Sunday, December 02, 2007

Sermon for December 2, Advent 1: Where is God?

Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44

Let me tell you about a conversation I had last Sunday after church. Someone said to me, I liked your sermon, especially the end, when you talked about how your grandfather still loved the Dutch Queen, and you know, I want to have Jesus in my heart, like other people do, but I don’t feel like I do.

I was both gratified and mystified. I didn’t see the connection. Of course the sermon preached is not always the sermon heard. Maybe I was unclear, or maybe what I said could be taken a different way than what I meant, or what I said touched off a deeper issue in the listener’s mind.

Well, I your preacher am a jealous preacher, and I like my sermons to mean what I mean them to mean, so I reviewed my point that our hearts have a place that desires to love and be loyal to someone who is Lord, like a king. Then I said it’s not that Jesus is in my heart. Jesus is out there, on the right hand of the Father.

Then I mentioned that the Lutherans and the Reformed differ from the Methodists on this. The Lutherans and the Reformed emphasize Jesus being objectively outside us, for us to put our faith in, while the Methodists emphasize the subjective inner feeling in our hearts. I said it’s important not to base our faith on our feelings, as feelings come and go, but to base our faith on something objective, something public, on the promises of God. And the way that God is in our hearts is not Jesus but the Holy Spirit, and that makes things different.

The person said, Whatever; I want to have the feeling of God in my heart.

Well, that is the same desire as the Advent hymn that we just sang:
Redeemer come, we open wide / our hearts to thee, here Lord abide;
Let us thy inner presence feel, / thy grace and love to us reveal.
(And that was written by a Lutheran, not a Methodist!)

So this Advent season I will preach a series on how God comes to us, not just generally, but personally. Can I have God in my heart, and know it and feel it?

We will be guided by the scripture lessons from the lectionary. So we will put off until Advent 3 the matter of feelings, the feeling of God inside you. Next week, Advent 2, I’ll talk about making room for God inside you. On the fourth week I’ll talk about moving with the God who comes to you. Today I’ll talk about the desire for God, the longing for God, and the longing for the experience of God.

The longing for God is good and right, it is built into us, we are designed to desire God. But this longing can be painful, because God can seem so absent and so far away. We tend to blunt this longing, even to make ourselves insensitive to it, whether from our pride, or frustration, or long dissatisfaction. We compensate with food and drink, we substitute with sex and science, with the lure of the flesh and the life of the mind. We occupy ourselves with materialism. Buying this, buying that, and we feel less guilty about it if we are buying for someone else. We devote ourselves to other people’s expectations, laboring to make them happy by the presents we wrap and the table we spread. It would be fine if it were not a distraction and diversion. At least I can manage my appetites and occupations, but God is so great and so distant and so uncontrollable, so it’s easy to substitute.

It is not so much ironic, as it is poignant and even predictable, that Advent should coincide with the month that is most materialistic, whether from purchasing or from partying. We commit to passing satisfactions, and we starve ourselves of what we deeply long for. This season is the costliest and busiest, and our restlessness indicates how deep a desire we are diverting from. St. Augustine reminds us, "Thou has made us for thyself O God, and our souls are restless till they find their rest in thee."

We are troubled by the poignancy of our desire for God. We are discomforted by this longing. We are not used to dealing with real hunger, we who have cash on hand, to just get something to eat. We live in a culture that emphasizes the early satisfaction of our appetites and the quick resolution of our feelings. If you desire it, get it. So we think, what’s wrong with me, that I keep on having this desire?

Why don’t I feel God when other people do? Where is God, where’s God in my own life? Because the satisfaction seems distant I reach for closer compensations. And so therefore what the practice of piety offers is help to keep me from going to those compensations. The practices of piety help to keep the longing sharp, to stay with it and not to be afraid of it. The practices of piety also confirm in me the promises of God and the faithfulness of God, that God will come, that God will come and let me know it. The practices of piety help me trust the time and place of God.

The life of faith requires a leap. The act of faith is a projection. We have to believe in what we cannot know in the way that we know other things. We have to be satisfied in what we cannot get in the way that we get other things. What we know best is our own fears, our doubts are what we are most certain of. We are convinced of our failures, and the wrongs that others have done to us, and in our virtues we have small confidence. The practices of piety help me aim and project my powerful subjective feelings into the goal of the objective public promises.

Let yourself fully feel your longing. Don’t drown yourself in it, but fully give yourself to it in ways that are intelligent and mindful and responsible. We learn from it. The longing makes us richer and deeper, more open, less proud, sweeter, more gentle. God has placed the longing in you. If you feel the desire for God in you, that already is from God’s Spirit inside you, building a nest inside you, in which there will be life to come. You wouldn’t have the desire unless God’s Spirit were at work in you already. We do not look for God until God calls us.

And I believe there is another value to feeling the desire and the length of our longing. It’s because God is going somewhere. God is moving somewhere. The God of the Bible is not the static God of the philosophers, nor the ethereal higher power of the universe that is somehow always there. The God of the Bible is purposeful and intentional. This God has designs, this God has designs for the world and designs on us. This God has a project, a project that we can know of now sufficiently, but also is more fully in the future, and we can know of it only in part.

God is taking us there. We need to be discontent with what is now. We need to long for resolution, and also recognize that the resolution is something we cannot achieve but must receive.

God takes us there by means of Instruction. Isaiah 2:3. Out of Zion shall go forth Torah: instruction, the law, the commandments, the wisdom, the word of God. And we desire it. Tell us more. Tell us how should walk. Remind us how we should be saved. Remind us who we are and whom we belong to. The word of God is both the satisfaction and the stimulation.

I rejoice in that passage from Isaiah. It excites our desire and it stimulates our longing. The mountain of the Lord’s house rising up, all nations streaming up to it, all nations learning peace, desiring to walk in the light of the Lord. That prophecy has more than one fulfillment. We see it fulfilled already in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, and his gospel spreading through the nations. We will see it more fully when he comes again, though how and when we do not know. The news of it is both to stimulate and satisfy. The more in you it satisfies, the more it stimulates. The more you get of God the more you long for God.

Yesterday morning the sunrise was at 6:59 A.M. I watched the sunrise from my window that looks out over the park. But at 6:00 A.M. already I was there, when it was still dark. And that’s when I could see Venus low in the sky. It is called the morning star. It reflects the light of the sun before we can see the sun. Venus tells me that the dawning is at hand. And so the darkness before the dawn is a joyful pleasure in itself. And that is our life now. In the darkness of the world we live as children of the light.

Copyright © 2007 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.

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