Going Deeper 12-26-19

From Luke 2... And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.  Thus far our text.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.
There’s one more verse from “O Little Town of Bethlehem” we have not yet sung this Christmas Eve.  Here are the words:
How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming; but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him, still the dear Lord enters in.

Tell me… has your meek soul received Him?  Is that why you are gathered here this evening, to celebrate the birth of Jesus… not just into human flesh as the Babe of Bethlehem, but also into your very own heart and soul?  Or are you honestly here only because it is Christmas Eve and this is simply what you traditionally do every year on this day?
Either way, I am glad and grateful you are here, and my hope and prayer is that the dear Lord will enter in—whether it be for the first time, or for the first time in a long time, or be it simply a more profound experience of the ongoing presence you’ve known for some time now… may the Holy Spirit of God fill our hearts and souls like never before.  
But for this to happen, I must ask these two challenging questions: First, do you know in your heart that you need Jesus?  And, secondly: Is there room in your heart for Jesus? 
I hope you trust me when I say I know for certain that I continue to need the Christ-child to be born more and more profoundly into my own heart.  I need Jesus because I need His presence and His grace.  Too much brokenness remains in me, too much darkness which has not yet been fully shattered by the light of God’s love, too many weaknesses which ought not still be present.  And I also know that there have been a lot of opportunities to do good that I have failed to do. 
It may sound strange, but in a way I’m very thankful for this awareness of my need.  In his book, The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis wrote: “The good man is sorry for the sins which have increased his Need.  He is not entirely sorry for the fresh Need they have produced.”  The truth is, if we know how deeply broken we are, we’re profoundly blessed.  This is the stuff of “meek souls…”, of hearts open to receive Him still, for the dear Christ to enter in with His healing mercy and grace.
I now ask you to ponder this quote from French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Paschal: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ. What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?  This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”
It is important that you understand we are not talking about becoming more religious.  Quite frankly, the world doesn’t need more religious people.  What the world needs are more people who have experienced the healing grace of God and are devoted to living and loving like Jesus. This leads us to consider our second question: Is there room in our heart for Jesus?  Do you sense the truth of Paschal’s claim that a “God-shaped vacuum” exists in your heart?  Do you sense something is missing, and that there ought to be more meaning and purpose in your life?  Or perhaps that awareness has seemingly been drowned out, or you have learned to ignore it.  Or maybe you’ve sought to fill the space with other things… popularity, possessions, success.
If so, here is another quote to consider: Theologian Thomas Merton once observed that “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”  Popularity, possessions, and success can bring some fun and a certain kind of enjoyment to life.  It would be ridiculous to deny that.  But no matter how much we have, and how much we do, and how far we climb the ladder of success, in the end—and quite often much before the end—it all proves inadequate.
Here is what I believe in my own heart: the sin-shattered world around us, and the brokenness within us, are filled with deceit.  The Scriptures describe Satan as “the deceiver”… and he has proven to be very effective in his job.  And the great lie, which has been swallowed hook, line, and sinker, is that pursuing all these things is our ultimate purpose in life.  But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
The truth is that the ultimate purpose of life is experiencing and extending love.  The purest joy and peace are found in experiencing and extending grace.  The greatest fulfillment is found in making a positive impact on the lives we touch… starting with those closest to us… our family and friends, then extending into our community and beyond, even to the ends of the earth.
It is not about serving ourselves, getting what we want, obtaining what we have been told we need, such as a shiny new Lexus with a big red bow on top.  Christmas can teach us this very profound truth.  Shopping and decorating and partying, giving and receiving gifts… that’s all fun stuff.  There is enjoyment to be found there.  But the best stuff isn’t found is hunting for the best deals, or even giving brand new cars with ribbons on top… to someone else or even to our selves because “I’ve been pretty good this year!”  
The heart of Christmas, the source of pure joy and peace, comes in remembering the first and infinitely most important gift ever given or received… the gift of love, mercy and grace which came wrapped in swaddling clothes.  This is the gift we need the most.  This is the gift we do infinitely well to prepare our hearts—to make room in our hearts—to receive, the gift of Jesus.
This gift will be available to all who desire it right here in a few minutes, when Jesus comes to you wrapped not in swaddling clothes, but in the bread and the wine of the sacrament.  As you come forward, prepare your heart to receiving the love, mercy, and grace God desires to grant you.  With a meek soul and an open heart, receive Him.  “Still the dear Christ enters in.”
In closing, please understand that this Gift will never force His way into your heart and into your life.  God has never worked that way and He never will.  His desire is for us to desire Him, to know our great need for Him, and to seek Him.  Wise men and women still seek Him.  Seek Him this Christmas Eve, seek Him tomorrow on Christmas Day, and continue to seek Him all the days of your earthly journey.
In seeking you will find and in seeking you will be found.  And in seeking you will experience peace, purpose, and joy that can be found only in Jesus, the Son of God, our Savior.  Amen.