The Lord is not coming to pay your mortgage. The Lord is not coming to raise your children. The Lord is not coming to deliver you from the torments and pains of life in this world.
Jesus is not coming to do those things for you.
Also among the things Jesus is not coming to do for you: be your therapist, be your drinking buddy, make sure you get home safe after a night of drinking, get you out of that tight ethical spot you seem to have gotten yourself into at work, figure out how to tell your parents that you are pregnant, help you get a good deal on a used car or any of the other occasions wherein a person might be tempted to say a little prayer.
We do that all the time, don’t we? We say a little prayer that the total at the grocery store won’t be too high, or that we can make it to the end of the month without dipping into savings.
We ask for help. We ask for a brighter tomorrow, we ask for the things today that will make up for our weaknesses yesterday, or even ten minutes ago.
As if Jesus is coming to make up for our weaknesses, to be a Band-Aid for our owies, our stupidities, our crass selfishness, our lack of self-control. The theological term for that is Cheap Grace, a free pass a get out of jail free card for all the wrong that you do, all the self-destructive impulses you sometimes fail to fight and sometimes indulge with relish and it is surprising how common faith in Christ becomes faith in cheap grace.
It is a problem that the whole of the world faces, not just those in churches. The whole of the world seems overwhelmed by all of the options and inputs and possibilities and so we have begun to professionalize our lives. Those of you of an older generation might remember the onerous task of changing the oil in your car. It was something that you did in the driveway. With jack stands and a pan that you bought for just that purpose. It didn’t take long and it wasn’t hard and you did it every 3000 miles or so because that was what the car company recommended.
Those of you of a younger generation might remember the directions to the nearest Jiffy-Lube and if you don’t, never fear, there’s an app for that. Seriously, there’s a Jiffy-Lube app.
We have gotten away from doing the actual work of living in ways great and small. Sure, we tell ourselves that we are too busy but does it qualify as busy, watching Desperate Housewives or Grimm or Monday Night Football? Is that busy? Or is that time just filled up?
And so we farm that work out to other people.
It’s not that I don’t get it. We take our car to the dealership for oil changes but we are leasing and that’s what we are supposed to be doing. We also hire folks from the Graton Day Labor Center to pitch in in the back yard and eat in not a few restaurants because there is often no time to cook something for dinner.
I get it. It is comforting to be able to hand some of those functions over to someone else now and then, to be freed from dirty jobs. It is a sign of accomplishment, of a rising social status, to be able to hire out some of the things you find distasteful.
But is it still a status thing if everyone is doing it? I mean having someone do your lawn is great and saves time and sweat but since everybody has a lawn service, how much of a status symbol is it?
If everyone has someone else change their oil, is it still a sign of success?
So it goes with the habit of relying on someone else to take care of the details for us. There is always something else, something more, some benefit, some comfort that someone else has that we don’t. If all of our other comforts have become commonplace, then we will seek more and more, it is just the way we are wired.
I don’t know about you, but I occasionally take on a project, maybe not even building it but just going through the research and planning of what it might take to do this or that. I looked into Aquaponics, which is the farming of fish and plants in a mutually sustaining system of tanks so that the plants feed the fish and the fish feed the plants and there is sufficient output to feed people as well.
Am I going to become an aquaponic farmer? Unlikely, but there is something about knowing how to do stuff that is inherently satisfying. Even stupid menial things like changing the oil are very satisfying to have done, to know that with a few tools, you can do something useful.
But we do that less. We farm out tasks and watch more television and expect that things will be done for us. Even monumentally important tasks sometimes fall into the pit. We rely on teachers to raise our kids and then gripe about the results, never remembering that raising our children is our job, and it is a job and not a vacation, that kids are not our friends, they are our children and we are their parents and those are good, healthy roles but they take work.
Just so with the work of living faithfully.
How often do we take our salvation and set it in the display case on out hearts and continually ask Jesus to come and intercede for us in the day to day minutia of our lives, continuing to sin and to take for granted the gifts that we have been given?
I’d say seven or eight times a day at the very least. We pray for God to help us out of a jam, or to help make our lives a bit easier, easing traffic is a big one these days I’ll bet.
We ask for the easy things, the things we ought to be taking care of ourselves because it is so tempting. After all, Jesus has already done the heavy lifting; why not rely on Him to do everything for us? He comes to us as one unknown, but He also comes as one darned useful fellow to have around, what with all the blessing and helping and strengthening He is prone to do.
But Isaiah this morning does not point to a Savior that fixes parking tickets for you, like your uncle on the force. I love the line, “he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked” THAT is the power of the word of God, not to ensure that the Highway Patrolman behind us has his lights on for somebody else and we can get by again this time; but to give and take life, to bless and to curse, to judge with righteousness and to save the people from their sins.
It is our refusal to hear that and to let it fundamentally change us that keeps the lamb from lying down with the lion, the leopard and the kid. If we stopped trying to slough off the tasks of living a life of faith and hope and joy and love in the name of Christ to Christ and embraced them ourselves, then the peaceable kingdom would draw a bit closer because the people of God would be about the business of God.
We are the ones responsible for the world as it is, Jesus is only responsible for the world as it could be if we all heard His Word and inscribed it upon our hearts and while God has promised to hear our prayers, what harm could come from surprising God once in a while with a prayer that we might have a greater concern for our neighbors than for the size of our televisions, or that the children not born of our own flesh might be as important to us as those we have raised and nurtured in our own homes instead of whether or not the most recent school bond measure has merit or payback for our lives?
I imagine God being gobsmacked, rocked backwards if that were possible for God, at the humility and hope and faith in such a prayer.
I imagine the Lord being equally surprised if we then acted in such a way as to bring that world into being through our actions, through our lives lived in faith; each day a new expression of our love for God and through our lives, each day a reflection of God’s love for the world.
It doesn’t seem like much of a pretty picture that I’m painting does it? Well, read Isaiah and then the words of John in this morning’s Gospel and then ask yourself, “what if they’re right?” I try and ask myself that every time I open the Scriptures, working from the notion that I might not have all the answers and that God’s word might be wiser than I can manage.
I’m usually confirmed in that suspicion, by the way, often finding myself brought up short by the word of God and forced to see myself again as culpable for the sins I commit. Convicted, it the theological word we use and out of conviction comes the joy and freedom you feel when you realize that Christ is coming to relieve you of the burden of those sins. I feel it every time I approach the rail, every time I pronounce the forgiveness of sins.
You are free to live because Christ is coming again this year, this Christmas time in the manger with the Christmas carols and the shopping and the lines and the little prayers that we’ll all make it through this year without going broke.
You are free to live because Christ is coming again this year, coming into your heart and your home and if you are the bearer of His word then into your community and your neighborhood and the whole of the world.
If we are not bearers of His word, and not willing to be a little brave and to meet others where they are and to learn about them and to love them as Christ has loved us; if we are unable or unwilling to take the leap and reach out to them with the love of God in our mouths and on our hands and in our hearts and tattooed on the back of our necks if we want to really go all the way, well then the lion will continue to eat the calf, in this case the powerful will continue to oppress the weak. The nursing child will be afraid to go out for fear of the asp and will instead stay indoors and play call of duty eleven.
And we will all have to pray to Christ that He come and save us even though He already has because nobody will be brave enough to just go out and do the work of the kingdom, knowing, learning, loving, sharing and growing in the knowledge and love of the Lord.
We live between the already and the not yet, you are already saved you are not yet righteous and Jesus has already done His part, He has arranged for you to be saved and not condemned for all your weaknesses great and small.
It is a sad commentary on us I think that we continue to ask Jesus for more and more, while trusting in the work He has already accomplished in us less and less.
In you the Lord has done and will do wondrous things. He has snatched you back from the precipice of sin and death and set you back on your feet and given you a swat in the butt and said “Go get ‘em, tiger.”
The knowledge of your salvation, that you have nothing to fear and that the Lord has pledged His life for yours ought to be enough to embolden anyone.
Is it? May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.