What's the Point?
Ever feel like you have something to prove? Ever believe you'll never "make it" unless you try harder and harder? Ever wonder if your efforts to do well and live ethically will be appreciated?
These are just a few of life's core issues for us as we seek to find our way in this world. It's all too easy to become consumed with success and its companions, recognition and reputation. Sometimes we lose sight of what matters most. Sometimes we find ourselves out of balance. Sometimes we are tempted to give up and give in. Sometimes we wonder "what's the point?"
It's not necessarily a bad thing to work hard and want to succeed and live by society's rules and regulations. Unless it drains the life out of us. Until it wreaks havoc on our bodies and our relationships. Unless we confuse being rewarded by the world's standards with being loved by our Maker. A helpful indicator for us may be to contemplate this question: as we greet a new day, do we seize it as an opportunity to squeeze all we can get out of it, or do we receive it as a gift with which we may honor its Giver?
Because we Christians enjoy deep roots in Jewish religious life, it's hard to shake the notion that we have to somehow figure out what we can offer to God to make God happy with us. That's the system of sacrifices we read about in the Scriptures and especially in the Old Testament. One kind of sacrifice for this and another for that. The prescribed offering for the appropriate occasion. Offering the best with the best of intentions. To honor God. Not bribe God. To please God, not appease God. But humanity's track record would indicate it's harder than it seems to keep our intentions at their best.
Many of us think of Jesus in such terms. Passages in the New Testament even say so. God was angry and fed up with humanity and needed a representative sacrifice to make everything hunky dory again. But is that the point of Jesus' incarnation? Many of us even think of our lives along the same lines. Can I check enough boxes on the spiritual inventory to pass the test as one of God's faithful? Can I prove myself worthy of God's love and attention?
Many years ago, I stumbled on a little treasure of a book written by William Sloane Coffin. It's called Letters to a Young Doubter and even though it's a fictional exchange between Coffin and a college student named Tom, it contains much of Coffin's pithy wisdom. Some of the most profound words are these, "God's love doesn't seek value; it creates it. It's not because we have value that we are loved, but because we are loved that we have value. Our value is a gift, not an achievement. Just think: we never have to prove ourselves; that's already taken care of. All we have to do is to express ourselves - return God's love with our own - and what a world of difference there is between proving ourselves and expressing ourselves."
What a world of difference indeed! As we worship this week and encounter two texts that seem to present a grumpy God in need of appeasement, can we hear something else instead? Something lifegiving. Something redemptive. Something that summons us to express ourselves rather than prove ourselves. Let's discover the word God has in store for us on this second Sunday in Advent together!