Preparing a Place for the Christ Child
Our church celebrates the Advent season each year for the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Our pastor says that Advent is a time to examine ourselves and see if we have unconfessed sins. A time for us to do some housecleaning and prepare a bigger place in our hearts for the Christ child. A time to prepare the gift of more of ourselves for Him.
I listen as the pastor encourages us to open our hearts to Christ during this Advent season, but I am not moved. I know that opening my heart to the Lord means forgiving people and I am not in a forgiving mood. I am mad at a friend and I feel I have good reasons to be mad. And I don’t want to stop being mad!
It all started a week ago when I was at lunch with a group of women and sitting with my friend Mattie. (Not her real name) Mattie and another woman at the table were discussing the subject of abortion and I joined in. I said that if we could change the spirit that our culture has now to a different spirit or belief system where the culture and the media would once again encourage young couples to become committed to one another, then we might have fewer single mothers and fewer abortions. Ever since the sexual revolution, I said, millions of abortions have been performed in our country, even performed up to late term and just before birth. Really tragic, I added. And because our individualistic and sexualized society encourages sex without commitment, this mind set is one of the reasons we find ourselves choosing abortion.
My friend Mattie became angry at my comments and told me that I was wrong and that late term abortions never happened in our country. That I should not have mentioned such a thing. That anyway it wasn’t nice to talk about such an issue. Mattie is an emotional person and she was getting angrier as she talked. She added that she didn’t ever want to talk to me again. That I was no longer her friend. At that point she stopped speaking to me. I was shocked. There were no other seats at the table so I could not get up and move. I spent an awkward lunch hour sitting next to an angry Mattie while she carefully avoided me.
I left feeling hurt and angry. Surely Mattie and I could still remain friends and not have to agree on everything. I figured that I would be friendly when I saw her next and all would be forgotten. But that wasn’t to be. Later on in the week Mattie wrote an angry message on my Facebook page telling me that I was bringing in the Anti-Christ to this country since I voted for President Obama. I was shocked and didn’t answer her. What could I say? And then she de-friended me on Facebook.
So when I was at church Sunday, listening as our pastor asked us to celebrate Advent by forgiving anyone we had a problem with, I found it difficult to let go of my negative feelings towards Mattie. Finally the best I could do was to pray that the Lord would soften my hard heart and stop my unkind feelings towards her. I knelt at the rail and prayed for His help.
There are so many political issues today that can set friend against friend and brother against brother. Instead of a spirit of love and compromise, the culture and the media keep us in a constant state of hysteria stirring up anger and hatred over each problem or imagined problem. How many friends have been separated over these political issues today? (Like Mattie and myself)
Hatred and anger seem to be in the air. We have mass murders occurring throughout the world with Isis terrorists gunning down innocent people in the name of religion. And domestic terrorists shooting down their terrified victims because the gunman had a bad day. No wonder when Jesus prophesied about the end times He said:” And then many will be offended and will betray one another and will hate one another. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:10, 12) How are we to act if we are living during such a time?
Jesus promises His help and calls us to reach out with peace and forgiveness and love even in difficult situations. Jesus said: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? “(Matthew 5:13) We are not salt all on our own. Jesus in our hearts loving and caring for others through us - that is the salt. And this “Jesus” salt in us gives us flavor and peace and love to share with others around us. Jesus is our salt. And He is the salt of the world. But, as Jesus warned, this salt can lose its flavor. When we stop caring about others or refuse to forgive. Or give in to anger and hatred, then our salt loses its’ flavor. It’s our job to keep and protect our salt from becoming bland and worthless and going bad.
Jesus also said: “You are the light of the world….Do not put your light under a bushel, but put it up on a lampstand, so it will give light to all those around you.” (Matthew 5:14-15) We are not that light on our own. Jesus is the light. (John 8:12) He is the light of the world and the light of life. And His light is in us and He wants to shine His light (His spirit of love and peace) through us to those around us. .He calls us to put the light of His love and salvation up on a lampstand for all to see. But when we get angry with others and criticize and hate, we put this precious light under a bushel, the bushel of hate, where no one can see it and be blessed and saved. We need to put the light we have been given up high on a lampstand and away from the temptation to be critical, or to hate, or to be unforgiving – those bushels that cover up our precious light. It’s our job to keep this light shining.
Jesus calls us to spread peace where there is anger or ill will. He calls us to be peacemakers. (Matthew 5:9) He will give us the ability or power to do what He asks of us. He promises to give us His special peace. He said: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give you. I don’t give the way the world does.” (John 14:27) He promises us His peace so let’s take it.
And Jesus calls us to spread love when there is hate. When hate is all around us He calls us to live in His love and enjoy and bask in the warmth of His love. And pass it on. “As the Father has loved Me, I also love you, abide in my love.” (John 14:9) When hate and arguments are raging all around us, we are to wrap ourselves up in God’s wonderful love. We can pass Gods’ love along to others only when we abide in it ourselves.
This week I read an article in the newspaper concerning the pope’s recent visit to Africa. Pope Francis visited Benqui in Central Africa with his message of peace. It was very dangerous for the pope to travel to Benqui, since the area has been wracked with bloody wars, mass murders, torture and violence between the Moslem and Christian populations who live there. Pope Francis risked his life by going into this hate filled war zone. He entered a mosque and sat down with the leader of the mosque and asked the Muslim leader to work with him for peace. To work together to stop the bloodshed and to live as neighbors together in peace. The pope spoke these words: “Christians and Muslims have lived peacefully for many years. We are brothers. Together we say “no” to hatred, to vengeance and violence especially violence that is committed in the name of a religion or in the name of God.”
If Pope Francis can plead with a Muslim leader for peace by asking that both Christians and Muslims say “no” to hatred, even after big issues like mass murders have happened, shouldn’t I be able to say “no” to my hatred over such a small thing as a silly disagreement with a friend. I finally made the decision to just say “no” to my critical spirit towards Mattie. Even if Mattie is never friendly to me again, I will give her to God and pray for her and say “no” to anger.
I want to follow Jesus and I can’t do that while I hold on to hateful feelings towards Mattie. Scripture says: “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) We just have to say “no” to our hate. It’s as simple as that. So simple we almost overlook it. Confess and turn from sin. (1 John 1:9) Draw a line in the sand and refuse to go over it. “Repent” the Bible says. In other words, just say “no”.
Now I can go back to church this Sunday and joyfully take part in Advent season. I can prepare a bigger place in my heart for Christ now that I have said “no” to the hate that took up precious space there. The salt in my life will be saltier now, because when hate was there my salt was becoming tasteless. And without hate in my heart, the light in my life will shine again too.. Advent is a time for housecleaning – throwing out those things that keep us from Christ. I have done a bit of housecleaning already and it feels so good. Do you want to join me? Do you want to make more room in your heart for Christ this Advent season too? Let’s prepare the gift of more of ourselves for Him this Christmas season.