“all unwrapped,” December 27, 2015

wrapped-christmas-present

Responsive Call to Worship
The day long awaited—anticipated—
prepared for—worked toward—
has now come and gone.
The presents so long examined—
weighed—shaken—
measured—treasured—
have all been opened—
have already started to get old!
And just so, mystery and possibility and hope
were thrown out with the trash—
the mangled ribbons—the ripped wrapping paper.
Well, thrown out at least until the next gift-giving occasion—
when we will again anticipate
what we don’t know to identify—
and thus invite mystery, possibility and hope back—
hoping to be gifted with what we well know we need
but don’t know enough to name.
Or maybe, just maybe, we’ll learn enough, in the meantime,
to name the need we have
for love,
for relationships,
for community,
for God—
for presence that never gets old.

Witness of the Closed Canon, i.
Ephesians 2:11-22
So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth,
called ‘the uncircumcision’ by those who are called ‘the circumcision’—
a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands—
remember that you were at that time without Christ,
being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel,
and strangers to the covenants of promise,
having no hope and without God in the world.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off
have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For he is our peace;
in his flesh he has made both groups into one
and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself
one new humanity in place of the two,
thus making peace,
and might reconcile both groups to God
in one body through the cross,
thus putting to death that hostility through it.
So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off
and peace to those who were near;
for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,
but you are citizens with the saints
and also members of the household of God,
built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
In him the whole structure is joined together
and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;
in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.

Witness of the Living Word, ii.
So the transition was quick—
at least it was in our house!
From neatly wrapped presents—
or at least wrapped presents—
randomly distributed under the tree—
or, well—I don’t know if this happens in your household,
but I remember as a child,
along with my siblings,
taking all the presents from under the tree
and dividing them into piles of “mine” and “not mine.”
Our presents this year weren’t even put under the tree
until pretty close to the last minute,
so as to avoid being mistaken for doggy chew toys!

But from whatever the before,
so quickly, that transition to the after:
bedraggled ribbons and bows underfoot—
that had looked so jaunty and cheery decorating packages,
ripped paper that had been so festive,
boxes and bags and pieces thereof
strewn haphazardly across the room—
and piles of stuff—
yes—piles of “mine” and “not mine.”
But piles you leave to go have breakfast—
piles you leave to go peruse someone else’s pile—
piles some children leave to help their parents make Christmas dinner—maybe?—
piles you leave to watch one more Christmas movie—
toys you play with until the batteries run down—
or you run out of batteries—
or you get tired of the charge for one-and-one-half hours
to play fifteen minutes ration—
or the toys break—
or you get tired of them—
clothes you try on and put up—
maybe you wear them out—
maybe you slip them into the Purple Heart donation bag—
books you read and then shelve—
pass along to someone else—
always mean to read and never get to—
music you listen to until someone says,
“Can we listen to something else?”
or until you get tired of it.

And almost as quick as the transition from wrapped to unwrapped
is the transition from anticipated
to taken for granted.

You see, I’ve long thought as long as it’s wrapped,
it can be anything.
As long as it’s wrapped,
you can imagine that it’s the thing—
the one thing you’ve been waiting for—
that you’ve always wanted—
the one thing that will bring completion—
the one thing that’s going to make everything good—
make everything better …
which is, of course, more than anything can do—
which you find out as soon as you unwrap it—
whatever “it” is—wrapped, then unwrapped.

Now there are presents,
I hope you’ve experienced this,
that are wonderful—
that come as unexpected surprise.
Maybe something you needed or wanted
but would not have thought to ask for—
maybe something you didn’t know you wanted,
but wasn’t it great to get?
Gifts of great creativity—thoughtfulness.
There are gifts that are far more than stuff.

But I remember a wistfulness after many a Christmas—
a still yearning for something—
something I identified at an unverbalized—
at an unthought level—
with a present—
with something.
I didn’t get it, I would think—
with no idea what “it” was.

The Ephesians passage was chosen
because it suggests the gift
that Jesus is—
the covenant of promise and hope—
as the cornerstone—
of peace—of reconciliation—of inclusion—
the cornerstone of creation
being built into a dwelling place for God.

Now maybe you suspect where I’m going—
to that God-shaped hole in us all.
Y’all familiar with that idea—
that we live with this God-shaped hole
that we often try and fill in any number of ways,
but it can only be filled by God?

It’s preached a good bit!
I found a lot of “God-shaped hole” titled sermons on line!
But it’s also a common theme
in the closed canon.

We find it in the Acts of the Apostles
in the words of Pau in Athens
speaking of the often unknown God
who created us in such a way
that we search for God—grope for God and find God—
though indeed God is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:27).

We hear it from three heavy hitters in Scripture.
We hear it from David in the psalms—as celebration
O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands and call on your name.

My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
when I think of you on my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me
(Psalm 63).

We hear it from Paul in his epistle to the Romans.
We heard it from David as celebration;
we hear it from Paul as warning:
Ever since the creation of the world
God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are,
have been understood and seen through the things God has made.
So people are without excuse; for though they knew God,
they did not honor God as God or give thanks to God,
but they became futile in their thinking,
and their senseless minds were darkened.
Claiming to be wise, they became fools;
and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God
for images resembling a mortal human being
or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles (Romans 1:20-23).

Then we hear it from Jesus in John as invitation,
when he talks about the living bread
that satisfies as bread that perishes cannot
(John 6:27, 35, 48, 51)—
when he talks about the living water
and invites those who are thirsty to come to him
(John 7:37-38).

We also find the God-shaped hole idea in the open canon.
I picked a worthy triumvirate of examples:
in his Confessions, St Augustine wrote:
“You have made us for yourself, O Lord,
and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

Pascal, in his Pensees, wrote:
“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim
but that there was once in man a true happiness,
of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?
This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him,
seeking in things that are not there
the help he cannot find in those that are,
though none can help,
since this infinite abyss can be filled
only with an infinite and immutable object;
in other words by God himself.”

and then C.S.Lewis in Mere Christianity,
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy,
the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Here’s the thing!
And maybe it’s just me,
but if I’ve got a God-shaped hole,
God doesn’t fill it—
at least not so as I would know or notice.

Even within affirmation and celebration of God,
there is a wistfulness for something else—
something more—
a melancholy to what is—
a longing—
yearning.
In other words, there is
what we have, over the last weeks,
identified with and as Advent—
that profound sense of waiting for God!
But with Advent and Christmas now come and gone,
the more we know of God—
the more we immerse ourselves in God stories—
the more we study Scripture—
the more we pray—
the more we invest in God—
choose God,
the bigger that hole is!
The bigger that hole gets!
Advent doesn’t end—
it intensifies.

Oh, yes, there’s joy.
There’s wonder.
There’s peace.
There’s love.
But the wistfulness—grows.
The melancholy deepens.
The longing—it intensifies.

As if finding a better story—
living a better story
increases expectations—
raises hopes
for ever more—even better.

The gift of God is not satisfaction,
but fulfillment.
Not answers but a mission.

In one of the old translations of Scripture—
of the second part of Ecclesiastes 3:11, we read:
“God has also set eternity in the human heart;
yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

And so CS Lewis imagines
a wardrobe that contains a world,
and a stable that contains hope and wonder
beyond containment.

We got The Game of Life for Christmas and played it the other night.
Y’all know it?
It’s a board game, and you start by choosing college or career,
and then move through opportunities and options—
some you choose, some presented to you—
you move through opportunities and options to retirement.
According to the rules,
the one who has the most money, wins.
Sydney won.
She was a lawyer.
But we talked that night—and since—
because Audra actually ended up
with the least amount of money at the end.
According to the rules, she lost.
But in the course of the game,
she worked as a firefighter, a teacher, a chef, a dancer—
not once making as much as I did as a video game designer!
She got married.
She learned to skydive.
She lived in a hut on the beach.
We kind of agreed that in important ways, she won—
that it’s not how much you tally up at the end,
but the depths of what you experience on the way.

And there is never a sense of completion—
always a sense of more.
What a gift—never to arrive!
Sounds weird—
when any parent will tell you
how common (and annoying) is the refrain:
“When are we going to get there?”
But if God is with us,
and God is God,
then for eyes that see and hearts that fathom,
the journey is our home—
experience our path.
We’ve looked at the Exodus story
enough to have a sense
that being on the way with God
was somehow more real—more profoundly true
than arriving in the promised land ever was.
Too often our longing for satisfaction
precludes recognizing and knowing fulfillment.

So hear now the good news.
It’s from Paul—more from his epistle to the Romans:
“Hope does not disappoint us,
because God’s love has been poured into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
God’s love has been poured into our hearts
in streams of living water.

Love pours into us
as we pour it out,
and the call of God empties us,
even as the love of God fills us.

So I’m not spending my life
looking to fill a God-shaped hole in me,
but to fill a me-shaped hole in the world
in Jesus’ name.
I’m trying to commit myself
not to a consumer oriented perspective
of satisfaction,
but to a commitment oriented perspective of fulfillment—
not focused through the individual, but through creation
on God.

And Advent and Christmas
are not moments in time that come and go,
but truths of time
with and into which we come and go.

And love is not just what we’re awaiting
to come from beyond us—
to gift us and complete us,
but the way we live into the story we choose—
the way we make it real
and God present.

To God be the glory—forever and ever.
Amen.

Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
1 Peter 4:7-11
The end of all things is near; therefore be serious
and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers.
Above all, maintain constant love for one another,
for love covers a multitude of sins.
Be hospitable to one another without complaining.
Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God,
serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.
Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God;
whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies,
so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ.
To him belong the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

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