My sermon for Advent I, 2012
Remember the ancient Egyptian myth that after death, the deceased’s heart was weighed against a feather? We probably all saw it in high school World Civilization textbooks. The god Anubis presided over the ceremony where the Egyptians believed that all the deeds a person did in their life were contained in their heart, and that every bad deed made the heart heavier, so when the person died and their soul went to Osiris, Anubis weighed the heart against the feather of Maat, the goddess of truth and justice. If your heart was heavier than the feather of truth and justice, the heart was destroyed. If your heart was lighter than the feather, your soul got to spend eternity in paradise with Osiris.
Now hear today’s Gospel: “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap”
What weighs down your heart? Now, we are not ancient Egyptians, and have a very different theology than they did. The gift of Christianity is that when your heart is weighed down by sin, Jesus offers forgiveness and grace—the lightening and release of the heart from the gravity of sin.
But the writers of the Gospel most certainly knew this myth… Egyptian religions and Christianity intersected repeatedly—just look at pictures of ancient Egyptian statues of Isis and her son Horus and compare it to Mary and the infant Jesus—so perhaps it was in their minds today. The message here is, don’t let your hearts be so weighed down by the worries of this world that when the Kingdom of God comes near, you are unprepared or miss it. We are telling this story today because the church knows that this is a season and time when our hearts can be weighed down. When we are burdened by anxieties about work and family, money, relationships, the trials of the world—when injustice and untruth depress us and make us so much heavier than that feather. When we are so engaged by the things of this world that we forget to attend to the Kingdom of God.
And into that heaviness, later today and every Sunday, I sing, “Lift up your hearts,” And you will all respond, “We lift them up to the Lord.” That’s probably not the part of the service that you usually find inspiring. It’s just the rote words we repeat in the service. But think about it—week after week, we affirm that we will life our hearts up to God.
So how? How in a world of suffering and pain and injustice and anxiety can we find the strength to lift up our hearts week after week?
Hear the prayer from 1 Thessalonians today: “may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” God strengthens our hearts—God helps us to lift them up—God makes us increase in love for one another and for all… for all… not just those in our community, but love all. Each loving relationship snips one of the strings of anxiety that weighs us down and allows us to edge ever upwards towards the divine.
Look around you in this church. Look at those faces. Those are people who love you. Those are people who will help you when you ask for it; those are people who will pray for your when you need it; those are people who will rejoice with you when you have good news. Those are people who, when your heart feels like it will burst in sadness, will be there with a hug and a good word. And those are people for whom you must care, in that web of affection and accountability that stems from our shared faith in Jesus, and our common meal each week of bread and wine.
We’re going to be praying for Elizabeth’s heart today in our baptismal liturgy. “Open her heart to your grace and truth,” her family will say as they lead us in prayer. And finally, in my favorite prayer from this service, after she is baptized, I will pray, “Give her an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.” An inquiring and discerning heart. A heart that is open to receiving God’s grace and truth and to offering it back out into the world. What better prayer could their be for a baby—or for any of us who have been baptized. If we have an inquiring and discerning heart, a heart that is open to grace and truth, it will definitely be lighter than a feather.