Saturday, December 5, 2009

First Christmas Gift 2009

Here's what I'm thinking about as I'm getting ready to preach tomorrow.

Last night, at suppertime, the doorbell rang.  What do you suppose I found?  No one.  Only my first Christmas gift!  On the top was written "HAPPY HOLIDAYS!"--and inside?  Water and dirt.

Maybe that's how some people will feel tomorrow when they come to church and hear a message based on Malachi (3:1-4) and Luke 3:1-20:
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come... But who can endure the day of his coming... for he is like a refiner's fire and like fuller's soap. (Malachi 3)
It might be good to get refined and cleaned, but who wants that as we're getting ready to celebrate Christmas?

Receiving that gift yesterday was like looking into my own soul.  As I looked through the dirty glass at the rest of the mess inside, I was reminded that I too am "by nature sinful and unclean" and that I have sinned in thoughts, in words, and in what I've done and left undone.  Seeing my own life reflected in that dirty jar of dirt was like listening to John the Baptist:
John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:7-9)
John the Baptist was Jesus' relative who was sent by God to preach and baptize just before Jesus.  John the Baptist was a bold, fearless preacher who lost his head to King Herod--he accused Herod of adultery because he and his brother's wife had arranged to divorce their spouses to marry each other.  Uncompromising--that's John.  And Jesus was no less provocative.  He taught that if I so much as LOOK at another woman and want her in a sexual way that I am guilty too--committing adultery in my heart.

When I look at this dirty jar I see an illustration of my life--a picture of my sin.

But it's not just sexual sin that John and Jesus preach against.  Luke 3:19 says that the reason King Herod shut John up in prison was "because of Herodias, his brother's wife, and because of all the evil things Herod had done."  John's message hit other sensitive places. For example, how would wealthy and powerful King Herod have reacted to this part of John's message:
And the crowds asked him [John], “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (Luke 3:10-11)
And how do you and I, if we have more than two coats and do have extra food and much more than what we really need to live... How do we react to that kind of radical talk?  Do we say, "Preach it, John! Dish the dirt! Make me feel really bad about my middle-class American life!"  And how do we react to Jesus, when he says
“Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. ... I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who insult you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:25-31)
How do we react to that?  We rationalize, we get out from under those Words of God somehow, don't we. Or, if we hear that kind of talk too often, we say our preachers are being too politically correct!  Or, if our family or sexual life is less than pure, we become liberal Christians.

Every time that God's Law comes down on us, we squirm to the left or to the right--forgetting, as we are learning in our Bible study these days, that the Word of God--the Law of God--it's a two-edged sword.  It does not let us escape.

Have a more-or-less intact family?  Well good for you!  But what about the way you look down on others who don't?  Take a good look at James 2:10--Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. Think some sins are "abominations" and others are not? Sorry!  All sin, no matter how "innocent" it may seem to you and me, no matter which commandment it violates--All sin is detestable to God and separates us from him forever--unless Jesus comes with his amazing love.

No matter how clean we may look on the outside--inside, away from public, we're like this jar.  Dirty, sinful, unclean--even dangerous... I walked into someone's house tonight with this jar.  They had clean white carpet--made them a bit nervous... And when I walk into someone's life with my expletive deleted?  As those who know me well if there isn't a lot of that under the surface in my life.  I am often selfish, sometimes cowardly, often unthinking--and many times I justify messiness by saying I'm just being spontaneous and filled with the Spirit of God.  We'd always like to think that real sin, real dirt, it's what is in you, or those out there--but certainly not in me.

But the truth is that this jar--this jar full of dirt--and this tough preaching from John and Jesus--it really is a gift.  It's a gift for three reasons:
  1. Without knowing my sin I won't look for a Savior.  Without knowing how desperately lost I am I will think I'm okay when I'm really not.  If I don't know I am dirty and sinful inside I won 't look for someone, Jesus, to come and give me forgiveness and cleansing and new birth.  But when I see my sin I just might look for the one John preaches about who will save me in the end.
  2. If I don't know my sin I will think I'm better than others--and if I do, I won't get along with hardly anyone--except maybe just a few people who let me be the best. If I don't know my sin I'll be intolerant and unforgiving. If I don't know my sin I will not be able to work with those who aren't just like me. I won't be patient.  I'll give up on people. 

  3. And without knowing my sin I won't take a good look to see if there actually is something good and worthwhile growing inside--a little bit of hope of a new day.  If you look closely at this holiday gift someone gave me, if you're not afraid to look in the muck, if you've allowed the savior to come right into the worst part of you, if you know your sin better than other people's, then you will see that there's a little sign here--a little sign of new life--a little sign of being born again.

It's true.  Look closely!  There's a little plant spring up in the dirt.  By looking at the muck of my life, by confessing my sins and receiving the Lord, God's love will cause little signs of his life to grow right here--right in me.

This jar--it really is a gift.  Thank you so much to whoever left it on my doorstep last night.  And John the Baptist--and the whole Word of God--it is a gift too when it jabs at me and makes me look at my sin, recognize my desperate need for a savior, gives me patience with others and the muck of their lives, and makes me rejoice with the tiniest signs of God's love.

No comments:

Post a Comment