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12.17.17 Where Christ Finds Us Philippians 2:3-11 Sermon Summary

by on December 18, 2017

We are born naked, empty, open, a tabula rasa. As we mature and become aware of this, we also become insecure about it. So we try to fill up our lives. Graciously it doesn’t work.

Summary Points

  • A reading of the “Fall”
  • The role of emptiness in our lives
  • What keeps us from being filled with God
  • The example we have in Christ
  • A Eucharistic prayer

One way of reading the “Fall Story” from Genesis 3 is that even though we humans have so much, we always want a little bit more. Adam and Eve had everything—well, almost everything. They had an intimate relationship with God. And they had everything in the garden . . . except one tree.

This tree in the middle of the garden is a reminder of their humanity. It testifies to the truth that humans can’t have it all. If we could have it all we’d forget God. And God created us for relationship with him. So God designed us with an awareness of emptiness.

At some point we become anxious about this emptiness we feel, and from then on we have a choice to make: Will we be content with God, or try to fill the emptiness with something else?

It begins in school, I guess, where we try to fill the emptiness with academic achievement. Or if we have athletic abilities, maybe we start filling it with sports accolades. For some kids, it’s being the class clown. For others, it’s being the good child. Perhaps if we only had more friends.

The filling continues throughout our lives. We try to impress our boss or our peers. We work to make more money. Maybe we pursue experiences or develop expertise in a hobby. We seek fulfillment in a relationship. We add kids. We make sacrifices to advance our careers. We try to be more popular. If only we had more things. In retirement, we fill our time with travel and leisure activities.

But even with all this, the emptiness never goes away. It never goes away because God has built it into us. God has made it so that we live continuously with the choice be content with God or try to fill our lives.

Blaise Pascal wrote of our failed serial attempts to satisfy the emptiness. “. . . [A man] tries in vain to fill [the emptiness] with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”

Centuries earlier St. Augustine summarized our condition this way: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

God has built this emptiness, this restlessness, into us. It is there like a homing device, calling us back to God. In his book Gifts of the Dark Wood, Eric Elnes evokes the image of a ball held under water. It wants to rush to the surface. That is the natural course for the ball. And it would, unless something holds it down. What’s holding us down? All the things with which we try to fill our lives.

People become acutely aware of this at Christmas. Here we are filling our lives with festivities, activities, and gifts. We may be distracted for a time—and what a welcome distraction it is! But the emptiness returns in the form of hangovers, debts, and broken gifts. The loneliness returns. We circle back to the same routines, different year.

What if we made the other choice? What if, instead of trying to fill our emptiness we chose contentment with God? What if, instead of avoiding the emptiness we embraced it? Instead of using fillers to try to be something we aren’t, what if we let God mold us into the image he has of us?

If we did that, if we chose contentment with God in our emptiness instead of trying to fill our emptiness, we’d probably look more and more like Christ.

Philippians tells us that God exalted Jesus on the basis of Jesus’ obedience. Some say he is exalted on the basis of his crucifixion, that the crucifixion of Christ is absolutely unique and merits God’s exaltation on that basis. But really it is the obedience of Christ that is unique. Jesus was faithful throughout his life, all the way “to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Lifelong faithful obedience is the unique characteristic of Jesus’ life.

His death wasn’t unique. We are all going to die. Graciously only a tiny minority of people meet death as Jesus did—a painful execution following torture. But all of us die. All of us reach that same point of death.

Just like God designed us with emptiness, so God designed us to die—and for the same reason: To reveal our dependence on God. At the end of our lives death makes us all obedient. No one can disobey death though some of us try and needlessly suffer a great deal more.

Death ends all our efforts to be filled with anything but God. Death empties us of everything. Death makes it possible for us to be filled with God. Death makes it possible for us to be filled with everlasting life.

The difference between Jesus’ death and ours, beyond the torture and execution, is that he was obedient before death and up the point of death. And then “God highly exalted him above every name that can be named.”

Paul understands this to be our destiny in Christ. Because in Christ we die, so also we shall be exalted with him. That’s the message of baptism. (see Romans 6) And while death will bring this for all of us, ending our disobedience that we may be exalted with Christ, we don’t have to wait to be obedient. We can follow Christ now, in this life, by taking his same attitude, Paul says, by being humble.

This is the good news of Christianity. It became obvious at the Resurrection but was already embedded in Christ’s life, beginning with this birth. He had humble origins: Conceived in ignominy, born to peasants, delivered in a stable, placed in a manger. In humility God came to us in Christ, seeking to find that which was lost. Thus Jesus lived according to what he taught: Those who exalt themselves will be humbled; those who humble themselves will be exalted.

God has created us with an emptiness, and desires to fill it in relationship with us. Each life takes a different shape. The shape of my life is different from yours. The shape of Jesus’ life was different from ours. But each of us can take whatever shape God has given our lives and let God fill the empty places. Though the shapes of our lives are different, the method of being filled with God is the same for us as it was for Jesus. It is humility. It is faithfulness. It is obedience to God’s calling. And if we follow Jesus’ example God will use us as he used Jesus to bring light to the dark wood.

This Christmas as Christ comes to look for us again, may he find in us a welcome place, an empty place, as we let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus.

A Eucharistic prayer:

We give you thanks and praise, Almighty God, with your Son and our Savior Jesus Christ. Inspired by his faithfulness, we come in humility, obedient to his command to “take, eat, drink, and remember.” We do remember his teaching and his life, his obedience to the point of death, and how you exalted him above every name. At this table we exalt him above every name that can be named: above the names of politicians and sports teams, above the names of our favorite stores and what they sell, above the names of demons like shame, prejudice, despair, and selfish ambition. As we lift the bread and cup, we exalt his name, we give you thanks, and we pray for the Holy Spirit to conform us more and more to the image of Christ in which you created us, for which you redeemed us, and to which you are calling us. All this we pray in his holy and exalted name. Amen.

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