There’s this great tension that Christ-followers are called to live into in Advent. Sure, every day that followers of Jesus walk into secular workplaces and schools, into retail stores and restaurants -- Christians are entering worlds that don’t exactly line up with the call that God has placed in their lives, but the tension and pull is especially acute right now. And that’s a stress and a stretching that each of us feel. It might manifest in a shorter temper or more tiredness, it might manifest in more nervous energy or a renewed vigor to get All The Things done -- how ever this pull between God’s call and the world we live in shows up in your life, it tempts us to put things on autopilot rather than sit still and observe and stay uncomfortable in the middle of this strain.
“You have made us for yourself, O God,” St. Augustine wrote, “and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Today marks the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the Christian year, and the texts we will hear and prayers we will pray from now until Christmas are meant to stir up the restlessness that is in all our hearts, the longing, the discontent, to stir up the dying embers of our yearning and train us to set our hope upon the only ultimate hope we have: the God who will not let us rest satisfied with anything less than Him, the God who set in our hearts a longing for his kingdom to one day come.
So there are two levels of betrayal here, he’s squandered the gift he’d been entrusted with, like the younger son in the famous Prodigal parable, but unlike that younger son who realizes his wrong and humbly asks forgiveness, this third slave is stuck in his pride and his sloth, he’s more ready to put the fault back on the person who’d given him a gift in the first place. The master declares, “as for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
It seems like we’re headed here for the same Russian tragedy that is covered in that Turkish television show. It seems like Joshua was right, “this is never going to work out.” It seems like all the fashionable television critics and movie reviewers are right — brokenness and tragedy and hopelessness is just reality. It’s just what life is like. It’s all we’ve got to look forward to, so we might as well get used to it. We might as well grab our bits of happiness as we can, whether it’s in booze or in free love or in luxury goods. Whether it’s in forgetting our families for a few hours or burying our addictions in oblivion, whether it’s in being devoted to our own causes or in defeating our political enemies. Let’s do what we can while we can, for tomorrow we break down and die.
Praise God, my brothers and sisters, that this not the Gospel. This is not the truth of the world as God sees and proclaims it. This is not reality. This is not real life. Brokenness is not the final word. Hopelessness and scrambling for happiness are not our fate.
If you look carefully at the Beatitudes, you’ll notice that they aren’t commands. They’re something more like statements of fact, or even congratulations. Happy are you poor, mourning, and meek people! Congratulations, you’ve hit the jackpot, your reward is great! Jesus is saying, this is the kind of life in this world where real happiness is to be found. Congratulations! You’ve discovered it. And if you’re listening in and haven’t discovered real happiness yet, it’s right here waiting for you.
So in the end, the death of Moses is less about the injustice of him never stepping foot in the Promised Land, it is less about him being robbed of the honor he deserved, it is less about the loss of this great galvanizing leader of the Israelites, and it is more about Moses’ whole life being oriented toward God’s mission to bring his people to the land flowing with milk and honey, more about God being honored and revealed in the shape of a human life, about God providing the strength for leading and the wisdom for fulfilling a call. It is all about God, who we have come to know in Jesus Christ, being the leader and lawgiver, the focus and fulfillment, the beginning and the end, of our lives.
We learn from Moses and from Jesus this morning that it is not up to us. We are never the savior or the redeemer or the deliver, even great old prophet Moses never was. Even our Mommas who seemed to hold our families together, even our grandfathers who taught us responsibility and hard work and the value of a dollar -- it has never been up to them, it has never been up to us. We can’t make it on our own, we are not our only hope, we are not the authors of our own fate or the makers of our dreams.
The Israelites give voice to our fear in the face of Moses’s courage. While he’s ready to be challenged by the dawn of God’s glory and light, God’s people tremble for the way they might appear if the light touches them, the darkness that might be exposed, and the pain of unadjusted eyes, unprotected skin, ill-prepared souls and spirits. God leaves us with a question here in Exodus this morning; are our hearts ready to be warmed by his rays, to be melted by his presence, to be refined by his fire?