Sermon Message for SECOND WEEK IN ADVENT 2021
Saturday, December 4, 2021 & Sunday, December 5, 2021
Prayer For Illumination: Almighty God, in you are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Open our eyes that we may see the wonders of your Word; and give us grace that we may clearly understand and freely choose the way of your wisdom; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Scripture Lessons: Luke 3:1-6 (Page 1028) & Philippians 1:3-11 (Page 1178)
Sermon Message: “Preparing for Christmas”
As we prepare for Christmas, please remember what’s at the heart of this season; God’s message: “Love came down (from heaven) at Christmas." This remains a comforting and consistent theme. God’s Christmas remains a significant reminder in the life of all humanity that we have been blessed; gifted with love.
Some say ‘love’ is getting what you want for Christmas. Sometimes there are problems stemming from how folks define ‘love’. God spells it out rather clearly in His centuries-old message that Christmas remains a reminder and a blessing of how love should be.
At our home we are getting prepared for Christmas. I am no longer allowed up on the ladder, since my fall, so my beloved wife asked me to please hold the ladder for her as she strung our Christmas lights. I was delighted to purchase a brand-new illuminated outdoor Nativity Set for our house this year. Just after Thanksgiving we decided to set up our tree and decorate much of the inside of our house. Our children are all grown, yet there are grandchildren to prepare for.
Christmas is about family. But considerably more, Christmas is about God, Jesus, angels, and shepherds. Christmas serves as a firm yet gentle reminder to the world that God gave us gifts on that very first Christmas. Our gifts are to be thoughtful reflections of God’s love and blessings.
There’s a lot of nostalgia surrounding our preparations for Christmas here in the United States. Some of our nostalgia is rooted in our fondness of Dickens's ‘A Christmas Carol’ and Capra’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ Typically, we all tend to look back to “the good old days” which we did not consider were “good” when we were going through them. The 1970’s singer, songwriter, and children’s author, Carly Simon, called attention to this ‘confusion’ when she sang, “And stay right here, 'cause these are the good old days.”
The church season of Advent is a forward-looking season, yet we should also look back to those moments in the past that ground us in the kind of hope that we are challenged to live into as those who anticipate the coming of, and the claim to follow, the living Christ.
Our attitude associated with the gratitude, genuineness, and grace behind our gifts are quite significant to our preparations for Christmas.
John was sent by God to ‘prepare the way’ for Jesus’ birth and life. John was a ‘character!’ Quite a ‘character’ in fact. His father was a priest, but John chose NOT to walk in his father’s footsteps. His mother would plead with him regarding his work, his dress, his lifestyle; but John would not conform. John was not one to blend into the crowd. He most often was a loner preferring even to live in the wilderness. His clothes were made of itchy camel’s hair, and he is believed to have had a scraggly beard bearing remnants of locusts. For these and various reasons John drew attention wherever he would go. I doubt he would have made a good Presbyterian pastor, but a preacher he was, nonetheless! John’s recurring preaching was a call for people to repent of their sins, get baptized, and prepare for Christ.
John wasn’t interested in winning friends or impressing people. Yet he had a sincere message that still rings true, solid and sincere for all peoples, especially so as we, too, prepare for Christmas.
We appreciate the seasonal song, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” John sought to prepare people to come off of their sins and come home to God.
Today’s scriptures confirm John’s message. He remains “the voice of one calling in the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord. Make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth, and all people will see God’s salvation.” (Luke 3:5,6)
Advent is a time of waiting and also a time of preparing. Can we see ourselves as participants in making straight the crooked places of our world? John the Baptist’s invitation to us comes not from the center of power, but from the wilderness — a chaotic, disordered place. Yet the wilderness is often the place where God draws near to God’s people. Is it possible that the pandemic has placed us in a similar context? In this wilderness, God offers us an invitation to begin smoothing out the bumpy paths where people are walking. In this wilderness, we can begin leveling paths of corruption and straightening by-ways of injustice.
John is the bearer of news, a herald of God’s impending arrival. His words ripple across the wilderness, much like news of high-profile court verdicts break into our lives. John comes announcing a verdict, and like the verdicts in the trials of Kyle Rittenhouse and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, his words capture our attention and cause us to reconsider what’s involved in repaving the highways of God.
John ‘cuts to the chase,’ helping people sense God’s pending arrival. He announces God’s infrastructure plan and proclaims God’s intent to straighten crooked roads and smooth out bumpy highways. We hear his voice as we light the second candle of Advent. But we also hear it against the backdrop of verdicts that brought both relief to some and consternation to others. John’s call to prepare ourselves bursts into public spaces where inequality waits God’s leveling justice. Unlike the zombie apocalypse preppers who stockpile weapons, rope, and freeze-dried food, John calls us to be prepared by acts of humility and repentance. His baptism offers a fresh start, a chance to clear pathways for God, an opportunity to freely travel over the highway of God.
One of the strangest ‘gifts’ I ever saw involved a family in a small country church and several of the members there. There was this contractor in their town who was notorious for ‘taking advantage’ of folks when he worked on their vehicles. His was the only garage around for quite some distance, so folks tended to return to him. The fellow and his family weren’t much of what you and I would call ‘church attenders.’ Through the years people had gradually ‘written them off.’ Eventually some of the nationally-known repair garages started providing repairs that were within driving distance. A rather severe accident occurred within the contractor’s family. Two family members were severely injured. Their prognosis was long term and kind of ‘iffy’ recovery. This family that had remained estranged from their community and negative towards the local country church soon became aware of their fragileness. So, it was they got together and decided, or should I say, ‘realized,’ they needed to go to church. The pastor spoke a message regarding salvation, and the father of that family responded. In front of the entire congregation he repented of some gross sins he had committed against them and others through the years.
Salvation came to some very troubled souls that day. Leastwise, that was a part of the report. The ‘strange part’ was how very doubtful all of the folks of that church were regarding the ‘sincerity’ of that family’s salvation experience. There’s more to the story, but let this much awareness of the narrative suffice for now.
As you and I prepare for God’s Christmas this year, do invite folks to come here to church. Let them even come ‘with you’ if they wish. Your family and your friends, your enemies, and even those estranged from you. In so doing; like John you help to give knowledge of salvation to people. Inviting and welcoming people ‘home’ to God is a gift. It is furthermore part of our preparation for God’s Christmas. I believe there’s nothing better than love. Helping another soul, regardless of who that is, to feel and know God’s love is huge. While I know folks tend to ‘define’ love differently, leading a soul ‘to God’ will enable God to define them. Be like John; help to prepare the way.
Some folks are not good people. They have caused hurt, pain, and done some very wrong things. The one whose birth we shall celebrate informs us still that he is ‘dying to forgive them.’ Forgiveness doesn’t mean approval of sin. Nor does it imply there are to be no boundaries in the future with that person. As you prepare for Christmas, speak to God first about forgiving. Let your gifts come from your heart and soul being ‘right with God.’
I am blessed to be loved by God and called by God. I continue to learn I am a sincere recipient of God’s mercy. Throughout my life time a ‘mantra’ my father and spiritual elders taught me is: “If not for the grace of God, there go I.” Strive to prepare for God’s Christmas by striving to become ‘grace’ in another person’s life. You will not get equal measure in return from them. More than likely you may not even receive appreciation. Certainly, what you give to them will not be returned in like measure from them.
Spiritually speaking, gifts are to be given as “light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Praise God; I and perhaps several of you have also walked through that valley, passed through that shadow of darkness, and have been given the grace and blessing to have our feet guided in the way of peace.
There are ungrateful souls in our world. We do not give our gifts to them to get their gratitude or so that we can feel good about ourselves. Grow to give because that presence of God inside warrants that you must. Become a person who gives because giving is its own reward.
Preparing for Christmas begins and flows through our Christian faith.
Isn’t it good, so very good, to be a part, a very sincere part, of a Christian community that teaches us so much more about preparing for Christmas? Within today’s second scripture lesson the Apostle Paul declares that he thanks God for his community of faith and remembers them in prayer with joy. The Apostle Paul and I share a similar outlook, or should I say, ‘insight?’ I am “confident that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.”
The ‘good work’ I see inside of you and myself as we prepare for Christmas is precisely within the areas of where our faith leads us beyond our customs, in spite of our human angers and anxieties, and straight-forward in our relating to others. Some of those others are troublesome to our lives while still others are blessings. When it comes right down to it, we have all received God’s grace, and we shall all need some measure of God’s grace for the future.
So let it be our Biblical prayer as we prepare for Christmas that in our gifts, our giving, our care, and in our receiving, love may abound further and further in knowledge and in depth of insight. When love abounds from God and through Jesus, we are better able to discern what is best and may be pure in our standing mutually so before God.
There are lots of ways we prepare for Christmas. Lights, presents, visits, and decorating. As Christians in the community of faith, I invite and inquire of us all to consider some further preparations for Christmas. Be a part of helping to make straight the crooked places of our world. We can help God to make this a better world. Share gifts this season, not because you must, but because you can; perhaps to respond to that movement of God inside you to love people, all sorts of people, beyond themselves.
Further prepare for Christmas by trusting that “he who began a good work inside of you is carrying it on to completion.” Amen.