The gospel lesson assigned for Thanksgiving Day was taken from the sixth chapter of Matthew. In his teaching, Jesus tells his followers not to worry. To illustrate his point, Jesus says, “Consider the lilies of the field...they neither toil nor spin.” As we head into the coldest and darkest season of the year, it is hard to imagine the lilies of the field! It seems more appropriate to consider the lilies during the spring and summer – closer to Easter season.
However, a biologist will tell you that lilies need a cold and dark winter so they can bloom in the spring and summer. During the fall, lilies are blocked from blooming, but the darkness and coldness of winter are responsible for unblocking the flowering process in preparation for spring and summer. If it does not get cold enough during the winter, the lilies are not likely to bloom.
As we turn toward winter, when the days are short and warmth is scarce, the Church invites her people to experience the season of Advent. Advent is an opportunity for our hearts to become unblocked so that we may be ready to grow in Christ.
During this season, we are invited to take inventory of the things we have put over our hearts to block us from the storms of this life. A therapist might call these blocks defensive mechanisms. While these defensive mechanisms are sometimes necessary and help us survive, many of them will not help us thrive or grow.
A priest or a theologian might call these blocks sin. They are things that we put between ourselves and God. While sin does not change God’s posture of love toward us, sin does prevent us from experiencing the fullness of God’s love and grace.
The beginning of this unblocking process is announced by John the Baptist in the wilderness. “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” For most of us, the word “repentance” is cold and dark. However, like the lilies of the field, repentance is a necessary part of our spiritual growth.
In order to grow into the full stature of Christ, we must recognize those things we have put between our hearts and God – the things that have hardened our hearts. Repentance calls us to turn away from our blocks and toward the God of mercy who is always ready to forgive. This process of repentance and forgiveness softens our hearts and helps us be available to grow through the warmth of Christ’s love and kindness.
As you consider the lilies of the field, consider your blocks, your defensive mechanisms, your sin – the things that harden your heart and prevent growth. While this might seem like a chilling thing to do, recognizing what is between you and God and neighbor is a part of your growth process as a spiritual human being. Even more, recognizing your sin is an opportunity to move closer to Christ, to move closer to the One who burns away your sin with a love that never runs cold.
In the end, God does not call us to repent because God wants to shame or punish us. God does not want us to experience an eternal winter. Rather, God calls us to repent because God wants to unblock our hearts so that we might grow and flourish in the kingdom of heaven. God wants us to bloom again and again to show forth the mystery and beauty of life.
Friends in Christ, I invite you to experience Advent so that your hearts are ready to grow in compassion and kindness when the love of Christ draws near.