traditional sermon advent 1
When I was 6 years old I went to Immanuel Lutheran School in Danbury Connecticut. At the time it was a small Lutheran school with about 25 kids per grade. Maybe a month into our school year I recall bringing a t-shirt to school for show and tell. It was a t-shirt from Mt. Rushmore that I had acquired on a trip from the summer before. I was really excited to show and tell about my big vacation, but before I could ever talk about our grand summer trip or show my precious t-shirt, an alarm went off.
To me–to my 6 year old ears it was the loudest alarm I had ever heard. The teachers swooped us up and placed us in a line and quickly escorted us out of the building to brisk morning air in the parking lot. There we stood in lines as teachers counted all the classes from kindergarten to 8th grade. Each child counted while the alarms blasted in the background.
And then the fire trucks came.
With their large and loud alarms and they pulled into the parking lot and men and women in heavy gear came out and hoses were pulled out. Ladders were extended and brave men and women climbed up the roof to make a hole for smoke to escape.
Because of the fast actions of teachers and administrators, no children came to harm that day.
Because of the fast actions of firefighters, very little damage occurred to Immanuel Lutheran.
And life went on. We were able to go back into the school. I got to pick up my t-shirt…even though I never got to show and tell about it.
It wasn’t until a little while later that my behavior was affected by the crisis. I wouldn’t have described that as a 6 year old. But for years afterward, when plans for a fire drill was announced, I would get sick to my stomach. Some days when I knew there would be a drill the next day, I would be so sick that I would ask to stay home.
Perhaps you have had some traumatic or dramatic event in your childhood that you can remember like yesterday. Perhaps like me, there are time that you still break out in sweat when you’re reminded of a crisis that occurred. And somehow…. In someway… we encounter Christ in the crisis.
That’s what the first Sunday of Advent is about.
Advent is a time in our church where we, in a way, count down to a celebration of Jesus’ birth. We do that by lighting a new candle each week as we did this morning. Perhaps at home you have an Advent wreath or a devotion that you work through each day as counting the days and telling the story of God’s incarnation–the Messiah–come to us as the baby of Bethlehem. And yet Advent is also a time that we stop and look to the Advent of Christ’s return.
And every year, somewhere in the midst of singing about having a holly jolly Christmas and figgy pudding that is apparently so good that we won’t leave till we get some, we in our church settings are asked to stop and think about this Advent.
Every year on the first Sunday of Advent we hear a Gospel story that tells us to “be awake, stay alert” and it’s usually paired with what I would call “crisis language” paired with phrases like “in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven.”
It can feel a bit disjointed–all the feelings of Advent. These past few days have been filled with decking the halls with balls of holly fa la la la la la la la and drinking enough eggnog for the cows to come home, and we encounter the Gospel reading and what theologians have called Mark’s “little apocalypse.” Usually when I hear the word apocalypse…I don’t think little…I think huge, dramatic events. Scary things that can keep me up at night. It’s a bit disjointing to hear about suffering when all I really crave is to sing about a Silent Night.
But perhaps these whiplash moments of the Gospel speak more realistically to our lives than do our most beloved of Bing Crosby hits. We can have whiplash moments. We can have our little apocalypse moments too.
I experienced a few in a very short time this week.
The other day I was making some homebound visits and visited with someone who was experiencing the last days of his life on this earth. I was there to offer presence and prayer and to talk with a long time friend who had been with him through thick and thin. And for them, they were experiencing the crisis of saying goodbye and praying about our Good Shepherd who offers a promise of new life yet to be experienced.
As I was leaving his room I passed by the tv room which had news about the latest frightening event in North Korea and I experienced my own little crisis. Pulling out my smartphone and looking at a variety of news sites for information. My own fears and anxieties rising up. The thing about smartphones…they’re so smart that later that night it kept on showing me several news stories that brought me back to that place of crisis and fear.
How do we handle those little apocalypse moments this Advent season? I asked that question of a counselor I see and we spoke about living through the highs and lows that life may bring.
I make mention of seeing a therapist because this past week I’ve had three doctor’s appointments–got to get your end of the year visits in, you know!–
One a therapist, one a dentist and one an eye doctor, because from time to time I think it’s good for you to hear that your pastor goes to the doctor to keep her eyes and teeth healthy. And in this season which is a time filled with tremendous highs and tremendous lows, I want you to know that I visit with a counselor to keep my heart and mind healthy, too. It’s something that we don’t talk enough about in the church–and I want you to know that you deserve to seek out all doctors that can help you be healthy. Especially this time of year.
This is the time of year where we wait with expectation… what are waiting for? In some ways we wait to relive memories of old… living out beloved traditions of dad carving the turkey, of mom singing Christmas carols while going Christmas tree shopping, of lighting the Advent wreath, and counting to Christmas. I’m sure you have your most loved traditions you revisit each year.
And we’re also waiting as Christians…waiting for God. How did our Prayer of the Day begin? “Stir up your power and come, O Christ.”
During this season where the days get shorter and the darkness seems more dark, we look to the light and say “stir up your power and come, O Christ.”
When illness and injury silences our reverie we fervently pray, “stir up your power and come, O Christ.”
When forces beyond our control rage and leaders rattle their sabers with threats of annihilation we look to the heavens and say, “stir up your power and come, O Christ.”
Even when the crisis occurs. When the fires rage or the floods rise, we look into the chaos and with eyes of faith see Christ there among us.
It reminds me of that fire at my school all those years ago. How at the time, I was so afraid. And yet Christ was there in the midst of the crisis. Through the teachers, the administrators, the firefighters.
Two months ago the preschool had fire prevention week and the Neffsville Fire Company came to St. Peter’s so that the kids could see the fire truck first hand and meet some of the firefighters. They would gather each class with their teacher to talk about what the firefighters do and how they come and help people when crisis happens. Then they would do something brilliant. They had the class’s teacher put on the firefighter gear.
The kids saw for themselves that beneath beneath all the layers that we may only ever see when something has gone wrong–when crisis occurs–beneath all the gear that we only see when crisis happens– was the face of their beloved teacher telling them “do not be afraid.” It helped them see with eyes of faith that the man or woman under all that gear that fights fires is there to deliver them from crisis.
That is how Christ is to us. Stir up your power and come, O Lord, in the bravery of the firefighter who rescues. Stir up your power and come, O Lord, in the steady hands and actions of doctors we may be seeing this time of year. Stir up your power and come, O Lord, with wisdom from on high to our leaders here below. Stir up your power and come, O Lord, to us.
When your heart ia glad or grieving, may you encounter the Christ. Emmanuel. God with you. Amen