Happy Thanksgiving to you, all. I hope you had a wonderful celebration. As we were preparing to host our families, we took part in one of our favorite traditions, watching the Thanksgiving Day parade. Singing and dancing, enjoying the parade – a good time was had by all. And of course, the last float was Santa Claus, where he has been for 89 of out the 90 years of the parade (only in 1933 was he at the beginning). Immediately after the parade concluded, Felicity came into the kitchen singing 31 more days until Christmas as we continued to peel potatoes and wait for the turkey timer to pop! The Christmas countdown began in earnest before our guests had even arrived for Thanksgiving.
In fact, there are still 4 days left of November. So, I want to encourage those of you who are still going strong with the Gratitude challenge, writing notes of thanks and gratitude to those in your life. I am so thankful for the way that offering and receiving gratitude roots me in connection and relationship with others. I pray that has been your experience as well.
This Advent season, I want you to join me as we paint a picture and catch the sounds of how the writer of the gospel of Luke told of the coming of Christmas. We will explore Luke’s carols and our own, looking for how God describes the full realization of Christ’s coming and how we have understood it as well. Did you know there were carols in Luke? Songs praising God, telling a story, and familiar enough to be impactful of those who sing them. Music speaks in ways our words cannot. Throughout the season of Advent and Christmas, we will look at carols that have shaped our faith and understanding of the Advent of Christ and the birth of Jesus. Many of the carols will be so familiar that even as I am preaching you will find yourselves humming along. But our first one may not be familiar, All the Earth is Waiting. I asked Betsy to play and sing it for us. Listen to the words and the mood of the music. The words will also be on the screen.
(Betsy plays and sings)
All the Earth is waiting was written by Monsignor Alberto Taule after Vatican II. This Spanish priest in the Roman Catholic tradition was looking for a way to use the new freedom from Vatican II to use music in the mass to teach his people about Advent. This song became a familiar way to capture the waiting for the kingdom of God to break in, the full realization of Christ, and the second coming. This hymn rarely makes Christmas play lists; I have never heard it on the radio, but it captures Advent’s waiting and anticipating. That is why I chose it as the first of our hymns in Singing our faith. It is truly an Advent carol.
Plenty of preachers find themselves condemning the practice of early Christmas, and not enough Advent. Plenty of people find themselves lamenting the early coming of Christmas music and decorations, sometimes even before the Thanksgiving stuffing has been made.
Perhaps, we have not painted a clear enough picture of what we are counting down to as we await the coming of Christ. You see, when it comes to counting down to Christmas, there are teams of skilled marketers teaching us exactly what we are looking forward to. They paint us pictures of Christmas mornings with presents under the tree, sweet children in pajamas, light snow out the window, and smells of coffee and cinnamon rolls. Hours and days are spent crafting a message for us to experience the right feels and spend our money appropriately.
Perhaps, sometimes we have not painted a clear enough picture of our anticipating the coming of Christ, because we do not know Christ fully. We do not know the heart of a God who loves justices, uses human history as a storyboard for meeting people where they are, and allows the larger story arc to unfold over generations. We have not spent time with the God of Elizabeth and Zechariah who we heard from in our gospel lesson.
The gospel of Luke is often described as the gospel to the margins. Those who have not been included find a voice and a spotlight in Luke. In fact, Luke begins his gospel with a childless couple who know a lot about waiting. We can imagine that they have been waiting for years and years. Waiting for the desire of their hearts and resigning themselves to disappointment. Imagine the utter shock of Zechariah who receives the revelation. He was in the temple, appropriately doing his job and God shows up! How many times had he done his job and no revelation from God! He was shocked to receive the news that he and Elizabeth would be parents. How could this be? What could this mean? How surprising it is when you have been praying and anticipating so long that you are not even sure exactly what you are waiting for.
Perhaps, we find ourselves like the psalmist – more sure of what the coming of Christ isn’t than sure of what exactly it is. Sure of feeling forgotten or overwhelmed. Sure of feeling like it has been enough, already. Sure of wanting God to come and move mightily, changing the pain and sorrow, desperation and heartache – but not sure exactly how to capture the image in a picture. Sure that we need God to intercede and ultimately having the past to rely on as hope for the future.
Perhaps we find ourselves wanting to assuage the brokenness of our world with answers that we can offer – simple solutions that solve the immediate, without regard for the ultimate. Living in Advent, instead of preChristmas, means acknowledging that there is darkness around us. There is pain and suffering. There is brokenness in need of redemption. We live in a world in which terrorism and mass shootings have become so common that our children have drills in school as to how to respond when they occur. We live in a world in which we value profit over people and efficiency over connection. We need to anticipate the coming of Christ, the setting right of this world.
In Advent, we pray for the way and will, the reign and redemption of God to break through our lived reality and refocus us to God’s reality. When we see people living in fear, we anticipate that the day will come when fear will be no more. We are counting down to both Christmas, December 25th, and a day that we do not know yet. We are counting down to the day in which God’s way will be the way in which all people live.
As we countdown to Christmas – the birth of Jesus and the full realization of the coming of Christ, we hear the call to be awake, watch, and wait. Like a insomniac at 3 am, we not always happy about being awake to watch the coming of Christ. No, in fact, most often, like the insomniac, we wish for sleep. We wish that we could unknow the pain we know. We may wish for ignorance, instead of conscious raising and knowledge of the way of God.
The full realization of the coming of Christ is not passive. We have work to do. As we prepare for December 25th, we buy presents and decorate the house. We make cookies and send Christmas cards. We are not passive. As we prepare for the coming of Christ in full realization and glory, we feed the hungry and clothe the naked. We work for just systems in which no one group is given more privilege than another. We model God’s love to the least, the last, and the lost. We live in such a way that those who have never opened a Bible or understood Good’s love will glimpse it in us. Not just by the covering of pain, but in experiencing the true moments of peace and love.
Like an instrumentalist who receives their musical line, we are to play it over and over again, until it becomes so familiar that we do not need to the music. We may question how will our portion sound with the rest of the orchestra and if the other musicians will prepare their parts. However, our preparation is only the instrument we have and only the lines that we were given. The orchestration, planning, and conducting is not ours. In a similar way, we anticipate the coming of Christ. We live out the calling that we know. Some of us are called to work for justice, some to acts of lovingkindness, others to usher in peace, and still others hope and joy.
All of us are called to anticipate the coming of Christ, not just as sweet gurgling baby surrounded by stable animals, but as a man who transforms our lives and the very world in which we live.
This is the Gospel of Lord Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
Old Testament Lesson: Psalm 13
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Gospel Lesson: Luke 1: 5-25
In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”
Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”
Meditations For Your Week
Sunday, November 27 ~ Saturday, December 3
Sunday: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” Psalm 13: 1. There are seasons of challenge and feeling far from God. Who can you write a note of gratitude to encourage in their season of feeling far from God?
Monday: “How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” Psalm 13: 2. The psalmist knew pain in the soul and sorrow in the heart. We may as well. Write a note of gratitude to someone who has walked with you in your pain and sorrow.
Tuesday: “Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, ‘I have prevailed’; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.” Psalm 13: 3-4. We often feel as though those who disagree with us are enemies. As we wait and watch for the kingdom of God, it might be that those who disagree with us are not enemies, but fellow children of God. Write a note of gratitude to someone with whom you disagree.
Wednesday: “But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” Psalm 13: 5-6. God calls us to trust and rejoice, sing and see God in our lives. Write your last note of gratitude to God.
Thursday: “But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth” Luke 1: 13-14. God hears our prayers. God seeks to be with us in joy as well as challenge. Where is God calling to you?
Friday: “With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’” Luke 1: 17. John the Baptist came to prepare people for the Lord. How are preparing others as well as yourself for the full realization of the Lord.
Saturday: “After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, ‘This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.’” Luke 1: 24-25. We often say, the patience of Job, but let us not forget the patience of Elizabeth. She waited all of her life for her heart’s desire and it was granted to her through her husband. Let us watch and wait for where God grants our heart’s desire through others.