11/28/99, Advent 1, Year B

“Neither Were They Thankful”
Romans 1: 16-32

 am sometimes the last one to catch on, but it just dawned on me this year what a wonderful introduction Thanksgiving is to Christmas. Most of you have figured this out years ago, that the spirit of gratitude is somehow necessary for us to be ready to receive the Gift that God steps down the stairway of heaven with each year. Is it totally by accident that the folks of Plymouth Colony called this day of Thanksgiving as a preamble to their observance of the birth of Christ?

Our text today seems to be saying that Thankfulness is the most recognizable trait in a person who is a friend of Christ. Indeed those who St. Paul seems to be condemning the most are those who were not thankful for his blessings. “...for though they knew God (innately), they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless (unfeeling) minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts...” (v. 21,22,24).

Lots of folks observed Thanksgiving weekend just as a good time to lay out of work and eat big, or watch the games that people play on TV. They look to Christmas as about more of the same. Some will not have a clue to the true Spirit of the Christmas Season.

On our way back home from our South Georgia Thanksgiving we stopped at our local supermarket for milk and eggs. The young people running the place all seemed to have on New Years stuff; such as, golden crowns with 2000 imprinted on them. I said something like, “You all seem to be celebrating New Years Day Early.” To which one young person replied, “Yeah, we are skipping Christmas, New Years is a lot more fun time.” Hopefully she was just kidding, but I am afraid that a lot of folks might miss out on the real meaning of Christmas. Maybe their minds have been darkened. Or perhaps they have never heard “The Glad Tidings of Great Joy to All People.”

Yet, some of us who have heard, and reheard, over and over, all of our born days, maybe have become unthankful, and perhaps our hearts have grown cold. And, just maybe we have lost the passion for Christmas and God’s story of the babe of Bethlehem that we once had.

Paul, “Mr. Direct and To The Point,” sure seemed to feel that some of the folks in the First Church of Rome (Italy) were somewhat off their spiritual best, to say the least. Even the usually kinder and gentler New Revised Standard Version describes them (us) as: folks who hung around the Roman Church?“foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless, insolent, haughty, boastful. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters.” (see v. 29-31). Have any of us ever known any folks who fit Paul’s description of

I heard this week the story of a sweet young couple who were lost at sea and finally washed ashore on an uncharted desert island. There was one guy already there who had built three grass huts. They asked him, “What is this first hut for?” He answered, “O, this is my house, this is where I live.” They then asked, “What is this second grass hut for?” “O, this is my church,” He said with pride, “But what is this third hut for?” They asked. He answered, “O, that’s the church I used to go to.” Some “churchie-types,” not to be mistaken for true Christians, can’t even get along with themselves.

One Methodist circuit had some folks who had been mad at each other for years because one church committee bought half of a refrigerator for the parsonage and the other church’s committee claimed they owned it all. Another church had folks mad a each other for several generations because one of their ancestors was kicked out of the church for stealing a saddle, and another for fist fighting in the cemetery.

Typically, verses 26 and 27 of our text is used solely to beat up homosexuals, but in light of what we know about some church-folks’ evil ways, perhaps the homosexuals don’t come off singularly as bad as we sometimes make it appear. The more ordinary sins of strife and gossip, etc., are just as deadly to human hearts and to churches. God not only gives persistent and hardened sinners up to “degrading passions,” “unnatural acts,” and being “co nsumed with passion for one’s own gender,” but also for sins that separate friends and families, and cause splits in churches and other organizations.

Sin is sin, and it all seems to come from an ungrateful heart. The remedy is a thankful attitude, and the Good News for all of us is that God wants to change our minds, our attitudes, and our behavior, by changing our hearts with the birth of His Son at Christmas.

It happened to Scrooge, the star of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, one of the most famous stories ever written. In the book, three ghosts reveal to the old miser Ebenezer Scrooge his past, present and future. Scrooge repents of his greed and ingratitude and is changed by God into a warm and unselfish person. The story is that of new life in Christ. It is built upon the central truth of our faith that a person’s life can be remolded through the redemptive power of God. No sin is too great for Him to forgive and change the sinner’s heart. And it happened at Christmas to Scrooge. It can happen in our hearts too, if we are indeed truly grateful, and desirous of His grace.

And what a great time of year to hear this Good News as we move past our great American Thanksgiving Holiday into this first Sunday of Advent, and then toward the expectation of God’s refreshing presence in the wonderful season of Christmas. Today is our Spiritual New Year, not the Gregorian January 1st, but this first Sunday in our Church Year. What a relief to not worry about Y2K anymore, and to put our trust in the God who gets involved in our lives. We move from Thanksgiving Gratitude, into Advent’s Expectancy and Waiting, onto the Christmas arrival of fresh Grace and the Hope of the World. It is such a better year, and such a better life in Christ.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

11/28/99, Advent 1, Year B