Sunday, December 18
a collection of choir anthems,
solos, duets, quartets,
with piano, organ and violin.
Invite your friends!
We are right in the thick of one of the most important seasons of the Christian year, one you may never have heard of before. We are in Advent.
So what is Advent, and why is it so important? Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends Christmas Eve. It is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ, a time of waiting, a time of looking forward to the hope found in Jesus Christ. After consciously going through a time of preparing ourselves to receive and worship the Savior, the celebration of Christmas becomes far more joyful and spiritually rich.
As a kid growing up in the Midwest I never heard of Advent, although I was really familiar with the weeks leading up to Christmas. I loved that special time of the year, and I loved all the goodies I dreamed about getting. Oh, and I loved Jesus, too. Honestly, though, leafing through the Sears catalog toy section beat reading the Bible.
Come to think of it, that kid with the materialistic bent is still alive and kicking. I continue to struggle with balancing the secular and spiritual during these days before Christmas. As a follower of Jesus I certainly know that Christmas is foremost a time to celebrate Jesus’ birth, the coming of God incarnate. It is a Christian day. But my actual life betrays me. I find my time consumed in meeting all the pulls and demands of the secular season. I find my senses bombarded with holy messages from Amazon, Best Buy, Kohl’s and Walmart. I find my interests turning to the annual problem of finding a gift for my wife. (Problem solved this: bought her a lovely, romantic vacuum cleaner.)
Then I hear other voices breaking through the din of the secular noises of Christmastide. Well meaning folks remind me to focus on the real meaning of Christmas. Hallmark cards and church bulletins alike proclaim “Jesus is the Reason for the Season!” TV preachers urge me to help them fly around the world in their new executive jets to give gifts to starving children. And somewhere in the depths of my soul, the quiet, sure voice of the Holy Spirit repeats Jesus’ words: “Come, follow me.” With all the competing demands and only limited shopping days left, just how do I do that?
Paying attention to Advent is a way to grow closer to God even in one of the busiest times of the year. By pausing and preparing ourselves to appreciate the coming of Christ in a fresh vision of faith, Christians will discover a richer, more complete relationship with God. Our lives will be spiritually renewed as we experience a new birth of hope in our Savior. We will know and rejoice that “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 NIV)
One of the most touching stories of the first Christmas is that of Joseph trying to find room for Mary who was about to deliver her son. The baby was not his son, he was God’s son. But Joseph had assured responsibility for Mary and the holy child that was about to be born. He tried inn after inn asking for a warm safe place for the miracle of all miracles that was about to happen and after being turned away time after time he finally found a stable.
Certain preparations were made for this birth even as we prepare for the coming of any new baby. My extended family is involved in this very activity as we await the birth of a great nephew who will be given the name of the biblical prophet Micah. Diapers and tiny clothes and receiving blankets are ready for his early December arrival. Surely Mary brought with her the bands of cloth with which she would swaddle the newborn king. Following the custom of generations, baby Jesus was probably washed, rubbed with salt, and then laid on a square of cloth which was then wrapped snuggly around him. Then he was probably wrapped in long narrow cloth strips.
Mary and Joseph had prepared their hearts to receive Jesus. Mary’s thoughts may have been influenced by the song of Hannah at the miraculous birth of her son Samuel. But Mary’s song, called the Magnificat, was recorded in Luke 1:46-48, is even more beautiful.
“My soul does magnify the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.”
Joseph’s heart was prepared, too, by messages from God that he had received from an angel.
We are also preparing for Christmas. At church we are counting down the days of Advent. Our sanctuary has been beautifully decorated. The poinsettias are being ordered. The tree is in place. And in our homes, we are cleaning and decorating making way for the celebration of the coming of the Christ Child. And we are also preparing our hearts. We need to clean out the negativism and other emotions which would keep us from fully participating in this wonderful season. When Christmas day arrives, we want to be able to sing, “Oh, come into my heart, Lord Jesus. There is room in my heart for you.”
I suspect many in our church family share my fears, frustrations and fatigue with the circus of an election we are facing. It has been a degrading and embarrassing experience just to be a potential voter. I would have dismissed the whole thing long ago as nothing more than a reality show gone wild, except the sad reality is that one of the two flawed candidates will become the president of the most powerful nation the world has ever known.
A wide range of political diversity exists in our church. My goal as your pastor is to preach and live the gospel of Jesus Christ, as we join together in discovering how we can follow Jesus in today’s complicated world. There is no way I would ever trade that choice calling to become a political preacher of either the left or right. While donkeys and elephants may have a certain pull, I personally have committed my life to belong to the party of the Lamb.
There are, however, in this election huge ethical and moral consequences that have nothing to do with partisan politics. As bizarre as this election has been, there are real issues and real people’s lives are on the line. Jesus had strong opinions about how we are to live. Do I completely understand what Jesus says, or do I know how to practice living his way in my own life? Not entirely — but I’m trying, and I believe it would be a better world if everybody knew Jesus and lived the way he taught. Here’s what I think is up for grabs as we approach next Tuesday.
Jesus was in the healing business. He didn’t care if sick people had insurance or not, he just healed them. Jesus opened closed eyes, made weak bodies strong, and brought warmth to cold hearts. He did this for everyone who came to him with their need.
While we can not heal in the same way Jesus did, God has provided us with the miracle of medicine. In the United States every year 20,000 to 45,000 people die because they can’t get health care. The biggest culprit is lack of insurance. As an evangelical Christian I am committed to seeing that more people find healing for their bodies, as well as their souls. I dare not sin against God by turning folks away.
Please turn in your bibles to the place where Jesus discriminated against someone. Can’t find the chapter and verse? Neither can I. Jesus included everybody, even though he lived in a world that discriminated against women, the poor, children and minorities.
One of the underlying dynamics of the current election cycle is racism. We are polite (most of us) and phrase it in socially acceptable ways, but there is an ongoing push against the progress in race relations that has been made since American Baptist pastor Martin Luther King, Jr. dared voice his dream for our country. The new resistance itself has been given tacit approval in the fury of campaign speeches and rallies. It is directed not only along the black and white divide, but also against immigrants, Muslims, gays, lesbians, and those in the other political party. It seems like we have have been given license to hate whatever group is different than us. Now really, Christians, do I need to tell you this is not right? Are we going to follow Jesus or not?
Actually, there was one group that Jesus seemed to discriminate against. The rich. He once said it was harder for a hump-backed camel to wiggle through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to earn their way into the kingdom of God. He also was politically incorrect when he called a farmer who built a bigger barn a fool. Now I realize there are a lot of farmers, as well as machinists, teachers, assembly line workers, truck drivers and those who have been laid off who wish their “barn” was a little bigger. There are real reasons for the “older white male anger” that is fueling political desperation.
Regardless of his concern for the rich, Jesus had a soft spot for the poor. He ministered to them wherever he went, and announced to all who would listen that poor folks were especially blessed in the kingdom of God. Jesus spent his ministry breaking down barriers that divide and inviting those on the margins of society into his inner circle. Wonder what he thinks about those today who would build up walls of separation, or even pass laws that allow millionaires and billionaires to zip through paying taxes while welfare moms can’t buy food for their kids. I guess we shouldn’t forget that when we feed the poor, we are really feeding Jesus.
Jesus wasn’t big into killing people. In fact, the most violent act he himself did was to send a bunch of pigs (not people) running off a cliff into the sea. Once his disciple Peter pulled out a knife and sliced off the ear of an enemy coming to capture Jesus. The Lord told him to stop it, and then picked up the missing ear and put it back on, healing the man. All of this sounds rather boring compared to what we can see nightly on television. It’s a far cry from the calls we hear to kill our enemies wholesale, families and all. Both presidential candidates seem to advocate this, one by boldly declaring that’s what he would do (maybe in a 3 am tweet), the other by her intentions to wage war (legally, of course) to bring peace to the middle east.
The truth is (hard as it is for us to hear, much less practice), Jesus told us to love our enemies. If he got mad and fussed at Peter for hacking an ear off, I wonder what he would say to us? Hopefully, it would be more in tune with his prayer from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
AMERICA THE GREAT
Shocking news about Jesus does exist. It’s true that he was a radical, a subversive, and he called for those who would be with him to take his vision seriously. He talked constantly about a promised land, a nation far greater than anything the USA has ever been or ever hopes to become in the future — no matter who becomes president. Jesus says in fact his place is where we really belong if we follow him. This place, the Kingdom of God, is not just a destination for us in the future, but a vital, living world we can experience and contribute to right now. Jesus calls us to trust him for our salvation, follow him in the way we live out his good news, and to thrive in a realm way better than anything this old earth can provide.
Meanwhile, we have an extremely important election going on. Christians, we have the responsibility of dual citizenship when we vote Tuesday. We are temporary citizens of a truly remarkable and wonderful nation, but our allegiance is eternally first to the Kingdom of God. As you go to the poles I pray you’ll be guided by God’s Holy Spirit as you vote in the living presence of the Lamb.