If you've ever climbed a mountain, you know the excitement of seeing the summit within grasp after a long trek. And, you likely know the great disappointment in realizing that what you see is not the summit, but a false summit. There is still more to come. In that moment, I usually have to steel myself and prepare for more by actually doing less. Typically, I pause, drink some water, have another energy bar, maybe put on another layer for the final push. I need to stop before I can keep going.
This Sunday, the crowd who has been following John the Baptist think they see the summit in his witness; he quickly sets them right and says, "One who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals." The life of faith is like this. We are ready to substitute a false summit for the real deal. Scripture tells us, from the ancient stories of the Hebrews to the more recent writings of early Christians, we humans are given to substitute nearly anything for the one thing that truly brings life. We are ready to make God into an idol and idols into our gods. A sure way to know the difference is that God doesn't seek to control you, idols almost always do. God is the God of liberation and love—this is what the scriptures tell us. God frees us into a new way of being in this world that is defined by self-gift, embrace, freeing obedience, and immovable dignity.
This Advent season is often defined by preparation for what is to come—looking towards the joy of Christmas. And yet, the great paradox of faith is that everything you long for and desire is already yours for the receiving. There is no promise from God that you can earn or acheive, no perfection or purity that will finally pull down the lever of a slot-machine god to dispense innumerable benefits. You are worthy, now. You are beloved, now. You are forgiven, now. You are cherished, now. It might frustrate or even anger the hearts of some to hear what is utter good news: there is no false summit to God's love. In fact, we followers of Jesus go even further: we say the hike up was done for us because God has come down. When we see this, we have begun to see the Christmas promise.
See you on Sunday,