Reclaim Christmas: Reclaim Hope 12/9/12

I am so grateful to have our Walking the Walk visitors here today, asking us what Advent is. Already, I have had some people in my congregation say they never really got the difference between the season of Advent and Christmas, so your question has led to learning here as well. Our first reading was a contemporary poem by Denise Levertov. Every once in a while I have us read something like that to see if people are awake. It always raises the question – what is scripture, what is sacred? What brings the spirit into our midst? We began our proscribed readings in the Gospel of Luke last week (which we definitely consider sacred scripture) and will continue reading Luke for the next year.

I’m going to tell you about 3 controversies, around the holidays, and then we’ll try to hear what John the Baptist is asking of us today. Listen for the word of God for you this day.

Luke 3:1-6   In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.  He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make God’s paths straight.  Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;  and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’

 

Reclaim Christmas: Reclaim Hope

December 9, 2012

Advent for us Christians is a season of preparation for the miracle of Christmas. We take these four weeks before Christmas to light candles, to pray, and to practice repentance as we prepare for the birth of the Christ child. Every year, Christians organize our worship around the life of Jesus. Advent is the first season of the year. Last week was the first week of a new year for us, and these first 4 weeks we ritually prepare for the birth of Jesus. Christmas does not begin until the end of Advent – December 25, the day we celebrate the actual birth.

I’ll tell you a secret about the internal politics of the church if you want to hear it (and this is the first controversy). Some Christians fight about whether to sing Christmas carols during Advent or not. Technically, you don’t sing Christmas carols until Christmas. Some pastors and some music directors these days try to hold off, just like we don’t sing “Alleluia’s” during Lent before Easter. But people in the pews say, “Why aren’t we singing Christmas carols? We hear them everywhere else! Why aren’t we singing them in church?”

Well, the idea is to learn a little patience, to allow ourselves to anticipate the miracle that is coming, and learn to wait. It’s hard. We at St. Luke usually last a week or two. You’ll hear some Christmas songs already leaking into our service today. By next week, they’ll be flooding into our service.  We just can’t help ourselves – no patience…

A second big controversy you may have heard more about is this controversy over Jesus being born from a virgin mother – from Mary. Some Christians feel that believing in the literal birth of Jesus from the virgin Mary is essential to their faith. Others downplay this outrageous belief by saying that it’s a legend and that the original word for virgin in Greek just meant young woman. It’s a shame when people fight about it really, when we get more rigid about our beliefs, because the idea of believing something unbelievable is supposed to loosen us up, not rigidify things. The idea is to fire our dull imaginations, because what we are preparing for is even more unbelievable – that a Messiah is coming, God is being born into the world to change everything – to make everything different, to make everything fair and right.

That’s where we’re heading with all this, just to let you know. And that’s going to take a whole lot of trust.  All year, every Sunday, we Christians make this outrageous claim that the world has already been reclaimed, that this Messiah we call Jesus Christ has already come to make things right. That takes a huge stretch of the imagination in this broken world. But we keep stretching.

 

Let me give you one more controversy, this one more out in the world. For the last few years a small pocket of people have claimed that Christmas is being stolen by politically correct enforcers who insist on saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” They fear that they’re losing Christmas by saying ‘Happy holidays” in order not to offend Jews, Muslims, and others of different faiths. I do not find this particular trend very worrisome. I’ll bet it’s not your top ten worry list either.  What I find much more worrisome is how our whole US society celebrates something they assume is Christmas, when it is really just an excuse for cajoling people earlier and earlier to spend and spend more and more on “Black Friday” and for Christmas.

One of my best friends from high school went away to college and ended up marrying a rabbi, one of the earliest women rabbis in the reform tradition of Judaism. His family wanted to understand his conversion. They wanted to respect him.  Every year when they continued to send Christmas cards and gifts to him, it was as though they did not recognize who he had become.  He was happy to send them Christmas cards, but he wanted them to learn about Judaism and the holidays that he now celebrated.  It took a long time, but he finally got them to realize he celebrated Passover rather than Easter, and Rosh Hashanah at a whole different time than Christmas & New Year’s. My point is that we are not in danger of losing Christianity. We can be confident enough in our faith that we can love and care even for someone who changes to another religion. And we can certainly have community beyond our religious boundaries.

When I was young I felt that the best way for the world to be transformed was for everybody to think like me. If everybody would just think like me, we would all get along. Sometimes Christians think that way too – as do other religions. We think if everybody was Christian, the world would be a great place. Well, that’s not going to happen.  We have a learn other ways to get along than to have everybody be this same.

 

I am so grateful this morning to you folks from Walking the Walk for being here this morning and learning about our faith and teaching our young people about your holidays and your faith. We really want to let you know that this materialistic, commercialistic Christmas that you see in the world is not the one that we are celebrating.

At least we’re trying not to. We still love to sing the Christmas carols, enough that we sing them earlier than we’re supposed to. We listen to John the Baptist call us to repentance during this season of Advent, calling us to repent of the rigid ways we act that lead to controversies when we don’t need them and even more often that keeps us from making controversies when we should make them. John the Baptist says, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.  Make God’s paths straight.  Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the liberation of God.’

Those are rousing words. So if you were bored by today’s service, or put to sleep by anything that happened today, please don’t blame Christianity. We are feeble representatives of our faith, but the faith of Christ challenges us to be part of the transformation of the world and that is anything but boring. We believe in a creative, imaginative, really an unbelievable way that Jesus a baby born in Bethlehem was God born in the flesh to make the world whole and we believe in that same outrageous way that we are called to part of Christ’s work in the world – to become Jesus’s hands and feet and voice in the world. I know that your faith traditions call you as well to be God’s representatives, to be your best selves and to make a difference, and we thank you for being here and joining us to turn the world toward creativity, imagination, and life.

 

Responsive Hymn: 3045 Down by the Jordan