PENANCE SERVICE ADVENT 2014

Recently a friend told me someone we both knew had lost her faith.  I had a strange thought.  I wonder if she is happy.  You don’t usually associate losing one’s faith with happiness, yet most of the decisions we make in life tend toward making us happier, more complete and more satisfied.  If one lets go of their faith, rather than struggling with it, has one made a considered decision that this is what makes sense for themselves, that this is what brings peace?  Are they happier?

We know from experience that is hardly ever the case.  That those who lose faith are not happier or more joyful. They often seem in a rush to fill it up whatever place faith held in their lives but no new activity, hobby or habit can replace the living God. If faith was not fulfilling before, they have retreated to a place where they can never be filled.  There will always be something missing of hope, salvation and promise because we are designed to have this hope, we were built to believe.  Our incompleteness without God is one of the great arguments for faith; indeed it is one of the great arguments for the existence of God!

By why am I telling people who come out to a penance service on a chilly December night or an accountant in Atlanta taking time to read a blog in the midst of Christmas craziness.   Surely, you have faith.  But to the degree that we sin, that we hurt, that we fail to follow the path God has led us on, we are making the same choice as those who lose faith.  We are making a choice away from the wholeness and the peace God wants to give us in abundance.

The Prophet Isaiah celebrates all that God will give us.  “All you who are thirsty, come to the water!  You who have no money, come, buy grain and eat; Come, buy grain without money, wine and milk without cost!  Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what does not satisfy?  Only listen to me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare.”  That is God’s desire for us. But every sin, is a choice against the goodness God prepares for us.  We see what God has to offer, know its goodness, and yet try to improve upon it, think of something that might work better for ourselves.  We come up with a superior idea of what constitutes happiness, why we deserve more than the Creator has bestowed.

So we choose what has not been chosen for us, take what has not been given and go where God has not led us. And for that we need a reconciling moment.  A time of mercy that we might return to the good things God has desired for us, a rest in the divine, a moment to trust again that “My word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me empty, but shall do what pleases me, achieving the end for which I sent it.”  To place ourselves in the arms of a God who does not fail.

And that is why we return to the example of John the Baptist whose ministry was dedicated to the eradication of sin.  They tried to give him what was not chosen for him, to take another path than God had chosen.  They want to give him more than he deserves.  Surely, you must be the Messiah. Yet he denies it.  Surely, you must be Ellijah.  No.  At least the Prophet.  Not even that.  He is content, pleased to be simply that “voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”  It reminds us of what he will say later concerning his relationship with Jesus, “He must increase; I must decrease.”

So let this be the moment we make the same declaration.  Let us decrease.  Let us decrease our pride, our willfulness, our selfishness and pettiness, so that Jesus Christ might increase in our lives.  Let us not claim to be the light but to testify to it as John the Baptist did.  Let us be reconciled, literally to be made right with God.

Then from this gift of mercy, we might emerge not as masters only of our own creation but as messengers of God’s Gospel and vehicles of God’s grace.  Let us return to the way God has chosen – a path of happiness, joy and peace.  Let us walk in the straight way of the divine and forsake the crooked way that diverts us from the grace for which we were built.  Let us know God’s forgiveness and become an instrument of God’s peace. When the Christ child comes to humbly dwell with humanity this Christmas, let us humbly allow him to dwell within us.

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