Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Yet Another One More Chance
Psalm 25: 1-10
This is the first Sunday of Advent. Came fast, didn’t it? This is one of those years where it comes right after Thanksgiving. The secular world is on top of it, all right, because the Christmas movies started Friday. Has Magic 93 gone to all Christmas music yet?
There are ministers who will tell you that you really shouldn’t sing the Christmas songs in the hymnal until the Sundays after Christmas; that this time of Advent is a time of waiting and preparing. The church historically considered this another opportunity, like Lent, for repentance and the acknowledgement of sin. In other words, no joy till Christmas Eve. As I’ve gotten more experienced as a pastor, I’ve come to believe that it is hard to repent, and even harder to force others to. It’s not my job to require repentance, it’s just my job to provide the space and conditions, and sometimes even teach the way to a closer relationship, a closer walk with God. And it becomes very weird for me that the people who started Christmas, the Feast of the nativity of our Lord, refuse to sing the music of celebration of the birth of Jesus in the time of preparation of that feast.
There are those who would say that their relationship with God is just fine at arms’ length. You don’t ask much of God, so you don’t want God to ask much of you. After working all day, taking care of the home bills or the cooking for a family, or doing the farm chores, is there really time enough for prayer and reading Scripture? I get it—it’s an honest worry, than if you close your eyes to pray, you might just fall asleep. “I do try to be a good person, isn’t that enough?”
Enough? Enough for what? I think that deep down inside, what we want to know is where we’re going when we die. It all comes down to that. I have no idea where that minimum line is. I don’t think it is a certain number of Sundays that you’ve attended church, I don’t think it is how many lines of Bible you’ve read in a week. I don’t even think it is whether you own a Bible. The Bible is just a tool to increase your relationship with God, it isn’t anything mystical, and it isn’t like buying an insurance policy. Trust me folks, living a good life and being a good person doesn’t ward off cancer.
There is no minimum line, so I default on the Methodist attitude of the virtue of effort. What God wants, I think, isn’t three out of four Sundays in church and more than a dollar a Sunday in the plate. That isn’t what God is looking for. God wants you to listen. God wants you to reach for him (or her, whichever gender is better for your discipleship), in a meaningful way.
I think the psalm I read this morning is a good way to think about how to be with God this Advent, and perhaps even daily all year long; teach me your ways, O God, and forget the way I’ve been in the past. Isn’t that the moral of most Christmas stories? Isn’t that the point of A Christmas Carol, what most folks consider to be the best Christmas story ever? (some of you may be thinking, well, no, the best Christmas story is the story of the birth of our Savior; I would respond to you by saying that the birth of Jesus isn’t a story about Christmas. It is Christmas, and all the other stories are trying to explain the meaning of that central, core story.)
As you listen to this Psalm, what the speaker is saying is that he’s hoping for yet another one more chance. That’s our Advent hook. Advent is a time set aside for Christians to think about how they’ve been, who they want to be, and in a context of goodwill in the society they live in, when people are actually thinking about who to donate money to, perhaps for the first time all year, have the opportunity to really make changes that could last all year.
Now is the opportunity to reconnect with old friends who have drifted away; it just looks like a Christmas card.
Now is the chance to make that phone call with the family member who has driven you nuts for years. It is more easily done under the guise of a Christmas greeting.
Now is the time to send money to that charity you’ve wanted to support, but haven’t found the time.
God is constantly striving for us. God’s grace shows us that God will indeed forgive us our trespasses; we know that if we reach out to God, there will be love and grace. This year, can you reach back?
Are you ready for yet another one more chance? Are you ready to give others yet another one more chance? After all, one is being offered to you.