Pastor Annabelle P. Markey
Year C – First Sunday of Advent
Luke 21:25-36 (Worship Fully)
Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA – December 2, 2018
Tuesday found me bouncing around the office, sipping a pleasantly piney Juniper latte, listening to Advent hymns, and frolicking with joy that Advent was almost here! The season of waiting and expectation and longing and joy! Of hope rekindled and living into the promise that as Jesus has come, he will indeed come again! YAY!
But by Friday, I was WIPED OUT. Long days packed chock full of good things meant that I was done. As I spoke to Jen about the liturgy for today, I admitted to her that I just didn’t know exactly what I’d preach about. She pointed out with brilliant insight that I was, indeed, living Advent. I was waiting and full of expectation and yet distracted by many other things – some important and some not so much. Ahhh yes… Jen, how right you were! Thank you for speaking truth into my life and helping to shift my focus again!
Today we begin our sermon series based on the Advent Conspiracy – an initiative focused on helping Christians live Advent even as the world around has already moved into commercialized Christmas a few weeks ago. Our first theme is “Worship Fully: Christmas begins and ends with Jesus.” Now, this seems like a super obvious statement to make, especially in a church, until we step back and realize how caught up we get in everything other than Jesus during the Advent and Christmas seasons.
We worry about getting cards out to everyone. About having the perfect decorations. About baking batches of cookies. We struggle to attend every Christmas-themed function, party, and event, ending up cranky, frazzled, and overextended. We spend thousands of dollars, even going into debt so we can make sure that others know we love them.
Now, parties are fun. Cookies are delicious. Spending time with others is good. Showing people you care and staying in contact is good. But we saturate ourselves with so much stuff, we end up crowding out Jesus.
Advent is the season that invites us to slow down. To find joy in preparing for a long-awaited guest. To make room in our hearts and our homes for God. To guard our hearts so they’re not weighed down with worry. To practice being intentional in how we spend our time being really and truly present with one another and with God.
Because worship is not simply related to the hour or so you spend sitting in this sanctuary each week. Worship is woven into the very fabric of our lives. Our breath, the spirit that animates our life, is the Spirit that hovered over the waters at creation. If we look carefully around us, we will see God’s hand in creation, in our relationships with one another, in art and music, in good food. All over the place! And the time we train for that is Advent. We wait with eager longing to see God breaking into our world only to receive a fragile baby at Christmas. We wait with hope and peace in our hearts because we know this baby will indeed change the world through his life, death, and resurrection. And we wait with joy and laughter because we know that God will come to us yet again in unexpected, surprising, and baffling ways.
Worship is training ourselves to look for and see God in the world around us. It’s spending time in prayer and praise in our every day lives. I love the way Martin Luther put it, “Ah, if I could only pray the way that dog looks at meat!” Our prayers are called to have focus, joy, hope, expectation, and sheer hunger for God that a dog has looking at a hunk of meat! We only develop that kind of prayer and worship life by living into it. It doesn’t come overnight. But that’s the gift of Advent – a chance to slow down and practice this, especially when the world seems to spin around us like a shaken snow globe.
Jeremiah spoke about God’s promises to God’s people in a time when they were reeling from destruction at the hands of conquering forces and exile in a foreign land. As a prophet he spoke not only words of judgment, but words of hope, comfort, and restoration. Wonderfully, God would raise up a righteous branch – a descendant of David who would rule with justice and faithfulness to God’s covenant.
Likewise, Luke’s words this morning inspire concern and maybe downright fright in our hearts. “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” It doesn’t sound good! And it’s really disconcerting thinking about the earthquakes in Alaska, wildfires in California, hurricanes and tsunamis. But as scary as this is, Jesus tells his disciples to “‘stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’” Salvation and restoration, healing and wholeness will come even in trials and tribulations. And should heaven and earth pass away, Jesus’ words will not. The good news that we are loved and freed in Christ to live and serve will never pass away. Archbishop Desmond Tutu says it this way: “Dear Child of God, you are loved with a love that nothing can shake, a love that loved you long before you were created, a love that will be there long after everything has disappeared.” Love will never pass away.
We know these trials and tribulations. And maybe we feel them all the more acutely in this season. Missing loved ones who can’t be with us. Grieving a season of lasts – the last Christmas together at home with growing children or with aging parents. The passing of another year. A change in season. Feeling the shortening days and long, dark nights as reminders of the truth we all try to run from – that nothing lasts. Jeremiah and Jesus remind us that things, buildings, institutions, loved ones, and even ourselves will indeed fade away. It’s unsettling. But it prepares us for a greater truth. Jeremiah and Jesus, and the season of Advent, also remind us that God transcends the transitory. God’s promises are secure. The Word, Jesus, God who takes on flesh, does not pass away. The hope and life we have in him never perish. Knowing that, we can let go of the things that are not so important. The shiny tinsel and baubles, literal and metaphorical, we use to distract ourselves. We can realize that we actually have far less control than we thought we did, and that’s ok.
In this season, we decorate with evergreens – plants like pine and holly that keep their lovely green year round. I never really thought much of it until doing research into Advent wreaths for the Bible Study yesterday. It turns out evergreens were chosen for a reason: the circular wreath reminds us of God’s endless love and mercy. The evergreen leaves represent the hope of eternal life brought by Jesus Christ and God’s never-ending faithfulness to God’s people. The candles symbolize the light of Christ come into the world.
And as I thought about the righteous Branch and the parable of the fig tree sprouting leaves, I remembered the song, “O Christmas Tree” which always seemed like kind of a weird thing to sing about. It turns out, it features these words I never heard before: “O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, How sturdy God hath made thee! Thou bidd’st us all place faithfully, Our trust in God, unchangingly!” It turns out when we take time to notice and remember, our very decorations call us to worship. We have trees used to remind us that the Tree of Life on which Jesus took on the full mortality of humanity is evergreen and always life-giving.
As we move through these next few weeks, I encourage you to slow down. To breathe. Take an Advent devotional home so you can read some scripture and pray each day as you wait and watch for the coming of Christ at Christmas. May this season open our eyes to his coming into our lives every day in a thousand unexpected and blessed ways. And may we worship fully. Amen.