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End Game

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A few years ago, at a clergy couples retreat, the focus was on helping clergy families enjoy the holidays together. It was like the perfect topic for us because my wife and I both work our tails off during the month of December and we often worry about neglect our families too much. So, we spent the time at this retreat talking about ways we can spend more time together as well as devote some time to Advent and Christmas prep so that, less time needs to be spent on study, sermon prep, liturgy prep so that more time can be spent with our family or at the very least, we would all be less stressed.

We invited a man named Dr. Richard Voelz, who is an Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA, to come and led a text study. Y’all know that I am very analytical. I love the technical details of the Biblical texts. What is the historical background of these text? What does this Greek word mean and why is that important? I love to hear all the text critical notes and nuances of the Greek and Hebrew. I might not understand it all, but this is my happy place. That is what you normally get when you go to a text study. Well, Dr. Voelz gets up and says he is not going to do any of that. Instead, he is going to have us do a different activity for each week associated with the text. At first, I thought the whole thing was hokie, but as I got over myself and participated, I found the texts spoke to me differently. Which is good because while I love Advent, it is a strange season. The lessons are weird. The themes are weird. The music is creepy, yet hopeful. So, doing something that helps us engage the theme outside of me talking is a very good thing. So, it is a good thing for us to engage the texts and themes of Advent using other creative means. Each week, there will be an activity that you can do during worship or afterwards (Whether during the Adult forum or at home) that helps you engage the texts in a different way.

The theme this Advent season is titled, “Voices in the Wilderness.” What are the voices from the wilderness telling us this day? What is the prophet Jeremiah, the apostle Paul and Jesus telling us today? I want you to take that play dough and make something that you see or better yet, use that play-dough to describe how these readings make you feel. Perhaps you hear me say something that sparks something in your mind. Use the play-dough to help play these thoughts out. Or at the least, use it to keep your fingers busy.

So let’s begin by looking at part of our gospel reading from Luke again. "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Man, I love Advent. There’s nothing happy here. This stuff is wild and down right terrifying that Jesus is prophesying will happen. All we wanted this time of the year is that sweet, little baby Jesus. We don’t need people fainting. Give us Baby Jesus! Sweet, innocent, baby Jesus. But to be honest, life doesn’t usually give us sweet, little baby Jesus because the sweet, little Baby Jesus that we have created in minds over the years never exist. The reality is that our Lord was born in a cave and then laid in a Feeding trough—there is nothing sweet or innocent about that story. After having two boys, the last play I would lay my newborn sons in a feeding trough. A barn is my last place I would choose for Diane to give birth. Yet, the world is all about the sweet, little baby Jesus of our dreams. The reality of Christ coming into our world is nothing sweet or magical.

This is why we need this season of Advent. We need a liturgical season that counter-cultural to the rest of the world. Everyone else is in full-blown Christmas-sweet-little-baby-Jesus-mode. Meanwhile, we are over here talking about the end of days. We could simply be like everyone else and forget about Advent. We could be like other denominations who are all about getting ready for the baby. But when we neglect this holy, liturgical season, we really neglect the reality of the historical narrative—we neglect reality. The baby Mary carried in her womb for 9 months has already come and ascended into heaven. The babe of Bethlehem grew up. He became a man. He went through the Judean country side preaching, teaching and doing signs. He went to Jerusalem, was tried and convicted of crimes he did not commit. He was hung on a cross and left there die, and on the third day he rose from the dead. That sweet, little baby didn’t stay little for all that long. In fact, most of his influence and teachings came when he was an adult, not a baby.

Let’s be honest: We don’t need a whole month to get ready a baby who has already been born. Mary and Joseph did a good job caring for their son. They don’t need our help now. In fact, when they did need the world’s help, nobody would room for them. Instead, the thing people need to prepare themselves for are those day where you feel like the heavens have been shook, the earth beneath has given way and you are terrified. Just yesterday, the WHO issued new warning for another variant of Covid19 that appears to be more deadly and more contagious than Delta. Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse… It is a good reminder to remember in these difficult, dark times that we increasing find ourselves in is that Christ has come and Christ will come again. But when will this happen? We have been living in this reality 2000 years. And you know something, we are not that patient of a people. I was in Dollar Tree back in August and they were just starting to put the Christmas stuff already out. You could dress as a reindeer for trick or treating while sipping ice tea out of a Sun Pitcher. We don’t like waiting.

I am guilty of this. I plan to decorate our house after we get home from church today which is well before the Christmas season. And I am going to be like everyone else leading up to Christmas. Despite the past three months of planning, I know that I will driving Wendy nuts with last minute changes to bulletins, I will be running around here and there trying to find that last minute gift that I forgot to get, I will be trying to squeeze in that last minute visit that I forgot to make at the beginning of the month, I am going to rush and try to 121finish that last line in the sermon that I put off all week to get done. Yet, an important lesson of liturgical season of Advent is that we, as Christians, are to wait on the Lord. SO, how are you going to spend your time waiting on the Lord? Hopefully, you are going to use that modeling clay and make something, right?!?!

Luke 21 offers some insight into answer this question. Waiting on the Lord involves multiple paradoxes. “‘The word paradox comes from the Greek word para, “contrary to” and the Greek word dokein, “to think, seem, appear.’”. Paradox are rare today especially in our world of black and white. But when you start thinking about Jesus, what appears might actually be in contrary to what is actually there. In looking at this text, I noticed a few paradoxes between Luke 21 and the infancy narrative of Luke 2 that are worth nothing:

  • The “signs” that will prefigure the risen Jesus (21:25), juxtaposed with the “sign” that is the infant Jesus himself (2:12). This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger...

  • Power and glory on the one hand (21:27), humility and helplessness on the other (2:7)—wrapped him in bands of cloth—Jesus born to a poor family who didn’t even have a blanket to wrap him in…

  • A warning that the “nations” will be “distressed” and “anxious” (21:26), set alongside a message of “good news of great joy for all the people” (2:10).

  • I think a good lesson that we can all take away from Luke 21 is that Jesus reminds his followers that there is always more going on than meets the eye. There is more to reality than we might see at first glance. The fact that more is going on than meets the eye is precisely why we must “watch” (21:34) and “stay awake at all times” (21:36)” because we really have no clue what awaits us.

There is more to Advent than getting ready for Jesus. There is more to Christmas than putting up a tree, lighting your house up like the forth of July, and baking a billion cookies. Advent and Christmas mean something and if we are careful, if are willing to slow down a bit, ponder the paradoxes that the gospel is presenting to us, we will notice that there is more to this time of the year just getting ready for the baby. We are getting ready for the King to return. 2000 years ago, the world was not ready for the king to be born. Nobody made room for him. The savior of the world was born in a cave and laid in a cow’s food bowl. Are we going to be ready for when he returns? Will we make room for him when he comes again? How are going to spend out time waiting? For an impatient person like myself, I know that this whole thing around waiting isn’t going to be easy—but the reward for your patience is knowing that your cheeks will one day shine with the brightness of the new dawn and the lamb who was once slaughter to save the people, will be seated at the throne, and we all will gather around his table, feast on the finest bread and wine in all the land, and experience the unfathomable feeling of being redeemed once and for all and never having to wait for Christmas again.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen

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