Today is the first day of December, and I think it’s a good sign that winter is coming. It’s the last month of 2019, and towards the end of the year, often we like to start thinking back on things and what changes we would like to make in the new year. But if you think about it, it’s often difficult to identify what’s happened in your life and how you’ve changed or been shaped over the past year. I think that’s the way our modern life is. We’re very busy and preoccupied with daily concerns, making ends meet, enjoying the company of others, focusing on our relationships and tending to our families. So things tend to be a blur. It takes some time to just think back on all the things that actually have happened in our lives.
Preoccupation with Daily Concerns
Jesus says this in today’s passage, “But understand this: 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.” I was reflecting on this verse and I realized that we get so caught up with the pressing concerns of our life, that we often don’t see what it is that we’re missing. Somehow in our preoccupation with the daily concerns of living, I think we suspect that we’ve been robbed of the things that matter. Like a thief in the night, life can sneak up on us and take things away. Our health, our youth, our vitality, our optimism. Life takes away our time, our freedom, our choices. And we often don’t even notice what’s been taken away until sometimes it’s too late.
I think perhaps the most important thing that modern life can take away from us is the quality of our relationships. We all know that rich, meaningful relationships bring joy, comfort, and meaning to life. They give us a purpose for our existence, something beyond just ourselves to live for. But it’s so difficult to cultivate rich, meaningful relationships in this day and age. Time is often our greatest enemy. At our young families gathering last night, for example, we were sharing about just how pressed our time is. I think most of us spend more time with our work colleagues than we do with our own family. Many parents barely spend any meaningful time with their spouse, because all of their time at home is spent with the kids. Spouses have become mere collaborators in raising children, not deeply connected partners in life.
I think this certainly has been the case to some extent in my own family. You know, Deb leaves home shortly after seven every morning and even earlier when she’s doing early shifts. She doesn’t get home until around five. And then she’s frantically rushing to make dinner while I’m fighting the kids to bathe them. So then the hour or so we spent to eat is the only time, real time, that we have as a family on a weekday. After that hour or so, we’re fighting to get the kids ready and settled down into bed. As for me, I mean, I do all the pickups and drop-offs, and that makes my days really short. It’s hard to get a lot of work done. So my only real time to do quality work is in the evenings and in the evenings is when she’ll do things like the grocery shopping and preparing lunch and dinner for the next day until 10:00 PM or so sometimes. So we’re lucky if we can fit in a few moments of conversation and catch up on what’s going on.
Robbed of Joy
This is the reality of modern life. Our lives have become very functional. We do things, not for its own sake, but as a function to achieve something else. My work, or your work, is sometimes not done for its own sake, but to earn money for yourself and for your children. These Hi-C kids, they study and I know this, not because they enjoy it or love it, but so that they can get into a good school and eventually get a job and make money. We get along with others, not because we necessarily cherish those relationships, but so that we don’t get a bad reputation or we don’t get knocked down. Right? The things we do merely serve functional needs at many times. I think we’ve learned to live with life as it is, but I think it’s come at a cost. I believe that maybe the greatest thing we’re robbed of in modern life is joy. Joy that comes from deep, meaningful relationships. Joy that comes from believing that what I do is meaningful and valuable in and of itself. Joy that comes from knowing that my life matters and makes a difference.
This is why Jesus warns us to keep awake. We must keep awake to prevent the important things in life from slipping away from us. In your preoccupation with current things, are you being robbed of joy and vitality in your life? What else is it robbing you of? And what effect is your busy life having on the things that are really important? We must be on guard so that our joy, our relationships, and the important things in life are not robbed from us. But I know that very often, the reality is that we have been asleep, haven’t we? And our joy has been robbed. I mean, yeah, we have fun and enjoy little moments in life and try to capture that whenever we can. But I sense a lack of lasting everlasting joy because true joy gives us energy in life. But when there is no joy, we become tired. It becomes tiring to do anything. It becomes tiring to get up and go to work. It’s tiring to meet people. It’s tiring to do anything outside of work and home when there’s no joy. So it becomes easier to do nothing, but watch Netflix and chill. Just shut off our minds.
I think a life without joy is like living in a dry desert with no water or life. It is just hot, dry, and tiring. Life without joy can be like dry bones that have no flesh, no ligaments, no breath. Or life with joy can look like a tree stump that no longer has a trunk and branches and leaves that bear fruit. It’s just a dead stump that has been cut down. I think many people today live this way and it makes our life bear no juicy plump fruit.
Hope in the Wilderness
But I realized, the amazing thing though, is that in this empty void, God’s promises come. The prophet Isaiah said this, “A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” In the wilderness and in the desert, prepare the way of the Lord. Into this empty void comes a voice from God telling us to get ready for God to come. In this empty void where our life is arid and dry, is where God promises to create new life.
This is the vision that God gave to the prophet Ezekiel: The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
This is a word of hope that when we have been drained of joy and vitality, when we are mere dry bones, God comes to speak to us and promises that we shall live. I realized this: joy doesn’t necessarily emerge from the happiest circumstances, but rather joy is a byproduct of hope and hope is born and conceived often in pain and darkness. Our life might seem like a barren desert or dead like a tree stump, but in this seeming deadness is precisely where God acts.
The prophet Isaiah said this: A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. Isn’t this a beautiful image? From a dead tree stump that has no life and nothing going for it, a shoot will come up, form a branch and start to bear new fruit. We believe that this shoot is Jesus! Jesse was the father of King David and Jesus descended from that line of David. From that dead tree came forth a new branch that would bear new fruit, which is why together in Jesus we believe that we too can share in this sprouting of new life.
So hope is the precursor to joy. Joy comes after waiting in hope. Today is the first Sunday of advent and it’s the first Sunday of the church calendar year. Advent is the Latin term for coming. Thus the church year begins with us looking forward to the coming of our Lord,. It begins with us waiting for God to come into our lives again and restore the joy that we have lost. We wait for God to bring something new, to create something new in our lives. We wait and hope for God to come. That is what advent is. Waiting is not a passive thing where we just waste time and allow it to pass. Rather, waiting is an active process of reflecting on our lives and being alert and awake to what is going on in us. Like the owner of the house, waiting with hope prepares our hearts to receive the joy that God will bring into our lives. And so waiting for God to come is a necessary spiritual discipline. You know, after that thief has come, your house may have been robbed of many things, but you know what? There’s one thing that the thief could not break into. A vault, a fireproof safe that contains the most valuable possession of all. Hope
Guard Your Hope
Everything in all else in your life can be taken away. But if you have hope, you always start over again. This vault was placed in your heart by God and in all of us. And this vault can only be unlocked and opened by God. When we actively wait for God, God will come and open that vault and unleash hope into our lives. And that hope will give us the strength to endure, to persevere, and to rebuild our house with all the important things in life. And this hope will lead us to joy. Though the sorrow may last through the night, his joy comes in the morning. That is our hope. So during this advent season, be awake to your own heart. Take stock of what’s in it, and what has been taken away. Guard that vault of hope. Even if many other things in your life have been robbed guard this vault with all of your being and pray for God to come and open it. Because the hope that God opens up will be the strength that carries you through and ultimately lead you to great joy. Let us be awake to this hope.