Like a lot of folks I know, I love the Christmas season. And yet, I find it hard to be as passionate about it as I’d like to be. Even as I arrived at the office this morning, I felt keenly aware how this time of year can feel a bit like a long-distance race: by the time you approach the finish line, crossing it victoriously can seem far less important than simply managing to stumble across it.
If we’re honest, of course, life can be like that sometimes. And what’s more, faith can be like that, too. In fact, in today’s New Testament lesson (Revelation 3:14-22), we encounter a group that might be the “patron saints” of worn out believers: the church in Laodicea. While this is neither the time nor place to launch a deep study of this early congregation, I find it worth noting — that unlike some of the other churches addressed in this last book of the Bible — they’re not accused of “obvious” sins. There’s no talk of heresy or idolatry or sexual immorality. But they do have these two strikes against them.
First, they’re lukewarm. “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot,” the Lord says; “I wish you were either one or the other.” (v. 15) We might say they’re on “cruise control” — going through the motions of following Christ in a way that keeps them from major sin and error, but that keeps them from major joy and devotion as well.
Second (and perhaps even more damning), they don’t even seem to be aware of their condition. “I am rich,” they say, “I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” “But you do not realize,” the Lord replies, “that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (v. 17) Perhaps their lukewarm condition springs from their sense of self-sufficiency. Because they’re no longer living in daily dependence on the One who gives Light and Life, they’re slipping away into darkness and death.
The good news, of course, is that the Lord can change that. He offers to give them gold that will overcome their poverty, and clothes that will cover their nakedness, and salve that will cure their blindness. And in a certain sense, isn’t this the message of Christmas in a nutshell? When the whole world (including most of us) was lukewarm and unaware of its need, God came to us anyway, bearing the Gift that makes abundant, passionate living possible. And through the babe in the manger, He declares to us all, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in.” (v. 20)
May we hear that voice and open the door today. May we rely not on ourselves, but on the Life that only God can give. And may we find that the flame of love is kindled, even in the “lukewarmness” of our busyness and distraction.