Prepare Your Heart

This is my sermon from November 27th, 2016. We celebrated the first Sunday of Advent, and I reflected on the words from Romans and what it means for us in todays’ world.

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires – Romans 13:11-12; 14

Today, this day, is one of my favorite days. It is the start of Advent, a time of expectant waiting. A time where we prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. Christ’s birth wasn’t filled with the pomp and circumstance like it is when a member of the Royal Family is about to have a baby. Christ was born in the middle of the night, to a young girl, in a barn on the edge of town. It doesn’t get any more country-fried than that.

Today, we begin to prepare our hearts. I don’t know about you, but any time I get to hold a newborn baby, my heart swells…well that kind of makes me sound like The Grinch – I promise you I’m not. There is so much hope when you meet a newborn for the first time. You place your hopes and dreams into this 6 pound bundle of joy.  I felt it when I first met my niece. I pictured the world ahead of her, full of potential and hope. I knew when I held her that I had no worries about the person she would become.

I wonder what Mary felt when she held Jesus in those first moments. No doubt she was exhausted from giving birth. No doubt she was elated because she had brought life in to this world, but I wonder what sort of dread filled her? She knew that Jesus was born for a certain reason, one that she couldn’t quite grasp.  One that took his entire life for her to understand. I imagine Mary held him knowing he was meant for great, and often times scary things in this world. Before we can prepare, we have to awaken from our sleep.

What does it mean to wake from our sleep? More often than not, we walk through life going through the motions. We all have our morning routines, don’t we? For some, you’ll get up, brush your teeth, go downstairs, put the coffee on, read the paper. For others, you’ll get up, get the kids ready, get them out the door and hours later remember to brush your teeth and maybe your hair if things aren’t too busy for you that day. We are so used to doing things the same way that we have always done them. It’s the same way we were taught to wash our hair: shampoo, rinse, repeat.

It’s the same way we go through the motions in worship. I can stand here on Communion Sundays and repeat the liturgy word-for-word, with no notes around me. I think we have lost some of the sacredness that accompanies knowing the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostles Creed by heart. We have lost the “by heart” piece. We have become so used to the motions, that we forget what it is we’re really saying. What we’re really asking God to do in our midst, in spite of us.

To wake from our sleep is to pay attention to what is happening around us.  God is moving and acting in miraculous ways, not only around us, but through us. Because of us, and in spite of us. We are to wake up to what’s going on in our midst. For some it means waking up to the reality that all is not well in our families, our community, our nation…our world.  We are to awaken to the fact that we have not always done what God would have us do. We do those things that make us most comfortable, and at the end of the day, we feel good about it.

However, the coming of Christ ushers in the change of the status quo. Jesus was not born so that he could give us a sugar-coated image of what life should look like. Jesus was born so that the world be turned upside down. A complete 180 from what the norm was.

To put on the armor of light is to confront the powers that be not only in our hearts, but in our world.  There are many times we let negative thoughts take over and rule our lives. For me, I’ll get it in to my head that I’ll workout in the afternoon instead of the morning. The afternoon rolls around, and I’d rather do something else and I neglect taking care of my body. If I don’t take care of my body, I can’t be the best that I need to be.  

To be in relationship with Christ is to turn from the darkness of night and move towards the light of morning. It requires us to be our best selves. It requires an intentional decision every day to walk in grace, truth and love. It requires that we love when it is hardest. Show grace when it is hardest. It requires us to speak truth when every voice around us feels stronger and louder than our own.

How do we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ-child? Our Scripture today encourages us to wake from our sleep. It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that I like to sleep. I can fall asleep almost anywhere. As a child, I would fall asleep at soccer games in stadiums, I’ve slept on a bus in the 90 degree heat in the Bahamas…when I was a teenager, my mum would say “If sleeping was an Olympic sport, then surely I would win the Gold medal every time”. I still enjoy my post-Church naps on Sunday afternoons…but that’s beside the point.

We prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ in multiple ways. At the start of worship, we invite the Holy Spirit into this space. We ask that she be in our midst, that she prepare us to worship God. We prepare our hearts for the birth of Jesus in many ways. We come to church to worship as one body, united. We may join a small group to more deeply engage the Bible and look at the aspects that make Christ’s birth so world-changing. We might buy an Advent devotional and sit quietly in our homes before the chaos of the day kicks in.

How did Mary prepare her heart? She probably panicked. I don’t know about you, but if an Angel came to me in the middle of the night and told me I was not only going to be with child, but that the child would be the Savior for all, I would have passed out. I get a bit nervous when I see a text message from an unknown number, let alone have an angel come and have a chat with me in the middle of the night. Mary, sweet young Mary. She prepared her heart and she visited with her family. She went to see her cousin Elizabeth, and in that moment her heart was overwhelmed and she rejoiced over what was happening not only within her, but because of her willingness to be obedient to God.

We prepare our hearts by being in relationship with one another.  Over the past month, I have watched as people who pass each other on Sunday mornings become engaged in one another’s lives. I have watched as our community has come together to be the hands and feet of Christ. This room of people right now doesn’t embody Christ only to one another, but is Christ to our community.  Over the past month we’ve been engaged in two community worship services, we’ve held a community-wide fundraiser, we’ve invited people to share in the joy of our Peakland life and people respond.

To be in relationship with one another is to invite people in, and be willing to commune in the highs and lows of life.  Relationship is one of the most God-like things we can do.

We prepare our hearts by studying Scripture. We actively engage the Word of God so that we not only have a better understanding of God, but so that we can better understand the narrative of God, and what our role is in the story of God.  The story of God is far from over, we are called to be actively engaged in this world, we pray every – single – week that God’s kingdom be here on earth as it is in heaven. When we ask God to move in this world like God moves in heaven, we are asking God to turn our world upside down and to shake things up.

Who knew that the birth of a baby would be that event? The story of God’s redemptive work doesn’t end with Jesus, in fact that is only beginning. So today, we begin to prepare our hearts for the journey ahead. For the joy, the tears, the pain and the hope that is born into our world. Today we are invited to be active participants in God’s work in this world. Today, I encourage you to look at what’s going on in your life, in your community, and I encourage you to look for glimpses of God’s redemption all around you.  

Let us pray (prayer from Ministry Matters):

God, we are ready now.

We want peace now.

We long to receive the Prince of Peace

in our world today.

But don’t delay too long, Holy One,

for soon we’ll be busy with parties,

and decorating, and baking, and shopping.

Our lives are crammed so full,

we find it hard to calendar you in;

we find it hard to locate the time

to welcome the Light of the World.

We need your help, O God.

Teach us to set aside our party wardrobes,

and clothe ourselves in Jesus Christ.

Guide us into true readiness,

even though we do not know the date and time,

when true peace will reign.

Wake us up;

shake off the cobwebs of our complacency;

and take us with you

on the path up your holy mountain.

Plant your peace within us,

so that each day, each moment,

we may be ready for the harvest of your love. Amen.

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