Thursday, December 6, 2018

Advent Housecleaning. . .

A while back my mother sent me some things that were made by her mother and her grandmother.  They were nothing special to most eyes but pure gold to me.  To think my great-grandmother, who died when my grandmother was only 13, has passed this bit of her stitching and handiwork all the way down to me and it survived in pristine condition.  Those are keepers and will be carefully preserved.  They belong not really to me but to those who come after me, a golden thread to tie us to our past.  In this case, an immigrant past from a man and woman who left Sweden behind to come to America and in doing so began a new life among strangers without any blood relatives here.  What a story!

My house is filled with these mementos of our history, from my wife's side and mine.  They are all over the walls and shelves of our home.  The folks from HGTV would tell us it is time to declutter and perhaps some would send over a therapist to talk to us about our hoarding tendencies.  It bothers others more than us but the clutter is clean and, in reality, quite organized.  It is really not as bad as I make it sound.  The point I am trying to make is how precious are these things, mostly without much financial worth, but of great value to us and to our family.  But then there are those Scriptures:
“He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; nor he who loves abundance, with increase. This also is vanity. When goods increase, they increase who eat them; so what profit have the owners except to see them with their eyes?  The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eats little or much; but the abundance of the rich will not permit him to sleep. There is a severe evil which I have seen under the sun: riches kept for their owner to his hurt.  But those riches perish through misfortune; when he begets a son, there is nothing in his hand. As he came from his mother’s womb, naked shall he return, to go as he came; and he shall take nothing from his labor which he may carry away in his hand” (Ecclesiastes 5:10-15).
Some would insist that God is telling us to travel light for we are all sojourners, without any abiding home here on earth.  After all Jesus told His disciples not to pack an extra bag or take an extra coat or pair of shoes when He sent them out.  There is, however, a difference between preserving the treasures of our past with thanksgiving and holding onto the treasures of this world with a grip until death.  The Lord is not telling us to cast off the things that tie us to our ancestors or connect the dots of our memories through the ages as if they meant nothing.  No, what He is telling us is that as precious as these things are and as precious as other things are in the world, none of these can pass with us through death and the grave.  They belong to this world and to this life and their value is not an eternal value but a momentary one. 

As Advent comes and we are told to clean our spiritual houses in preparation first for the remembrance of our Lord's first coming, and then to be renewed in His coming to us now in Word and Sacrament, and to consider His coming again in power and glory as Lord and Judge of all, it is time to assess what is precious and eternal and what we may treasure that is but temporal.  The distinction is important and confusing the two imperils our lives now and forever. 

Israel lived within this tension, sometimes more successfully than others.  They lived in remembrance of their fathers, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of the mighty acts of God's deliverance, of the prophetic Word and the promised future.  At times they valued the present too much and they lost it all in exile while others plundered their bounty.  At times they valued their past too much and sought a future which copied the glory moment of yesteryear.  At times these remembrances of their past and the circumstances of their present pointed them to the hope of a real promised land that could never be taken from them and a real Zion on high.  I am sure we are not unlike them.  That is why the Lord has placed the voice of His Word in our midst -- to call us to Him when past or present cloud the hope of the future He has prepared.

I love the treasures of my families and their past mostly because they were people of faith, they knew the hope within them as they left home and family for a new world, and they were comforted with this hope when disease, death, and the depression took so much from them.  They were heroic in this faith.  The ties that bind me these people of faith and to this past help ground me for all that comes in the present and rekindle within me the hope of a blessed reunion provided by Christ and His resurrection.  The mementos so precious to me now will not be with me in that future just as all the things I have done to prepare for retirement will be left behind but the faith endures and the people of faith endure.  A little housecleaning in Advent is not a bad thing if it points us to the pearl of great price that is Christ and His salvation.  Christ has come, Christ still comes, and Christ will come again.

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