Luke 21:34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.”
Jesus was warning about a very specific incident, the Roman destruction of Judea around 70 A.D. but there might be a lesson here for us in the 21st century as well. Back in the 70’s Joni Mitchell had a song on her Court and Spark Album titled Peoples Parties. She sings about the various things that get expressed at parties and her own feelings at the time. Here is a link if you are interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QLoKSS1P2No. I find it interesting that carousing and drunkenness are said in the verse above to weigh down your heart in the same way as the anxieties of life. There is a lot of partying and drinking during the holidays. My guess is that some of it is an expression of the joy of all that Christmas means. I also guess that some of it is a desperate attempt to escape the fact that the holidays aren’t living up to some grand expectation conjured from movies and commercials. “Be careful” the verse says. This Advent, in what ways do you need to “be careful?” May the birth of Christ move us beyond the weight of carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life.
Hebrews 12: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.
Christians believe in the “Communion of Saints.” We often hear of saints in the Catholic Church sense of special people of unusual holiness. But Wikipedia explains that “The communion of saints …when referred to persons, is the spiritual union of the members of the Christian Church, living and the dead. They are all part of a single ‘mystical body’, with Christ as the head, in which each member contributes to the good of all and shares in the welfare of all.” In Hebrews the writer is referring to the characters in the Old Testament. Who is in your great cloud? Maybe some of the Old Testament folks; maybe some of the New. Maybe folks in your family; maybe folks in your congregation. They are the people who contributed to your faith. But what about you? For who are you part of that “Great Cloud of Witnesses?” Is that something to which you even aspire? You may think no one notices you but you are wrong. You are a witness by your life to something. Wouldn’t it be good to be a witness to the goodness of God in Christ? This week consider, to whom or what are you a witness?
Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on to love and good deeds
So, let’s consider this for a moment. What spurs you on to love and good deeds? So many of us lean towards the negative that it might be easier to start from the opposite end; what deters you from love and good deeds? Some of my responses are: judgmental attitudes; criticism and its cousin sarcasm; blaming; not listening; selfishness. These are all buzzkills for me. So let’s flip them: Open attitudes, appreciation and its cousin compliment, graciousness, attentiveness, selflessness. I’d sign up for a group that did these things. As you give thanks this Thursday maybe you can make your own list of ways to spur one another on to love and good deeds for the sake of Christ. And may God in you make your little corner of the world a haven of such behavior. Then it will be a Happy Thanksgiving.
Hebrews 9:26 Jesus has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.
This Veteran’s Day marks the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI. Of course, it wasn’t called WWI at first. It was referred to as The Great War. At the time of the fighting it was supposed to be “the war to end all war.” Apparently lots of people believed that this one great campaign would do away with evil at least to the extent that it would do away with war. Sadly, in just over twenty years the Great War would be looked back on as WWI because another global conflict would show that it had not been the war to end all wars. Many people throughout history have dreamed of the day when through force or enlightenment or scientific advances the world would be changed once for all creating everlasting peaceful care and cooperation. It hasn’t happened yet. But the Christian faith makes the outrageous claim that on another level, begun but not yet fully complete, Jesus by the sacrifice of himself has done what is necessary to break the cycle of sin leading to hate and discord and conflict. The war to end all war wasn’t fought in the trenches of Europe but on the cross outside Jerusalem. This week, how will you respond to that “once for all” of Christ?
Hebrews 9:15 Christ offered himself as an unblemished sacrifice, freeing us from all those dead-end efforts to make ourselves respectable, so that we can live all out for God. (The Message Bible)
One of the things I always felt was important in life is to distinguish between ends and means (as in the ends justify the means). Is something what we really want or is it just a way of getting something else? They say love is its own reward. Is it? Do we really want to be people who care about others for their own sake or do we do it to get love, or what we think of as love, back? Or are we kind so that we will be thought better than those “others” who are not quite as kind? The fact that we can so rarely be selfless is one of the indications of sin in the human race. The above passage states that Jesus offered himself for us. Pretty rare, indeed! And that he did not do so to get anything back but so that “we can live all out for God” as we were always intended to. Living for God is the end; Christ’s offering is the means. Eugene Peterson, who made the Message translation I often quote, died a few weeks ago. I guess he has a better understanding now of what these words mean. In the end, it is the ends that matter. This week, what are your means to what ends? Where does living all out for God fit in?
Hebrews 7:24 Because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood
Popular Christianity makes a big deal about the incarnation (Christmas) and the atonement (Good Friday) and even the resurrection (Easter). But not much is celebrated about the ascension (I mean, come on, it is always on a Thursday), and, while there is Pentecost, that is all about the Holy Spirit, so what is Jesus up to until we come back to Christmas again? The creed says that he sits at the right hand of God awaiting the time when he will come to judge the quick and the dead (and maybe the slow also). Hebrews fills in the blank. Jesus is our priest, permanently, forever. Whatever we need to be alright with God, to be fully in the love of God, Jesus has done, will do and is doing. Lay aside the mystery of the Trinity for the time being. What we need to know is that whatever we need to be alright with God, to be fully in the love of God, Jesus has done, will do and is doing. Do I need to repeat it a third time? What does it mean to you that Jesus is interceding for you right now?
Hebrews 5:1 Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.
The term “high priest” probably brings some strange images to your mind. I tend to think about Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom where weird High Priests cut our human hearts. In the Bible the High Priest was to, among other things, make a sacrifice for the sins of the people which included himself (yes, it was always a male). Whatever image comes to your mind, the thought here is that Jesus is not just the sacrifice for sin on the cross, he is also the high priest who is in charge of that sacrifice. You are cleared! Whatever you have done at any point in your life, no matter how bad you think it may be, it is erased by the goodness of God in Jesus Christ. You probably don’t understand that cosmic transaction that takes place between God and the High Priest. I know I don’t. That’s okay. I don’t know how the guy fixes my car, either. I just know that he does and am grateful for it. What does it mean to you that Jesus is your High Priest?