Sermons That Work

A Season of Signs, Advent 3 (B) – 2002

December 15, 2002

Advent is a season of signs.

Some signs are sacred; some are secular. Some familiar; some unrecognized. Each Advent sign points to the one who first came to us in the obscurity of Bethlehem and to the same one who is now to come “in great glory to judge the living and the dead.” Each Advent sign points to Jesus.

Four candles burning one after the other on a wreath of green, each candle silently bringing us one week closer to Christmas. An Advent Calendar, made by Hallmark, of a Victorian English street of half-timbered houses with their numbered paper doors and windows — one for each day of Advent — and each hiding yet another piece of chocolate — a calendar of sweets leading to Christmas.

The Jesse Tree with its awkward white ornaments so carefully made by children who see beauty in such strange shapes and who place them on the tree with mechanical determination, as if following the rules of an aesthetic that adults cannot know. Advent is a season for the young — and the young at heart.

In the chancel of one parish church there is a full-size, wooden, crossed-legged manger with a bale of hay nearby. In Advent, as parishioners pass this manger on their way to Communion, they take a handful of straw and place it in the manger. On Christmas Eve, a real baby from the parish will sleep in this freshly made cradle of straw — reminding all of the first little child of Bethlehem and that first long-ago Christmas.

“There’s a real baby in the manger and we’ve made a bed of straw for him.”

Some Advent signs are sacred; some are secular. Some Advent signs are from the past, to remind us and warn us of things to come.

A young man from New Jersey speaks of an unusual Advent sign in this way: “ The kitchen in our house is too dark. But from the window of this dark kitchen, I am able to see the world. Not the large and scary world of television news but the simpler, more immediate world of a Japanese magnolia that stands just beyond the porch — a tree too small for shade but big enough to hold one or two birds’ nests every year. I am never sure of the number until just before Christmas when the crisp, brown leaves suddenly fall away to reveal the abandoned nests. But then, as if the tree were already preparing for next year’s guests, and despite the cold threat of early snow, tiny green and silver buds already decorate its branches.”

A writer from the South speaks of Advent in a different setting: “B J’s Country Store, that once marked a railroad crossing and busy rural hub, has not been open for years. The gas pumps out front with their broken glass canister tops stand, like the rusted, red and white Coca-Cola sign, only as silent reminders of what used to be. No one lives in the country any more, no one shops at B J’s, no one buys gas or pays any attention to the railroad crossing. Yet the silver X-shaped crosses marking the railroad crossing, shining as bright as the day they were first put up, are never noticed and their words of warning: STOP, LOOK, and LISTEN, are never heeded. Their words of Advent warning: STOP, LOOK, LISTEN, are never heeded. ”

Advent is a season for warnings; Advent is a season for expectation and longing; Advent is a season of preparation for things to come. It is a time to pay attention to signs.

Some Advent signs come from Holy Scripture with words of warning and hope about things to come. “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.”

Each Advent sign points to the one who first came in the obscurity of Bethlehem and to the same one who is now to come “in great glory to judge the living and the dead.” Each Advent sign points to Jesus.

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Christopher Sikkema


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