Advent Matrix

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2005 at 10:36 pm

Good morning. One of the best Christmas seasons I ever enjoyed was fourteen years ago. I had recently completed my psychotherapy degree, and I was working at a small counseling center in Loveland. On the hour-long rides up and back I listened to Christmas music, and Chuck Swindoll, an evangelical radio preacher, was teaching a wonderful series on the life of Mary. It was a special contemplative season, and I was sorry to see it end.

I wish I could tell you that all my Christmas seasons were like that one. But I can’t. Too many times I have arrived in January feeling sad that the season went too fast, and that I did too little to make it a meaningful time.

I’m sure we have all regretted Christmas seasons that got away. Why do we do that? In this most special season, why is it so hard sometimes for Christians to enter into the holy mystery of Christmas? Well, I have a theory about that. I believe the day after Thanksgiving, we are all given a choice. We can swallow the blue pill, or the red pill. Far too often we swallow the blue pill, and next thing you know, Christmas is over, and we missed it.

You all know what I’m talking about, right? I’m talking about the movie “The Matrix.” In this very popular movie that came out several years ago, a young man named Neo comes to believe that something about this world just isn’t right. There is something mysterious he can’t quite figure out. A John the Baptist figure named Morpheus sits Neo down and puts two pills in his hand, a red pill and a blue pill. Morpheus tells Neo that if he takes the blue pill, he will wake up in bed the next day, and he will have no memory of anything being wrong in the world, no memory of any mysteries, no memory even of Morpheus. But, if he takes the red pill, he will begin an exciting and dangerous journey which will show him the truth. The red-pill journey will strip Neo of his illusions, and reveal to him the true nature of the mystery of life.

The day after Thanksgiving we are all given a red pill and a blue pill. If we take the blue pill, we will wake up on January 2nd, and we will not remember anything about Advent, or Christmas, or truth. The Christmas season will simply be a hazy memory of consumer pressures, mall Christmas music, and too many things to do. But, if we take the red pill, we will begin an Advent journey where we will find the truth, where we will be stripped of our illusions, and where we will better understand the deep and holy mysteries of life. If we take the red pill, we will wake up on January 2nd, and we will be different people.

Our readings this morning are a call to a red-pill journey. Our readings show us that Christmas is about miracles, about home, and about hope, but miracles, home, and hope stripped of illusions and misconceptions. Our readings are a call to truth. And to battle. So, join me this morning as we take the red pill, and follow the white rabbit into the Matrix.

The first illusion and misconception we must battle at this time of year is what I call the illusion of the ordinary. This illusion says there is Christmas time, and there is ordinary time. Our culture works hard to cultivate the illusion that there is the holiday season, and there is regular life. In the church we have our own version of this illusion. After Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost, what is the rest of the church year called? Traditionally, we call the rest of the year ordinary time. But the idea of ordinary time is an illusion, and our Old Testament reading blows it up.

In Second Samuel chapter seven, the prophet Nathan announces to David that he will be greatly blessed, and that his house and throne will endure forever. From David’s house and line will come the Messiah, who will give Israel a home where they will no longer be disturbed, and where wicked people will not oppress them anymore. One of David’s descendants would be, in the angel’s words to Mary, the Son of the Most High, who will sit on the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end.

What a miraculous blessing and promise for King David! For me, what is just as miraculous is that David lived long enough to get this promise at all. That is a miracle. David could have been killed by Goliath. Saul tried to kill David for years, and he almost succeeded. David survived dozens and dozens and dozens of battles with surrounding tribes. He was so discouraged that at one point he even fought for the Philistines. But through it all, David survived, he became King, and one of his descendants became the Messiah. All of David’s life was a miracle.

The fact that David’s line survived down to Mary was just as miraculous. After the promise of the Messiah, David had to endure the consequences of his sins of murder and adultery. His own son Absalom waged a civil war against him. The Kings who followed David were, for the most part, not so good. Israel’s fortunes declined, and the kingdom was destroyed and taken to Babylon. Somehow they returned, reorganized, and continued. Israel then survived the invasion of Greek culture, and later occupation by the Romans.

Absolutely miraculously, David’s line survived, until one day and angel appeared to David’s descendant Mary, and announced that she, a virgin, would give birth to the Messiah. Mary said, “how can this be?” The angel said, with God, nothing is impossible. Indeed.

At Christmas, we focus almost exclusively on the miracle of Christ’s virgin birth. We lose sight of the fact that God had been working miraculously in ordinary history for thousands of years to bring about Christ’s birth. The subtle illusion and misconception is that when the angel tells Mary that nothing is impossible with God, we think he is talking to Mary only about the virgin birth. In reality, the angel is talking about all of life.

The truth of Christmas is that there is no ordinary life. In exactly the same way that God miraculously worked in history to bring about the birth of Christ from the line of David, so too He has worked in “ordinary” history, from the beginning of time, to bring forth each and every one of us. Christ’s miraculous birth is the confirmation that all of us are God’s miraculous handiwork.

If you are like me, there are many times when I don’t feel particularly special. I look at all the billions of people in the world, or at the trillions of galaxies in the universe, and it seems likely that I am not very important. How could I be? Certainly, my joys and sorrows, my successes and defeats, are not at the center of anyone’s reality but my own. But the glorious truth of Christmas is that, in a very special way, I am at the center of reality. And so are you. If Christmas confirms that God worked through history to preserve the line of David, then Christmas certainly confirms that God has worked through history to miraculously create, love, and preserve each and every one of us. The angel tells us, with God, nothing is impossible.

All of life is miraculous, not just the big events. If we believe there is a difference between the special and the ordinary, then we have taken the blue pill. There is no ordinary life.

The second illusion and misconception we must battle at this time of year is what I call the illusion of activity. Our culture works hard, especially at this time of year, to make us think that we must do, do, do, and if we do, then we will be happy. Activity results in happiness. As Christians we have a similar version of this illusion. We believe we must do something for God, before He will do something for us. Good works result in God’s blessing. This sounds logical. And many Christians have taught through the years that before God can work in our lives, we must first do something for God. But David’s story in Second Samuel tells us that this kind of thinking just isn’t right.

After the death of Saul, David succeeded in uniting the tribes of Israel under his kingship. He made Jerusalem the capital, and he brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. But David wanted more. He said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.” David wanted to build a glorious temple for the ark. But God had other ideas.

God says to David, “you want to build me a home? Well, let me tell you about the home I am going to build for you.” And then God proceeds to tell David that his son will build a temple, and that through David’s line the Messiah will come. God promises to make his home with David, David’s son Solomon, and David’s entire lineage, down to Mary. That comes first. Once God makes His home with us, then we can make a home for God.

At this time of year, the picture I have in my mind for God making His home with us is a great symbol of the faith. No, not the credit card, and no, not even the manger. The picture I have in my mind is a picture of a giant funnel. At the very top, at the open end, God decides to make His home in humanity. Then, moving down the funnel, God chooses one nation out of all nations in which to make his home. Israel. Then, further down the funnel, God selects one tribe of Israel, the tribe of Judah, which will be His home. Moving down the funnel, God then tells David that out of this one tribe, one family line, David’s, will be home to the Messiah. And then moving down the funnel to the very bottom, the angel tells Mary, your womb has been chosen to be the home of the Messiah, the Son of David. The entire Bible is a story about God making his home with us.

Christmas is the confirmation not only that there is no ordinary life, but also that there are no ordinary people. Each of us is the home of God. In exactly the same way that God funnelled all of life down to Mary, so too God funnels all of life down to each of us. The funnel that culminated in Mary united her humanity to Christ, the second person of the trinity. The funnel that stops in each of us unites our humanity to the third person of the trinity, the Holy Spirit. We are the dwelling place of God. The good news of Christmas is that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us.

Sometimes, however, we don’t get this home stuff right. We labor under the illusion and misconception that there is something we must do before God will make His home with us. We must pray first. We must repent first. We must do our Advent devotional first. We must get our holiday shopping done first. Then, when we are ready, God will come to us.

Sometimes it feels like the church fosters this illusion. We hear a lot about the need to attend services, partake of the sacraments, pledge our money, and give our time. We might think that we need to do these things first, so that God will be happy with us, and make His home with us.

Wrong. God making his home with us is always the first movement in the dance. Always. Before we were born, God is making his home with us. Before we ever went to church, God is making his home with us. Before we committed ourselves to following Christ, God is making his home with us. Before we begin the search process for a new priest, God is making his home with us. God making his home with us is always the beginning. The second step in the dance is what we do in response. If we believe that we must do something for God before He will do something for us, then we have taken the blue pill. God is always saying to us, just as he said to David, “you want to build me a home? Well, let me show you the home I am going to build for you.”

The third illusion and misconception we must battle this time of year is what I call the illusion of hopelessness. Our culture says, eat, drink, and be festive, because the rest of life is pretty meaningless and hopeless. Our Christian version of this illusion is the belief that Advent and Christmas are beautiful Christian oasis surrounded by the rest of the year, and the rest of the world, which are bleak and hopeless. Certainly, the rest of the year, and the rest of the world, appear to be dark places. Natural disasters kill hundreds of thousands. Human beings kill hundreds of thousands. Terrorists never seem to disappear. Relations between countries never seem to improve. The world does not seem to be getting any better. It seems to be getting worse.

And when we look at our own lives, our lack of spiritual development can be pretty discouraging. I turned forty eight yesterday, and I was thinking, “Jimbo, you are still dealing with some stuff you were dealing with twenty years ago.” Maybe I’m not getting any better either.

But this is an illusion. The apostle Paul tells us that things are getting better. God is building something special in the world. In Romans Paul tells us that there is a great mystery, hidden in ages past, but now made known and revealed through the prophetic writings. And this great mystery is that the funnel doesn’t stop with Mary and Jesus. It is with Mary and Jesus that another kind of funnel actually begins.

Imagine again that the funnel of God making His home with us is completed with Mary and Jesus. Now imagine that another funnel begins with Mary and Jesus, slowly getting broader and broader, spreading throughout the entire world. This funnel slowly spreads from Judea, to Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. This funnel is a community, the new Israel, the literal children of God, where God now makes His home. This new community understands that that there is no ordinary life, and that there are no ordinary people. This is a new people who have God living in their hearts. This people is the church.

The church is the mystery hidden for ages past, but now revealed in Christ. Though too many times it appears that our world is going to hell, the church shows us that there is a heavenly drama being played out, if we can just see it, where this world is getting better and better.

That drama, hidden in ages past but now revealed to everyone, centers on Jesus and Mary. From before the foundations of the world the Father chose humanity, and within humanity He chose one people, and from that people He chose one tribe, and from that tribe he selected one family, and from that family one person, Mary, gave birth to the Messiah. Mary and Jesus are the centerpiece of the drama. The funnel came down to Mary and Jesus.

But now, the funnel flows from Mary and Jesus. As the funnel gets wider and wider, God calls every tribe, and every race, and every people and every person to become a part of His body, the church. The funnel will keep getting wider and wider, until Christ returns. That is the true story of Christmas. That is the mystery of the church. Our world is not a hopeless place. Christ’s body, the church is spreading through time and all over the world. That is good news.

And the Holy Spirit who is spreading the church in hope is the same Spirit who is working in our hearts, changing us into Christ’s image from one degree of glory to another, even if we are dealing with the same stuff we dealt with twenty years ago. We are all becoming more Christ-like, and that is good and hopeful news.

And that is why we return, every December, to the image of a mother giving birth to a child. As only the Eastern Orthodox can phrase it, so poetically, Mary, the centerpiece of both funnels, is both the mother of God, and, the mother of the church. On that most holy night, Mary gave birth to the Savior, and she gave birth to all those who would be saved. You and me. It is a great, and beautiful, mystery. If we can’t see it, at least a little bit, then we may have taken the blue pill, because this mystery of hope is what Christmas and everything else is all about.

In the movie The Matrix, when given the choice, Neo takes the red pill. His journey to comprehend the truth is a difficult one, and it takes him a while before he can distinguish truth from illusion. But, at the end of the movie it all comes together for Neo, and he sees reality, both truth and illusion, as it really is.

In this Christmas season, when truth and illusion get more mixed up than usual, may we all resist blue pill temptations to fall asleep, and may we have the courage to take the red pill and see God’s reality. And may we all feel the Christmas joy of knowing that we are extra-ordinary people, living an extra-ordinary life, in a world filled with extra-ordinary hope.


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