Mark 13: 26-27, 32-37 December 1, 2013
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
How many of you have put up a Christmas tree at home already? I took a look at the stack of boxes… with the tree, the ornaments, the lights, in the storage shed the other day and said: “not yet, maybe later.” Yet, this very morning, each of us, in different ways, have or shall begin to think about how we are to get ready for Christmas. This is very important because… soon enough it will feel like the calendar is flipping its pages faster then we can comprehend! So breathe and take it all in; let’s see, not counting today… that gives us 24 days till Christmas morning; only 24 days left before millions of Christians around the world will mark the occasion with a variety of activities and celebrations and religious services.
Personally, I am looking forward to the busyness of Advent, which is better known by the masses as the ‘Holiday Season.” Truly, some things are really fun to get ready for. Most certainly, getting ready to celebrate the birth of a baby, any baby, let alone the Christ child, ought to be one of those joyous and fun times. For many it is, and I pray that each one of us ‘feel’ that we are included in the crowd of folks that experience the joy of this season. Certainly, for many children Christmas morning brings presents with joyful memories; yet for many it does not. Some children are old enough and worldly enough – to feel the pain and anguish of others; for them Christmas may not be so joyful. For that child the presents may represent anxiety and confusion passed on to them subliminally by others in his or her life. And for still others… all too many other children, there will be nothing under the Christmas tree for them this year; and probably no tree at all; no roasted turkey or pumpkin pie; no stocking hung in hopes of old Saint Nick to come. Christmas doesn’t bring the same things to all people and certainly not to all children. This getting ready, with all its highs and lows and expectations, can have mixed results.
In our scripture there is an even more challenging problem. The gospel message is speaking about the time, a future time, when the Lord our God, will return. Unlike our Christmas that is celebrated on December 25th, the date of Christ’s return is completely unknown, even though many have tried to predict the date with no success. The gospel account captures this message surrounding the Lord’s pending return from Jesus himself; it comes in the form of a warning. You see… Jesus does not want us to be caught unprepared. And Jesus said: “Keep awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come.”
In the gospel of Matthew, chapter 24, verses 36-44, we get the same accounting of what Jesus said with the addition of these words. “As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking… until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man. Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left.” The expansion of the passage brings in the story of Noah and workers in the field. Helping us to grasp that we need to prepare for the coming of our God at any time! As in Noah’s case he prepared for the flood that God had warned him of even as his friends and neighbors scoffed at him. So it is, in the Twenty-First Century, with those who trust in God at ‘all times’ and in ‘all situations’; now, is the time to get ready!
As part of our plans to stay prepared for the return of Jesus we, and millions like us, continue the tradition of celebrating the birth of the Christ Child. The tradition of honoring Jesus’ birth shall help us to keep, in our hearts and in our minds, the full meaning of our God coming to live amongst us. Because of its importance, on Christmas Eve at 7 PM, we shall celebrate as a ‘United Church Community’ with a service of lessons and Carols followed by a symbolic and traditional candle lighting service. It is a liturgy, a service of great awe and celebration. I pray many of you will be able to attend.
Why do we celebrate Christmas every year? We don’t want to forget this joyous event. We want to share it with our children. We want others to know the old, old story of Jesus and his glory. We want to share our hope that comes from this gift from our God, captured in the story of the baby Jesus. We want to stay alert and watchful for signs of the promised return of Christ – thus – we use the ancient traditions established by the early followers of Jesus. Those early followers of Jesus set a date on the calendar to celebrate this holy birth, a birth that is fraught with mystery and with miraculous events.
It is good that we follow this ancient tradition. Tradition and rituals have their place in our journeys. They certainly have their place in our celebration of Christmas. We as a church have our traditions. As your current Pastor, I am striving to honor the customs and practices of this faith community. Some of your rituals, that are becoming traditions, date back to the beginning of this fellowship. Some have been introduced later on, by parishioners and by clergy. Changing a tradition… even a small insignificant one can cause confusion. Examples of this can be seen each year as churches’ across the land decorate their respective sanctuaries.
Change of course is not necessarily a bad thing. Change can be brought about in positive ways and unfortunately it can come about in negative ways. But, change… in of itself, is not a bad thing. When we change or adjust an established tradition, it can and often does cause folks to reflect on the meaning of what is taking place. An example: Shall we use red, white or blue lights on our Christmas tree? Do the bows look better red or white or is it gold that we prefer? By the way, how many of you remember what color was used last year, are they the same this year? Do know the color you use at home? Are you sure? Does it really matter?
Regardless of the facts pertaining to the color of bows or lights, you & I, we know that the color of the lights is not what a “Christmas” tree is all about! The tree itself has its own story and many of you will remind me of its origin I am sure. But, basically, having a tree decorated at Christmas time is a tradition that has developed over the years as a way to help us celebrate the birth of Christ. And yes, the decorations, including the color of the lights, sometimes become part of our tradition. As we get into considering changes in our customs or rituals, let’s be sure we reflect on its intended purpose.
So… as we have now, formally, entered into the season of Advent, let us be sure we spend some time getting ready for what is ahead. “Therefore, keep awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.” The issue for us to reflect on is simply: that we do not know when. The time could be before our Christmas celebration even gets here. In the same manner, it may be at a much later date; a day and a time that is totally unknown to us at this present moment.
Formally, the weeks ahead are about getting ready to celebrate and observe the birth of a baby named Jesus. Informally, our whole lives are a time of preparation for the coming, the return of the Living God. Every morning as we prepare to face a new day we must also face the possibility that this is the day that Jesus will come back into our lives. It may also be the day that we go to be with God in Heaven. The riddle is that we do not know ahead of time. It is a puzzle, a question that we can ponder for all our days and still we will never know ahead of time. Therefore, we must spend our time getting ready. It is the only thing we can do.
Each of us will need to gather the right things for the journey at hand. This journey is much like any other – for example – If you are going to play tennis you need a tennis racket and a few tennis balls. If you are going to go golfing you will need a few golf balls and a set of golf clubs. If you are going to meet Jesus then you need to gather the right things also.
Faith is a good start. Believing in the miracle of Christmas is helpful. Trusting that God is guiding you, as you journey forward, helps a lot. Also, you will need to learn all you can about God; this is an important element in preparation. The Bible, the scriptures can help. The teachings of Jesus can really make a big difference! Christian fellowship, communal worship, and honoring the traditions passed from one generation to another are also helpful.
Now that we are all in the process of getting ready, with the proper attitude and the appropriate tools, now we are ready to accept the help that God will supply along the way. If we focus on the reason for the season we will not create anxiety for ourselves or confusion for others. The results will be mixed blessings of hope, love joy and peace. These are the feelings we ought to pass to our children as-well-as our neighbors and friends. Are we ready to get ready?
Ok – then let’s do it!