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Norman Rockwell-Twas The Night Before Christmas

Sermon delivered by The Reverend Christian Baron

Advent 3. Dec. 14, 2014

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 1261 Thessalonians 5:16-24John 1:6-8, 19-28

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.”

In the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit.

I love Advent.   I just love it all.  The perfect tree… the snowflakes floating in the air… The Bell ringers as I walk into the mall.  My Netflix account has a whole new genre of movies to watch. I light the fire and snuggle with the girls… maybe we’ll have some hot cocoa or some wassail. They sit quietly on my lap and we recount the Christmas story over and over.  They patiently wait their turn so they don’t talk in front of each other. If you walked by my house you may be able to hear, “I’m sorry sister, my interruption was so rude… Please accept my apology.”  The kids remind me that it is bedtime and race upstairs to say their prayers.  One of the children left out a wooden toy.  I want the house to be perfectly clean in the morning, so I pick it up and I’m not even angry that my littlest left it out.  She is usually so responsible. Jodi and I look at each other… we don’t even need to say it… we have the best family in the world and this is going to be the best Christmas ever. It is a time where all is right with the world and I am able to be totally present with each moment each day. Give an “amen” if this is also your experience of Advent.

What are we doing again in Advent?  I think hot cocoa and Norman Rockwell are pretty fantastic, but that’s not what we’re doing.

In Advent… we Wait… we hope… we anticipate… and we experience joy….but mostly we wait…

We’re waiting for a living God to break into our lives.  We’re waiting for a God who is good but who shakes up our lives which can be very inconvenient…  Next week we get the story of Mary the mother of God and then we have the birth of Jesus on Christmas morning. And I’m no expert, but if Jesus is born in 11 days, then Mary must already be pregnant right?  I don’t have any experience being pregnant and I have never given birth, but I know some people who have. And from what I can gather it is an exciting time, but it is also a terrifying time.

It is a time filled with joy and fear and unknowns. There is a lot of preparation. There is a lot of dreaming about that Norman Rockwell romanticized picture of the future. And for some people that’s how things go. The happy couple goes out and spend the day choosing the color for the nursery. Everybody agrees on what crib to get and the inlaws pay for it. Doctor visits go as planned and there is no need to question the health of the baby.  The waiting is easy.

But not always. Sometimes the pregnancy is much different. Maybe it was a surprise. Maybe there are health problems. Maybe the mother is alone. Maybe she is financially unstable. Maybe she isn’t looking forward to raising a child in this world. Maybe this is what it was like for you or somebody you loved. Maybe thinking about waiting and about birth don’t make you think about Norman Rockwell and maybe you can’t stand to hear about the mother of God.

And even in this example… we are forced to wait. We long for healing… We long for God to initiate something in our lives that will alleviate the suffering and pain. And the hope that God offers to us is that, just like 2000 years ago, when a crying  wet baby was birthed into this world to make things right, we hope that the same baby will break into our lives. We wait… we wait… we wait…

Two weeks ago we started in the darkness.  we lit the first advent candle and  the flame  figuratively lit the room. Last week, we lit the second candle and the light doubled. This week we lit the third candle and now our waiting seems to be more in the light and warmth than ever. It isn’t as difficult to wait in the light. It isn’t as difficult to wait with three candles to warm us.  Darkness can be beautiful and it can be scary… But we hope.

We hope that this year the Kingdom comes in new and fresh way. We trust that God is with us but that God is somehow coming. But what will that look like?  We hope for justice… We hope for racial equality… We hope that Grace continues to bless those in our community and that we can continue to do more for our neighbors… We hope that our children and young people will grow up and make mistakes that aren’t long lasting… We hope that our families stay healthy… But we know that for racial justice to happen, those of us in the majority will have to give up more than will be comfortable for us… We know that our neighbors will require more than we can offer and that our young people will not escape adolescence without hard lessons and we pray for their protection … And statistically, we know that some of us will experience tragedy and heartache and illness.  And we hope that Grace Church will point us to Christ, like John the baptizer did,  when we lose hope. We hope that those closest to us that will make a straight path toward a God who has become human just like like us. A God who can comfort us. A God who will hold us while we wait.

While we wait… in advent… the method matters. My sarcastic and unrealistic scenario of how things look in advent is certainly not my reality. IN fact, advent is the busiest time of my year. I look at my calendar and see that it is full of parties and pageants… yearly meetings with old friends and family and the preparation of large meals.  it is an introverts nightmare and maybe too much even for extroverts.  But in the waiting… in the darkness… in the silence… we prepare ourselves to notice the movements of God in our lives and in the lives around us. So cancel a Christmas party this week… turn off your cell phone and sit in the warmth and joy of the candlelight. You’ll be more ready to experience God this year and to benefit from the warmth of the divine presence. But if you can’t, view these busy times as prayer.  See each conversation with friends and family as prayer.  As you wait at Meijer, consider that time as prayer.  Don’t waste a single minute of waiting… make it your prayer.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.”