The Grass is Always Greener…
Grace United Methodist Church
November 28, 2010
Romans 13: 11-14 (NIV)
And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh
Here we are, at the “most wonderful time of the year!” Last Sunday several of us gathered here at the church to put up the Christmas decorations. Perhaps some of you have decorated your homes as well in recent days. Indeed, Christmas decorations are beginning to appear everywhere. Heck, they were in Wal-Mart the day after Halloween! And as more and more decorations appear, the children get more and more excited. Children love this time before Christmas because it gives them something to look forward to with great excitement!
I was recalling a few days ago Christmas-time around the Travis household when my sister and I were growing up. Every year, we would watch the mail for the Sears and JC Penney Christmas catalogues. I’m sure many of you know the ones I’m talking about, the really thick ones that were at least half full of pictures of the latest and greatest toys? And as soon as the catalogues came, my sister and I would get a piece of paper and a pen, and we would open up those catalogues and one page at a time, we would work our way through the toy section, writing down every toy we wanted to get for Christmas. I would do that several times before Christmas, adding to and revising my list, perfecting it so that I included exactly everything that I wanted.
Certainly, kids get really excited about Christmas, perhaps more than anything else. They talk about it for months and months beforehand, even in the dead heat of summer! I know that many adults look forward to Christmas as well, perhaps not with quite the same enthusiasm as the youngsters, but with excitement nonetheless. We anticipate not only toys and gifts, but time with family and friends, gatherings, and dinners, and perhaps even a few days of vacation. Still, all of the Christmas activities can make it easy to get distracted.
Although the apostle Paul wrote this passage to the Romans long ago, it perfectly describes the challenge for this season. Day-to-day obligations increase as Christmas nears and people think about the entertaining, shopping, decorating and all those various duties that have come to define a perfect Christmas. But the point remains; a perfect Christmas is one that anticipates Christ above all! And Paul’s message is clear: we have to be awake! Christ is coming, deliverance is near! Dawn is about to break!
Two days ago was Black Friday. How many of you celebrated Black Friday this year? I mean, the day before that was Thanksgiving, but after that Turkey is eaten, the next most important thing is getting ready for Christmas, right?!? And that means jumping out of bed at 4 a.m. to make sure we are the first in line for the big sales. The Black Friday mania never ceases to amaze me. People awaken at the most ungodly hours of the morning so that they can stand out in the freezing cold in a line a mile long for a chance at getting one of the ten computers that Best Buy has on special! Now, I exaggerate perhaps a bit, but the simple truth of Black Friday is that if we’re not awake, we miss the deal!
Paul is telling us this morning that the same is true in our relationship with Christ; except in this case, it’s not just about a special price on a computer, this is a matter of life or death. God in Christ Jesus is offering us our very salvation, but if we are not awake, we might miss it! So what exactly does Paul mean? Well, let us consider our salvation as John Wesley, the founder of Methodism did: as a journey.
There was a time in our faith journeys where we were not aware of the love of God. During this time, John Wesley tells us, God watched over us with prevenient grace – the grace of God that arrives before we are even conscious of it. The next step on the journey is justifying grace – it comes when we realize we believe – the moment we first open our eyes to God’s reality because of Jesus’ teachings. The rest of the journey is sanctification – or as Paul would identify it, our salvation coming “nearer.”
Once we are awake to God’s loving grace at work in our lives, we cannot go back to sleep. We cannot pretend that it doesn’t exist or push the pause button while we have our good time shopping, decorating, or simply celebrating Santa’s gifts under the tree. During this Advent season, or any other time, we cannot afford to doze off on this grace because to do so would mean missing the deal and living in spiritual darkness. And if we are so consumed by all the distractions, by the darkness, how can we possibly recognize the light when it greets us in the morning?
As Jesus warns us, we do not know the day or the hour of his return. But each Advent season, as we anticipate a wonderful celebration of Christ’s birth and that moment when God broke into the world in a new way, we are reminded that Christ will be breaking into our lives in a new way as well. And just as Advent is the season of preparation for Christmas, so should we live our lives prepared for that moment when God in Christ Jesus will again break into our lives in a new way, bringing with him abundant life.
A young man tells of his dream to play baseball in the big leagues, but he never really thought the opportunity would come his way. Suddenly it materialized as he was scanning the want ads for a summer job. The Toronto Blue Jays were having tryouts in his hometown. His baseball cleats were rusty and his pony league uniform was layered with dust, but he decided to go for it! This was his dream, after all! Why not?!? After arriving at the try-out site his anxieties soared. He even imagined he heard some of the other would-be big-leaguers sharpening their spikes. “How long ya been practicing for this?” one hopeful asked another.
“’Bout six months. Wished I started sooner,” he moaned.
The young man had already struck out. He knew it and it was too late to do anything about it.
People who have their minds set on playing baseball know the importance of readiness. When the opportune pitch comes over their home plate, they are ready to swing for all they’re worth. They won’t always connect, but they are prepared to play the game with everything they’ve got. This is the same attitude of readiness that is required of all who would follow Christ. We must be awake, but even more than that, we have to be alert and vigilant when Christ comes where we live. We cannot be focusing on the Black Friday sales. We cannot be worrying about whether the apple cider is just-so for the Christmas party guests. Paul warns us of avoiding several “sins of the night” as we seek to live in the “daytime” of Christ’s light. But the truth of the matter is that there are just as many distractions and sins that emerge during this time of year, and if we let those overshadow the work of Christ in our world and in our lives, then we will miss the dawning light of his coming!
This Advent season, we have an opportunity to prepare for Christmas in a different way. Where we feel spent on excessive shopping or stressed by parties and gatherings, we can substitute things that will bring renewed hope and faith rather than depleting energy and bank accounts. And as a community of faith, we can hold one another accountable in our preparations. We have already committed to making Christmas possible for 15 children of incarcerated parents who might not otherwise have a Christmas. There are many other life-giving practices that we can commit to as well. Jeff will be leading a special Advent study called Christmas: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. We can commit to participating in these four weeks of Sunday School, studying God’s Word and God’s promises that come to life at Christmas. Instead of spending Saturdays shuffling amid the crowd at the mall, we can set aside time for devotion and coffee, for quiet conversation with God. These are the kind of life-giving practices that truly make Christmas special!
We often think to ourselves, “If I only had this, or if I only had that, life would be better.” This seems to happen especially at Christmas when we are so focused on giving and receiving gifts, so focused on creating the “perfect Christmas.” It’s like the cow that strains his head through the fence in an effort to graze somewhere else. We think the “grass is always greener on the other side.” Christmas is seen as some sort of goal, and to get there, one has to complete all the standard requirements with perfection; gifts, parties, cards, and an assortment of other activities. The result of such activities is that the peace and grace of God is vanquished from our soul, the life is sapped right out of us.
But Christmas is a celebration of life, life given to us in the most special and abundant way; God living among us, walking with us, teaching us, offering salvation from all the strain and pain. Christmas isn’t about gifts and gatherings; it simply has to do with responding to God’s mercy and love in the most appropriate way possible. Christmas is about loving God’s way of life, given to us through Jesus Christ. At Christmas we celebrate the life that is right here, before us this very moment, not on the other side of the fence! The object of our celebration is not to host the best parties or buy the best gifts. We cannot make ourselves ready for Christ or Christmas. We only have to open our eyes, and wake up, and God will makes us ready as we allow God to carry us along the path that leads to life! Indeed, we have something wonderful to anticipate this Christmas season! Let us “wake up” so that through our celebration of abundant life offered in Jesus Christ, we can truly and fully experience this “most wonderful time of the year!”
 Brenda Vaca, “The Coming of the Kingdom” in Disciplines: A Book of Daily Devotions 2010 (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2009), 340.
 Matthew 24: 36