What are you waiting for?
I sort of asked that question last week as well, but the thing is, Christmas has context… It doesn’t just happen, there is a reason.
The thing about being a Christian is that you are supposed to be an “as if” type of person.
Let me explain. As Christians we are called upon to live as if God’s promises were true, as if the world were what God meant it to be, as if the goodness of God was more powerful than the evil we see around us.
Or think of it this way - We live in a time of war and terrorism, but we are called to live as if peace were more important. We live in a time of instant communication and gratification but are called to live as if peace and tranquility were of a higher value. We live in a time of natural disaster but are called to live as if there was security. We live in a time of poverty and chaos but are called to live as if people have more value than things.
So when we say, Christmas is coming… we are making a powerful theological statement. We are saying, something changed, something will change again, and we recognize and celebrate it.
Comfort O Comfort
Imagine for a second that you live in the time of the prophet Isaiah – Isaiah was the counselor to the king, during a time when two different nations wanted to drive the Israelites off of their land, the Syrians were at war with them, and the Assyrian Empire was waiting in the wings to take what was left. It was a time of darkness, despair and utter hopelessness, a time when people wondered why God had abandoned them, and this is what Isaiah called to his beloved people in the temple:
“Comfort, O comfort my people… Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength… lift it up, do not fear… Here is your God! See, the lord comes… he will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom…”
White Gift (children’s time)
White Gift Sunday dates back to 1904 in Ohio. The wife of a Methodist minister and her two daughters came up with the idea of giving gifts wrapped in white paper at Christmas time to people in need.
Gifts are wrapped in white so that they will be anonymous. People who can only give a little will not be embarrassed.
There is a Chinese tradition where all the people gave their king a gift wrapped in plain white paper so that every gift would look the same. Each person gave the king what they we re able, and the king welcomed them all.
The White Gift shares in the spirit of Christ and the God of love at Christmas. We give gifts of love to people in need. These gifts are often nonperishable food items which are distributed to people in the community.
White Gift Sunday celebrates the stew a rdship of Go d’s love and giving at the time of year when we remember the coming of the King of Kings.
Prayer of Dedication of White Gifts
Holy God, you are the giver of all gifts. We come before you today with these white gifts given in our Lord’s spirit of love. May they be offerings of love, symbols of our faith in you and signs of the work of Christ’s church. Bless us as we dedicate these gifts in the service of others. AMEN
This is the second Sunday of Advent, and I have to say, the world does not seem very “Christmassy” maybe it is the lack of snow, maybe it is that the radio stations are not playing any Christmas music yet, I don’t know; what do you think, does it seem as Christmassy as other years? Does it feel like it is three weeks away?
The Psalmists and Paul try their best to remind us that even in the times that life seems hard, Christmas is on the Horizon. They do not say it quite like that – but listen again:
“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God… A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.”
“Surely his salvation is at hand… Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. The LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.”
So believe in tomorrow, have hope, keep the faith, something is about to happen… we forget that urgency, but that is what people have always felt, that the world is changing out from under them… And it truly is, we live in those changing times…
And the context of Christmas is the very real world we all live in; a world that, as we all know, can make us lose sight of all these Advent words, Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.
Jump ahead 500 years and we come across another prophet, this one closer to the original Christmas; Jesus’ cousin, John; who we sometimes call the Baptist. This wild and crazy prophet shows up outside of Jerusalem wearing a camel skin cloak and eating locusts with honey. He is so out of place that he draws a crowd – and then he begins to preach:
“Repent. The Kingdom of God is at hand.”
Now what we sometimes miss in this story is that John is pretty much recreating Isaiah for his generation. The people are still stuck in a war torn country – this time it is the Herodians and the Romans who have divided the spoils, and they are still wondering where God is.
The writer of Mark saw this – he even quotes Isaiah when he describes what John is doing – preparing a way for the Lord in the wilderness, making level every mountain and hill and raising up every valley and smoothing every rough places.
Now what else did Isaiah say? “Here is your God, see, the Lord comes!” Both Isaiah and John start with where we find ourselves and offer us a message filled with grace – a message about God’s presence with us – and how that can change everything.
There are people out there that think Christianity and other religions are “quaint” that they are from another time and another way of seeing the world… I think the messages, and the problems faced, are timeless…
Why does this world suffer from more depression, more suicide, and more pain than we ever have? Could it be that the same sort of injustice, the same sort of poverty, the same sort of misery that was there in Isaiah’s time, or John’s time, is still there with us now?
We all struggle with meaning, and we all wonder if things will ever get better…
So here is the good news – here is the Gospel – as told by the Archangel Gabriel to a lonely young girl afraid for her life: “you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son… he will be great, and of his kingdom there will be no end…” And you remember what Isaiah said the kingdom of God would be like? The Lamb and the lion, the baby and the snake, will all live in harmony with one another.
See, God still has a message for us in these dark times. Peace, I leave you with – not as the world understands peace, but as God does – wholeness, love, wonder, joy, and safety – peace. This is the grace of God and the love of God which Jesus came to show us.
So as we wait remember that our calling is to be the ‘as if’ sort of person that the world needs. The birth of Jesus in the dark of midwinter was a reminder that nothing bad ever gets the final say…
I heard a great quote this week and I want to finish my sermon with it…
A Candle is a message to the darkness – saying, “I beg to differ!”
Christmas is coming.