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A man dialed a wrong number and got the following recording: “I am not available right now, but I thank you for caring enough to call. I am making some changes in my life. Please leave a message after the beep. If I do not return your call, you are one of the changes.”
As I have shared with you, we are studying St. John’s Revelation during hour Sunday school time. Early on, we noted some of the differences between John’s Revelation, his apocalypse, and the apocalyptic writings of others of the time. One of the more interesting differences is that in other writings, the decision on a person’s final destination, heaven or hell, has already been determined and there is no more opportunity for change. However, John’s Revelation is a strong cry for conversion. Yes, these great and terrible things — stars crashing down, the moon turning to blood, the coming of the beast — these things are going to happen, but John is not revealing these events to us to tell us that we are doomed, he is revealing them to us so that we may have the opportunity to change. Revelation is the final apocalypse, but the primary goal isn’t to scare the daylights out of us, but to call us to conversion, to change. As Jesus was the one who revealed the Revelation to John, then we can also apply that message of conversion to Jesus’ own words regarding the last days, such as we read today. Yes, he says, there will be signs, great and terrible events taking place in the heavens and on earth, therefore, “Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Be alert at all times, praying that you may be changed, transformed into his likeness, so that on the day of judgment you may stand with him. It is this idea of change that has caught my attention for a few weeks now, and it started with an article I read.
The author began with Michelangelo and how Michelangelo viewed a piece of marble that he was about to sculpt. “Michelangelo understood his role as sculptor as that of a discoverer and liberator. The statue, he believed, is hidden in the rock from the beginning, and his role is merely to discover it—and to chisel away every piece of rock that is not part of the discovered statue; thereby liberating it. Hence, he didn’t perceive himself to be making something, but rather bringing forth what was there.”
Michelangelo viewed this as the roll of the sculptor and this concept is quite prevalent in how we view ourselves and the basis for most self-help guidance. If we can chisel away the bad habits and rough edges, then we will reveal the beauty contained within. So, we grab hold of those motivational quotes and charge forward. Zig Ziglar: “Success is a personal standard, reaching for the highest that is in us, becoming all that we can be.” “Reaching for the highest that is in us”… it presumes that all we need is already within. Gandhi: “As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.” “Our greatness lies… in being able to remake ourselves.” In what I can do. It is very self-centered view of our growth as human beings. When one self-help guru doesn’t work, then we go on to the next fad. I remember when Franklin Planners came out. They were all the rage and if you followed their plan to success, then you would be on top. Now there’s a ten step guide to making a million, becoming a thinner you, or inner peace coming out every week, each one rising and falling of the best sellers list as they fail to produce the promised results.
The pendulum swing of searching for the perfection within is revealed very well into a popular song from a few years ago, “I was born this way.” In other words, what you see is my perfection. I don’t have to search within to find myself in order to change myself, I am who I am. Yet, when asked what was wrong with the world today, G.K. Chesterton responded, “I am.” I am who I am, and therein lies the problem.
So, we can go looking for ourselves within, chiseling away all that is wrong, or we can thumb our noses at the world and say, “Here I am, if you don’t like it (in the words of my Uncle Terry), rain on ya.” However, as a Christian people, we do not see our change, our transformation coming from within or from without, but from above. We do not seek to remake ourselves or simply ignore the faults, we choose to surrender to God and allow Him to enter our lives and remake us. The author of the article stated, “this surrender [to God] requires walking to the precipice at the end of ‘I am in control’ [I can change myself] and taking a step of faith.” In taking this step, “We are becoming what have not yet been. We are being made.” As St. Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” We are set free by letting go of what we think we have and surrendering our lives to God.
Billy Graham tells the story about a little child who was playing with a very valuable vase. He put his hand into it and could not withdraw it.
His father too, tried his best to get it out, to no avail.
They were thinking of breaking the vase when the father said, “Now my son, make one more try. Open your hand and hold your fingers out straight as you see me doing, and then pull.”
To his astonishment his son said, “O no, dad, I couldn’t put my fingers out like that because if I did I would drop my dime.”
There is a place for self-improvement and bettering ourselves, and there is a place for being at peace with who you are—running around being depressed over the fact that I’m not exactly a babe magnet (I would at least need a bit of hair for that) isn’t going to change anything, but we can get to a place where we believe our final state is accomplished by our own actions, when in fact, it is only through God that we can be changed, transformed into the glory he first conceived us. Let go of the dimes worth of life and experience this freedom that comes through Christ alone.
Today we begin the Season of Advent. Advent means coming, but “coming” implies waiting. During this time of waiting, take that step of faith out of “I am in control” and surrender yourself into the loving hands of the Creator of us all, and allow the One True God, to change you… to remake you into what He intended from first day.
Let us pray: Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, ever faithful to your promises and ever close to your Church: the earth rejoices in hope of the Savior’s coming and looks forward with longing to his return at the end of time. Prepare our hearts and remove the sadness that hinders us from feeling the joy and hope which his presence will bestow, for he is Lord for ever and ever. Amen.