kept inside an ark, inside a room that was surrounded by other rooms, and only those in charge were able to allow people who needed God and needed something from them — they were in charge of doling out whatever they felt God would want to give to people. Can you feel it? It was a system of control, and the religious leaders controlled the way God functioned in people’s lives. It’s the shadow of authority. It’s the shadow of the law.
But then we were promised a new Adam, and the new Adam came after a long period of time, 2,000 years-plus, when people struggled with the law, and it was clearer and clearer to people that the law didn’t really work. It didn’t change hearts, and then there was born into the world this baby, this beautiful baby, in this mysterious birth. But when we think about Christmas, we think about this beautiful crib scene and this little baby, and he’s so cute, and we all start thinking about babies and home and family. It’s wonderful, but in the opening prayer, there was a hint that there is something we should be paying attention to about this little baby. This baby came into the world to prove something to us, the power of the world to reject what it needs, but doesn’t want. This baby grew into this incredible man filled with divinity, a symbol of who we are to become, and as he became this, he became more and more disenchanted with the system of the law, and he kept saying the law was no longer necessary, and he broke the law, which irritated those in control. But especially, he shocked them by saying, “I now have the law inside me. I have God inside me, and I’ve come to tell you that you can have God inside you. You don’t need an institution to tell you what to do, how to act.”
You need the institution to tell you what to believe, in terms of who or what the message of Jesus truly is. You need an institution to celebrate with you the mystery of God’s presence in you. You need a place to celebrate and to live in a community of faith. We need church, but the radical person that this baby grew into was a figure who said, “But no longer do you need to go to that institution to tell you who you are and who you are to become.” That’s something that is now in human beings, the capacity to be in this relationship with God, to open yourself up, to see, to understand, to be more conscious, to see to the heart of things so you know that this image of God in the Old Testament, who promised a place of peace by destroying all the enemies of everyone who was against their people and gave them a rule and a law — which were helpful. It was important, but it wasn’t enough. And it seemed so important that we who grew up as children in a world of the Old Testament, had to grow up with such restrictions as rules and laws. Otherwise we don’t really develop discipline. We become kind of wild.
To have a strict beginning is often one of the best ways to begin your life, but then we must grow out of that, out of the feeling that we can control our emotions, our needs. It turns out, that, especially during the Middle Ages, there was a great fear in Christianity that the greatest enemy we had to our becoming like Jesus was our humanity, because we had somehow put God’s humanity, or Jesus’ humanity, off to the side. But think about it. So often what we’ve done to ourselves with our rules and laws is try to destroy that part of ourselves we think needs to be controlled, because it has the potential of doing something wrong, particularly any physical and emotional needs, or sexual needs. Isn’t it interesting that knowing that those needs have been given to us for a reason, knowing that they are in the process of being transformed into a higher consciousness, knowing that every quality we have has a potential of going south, going dark or going to the light? But how foolish it would be to say that no, the desire in us, this passion for unity, communion with another person, this desire and longing for a home that is safe, where we know we are loved, where we know we have value — yes, we can go for that in all kinds of dark ways: control, competition, destroy the competitor. That can make it happen, but there is also another way it can happen, and that is the way of Jesus, where he says, “No, no. What you need to do is be quiet. Be still. Let this gift called the Holy Spirit enter into you, burn out everything that is illusion, half-truths, lies.” You don’t get what you want by taking away from everybody else. You get what you want by giving everything to everybody else.
These are the kinds of things that we call wisdom, but they’re also called higher consciousness. And this Jesus, this God/man comes into the world, the new Adam, to have a new paradigm, a new model. The old paradigm, the Old Testament, has its followers surrender to the law, which tells you to do what you’re told. The law of the New Testament calls for you to become who you are, how you grow, and invite this mysterious process of transformation to take place in you, because you are going to find a place of comfort. There’s a wound in every human being. The wound in every human being is that we don’t find that place of home. We feel alienated, isolated, maybe because we’re a different color than someone else, maybe because we have a different sexual orientation than someone else, maybe because we’re not of the same economic level as someone else — this idea that we’re always in competition, trying to find home, where it’s so clear that Jesus is the model that we have of what we long for most — an intimate, personal relationship with two people, God and self. That’s home right there.
I believe in God. I believe in who he is. I believe what he’s doing within the world. I trust in the craziness of it. I trust in the fact that it goes up and down, up and down, but somehow it’s always moving in the direction that it’s called to move, because human beings have this life force, this life essence in them that keeps moving them toward wholeness, toward finding this core place of peace. And into the world came this figure, this new Adam, this new level of consciousness. It’s amazing. We still struggle with it, but more and more and more people are seeing it now. I swear that we are going through the most powerful period of evolution that the human race has ever gone through. All you have to do is look around the world. Everything is being re-examined. Everything is being found out. The secret is out. The secret that was hidden from the beginning is that life is not a place of slavery to external rules and laws forcing us to be someone who then gets a reward or punishment. No, the secret is that life is an interior journey of self-discovery and the discovery of a God who created you and who wants to live inside you and help you to become all that you are intended to be, which somehow sounds selfish, but isn’t easy. Nothing is harder than honest, clear self-evaluation, radical honesty, authenticity about who you are, and only do it in an environment that is safe and loving, a place like home. And that is what God has created for you and for me. That is what this baby in the manger represents, a radical change of consciousness, a radical change of focus for why we are here and what we are doing. It's a beautiful story. It’s probably why we love Christmas more than most feasts. It’s why we want to go home, and then we often find that, when we get home, it’s like, “Oh, my God. This is not what I wanted.” Not always, but sometimes. But that’s life, because it isn’t found in that relationship with other people. That’s when you share it, when you find it, but it’s found in a more intimate place between you, yourself and God. That’s the mystery, and that’s the hope, and that’s what people are seeing. And that will truly bring peace and change the world.
Father, your gift, your presence within us is our greatest hope, is our greatest challenge. It calls us to a life of freedom from law and rules to live a life of authenticity and creativity. It is our destiny. So let this Christmas season, this Christmas celebration fill us with hope that this promise is not something that we have to achieve, but rather something that will be given, gifted to us, and we need to ponder it and wonder about it and receive it and let it take root inside of us. And we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.