December 11, 2019
Hebrews 12:1-2 (NLT)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.
There is a stripping that comes during Advent.
We strip ourselves of what we think we should be, of what we wish we were, of the guilt and shame that we heap upon ourselves that Christ has already bent down and carried. We strip the pretense, the cover-up, the charade that we’re alright when we’re not, that we’re strong when we’re weak.
We lay these things aside like old clothes that don’t have a place in our wardrobe anymore.
Whatever holds us back from running with complete abandon before the gaze of the one who loves us isn’t worth keeping around.
It’s the work of Advent to let it go.
The writer of Hebrews compares the life of faith to a marathon race in the ancient Olympic Games.
In preparation for the race, the competitors would strip themselves completely so that nothing could hold them back from running as fast as possible. J.P. Williams writes in her book, Seeking the God Beyond, that the author of Hebrews uses the “language of stripping” to express “the disciplined preparation required of those who wish to undertake the soul’s journey to God.” (p. 38)
Stripping is a vulnerable work and a necessary preparation for the marathon of faith.
It doesn’t come naturally to us. We would rather get used to limping than face the heaviness that keeps us from running free. But there is unimaginable joy to be found in living completely exposed under the gaze of God.
Jacques Philippe, a Catholic priest, describes just how liberating the gaze of God truly is:
“We find it so difficult to accept our own deficiencies because we imagine they make us unlovable . . . Living under God’s gaze makes us realize how mistaken that is. Love is given freely, it’s not deserved, and our deficiencies don’t prevent God from loving us—just the opposite! Thus we are freed of the terrible, despair-inducing sense that we must become ‘good enough’ to deserve to be loved.” (Interior Freedom, 39-40)
As we begin to trust that we don’t have to earn God’s love, we allow the garments that have restrained us to fall, and the joy of living as our authentic selves begins to flood our souls. Yet God’s love doesn’t leave us as we are; instead, he inspires us to hope for a greatness that we never dreamed was possible for ourselves.
Jacques Philippe writes,
“God’s gaze also enables us to be supremely daring in our desire for holiness . . . We are never imprisoned within our own mediocrity or forced into a sort of dull resignation, for we always have the hope of advancing in love. God can make us, sinners that we are, into saints: his grace can accomplish even that miracle, and we can have unlimited faith in the power of his love.”
When we strip ourselves of all but love we discover the fullness of who we were created to be. We also follow in the footsteps of the race that our Lord has already run.
He stripped himself of all but love so that he might glorify his Father and reveal God’s love to you and me.
As we honor Jesus’ entrance into humanity during this Advent season, may we trust the one who stripped himself of divine glory with our own authentic skin.
May we lift our eyes to the gaze of Christ and witness the mercy and solidarity that meets us there.
May we run the race set before us with the stamina of those empowered by the grace of God.
May we lay aside every heavy garment that hinders us until we find ourselves stripped of all but love.
God is here.
Lord, I am wholly yours.
Please strip my life of all but love.
Spirit of God, breathe upon me.
- What needs to be stripped out of your life during this season?
- What is keeping you from running freely in your life with God?
- Where in your life have you felt like you’re not “good enough?”
- How might you more freely share your authentic self with God and others?
Song for Meditation: