Today is the first day of Advent. As Dale explained to the kids Advent is the season of preparation for the birth of Jesus. A season of reflecting upon God’s love for us and the world as shown in God coming down to us, as one of us, as Jesus Christ.
I’m grateful for seasons in general. Where I grew up in Seattle, the joke is that we had four seasons. Rain, Rainier, Gray and Grayer. Before we moved here Pastor Troy warned me: “Grand Haven is beautiful, but you need to know you’re moving to Seattle Jr.” Unlike Seattle, we do have four distinct seasons here in Grand Haven. And I’m thankful for that! The leaves coming back on the trees and the flowers blooming in the spring gets us out of our tendency to hibernate in the winter. The summer brings the warming of Lake Michigan, finally making it swimmable. Fall brings in the beautiful colors of changing leaves and relief from the summer humidity. Seasons usher in a new pace to our lives that helps us get out of the daily grind. Seasons renew our sense of routine. You could say that seasons are an opportunity for renewal.
The same could be said for Advent. Advent is an opportunity for renewal in our faith. A time to reorient ourselves to Jesus. It’s a chance to take a step back from our normal routines and make space to reflect upon why the Advent and Christmas seasons are so special.
This is what Paul is saying in our passage from Romans. It is time to reorient ourselves toward Jesus. A time to take inventory of whether or not we are keeping Christ at the center. He says to the Christians in Rome: “You know what time it is. It’s time to wake up.” According to Paul every morning they wake they are one day closer to Christ returning. While Paul may have thought Jesus was going to return in his lifetime (obviously that didn’t happen), his theology was still spot on. Essentially Paul is asking: “Are you living a life reflective of your faith in Jesus Christ?”
According to Paul, such a life is one that does not revel in “drunkenness, debauchery, and licentiousness” or in “quarreling and jealousy.” To live a life reflective of one’s faith in Jesus Christ is to live a life that’s different from the majority of the culture. As with any major modern or ancient city, Rome was full of places where you could go to indulge in an excess of alcohol and sex. As with any place that contains people there was jealousy and quarreling among them. Paul wants us to take inventory of our lives. Are we living lives that are different? Lives set apart from those who indulge in unhealthy and destructive practices?
Many Christians have focused so much on living differently from others that the focus becomes “what not to do” rather than on Christ himself. Plus it’s easy for us to say: “I don’t engage in debauchery or drunkenness so I’m doing just great as a Christian!” But then we skip over the fact that Paul lists jealousy and quarreling as other aspects of a life that is not reflective of one who follows Jesus Christ. For many of us, it’s much harder to not be jealous or to quarrel with others than it is to abstain from drunkenness and debauchery.
Paul lists drunkenness, debauchery, licentiousness, jealousy, and quarreling as actions we need to abstain from because they don’t reflect the love that Christ has for each one of us. If we engage in any of the above we are not loving ourselves or others well. And when we don’t love others well we aren’t loving Christ well. We love others well when we are living out of Christ’s love for us.
While drunkenness, debauchery, jealousy, and quarreling are all different actions with different levels of severity, the motivation behind them is the same. They all come out of some sense of brokenness within each of us.
The person who engages in extreme drunkenness is trying to numb themselves from a pain that’s too difficult to face. The same could be said for the person engaging in any licentious behavior. We become jealous of others because we think that whatever they have that we don’t could make us happier or feel more secure. We do that rather than asking ourselves why we are unhappy or feeling insecure in the first place. What Paul lists here are just symptoms of a deeper problem. The problem of brokenness in each one of us. Christ wants to heal that brokenness in each one of us. It’s why Christ came to be with us in the first place.
Pastor and author John Pavlovitz shared in a devotion titled “Messy Nativity,” how when he and his wife were expecting their first child he did all he could as a committed husband to support his wife through the process of pregnancy and childbirth. While he did all he could to prepare for the birth of their first child, when it came time for the birth of their son it soon became apparent that nothing could have prepared him for the actual birth. He shares that the “sights, sounds and smells were sensory overload that were beyond words. I, however, remained upright, but barely.” Essentially he didn’t realize how messy childbirth could be.
We tend to sanitize the birth of Jesus Christ as well. Mary was in pain y’all. Who knows maybe Joseph had trouble staying upright too. But God willingly experienced a messy birth so that he could enter into our messiness. So he could be with us in our brokenness so that we would know God does not see us as our brokenness. Through Jesus Christ, God sees us as more than our sins, but as his beloved creation.
And if we truly believed this we would be better about loving ourselves and others well. In the verses prior to this passage, Paul writes: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”
The only one who can love others perfectly is Jesus Christ. The good news is that through Jesus Christ we are able to able to love others better. This is why Paul says we are to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” What he means by that is we should not live out of whatever brokenness we are trying to numb, but we should live out of who Christ says we are. But the way to do that is to be honest about our brokenness with God. When we name that brokenness we are no longer – as Paul says – “living in the darkness” but in the light. We are no longer engaging in any action to distract us from what is truly causing us pain because that pain no longer defines us. We are all still broken and a work in progress, but we are set free from the lie we’ve believed in so far that we are not worthy of anyone’s love – much less God’s.
If we’re honest, we all do something to numb us from whatever it is we don’t want to feel. I scroll through my phone for way longer than I should because I feel overwhelmed by all I can’t get done around the house. For the same reason many of us binge Netflix, Hulu, or whatever your streaming service of choice may be. We all have coping mechanisms that help us turn away from whatever it is we don’t want to feel.
My prayer for all of us this Advent Season, is to turn away from whatever we do to numb ourselves and instead turn toward Christ. Let’s reorient ourselves to God by allowing Jesus to see us for who we really are. Brokenness and all. Let’s allow Jesus to be our strength and guide as we face the brokenness we’ve tried to ignore for too long. Because when we do, Christ will help us see ourselves as he sees us. Not as broken people, but as people worthy of healing. People worthy of what Christ did for us on the cross.
As Christians we live in the strange tension of living in the “here, but not yet.” We won’t experience the full healing of our brokenness until Christ returns. We still look forward to that day. But we have glimpses of what that will be like when we live out of Christ’s love for us today. Today we still have to deal with our brokenness. We still have to fight the urge to numb ourselves instead of being honest with ourselves and with God about the real pain in our lives. But even in that, we rest assured that we are not alone. As we name the brokenness and darkness in ourselves, Christ remains with us.
So what could you do this Advent season to turn away from whatever it is you do that numbs you from the things you don’t want to deal with? How can you make space in your life to truly spend time with Christ so that you may know that the brokenness in your life is not what defines you, but that it is the love of Christ that defines you.
I mentioned earlier that we have Advent Devotionals available in the office. We will also have a digital Advent devotion available on our website. When we engage in these devotions we are making space in our lives to be real with God. Real about our brokenness and about our real need for Christ’s grace and love in our lives. In doing so we are truly preparing ourselves for why Christ came to be with us as one of us.