The wait is almost over. But what exactly are we waiting for anyway? Jesus came 2000 years ago, and for many of us, he has entered into our hearts. Of course, we are waiting for the day when he will “come again to judge the quick and the dead”. But this season of Advent, this time of preparation and waiting is more than stating a church doctrine. And it is more than a period of time before the Christmas celebration.
I had some time to reflect on this the other day. My wife, a hospice chaplain, often leads Christian services at nursing homes. Last week she held one for Christian residents of a predominately Jewish retirement community. But the religious service was not the only part of the day – immediately following the service would be a time of Christmas carols and the surprise arrival of the icon of Christmas, Santa (portrayed by yours truly).
So I was waiting outside the room as the Old Testament readings of the promise of the Messiah were read, and “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” was sung. I was outside the room as the scriptures of anticipation were proclaimed. Then the New Testament readings – the birth of Jesus, the visit of the shepherds and the Wise Men were read. And more carols proclaiming that great birth. And all the while, I stood outside the room, hearing these great words, the word of God, reflecting on the importance of the incarnation, reflecting on my own wait for God, and at the same time, waiting for my cue following the benediction.
Christmas is certainly a holiday that is split between a religious and secular celebration. On one hand we hold candles and sing “Silent Night” and on the other hand we celebrate a “right jolly old elf” as he brings toys to good little boys and girls. And both are wonderful.
Celebration is necessary – and celebration is godly. God wants us to celebrate the gifts of life, the gifts of the creation that He has given us. And He wants us to celebrate the most important gift – the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.
So, on this final Sunday of Advent, as we approach the fun, festive Christmas holiday, and we approach the holy night when the Word became flesh, consider your own relationship with the Christ Child. This is a great time to make the holiday more meaningful. Perhaps your wait is over – and Jesus will rekindle the love of God in your heart.
May God bless you this Advent, and may He enter your heart once again.
Today’s lectionary text is Luke 1:39-56
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” 46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.” 56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. This is the word of the Lord
Take a moment and put yourself into Mary’s place. Here is a young girl, probably 12-13 years old, who has a vision of an angel telling her she was going to bear not only a child, but the Son of God, who will save the world. Okay – what is going through your head right now?
Mary responds to the angel “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Mary believed that God’s promise to send the messiah was going to come true. Mary believed that God’s promises to redeem Israel was about to come true. Mary believed God’s promises. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
Why do we have trouble believing God’s promises today? When we have this great record, the word of God to read and hear about God fulfilling His promises, why do we struggle to believe today?
I don’t mean we do not believe in God or in Jesus as the Christ, I mean why do we struggle to hard to believe God’s promises? God promised to be with us always. God promised that even in tough situations, He would carry us through. God promised to care for us, to provide for us. But so often we give God lip service and then try to do everything our way, neglecting God. We may have a brief prayer before a meeting, or a meal, or even bed time. But do we give the time over to God? Do we actually invite God to come into our meetings, or bible studies, or work places, or homes? Do we say “God, we are your servants, may it be as You desire, or do we say a prayer, then “get onto business” forgetting that God is our business?
Mary’s example is one of great courage – saying yes to God meant she faced rejection, being outcast and even being stoned. But she said yes, knowing that God’s promises were about to be fulfilled. Are we willing to risk the same?
The Second Sunday of Advent is the Sunday of Peace. My father’s favorite hymn was “Let There be Peace on Earth”. I often have difficulty singing this hymn – missing dad and knowing that peace is often so elusive.
What is peace anyway? When we speak of peace biblically, it is not just the absence of conflict – but a holistic concept – the body, mind and spirit united together in God’s love.
I often think about this idea – peace in the midsts of strife – especially as it is expressed in the life of Jesus. He lived this peace knowing his earthly ministry ends with the cross. Are we able to do the same? Can we find peace even when the job is terrible, or the bills are mounting, or the kids are fighting? Can we find this peace when someone is sick or dying?
Jesus proves this is possible. And not only did he do it, but he offers that same peace to us. Jesus said these words: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” He said these words just before he was arrested and crucified.
If Jesus is truly the Prince of Peace, and he gives us his peace, why then are we not peaceful?
As we continue this Advent journey, consider how you can accept the gift of Christ’s peace, even when things are going wrong. And consider how you can pass along the gift of Christ’s peace – for perhaps that is the way to finding peace – passing it along to another.
Dona nobis pacem (Grant us peace)
The First Sunday of Advent has passed. And it was my hope to have this written for Sunday. But I was not prepared. I got busy. There was the planning and shopping for the Thanksgiving dinner. Then there was the baking of the pumpkin pies and the brining of the turkey. And, of course, we had to clean the house. A lot of preparations went into our Thanksgiving dinner, and it was much better because of the preparation.
But now we prepare for Christmas. And that means a lot of shopping (both food and gifts), a lot of decorating (we are still deciding which train goes around the tree this year), a lot more cleaning and baking and cooking. And of course there is my preparation for the Christmas Eve service, as well as the Advent services. There is a lot to be done over the next few weeks.
But there is a lot to be done in my heart as well. And this is the point of observing Advent. It is not just four Sundays before Christmas. It is not just a ritual of lighting four candles, or wearing my purple stole instead of my green stole. Advent is about preparation. And just as good preparations make for a good holiday meal, good preparations of my heart make for a better celebration of the coming of the One who God has sent.
You may be asking “why do you need to prepare?” I am a committed Christian. I believe that Christ resides in my heart already. I am a seminary trained, denominationally ordained, consecrated, called out servant of the Lord. Why do I need to prepare? Because I am human and I get too caught up in all the stuff that keeps me from Christ. This time of year is hard for pastors. We work hard for special meaningful services that impact both the regular attendees and those who might be visiting. We have end of the year expectations. We try to get more visits in during December. We try to meet with more people in the community in need. We try to work out all those end of year trials and tribulations that the business side of the church encounters. And we try to be jolly and joyful with our families, even when the budget is out of whack, the days are long, we are tired, and the last thing we want to do is sing Frosty the Snowman one more time with our children.
So how do we do this? We observe Advent – taking this special, holy time to prepare our hearts, and to focus our thoughts on Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh who dwelt among us. And that is why you should observe Advent as well, as the great reminder that this season is about Jesus Christ.
May God bless you this Advent season,