Advent is all about presence. His Presence. Preparing our hearts for the celebration of His coming…Emmanuel, God with us.
I’ve been thinking about the intersection of His Presence and holiness. After all, what made something holy in Scripture? His Presence.
When Moses had to take off his shoes on Mt. Sinai because he was standing on holy ground…it’s not because the mountain was holy. The mountain was hosting the presence and God and that made it holy.
Why as the Holy of Holies in the Temple called the Holy of Holies…it’s where the Presence of God resided.
We sing about it in the best Christmas carol ever…
O HOLY night
the stars are brightly shining
it is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
What made that night holy?
He showed up! In this fallen world that had long been pining and writhing in it’s error, He appears and the soul felt it’s worth. How could you not fall on your knees at His arrival. It was a Holy night because it was a Divine night.
Presence of the Divine made it holy.
The word “Holiness” rings a bit of drudgery and dreariness in our current zeitgeist (is it redundant to use the word current with zeitgeist….hmmm…what’s done is done).
It conjures in the imagination a long list of rules and responsibilities that are, for mere humans, unattainable. So…really…just don’t be in the bottom of the class and hopefully you will fare okay when it comes to judgement.
Almost a bothersome set of expectations that can get in the way of us doing the real Jesus stuff…you know…like loving people, not judging people. God is love, Dude…everything else is just background noise.
But Maybe We’ve Gotten Things a Bit Upside Down
After all, as my uncle recently reminded me, the elders and the throngs in heaven aren’t spending every day saying “God is Love”. No, day in and day out they cry, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty” and then everyone begins falling out over the revelation of His holiness and as soon as they get back up and see Him again, there is a fresh wave of the realization of the glory of His holiness.
See, I don’t think that Holiness was ever about the rules and the lists. I think holiness was always about pursuing His presence. When Scripture outlines sins, it is God’s grace being shown to us. He is telling us that He will never be found in certain places.
He’s not found in profane things
He’s not found in certain ways of expressing our sexuality
He’s not found in words that cause destruction
He’s not found among those who misuse the poor and the powerless
He’s not found among those who show disrespect to those in authority
Holiness was always about pursuing His presence.
When we reduce holiness to a list of actions, we behave much like the elder brother in the Prodigal Story (Luke 15). He has followed all of the rules, but it hasn’t been for love of the father himself. He has followed the rules to gain leverage over his father.
The Father wants to be loved for Himself. He wants us to be pursuers of His presence. And far from being dreary or bothersome, in His presence there is fullness of Joy. As we host the presence of God, the earth around us begins to be filled with the glory of God like waters cover the sea (which is to say…pretty thoroughly). The darkness of this fallen world begins to recede, as His kingdom comes and His will is being done all around us. And maybe we are not even able to properly love our neighbor until we have a high value for His holiness…His Presence.
The lists and the law are just showing lovers of His presence where the shadowlands are as we learn to hear His voice and follow His lead.
If you have to argue about how close you are allowed to go near the Shadowland, you’ve probably missed the point of this life entirely.
His Presence that’s what this has always been about.
If Advent is about preparing our hearts and celebrating the Presence of God, it may just turn out that “Holy, Holy, Holy” is the best Christmas hymn ever.