Now that the turkey has been roasted and leftovers made into soups, sandwiches, and salads. Now that the family and friends have gathered and have or are preparing to disburse. Now that Thanksgiving already feels like a holiday of the past, even though it is only 3 days ago. We move from gratitude to preparation. We move from cultivating worshipful thanksgiving moments to preparing for the birth and coming of Jesus the Christ. We find our liturgical calendars ready for the season of Advent, perhaps, even before we are. Today, the first Sunday of Advent, we find ourselves preparing without being a hundred percent sure of what we are preparing for or what the time line is, exactly.
On Wednesday night, we began this series with a showing of the classic Grinch Who Stole Christmas. This classic movie began as book written by Dr. Seuss in 1957. The images of the Grinch have so permeated our culture that even if you have not read the book or seen the movie, you likely have a cultural understanding that a Grinch is grumpy and some understanding that there is transformation and redemption by the end of the process. I want to show you a clip of the movie after the Grinch has just ransacked all of the houses and waits to see the reaction of the village of Whos. He expects crying and angst. We expects that he has messed up the celebrations. Watch the reactions.
(Showed a movie clip)
Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe perhaps, Christmas means a little bit more. A learning for the Grinch and one for us as well. We have taught ourselves as a culture that the value of Christmas is in decorating, gifting, baking, and preparing. The Grinch believed that all of the decorations of Christmas were Christmas. How often do we get ourselves tangled up in that exact puzzle?
Whenever we begin to believe that Christmas is merely about beautiful decorations and culturally appropriate ways of treating one another with kindness and compassion, we have missed the purpose of Christmas. Christ was not born, so that you and I might have the perfect Christmas card pictures (as much as I love those images). Christ was not born, so that we might be the most neighborly in sharing perfectly cut cookies with neighbors and friends (although, they taste good, don’t they?). Christ was not born, so that we could contemplate gift giving – receiving or giving, for that matter. Christ was born to reconcile us to God, to show us a way of living that would bring about God’s kingdom, to usher in a new way of being God’s people.
Every time we listen to the news and hear of the racial divide in our country that is encapsulated in the events that have unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri – we know that we have missed the mark.
Every time we watch the gap between rich and poor pulled from either end, until the poor have no resources and the rich do not even know what to do with the abundance of their resources – we know that we have missed the mark.
Every time we hear of families divided over how to care for an aging parent and therefore, no longer talking or gathering together – we know we have missed the mark. Every time we watch children and the most vulnerable among us beaten and abused for any reason, but particularly for being developmentally appropriate children – we know we have missed the mark. Every time we look for cues for how to live in this world from those around us and not from God’s way – we know we have missed the mark.
Sin is about missing the mark. In the Greek, harmanto or sin is a reference to archery. A reference to shooting again and again, aiming for the center and missing the mark. I missed living in the way that God calls me too. I missed living with others in the way that God modelled for me through Jesus Christ. Many years, Advent is begun with the cry of John the Baptist calling the people to repent and believe, calling people to turn from their sinful ways and embrace the way of God. Perhaps, this year, we hear the Grinch, modern prophet calling us to turn from materialism and ALL that distracts us from preparing to live as if God’s ways was already fully known on the earth. In this time of preparation, we hear the cries of the prophets who call us back.
And so, we find ourselves like the prophet Isaiah crying out to God to tear open the heavens and come down. The prophet Isaiah might have felt like the Grinch in the early days after Persia took over Babylon, late 6th century BCE. While the Israelite residents exiled to Babylon were given the promise of return to their homeland, anxiety and uncertainty lay just below the surface. What exactly did King Cyrus mean by this action? Could it be trusted? Was this really a new era or a mere lulling to comfort before the striking?
Was this the promised time of peace? Of God’s way? Did it include all of God’s people or merely the chosen elite who had been sent off to Babylon? Throughout third Isaiah, that is chapters 40-66, written in a distinctive voice from the previous chapters and in a later time, there are hints that this desire for God’s way and God’s promises are not just for the chosen of Israel, not just for all of Israel, but for ALL of the world. It is communal request that God will act on behalf of the people as a whole and on behalf of the individuals who make up that whole.
Can we join our voices? We find ourselves asking God to be known to us and to the world, to fix the mess that we find ourselves and all those around us. We find ourselves asking for a sign of hope, a promise of future and a way forward. Whenever we find ourselves crying out in pain and agony for the world we live in (small and wide), we know that there is sin that separates us from God and we want to be reconciled to God. When we cry out, we remember that we are calling out for Christ. Christ was born for THIS!
And if we had our way, many of us would prefer all the candles be lit this week. No waiting needed. We could get hope, love, joy, peace, and Christ, all in one scoop and then move on in living in God’s perfect way. We forget that we need Advent. We need the preparation time for our hearts and minds, for the ways that we have gotten quite comfortable with. We can not change on a dime. If we are honest, we have often missed the mark and need weeks (and probably much longer than that) to prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming, Christ’s perfect way.
So, when? This is the question of countdowns to Christmas, to which Advent is often compared. When will the Christ child be born? When is Christ coming again? When will God make everything all right? When will the upside world be turned right side up?
This question is not a new one or a strictly Christian one, either. Our gospel lesson this morning is the answer that Jesus both already did and will in the future show a different way of living and being in the world. The reality of incarnation, that is God is with us, God lives with flesh, is God shows us how to be God’s people through Jesus. This is what we are looking for when we are waiting for Christmas. But there is danger in this. If God becomes human, it becomes all too easy to make God like us; to look for God in human ways and human forms; to hold God to our standards. “Keep alert” for all the ways we could now think that we might finally “get” God. It cuts through any sentimentality and romanticism about Christmas and reminds us that incarnation is risky business. The darkening of the sun, the dimming of the moon’s light, and the stars falling from heaven means the end of the world as we have known it. That death will be no more because God will die is something to anticipate during Advent. It’s to speak the truth, about ourselves and our unrealistic expectations; about God and how God exceeds them.
In the Dr. Seuss story, the Grinch comes because he thinks from the outer trappings that he has understood Christmas and he dislikes it. His heart is changed, not when he is given a present and included in the holiday traditions, but when he understands Christmas is more than what it was presented to be.
How have you been living? Is the Grinch coming to your house to gather up your Advent distractions? Or will the Grinch and others see someone trying to live in the way of Christ, preparing the way for the fullness understanding of Christ’s incarnation? What exactly are you preparing for this Advent?
This is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
Meditations For Your Week
November 30—December 6