Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Moderate means generous...
In the light of the shootings and death in Connecticut, the words of the Epistle lesson today might seem out of place. We are not in a mood to rejoice. How can we rejoice when there are families suffering so? How can we rejoice in a world so filled with tragedy faced even by small children? Joy is for those who can afford it – who have money, power, ease, health, etc. Those who live carefree lives without grief or pain can afford to rejoice. But that is not what St. Paul says. St. Paul insist we cannot afford NOT to rejoice.
In the words of our Epistle lesson, St. Paul wrote: "Let your moderation be known to all." We are accustomed to moderation meaning not extreme. Some translate it gentleness or even softness. Here it means generosity. St. Paul calls us to acknowledge the riches of grace God has given us even in sorrow and to learn from this grace to be joyful in heart and generous in spirit. Our joy comes not from the moment or life’s circumstances but from the Lord.
We are rich. Before you argue with me about this, this is a declarative statement. God says of us, “you are rich”. Christ has made you rich. He has given up what is His to give it to YOU. He has given you all that is His so that you can no longer declare yourselves poor. We are rich in a righteousness which we did not earn, in peace which the world cannot give, and in joy not dependent upon the circumstances of our lives. We are heirs of an incredibly rich inheritance to come. We are heirs of a rich mercy we know so well today. More than today, we have been given eternity. The want we know today or the sufferings of the present moment are nothing in comparison to the eternal paradise God has prepared for us in Christ.
Even in this mortal life, we are not poor. Scripture reminds us of God's promise to provide all the needs of this body and this life. He who provides for the flowers of the field will certainly give us all we need. As an earthly father knows how to give good gifts to his children, so your heavenly Father gives you good gifts in daily life. He daily and richly gives us all these things. In times of sorrow we acknowledge the richness of God’s grace in our everyday lives.
The issue is not whether God has given us this eternal treasure or whether He cares for us with the things we need for this body and this life. No, the issue is this. How confident are we of these riches? Do we see and acknowledge these riches? Do we live in fear or generously? Do we wait for circumstances to produce joy or do we grasp the joy that flows from the riches He has bestowed on us? He who was rich became poor so that we who are poor could be made rich in Him.
The shape of generosity and joy is contentment. We are content without the need to show others or to show them up. We have nothing to prove. Christ is our righteousness. Christ is our life. Christ is our hope. Faith leaves us content in Christ. The world lives in constant need to show up and show off. We can afford to be generous because God was generous in mercy to us. This is the source of our contentment. We know who we are and whose we are. We know what God has given to us in Christ. We live in the grace of all that His incarnation, suffering, and death have borne for us. This is where contentment begins.
Rich in Christ and content with His grace, we have no need to judge others in order to make us feel better. We have no need to build us up by tearing down others. We have nothing to prove. Christ is our righteousness, life, and hope. His forgiveness is our peace. His care is our comfort. His victory is our hope. We speak the truth in love and not as a weapon. We have room to bear the burdens of those who hurt. We can afford to live generously toward those around us – especially the wounded and hurting.
Because we have all things in Christ, we can afford to be generous in the way we live our lives, in the way we care for others, in the way we respond to hateful people and hateful events without being hateful. Because we know God's forgiveness in Christ, we can be forgiving. Because we know we have eternity, we can afford to give our time to others. Because we know God's care for everyday, we can afford to share the money and things we call our own. We have been made rich in Christ; we can afford to be generous.
Advent is a time of appraisal. We look at Christ who is to come through the lens of what He has done for us. We have nothing to prove; we can do nothing to save ourselves. Everyday we live indebted to Him who gave His life for us. Everyday we live indebted to Him who daily and richly gives us all things that we need. Everyday we live indebted to the inheritance He has prepared for us the eternal life promised us. This is our peace, our contentment, and our joy.
None of this is the fruit of our labors; it is the result of Christ's gifts to us. Contentment is not the fruit of getting all we want but living in gratitude to Christ for all that He has done for us. Generosity is not for those who have too much but for all whose poverty has been graced with Christ's riches of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Joy is not the fruit of a careful life but the fruit of those who cast their cares on God who cares for them, who bears our burdens, feels our pain, and covers us with His healing wounds.
The answers that explain violence and suffering are the ones none of us wants to face. Look in the mirror. There but for the grace of God go I. Every evil and fear that acts out in terror also lives hidden in every sinful heart. The real answer to the discontent within, to the sin that lives in our hearts, and to the death that casts its shadow over our lives is the child lain in a manger, the man mounted on the cross, the Savior lifted up to draw all people to Himself. God has given a generous mercy that bears our burdens, suffers for our sins, dies our death, and lives to make us righteous and to give us eternal life. Joy begins there. Those who sorrow, the troubled, the fearful, and the grieving find joy, peace and contentment only in Christ. God has been incredibly generous toward us. Let us live our lives as generous people, who give to others the mercy and grace that God has given us without end. Then, and only then, will we find joy to overcome our sorrow, peace to carry us through the struggle, and contentment for now and forevermore. Amen.