Pastor Jim Kniseley prepared this sermon for the First Sunday in Advent, November 23, 2014. The Old Testament Scripture is Isaiah 64:1-9.
How is it possible to observe a good Advent in the 21st century? Do you think it is a good idea to have Advent in our lives or are we just fighting a losing battle with society’s all-consuming focus on Santa Claus and “Buy, buy, buy” and “Skip Jesus” Christmas Music?
Carol and I were in Knoxville last week and we attended a wonderful performance of Dicken’s Christmas Carol. Marley’s Ghost does his best to scare Scrooge into living a life that is less about money and self and more about helping the less fortunate. The Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present and Future are a most creative way of emphasizing everything we’re trying to observe in Advent . It is godly and noble to consider that how we live, how we love, how we share are so very important in pulling us close to the heart of God and the meaning of Jesus’ birth.
I like creativity and think this story is very creative…Little Benjamin sat down to write a letter to God asking for a little baby sister. He started his letter out:
Dear God, I’ve been a very good boy…
He stopped, thinking, “No, God won’t believe that.” He wadded up the paper, threw it away, and started again:
Dear God, Most of the time I’ve been a good boy…He stopped in the middle of the line, again thinking, “God won’t believe that either,” so into the trash can went the wad of paper.
Benjamin went into the bathroom, grabbed a big towel off the bar, brought it into the living room and laid it on the couch. Then he went to the mantle, reached up and brought down a statue of the Madonna, the mother of Jesus, that he had eyed many times. Benjamin placed the statue in the middle of the towel, gently folded over the edges, and placed a rubber band around the whole thing. He brought it to the table, took another piece of paper, and wrote:
Dear God, If you ever want to see your mother again…
Yes, Benjamin wanted God to act, and do it now!
Our first lesson for today from Isaiah has some of this feel of folks wanting God to act, and do it now. Isaiah is writing these words originally to God’s people, the Israelites, who were exiled from their homeland, who had experienced warfare, ruin and famine. They are living in a strange and foreign land, in Babylonia. What Isaiah says to God could be said of anyone who is in dire circumstances:
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…
Isaiah goes on to remind God and the people of Israel of how God had acted in the past, with earthquakes and other mighty deeds, so that everyone could see the power of God. Certainly God will punish the enemies that are hurting God’s people. Isaiah foresees God acting again in the future on the Day of the Lord. Until that day comes, God expects His people, even in exile, to live a certain way. They are to do what is right and they are to call upon the name of the Lord in prayer and worship.
How are you at waiting for something special? Our kids aren’t very good at waiting for their Christmas presents and we adults are equally challenged by waiting for what we want. Our instant gratification society would amaze the ancients. I get it in my head that I want something, say a new laptop. Within a few minutes I can order it on-line, make sure I have all the bells and whistles I want, and have it in my hands within a few days. Want to spend a few days in New York? Within minutes we can have our reservations on a plane or train.
I remember a conversation I had when I was a senior at UCLA. I knew I would be going to seminary that fall. One of my fraternity brothers, who is Jewish, asked me how I was doing. I remember telling him that I felt like I was bored with school and really wanted to graduate and get to seminary. What he said is so very wise, “Jim, if you don’t take time to enjoy the present, your future won’t be all that much different.”
Those words have stood the test of time for me. From time to time still I find myself thinking too far ahead and not enjoying where I am now and what I am experiencing. St. Paul tells the Corinthian Christians in today’s second lesson that even though they are waiting for Christ’s Second Coming, they presently have so much to be thankful for. God has given them every spiritual gift possible. They are wonderful witnesses for Christ. They have been called by God for a purpose and God will continue to strengthen them in every way possible.
Every year in the church we hear the same lament: can’t we skip those Advent Hymns and go right to the Christmas Carols? We could. Certainly the moment we step out of the doors of the church we will hear every Christmas Song imaginable. You can go to a lot of churches that don’t have a sense of Advent preparation. I hope and pray that we at Resurrection will continue to encourage this time of preparation and reflection the true meaning of the Season. Some here may think, “I don’t need to make preparation. I’m ready now. My spiritual life is in good order.” And I do have a response. “It’s not just about you. It’s about our community getting ready. It’s about helping each other.” And so today all of us, the prepared and not so prepared, are called upon to get our lives in order.
In our gospel lesson Jesus says that we all need to be ready, to keep awake for the Second Coming. Whether that be when Jesus will descend from the clouds or when our death occurs, we need to be ready. In this meantime (this time of waiting), we are to live lives that keep us fully in touch with our faith and practices as Christians.
How can we keep a good and meaningful Advent this year? Here’s how: We get our spiritual lives in order; we don’t march to the beat of the consumerist world, but live in the heartbeat of Jesus. We make sure that we understand the end of the story (that Jesus is victorious Lord of all) and we let that understanding color the way we live our lives today.
May it be said of us at Resurrection: “They knew how to observe a good Advent”.