Advent is a time when the Church reflects on who Christ is and who we are as his disciples. Today’s scriptures help us do just that. The passage from Hebrews 9 focuses on Christ’s self-giving love. The story of the widow’s mite from Mark 12 portrays how we can respond to Christ’s love through our own offering. As with all spiritual growth, it is best for us to look toward Christ first, and let his actions truly inspire our own. So today I want you to go home with three thoughts – a statement and two questions.
1. Christ gave his all.
Hebrews 9 shows us what true and full worship of God looks like in comparison with the worship the Israelites practiced in their movable Tabernacle tent and later at the permanent Temple in Jerusalem. Temple worship, as we remembered just the other week, involved sacrificing animals by killing them, spilling their blood and burning the animals on the altar in the inner sanctuary. This was the work of priests. The people came to the temple, bought the biggest animal they could afford – dove, goat or cow, and the smoke went up. This ritual act needed to be repeated at least once a year – this was how Yom Kippur was practiced back then. The altar was in the inner chamber along with the Ark of the Covenant, a space so holy that only the high priest could go inside.
Hebrews argues all the worship on earth is but a mere sketch of what takes place in heaven. Anything the priests do, Christ does better.
- The place where the priests led worship was an earthly copy of heaven. Christ entered heaven itself.
- The priests enter an inner tent with the symbols of God’s presence. Christ entered the presence of God.
- The priests makes sacrifices to purify the earthly sanctuary. Christ’s sacrifices made heaven better.
- The blood shed by the priests remove bodily impurities. Christ’s sacrifice removes our sin.
- The priests offered animals for sacrifice. Christ offered himself.
- The priests must make the sacrifice over and over. Christ’s sacrifice was made once and for all.
Christ offered his life for the salvation of the world. This is the ultimate act of worship.
This is why we began worship this morning with a hymn we typically sing during Lent. This first Sunday of Advent we are called to contemplate the wondrous love of Christ. For the gift of Christ goes beyond what Hebrews pointed out. When we consider the fullness of who Christ is our wonder grows all the greater. The Nicean Creed states that Jesus Christ is the One Lord, true God from true God. For us and for our salvation God came down from heaven, was incarnate – took on flesh – became truly human. That’s already a great sacrifice. God became human, with all our aches and pains, all our sorrows and woes. He knew what it was like to be rejected by his own neighbors, to be betrayed by his own followers. And in Christ God knew death. God suffered just as we suffer. God died as each of us will surely die. The Apostle’s Creed even adds that God in Christ descended into hell. Christ gave his all – What wonderous love is this that caused the Lord of bless to bear the dreadful curse for my soul. What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of life to lay aside his crown for my soul. And Christ didn’t make this sacrifice as a temporary fix. No, this act of self-giving served to bear our sins, and pull us from suffering, death and hell into the Kingdom of heaven.
The Chrismon symbol for today is simply the cross – a reminder of this wondrous love of Christ who gave his all that we might know salvation here and now, while we wait for Christ to come again. When Jesus gave his all he broke the power of canceled sin and set the prisoners free. And he sends the Holy Spirit to give us sanctifying grace so that we who are waiting for his return can continue to grow more and more into his likeness.
Christ gave his all – What wondrous love, indeed.
2. Who do you know who gave his or her all?
The gospel lesson for today leads us to ponder this question. After observing the scene by the offering box in the temple Jesus made a contrast. The religious leaders gave out of their abundance, but the poor widow gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford – she gave her all.
The word abundance here means that which is left over, the remains. Abundance is the scraps from the banquet that are fed to the dogs. Abundance is the money left over after paying all our bills, and buying what we desire. Abundance is the loose change in our pocket that we throw into the cup of the beggar by the T-stop. Abundance is all the items we put out for the yard sale, perfectly good shoes, hats, handbags, dishes, toys so that we have room in our homes to store this year’s fashion in shoes, hats, handbags and dishes. It is easy to cast off our abundance, our leftovers, because we won’t miss it. It is easy to cast money we don’t need without caring where it falls, especially if we get something out of it too. We don’t mind giving out of abundance to charity if it makes us feel like a good person, or if we get to put our name on a plaque for perpetuity.
But Jesus points out the widow who gave out of her poverty – she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford. Middle and upper-class people who spend time with truly poor people experience this all the time. Singer Amanda Palmer frequently couch surfs during her tours. She tells the story of being invited by an 18 year old girl and found herself entering the home of family living in a poor Miami neighborhood. Amanda realized that they were all undocumented immigrants from Honduras. That night all the adults took the couches, the girl slept in the bed with her mother. Amanda was humbled to realize that these people had so little but gladly shared what they had to the band. In the morning the mother cooked tortillas for everyone, offered Amanda a bible, and she told Amanda, “Your music has helped my daughter so much.” The poor family gave with generosity out of their poverty.
Last week when I was at the grocery store I got distracted and left my purse behind. I had just realized and was walking back to get it when a store clerk came racing into the parking lot, with another woman behind him, both looking frantically to make sure I got my purse back. For that brief moment they were giving their all, exerting great effort for the sake of me, a stranger.
In the unremarkable action of a nobody, a poor widow without even a name, Jesus shows what it looks like to give one’s all. Take time this morning and later this week to look back over the last month or so, to call to mind some small unsuspected act of self-giving which you may have seen without fully registering it…in your family life, at work, in the street, or something you heard about on the news.
Who do you know who gave his or her all?
3. Will you give your all?
Today’s question is this, “Will you give your all?”
This isn’t a question of giving a tithe – 10% of our income, or 10% of our time. It’s more radical than that. It’s about what we do with the other 90-98% of our time and resources that we don’t give directly to the church. How do we use our home to share the love of Christ with others? Do we have a guest room where we can extend Christian hospitality, or do we use our extra space to store junk? What of our work – can we use the work we do to “brings home the bacon” to also extend God’s blessings to others? Are we patient with co-workers? Do we listen and pray with them when they go through a hard time? What of our “free-time?” How do we use those hours for works of piety and works of mercy? The Methodist motto about stewardship is earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can – and to do it all as altogether Christians, fully aware of how much we have been given, so that passing the gift on becomes a joy.
Christians who are waiting for Christ to return are stewards in these between times. We are stewards because we recognize that everything we have, our jobs, our pensions, our social security checks, our homes, our skills and abilities, every minute of every day that we continue to breathe so that our blood may deliver oxygen to our bodies – it all is a gift from God. As stewards of God’s gift we remember that it matters how we use our time, our strength and our resources. As disciples of Christ waiting for him to return, we are commissioned to love God with all of our hearts, all of our souls, all of our minds, all of our strength, and to dedicate all that we have to serving others.
God, in the form of Jesus Christ gave his life, his whole life to bring the kingdom of God in heaven here to earth. We can experience kingdom living if we only trust God, as poor as we are, with our whole lives. To trust God with our lives enough to cast our lives, our whole lives, into his hand, relinquish control of all our assets, all our resources, all our time, for the sake of the kingdom.
Christ gave his all. In response to this wondrous gift will you give your all? I pray that we may prepare room in our hearts for Christ so that our answer is a full and enthusiastic yes!