The Christmas season is upon us…at least that’s what my son declared as we watched the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It’s not really time for angels and babes wrapped in swaddling clothes quite yet, but it is time to stock up on all the gifts that we feel compelled to get. Two days ago, the day after Thanksgiving, we had “Black Friday,” known as the busiest shopping day of the year and a make or break time for retailers nationwide.
My wife and I actually went into town to shop on Friday. Did anyone else here? But we weren’t really going in for the “shopping experience.” I needed to get cardstock for the ornaments we’ll be doing each week and I had to get Advent Candles. So, we weren’t in town until about 7 PM and I’m sure it had slowed down dramatically by then. But some of the sales people talked about what it had been like in the morning. It was crazy. There was rushing and hoarding and pushing and shoving and some very happy people who walked away with what they were sure were good deals and some very unhappy people who didn’t get the latest and greatest thing that they were sure they or their loved one couldn’t live without.
So, that’s how this “Christmas Season” of ours begins. It’s the same way every year.
At some point over these very long six days that the kids were home from school a discussion came up about “Carol of the Bells.” Man, that’s a good song. The discussion was about whether that’s a song that could be sung all or if it just needs to be instrumental. I like it both ways but it’s most cool when it’s loud. (Sing some of it). That’s a song with some power, some gusto. It’s frantic. It’s like a ride you just can’t seem to get off of. I love that song
And, you know, sometimes my Christmases feel just like that…driving, frantic, just can’t get off. (Sing some of it).
Dave Ramsey, in the Financial Peace University course, makes light of those who overspend their budget at Christmas time…saying they went over because they just hadn’t prepared for the economic bite…that Christmas surprised them. Like it doesn’t happen every year! And I confess to you that sometimes the hustle and bustle, the HOOPLA of the season surrounding the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ…I can get all worn out…relieved when December 26th arrives and maybe, just maybe the kids will let us sleep in.
Denise Rogers wrote a poem about this experience. It’s called “December Twenty-Sixth”:
I didn’t start my shopping
Till December twenty-first.
I haven’t baked a cookie yet;
Our tree this year’s the worst.
I’d better buy some Christmas cards
And get them out today.
There’s just no time for Christmas
As my life gets in the way.
The decoration bin is cracked.
The tinsel is all dusty.
My Christmas spirit’s all worn out.
My happiness is rusty.
I do love Christmas every year,
Although my feeling’s mixed.
(I think I’m looking forward to
We may have our magical moments to Christmas…but it’s a lot of work and we can fill up our time and our space with SO MUCH STUFF that we just about miss the whole thing…at least the meaning of it.
While the advertising may tell you it’s the Christmas Season, here at the church, it’s the ADVENT SEASON. This, as opposed to standing in line at the “Buy More” for the touch screen, big screen, big deal whatchamacallit, is about hearing the promise, with Israel, that our God is going to do something, and it’s SOMETHING BIG. He’s coming. We’re waiting. And we look forward to see what he has in store.
Now for the Israelites, what he had in store was the coming of the Messiah…that sweet little baby in the manger who would grow up to be the suffering man dying on a cross and will come again as a king in glory. And for us, it’s the promise that God is still acting with us, here and now and if we pay attention…if we listen…if we prepare ourselves for his arrival…we might just get to participate with what it is that God is doing.
But that Christmas train keeps rolling and you and I both know that, with the Christmas Bazaar and Christmas parties and food baskets and special dinners and people coming over and the shopping which we feel we just have to do and the skiing that we can now do and the work it just seems like it can be overwhelming and we can just about miss all that’s REALLY happening in our midst.
Peterson’s The Message translation of the Scripture passage we read from Romans, the one about waking up from slumber and the night almost being done, makes it sound like it was written just for us…just for now…as we look towards getting swept up in the momentum of this season. He writes:
But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!
Cool, huh? “Absorbed and exhausted in taking care of…obligations…oblivious to God.” “Be up and awake to what God is doing!” Don’t “squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence…in bickering and grabbing everything in sight.”
It’s for us.
So, what if we paused? What if we listened? What if we watched and waited and looked for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, again in glory, just as Paul had hoped that his listeners in Romans would do? What might we hear? What might we do? What might we expect?
In Advent we ask these types of questions…not whether we get the 40” or 50” TV. On this first Sunday we lit our first Advent candle on our Advent wreath. It’s the candle of HOPE. Each of the candles, in one understanding, have been given a name of something this season is about. HOPE, and Love, and Joy, and Peace. But today it’s HOPE.
Now, we’re used to throwing that word around this time of year. I HOPE to get an in dash iPod adapter this Christmas. I HOPE that I can have another turkey, soon. That doesn’t quite cut it for us in the Christian sense. THAT’S kind of like wishes. Hope is more than that.
HOPE is the belief that a positive outcome can and will happen.
HOPE, said George Iles, is faith holding out its hand in the dark.
HOPE, said Emily Dickenson, is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops… at all.
HOPE is putting faith to work when doubting would be easier.
HOPE sees the light at the end of the tunnel and takes you there.
HOPE is what sustained the Hebrews throughout their captivity, when the Prophets spoke to them, telling them that, although it didn’t seem like it could ever be, that God would send a deliverer to them…a messiah…a savior.
HOPE is what sustained Paul, as he was arrested and abused and worked for the sake of Jesus Christ. Because, like in Romans, he said, “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.” Jesus was gonna’ come. It was all going to be all right.
HOPE is what is offered to those who have lost loved ones, even just recently in our community of faith, and they were told, it’s not going to get ALL better…but it IS going to get better.
HOPE is what is offered to the many hungry and poor and dying in this world. We say it is not better now. But it will be better someday.
HOPE is what we have when we look at this world of ours, the political infighting, the sadness, the grief, the pain, the hurt, the robbery, the violence, and we still say that ALL WILL BE MADE WELL. Julian of Norwich, famously heard God say to her, and she wrote:
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
That is HOPE.
Let’s be clear, this is different than wishful thinking. This is different than looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. This is different than being a card-carrying member of the Optimist Club. This is grounded in the knowledge that we have a God who loves us and will provide for us. It may not be in the time frame that we like. It may not be the way we’d like. But our God will provide and there is nothing that can separate us from him. Our hope is, like the old song says, “Built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” It is shaped by Scripture. It is proclaimed by persons of faith. And we know that, whatever, else happens in this life and the life to come, our God wins.
As we make out our WISH LISTS, we may miss our HOPE LISTS. As we’re thinking about all the different things we might LIKE to have under the tree (and really most of them we could entirely live without) as we’re thinking up these things we might miss out on reflecting on those things we don’t just want…but things we really HOPE FOR.
The Israelites HOPED for the coming of a messiah to save them from captivity. That’s great. Our New Testament brothers and sisters HOPED for the coming of Christ again. These were things, events, people, in fact, were the deepest longings of their souls. They were, when centered on God, when lifted up by fellow travelers on the way, when quiet, the future that they expected God to provide. They were what was hoped for.
We don’t often get a chance to HOPE during this time of year. Think, just for a second, of just a few of the things you need to accomplish over the next 26 and half days. Think of the places you need to be. Don’t think too long…it will blow your mind. We are just beginning here.
But what if you were given the freedom to HOPE a little bit this year? What if you could think about a friend who is going through a rough time and pray, deeply pray, that this season her burden would be lifted or his grief would be gone? What if you, when seeing the longing persons had, the real, visceral, tangible longing they had for a Savior to free them could focus all of your being on persons in this world who are longing to be made free? What if you, as you looked at your own life, at your own siblings, at your own parents, at your own relationships could invest your spirit in living into a new reality?
But don’t leave it with your feeling and your thinking. HOPE has legs. HOPE has hands. HOPE works. HOPE expects. HOPE acts. HOPE moves. HOPE lives and breaths and walks and jogs and runs to the reality that God has promised. Be the HOPE in the lives of those who need it. Be the HOPE for that hurting family. Spread the message that not only does God provide, but God’s people do and so will you.
(Sing carol of the bells).
This season can suck the very life out of you. In Advent, we hope for the very life God wishes to give us.
As we close out the sermon, I invite you to think about something that you HOPE for. Is it relief for someone…or a whole group of people. Is it an end to something that causes pain…maybe for a person or for a country? What do you hope to see in your family this coming year? Not a trip to Hawaii, but maybe a healing of relationship. Pick one thing right now to HOPE for.
I’m not going to ask that you share this with everyone.
What I will ask is that, if you’re able, could you write that one thing you’re hoping for right now, could you right it on the ornament that I’m going to hand out. Our Christmas tree is going to be different, this year. This year, it will have brightly colored ornaments. Each one with a prayer. And, I’m going to ask if there are people that would come in and pray over these that are offered. Weekly…every once in a while…once.
The Hebrews hoped that God send a Savior. Jesus came.
Paul hoped for the coming of Christ in glory. Which we still hope for to this day.
But, we have hopes for this world of ours, that something about next year will be different. And we hope knowing that our God isn’t done with us. In fact, he’s coming now.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.