Every Tuesday I celebrate the Eucharist at the university where I work. This week a good friend of mine who frequently attends mentioned the fact we fear, or at least prefer to avoid, those things that are ultimate after hearing a sermon I preached. His words were profound! We were talking about the need to be spiritually awake, particularly in this season of Advent. This time of year, many of the biblical readings exhort us to be prepared for the coming of the Lord; to be spiritually awake. In my sermon, I mentioned the need for churches to use the repeated prayers and rituals of their worship as a foundation for embracing the radical nature of the Gospel instead of allowing them to become nothing more than habits and dead performances. Later, we got into a conversation about why people fall into this spiritual sleep. My friend explained he believed it happens because we avoid the ultimate nature of things, and one of those “things” is God. Ultimate things are like a person in a poker game who asks you to show your cards. We don’t like it when that happens, particularly if we aren’t holding a winning hand.
Think about the things we consider ultimate in life. Death is ultimate and if we ponder its reality we’re forced to change how we live! When we recognize how short life is we certainly don’t remain complacent taking it as it comes. We make it count. Our “bucket list” becomes more important than the daily grind we move through hour by hour. Anything in life that’s “ultimate” forces us into one of two positions. The first is to brush it off. We avoid dealing with it and psychologically dismiss it. For example, what happens when you’re told you need to eat better and exercise? You like to eat, drink, and celebrate, but the doctor just told you if you don’t change your lifestyle you’ll die. The first thing most people do is avoid seeing the doctor altogether. If we never go to the doctor, we never hear the bad news. If we do see the doctor and get a bad report, we immediately justify our behavior. We tell ourselves we deserve that extra piece of pizza, or that our relatives in Europe lived on beer and pretzels so we can do the same. We say we’re going to start a new exercise program tomorrow to make up for our poor eating today. In short, we psychologically avoid the ultimate result of our life style choices. However, if we face this ultimate reality straight on we must make serious life changes or else cognitive dissonance forces us back into denial. Facing poor eating habits, a sedentary , and a pending serious illness requires us to change our way of life so we can thrive and live well. We become radically different. This same process applies to our spiritual life.
Advent is a season reminding us God is real and he’s returning in power to complete the work he began on the cross. God will come in power to fully claim his own and those who are his will be raised in glory. Those who aren’t will die an eternal death. Nothing is more ultimate than the ultimate source of all that’s seen and unseen, the living and true God of the bible. Now, if you believe this (and I do) you have two choices. You can ignore this truth and live as if there’s no ultimate end, meaning, or purpose to life. You can find your comfort zone and stay there. Go to your worship service, listen to the music, and repeat your prayers while never recognizing the deeper message and sense of life these tools of grace have to offer. Maybe you’ll just make jokes about God’s second coming saying things like, “It’s been so long since I prayed I forgot God’s phone number!” Sure, it might get you some laughs, but if you’re honest with yourself you’ll recognize your comments are just your psychological way of ignoring the ultimate reality of God. The other way to respond is in a spiritually healthy way. Face the ultimate reality that one day, whether by your natural death or the second coming of Christ, you will face “THE” ultimate one, God himself. When you do, you’ll be struck by his awesome nature and if you’re really aware of who God is, you’ll fear this ultimate power. If you believe Christ is returning in power and glory, you’ll change your life NOW! Live a life of meaning and purpose in service to others and God. Live a life that means something not a life rooted in the daily grind. Find people to love and love them. Find people to forgive and forgive them. Find people in despair and show them hope. In short, live, don’t sleep through life. In the end, the ultimate question you’ll ask yourself is was I loved and did I love others enough. If you cling to Christ, his way of life, and the beauty of the Gospel, you will have truly lived instead of walked this earth dazed by a life of spiritual sleep.