Sunday, November 30, 2008

An Advent Sermon: David Dubay @ St. James, Charleston SC

This is written to speak not to read.. in include it with all the typos and bad grammar that I fix as I read it. I think the audio is not far behind this posting.
Grace and peace to you in Jesus Christ, who was and is, and is to come.

This was preached Nov. 30th @ St. James, Charleston (James Island)
copyright David Dubay 2008

Welcome to Advent…

According to Webster the word “advent” means: the coming into being or use

The word Advent brings to mind a sense or a feeling that something is about to happen…. That something is coming.

Sometimes we know what the something is. Sometimes we think we know what that something is. Sometimes that something surprises us with what it is……

Like having a baby….they can tell you and tell you what it’s going to be like in that Advent period before you receive that blessed package…but until you’re changing that diaper or waiting up for the kid to come home from something a little too late. The reality is always different from the preparation lecture or the encyclopedia sized baby books…

The Season of Advent is like that for me… and over the years the meaning of the season has changed in my life…and I think you can relate. It really depends on how old you are and how much you listen to the bible readings in church….

For me…for a long time…. Advent was simply the season before Christmas…. The season that people would refer to as the Christmas Season. The time of year when my family would begin preparing for the Day of Present Giving….

We’d start limiting the colors of the clothes we’d wear… around my house things seemed to turn to mostly green and red… mother would bring out these really terrible sweaters….with giant elves and reindeer on them and wear them in public…

The music would change…the TV shows would change…we’d get all excited about a deer named Rudolf with an odd electric nasal deformity and a possessed snowman who sang…chased kids around saying ‘happy birthday’. And this would lead, eventually, to the 25th of Dec.…

Somewhere in there we’d be reminded that it was also the day we remember the birth of the tiny baby Jesus…who was born in a barn…and who apparently was visited by shepherds and wise men within about 4 minutes of being born because a star put a giant spotlight on the barn and the animals all started talking….

Later….as I grew older Advent became a deeper and more rich season for me….
When I was about 16 my parish priest told me that Advent was much like Lent in that it is a penitential season. He told me that I should be taking special time to pray and concentrate on the birth of Jesus and what that means. So around that time, the baby Jesus became less of an extra add on to Advent….but the center of my worship as I would figuratively and literally prepare myself for the birth of Jesus….that I would then think about and wonder about things like if Jesus were to be born today where it take place or who would be his mother or what race would he be and what did a baby, the Son of God being born into poverty mean to me. So it became a time when I often became quiet. When my prayer life grew. But like with all would end for me…around 3pm on the 25th and I’d go back to being less prayerful and less introspective…

And then…in my adult years…in my years as a minister, something very stressful happened…. I started reading my Bible and not just being read to. I started listening to sermons. I started praying through the lectionary and I find that Advent is not just about Go tell it on the mountain…that Jesus is going to be born….but along with that that he’s coming again for the last time…. That the readings for Advent take us to the manger and take us to the end of days….

What a conundrum…. What in the world am I supposed to feel here. It’s so stressful.

Add to stress of planning for Christmas…the food and the shopping and the snowman sweaters and the gifts for people who give you gifts that you weren’t expecting but can’t send away empty handed….. Add to the anxiety that fills my heart when I think about the misuse of the season; of the secularization of the Christian celebration; the Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas and the Corporate greed that sweeps the nation and leaks into my own home….into my own family….and was so much a part of who I was as a child……. And now…Jesus is coming back…

It’s almost more than I can bear….

And I think that pressure for me comes from what I think the second coming means for me…..because I have read the whole left behind series…and saw the movie.. I’ve read all the scary parts of the book of Revelation. I know that somehow even though I’ve been told that I’m covered by the blood of Jesus that I’ve missed some minute detail and I’ll be standing there and everyone else will get on the Holy Elevator and I’ll be there….dare I say it…left be…..side the church building…

I am guilty of that guilty feeling…as are many of us….

That, although I would rather be with Jesus in the New Jerusalem and on the New Earth….I know that I’ve missed something.. That I’m not prepared..

I’m prepared for carols, and Candlelight services and Santa but today’s Gospel reading says nothing about those things….

Lets review:
24“At that time, after the anguish of those days,
the sun will be darkened,
the moon will give no light,
25the stars will fall from the sky,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory. 27And he will send out his angels to gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven. (Mark 13:4-27 NLT)

I would love to hear the Christmas Carol written from that verse…Fa la la la la the moon goes dark…..

Okay…you get my point…and it seems dark and dreary now…

So hears the good news….as I had to discover…and as I’m sure many of us here today already know. The second coming is not at all about nervousness, whaling or gnashing of teeth… it’s about freedom and liberation, and salvation and kept promises ….and eternal Joy….Joy to the world in fact ….Halleluiah in the highest in fact….in fact take the feeling you get from your favorite Christmas carol and multiply it by a thousand….

And for me the most exciting thing about Jesus’ coming to get me and us is that the longing and striving and hoping and waiting will turn into just being with Jesus…

Someone. once pointed out to me that Eternal life with Jesus was a life without hope…

Which at first sounded really sad to me…until he pointed out that Hope is about anticipating something good happening…and with Jesus….the good is there and there’s no need to hope for it….which in this world is hard to fathom…but it’s true…

And if that’s not encouraging enough as we head into the crazy, worldly, month…. Listen to the wonderful blessing that we, God’s church get from the Bible today. Listen to what St. Paul writes to the church in Corinth:

As I read this…hear it written right to you…right to your address…your name is on the letter…

3May God our cFather and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
4I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus. 5Through him, God has enriched your church in every way—with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge. 6This confirms that what I dtold you about Christ is true. 7Now you have every spiritual egift you need as you eagerly wait for the freturn of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. 9God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into gpartnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:3-9 NLT)

So although sometimes for me , life may feel like a looooooong sit in the universe’s giant waiting room…. The Lord is in the midst of us now….He has tinkered with our hearts…. He has meddled with our Spiritual DNA….he has been slipping us gifts…powerful gifts…. Survival gifts while we weren’t looking.. While we’re out sweating and biting and scratching on Black Friday…God’s been putting, faith, love, charity, courage, wisdom, and words of knowledge under our trees….

And all we need do to receive this gifts…is believe. It’s not about number of Bible studies you attend, it’s not about giving to charities, it’s not about the He’s the reason for the season buttons…. It’s about the transformation and the blessing and the visible presence of Christ in your life that comes from believing…

Believing that He is with you
now, through the Holy Spirit.

Believing that you do NOT have what it takes to fulfill his commands but HE does through you…believing that even in the darkest hour; the most depressing economic downturn; the most stressful family holiday meal…..that you are NEVER….EVER alone…..never without a savior and redeemer….

Than that is something worth singing about….that is worth decking the halls and preparing the Wassail….that is worth….staying awake for a midnight service or dressing like a complete nut!

Jesus rushing to our rescue as Emmanuel again and finally….that is what gives me the Christmassy feeling these days…. And I hope you leave here filled with it as well.

Filled with the love of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit in a way that makes you amazingly obnoxious for Jesus….that causes you to bring Christ to others, to feed, clothe, and bless others,….and to tell them about the Jesus you know.

And to recall with great Joy, great Joy….that

As St. Mark tells us, and I believe we can picture a smile on his face as he told this to the people of his day….

24after the anguish of those days,
the sun will be darkened,
the moon will give no light,
25the stars will fall from the sky,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory. 27And he will send out his angels to gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.

[And, although]
no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. 33And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert (Mark 24-33 NLT)

That’s right! Mark says….with an exclamation point STAY ALERT.….like you’re waiting for Christmas morning…. STAY ALERT like you’ve been waiting all year for this very morning….STAY ALERT like you’re a Child waiting for Santa….but then getting someone much much much better…and for all time.

For even though, we spend this time preparing to remember the incarnation…the time when God became one of us…When Jesus came to town….

It was the baby Jesus…who in 25 days we will find lying in the manger once again….who died that we might live….who took our place in punishment and set us free….

and who has promised…in his Word. That in His good time, we, who believe, will live with him forever….

And that is the Advent I can sit through…that is the Advent that calms me in the lines at the mall. That is the Advent you and I enter into today.

• Seek him this day.
• Call upon His name.
• Spend this church season not stressed but on your knees.

Because today we remember once again that Jesus is not just a figurine in a crèche… but that Jesus is Lord.

And for that I say…thanks be to God.

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