Revelation 3:16-17 (NIV)
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one of the other! So because you are lukewarm-neither hot nor cold-I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”
Wow, this is not the warm, candle-glow type Christmas Scripture we usually enjoy hearing this time of year! Jesus about to “spit me out” when he is just being born, and reborn in the pretty little manger scenes we have prepared for his annual arrival in our homes! The birth of love incarnate telling us we “are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked”? What happened to “Peace and Goodwill to all”?
Apparently I do “need something” and that is to unwrap the message of this passage starting right here and now. Hmmmmm….
Lukewarm. Well, THAT is what it is right here, right now, this couple of weeks before Christmas Day in the Valley of the Sun’s version of winter – neither hot nor cold. It is pleasant, agreeable to most everyone, nothing out of the ordinary or particularly memorable.
God coming to earth surely requires more than a mild, average, middle-of-the-road, ordinary, lukewarm response. After all, this is God we’re talking about: the Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer of all Life, come to live among us on earth and to demonstrate the will and way of God lived out on the human plane! The intricacy and beauty of nature is awesome enough and the universe is infinite beyond comprehension, true enough, but God himself and radical love living among us is absolutely stupendous for sure! I can see there is no room for a lukewarm response to this greatest story ever told, our Christmas story of heavenly love come down to earth!
We know the last earthly chapter of the Jesus story, and that is Jesus as God incarnate, who loves us so completely that he is willing to die for us and his father, our God! Furthermore, he won’t leave or forsake us, but gives us the promise of eternal life and the comfort and guidance of his love forever via the Holy Spirit, conquering death and all human limitations along the way. How could we possibly be dulled into a lukewarm response to this, no matter how much material wealth and diversions we have around us? Truly we would have to be “blind and pitiful” to miss the sheer magnitude of the love given us in Jesus. To give a lukewarm response to such an awesome Christmas gift of cosmic proportions would be absurd, and downright blind indeed!
Yet it is true that the material sense versus the spiritual, along with worldly pursuits, can lead to complacency. Focusing on ourselves rather than on God gives us a sense of self sufficiency in stuff which impoverishes us in the midst of plenty. We suffer from spiritual poverty while blinded by and sick with material affluenza, becoming naked before God when it was God’s pleasure to clothe us in the brilliant raiment of abundant spiritual blessings.
Jesus promised us that we are the beloved sons and daughters of God, and able to do all he did and more, IF we but go to God through him, following his way, truth and life. No lukewarm responses work in this offer of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth given to each of us personally, nor in the commandment to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor (all) as he has loved us. This full-out Christian living is simply not possible without a full body, mind and soul commitment of a resounding “YES, I’m IN!”
We cannot love both God and mammon, or money and the material, Jesus tells us. We have to choose. No lukewarm response will do. Jesus could have been lukewarm in his life; think about Gethsemane and going to the cross, hanging there dying while forgiving those who hung him there, or then lovingly returning to a thrice denying Peter or a doubting Thomas. Persistent obedience to God’s call in the eternal now requires each of us to say yes or no, and then to choose repeatedly every day, in the moment, to be either in or out of the Jesus boat, not wishy-washy about our stance.
In his earthly ministry, Jesus demanded of himself and his followers no mere lukewarm response either, asking his disciples to drop everything and come follow him, bringing nothing but their willingness to the unknown territory of daily service. Repeatedly he asked for something other than a lukewarm response: when he preached to eat with your enemies; forgive 70 x 7 as far as the east is from the west those who persecute you; expect trials and tribulations; be willing to die for God’s justice, truth, and love of others; love everyone as I have loved you; sell everything you own and give to the poor; give those who come last to work the same pay and grace as to the first; in fact, give your last mite with a cheerful heart.
And now, this Christmas and every day hereafter, we are to respond to Jesus’ birthday by giving him what he asked from us. If we really love him and understand what he is about, AND what we are to be about too, we will “preach the gospel to the poor, heal the broken hearted, preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, set at liberty those who are oppressed, clothe the naked, give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, and preach the acceptable year of the Lord!” Thank you Isaiah, Luke, Matthew, and of course, sweet Jesus, for reminding us that what you want on your birthday is a fully surrendered and committed Christian who will be the salt and light of the world.
Prayer: Now we pray, Dear Lord, to know that we are called to be the hands and feet, eyes and ears, words and way, of the very heart of You. You want faithful disciples who think nothing is impossible with God, including rising from the dead, even after three days, who expect illnesses of 12 or 38 years to be curable in your word, who know that love is the universal solvent for hate, and that divine mercy and justice can heal all the world’s wretchedness as well as our own blindness and spiritual poverty. Help us to turn away from the lure of seeming material security into the true richness of a spiritual life in You. May the rebirth of your love in each of our hearts this Christmas be a blazing fire that directs us to passionately live as you have modeled and asked each of us to do, every day and in every way, by every means in every place, in your holy name. Amen.