Driving home from school this week, my daughter and I talked about some challenges she is having with poor behavior in the classroom. We talked about some strategies to help her work on it. I encouraged her to just keep trying. Exasperated, she said to me, “I am trying. It’s just so hard being good!”
Her words to me were both funny and profound. I felt sympathy for this little first grader who is trying her best. But I also felt an odd sense of relief. I thought to myself, “I’m so glad I am an adult and don’t have to worry about ‘being good’ anymore!” Then today, we read the lessons for the feast day for Karl Barth. The epistle was from Paul’s letter to the Romans (7.14-25). Paul says, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” It dawned on me that I was being self-righteous with my daughter. As adults, we do not ever “grow out of” struggling to be good. Adults struggle with our sinful nature as much as children do.
Karl Barth knew a little about sinfulness. During the rise of Hitler, Barth argued that the Church’s allegiance to God in Christ gave the Church the moral imperative to challenge the rule and violence of Hitler. In fact, when Barth refused to swear an oath to Hitler, he lost his professorship. One of the greatest theological minds of the twentieth century, Barth argued about sin that the Incarnation was the bridge between God’s revelation and human sin.
Talking about sin during Advent may seem strange to some. Most of us are more focused on buying gifts, preparing our homes, and going to parties. But the reason we have to celebrate in the first place is the nativity of our Lord – that bridge between God’s revelation and human sin. Even in the first weeks of Advent, we hear from John the Baptist telling us to repent of our sins. The time of Advent is not the Church’s way of delaying the gratification of Christmas. Advent is an invitation to prepare our hearts and minds for the Christ Child. Part of that preparation is examining our own sinfulness – to right our relationship with God, with ourselves, and with one another. Being “good” is not easy. But Advent is our reminder to keep trying – even when being good is hard. My suspicion is that our work of repentance will not only warm our hearts with the forgiveness we receive from God, but also help us to be agents of forgiveness. Lord knows we’ll need a heap of that too when the holidays come!