Tag Archive: Advent


A Refreshing Advent

This past July I had the joy and pleasure of preaching each afternoon at Bethlehem UMC’s weeklong campmeeting.  Each day we gathered under the outdoor worship center for praying, singing, and proclaiming the Word.  I remember many wonderful moments from those five days.  The time a bee flew down my shirt causing me to dance during the sermon.  And the breeze that scattered my notes to the ground mid-sermon.  Or the intense heat that found its way into even the shadiest corners of the pavilion.

However, I also remember the young boys who brought popsicles to the crowd following each service.  The flavorful treat was exactly what we needed at the time.  We needed something refreshing, something cool, something seemingly heaven-sent.  After the first few days I began to look forward to that moment following the service when I knew a young boy (a friend by the end of the week) would hand me my favorite flavor, blue (he was a quick learner!).

Now, as we approach the Christmas season I suspect there will be times when we feel as though we’re waltzing (or maybe tangoing) from place to place.  Or instances when we’re swept away by all the things that simply must be done.  And other moments when the pressures of the season bring out our worst “good-will.”  Perhaps in those moments we need something refreshing, something uplifting.  Perhaps we need a moment with God.  This Advent season, take a moment, among all the hectic moments, to offer thanks and praise to God.  Take time to recall God’s coming into our world, and into our hearts.

But lest we think that we should only call upon God when we think we need God the most, let us make praise a regular part of Christmas preparation (a novel idea, isn’t it?).  Start an Advent devotion with the whole family.  Pray together at meals and get-togethers.  Spend time at church during the many wonderful Advent opportunities.  Send a card to a loved one.  Bake cookies for a neighbor.  Take a moment, even when you don’t think you have one to spare, to remember and share God’s love with others.

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The Revised Common Lectionary texts for Christmas Day:

Isaiah 52:7-10

Psalm 98

Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12)

John 1:1-14

The Revised Common Lectionary texts for Christmas Eve:

Isaiah 9:2-7

Psalm 96

Titus 2:11-14

Luke 2:1-20

“Witnesses to the Light”2902183729_2504d96a5c

John.
Again, this Sunday, like last week, we encounter John.  Only this time we get John the gospel writer’s version of John.  When it comes to John (the Baptist) the four gospels are perplexing. In fact, each gospel portray a slightly different version of John.  For Matthew, it’s “John the Baptist.”  Mark refers to “John the Baptizer.”Luke acknowledges John as “the son of Zechariah.”  And today, in the gospel of John we get just plain “John.”  The fourth gospel writer doesn’t say anything about John’s clothes, food, or family; it’s just “John.”

If we read only John the gospel writer’s version of John, we might have a lot of a questions about this “John.  In fact, the Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders…they were curious about John.  What is he doing?  What is his role?  What is going on here?  So, they come to examine him.  You can imagine them shining a flashlight in his face, demanding to know who he is.  Where did you come from?  What denomination are you?  What is your theoloigical stance?  Are you the Messiah?  Elijah?  Prophet?

NO! John answers.  I am NOT!

Commentator Don Juel refers to this John as the “man who is not.”  He is not the light.  He is not the Messiah.  He is not Elijah. He is not the final Prophet.  He is not worthy to untie the true One’s sandals. He is not the one to baptize with the Holy Spirit.

But finally, John is pressed enough, and responds, John says: “I am a voice.  I am a witness.  I am a sign pointing to the One who is to come.”

Will Willimon relates John’s words as: I am God’s megaphone. I am the smell of the coffee that wakes you up in the morning; I am that darn alarm clock that so jars you in the morning.  I am a voice that says only one thing: “the light is coming.”

John is a witness, a sign pointing to Christmas morning.

We all need a witness…and sign…pointing us in the right direction.  You never realize how dependent you are on street signs til you live in a new place: road signs, street signs have saved me a few times.  We need signs…pointing the way…directing us.  And today, we encounter John …who, like last week, is preparing the people for Jesus
— pointing the way to Jesus.

John interrupts our Christmas story of Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem, and staying in a manger…to prepare the way, to direct us.

As I think about it, isn’t it nice that God would send John ahead of Jesus to warn the people, prepare the people, to make straight the paths; to point us to Jesus the light.

But as we know, the Jesus story doesn’t end with John or the manger or Christmas morning.  Jesus’ life and ministry doesn’t end with simply being born…the story continues all the way until Jesus is taken up to Heaven (Acts 1).  And then, Jesus’ offers his last words: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, and all the ends of the earth.”

Just as we receive a John as a witness, sign during Christmas, God calls us all the be signs and witnesses.  We, Christians, God’s says are to be a witness to the light of Christ.  Like John, you and I are called to be witnesses to Christ’s work on behalf of all mankind in every time and place.  We are to confess who we are, and whose we are…and we are Christ’s, God’s beloved children.  We witness to Jesus, the light of the world.  Jesus said: “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12).”

Now, more than ever, the world we live needs a light/needs a witness.  We see  the situations in our community–people facing violence, drugs, poverty, jobs lose, injustice, and economic strife.  You and I encounter people who are spiritually starving.  More than half of America’s population is not active in any church with little, if any, knowledge of basic biblical teachings.  H. George Anderson, a Lutheran bishop, has said, “People are hungry for God, yet are settling for spiritual junk food(Wm. Quick).”

Yes, people are searching!

Unfortunately, too many people are searching in the wrong places.  What they are looking for can’t be bought off of eBay.  It can’t be read in a self-help book.  It can’t be bought and gift-wrapped at a mall.  Each one of us has a hole in the heart that only God can fill (Quick).

“Everyone is looking for you and me – they seek a witness like John, one who points toward the Lord who can release their sins and fears.”

I am reminded of one of my favorite church camp songs: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine”

This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

Wesley’s Advent for Today

Bible & CandleCome, thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set the people free.
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in thee.

These are the opening words of one of my favorite hymns.  Whether it is Christmas, or Easter, or Pentecost, I love singing Charles Wesley’s famous hymn, Come, Thou Long-expected Jesus.  Though the hymn was written in 1745, it remains appropriate for us now in 2008.

Today, our coming and going to all sorts of events consumes our Advent Christmas season.  We go to parties and shopping malls.  Family and friend come over to visit.  Carolers come to our houses to share their songs.  Coming and going has become part of our Christmas tradition.

However, Wesley’s hymn reminds us that Advent is really about the coming of God in Jesus Christ.  At Christmas, we celebrate God’s coming to us on earth.  In the manger, we witness God’s coming into human history.  Still today, God comes into our lives to free us from our fears, and to release us from our sins.  God comes so that we may have peace.  God comes at Christmas in the form of a little baby, so that we may say, “in the future, Christ will come again.”

How are you anticipating God’s coming?  How might God’s coming into your heart transform your life?  How may God’s advent renew and refresh your spirit?

O, come, thou long-expected Jesus!

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