If you find yourself in the bleak midwinter of life, the Christmas feast we’ll celebrate tomorrow is especially for you. If your health is failing, if your marriage is struggling, if your loved ones are dying, if you look at the mess of your life and are suffering the heartache that sin always brings, Christmas is for you. Christmas isn’t just for the kids. It’s for the grown-ups. It’s for us when we’ve reached the end of the line, when our hope is gone, when our hearts are frozen in the bleak midwinter of grief and anger and we wonder where God went. When that’s where we are, our lives are in the season of Advent.
Do we see, or witness, or experience, a wave of God’s grace and immediately run off to spend it? Do we respond to a prompting of God’s spirit by jumping into action, running off to Home Depot for lumber or to Target for Christmas gifts or to the kitchen to clean up, or make a casserole? I wonder if we might be cutting off the Holy Spirit, if we might be curtailing God’s hand. Not that we wield so much power as to derail almighty God, but like toddlers, I’m afraid we might get up and start running around before the conversation is over, before God is finished speaking.
We can’t get rid of John the Baptist’s call to repentance and we shouldn’t try, but neither do we have to be afraid of it. The experience we’ve had of false accusation and self-interested blame may give us every reason in the world to get defensive, to get our hackles up, to counter-punch and deny we’re at fault even a little. But the God who revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ is a loving God, full of both grace and truth.
Jesus said, "There will be signs… on the earth distress among nations... People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.”
And so what does Jesus tell us to do about this? We may agree or disagree about what exactly the signs are or which are the scariest of the swirling powers in the world, but the one thing we can control and change, something over which, in this tangled up and chaotic world, we do have power, is the way we choose to respond to fear and to insecurity, the way we choose to behave when we’re vulnerable.
In our more democratic era we may forget that the Jesus we read about each week, the teacher who let the little children come unto him, the good shepherd who washed his disciples’ feet, was also a great and mighty King. And not just a king, but the king of kings and lord of lords. He came to us in disguise, like a commoner, looking like just another ordinary man. He was a king, but he was a hidden king. We today may fail to see it too, just like most everyone Jesus met.
So in the spirit of stewardship season, in addition to examining our bank accounts and our spending habits, I urge us to consider those things that we hold close to our hearts, the things that, when knocked around or displaced or challenged, we rise up quickly to defend, to put back in the same spot, to restore equilibrium as quickly as possible. Because those are the things that have weaseled into our hearts. Whatever leaves us feeling adrift when it’s removed, whatever shoves us into irritation when it’s shifted, whatever makes us all twitchy when it’s disturbed, that is what we’ve been making into a god. That’s the thing that’s been controlling our thoughts and spinning up lies in our heads.
Don’t give just because this church needs it. Give instead because we need God, and so that we can reach out to our neighbors who need God too. Give because we all need to be free of the grip that money has on our hearts, of greed and pride and the anxious worry that we need every cent because we can’t depend on God. Give because when you give, to God and to the Kingdom of God, that is what your heart will begin to love.
Stewardship isn’t just a season about raising money and getting volunteers. Not at all. It’s about learning to see our whole lives as a gift from God, and offering it back as a gift. It’s not about how many zeroes are in your bank account. It’s not about how talented you think you are or how well you can sing. It’s about taking whatever gifts God has blessed you with and offering them back with a cheerful heart and a generous spirit. It’s not just about what we give to God here in church; it’s about what we give to God in our whole lives, at home, at work, in our neighborhoods, and everywhere else.