OUR GOD DRAWS NEAR
A sermon by Rev. Richard Miller, Minister of Trinity United Church, Montreal, QC. Romans 13:11-14. November 28, 2004.
For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.
– Romans 13:11b
Sometimes we begin our worship or our prayers by saying, “Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.” Have you ever heard that? Quite possibly at some time you have read it – maybe even said it. It is a quotation from the Letter of James in the New Testament – chapter 4, verse 8. It has often been used in communion services to encourage us to come to the sacrament and to expect God’s presence there. And that is an important promise. It is one that we all should embrace and call upon.
Yet at the same time, there is something not quite right about that saying to “Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.” For it seems to imply that God will not draw near to us until we first draw near to God. And that, my friends, is not so. That is a lie. For God does draw near to us in all kinds of ways before we ever even think about God. Indeed, that is the message of the gospel and of communion – that in Jesus Christ God did draw near to us – even to the point of giving up his life. And that was not just a one-time thing. Rather God continues to draw near to us, and to do it in many ways – in creation, and in the message of Jesus, and in the ongoing presence of Jesus today – what we also call the Holy Spirit.
And if we open ourselves – if we sit in solitude and meditate and pray and wait for God’s presence, we do discover that God comes to us. God draws near. If we quiet ourselves, if we ignore the sounds of our homes and our busy city, and if we turn off the inner noise of what is going on in our heads, we will sometimes find that we have a sense of God’s presence that touches us deeply, often giving us joy and sometimes bringing us to tears. How will you know when this happens? You will know. God will make his presence known to you. And as we sense God’s love for us – as we sense it, as we know it is there – we discover that we are in love with God. When we are in love with God, there are some similarities to being in love with another person, you know. You can try to describe it or analyze it, but words are never enough. For it is an experience of our inner being, and we can only accept it and embrace it – or else turn our backs.
Sometimes we have known that presence and then go through a long dry time when God seems to be absent. When that happens, do not give up. Continue to wait upon God. Continue to draw near to God, trusting in the promise that God does draw near to us. Indeed, those times can be like that poem Footprints in the Sand. Isn’t it ironic that the person in the poem was not aware of the Lord as the very time when the Lord was closest, and in fact was carrying him or her? I suspect may of us – perhaps even all of us – have times like that. And then we have to say as Jacob did in the Old Testament, “Surely the Lord was in this place, and I did not know it.”
Advent is a time when we focus on the fact that our God draws near. Here we need to remember that Advent is a part of the calendar of the Christian Year, which is built around the life of Jesus. Do not look in the Bible for references to Advent, for you will not find any. Rather the seasons of the Christian Year are something the Church created centuries ago as a way of helping us focus on particular parts of the Christian story. Advent is a time when we begin to turn toward the birth of Jesus – which is the key story of God’s drawing near. And so we light Advent candles as a way of counting the days, and sometimes we put up a creche and keep adding figures to it. It is a time when we have special events such as the Best Gift Concert last night, and the Advent Service tomorrow night. It is a time when we begin to sing the carols that tell the story of Christmas.
Here at Trinity we begin Advent with the sacrament of God’s drawing near – which we call Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist. For many people, communion is the time in our faith when we have the most spiritual sense of the presence of God. It is the time when we are able to turn off the other noises and thoughts and feelings. As we prepare ourselves for communion today, may that sense of God’s presence dwell within each of us; and may that presence continue with us in the days to come. God is near, and we are blessed. Let us come to God’s table of love, and be fed in God’s love, and then when we leave, may we continue to be blest by that loving presence and may we be a blessing to others as we share it with them.
In the name of the babe who was born on Christmas so long ago. Amen.