11/30/97, First Sunday in Advent, Year B
ell, Happy New Year! You may think your Pastor is off his rocker--- maybe he has watched too many football games yesterday. No! It is the New Year for the Liturgical Calendar. One calendar is about as good as another in that none of them are actual representations of Gods reality: To the Eastern Orthodox today is one date and to Islam its another.
In the Churchs ancient table of reckoning, today is the first day of Advent: A time set aside to prepare for Jesus birth. A time to pray, and read the Bible, and to wait on Christmas.
Remember how slow Christmas came when you were a child? You were ready ten weeks ago but Christmas was not ready to come. You had your Christmas list memorized and could tell anybody who asked that you wanted a blue bicycle with a white seat and mud flaps and a horn, a set of Hoppalong Cassidy cap pistols, and a gas station. You were prepared!
You even helped Mother get ready by helping her shop, all the while reminding her of the blue bicycle, and where she might find one. You helped Dad cut the tree, and the whole family had a part in decorating the tree. Even your big brother would bring his date over to help get ready for another big Christmas.
There was always church stuff to do before Christmas too. You suspicioned that it was trying to remind you of the true reason for the season, and it was not entirely lost on you. After all, you moved up from shepherd to wise man in the childrens nativity scene. The "wizzo-man" had an actual speaking part--- "behold, we come bearing gifts of gold, frankenstence, and myrtle." There was always the baby doll Jesus, and the prettiest little girl playing Mary. I even got to be Joseph when I was older, and got to wear a black beard.
The church things to do in preparation for Christmas have remained some of the most cherished memories: These have formed in our minds what Christmas is really all about. These are the kind of things that young men have died defending on foreign shores. We know deep down that we are what we are because of times like these experiences of Christmas.
In our reading from the Old Testament we hear the Prophet Jeremiah speaking for God who promises that in the future he would "...cause a righteous Branch to spring up..." From that divine promise, and from the many hundreds more in the Old Testament, the people of Jesus day were prepared to welcome the Christ.
On our last trip to Jerusalem we were in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus spent the night with his Apostles before his death. The Christian guide in this ancient garden pointed out old olive wood trees that had survived for over two-thousand years. Thus, they could have been there when Jesus was there. Our guide was excited about being able to show us that out of the root of one of the old trees there was a new shoot recently formed. This is the imagery that God used to make his promise to the Old Testament era people.
As we observe these weeks of preparation we know how the story will unfold. We can look back and see how God finally stepped down the stairway of heaven with a baby in his arms. We have the manger, and the cross, and the empty tomb. We have found salvation by looking back and knowing what God did for us in Christ.
However, the people who heard Gods initial promise through Jeremiah, had to look forward with faith, not knowing the shape of the cross, or about the blood that would be spilled to atone for humanitys sins. It is much easier to look back and to know the story than it would be to have to look into the unknown and live by hope in the unseen. Our advantage is that we have the story. Our God has made a way for you and me.
Even though we know how the story has unfolded thus far, Advent points to a continuing story that is still unfolding and we do not know exactly how it will end. Yet, the promise of God is still true for us that: as we look into the unknown future we can do so with confidence because we have his absolute promise of faithfulness.
Some seem to think they know how the ends will be tied up, but the truth is that as the people of Jeremiahs day had to look forward with faith in Gods promises, so we must look forward with faith. Whatever happens, and whenever it happens, he will be there for us.
We spent the day after Thanksgiving at Marilyns cousins lake house and farm near Blackshear. He has it fixed up just like he wants it. Big rambling house with room for the whole clan. He has an ocean fishing boat that is about as big as some houses. He can hook it up and drive a few miles and catch some bigger fish whenever he wants to. My comment to Wade was, "You wont want to give all of this up to go to heaven!" He said, "Since we only have a distorted image of what heaven is going to be like, if it were possible I would take an extended contract right here." We were joking, and we understood each other, for we both were reared with this open ended story that only points toward a not yet "in the can" sequel.
However, we are ready, for we have spent a lifetime of preparation. Every church nativity play we were actors in, every Christmas Carol we sang, every sermon we have heard, we have intertwined with a lifetime of winning and losing, loving and working, just in preparation for that future Second Advent of our Lord. Our parents are already there and we are the next ones waiting in line.
Are you ready for Christmas? Are you ready for the ongoing story that Christmas, and Calvary, and Easter, points to?
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor