Reclaim Christmas: Reclaim Time 12/2/12

The world prepares for Christmas differently than the church. The world sings, “Ba rumpa pump um pum” to take it’s mind off the fiscal cliff and to try to get people to spend money. The church pays attention to the cliffs and struggles of our lives to move us to deepen our hope and longing for the coming Christ.

Luke 21:25-36  “It will seem like all hell has broken loose—sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, 26 in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers-that-be quaking. 27 “And then—then!—they’ll see the Son of Man welcomed in grand style—a glorious welcome! 28 When all this starts to happen, up on your feet. Stand tall with your heads high. Help is on the way!    29 He told them a story. “Look at a fig tree. Any tree for that matter. 30 When the leaves begin to show, one look tells you that summer is right around the corner. 31 The same here—when you see these things happen, you know God’s kingdom is about here. 32 Don’t brush this off: I’m not just saying this for some future generation, but for this one, too—these things will happen. 33 Sky and earth will wear out; my words won’t wear out.   34 “But be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap, 35 for it’s going to come on everyone, everywhere, at once. 36 So, whatever you do, don’t go to sleep at the switch. Pray constantly that you will have the strength and wits to make it through everything that’s coming and end up on your feet before the Son of Man.”

 

December 2, 2012

First Sunday of Advent   Reclaim Christmas: Reclaim Time

This summer when I visited my brother in Maine, my niece Sarah invited me to a race at her school. She is a runner and she is fast, but she didn’t just invite us to watch the race. She invited me to be in the race. It was a fundraiser for her school. I have not been in a race for years. I have not run for years. But Sarah made it easy for me. She said, “I will run the course two times while you walk it.” That sounded like something I could manage – 1 and half miles walking, while high school students whizzed by me running. I could even walk the dog.

Sarah came in first among juniors…. You don’t want to know my time. I had a nice walk with my wife and my dog, and I forgot to go over the finish line at the end to stop the clock on my time.

Christmas these days has become like a frantic race against the clock. The race for Christmas this year began a few days before Halloween. At least that’s when I first started hearing Christmas carols in some of the local stores. I find it annoying. It is quite common for many of us to bemoan the Christmas rush and the bastardization of what we know can be a really holy time. We complain about the pressure and the rush and the commercialization, and then we make our list and we get out there and go shopping.

Some people are way ahead in the race. They already have their Christmas shopping done! And some of us are swamped – trying to figure out how we are going to manage the bills, how we are going to manage getting meals cooked, how we’re going to race through already busy lives while adding parties, pageants, and present-purchasing.

 

Meanwhile, Jeremiah and Luke, in our scripture readings for today, seem like they are running a completely different race. For them the race is not toward a holiday of excess spending and excess drinking, but toward a world of fairness, safety, and hope. Luke and Jeremiah both predict this morning that a time is coming soon when fairness will be the rule instead of arbitrariness, selfishness, and injustice. Jeremiah and Luke effectively point the way for Advent hopefulness, because they were both written in a time when hope was not obvious, when the people of Israel were facing exile and when the young Christian community after the fall of Jerusalem was wondering whether the kingdom of God was as near as they had hoped.

I listened to a talk online this week in which the speaker insisted that hope is a function of struggle.  Hope is a function of struggle. We reach for hope in the midst of struggling.  When we’re not in touch with what we’re struggling with in our lives, it’s hard for us to have authentic hope. In fact not struggling can be a form of hopelessness.  Real hope requires a vulnerable heart, open to God’s leading.

Notice that Luke writes about a time of struggle, where everything is falling apart – the Temple has been destroyed and the whole society was collapsing. This is the time when Luke calls for the greatest hope, when the chaos monsters are making a big mess of their lives, when we don’t know how we’re going to make ends meet, when we’re struggling and can only live one day at a time.

‘Be on guard,” Jesus says in Luke, so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life. (The Message translation makes the application to this season even more obvious, “Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping…. Pray constantly that you will have the strength and wits to make it through everything that’s coming and end up on your feet before the Human One.”)

Struggling keeps that sharp edge of expectation sharp, and forces you to rely on the deep hope that is the birth or re-birth of God into your life. That struggle is part of my life right now, I have to say.  My wife Cathy lost her job this month and it’s a hard time to be thinking about relying just on one income. Her last day at work is tomorrow. I’m not worried, not just because I know she will find another job before too long, but because when I face a struggle like this, I know who I can really count on.  I have hope in the struggle, because of the presence and the power of the Living God.

It even makes the challenge that I’m putting out to us to reclaim Christmas a little bit easier for us to take on. I am challenging us as a congregation this year to consider spending less on Christmas and giving more. Specifically, I am suggesting that we take on the challenge put out by Michael Slaughter at Ginghamsburg Church in the Cincinnati area.  He challenged his large congregation to give to God an equivalent amount to what they spend on Christmas gifts. In his book, It’s Not Your Birthday, he details how this challenge has enabled his church to give millions of dollars in help to the people of Rwanda to help to end poverty and hunger there.

Today’s communion offering right after the sermon will go to New Jersey churches for Hurricane Sandy relief, a little closer to home.  Those of you who are guests today are our guests and you don’t need to give to our regular offering, but I would invite to give just for that offering by using the envelopes in the pews and writing “Hurricane Sandy relief” on the envelope.

Finally, if you like me have some issues that you are particularly struggling with during this season, I invite you to a special kind of Advent prayer – getting up a little earlier each morning in December and lighting a candle in the darkness. Sit with that one lit candle and wait in hope, offering your struggle to the Living God in Christ, the One who is our hope, the One who takes our vulnerability in our struggle and turns it into hope, no matter how hard things are or how hard they become.

Do not be afraid to wait, sit in hope and wait for God. The world says we need Christmas right now, we need Christmas music right after Halloween to remind people to shop. The church says this is a time of waiting in hope for our truest gift, the gift of the Christ child. The world says we need lots of extra food in this time, parties and drinking to keep our minds off our struggles. The church says prayer and even fasting will gift us with a deeper hope and sense of gratitude. The world says we need lots of lights to keep us from being depressed. God says, “You give the light of one candle, and I will give your heart the Light of the World.”

Communion Hymn: God Almighty We are waiting.