The best response to God's arrival is a humble heart
Have you ever listened to a radio station when everything suddenly goes silent; where the record ends and the presenter forgets to play the next tune, or there has been some kind of technical difficulty and the microphone goes completely quiet?
Because those few seconds of silence from your speakers feel like an eternity, it is not called "silent air", or "quiet air" but it is called "dead air".
I have worked in radio and I can tell you, behind the scenes, when dead air occurs, there is panic; everyone scrambles to find a solution lest their precious listeners switch to a different channel.
When things go wrong in any organisation, four things can happen: some may collude and form in-groups and alliances, even with competitors; some may find it an opportunity to step up with their own agenda and take control; others may look for someone to blame (looking either upwards at incompetent managers or downwards at lowly technicians); and finally, others may walk away saying, “Hey, it’s nothing to do with me!”
Travel back with me, 2,000 years and 9,000 kilometres across the globe, to first century Palestine and to a community that believed they were called by God to be God’s ambassadors and representatives to the rest of the world – to let the world know that God is God.
As this community formed and worked out their calling, they were accompanied by prophets – people with a special gift or connection to God who provided a running commentary and feedback on how well the community was doing.
Yet, back in AD30, there had not been a single prophet or prophecy for over 400 years. There was complete radio silence; their hotline to God was seemingly severed and they were experiencing "dead air". And, you guessed it, like the radio station, there was disarray and disorder.
Despite the hope that God would come and save them, with no prophet to guide them, the region was in utter political and religious turmoil. There were those that had given up hope and so they colluded with their Roman overlords, worked with them, bowed down to Caesar, and worshipped the Roman gods. Then there were rebels, called Zealots, that thought that God would support them if only they would stand up and fight, overthrow their religious and political oppressors, and install their own religious government. Then there were those, like the Pharisees, that blamed the people, convinced that God would show up if only the community took seriously their purity and holiness. And, finally, there were people, like the Essenes, that took themselves out of general society and separated themselves, literally burying their heads in the sand, in enclaves in the desert.
It was against this backdrop of political, social, and religious unrest, that an itinerant and outspoken preacher called John began his mission with a simple campaign slogan – “Get ready, because God is coming in person!” John’s message sent shock-waves through the nation, even rocking and challenging the lives of the puppet dictator, Herod, and the religious elite. Why? Because John was recognised and revered as a prophet. The 400 years of radio silence had been broken, and God was broadcasting loud and clear: “God is coming, get ready!” And what was required was not collusion, blame, rebellion or separation, but a change of heart.
You see, a certain kind of heart is needed to respond to the coming of God in the world. It cannot be a heart that is divided, dishonest, or disloyal. It cannot be a heart that seeks to put itself first, to dominate, or push its own agenda. It cannot be a heart that does not take responsibility for its own actions and blames others. And it cannot be a heart that throws in the towel, gives up and walks away. No, it needs to be a heart that is humble, and recognises its own brokenness and need for God’s love and restoration. I wonder if Jesus knew this when he suggested we should have a childlike faith – one that has not yet been corrupted or influenced by the world?
This season of Advent, we await the arrival of God in that stable in Bethlehem, but the good news is that we can meet God anywhere and at any time. Despite all the stumbling blocks we face, we are only a decision away from turning to God. The choice is, and always will be, ours to make. All we need is the right heart.
Rev Gav is the pastor at St Mark’s Anglican Church. Visit stmarks.bm