Sermons That Work

Anticipation, Advent 3 (C) – 2006

December 17, 2006

When was the last time that you were filled with so much anticipation that you actually thought you might burst before the anticipated event arrived? Maybe it was a time when you were expecting a visit from an old friend or a present from someone special. Or maybe it was a time when you were so very proud of your keen selection of the perfect gift for that very special person and you wanted the time to arrive when you would present the gift. These experiences often describe time as slowing or standing almost still – far from the reality of time continuing forward. The best example of this for some of you might be the time you had a child traveling with you or remembering what it felt like when you were a child on a trip somewhere. The inevitable “Are we there yet?” was sure to be a part of the journey.

Then there are those who have chosen to stuff so many things into a given space in time (or maybe even place) that there is barely room to breath let alone notice the details of life surrounding them. These might be the same people whose experience of time is that it flies – often suggesting that it is out of control and passes by barely noticing what is contained in the space. I imagine their experience of time might be that time is the enemy that prevents things from happening at their desired pace or prevents them from doing all the things they would like to do. Time might also be the reason or excuse for things left undone.

And yet time does pass every day with the rising and setting of the sun, the moon, and the stars. Seasons, in their cycles of life and death, growth and rest, find their way into our lives through the clothes we wear and the athletic games on television rather than through a real connection to the earth’s cycles, which contain the signs of the awesome nature of creation and our Creator.

Then there are the church seasons marked by biblical and liturgical events that provide us with a sense of connection to a deeper life – our spiritual life and relationship to God and our communities. The seasons of the church are times of remembering and reliving with acute awareness the events of our tradition and history – our identity. It is the fabric of our nature as Christians and people of God. But even the church shares the danger of methodically moving through time in such a way that the wonder of the season is removed or replaced by things that do not necessarily bring notice to the season or God’s presence.

We are in the season of Advent, which literally means waiting. This is the season that marks the beginning of the liturgical year in the church and anticipates the birth of Jesus. How do we know it is the season of Advent? Is it in the addition of the Advent wreath into the church décor or the prayers said around it at the beginning of the week at our Sunday service? Or maybe it is the music we sing in this season or the liturgical colors that have changed. Well, for some, that may be the only sign that the season has changed or that today is the third week of our waiting period. Unfortunately, it is probably not enough to give us a sense of anticipation of the great event, the birth of Jesus. Instead, we are most likely distracted by or caught up in the spirit of Christmas that includes decorations, shopping malls, and holiday parties.

Our lessons today and each week during Advent remind us that God is with us and that what we are waiting for is the renewal of the relationship with God through Jesus. We might be able to learn something about this waiting from women, or husbands and fathers expecting the birth of a child. Their journey begins nine months before the birth but each day they are conscious and aware of the life already present. They know because there are changes in moods and attitudes about important things, like where they live and how they will create a calm and welcoming environment for the child. They experience changes in clothes and sizes as their bodies accommodate the developing child – a very real presence. They begin to examine their lives and their priorities considering the life changes that they are facing, and they compensate for those changes as they prepare for their new roles and identities.

But during the whole pregnancy, their wait includes a real knowledge of the life that they are bringing into the world. It is they who need to change to make room for this child. It is their identity and life that is being examined and molded. It is a perfect image of what Advent is: waiting for the time when we have prepared for the birth of Jesus into our lives. And it may help us to understand the lessons today.

Just in case you think these lessons are harsh and apocalyptic, I hope the context of time and waiting leads you into a different place.

Maybe like the people in our Gospel you are ready to ask, “What then should we do?”

Maybe you will consider that the readings over the last three weeks are actually inviting us to use this time to let go of the things that keep us from knowing God in every moment, to see “forgiveness of sins” and repentance as the removal of those encumbrances bringing us more closely to the new birth, new knowledge of the saving grace which accompanies the birth of Jesus.

If we are willing to go there, then we have no choice but to acknowledge that repentance is more than feeling sorrow for our sins; we are called to action – action that is the path to renewing our covenant with God through each other. We are being called to shed the blinders that come from a busy world, a busy life, a busy attitude and replace it with NOTHING. Nothing but the space to see the world as God would have us see it.

We can be assured that this exercise will transform the way we hear the Christmas music already playing on the radio, the way we see the people we pass on the street or in the mall, the content of our prayers, and the focus of what is really important: Jesus is coming, “Are we there yet?”

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Christopher Sikkema


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