There is a scene in the movie “Back to the Future III” that shows us just how different our lives are from those who lived even 50 years ago or so. As the title of the film suggests, it is about a young man who travels back in time, in this particular film it is to the wild west.
One character from the future is trying to explain what living in the 1980’s is like to a person living in the 1880’s. He mentions that people have motorized carriages and flying machines to travel all over the world very quickly.
The man from the old west laughs and says, “Don’t people walk anywhere, or run anymore?” The man from the future replies, “Yes, of course, but for fun!” TO which everyone erupts in laughter.
People in our day run for fun. (Yes, I am aware that I do this myself.) But isn’t that a bit odd? People in our day and age have the luxury to go for a walk, or run a few miles, just for the heck of it.
There are all sorts of things like this, that people who lived 50 or 100 years ago did out of necessity, and we are just playing at it. There are men who do blacksmithing as a pastime. They hammer metal into shapes for pleasure. People garden for fun. They sew clothes and make blankets as a hobby.
But how serious are these tasks? If your garden fails this year, what are you going to do? Go to the grocery store and probably spend less money there than you did on your garden. If you sew a dress poorly you can simply go to Wal-Mart or any other retail store to buy a replacement.
We play at things that our ancestors had to take seriously. We can pretend that it is really important that we do these things, but it is not nearly as important for us as it was for those who lived and died by what they made with their hands, what grew in their garden.
Advent is the time of preparing our hearts and lives to be ready for the second coming of Jesus Christ. And we do not want to be caught “playing” at living holy lives when He returns. We don’t want Jesus to come again in glory and we are twiddling our thumbs. Neither do we wish to be found playing at holiness as if it does not really matter, as if there were no need for us to live holy lives, we just do it for fun.
Paul encourages the Thessalonians in this in our epistle lesson. “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless, in holiness, before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”
And you know what, the Thessalonians were pretty good people. They were thriving in their faith. Paul rejoices over their faith. He is filled with joy at the report he receives from Timothy concerning these new Christians.
But what does Paul want to do? He wants to see them again, face-to-face, so that he can teach them a few things that they have questions about and so that he can encourage them in holy living. He does not say, “Oh, you guys have got this.” NO! He encourages them not to slack off, not to keep doing the same as they are, but to increase, to abound in love for one another.
If Paul can say this to the Thessalonians, people about whom he has such great confidence in their faith, people over whom he has such great joy, how much more could he say this to us today? We treat holiness, godly living, as if it were a pass-time, something to be played at, but never taken too seriously. Wanting to be holy is ok, but don’t hurt yourself trying to get there.
Part of it is just the curse of living in such a wealthy and advanced society. We live lives of relative ease and luxury compared to most of the world. So it is pretty hard for us to take anything as a life-or-death situation. We just aren’t used to that.
But it is to our shame. Love for the neighbor, holiness, godly living, is not a trivial thing. It is not a pass time, something to be played at.
Your holiness was purchased with the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. Christ has made you holy in the sight of God. Now act like it!
Baptism into the death and resurrection has set us apart from the rest of the world. That might sound a bit arrogant, but it is merely recognizing reality. This is what it means to be a royal priesthood. We are men and women who are in this world, but we are not of this world.
To us has been given the unsurpassed gift of faith in Jesus Christ. Our sins have been removed. Our life has been restored. Our own resurrection has been guaranteed. All this is done with the bloody sacrifice of Christ. The babe to be born in the manger will make His way to the cross and make you holy.
In Jesus Christ you are made holy. And you are made holy for the sake of others. Jesus has set you apart by the power of His Word, not only because He loves you, but also because He loves the world.
When God wants to save the world He does not play around. He gets to work and does the deeds that need to be done, no matter what the cost to Himself. When He wants to spread the Gospel He does not leave it in the mouths of men, but fills those Apostles with His Spirit, with His Word. And He takes the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
When God wants to help other people, He does not leave it up to us. He sets apart a people of His own choosing. He forgives their sins, fills them with His Spirit, sanctifies them with His body and blood again and again. And He gets to work through you.
Nothing that you do can possibly make you more holy in God’s sight. You have been set apart, cleansed of your sin already by the sacrifice of Jesus.
Yet this is not an excuse for laziness, for playing at holiness. There are people in this world whom God cares about, whom He loves, and He has placed you in their lives to serve and care for them. He has made you holy by the blood of Jesus for the sake of the world; for the sake of your own family, neighbors, and co-workers.
There are plenty of things that we can play at these days. Let us not play at holiness. Christ has made us holy. May He make us increase and abound in love for one another, may He establish our hearts blameless, in holiness, before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. Amen.