Advent 1 Traditional Sermon
It’s hard to believe it is the first Sunday of Advent already – maybe some of you are like me and began to put up your tree and other Christmas Decorations.
Like I said earlier, one of my favorite decorations as a kid as I said in my children’s sermon was the little snow globe containing the Holy Family that I received from my first grade Sunday School teacher at Christ Lutheran Church.
(Play silent night)
Every year I would carefully unpack this small treasure that would remind me of the softly falling snow over the manger scene, the peaceful setting of the birth of the baby Jesus – Mary smiling, Joseph hovering over his new little family – waiting for the quiet procession of the shepherds and the wise men- the soft singing of the angels suspended above the stable singing angelically to this cooing baby. Remembering the words of Silent night – that all was calm and all was bright- yes it was a reminder of that little town in Bethlehem 2000 years ago – a time of joy, peace and good will to all – you could almost hear Tiny Tim in the background proclaiming – God Bless us everyone! If I had to give a name to my favorite snow globe, I would call it – Memories of a Silent night.
(Play a short “doom music”)
This was not the actual case during the time that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The Roman Empire ruled the Middle Eastern lands. There was an enforced system of taxation, and large bodies of slave labor. For 150 years, Jewish Palestine had been deeply divided between warring factions, and Herod the Great was nearing the end of his reign that included tactics of mass terror and widespread surveillance as well as killing his own son Antipas because of his paranoia that his son was plotting against him. Things we not much better at the temple as many religious leaders became more concerned with power and wealth than the welfare of their people.
Jesus was not born into a Norman Rockwell existence. We like to romanticize that first Christmas. We sing of a Silent night and the little Lord Jesus who never cried. We put out our nativity scenes with the smiling faces of Mary and Joseph and their visitors, and we unpack our snow globes, with snow gently falling on the Holy Family. I always wondered by the nativity scenes included snow because there would not have been snow on the ground when Jesus was born. While Israel and Palestine do see some snow during the winter, it is believed that Jesus was probably born in the fall or spring.
Which begs the question – what type of snow globe would be fitting for an Advent Decoration? If you want a realistic depiction of an Advent Snow Globe, and If we took our cue from Matthew 24:32-44, a strange series of snow globe scenes would appear. Scenes of barren fig trees; people partying, unaware of the coming flood; people snatched from their plowing; a thief casing out your house, figuring out the best time to break in.
Or, most dramatic of all, how about a snow globe scene that features the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory, with his angels to gather the elect we could then place a plaque at the bottom would read “The Necessity for Watchfulness.”
The Advent Snow globe would not be a nostalgic decoration in which we can pine away at the Christmases gone by, but a reminder of how we are to be vigilant and in the words of Ebeneezer Scrooge when he said “ I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future”. We are to honor Christ and live our lives as Christians, learning from our mistakes in the past and following Christ’s commands now and in the future. It doesn’t mean we need to get rid of our past Christmas memories, but it does mean we need to understand that Advent is also a time to put our houses in order…right now!
Maybe our snow globes should contain a double sided mirror. Advent is a strange season in which we look ahead as we look back and look back as we look ahead. It is a simultaneous celebration and anticipation. We celebrate the birth of a baby as we anticipate the return of our resurrected Lord Jesus. How about placing the following inscription on the plaque; Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. This would give us a sense of urgency and vigilance.
The text challenges us with the question: What does the plaque read on the snow globe of your life this Advent? What snow globe scene—what freeze frame—will you be caught in when Jesus appears? Whether we think of him as appearing in the future, or as appearing right now, the question is the same. What are we doing as he arrives?
Will your snow globe plaque read: Too busy working or how about Let someone else worry about it or The poor are not my responsibility or maybe Me First?
It’s no wonder these texts are not very popular unless you are part of a dooms day group. These apocalyptic texts can be frightening. The writer of Matthew tells us that we could be like those people during the time of Noah who lived life without worrying about any preparation for the impending flood. We know how devastating floods can be. During our 2007 mission trip to Biloxi Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, we heard countless stories from people who refused to leave their homes due to the impending hurricane. They failed to heed the warnings. They were told that if they chose to stay and needed help, that most likely the EMS persons would not be able to reach them during the storm. Unfortunately, those who failed to heed the many warnings died and those who didn’t die, had to spend days in an attic or on a roof top waiting to be rescued. This was a lesson for those who refused to leave – in the future, heed the warnings.
Maybe you are saying to yourself, come on Sister – enough with the doom and gloom – Christmas is coming! I have parties to attend….presents to buy…..dinners to host – and now you want me to add something else to my plate? Well, actually yes I do – because it’s biblical. We are called to be vigilant, to live each day as it is our last. How do we do that? By following the lessons and commands of Jesus- to unconditionally love God and love neighbor. Now fortunately we are at that time of the year where this comes a bit easier – we put money in the Salvation Army Kettle; donate money and gifts for our giving trees and other charities. We tend to come to worship more often and often are more forgiving towards others during this season. But what happens come January? This text, while used in Advent, is a reminder for us all year; Because we don’t know the time when Jesus will return. No matter how many earthquakes, floods or other national disasters; no matter who is president, no matter who wins the world Series for the first time in 108 years and no matter how many people believe they can predict the end – we just don’t know.
The good news of Advent is that the Son of Man is appearing in the skies of our personal and communal lives right now, helping us to prepare for the future. . The greek for the word coming is Parousia and Literally, the word means “being alongside.” Also, the verb translated as “coming” is in the present tense, not future. You might say that the “second coming” of Christ is any time when he is present in the midst of our own apocalypses. Our world is no different than that of the one into which Jesus was born. We are in turmoil. We have wars, poverty, political strife, oppression, racisim, sexism, islamophobia, terrorism, and this is just the beginning of the problems that have, will and continue to exist until the end of time.
Christ is alongside us as we deal not only with worldly events such as these, but with our own personal disasters and destructions. We are not alone – we don’t have to wait for Jesus to return for Jesus to be present with us right now! As followers of Christ, we are called to be living human examples of Jesus – His hands and feet. We don’t do it because it affects our salvation, that has already been taken care of in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We do it because we love God, we do it because we are called to love and care for our neighbor, and we do it because we are Christ’s disciples called to mission in this world. Christ’s promise to be alongside us does not insulate us from an uncertain future, but it does promise that we will not face that future alone – Jesus will be at our side, granting us courage in the face of life’s adversities and remaining with us even through death, drawing us into new life even in a dark world.
As the days grow shorter and the darkness grows, we light Advent candles each week to remind us that we do not face the darkness alone but that, indeed, the light of the world has come, shining on in the darkness to illumine our lives and lead us forth not in fear but with courage and even joy.
Watching and being prepared is a way for us to connect with God – if we put God at the center of our Snow Globes. It is about developing an awareness of what the God of the future is saying and what God is doing in the present and learning and understanding how God worked in the lives of the Saints who have entered God’s eternal Kingdom. Yes Advent is about the past, present and the future. Our job is to carry out our mission as disciples, keep awake to call out injustices, be on guard against those who claim to know the day and the hour of the final coming of Jesus. Our job is to tell others about the good news of Jesus Christ.
Advent is a time for self-reflection and examination. What scene would your advent snow globe reveal about you this past year?
I am closing with a quote from author Author Madeleine L’Engle who says this about Advent in her journal The Irrational Season: Advent is not nearly so much a going as a coming, an ending as a beginning. It is the redemption, not the destruction, of creation. The coming of the kingdom is creation coming to be what it was meant to be, the joy and glory of all creation working together with the creator.
May you take advantage of these next four weeks for self -reflection and examination. Live each day as if your snow globe would be the final remembrance of how you chose to live your life as a disciple of Christ. Amen.