Are you ready for Christmas? Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent, by definition, is a time for preparing for the coming of a special person or event. It's interesting only the churches who follow the liturgical calendar observe Advent. Advent includes the four Sundays before Christmas ending on Christmas Eve. We often think of Advent as a time of preparation for the coming of the birth of Jesus, but the season of Advent begins with the Advent of the second coming of Christ, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Personally, it’s hard to think of Christmas on Thanksgiving weekend, but that's how works this year and most years. Perhaps it is appropriate. After all, as we prepare for the birth of Jesus, we shouldn't we be thankful the Heavenly Father choose to send his Son as newborn baby, and even for the second coming.
Whether we think about Advent as a preparation for the birth of Christ or his second coming, it's a time of EXPECTATION. Centuries before the birth of Christ were expecting for the coming of the Messiah. You could even call it an EAGER expectation. The people of Israel were eagerly awaiting for God to send them a liberator, a Savor. The Romans were terrible overlords, but they had been oppressed for hundreds of years, but the Romans were especially cruel and oppressive. The Jews couldn't wait to be liberated. They were eagerly expecting relief from God, Yahweh.
Said to say, as they watched many of them missed the coming of the Messiah, because Christ didn't come in the way they expected. They were looking for King David figure. They didn't expect the Messiah to come as a baby.
But let's get back to our celebration of Advent. Don't just you love watching small children as their eager expectation grows daily during December? I forget who said it, but the quote is great, "Eager anticipation is the electricity of childhood." It's the impatient waiting for what children hope will come. The cynic thinks of this eager expectation as selfish, but today let's not go there. Don't you love hearing these little lives fill up with the excitement of Christmas?
Sad to say, too soon the eager expectation of childhood turns into a spirit of boredom or skepticism. Too often we turn Advent into a time of rushing around with a feeling of obligation, of buying gifts we believe will not be appreciated or worse re-gifted. Too often we feel obligated to send cards or make calls to people we have forgotten all year. What a hassle!
The scripture this morning turns our attention away from Jesus' birth for a time. Jesus is nearing the end of his earthly ministry and begins his teachings on the end times. This lesson can be taken in several ways. He concludes his teaching by saying, "Don't let him [meaning the return of Christ] up when you weren't expecting and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: stay alert!" --Mark 13:36-7 STAY ALERT!
There are several ways to take this scripture. After hearing about the coming suffering, we might look upon the teachings with dread, and fear.
Or we could have a childlike eager expectation because Christ comes to bring a new heaven and earth. Advent is a gospel of HOPE.
Recently, I was going through my library planning to give some of my books to the library book sale. As looked through the books I came across a book titled, "The Prepper's Pocket Companion," with a subtitle, "How to prepare for the end of the world as we know," written by Kate Rowinski. No! It's not about the coming of Christ or even the end of time, but more
about how to prepare when natural disaster strikes. It's about how to prepare food and water, alternative energy, and self-sufficiency in a disaster. It's good book. As a former Boy Scout, I believe in the motto, "Be Prepared." Jesus, however, wasn't suggesting preparation of what we should do if such disasters, but for his return. Jesus meant when he said, "Stay Alert!" We don't want to be like the nation of Israel when Jesus came the first time.
There are many ways to prepare. This is the question, "Do we prepare with FEARFUL expectations or EAGER expectations?"
Many years ago, I overheard the conversation between two women, who were discussing childbirth. The first woman talked about how difficult her pregnancy was, how her womb bled, and the difficult labor pains she experienced. The other woman was my mother. She listened appreciating what the other woman was saying, but then she smiled, "I understand, I had labor pains five minutes apart for over twenty four hours, but as soon as I held my newly born son in my arms, I forgot all that pain." Her labor was endured with the hope of the birth of her son.
Childbirth can be an allegory to the second coming of Christ. The process will be painful, but all of the pain will be forgotten once Christ has arrived. The first time Jesus Christ came there was a great deal of pain throughout the process, but the end result was the gift of a Savor, not for some, but for all who choose to accept it. The scriptures teach if you merely believe with all your heart you will be saved. What a Christmas gift!
Many of people in Israel missed the first coming. They were expecting a different gift. They wanted a warrior. They wanted the Messiah, the Christ, to save their nation from the Romans. Jesus came not to save them from the Romans, but to save many generations of living souls. Jesus came to give us eternal life. Christ's second coming calls for us to remember what Jesus said, "What I say to you, I say to all: stay alert!" --Mark 13:30
Jesus' parable the story of the bridesmaids teaches us an important lesson. Five bridesmaids stayed alert for the coming of the groom but five fell asleep and where not ready for the wedding banquet. The doors were shut and they were left out. It's a harsh story if you think about it. But the lesson is clear we need to stay alert for the coming of the Christ. So, this is the question, "How are we to stay alert?"
To stay alert we must first learn how to listen. Are you a good listener? Most of us aren't good listeners. We're good at listening as we watch a movie or TV show, or the news. We're good at listening to music we like, or listening to other people talk, except to wait for the time we can interrupt them. How about you? Are you a good listener? Often, the Spirit of Christ is heard in the silence. Are you a good listener to the Spirit?
Think about the story of Elijah as he tries to escape the wrath of Jezebel. He knows how it is to have FEARFUL expectations. As he pauses to rest the Lord says, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" Elijah answers, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of Hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down our alters, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life. Then God said, "Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake but the Lord was not in the earthquake, and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire and after the firs a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard, he wrapped his face in his mantle and stood at the entrance of the cave. ... There came the still small voice of the Lord." --I Kings 19
Do you ever pause simply listening to the silence? Listening for the still small voice reminds us we are never alone. Pastor Ross several months ago mentioned a book written by Max Lucado titled, "You are never alone." Elijah thought he was left alone, but he was never alone. We are never alone. The Spirit is always with us. This Advent let's practice listening to the still small voice of the Lord. Do you accept the challenge? Will you take the time to just listen?
We stay alert by reading the Bible, listening once again to what it teaches us. It's tempting to overlook it as we prepare for the birth of Christ. Many of us think we know all of our favorite verses. We often don't listen to the Spirit when we read them. So, each time we open the Bible let us come to the reading of the scriptures with a HUMBLE expectation. We must learn to listen for the Spirit to speak to us in a new way. As we read let's think of the wisdom of the Psalmist, "Thy Word is a lamp unto thy feet." --Psalm 119:105 This Advent season let's challenge ourselves to staying in the word each day. Will you accept this challenge?
There's more! Staying alert is more than listening and reading. Staying alert involves preparation and acting. I love all the decorations this church
puts out to celebrate Advent and Christmas. I love the celebration of the Creches. I love the music of the season, but none of this just happens.
It takes a great deal of work and preparation. For some all of these is too much work, but for many it's a labor of love. For some it's what helps them get me into the spirit of Christmas. It helps them stay alert to the messages of Advent. It helps them stay experience the eager expectation of Advent.
It's true Christmas is difficult for many people. For them there is no reason for a joyful and eager expectation. This is the reason many churches plan for a blue Christmas service during Advent.
Yes! There are many reasons feel blue during Advent. Perhaps, it reminds them of years past when that special person celebrated Christmas with them but now they have passed. Perhaps, it's the increasing darkness that depresses. Perhaps, Christmas reminds you sad times, when the celebration of Christmas seemed impossible with a dysfunctional family. It's sad if Christmas is a difficult time for you. I pray you can focus on the coming of Christ and not on what Christmas has done to you.
Celebrating Christmas is not merely a time to celebrate the birth of God to our world. It's a celebration of Jesus' willingness to live and die for us. It's a time of celebration that Christ is willing to come again. For those of us with an eager expectation of the Second Coming we should also reach out to those who have lost or even never had such an eager expectation.
I believe in the gathering of the faithful to encourage each other in acting upon our faith. In the letter to the Hebrews we read, "Do not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all more as you see the Day approaching." --Hebrews 10:25 We come to worship during Advent as a way to rally around and increase our eager expectation. Singing Christmas songs is a way of staying alert.
This Advent do you have eager expectations, or they fear-filled expectations? There's an old song written by Carly Simon titled "Anticipation," whose words you might consider. By the way I change a couple of the words to fit this sermon. Think of it in terms of our relationship with Jesus Christ,
"We can never know about the days to come but we think about them anyway
And I wonder if I'm really with you now
Anticipation, anticipation is making me late is making me wait
And I tell you how easy it feels to be with yourself And how right your arms feel around me
But I rehearsed these words just late last night When I was thinking how right tonight might be
Anticipation, anticipation is making me late is making me wait
And tomorrow we might not see you Jesus
I'm no prophet and I don't know God's ways So I'll try and see into your eyes right now
And stay right here 'cause there are the good old days
Let's stay alert to the coming of Christ, but let's remember it's because of Jesus Christ these are the good old days!
Pastor Paul Grossman