Christmas is Coming (December 2, 2018)
Jeremiah 33: 14-16; Luke 21: 25-36
Christmas is Coming
In one of my devotions this week I read an interesting question. It was written by the Reverend Don Noble from Spring Hill…Tennessee; and he asked the question: “Have you ever wondered why we celebrate Christmas every year? After all, you would think that once you have accepted the story of the Savior’s birth that there would be no need to hear it again. Nothing changes; the characters are the same, and so is the message. Perhaps we need to hear the message again. We all need to be reminded that there is hope in the world.” Have you ever wondered why we celebrate this every single year? I wonder if the reason is that maybe we don’t quite get it every year.
The season of Advent is about making sure we get it. Advent is like waiting for the dawn to come: it’s still dark, but you know that there is a promise of light, and there is a building excitement that comes. If you’re staying up through the night to see the dawn, then as it gets closer and closer, it’s still dark out but the excitement is there and explodes as the first oranges appear on the horizon. That’s advent; it’s still dark but we’re building excitement for the light that is about to come. Christmas is better because we built the excitement. Slow down. Take the pause that is offered in Advent. Sometimes I wonder if the Sabbath rest is the best, and most powerful practice Christianity offers, even if we don’t practice it that much.
Certainly, during the month of December, we don’t seem to want to practice sabbath in the United States. We tend to rush from the feast of Thanksgiving to the feast of Christmas. And as our society gets more and more fractured, and you begin to have to have three Thanksgiving and five Christmases with different parts of the family; I think it becomes even more true that we want to rush from Thanksgiving to straight into Christmas. We’re saying “Merry Christmas” on Black Friday, or before even, but it’s not Christmas yet; it’s Advent. I know “Merry Advent” doesn’t quite have that same ring to it, and I’m not suggesting you change what you say, but this is the necessary attitude we need. We need to focus, and practice Advent so that we can prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus; and not just on December 25, but that we can prepare to be celebrating when Jesus comes again. This is the purpose of Advent.
For the next couple of months, I’m going to be selecting my texts for preaching off the lectionary, which is a three-year cycle of four scriptures a week. If you read all four of them, during those three years you will read about 85-90% of the Bible. And, the lectionary is on your bulletin every week: on the back of the bulletin there’s a little tiny print there at the bottom, and that is the lectionary scriptures for the week. And the cover is based upon one of those lectionary scriptures every week, usually the Gospel.
We’re going to be going through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany and that season after Epiphany using this as our guide. And you’ll notice today, the first Sunday in Advent, the new year of the church year, it begins at the end. It begins in chapter 21 of Luke, not chapter 1 of Luke. It begins as Jesus is talking about the second coming and urging you to be ready and prepared to recognize the signs of the second coming. For that is as much the purpose of Advent as celebrating Christmas
I admit that occasionally Advent really turns into nothing more than a gigantic baby shower for Mary, and maybe it should be. But today is an invitation to look at this upcoming month a little bit differently. We will certainly be celebrating and remembering the story of Christmas, but we’ll do that with this idea in mind: that there is a reason to celebrate, and that the story is not concluded yet. This is about preparing ourselves for the coming of the Lord; and yes, that is of course a celebration of the first coming, but it also is prepare a preparation for the second coming that is coming soon. How soon we don’t know, but it is coming soon. The theme of Advent is: Jesus is coming.
There’s a famous series on HBO and book series called Game of Thrones. I don’t personally watch the show or have read the book, so I can’t recommend them or not recommend them, but I know enough to know that there are various houses, or clans, in this fictional world called Westeros. And each house has its own saying, it’s own motto, that it says. Most of them are positive things like “we will win,” or “house whatever forever!” But there’s one that’s could be labeled pessimistic: House Stark. Their motto is “winter is coming.” You see Westeros is not like the earth where winter comes every single December like clockwork. No Westeros is off kilter, with the result that winter comes unexpectedly and lasts an unknown amount of time. House Stark’s motto is “we know it’s coming. We must be ready for whenever winter arrives, and however long it lasts. Winter is coming. We must prepare.”
Advent is like that. In this Luke passage, Jesus is begging us to treat the second coming like that. Jesus is coming; we must be ready. We don’t know when, we don’t know how big it will be, but we know Jesus is coming and we must be ready. So he says “look at the fig trees. When you see the leaves sprout, then you know that spring or summer is coming.” Honestly summer coming sounds pretty good right now. But the idea is that there are signs in the world that can tell you when things are about to come, if you’re paying attention.
As a Boy Scout I would go on camping trips, and so I began to learn that storms are a lot like this: there are signs that a storm is about to hit where you are if you pay attention. The clouds move in; first those thin wispy clouds move in, and then be the thicker clouds move in, then the gray clouds move in. The air changes moving between a high-pressure and low-pressure, and you can feel it. That’s a sign a storm is coming. The temperature changes: it’ll drop about 10° just a few minutes before the rain hits. Sometimes you can smell it. And then finally you begin to feel those tiny water droplets, and you know you better get inside right now. There are signs they can tell you is storm is on its way, and you can be prepared if you’re paying attention. But if you’re not paying attention, the air change is not quite enough to force you to recognize it, the clouds don’t change quite enough to always recognize. You have to be paying attention.
Another reason I like the storm analogy is that there’s not only signs in the natural world that can tell you the storms on the way; there are people, friends and professionals around you, who can tell you a storm is on the way. There are people in this community who literally get paid to figure out when a storm is on the way; so if you’re getting ready to go camping, you can turn on the weather channel and see if there a storm that might be coming. And there are older and experienced people that bring their own expertise. With storms a lot of people have joints that will ache when the pressure changes that will tell you, “my bones are aching, a storm is on the way.” So if you want to know that a storm is on the way, just listening to people more experienced than you listening, to people who have better knowledge than you, helps you be ready. Let me ask do you listen to these people? Do you listen to the signs when you see them?
I remember when I was young, we went to Six Flags over Texas in San Antonio on vacation. It was a beautiful day, slightly overcast, not too bad a temperature or at least in reasonable range for San Antonio. We were going through the park, and we got in line for a water ride. Then we were about 5 minutes from the front of the line and they said, “OK this ride is closing. Everyone needs to find shelter. A storm is coming.” Not even my mind did any of the signs show up: the clouds were still good, the temperature felt normal, air pressure hadn’t changed. But the park was listening to the experts who had the radar, and they knew what was coming in fast. And everyone from the Midwest knew it was possible, so everyone from the Midwest got out of line and found shelter. But everyone from the coasts didn’t listen, with the result that about 15 minutes later we were getting out of the way in the entrances with a torrential downpour outside so all the people from the coast, who had been arguing with the employees, could run inside.
Do you listen and wait for the signs, or are you just too busy? Because I think that might really be what was going on these customers. They had traveled from New Jersey, from California, from Washington, and they were going to ride all the rides and do as much as they could. They didn’t have time to wait for a storm they couldn’t see. And so, they weren’t about to listen to anyone that got in their way. And it’s easy to judge them for that for that, but I wonder if we do the same thing. We sit here and say, “it’s too much work to look for the signs of Jesus’s coming; to be prepared or to prepare ourselves for Jesus’s coming. This time it’s too stressful, it’s too busy. Surely God doesn’t expect us to do that in times like this.”
That’s why I think we include the Jeremiah passage. Jeremiah undermines that excuse. He is being called to preach this good news, to preach that God will deliver the people, to preach that we just need to be watching for these things, and that when you see these things is when God‘s deliverance is present; he’s preaching that from jail. He had been imprisoned because the city was under siege by the Babylonians, and the king had called Jeremiah in to bless the country and preach that they would beat the Babylonians in order to give morale for the army, and Jeremiah refused saying, “that’s not what God tells me. God tells me the Babylonians are going to destroy the city, and are going to capture you.” So the king threw him in prison. This is Jeremiah’s situation: the country’s at war, the city is about to be taken, and he is in prison. And God says, “preach what signs to be looking for.” Is your situation worse than Jeremiah’s? I know mine isn’t.
You see the reality is that the good news of Jesus Christ is the best to those whose situation is the worst. The more dire your situation, the better the news of Jesus coming is. Today take that news into your heart and get yourself ready, get yourself excited. Jesus is coming! House Stark is always ready for winter. Likewise, we must always be ready for Jesus to arrive. We must always be looking for the signs that Jesus describes here in Luke.
How do you look for the signs? You slowdown. You can’t be rushing from one thing to the next, to the next, to the next. It’s too easy to miss the temperature drop in your spirit. Be patient, be looking, and know what God told you to look for, be open to God speaking in your present. And you must have the right attitude. That’s my mission for you this week: bring yourself into this season of preparation, into this season of sitting, into the season of waiting; with joy in your heart, with hope in your heart, with peace in your heart, and with love in your heart. Each week we’re going to be looking at one of those things as a theme. This week the theme is Hope. Is there hope in this story? Jesus coming back, Jesus returning and judging the world, is hopeful to those who are saved, but it is devastation to those who are lost. When you hear that Jesus is coming, is it bringing you up or pushing you down? May the news that Jesus is coming ever bring you joy and anticipation as you prepare to celebrate this Christmas. Amen.