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Friday, December 8, 2017

Advent 2: Let God Distract You


The Advent season sounds the alarm, once a year, with a wake up call to prepare ourselves for the return of Christ. Many of us press the snooze button the rest of the year, but if we let Advent do its work ... No more hitting the snooze button! The message of Advent insists that the first step in getting ready for our Savior is to wake up and stay awake.

We are actually quite good at staying awake. On average, we sleep fewer hours than people did a century ago. Caffeine, work, entertainment and just plain overall busy-ness keep us awake. But it is not simply a matter of staying awake; rather, as the Apostle Paul reminds us, we are called to be awake to God and God’s work of salvation in our midst.

We can stay awake by keeping busy and being distracted, but are we awake to God? Are we spiritually alive? It is a recognised fact that we are the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult group in UK history. We may be awake, but have we numbed ourselves to being fully alive? Christ comes to rouse us and share with us the abundant life that only God can give.

Are we alive to the presence of God, the voice of God, to the dreams and visions of God … that are in our midst? Or are we too busy to notice Him?

I speak for myself, but I have an idea that I'm not alone when I say that much of the busy-ness in my life is self-inflicted ... some of it I can justify (eg my blogging which I believe brings my preaching to others in a way that God can use). But then there's the time filled with reading other people's blogs, some of which bring me cutting edge stuff in theology and Bible interpretation ... saving me a fortune in terms of buying books ... then also occasionally looking at FaceBook, just to relax and see what's going on in other people's lives ... and then of course the series we watch at night to just relax before falling asleep exhausted ... and all this is of course over and above my "work" as the lead elder here at MWC, just as many of you fit all these things in over and above your work.

And in the midst of all this, of course, one has to find time for coffee!!!

My personal Advent devotions have already had me reflecting on the different characters of Christmas, and find myself wondering if Zechariah, Mary, Elizabeth and Joseph would have been as sensitive to the voice of God, if they allowed as many things to distract them as we allow to distract us. You see, the truth is we allow technology (which includes the good old fashioned telephone) to distract us, we allow TV to distract us, we allow e-mail to distract us, we allow the latest series on TV (anyone watched the new series of Crown yet) to distract us, and FB and Twitter ... (even if you don’t have a twitter account, you can’t watch or listen to the news without hearing about Donald Trump’s twitter account ... and so on.

And so with all this going on in the world today, we may be awake, but have we numbed ourselves to being fully alive? ........I read the story of Joseph and ask myself: What do these verses teach me about being alive, and in particular, about being alive to God.

God wants us to be alive to, to be sensitive to, many things:

1. Our home group material over the last few months has I hope, called us to be alive to the culture and cultures that God has chosen to immerse us in ... in fact culture has been very much in the news this week in the lead up to the announcement of the UK’s next official “City of Culture” ... and the winner was: ..... Coventry!

The press has made much of Meghan Markle’s cultural background as an American and what influences we can expect that to have on the Royal family going forward. We all live in a culture or a mixture of cultures. Joseph did, and in the culture of Joseph’s day, Mary, by falling pregnant before her marriage, brought shame on both families and she had to be shamed….and Joseph rightly wrestled with the cultural way of dealing with a pregnant fiancĂ©. This brings me to the second area that I want to suggest God wants us to be alive to:

2. Be alive to the Law of God and the Word of God
Joseph was fully aware of what the Law allowed …. instant divorce just by writing a note … public humiliation of the guilty party, Mary … and stoning to death. On one occasion in His ministry a woman was brought to Jesus who had been caught in the act of adultery and they were about to stone her….and I’m sure He must have thought: “I’m so glad they didn’t stone my mother.” As we saw last week, Jesus always took the side of the outcasts, the lepers, the crooks like the tax collectors, the immoral like the prostitutes. He sided with them and stood up for them ... never condoned their despicable behaviour, but didn’t let their behaviour stop Him from reaching out to them and embracing them ... which leads to the next thing we need to be alive to:

3. Be alive to the common humanity which we all share.
Joseph doesn’t forget that Mary is a human being, just like him and in the midst of the scandal she brought upon their families, he is KIND to her, he doesn’t have to be … he chooses to be kind and gentle to this human being who has let him down. He is going to do what the Law requires, but he’s going to do it quietly ... no public shaming.
You see, Joseph is alive to his culture, alive to the Word of God, alive to the common humanity he shares with Mary and all other sinners. But mostly, He is alive to God.

4. Be alive to the Living God who speaks in the midst of culture, through His word, through our common humanity ... TODAY.
He does this in many different ways ... through dreams ... through angels ... through children.

I said earlier that we allow things/people/technology to distract us and I sensed the LORD using the story of Joseph to say to me: Allow Me to distract you ... yes, still have your set time with Me ... but just as you let the vibration of your mobile distract you ... give Me permission to distract you ... in your dreams like Joseph, in your ministry like Zechariah, even in your dealing with other human beings, like Elizabeth, allow Me to distract you.

I think I’m trying to say there’s a difference between turning to God and being distracted by God. When we turn to God, we in a sense say: “Right, God, what do you say … let me see what your word says … let me pray now for some wisdom” … our daily quiet time is turning to God, … and all of this is good and right, except that we come to a place where we say… “Amen”… ie “now I’m finished with enquiring of God, see you tomorrow in my quiet time again.” We almost treat God the way some people treat children: They must be seen but not heard … they must speak only when spoken to … they are not allowed to distract or interrupt us.

What does it mean for you and for me to allow God to distract us … to interrupt us … to speak to us even if we’re not speaking to Him.

That seems to be a common thread running through each of the Characters of Christmas, it isn’t when they go to God that He chooses to speak to them and with them, it is when they allow themselves to be distracted by God. And I think this ability comes from being fully alive to God, in the midst of all the other things we are alive to ... technology, coffee, mobiles, children's noises, dreams, … being alive, sensitive, to the fact that God might be in the midst of this conversation, in the midst of this situation, in the midst of this mess, in the midst of that dream I had last night….. and when we are alive to God in that way we will see and hear and sense and KNOW God’s presence in our midst.

I mean, look at Joseph: his fiancĂ© is pregnant and he knows one thing for certain … he is not the father. God has not spoken to the entire nation of Israel for nearly 400 years, but she says He has spoken to her now and asked if He can make her pregnant!!!!!  And he is aware of his culture (this is a shame and she must be shamed) … and he is aware of the Law of God (this is a sin and she must be stoned) … and he is aware of his own downright decency and humanity (I will just divorce her quietly) … AND … he has a relationship with his God that allows his God to distract him … to interrupt him. He has a dream, a dream, in which he sees an angel who tells him it’s OK, Mary is telling the truth. Please note … he doesn’t see an angel, like Mary does, and Zechariah does in the Temple, NO … he dreams and in his dream he sees an angel.

And ... he is alive to God amidst all the other things he is alive to, he lets God distract him from his culture, from the Law, from his common sense and in so doing he hears and sees and senses God in his midst.

Let us learn from Joseph to beware of being so alive to the distractions of this life, which are many, that we are no longer alive to our God who is constantly, and I think playfully, trying to distract us all the time, in order to assure us of his presence.

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