Sunday, 11 December 2011

How well do we make room for Jesus?

Advent 3 year B Sermon
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On this third Sunday of Advent…we ask ourselves the question … how well do we make room for Jesus?
In this season we already asked ‘how well do we wait?’ …
and ‘how well do we prepare?’ for the coming of God’s future into our lives

And at Christmas time…the question…
how well do we make room for Jesus…
hangs over everything we do…

and if you grew up…. listening to the Christmas story…
It’s likely the question is embedded…
deep within your heart and mind

Joseph and Mary slide
along with the image of… an exhausted Mary
heavily pregnant on a donkey…with Joseph at her side …looking for any place to rest … a place for Jesus to be born.

That census year in Bethlehem…with thousands crowding into every available bed and hostel… it wasn’t personal…
there just wasn’t any room

As children we felt sorry for them…
and for the baby about to be born in a stable
but didn’t we also experience… the awe and wonder
as angels sang… and shepherds watched in amazement
while tidings of great joy… poured into this unlikely scene

So over and over… the story ask us this question…
how well do we… make room for Jesus…and his saving message of wellbeing for all people…
in our lives and in our world…especially as Christmas approaches.

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A few weeks ago I discovered a website…
where a few people share their prayers…
as they struggle with this question.
One man’s prayer went like this…

God... time management’s become my ultimate stress.
My workload and weight of responsibilities
are just impossible for me to handle. When my palms sweat and my heart pounds…I get panicked…because everything in life seems like such an emergency.

I can't even sleep. My mind races with what I haven’t done
and what need to do tomorrow.

God once I enjoyed my time with You… and came away from Your presence completely refreshed. You were my reservoir of strength and peace. You showed me mercy every day.

Now even You…would have to schedule an appointment
with me! My life is out of control! I'm feeling crazy!
I am in such a hurry all the time…from the moment my eyes open in the morning till they close at night.

I just don't seem to have enough time…it’s such a precious
and scarce commodity. Jesus… I need my time with You again. Not in a rush, or a haze of activity, but in silence.
How can I find room for you, dear Jesus? Help me.

Another woman prayed something very similar:
God, my days are so busy I practically have to schedule
my next breath!

I wish things were different, but they aren't right now.
At least You know I enjoy our time together. And there's no denying I can't make it…without Your strength each day…
I depend on Your love and your guidance to get me through

But Jesus…with the time crunch I'm under… I do feel disappointed sometimes… when I approach You for an answer  … only to be met with silence. It's not like I'm checking my watch whenever we're together. Okay I admit it maybe I am.

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Like the town of Bethlehem…our lives get crowded and there’s no room to open the door to anything more…
and it’s always worse at Christmas… [pause]

but making room for God isn’t just something we do
when we have all the time in the world. Our ancestors in the faith… called this a rule of life
this making room for God…

when they practiced a rule of life …every day was shaped around the rhythm of

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spoken prayer…around silence in the presence of God… and listening for God’s word
through the reading of scripture

With these spiritual disciplines…
our mothers and fathers in the faith…made room in their lives even as they worked hard… in their fields and gardens
and their kitchens…to keep the community fed and clothed

Sometimes this rule of life… was practised in the company of other Christians…and sometimes it was a solitary thing…
but it was always practised every day…day in and day out …which is why they called it…discipline.

And there’s a sense in which…these times of prayer and silence and reading…were times of fasting…from the busyness of life.

Stressed man slide
I know many Christians…who wear their stress and exhaustion like a badge of honour…they never seem to be at peace… they’ve made room for everything… but God in their lives.

And there are others who are busy…not with work
but negative emotions
people whose lives are so full of resentment and anger… there’s no room for God

Others are oppressed by financial worries…obsessed with
dark thoughts about the future…some are prisoners of their own social calendar…

Some feel condemned to live in grief or with a broken heart.
Some feel exploited and taken for granted…or judged unfairly … by the demands and expectations of others

they thirst for comfort and recompense.
But make no room for God.

And some remain captive their whole lives…to past mistakes
Many feel robbed of joy or health or love…
or the energy to praise God… [pause]

If your life is crammed full of any of these burdens
and you have no interest or motivation to change…
to deliberately make room for Jesus…

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Then listen once again… to the promises made
when Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue…
as he ushered in the Messianic Age…
and maybe you’ll reconsider making room for him.

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The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because God anointed me…sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to comfort all who mourn

And the gifts God promises with all this

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to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

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They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.
…all who see them shall acknowledge they’re a people whom the LORD has blessed.

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and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.

It’s a covenant…a promise…a vow God has made
if we will only make room for it!

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And this promise… is as true for whole communities
and nations… as it is for you and I as individuals where
no room is made for Jesus and his message of healing and wholeness

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In our world…entire communities remain enslaved and oppressed…by the demands of the marketplace or the military…people are imprisoned in a world of consumption…
or slaves to a religious cycle of revenge.

As individuals how are we to open
the gifts of God at Christmas or any other time…
if we don’t make room for God in our lives

God may not be bound by time and space…but we are
and so we have to make room…we have to make space

because in love…God’s given us the freedom…
to ignore…to devalue and even to reject
the comfort…and release…which are God’s saving gifts.. [pause]

How can the world enjoy the year of the Lord's favour
when we won’t give God the time of day?  How can we receive the gifts of God… when we never sit down long enough
to unwrap them.
How can we welcome Jesus…into the crowded chaos
of our lives…when we’ve made no room to receive him?

So what are we to do about this…

well we set aside this hour…don’t we…
in community with God’s people…and that’s certainly a start
but can we make turn this hour of worship together …
into one of listening for God’s word to us…
in the songs and the scriptures and the sermon…
even in the sharing of our friends over a cup of tea.

And what about the other six days a week…

Open heart slide
Well the next step in making room for Jesus
is to make a decision of the heart…to set aside for God
a sacred time and a sacred place… every single day
maybe even more than once a day…

and to practise the spiritual disciplines of the Christian faith…
to read and pray and listen in silence…
for God’s wisdom and peace. To schedule a regular time
where there’s nothing…but room for Jesus. [pause]

You could look on this… as a spiritual investment
or a sacred sacrifice…a time to fast…from the demands
of the world. A time to open yourself…to whatever God
wants to do with you….

And…once you’ve adopted a rule of life like this…
Well there remains only one thing


because we’re all tempted to let things slide aren’t we…
to allow the demands of the world to crowd out the blessings of God once again.

So we make ourselves accountable to someone else …
a prayer partner or spiritual director…or maybe…
just a good friend who understands just how important your spiritual practise is to you

Christian accountability…
is a kind of insurance policy against spiritual burnout
so there’ll always be room in your life…
to savour the presence of God. [Pause]

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And in a world which can’t hear the Christmas story
over the noise of other things…

maybe with practise… and spiritual discipline
you and I can become
walking… talking…five star accommodation…
for the indwelling of God…
wherever we are in the world.