By Jeff Keeling
Fulfill now, oh Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us, granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come, life everlasting.
When I was just a little fellow, so I am told, I received some gifts of clothing one Christmas. With my thoughts and desires focused firmly on toys, it was all I could do to muster a perfunctory “thank you” before tossing the unwanted items aside.
I am sure my parents were thankful, on the other hand. They married while they were students at the University of Washington, and my mom worked part-time while dad finished his degree.
I was born when she was 20 and he, 21. My arrival put them behind the eight-ball financially, and it wouldn’t be until I was 14 and my sister, Heather, was 9 that mom finally earned her degree and got a full-time teaching job.
So my folks’ “desires and petitions” back when I was a nipper not only were fulfilled as was best for them when I received clothing as a Christmas gift, they were fulfilled as was gratifying to them. Clothes for me meant fewer necessities for them to buy, and we were a relatively poor little family, materially speaking.
I, on the other hand, was having my desires and petitions fulfilled “as was best” for me – not as was gratifying to my toy-focused little heart and mind.
The line at the beginning of this column is taken from the closing prayer as we gather with others at church each weekday morning during the Advent season.
In the still dimness of the sanctuary, together we adore God. We confess our sins. We worship through reciting part of the Benedictus, and through a series of scripture readings. We pray for others, and end with the prayer that includes the line about our desires and petitions.
I love the line, even though it calls me to account. Jesus told his disciples in John 14:14, “You may ask for anything in my name, and I will do it.” So, more often than not, we ask for things that we desire and do our best to impute to ourselves only the best of motives.
To want healthy, happy family members and friends is no sin. To want material security is no sin. But it is in our nature, even when what we want is in many ways good, to neglect the whole gospel of Christ. Just before he said he would do anything his disciples asked, Jesus said, he would do so, “so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
The Son said, just after revealing he would be killed and would rise again, that, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
Few greater gifts exist than to have, “in this world, knowledge of your truth.” That truth makes any worldly gifts pale in comparison, which in turn has for centuries allowed Christians to maintain joy regardless of how their present situations looked from a worldly perspective.
Mary, Jesus’ mother, recognized how unimportant worldly wealth and power were, as expressed so beautifully in her “Magnificat” (Luke 1:46-55). But as I see my family broaden and deepen with the arrival of grandchildren and a son and daughter-in-law, I remember that as Simeon blessed the child Jesus, he also prophesied to Mary, “a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
So I see that we can’t escape it. The cross we’re called to take up means that nothing in this world should interfere with our call to follow Jesus. That includes the obvious – the overindulgence in Christmas-season materialism that we are quick to criticize but much slower to abandon – but also the devotion to family that can so easily pass from pleasing God to being a stumbling block to our full commitment to Him.
The good news is, if we keep Jesus commandments – love God and love our neighbor as ourselves – we will remain in his love, and as he said in John 15:11, “our joy will be complete.”