Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Have You Read the Sign?”
Luke 21: 25-36, November 29th, 2015; the First Sunday in Advent
Yes, indeed! There will be signs. And yes there are signs of the season all around us. There are signs that are easy to read and there are signs that are not so easy to comprehend or to understand. So… We must stay ‘on our toes’ if we are to recognize them at all. In accordance with all that is written in the scriptures, and all that has been declared, when we see the signs we must examine and interpret what we see, clarifying we are reading the right signs. You see, Advent is all about the beginning of the Christian Calendar. It is about a birth, marking the beginning of something new! We celebrate this birth through our annual celebration called Christmas, the birth of the Christ Child, named Jesus, born of Mary. Therefore, “have your wits about you at all times!”
Today, is the first Sunday of Advent! Thus, our season has formally started. This is a sign. It is important for each of us to understand that Advent is about waiting, it is about anticipation, and it is about the tradition of our faith. Advent is meant to be a time period when we reflect on why Jesus, God in the flesh, came to live amongst us. Advent is a time to renew our understanding of what the birth of the Christ child signifies. Only if you stay alert to the true signs of the season will you be ready, when it is time to proclaim the birth of the baby Jesus.
The countdown to Christmas day has begun. Look around our sanctuary this morning, it is all decorated with lights and wreaths and beautifully adorned evergreen trees. And there is a manger scene set up on display; these are all signs. Many of you know exactly how many shopping days are left till Christmas; that’s 25 to be exact. This too is a sign. There is the Christmas play, called “No Vacancy;” then the Sunday before Christmas, we have some special Christmas Music planned, followed by our annual Christmas Eve service. Then it will be Christmas! Having said this… please remember what we talked about last Sunday! Therefore, realize your ever ‘increasing’ and ‘building’ anxiety is a sign, but do not worry, there is still time to prepare!
Millions of Americans mark this time of preparation by shopping, and this is what they did! After celebrating Thanksgiving with friends and family they invaded the stores; it is called ‘holiday’ shopping, sparked by the Christian tradition of the birth of the Christ child. It is just amazing how much of our economy, as a nation, has become dependent on the celebration of a baby that was born over two thousand years ago. A baby whose parents had to beg for shelter the night he was born, a baby that was born in a stable with barn animals. I wonder how many people that went shopping Friday, truly even know who Jesus was and what Christmas represents to Millions of Christians around the world.
It may be a crucially “important shopping season” for many retail merchants, malls and shoppers; and most clearly, a very important time for businesses to achieve their revenue goals. But it is up to each one of us to remember that this is our season of Advent; our season of journeying toward Christmas; our season for sharing gifts and celebrations with loved ones because it is our tradition. It is a tradition that started surrounded by the accountings of the three kings, the three wise men, who journeyed to Bethlehem; guided by a bright star. They brought gifts to honor the newborn baby. They did this because the coming of our Savior was foretold. The marvelous accounts of what happened in Bethlehem tell us that Christmas was surely about God coming to live amongst us, in the form of a new born child named Jesus. What a beautiful and sacred tradition! It lifts up for us some important elements of our faith and begins the start of our Christian calendar.
Way before Jesus was born the prophet Jeremiah who knew that God would cause “a righteous Branch to spring up,” Jeremiah prophesied that [Jesus] shall [and would] execute justice and righteousness in the land. His prophecy was a sounding of an alarm. He was telling the people, way back in Old Testament times, that they needed to be alert to the fact that there was a “Righteous Savior” coming to rescue them. Now Jeremiah wasn’t there when Jesus was born, but God spoke through him to alert people that he was coming. /Jeremiah 33:14-16/
How many, Christian shoppers, would be willing to stand up and sound the alert about things that they see coming? How willing are you to be like Jeremiah and repeat aloud the words that you know in your heart God is calling upon you to say? Many have come to me in the privacy of my office to tell me of things they see and hear, but few are ever willing to say those same words out loud! It takes great courage to even tell the small things to others. How are we ever going to be mature enough so that we can stand up and shout out the truth about our belief, that the Christ Child, named Jesus, is what salvation is all about! When will we be counted among those who are willing to tell the “holiday” shopper that the Christian holiday is Christmas?
Even the Rabbi, tells his people that the “holiday” for his congregation is a religious one called Hanukkah; and he encourages his community to wish people a ‘Happy Hanukkah’ rather than lessening it’s meaning by only saying ‘Happy Holiday’, at the time of their holiest of holy days! The Rabbi does not want his sacred religious tradition cheapened by the trend of commercialization. The Rabbi’s I have known over the years, likewise expect Christians to say ‘Merry Christmas’ not ‘happy holiday’ when referring to our Christian celebration of the Birth of the Christ child! Why should we accept the diluting of the meaning of our religious celebration?
Next Sunday, the first Sunday of December, we shall share in ‘Holy Communion’, as is our custom. This is the remembering of the last meal, the last supper that Jesus shared with his twelve disciples. We shall do this because we are called upon to ‘not forget’ that all these events have already occurred. Jesus was born. Jesus was crucified. Jesus rose up from his grave and was seen by many witnesses. So when we gather at the table, let us do it with a sincere faith: a faith that gives us hope, a faith that fills our hearts with God’s love, a faith that offers us the peace that only Christ can bring. It is this same faith that fills us with joy knowing that we shall be ‘raised up’ because God came to live with us. We know this to be true because Jesus poured out his love for us!
Getting back to our national desire to go on a ‘buying frenzy’ during the season of Advent, let us be clear, there is nothing wrong with buying gifts; especially if we truly have a generous heart and because we truly want to give something to someone out of love. Yet, let us be ever vigilant of our own motives as we check for the best prices and the best deals and the most available and unique gifts this season. Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm, the Senior Pastor at Hickman Presbyterian, in Hickman Nebraska, shares his view. “I have to confess that I’m somewhat cynical about the way we “celebrate Christmas.” But I hasten to add that I’m not cynical about the message of Christmas – the promise of God’s salvation that consists of peace and justice and freedom for all. I think part of the reason why people seem so oblivious to this message is because it is couched not in the language of cynicism, to which we are so accustomed, but the language of hope and promise.” We hear the voice of skepticism, suspicion, and distrust more easily then we hear the message of love, compassion, and peace! Me and you, we need to be the voice that changes all that! Be compelled to assert to others, the ‘love of God’, passed on to us through the story of Christmas – as portrayed through our Christian traditions!
Rachel M. Srubas, a clergy women, shouts out to us: “This Advent, unlock your prayers. Let in a shaken multitude seeking shelter, clarity, and cheer.” Please, let us lift up her words! Yes, indeed! Let us not be like the ‘Inn Keeper’ that sent Joseph and Mary, heavy with her unborn child, to seek shelter with the animals out behind the Inn. Let us approach the season with love and compassion, offering up hope for the helpless. Let us offer up our prayers for the hungry, that they will be fed and the homeless will be placed into safe and comfortable housing! Let our prayers reach out to those directly affected by horrific acts of terror, and those whom are still under the threat of terror throughout the world. We need to allow our prayers to acknowledge, during this time of preparation, that the birth of the Christ child brings hope for new beginnings.
Rev, Dr., David Lose, President of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, again points us to our historical past; “From Moses to Martin Luther King, Jr., history is full of examples of those who, because they had been to the mountaintop, had peered into the promised land, and had heard and believed the promise of a better future, found the challenges of the present not only endurable, but hopeful.” As we allow his words to seep into our consciousness we need to be brought back into our present and personal realities of today! Let us bring our thoughts to this probing question, brought to us by Larry Broding, Director of Religious Education in San Diego: “What do you look forward to this Christmas? What do you dread this holiday season?” His question compels us to look deeply inside ourselves and ask: what signs are we looking at? Are we looking at the signs that point only to shopping and parties and building anxiety? Or are we looking to the signs of love and compassion that will open our hearts and the hearts of those we love, giving them renewed hope for their lives and the futures of their offspring?
Reading signs can be either: a joyful adventure filled with laughter and joy that ultimately will lead us to the optimism of renewed hope; just as preparing for the celebration of Christmas is meant to be. Or, it can be tedious and discouraging as we see only though the biased lenses, of our neighbor’s fears and distrust of humankind, tainted with their foolish willingness to follow the loudest voices that fill the void of their lonely discouraged lives – without a loving God to guide them. The choice is up to each one of us to make. Amen.
“Let us now open our ears, as-well-as our hearts, as we listen now to these words from the New Testament, the Gospel according to Luke, chapter:21, verses: 25-36”
25 “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.
26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.
28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees;
30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.
31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.
33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly,
35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.
36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
“Allow God to move us to a deeper and more meaningful understanding of these ancient writings.”