Steal My Heart, Jesus (First Sunday in Advent)

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Today marks the beginning of the season of Advent: a season laden with promise and hope. However, the lessons scream of war and chaos; of surprise and abandonment; of relationships and communities which are splintered and divided. And so, as I studied the lessons and sat to write my sermon for this week, there was a familiar tug on my heart to point out all the impossibilities of today. Our hearts are wrecked by refugees, by protests, by political proceedings, by detention camps, by broken promises, by one another… Plenty of us are lonely, bored, tired, sick, grieving, or afraid.

I’m good at writing this kind of sermon: of pointing out the mess that surrounds us and reminding us of our call to ‘be’ the heart and hands of Jesus. There’s an adage that is often said about pastors: Every pastor has one sermon. It’s said we basically rewrite that sermon over and over our entire careers, through different imagery and stories, but… basically it’s just variations on a theme. At first this sounds a little disparaging to the pastor’s intellect; however, it is true in many regards. And, I’m actually ok with it, because the way I preach illustrates what I believe to be the essence of God’s character. Additionally, Jesus basically said the same things over and over again, and He is the Son of God, so… I can probably get a little grace on this.

Anyway, all this is to say: I just couldn’t do it this week. I’m sorry.
The sermon that’s etched on my heart is a tiring one: Together with God we can save the world. This is the sermon that I write over and over again. But, it can grow wearying to persist in showing up to what is messy, to what is frustrating, to what lies in shadow, to what seems like it isn’t going anywhere.

Sometimes, I want life to be easy. I want things not to hurt.
And so, I couldn’t preach on Isaiah’s vision of hammering swords into plowshares, even though that calls to my personal theology, even though I had a sermon on that theme started.

I just… am tired. Tired of the bigness of the world and the smallness of me. I needed something to steal me away from myself, I guess.

And so, while the language of God coming like a thief in the night has ominous tones to it; I clung to those words this week. I remembered reading once that Eugene Peterson (the author of The Message Bible and a prolific theologian and writer) said his one sermon was this: God loves you. God’s on your side. God’s coming after you. And He’s relentless.

That is a sermon I could hear every week.

I think that the words, “If the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour,” are supposed to encourage me to keep ready for God, to prepare, for they might show up at any time.

But. For me… I probably just need God to bulldoze the door and set themselves down at the table, whether they’ve been invited or not. I don’t need God to be polite. I need God to be a thief.

Steal me away, Lord Jesus.
Take my heart.
Don’t let the iron bars stop you.
Be a thief in the most conniving of ways.
Outsmart my intellect and weasel your way in.
May I not be ready.
Surprise me.

I know that Jesus says, ‘be ready,’ but that seems to imply knowing what to look for.
Or, that if we are watchful enough then we might be able to anticipate or control when God will show up.

I’m pretty sure that when we think we know what we’re looking for we often miss what we are meant to find altogether. I know I use my intelligence, thirst for knowing, and my longing for certainty as a type of security system. It helps me feel as if I’m a master of my universe. Essentially, protecting myself from the unknown and the unexpected.

Perhaps the good news here is that Jesus has been staking the joint, and there will be a break-in. Maybe it’s good news that I can’t actually be ready enough for Jesus. The promise of Advent is there was and is and will be a break-in, whether we defend against God or not.

We saw this when God broke into creation as a small babe in the manager.
We see this when God breaks into our hearts, overpowering our intellect and apathy with unwitting compassion and hope. 
We trust that God will break forth anew tomorrow, and next year, and every year after that until God finally steals away all the pain, suffering, and futility of this world.

I could not cry loud enough right now, “I’m not ready and I never will be. Come anyway! Take me; leave me. Do something, Son of Man – You holy thief.” I long for God to do something unexpected.

See, it is precisely because everything hurts that we need Advent. And why we need to hear over and over again: God loves you. God’s on your side. God’s coming after you. And He’s relentless.

See, this God we worship is not interested in our loss-prevention programs, security systems, or hypervigilance. This holy thief cheats on the ways of the world, congratulating themselves on being ‘unjust,’ and resists our attempts to turn Jesus into an honest man. God’s interested in getting what God wants and they’re not above breaking the laws of humanity to get it.

And, God wants us to break the law too, being a co-conspirator with them – sneaking delectable grace into every corner of the world when people are least expecting it. Of course, that line of thinking will lead me into my usual, “Together with God we can save the world,” sermon.

So, for now, let’s leave it at this:
Steal our hearts, Jesus.
Leave us better for it.
And help us to sneak a little grace and love into the places we go.