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Thursday, 26 December 2013

The Advent Calendar Struggle...

                                              Romans 7:15-20
At the beginning of advent every year, I buy a (Disney) advent calendar (and sometimes two), and look immensely forward to opening the dainty cardboard windows with the days date written in the corner - which can only be found by the most patient of owners. I eagerly anticipate being greeted with a suitably festive picture, and the obligatory little Christmas shaped chocolate which makes for the perfect December breakfast. It makes no difference that my age keeps climbing, or even that the quality of the chocolate seems to be declining... my advent calendar never ceases to bring joy to me each cold December morning.
The only problem I have found however is that admittedly my advent calendar never seems to make it all the way to Christmas day. Without fail every year I find an excuse in the middle of December (this year the 15th), to not only open one window... but to finish the lot. The whole experience is of course a complete anticlimax as I prematurely open number 25 and realise that not only was that amount of poor quality chocolate really not very appetising... but that now I will be without the joy of my advent calendar for the following day and thereafter. Humph! Why oh why can I not remember that the joy of the advent calendar is very rarely in the chocolate, but in the opening and in the fact that it symbolises one day closer to Christmas day? I know this...I’ve been there and battled it for many years... yet I seem to forget this on an annual basis for those 10 weak willed seconds each December.

This clearly very important dilemma in my life got me thinking about Romans 7:15-20 when Paul talks about the problem of a weak human will.
Why do we not do the things that we know are good for us and know would bring us most long term happiness and fulfilment?
Why do we always give in to a momentary fix?

Our issue is not that we do not know what we should do or what would be the best for us... in fact our issue might even be that we do.
At Christmas time we know that we should not overdo the present buying because Christmas really isn’t about that, we have January bills which might sting, and the things we give and receive are often fleeting and let’s face it, unnecessary. We know that we shouldn’t stuff our faces with chocolate or turkey, and everything else in between, and then lie in a food coma on the sofa staring at Coronation Street, too stuffed to make any decent conversation with our families. We are also fully aware that shopping on Boxing Day really is not a necessity and just makes January even more painful.
Regardless of this knowledge we all possess... most of us indulge in one or two, if not all three of these things. #Guilty!

I for one, even in these small and insignificant indulgences, would really like to understand why I do exactly what I set out not to do.
Paul expresses this feeling beautifully in Romans 7. It’s almost like he is standing in the mirror, screaming at his reflection. Why Paul? Why?
I sympathise. I’ve been there.
He says this... Romans 7:15-20 ‘I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do... For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing’.

Now I am obviously not saying that opening my advent calendar prematurely, or overdoing your Christmas feast or shopping is evil or a sin. It just got me thinking about the bigger scale.
There are things that I do and we do on a regular basis, that have massive long term repercussions for our lives and the lives of others, which we KNOW fine well are not good or helpful or right. But somehow despite our best efforts, we wind up doing them anyway.
A habitual pattern unbroken.
A lie told and instantly regretted.
Inauthentic speech, too embarrassing to correct.
Our attitude toward others again falling short of the love we promised we would show this time.
 There are so many things. But we do them regardless that we really do not want to.

It’s like a New Years Resolution to exercise or eat better - we really want to keep it because we can see and almost touch the benefits of that decision for our physical and mental wellbeing...yet there comes one moment (usually January 2nd) during which we are tempted, and as weak people we give in and thus even quicker than we begun, we find ourselves having failed to do the one thing we promised ourselves we would do right this year. It is almost laughable.

Paul also said this... ‘And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.’
Again, this is a very strong and deliberate phrase, and perhaps does not quite qualify for the little things...but there are big things in our lives that we do that we do not want to do. Paul is right. We are sinful beings - we try to do life independently of God. There is a nature in us that craves sin and does not want to do what is good, right or just. But it is this sinful nature that God forgives. Just as we do when we fall off the diet wagon, or fail to give up smoking, or open our advent calendar before the date arrives... when we sin or fall short, finding ourselves doing what we do not want to do... we need to dust ourselves off, and start again. For those sins that we habitually indulge in even though we really do not want to... we can be reassured of, and renewed in His forgiveness, and we can come back to Him to be restored. All we can do is try, try and try again. Trust that He will one day and in His perfect timing, free you from the sin that captivates you.

The fact that you are angry or frustrated that you did that thing that you did not want to do for the 1000th time... and your desire to do the right thing the next time... is enough for you to acknowledge that you at least know that the law is good and that your heart is in the right place.
Someone once told me that it takes a while for your mind to catch up with your heart, and I find this to be true. Your mind and actions are stubborn, and it will take some time after you align your heart with that of Christ, for your life to be a full representation of the change in your heart. But it is possible. Each time, bring yourself back to Him who promises you a full renewal of the mind and heart... and try and choose the better route next time.
Romans 12:2 ‘Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect’. 

Next year I hope to be able to tell you that my advent calendar made it the whole way to December 25th. I can’t promise... but I will try.

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