Today we lit the first candle of Advent in church to open the service. After it was over, we decorated the sanctuary, or shall I say the congregation decorated the sanctuary. I met with a member and two of his friends who are interested in joining our church. It was great to be able to have such a meeting, but …. I wanted to help with the decorating or at least take pictures of it. Now as I print this I understand just how unwelcoming it sounds. Yes we want new people, but on our time schedule and when we think it is convenient and …
Yikes, I was really a bit out of sorts on this whole thing. I need to lock myself in a closet before services so that I can concentrate. Not sure how to work this out in the future. I think I need to set up a private little office in the back room for the before services time. At any rate, here is the message from today. Elisabeth questioned some of what I expressed today. I guess this congregation is used to me giving them my honest opinions about life and what is going on. Perhaps that is all part of me being sort of a Pastor still in training. Hopefully you will find something of value in the message.
The scriptures used were: Isaiah 2:1-5, Romans 13:11-14 and Matthew 24:36-44. The title was, “Keep Awake.”
The Advent candle that we lit today is called the Hope Candle. The words of Isaiah that were read for the lighting of the candle seem to be words of hope in what is becoming a darker and darker world. I noticed especially the last part of verse 4 where is says, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” What a wonderful thing to hope for. Sort of like the verses from Isaiah 65 which we read two weeks ago where it said the wolf and the lamb shall feed together and the lion will eat straw like the ox. We light the candle of hope—with the hope being of peace to come.
What a wonderful thing to hope for: Peace, and yet what an ironic thing to talk about in a time when some people are constantly looking over their shoulders wondering when the next terror attack is going to happen. There were news reports of a threat in New York during the big Thanksgiving parade, but fortunately nothing came of it.
I want to say we don’t have to worry about terrorism here in the safety of our small community. I want to stand here and say this is stuff that belongs to the rest of the world, but not to us. I want to believe that if I don’t turn on the television or check the internet that none of the unrest or the craziness that is in our world actually exists. But it does, and in some ways it is closer than we think. Maybe we don’t really worry about someone dropping a bomb on us or doing a mass shooting, but there are many things that affect us personally that make us want to lose hope or forget any attempt to live in peace.
For example just as I finally sat down at the computer to put this message together, one of our younger community members thought it would be a fun time to use our street as a race track. It got so bad that instead of pondering on the peace of beating swords into plowshares or spears into pruning hooks, I began to imagine beating straight pipes off a pickup or perhaps just plain beating the driver. Not very peaceful or even hopeful, and just about the time I was thinking that he had left town, the noise came back, and later when it quit, I was so annoyed I was hoping it would show up just one more time, so I could jump out into the street and give him a piece of my mind.
And then there are the times when I do turn on the news only to be annoyed by hearing the latest antics of the pipe-line protestors who are working harder than ever to make themselves known, while the Corps of Engineers has told them it is time to go home, winter is coming and living in tents will become far too dangerous.
Today we light the candle of hope, in a political era when it was reported that many families were considering skipping thanksgiving gatherings so as to avoid disagreements between members with differing views. Boy if that were the case, we might never get together. Perhaps that is some of what was meant by the lamb and the wolf eating together or beating the plowshares and the spears into something that is useful on a daily basis. Or the other part of the verse that says, neither shall they learn war anymore. Note it doesn’t say they won’t participate in war, but it backs it up, it erases it all the way back to they won’t learn war any more.
(Here I inserted a story about how James and I don’t own and never have owned guns. I told how our son-in-law, Nate, is the only person to bring a gun into my house. I told how he intends to purchase a real gun for my grandson, and how that same grandson has so many toy guns that the kids were able to play a shoot each other game in the basement over Thanksgiving and shoot off five rounds in each gun before needing to reload. The line in Isaiah 2:4 does not say they won’t participate in war any more, it says they won’t learn war any more.)
Our New Testament lessons today are both about the “end times.” These are lessons about what is called Jesus’ second coming, when he comes back to bring us to live with him in full eternity. These are lessons about the end of the world. Lessons that are not often talked about in some churches, and honestly they are lessons that make some of us a little uncomfortable. Why? Well when you think about it, we talk about the present because this is something we know, and especially with our advancing technology, we have proof of most of what is happening now through social media (provided it isn’t tampered). We even have some pretty good ideas about the past based on history, what we read and what we can prove scientifically, but the future, well that is just a guess, or at least a leap of faith in terms of what to expect.
Sure we have the scriptures and the words that Jesus left for us, but even his words start with “But about that day or hour no one knows…” On the other hand there have been plenty in modern times who thought they knew when the coming was going to happen, or to use their terminology when the world was going to end. (In a side note, I worked with a fellow teacher in Eagle Butte who was constantly going on and on about nuclear war and what were we going to do about it. I so badly wished I had the courage to ask her if she had any faith at all. Really if we are believing Christians is the end so scary?)
Anyway, it wasn’t that long ago when we had the Mayan calendar business. I remember having to deal with that in school with some of the sixth graders, at M-P, who were told that was a true thing. Before that there was the Y2K thing when the calendar turned to 2000. Of course that was more about computer disasters than the world ending. And I think back to that cult in California in 1997 (Heaven’s Gate) where they were all found dead in their beds because they thought they would be transported to another world on the tail of the Halle-Bopp meteor.
I was actually surprised that no one thought the recent super moon was a sign of some sort. I, personally, wondered if there was anything going on when I heard that the white buffalo that had been living in Jamestown for many years passed away during that super moon. Jesus, God’s own Son, told us that no one, not the angels in heaven, not even Christ knew the day or the hour that God would choose to put an end to life as we know it now. Much like we don’t know how many days we have on this earth. Yes we can look at life expectancy and compare ourselves to family members and to others with similar life-styles, or health patterns, but we don’t know how long any of us will be here.
What we can do is follow the instructions that Jesus left for his disciples (keep awake) or what Paul left for the Romans (wake from sleep). Both instructions say to be awake/be alert. As we read the messages we learn that it isn’t so much the physical alertness, or physically being awake as it is mental and mostly spiritual alertness about which we are to be aware. It is more than the idea of not letting your guard down. It is about not practicing the things that go against what Christ teaches. And in some ways keeping alert/keeping awake is about not becoming apathetic and complacent and just going along with the flow of what is popular. It is about staying awake spiritually, reading and studying and learning and knowing what it is that Christ is asking us to do and to be.
Advent is a time of expectation. I used to believe that as we approach Advent, it is with the idea that it ends in Christmas. And yes, the season of Advent ends with Christmas, with the birth of the Christ Child. But in reality, the expectation of what comes to us in the form of a child and grows up to be the crucified Jesus does not end with Christmas. It ends with Easter. My freshman year of college when I went to our Christmas Concert for the first time, I was really excited about how they blended the choir with the drama department and made it this big production, but I was annoyed with the fact that they took the Christmas story all the way to Easter.
It took me a couple of years until I got it, until I understood what it really meant. The expectation is not for the baby. The expectation is for the Savior who comes back, the Savior who returns to take us to be with him in eternity. It doesn’t matter whether that is when we pass on from this life individually or if we are still here in the flesh when he returns for all. We need to be on alert; we need to be awake and spiritually ready to be part of that peace when we will learn war no more. Advent is about more than preparing our homes and our sanctuaries for Christmas. Advent is about preparing ourselves, our spirits for the coming of Christ, and for keeping and sharing that hope each and every day. What a wonderful hope that is… Amen!