A.W. Tozer, in Man: The Dwelling Place of God, wrote the following:
“The weakness of so many modern Christians is that they feel too much at home in the world.”
I read this quote in a Twitter post on the first Sunday of this Advent season. It seemed to stick with me, and I thought of it often as I meditated on the meaning of Christmas during the Advent season. Of course the point, for those of us that call ourselves bible believing Christians, is that we are “In” this world, but we are not “Of” this world. John shares that this was the teaching of Jesus in His High Priestly Prayer for the disciples and the others He will be leaving behind:
14 “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” – John 17:14-18.
During my home church Christmas Eve Celebration, the message being driven home by the Senior Pastor was that God is calling all his children home. Again, for the second time during this Advent season, I had been struck by something significant. Like any earthly father, that’s all God the Father really wants – His kids’ home for Christmas. I didn’t immediately see any connection to the quote from A.W. Tozer, and I certainly didn’t immediately understand how it was relevant to my life. Nevertheless, I have periodically pondered both of these ideas over the past week and finally today, I saw the Tozer quote in another social media post and it hit me; Christmas in the modern age, for the modern Christian, is the Tozer quote on steroids. Far too much time and effort is spent on being “at home in the world” rather than on time in the remembrance and anticipation of the coming of the Lord; the two elements that mark the purpose and meaning of the Advent season.
Why is this important (or should be) in the life of a Christian? Most of us, including me, feel a certain level of anxiety over the Christmas season. We attribute this anxiety to family get-togethers, hunting for the perfect last minute gifts, and what we may or may not ourselves receive. For some there is anxiety or sorrow because we have lost a loved one who will no longer be present for the festivities. I submit we are all falling into the trap of the fundamental attribution error. Our anxiety has little to do with the parties, the gifts, or the sorrow of missing loved ones, but rather the fact that as believers in Christ, we are not eagerly in the practice of “seeking His face first.” That anxiety we feel is the Holy Spirit tapping on our hearts, letting us know that we are living in terminal conflict between our knowledge that “God desperately wants us home” and our weakness of the flesh to “feel too much at home in the world.”
Christmas really ought to be a time of reflection, remembrance, and anticipation as Advent suggests. It is the culmination of generations of biblical prophecy, made hundreds of years prior:
14 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” – Isaiah 7:14.
2 “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” – Micah 5:2.
Christmas is the mark on which we celebrate the true living God making Himself present on earth, in the flesh. It is the beginning of a 33 year cycle of substitutionary atonement, in which Jesus lives a perfect, sinless, and righteous life, only to become sin on the cross, and take our punishment, all so that we, sinful and unrighteous, can return home to God and live with Him for eternity. Keeping this in focus makes anxiety over the in-laws coming to dinner, having an equal number of gifts under the tree for each child, and my desire for the newest iPhone seem wholly irrelevant. Keeping this in focus turns my comfortability in the world into sickening anxiety which reminds me that I am “In’ but not “Of.”