It is both a joy and a humbling challenge to worship with my husband every week.
For most of our marriage and ministry, we haven’t been together on Sunday mornings, and I’ll be honest: that lets me get away with a little bit more. This is what I mean.
After we lift up and lay down before God the concerns and prayers on our hearts, after we remember before him the tragedies of the fires in California and beg him for wisdom and patient to infuse Washington and Austin, we confess our sins. Now that’s uncomfortable enough, spending those few moments of silence when the Holy Spirit can bring to the fore the sins of our week, or we can work on shoving the Holy Spirit’s voice away, but then, the very worst part, I think, comes at the passing of the peace. Because then, you find out if you really did repent of your sin.
So when the person against whom I sin the most, the person who gets most of my misplaced anger and mortal frustration, stands right there next to me and I’m expected to turn to him and tell him, “peace be with you.” Or, in other words, “We’re good. There’s no darkness and sin between us.” Then I really have to mean it. I really do have to repent. I find out awfully quickly if I really did leave my sin on God’s altar and turn away from it, whether I really did mean to purge it from my life and let go of my precious little evil darling.
Passing the peace is one of those rituals, one of those habits that we have, that can be put on autopilot. If you take a moment to reflect, I wonder if you can predict your “usual” path during that moment in the service. Do you always turn to the people next to you first, and then work your way out to the aisle? Or maybe everybody comes to you, and you know who will be the first ones to get there, and who, because they sit far away, will be the last ones to arrive.
A thousand years ago, when Christians passed the peace, basically everybody you knew was in the pews, and the symbol was awfully immediate — the neighbors who you’d gossiped about that week were a few rows back, the mother-in-law you’d shrugged off was sitting just on the other side of your children, who you’d yelled at because of their maddening habit of not communicating well enough. Reminders of your sin were sitting all around you. But at that glorious moment of passing the peace, having just received God’s absolution, God’s words and proclamation of forgiveness, through the priest’s voice, we are all drawn back together. The gossip and the avoidance and the loss of temper are remembered no more, and the peace which your toddler eagerly offers with his chubby hands and snotty kiss reminds you of God’s unconditional love, seen in this window of forgiveness.
So, then, today, even though our co-workers and our in-laws aren’t all here, the people who are here, the friends and acquaintances, all stand in for that same unconditional love and that same forgiveness that God continually offers us. If we take the passing of the peace off autopilot, we might find it a little bit more uncomfortable, but I’ve found that it’s always, always in the uncomfortable moments that God starts to grow us and make us new.
From this little snapshot in time of our passing of the peace, let’s move our focus back a bit. What are other things that we put on autopilot? What are other moments that we could learn something from? –other times that God might be trying to reach out and touch us, but because we’re just dashing about racking up handshakes, or sharing our weak, absent smiles with every face that passes by, we miss when God knocks.
This is part of the challenge of Advent, this season and attitude that Christ-followers are called to dive into during what’s often called in the U.S. the “busiest time of the year.” When people get busy, we put as much as possible in our lives on autopilot — we get into cooking ruts, we work problems out in our minds while we drive, we stay up late wrapping presents, we dash from grocery store to kitchen to post office to Christmas party, not even stopping to take a breath. And as we put our lives, our minds, our hearts, and our bodies on autopilot, we miss things like the passing of the peace.
It’s exactly at the time when our traditions and surrounding world are telling us to ramp up and move faster and get busier — all for the sake of love, right? — that God set up for his church to call people to slow down, to move exactly the opposite direction, to take as much as possible off of autopilot, to notice and wait and be still.
So there’s this great tension that Christ-followers are called to live into in Advent. Sure, every day that followers of Jesus walk into secular workplaces and schools, into retail stores and restaurants — Christians are entering worlds that don’t exactly line up with the call that God has placed in their lives, but the tension and pull is especially acute right now. And that’s a stress and a stretching that each of us feel. It might manifest in a shorter temper or more tiredness, it might manifest in more nervous energy or a renewed vigor to get All The Things done — how ever this pull between God’s call and the world we live in shows up in your life, it tempts us to put things on autopilot rather than sit still and observe and stay uncomfortable in the middle of this strain.
But friends, I’ve got Good News. Indeed, this is The Good News, because, as the Gospel lesson this week tells us, this is “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” God is coming. God comes in Jesus Christ, God knocks on our door, God comes for a visit. There is no searching, there is no making yourself presentable and worthy, there is no contorting yourself to be acceptable to God, there is no making warm cookies and cold milk for bribery.
While we may run to Target for gifts and dash to our kitchens for baking and race to our parties in sparkly clothes for merriment and for forgetting all the tension and stress of real life, when God comes to each of our homes, when God in Jesus comes into each of our lives, there is no need to dust up all the cobwebs or shoving all the dirty clothes under the bed. There is no need to make the centerpieces perfect or to account for all Jesus’s dietary preferences in your perfectly-balanced menu.
Preparing the way of the Lord, which Isaiah and John the Baptist urge for us this week, is not about cleaning up our acts, stashing our bad habits, and polishing up the fronts of our houses, preparing the way of the Lord, making our hearts and lives ready to receive God in Jesus Christ when he comes and knocks on our doors, is about just turning the lights on.
It’s about just being home.
We don’t have to go out and find Jesus, we don’t have to run into the highways and byways to urge God to come into our lives, the Gospel tells us this morning that God comes to find us. We are the ones who God himself pursues, Jesus the Good Shepherd sets out to find just one lost lamb. And when he finds us, he knocks, he asks to come in, God asks to sit and wait and to be still with us. God seeks us in the small moments of our days, God looks for us in moments of peace, just like our Epistle encourages us, “therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace.”
The call in this season, in every season, surely, but especially as frenetic moments like this, is to be found at home. Be found at peace. Turn on the lights in the windows of your hearts, take passing of the peace off autopilot, take greeting your spouse in the morning or after work off autopilot, take the writing of holiday cards, and the picking up of your children from school, and the chopping and baking of food, and the walking your dog, and the making phone calls to family out of your mindless routine, and bring these moments before God, realizing that God seeks to reach you and teach you through showing love to your family and your friends, that God longs to minister to you while you feed your loved ones supper and tend to the bodily needs of your pets.
God came to earth, in the form of a baby, Jesus, in the form of a human, just like each and every one of us, to show that he still today wants to reach us in the everyday and ordinary moments of our lives. As he knocks on your door, be awake, and with courage, open the door, invite him in, wait, and sit with him awhile. Amen.