This is the message I shared this morning in church. I didn’t think there was anything to get emotional about as I was writing it, but for some reason, I had a hard time keeping it together on the last page. What a baby I am sometimes. The scriptures used were: Jeremiah 33:14-16 and Luke 21:25-36. The title was “Anticipation.”
There was a popular song some years ago by Carly Simon called Anticipation. The chorus goes, “Anticipation you’re making me late, keeping me waiting… The tune was catchy and I remember sometime between when the song was popular and now, it was used by a ketchup company as their theme song. The point was that the ketchup was really thick and it didn’t come out of the bottle very fast, but it was so good that you were willing to wait for it. Anticipation…
Each year as Advent begins, I like to re-read a book I picked up in the early 1990’s. It is, The Twenty-four Days Before Christmas by Madeleine L’Engle. It is one of the stories of the Austin family. This particular book is about the 24 days in December in the life of this family. The father is a Dr., the mother is about to have a baby, and the character who tells the story is going to be the angel in the Christmas pageant, and then a blizzard hits.
The fun part of the book, which I try to copy in my own way each year, is how the family does one thing each day in order to get ready for Christmas. It might be bake cookies, hang the stockings, decorate a particular part of the house, but the idea is that one thing is done each day as a way to help the children anticipate the coming without the nagging and complaining about what their presents will be.
Yes, Advent is about anticipation. It is about the hopeful, exciting anticipation of a Messiah that would enter the world to save the people of Israel, the people of King David from the oppression of an outside ruler. Certainly in the days of Jeremiah, the people could have benefited from a great ruler to come and take care of them. But it was not to happen in their time. God was actually ready to cut them off; in fact God would have been happy to be rid of them for all of their evil ways.
The verses we read in Jeremiah are a prediction about the coming Messiah. It was a reassurance for the Israelites that God would fulfill the promises made to them as a people so long ago. It was that promise to King David that his line would carry on. It was a promise that there would be justice. Yet if we read on, we know that the next chapter gives the prediction that Jerusalem would fall to the Babylonians and many would be taken away in captivity. Perhaps it was hard for the people at the time to hear of the Hope of a righteous branch coming to save them while they were living in such turmoil. Perhaps they were at a time when Hope seemed so far away, so unattainable. But mostly we know that the people of Israel, the descendants of King David throughout history were busy looking for a sword wielding Messiah, not a baby born in a stable and put to sleep in a manger.
Now if we go back to the anticipation song and the ketchup commercial, we might agree that the months leading up to the birth of a baby can feel like that slow moving ketchup. It takes so long to get here, but after it finally happens, it is pretty much worth the wait. And, when it finally is on the way, it seems to take forever, even if it isn’t that long. Our trip to Dickinson last week on Tuesday night was about as quick as we are ever going to make that one. We didn’t even need more than one bathroom/get out and stretch break, and then when we got there the baby wasn’t born until Thursday morning. When we finally were given the invitation to come and see him, we were in and out of the hospital and back on the road in an hour getting back home by Thursday afternoon, which I am still wondering why, but that is another story.
Anticipation, hope, waiting…It is hard to believe that we are already in another Advent Season. Although I wasn’t here for the first week of Advent in 2013, by the time we get to Christmas this year, we will have spent our third season of Advent together. I guess it is one of those, “My how time flies when you are having fun,” sort of things.
In terms of seasons, Advent is so much more fun than Lent, at least for me it is. The excitement, the planning, the anticipation is just so much more fun and exciting than other Church seasons of the year. Advent might seem more festive to me because of the decorating and the candles and the lights and the sparkle. I guess it is also the anticipation of the celebration of the birth of Jesus that comes in the culmination.
And yet for many Advent and Christmas is a depressing time. (Here is where I lost it again, this time not thinking of those who have passed on, but those who live so stinking far away.) It can certainly be a sad and lonely time when you are missing someone. It can be even harder to think of being without a loved one during these holidays. It is hard enough to think of being away from family and loved ones when we are isolated by distance or shut in by weather as we can be around here. God’s Hope is for us in these times too.
The gospel lesson we have for today in Luke almost seemed to me to be out of order, like it was meant for another day, or that I had misread it as I nearly messed up what we were using last week. Yet when you stop, take a step back and realize that Advent or the days leading up to Christmas are not always the happy, exciting time of anticipation that we feel when looking with hopeful or childlike eyes then we know that the words of today, are really the words we need to hear.
Today is a great day to read the gospel words of Hope that Jesus came to earth as the Messiah. Jesus not only came to earth in human form, and lived and taught and healed and preached the good news, but when he died, he rose again to save us from our sins. And mostly the Hope candle we light is because Jesus IS. Jesus IS resurrected, and Jesus IS coming to take us to him again.
The Hope candle today is not just about the anticipation of our journey through these next four weeks to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the Christ Child, nor is it lit so we can be reminded that our Hope, our real hope is for Christ’s return whether it be in great triumph to gather all of us to be with him, or if it be in a quiet, private calling to us, to take us by the hand and lead us home. Those are both very important things to remember during Advent, and we might want to look at the Luke passage and think that last piece, the part about Jesus calling us home to be with him is enough, but it is not.
I think to the words we heard last Sunday from Rev. Ranking about how we can be “Surprised by Life” might have been exactly what we needed to hear before we got to today’s message of the beginning of Advent. When I printed that title in the bulletin, I wasn’t sure what the message would be, were we to hear that we should be surprised by the life we are having or the life we have left in us or what. And I think I heard that we can be surprised by what is put in front of us. By the many things we encounter along the way. Things we had no idea would be there, yet they show up and surprise us, and life takes turns and twists and gives us opportunities that are beyond any of our expectations or anticipations.
Today as we leave here with the thoughts of the beginning of Advent, let us go with the idea of the Candle of Hope lit within us. Let’s take that candle, burning inside of us outside these doors and let the sparks fall and pass on all through the week. Let us do that in order that Christ’s return becomes real not on some ambiguous future date, but every day, today tomorrow and the next day because of our words, our actions, our thoughts, our prayers, our willingness to care for each other and those around us. Let’s make this Advent the time Christ was able to return to earth through us, Let us be willing to be Christ’s instruments in the world around us. Amen!
(Let’s make sure that Christ’s return comes with our help, not in spite of us.) I wasn’t going to use this last piece, that is why it appears as it does. I ended up working it into the last paragraph and telling on myself. I was not the easiest person to listen to during Thanksgiving with the family. I had a few snotty comments that made me know I should have stayed home and let them be mad at me for not coming rather than for showing up with out the filter between brain and mouth.
May you all have a blessed first week of Advent.