Chuck Foreman – Teaching Pastor
It seems that to be needy in some fashion is part of being human. If we’re honest, we’ll admit that we are always waiting for someone or something good to come along, hoping for some kind of change for the better, longing for this or that need to be met or a certain dream to be fulfilled. And when we do receive or achieve or benefit from something in some way, we still aren’t completely satisfied. When things aren’t quite just so in our lives in every way, it can affect our happiness. We believe that when we find that special someone or that thing that we imagine will fulfill us, that then we will, in fact, be happy and fulfilled. Our lives become a quest for fulfillment.
I don’t think it’s wrong to want to be fulfilled and happy and content. To not have those desires would be to not be human. To assume that desire is the cause of our unhappiness and un-fulfillment is to admit that happiness and fulfillment are virtually impossible in this life as we know it. This premise is at the heart of some eastern thought, especially philosophical Buddhism. In this system of thought and practice the new quest becomes not the fulfillment of our desires, but to rid ourselves of the desire (any desire) for fulfillment. When we no longer desire to be fulfilled or have any desire at all, then we will be fulfilled. (Aren’t you glad someone finally told you that!) This is the proposed “selfless existence” embodied in the concepts of nirvana and enlightenment.
The problem with the quest for selfless existence is that it becomes just as, if not more, self-centered than the outright, unashamed quest for personal fulfillment of any human desire or dream. My pursuit of a selfless “me” becomes so completely inward as I seek to empty my mind through meditation and solitude, that I end up contributing nothing to the world around me. This keeps me from making any conscious effort to be other-focused just as much as if I were an absolute hedonist out to fulfill nothing more than my own fleshly desires.
I’m not here to bash what have become elaborate systems of philosophical and religious thought and practice, but I can’t resist the urge to point out how empty both the quest to rid myself of desire and the quest to fulfill my desires are. They both lead me to the same place—me. And they both direct me away from, what no one would argue is my greatest human responsibility—others. In both systems others are to be exploited for my own fulfillment. On the one hand, the help I might give someone will earn me brownie points (karma) for my next existence, completely illegitimating my motive for helping. On the other hand, others exist purely for my own benefit. Any help I might give someone is simply for the purpose of maneuvering them into a positon to be used by me for my purposes and satisfaction. Emptiness on both hands.
I know you’re probably asking at this point what any of this has to do with our Christmas theme of Messiah King. It would seem that we have drifted rather far off this advent theme, but not really. At the risk of sounding as if I’m giving you the Sunday School answer to our human quest for fulfillment, I’m going to suggest that what we need here is a completely new paradigm. We’re searching everywhere but in the right place to have our needs met. Whether eastern thought (which has crept into our western imaginations) or outright hedonism (which has certainly crept into our daily modus operandi), we aren’t even remotelywarm in our search for fulfillment and meaning. For all our searching, scratching and clawing, we’re still as cold as the North Pole and even less satisfied!
Please bear with me. What if we actually are created beings? (Here I go. :)) If so, then our Creator would be a given. A lot of us believe we’re created and have a Creator. Our problem is that in practicality, we don’t live as if we’ve connected those two dots at all. What if from the beginning our Creator has desired a relationship with us and made us to desire the same with him? What if that relationship is both the means of gaining the fulfillment we desire deep down inside our human selves and is, at the same time, the actual fulfillment itself? What I’m proposing here is that this is the new, but ancient, paradigm we need to adopt if we’re ever going to get warmer in our quest for fulfillment and perhaps even find it.
This paradigm is what we find in the Bible if we can remove the preconceived templates through which we may have been reading it up until now. The story goes like this: we are the image bearers of our Creator. He desires us and we desire him, even though we usually don’t want to admit it. As his children, we have a God shaped space within us that can only be filled by him. But we seem to look everywhere except in his direction for our filling. And nothing we look for as a replacement for God ever satisfies even when we find it. King David seemed to be in touch with what his inner self longed for. He expressed it like this:
O God, you are my God,
Earnestly I seek you;
My soul thirsts for you,
My body longs for you,
In a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
I have seen you in the sanctuary,
and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
Soul satisfaction. That’s what we all want, and David had apparently found it, in his pursuit of God.
The unique message of the Scriptures is this: our Creator has actually come to us in our own humanity that we, as his creatures, might know him and experience relationship with him. He was called, Immanuel—God with us. (Matthew 1:23) “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (John 1:4) He himself said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” And, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 6:35; 7:37-38) He also said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)
A full life where our hungers and our thirsts are completely satisfied—this is the kind of life our Creator intends for us. When he walked among us he told us what he and his Father had in mind for us and how we can get in on it. He said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)
Wow, just think about that for a minute…all who God is, the Father, the Son and the Spirit coming and making their home with each of us. I think that’s what we long for deep down inside, even if we haven’t been able to put our finger on it by ourselves. But it stands to reason that if our Creator himself makes his home with us, inside of us, we would be truly satisfied.
A guy named Philip, a first century Jew who lived in Bethany, Judea said it well. He had become convinced he had found the One for whom his people, the Hebrews, had been waiting for centuries. He told his friend Nathanael, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” “Come and see.” (John 1:45-46) They needn’t look any further or wait any longer. He had come. He was here.
When Paul was in Athens he told the Athenians, who were searching for meaning and hungry to be in relationship with something or someone who could satisfy, that it was their Creator who “gives all men life and breath and everything else.” He said, “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ ” (Acts 17:24-28)
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29:23) Perhaps that’s our problem; we’re looking in all the wrong places to find fulfillment, and whenever we get around to seeking God, we do it half-heartedly. This Christmas let’s consider the great likelihood that the thing, the One we’ve been waiting for has actually come. His name is Jesus. He is our Messiah King, Immanuel—God with us. He came to give us life to the full. If this is true, then what we need, the One we need, has been there all along. We need not wait or look anywhere else.