Now it is high time to awake out of sleep…
Happy New Year to you all! Our new year begins again with Advent: we look back on Christ’s first coming into the world, we look to the completion of his work when he will come again in glory, and we ask for his present coming to our souls. It is on this last aspect that I want to focus on this morning.
My question to each of us as we begin this New Year is this: Are you in love with God?
A week ago yesterday we had a Praise and Praise service and the focus of our readings was the mystical marriage of the soul with God – it is one of the images used throughout the Bible to describe the culmination of our hopes as Christians – that we would have an intimacy with God, our longing, our desire, our love met by the God of love, in a marriage union with Him – Christ with his bride, the Church, or God with our soul and body. This is spoken of in every part of Scripture – in the Law, in the Prophets, in the Wisdom literature, in the Gospels, in the letters, and in Revelation.
To understand that kind of relationship with God, we are helped by the experience of falling in love with another person here on earth. That is characterized by a few things you will recognize:
- The person is in our mind…a lot! We think on them, their appearance, their actions – something they did that was endearing, about the sort of things that they like, about what they might like as a gift.
- There is a kind of chastening of our actions, we want to be more virtuous, so that we are pleasing to the beloved, our love for our beloved results in a cleansing of our way.
- And when we do something for the beloved, or write something, we are anxious to receive a reply – how was it received? will she or he write a reply? will it be acknowledged the next time we meet? If there is a delay – have I offended?
And in the Song of Songs we can see this back and forth between the lover and the beloved, a sometimes painful time, one is wounded by love, so that one no longer feels complete once touched, without the other person – I am sick with love!
When we are in love with another person, we are so much less likely to respond to hatred with hatred. Leonard Cohen, describes this aspect of falling in love with God, he says
“When hatred with his package comes along, you forbid delivery.”
[from the song, You have loved enough]
Hatred aimed at us just cannot seem lodge itself in us, it passes us by… We’re not interested, we’re in love. When we are in love, the love for that person, spreads out in our encounters with other people, they benefit from our state of mind, our state of heart – we become a conduit of love.
This is something of what St Paul speaks about today in the Epistle [Romans 13:8-14]:
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
When we are in love with God, loving our neighbour becomes the most natural thing. So the question for us this morning as we begin this new year is: Are we in love with God?
When we are in love, a certain normal sleepiness is shrugged off, we have a new energy, a sense of urgency to action, our imaginations are opened, we can see things in a new way, there is a liveliness an underlying joy to our work and to our play, our activity.
Are we thinking about God…a lot? Is God constantly in our thoughts? If not, we are called to a renewal of that love. St Paul says, the night is far gone, the day is at hand, so let us cast off the darkness and put on the armour of light…put on the Lord Jesus, put on Love, and all the destructive behaviours, behaviours that lead to our own hurt and to the hurt of others, no longer make sense to us. The carnal ways of satisfying ourselves… are replaced with a life of holiness.
How can we put on the Lord Jesus? How can we renew our love for Him?
The Gospel today [St Matthew 21:1-13] is about Jesus first coming to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in a kind of public way – He has been preparing the ground for three years, teaching and healing all over the holy Land – and this is a kind of culmination. He is very deliberate in telling the disciples to find him a donkey on which he will enter into Jerusalem to make a public declaration of who He is.
And the account by St Matthew says that this was to fulfill what the prophet spoke. Interestingly, the wording of this short paragraph is actually a combination of prophecies of Isaiah and Zechariah, a bit from each, to point us to these two passages which speak of the coming Messiah:
- the Isaiah passage – Say to the daughter of Zion – is from a chapter about God seeking out his bride – using much of the same imagery as Song of Songs – As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you…They shall be called The holy people, the redeemed of the Lord; and you shall be called Sought out, a city not forsaken.” [62:5,12]
- the Zechariah passage – Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden – emphasizes the nature of the Messianic King’s coming – triumphant and bringer of peace to the whole world, but not in the normal way of worldly kings, great pomp and power, but rather in humility. He comes to us and we hardly think there is any threat, and he slips past the sentries, the guards, that we set up to protect our hearts from love, and just when we think he is no threat, he has nonetheless conquered us by love!
The crowds received Jesus outwardly, they lauded him, but he didn’t exactly create peace right away, he went to the heart of the city, to the temple, and drove out the money changers, those who sold sacrifices. He created a stir, a certain dis-ease with the status quo.
How can we put on the Lord Jesus Christ? How can we renew our love for Him as we begin this new year? Remember that it is God who is seeking us out and has found us. Jesus has revealed Himself to us in some way – we have seen his beauty – and that’s what initially stirred us, and then we became a follower, which also means a seeker.
And if we are finding ourselves a little sleepy, not so much in love as we’ve been in the past or as we’d like to be, there are practical things we can do!
First, even though for us the nights are getting longer and the weather colder, Advent is a season full of hope. We see the lights going up, we can enjoy being inside, warm by a fire if we have one, or a warm radiator. Take advantage! Curl up with a devotional book! Take a bit of rest from the busy-ness. Allow ourselves to be found by our Beloved. Jesus says, Seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you, ask and you shall receive. Seek a place of rest, knock on the doors of heaven, ask God to visit you, ask him to renew your love, ask God to cleanse the Temple that is your soul of its distractions, that you might see your beloved and then… wait for his appearing!
Second, you could take a night or part of a day off during Advent, and sit with fellow Christians in a Bible study. Given that Jesus promised that when two or three are gathered in my Name I will be there, if he is there, he will renew our love! To meet him is to be renewed in love. Our Bible studies are weekly during Advent – for more information click here.
Third, when Jesus came on a donkey in Jerusalem, the people cried out Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! Many of you will immediately recognize that we sing these very words soon in our liturgy in the Sanctus and Benedictus. It is sung this morning because Jesus left us a way for the continual renewal and revival of our love for Him. A way that we might meet him this morning, and experience the consummation of our love for Him. Let us prepare ourselves now for the one who comes to us, humble, slipping past the guards we put up our hearts, as we eat his flesh and drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in Him and he is us.