Wait for it…
Here we are once again. Our bellies are full with turkey and our eye lids full of tryptophan. It seems that as the leftovers start to hit the fridge we are already to move on to the next holiday. This is a special season. This time changes people. This time affects the world around us in dramatic ways. People love Christmas time, yet once again on the first Sunday of Advent I have to stand here and remind you that it isn’t Christmas yet.
I am doing Advent a little different this year. The first three Sundays I’ll be giving sermons in similar fashion to the ones I did this summer. This Sunday I am talking about the season of Advent, next week I’ll be talking about symbols and focusing on the Chrismons that hang in the tree. If you noticed there is a band along the bottom of the tree that is missing, we will hang the rest of the Chrismons next week and fill all that in. The third Sunday of Advent, we will be doing some singing as I tell you the history of some of our favorite carols and why they are important. Then on the fourth Sunday our children are going to lead us in worship with their Christmas Pageant.
Today we stand at the starting line, the opening of the trail, the first step beyond our front door, ready to take the Advent journey once again. Today we start this journey towards Christmas. I hope you will pick up the Advent Devotional on your way out and read it with your family nightly. It starts tomorrow, but on next Sunday’s devotion I quote some of the Book of Worship that explains what this season means. The word advent is derived from the Latin word that means “coming.” Something is coming but like any journey you have to wait until you get to the end to see it.
I remember our Thanksgiving trips up to Ohio when I was younger. My mom’s family use to live in Huron, OH. It is a small town just outside Sandusky and right on Lake Erie. It took us 9 hours, depending on bathroom stops, to get up there from Charlotte. It was a straight shot up 77 and then you hang a left at Cleveland and drive another hour. Those 9 hours were really long. I remember being crammed into a 1987 88 Oldsmobile Delta. Six people filled up this car really fast, my Mom, Dad, and little sister on the front bench and my other two sisters and myself in the back seat. As my face was pressed up against the window I remember praying for those 9 hours to go fast. We would travel during the night but it is hard to sleep when you can’t move. I would watch the highway lights go by, countdown the tunnels on the West Virginia Turnpike, and trying and figure out how many corn fields you had to pass before you got to Cleveland. In that 9 hour trip there were two sections that seemed to take forever. It always seemed that Huron who would move further west after we took that left at Cleveland. But the other long part of the journey was the first hour and a half it took to leave the great state of North Carolina. It took forever because it was what I was most familiar with.
We are standing on the first leg of our journey today and although it feels familiar we have to make sure we know what we are doing. Are we supposed to be waiting patiently like in a long car ride, not being able to move and with our faces pressed against the window? No, Advent is a time of active waiting. There is a lot to do before Christmas. We have cards to mail, presents to shop for, then wrap and label. We have dinners to plan, parties to attend, and pageants to practice for. We have a lot to do in the 2,246,400 seconds before Christmas!
The First Sunday of Advent though is not about Christmas at all. It is actually very hard to tie Christmas into all the texts for Advent. Luke tells us about Jesus’ testimony to his second coming. I preached on the beginning of this speech a couple weeks ago but here he is still going on about how we will know the end is coming. The main message of this text is found in verse 34, Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. I mean that seems to sum up the time between now and Christmas doesn’t it? Jesus tells us that as his second coming draws near that we should not get weighed down frivolous spending, getting drunk, and having anxiety about what is happening. Instead we should be on guard, always ready, always alert, so we will be ready for the Son of Man.
We always start off the new Christian year by reminding ourselves that this is not the end. God has more in store for us in the future. Jesus Christ does plan on coming back but what the signs are, how to read the sun and moon, and to understand when what the fig tree is telling us, is all hard to do. We should not get lost in the waiting but be doing God’s work until God’s Son comes again.
The season of Advent is active waiting for what is to come on Dec. 25th but also Jesus’ Second Advent, or coming into this world. During this time of waiting we are to be doing some things. Let me give you some of the lectionary texts I won’t be preaching on this season but they should sound a little familiar to you. “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Here is always a favorite that brings out the Christmas warm fuzzies, “You brood of vipers!...Even now the ax is laying at the root of the trees, every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Does that just bring you good Christmas memories of being cut down and thrown into the eternal flames of damnation? We look at this weeks scripture to and we are puzzled about all the shocking talk about the end of the world. How can we get in the spirit of Christmas with all this talk of eternal judgment and fire?
The world around us once again is piping in Christmas at a frantic pace. With our economy down people are looking to the spending season to tell us if we are doing better as a nation or not. That is why Christmas stuff hit the shelves in October this year and why stores were playing Christmas music in mid November. They want us in the mood, in the Christmas mood, in the spending mood. The world has it’s ideas about Christmas and those are brought into this sanctuary. Every year I have a fight with the worship team about when we can sing what hymns. I gave in a little this year but the truth is there is a purpose in not singing Away in a Manger on the First Sunday of Advent.
It is our duty as Christians to live in this world but not be of the world. We have to set precedence, live as a mirror to the rest of the world and show them what our God is like. If we jump right into Christmas we miss the opportunity to really get ready and understand the gift that is coming. We need to remember why God sent his only Son and what that means in our relationship with God. We not only have to let Thanksgiving digest but we also have to digest the facts that it is out of God’s love for us that his Son put on flesh, dwelt among us, and then died our death on the cross only to rise again. There is a purpose. There is a meaning. There is a reality we need to make sure we understand before we can celebrate the arrival.
The text today is scary to hear. We have images of a natural disasters and people fainting in fear. It seems that there is a time coming that is scary beyond belief. Remember these are the words of Jesus. We want to rush to get baby Jesus here, the cute, cuddly, and cooing baby in the manger. But here we have adult Jesus, soon to be crucified Jesus, telling us to “Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” But there is hope in this message, a hope that can only come from the one who created us. In verse 29, adult Jesus tells us, “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
There is hope in our waiting because our redemption is drawing near. Sure it is uncomfortable and sometimes impossible to push the idea of Christmas all the way to the 25th. All of the world is neck deep in it already. But unless we prepare ourselves we will never understand the redemption that is to come. Redemption is something we all desire and we all need. It is something that is worth pain and suffering. We can lift our heads high because someone has already done that for us. Advent is a time not only to remember the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes but to remember that later those swaddling clothes were the only things left in the tomb on Easter.
This time of year can bring hope, peace, joy, and love to our world but it takes times. It is like learning to play guitar verses playing Guitar Hero. If you don’t know what Guitar Hero is, it is a video game that allows you to feel like you are playing very popular rock n’ roll music. All you have to do is mash the right color button at the right time to rock out. It is a blast and you do feel like you are a rock star. But it is completely different from learning to play guitar. That is a much longer process and it comes at a cost. Your fingers hurt and get tired. You slowly, really slowly, learn to play chords and you play the same once over and over again driving everyone around you crazy. You have to learn scales and play them multiple times, over and over again. But after all the years of practicing and understanding of what the instrument and you can do together, you can make beautiful music together and be a true rock star if you so desire.
If we jump into Christmas than all we are doing is playing Guitar Hero. It is fun, it is cool, but it isn’t the real thing. Advent is like learning how to play the guitar and then being a rock star. It takes time to learn the instrument and understand how it works. The babe will come in a manger and does for a reason. Can you articulate that yet? Can you profess the love that God has for us and why there was a need to send his Only Son? We have to actively wait by learning, exploring, and preparing our souls for that Christmas morning. If you are willing to go on the journey, if you are willing to go against what the world is wanting us to do, than as you hold that candle in your hand on Christmas Eve, and you are singing Silent Night under the stars in the front of the church, I promise it will hit you. The grace, love, and redemption that is coming will all make sense. It will sink in and the wait will be over. But that journey starts with a step and today is that first step. Are you willing to put in the work or are you fine with another generic December? That journey starts today.
And all God’s people said…Amen.