Preparing our souls for the coming of Jesus. How do we do it?
We live amidst a swirl of self-help philosophies. Visit any bookstore, surf through some TV infomercials, or just sift through your junk mail, and you’ll find that there are countless people out there who think you should live differently – according to their plans and ideas. They claim to want you to have a better life (though, most often, what they really want is your cash for their product).
Man has always known that he can, and should, be better. Therefore we have always devised schemes improve ourselves. In Martin Luther’s day, one of the most common self-help pursuits was the ascetic life – being a monk or nun. But Luther points out that “there has been much preaching on chastity, and many books written on the subject, in which they said, we should fast for a certain time, we should not eat flesh, we should
not drink wine, etc., that we may be free from temptations. These things…have not been enough.” He then cites the example of Jerome, the great 4th Century monk and Doctor of the Church. “St. Jerome writes of himself that he had mortified his body to such an extent that he had become like an African; still it was of no avail, and he dreamed of being in Rome at a party with harlots!” Luther’s point: Rigid external practices don’t suffice to subdue lusts.
So, what works? Whatever it is, it should be our advent practice.
Peter tells us that, “Since you have been born again, purify your souls by your obedience to the truth.” (1 Pet. 1:22-23).
Luther’s take on this is fantastic! He states that what can truly change you “must proceed from within outward, not from without inward.” What can subdue the flesh from within? “The wine of the gospel subdues it and makes the heart chaste … if this enters our hearts, evil inclinations quickly leave. Let whoever will try it, he shall find it true, and whoever tries it, knows it well.”
I’ve always loved retreats. Many times I have gotten away, usually with a church group, usually to a place where we can enjoy the beauty of nature. We spend time in the scriptures, we worship together, we enjoy and are sharpened by each other’s company. When the sacred weekend is over, I find myself heading home thinking, “I love God and His Word so much…I never want to sin again!”
This is why God calls us to worship. He is present in the praise, present in the fellowship, present in His Word, present in the bread and wine. We remember, reenact, proclaim and “eat” the gospel! Luther: “Though the Word is a small thing, there is immense power in it!” As the writer of Hebrews says, “The Word of God is living and active…piercing to the division of soul and of spirit…and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). That is the internal antidote we need to “purify our souls by obedience to the truth.”
So – as we continue through Advent (and beyond), be filled with the Word! Attend Advent services. Read it. Pray over it. Listen to it in the best holy-day songs. And don’t forget to share it with others! This will prepare you for His coming.
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