The Manger of the Heart
I. “Rejoice…shout in triumph…your king is coming” (Zechariah 9:9) and “there will be…distress of nations, with perplexity…men’s hearts failing for fear” (Luke 21:25).
Of all teachings, the Coming of Christ can be one of the most confusing. On the one hand, the scriptures tell us to rejoice. Jesus is the incarnation of joy, goodness and peace, after all. We should wait for Him like a bride on her wedding day. On the other hand, the scriptures warn us, God’s coming is dreadful. It shakes up the world and the hearts of men. Here are the words of Christ Himself,
“There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars, and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea, and the waves roaring: men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads: for your redemption draweth nigh” (Luke 21:25-28).
II. Two kinds of people.
God’s arrival has two affects on the world.
For some, God brings terrible fright and anger. This is because, in their heart, they don’t really want God. He doesn’t fit in their world. Dan Simmons, a sci-fi author, expressed this in unapologetic words, “I wish we had the technology to fight God on an equal basis. To beard him in his den. To fight back…” and atheists like Hitchens call God a monster and tyrant. We are seeing more and more of this in our culture. While “Tolerance” was once the mantra of the liberal left, that has changed. Today, more and more people are opposed openly to Christianity.
But anger at God is not the real problem. Forgetfulness of God is far more serious.
Most of us simply don’t have time for God. We’re so busy that he takes a backseat. We’re so comfortable that we don’t really feel a need for God, and “feeling good” is what it’s all about, right?
III. Let’s look back at our scripture.
Christ prophecies that there will be signs in the sky and ocean, and that the “powers of heaven will be shaken.” In a homily, St. John Chrysostom explains that this is a metaphor. He begins, “As swiftly as the moon and stars fade before the rising sun, so before the glorious appearance of Christ, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give her light, and the stars will fall from heaven; stripped of their former splendor.” He goes on to explain the stars and moon as a symbol of everything we get caught up in on earth, our idols and vanities. The sun and moon represent everything down here that we’ve made more important than God, whether its shopping or entertainment or values like social justice and humanism.
Next to God, all these things that seemed so important will look like dust. Everything apart from God is straw. All our aspirations and accomplishments, void of love for Christ, are vapor. That would be a frightening realization indeed.
IV. But there’s the second group of people.
For others, the coming of Jesus Christ is pure bliss. Why? All along, their hearts weren’t invested in this world. They were anchored in the Kingdom.
You remember Lot and his wife?
Both were saved from the fire that destroyed Sodom. Yet, his wife loved Sodom, the shopping and the sensuality. She looked back and perished with the ashes. Lot was saved because he kept his eyes on the mountain.
Which one will you be?
This is the meaning of Advent.
V. Advent is a beautiful time of year.
It’s a time where families gather, homes are decked with lights, and the world smells of fresh pine, dried oranges and spiced cider. We remember our Savior born in the manger come to restore paradise. But in the midst of the sweet joy of Advent, is a invitation to fine-tune our hearts. This is a time for quiet and repentance.
Our worship says it all. The vestments are in purple. The room is somber and still. We don’t sing the ‘Gloria,’ and we replace the “Ite Missa Est” with “Benedicamus Domino” (Let us bless the Lord). “Ite Missa Est” is triumphant and exciting. “Benedicamus Domino” is a call to get on our knees.
One advent candle is lit today. With each Sunday we light an additional candle. There’s a progression, a journey, as though we’re staying up late at night, lighting candle after candle, waiting for our father to come home. You feel it in the air. Something is happening. Someone is coming.
VI. This is our time for preparing.
A Christian apologist once had this to say about Advent: “What Christians do (or should be doing), during Advent and leading up to Christmas is a foreshadowing of what they will do during the days of their lives that lead up to the Second Coming; what non-Christians refuse to do during Advent, and put off until after Christmas, is precisely a foreshadowing of what they will experience at the Second Coming. We Christians are to prepare for the Coming of Christ before He actually comes -- and that Coming is symbolized and recalled at Christmas. Non-Christians miss this season of preparation, and then scramble for six days after the 25th to make their resolutions. By then, however, it's too late -- Christmas has come and gone, Our Lord has already made His visitation to the earth.”
Advent is the evening when the virgins waited for their bridegrooms. Some kept their lamps burning. Others extinguished them. We are the virgins and Christ is the bridegroom.
Advent is the long day, when the master went out from his household and the good servants waited faithfully to receive him back. Christ tells us today as He told his disciples long ago, “Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning…and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching.”
VII. Where is your heart?
This year, I want to encourage you, let this be the theme of your advent. Where is your heart? Is there joy inside, anger, gratitude, discontent, adoration? Is your heart consumed with love for Christ? If not, then with what other gods have you replaced him?
Something about Christmas makes us young again. The lights and magic waken a little wonder, and bring us to our knees. Don’t let the season slip by you. Four weeks to slow down and knock at the door of the heart. May our Lord and Savior give us the grace to surrender our hearts to Him.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.