“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best….“
– Philippians 1:9-10a
What if I promised this short message would absolutely deliver what you really want this Christmas?
Do you know what you really want?
And doing that absolutely requires closing our eyes to all that’s constantly drawing our attention away.
But once you’ve blocked out the myriad distractions, then you can reopen your eyes and see better what you really want.
This is the only way to ensure you get what you really want. Honestly, I know this, but I still forget it all the time.
Charlotte comes home from a class Christmas party. She shows me the gingerbread house she made and tells me the kindergartener brother of her friend wouldn’t stop teasing and play-attacking the girls the entire time. And Charlotte’s anxiety over being picked out to receive “fake” kicks and punches in the face has kept her from doing much decorating. Somehow, being harassed and chased with makeshift weapons sort of does that to her.
I, of course, immediately want to call the parents and demand an explanation for this cretinous spawn of hell who’s obviously going completely neglected as the youngest of 3–and of course, this is also the family who’s in the midst of adopting 3 more from some African country they heard about through their church. I want to tell them what I frequently want to tell parents adopting more kids: When you show us you can handle the ones you have, your village will vote on whether you can have more. Until then, we have a responsibility to society to oppose your negligence and stop the carnage.
I’m kidding, but it can almost feel that bad. I don’t dislike these parents or not see how hard their life is or what motivates them to endure the chaos and even embrace it. They’re saints. But for me, it’s a matter of survival to escape their mayhem and live to decorate another day. I’m just one whose battery wears out faster than most.
Of course, the message in church today (second Sunday of Advent) was all about this need to escape. Or was it just how I heard it? But instead of the usual conviction for being me (probably 89% of the time), this time the message felt affirming. Don’t you love when that happens? Pastor Jim spoke on “Heading Toward Christmas by Another Way,” preparing, and making room in our hearts by doing what John the Baptist said and did–namely, getting away from people to eliminate distractions. And he equated this letting go, this getting away from all else as “making room” for Christ, i.e. getting right for him, i.e. repenting.
I know–I thought repenting was kind of an “I’m all wrong” kind of thing. But this kind, in the context of silence, recharging in the desert like the prophet, it finally made sense:
Repentance is not about admitting you’re all wrong. Repentance is all about admitting your need to let go, to make a space, to make room for God.
And this is true for innies and extras and fighters and peacekeepers–it’s only in that freedom from familiarity of outside influences that we human beings can get truly unburdened.
I love this idea, I thought. Maybe I’m not so deficient after all!
I suppose I can get so used to feeling weak, as I heard someone call it, “constantly feeling like a broken extrovert.” But what if I’m actually uniquely gifted with an internal desire to not only get away frequently, but to be only influenced, recharged and changed by God. Alone?
This was a radically different view of repentance for me. It’s still about getting right with God and denouncing the things that are opposed to him. But if we really know what our hearts want, we feel some of this desire. That longing for such a solitary unifying experience with God is endemic to the human heart, these hearts made to love their Maker, who long to wake up and feel his radiant smile of pride shining down on them, who long to please him and finally get free of all that holds them back from full union.
This desire for such full repentance is the oppositional way that may actually be a deeper desire all his followers share.
To be changed, reformed by that singular relationship alone. To be further up and further in… To be free, in the end, of all other relationships–people, places, things, ideas and all other encumbrances–and belong to him only…
Isn’t this the only way we might love more fully? And how love might “abound in more and more knowledge and depth of insight?”
So what if it’s only from this place of purity that we might once again come back, open our eyes, and see how to return to the crowded, needy world with that real love and fire to share? Filled by that primary relationship, we’d be made something new, changed and truly reformed.
Isn’t that what you want above all this Christmas–the peace and reassurance of knowing that love, knowing we’re always safe, held and known in it? Isn’t it what we all want deep down?
And what if we can only get there if we’re willing to head a different direction than the comfort we’re commonly told we need to ensure?
What if getting what we really want this Christmas is a different way than the usual direction we take to prepare for our perfect celebration?
What if the way to that perfect gift is only by letting go of all else to make room in our hearts for him?
Repent. Make room. And receive your greatest gift this Christmas.
Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, make his paths straight!'”
For the higher purpose, this season and throughout the coming year,