A Light Shines in the Darkness!

The text for this sermon is Isaiah 2:1-5.  Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on November 28, 2010, the First Sunday of Advent.

Dear Friends in Christ,

This is the day we pastors face quite a challenge.  How do we convince our congregations to be “counter-cultural”?  How do we motivate our members to get ready for the real meaning of Christmas instead of what the world is tempting us to celebrate?

Here are some key words for Advent: Ready!  Set!  Wait!  We’re used to doing the first two words.   It’s that third word “wait” that is the hardest thing to do.  And yet it is the most important thing we are called to do in this Season of Advent.   Wait!

What are we waiting for? 

·         The end of the world?

·         Our hearts and spirits to receive again the coming of the Christ child into the world?

·         Another month-long shopping spree that will assault our bank accounts?

For those who observe “consumer” Christmas, Advent is the inevitable prelude to disappointment.  For the majority of folks who observe this kind of Christmas, the holiday hardly ever measures up to one’s  fantasies.

The advent we celebrate in Church – the one that has nothing to do with the number of shopping days left until Christmas – is all together different. During these coming 4 weeks of Advent, what you will be hearing from the prophets of old, in the advent music of longing and waiting, in our sermons are hopes and expectations of dreams of a better world, of allowing ourselves to have visions that have nothing to do with sugar-plum fairies dancing in our heads.

Advent invites us to fill the cup of today with a full measure of tomorrow.  It asks us to think what the world will be like when the whole world is at peace, when the rule of God is the way of the world, when God’s ways are recognized by everyone as excellent and honorable and just and true.  I’d like to think that such contemplation just might make us live today in a different and better way…

Our Sunday School children today are studying the words of the prophet Isaiah.  Their curriculum is based on the lessons in worship.  So, today our children in Sunday School and all of us in worship  are  reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  This is what he prophesied:

In the last days (days of the Messiah), people from all across the earth will come to the mountain of the Lord’s Temple (that is Mount Moriah in Jerusalem where the Temple will again stand someday).  The reason people from all across the earth come is to the holiest of places is to learn God’s ways so that they might walk in his paths.  The whole earth will be at peace  because God’s ways will be used to settle disputes.  There will be no more fighting.  In fact, swords will be beat into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.  No one will even train for war anymore.

Some of us here today will lose our jobs at that point, it is true.  No more military, for the whole world will be at peace.  I also realize that there will be no more pastors, for our work will be done and everyone will fully be  in tune with God and his son Jesus.

A wonderful image that emerges in Advent is that of “light.”  In the Prayer of the Day we prayed, “Enlighten our walk in the way of your salvation.”  In the second lesson, St. Paul compares the second coming of Christ to the coming of the dawn.  He encourages all Christians to live our lives now as the light of Christ’s coming in the future. 

Isaiah gave his vision of the future world at peace and then ends his vision with these words for us today:  “Let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

There is  a story that has been circulating on the web about a church Christmas pageant.  The day of the presentation finally arrived.  A young girl named Jana was so excited about her part that her parents thought she was to be one of the main characters, though she had not told them what she was to do.

The parents of the children in the pageant were all there and one by one the children took their places.  Jana’s parents could see the shepherds fidgeting in one corner of the stage which was evidently intended to be a field.  Mary and Joseph stood solemnly behind the manager.  In the back three young wise men waited impatiently.  But still little Jana sat quietly and confidently.

Then the teacher  began: “A long time ago, Mary and Joseph had a baby and they named Him Jesus,” she said.  “And when Jesus was born, a bright star appeared over the stable.”

At that cue, Jana got up from her chair, picked up a large tin-foil star, walked behind Mary and Joseph and held the star up high for everyone to see.

When the teacher told about the shepherds coming to see the baby, the three young shepherds came forward and Jana jiggled the star up and down excitedly to show them where to come.  When the wise men responded to their cue, she went forward a little to meet them and to lead the way, her face as alight as the real star might have been.

The playlet ended.  They had refreshments.  One the way home Jana said, with great satisfaction, I had the main part!”

“You did?” her Mom asked, wondering why she thought that..

“Yes,” she said, “cause I showed everybody how to find Jesus!”

Dear Friends in Christ, that is what it means to walk in the light.  It is to show the world how to find Jesus.  It is to prepare our hearts and minds the year round to love the babe at Bethlehem.  It is to actively wait for Jesus’ return to this world.  We actively wait by reflecting the light of Christ in what we say and act and do now.

I would like to present some practical suggestions that might help us focus better on the real meaning of Advent and  Christmas.  Take these suggestions for what they are worth :

·         Decide to make Christmas in your home more about Jesus and less about Santa;

perhaps give your nativity set a more prominent place; perhaps make sure to have a prayer and  read from Matthew or Luke about the birth of Jesus at your Christmas meal.

·          Do something in these coming weeks that will help people in need and be a sign of Christ’s light and advent hope to others.  If you want some suggestions, just look in the narthex after worship today.

·         Prepare your heart and mind by feeling closer to God with time spent in reading spiritual books and viewing spiritually uplifting movies;

·         Spend more time at worship, either here when you’re in town or at another church if you are away from home.

 

As we say to those being baptized when the candle is presented, “Let your light so shine before others that that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”  May your Advent waiting and walk prepare you for the true meaning of Christmas.

Amen!