“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like ChristMass! or “First Things ” (Advent 1B, November 29, 2020)
Happy New Year! Today is the first Sunday in the four week season of Advent; and with it we begin a new church year. You notice, the color is purple (blue is also used) for contemplation. Advent (“adventus” in Latin) means “coming,” and our focus for these four weeks is getting ready for the coming of Jesus. The focus of the first week is “peace,” the second week is “hope,” the third week is “joy,” and the fourth week is “love.” You will notice that some churches interchange “peace” and “hope.”
Speaking of comings- actually, there are two comings associated with our Lord- his first (in Bethlehem many years ago and in our own lives when we accept him as our Lord and Savior) and his second (which we heard about in today’s gospel and also in our own lives when we die and he comes for us personally). We hear a lot of TV sermons about the second coming, but Jesus himself said that the details, especially the “when,” are none of our business. In fact, as you recall from the sermon two weeks ago, it’s as if God says to us: “MYOB. Jesus is the way, truth, and life- so live your life to the fullest, remembering that you may die at any time. Your next minute may be on this planet or in eternity.” With that in mind, let’s focus on the first coming and how to get ready. The prophet Jeremiah (33:14-16) promised in God’s name that the Messiah was coming- a King who would establish justice. That promise was fulfilled when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. As you know, it’s his birthday we’re getting ready to celebrate on December 25th. Wandering through the stores this year is different due to COVID, but in normal times, if you wander through the mall or watch the TV commercials- you’d never guess! Remember the TV news clips on the day after Thanksgiving? I saw people grabbing, pushing, and stampeding to get the exact sale item they wanted as a gift- all in honor of the Prince of Peace! Shoppers pepper-spray other shoppers to get what they want, and then call it “competitive shopping!” There are numerous parking lot robberies and people shot! I can’t believe it! Did you hear about the little boy who went shopping with his mother, ate, and was put to bed so his mother could wrap the presents. She heard noises in his bedroom and thought she’d better check. When she put her ear to the door, she heard him asking God in his prayers, “Hey, God- is this what you had in mind when you invented ChristMass?” Good question! Along the same line- a little girl was barely surviving the Christmas jitters. She knew Santa wrote down who was naughty and who was nice, and she was afraid she was on the wrong list. You see- she and her mother had had a hard day! Her mother made the mistake of taking her into a toy story to purchase a present for her little sister, but everything she saw was a “gimme.” The little girl ended screaming and kicking on the floor of the store in a full-blown temper tantrum. Her mother picked her up, strapped her in her car seat, drove her home, fed her as quickly as possible, and put her to bed. Out from the room came a sorry little voice- “Mother, are you too mad at me to listen to my bedtime prayers tonight?” Back came the mother to hear her daughter pray, “Forgive us our Christmases as we forgive those who Christmas against us.” Been there- done that! I remember Christmases past in which I was so frantic to get ready that I forgot who I was getting ready for. What about you? Money worries, shop-til-you-drop, run up the credit card (or cards), cook, clean, yell at the kids (or grand-kids), cards, parties, pig-outs, toys to assemble, decorate, put up the tree- the list seems endless until you’re an exhausted nervous wreck on ChristMass Eve. You force yourself to church (or skip it entirely- telling yourself you’ll make it next year) and Jesus’ birthday is the last thing on your mind.
Let’s do it differently this year. Let’s use these four weeks of Advent to center ourselves and really get ready for the one who is coming at ChristMass- the one with the birthday. But how? Put God in charge!
Remember, this is the birthday of the Prince of Peace, therefore- put God in charge of your choices and attitudes. Let’s honor him- not just with our lips and ChristMass carols, but in our lives by our behavior. There’s no greater gift we could give Jesus than to be his peacemaker in our little part of the planet. Speaking of gifts- what a terrible sacrilege it would be for us to buy violent videos or games or music as gifts celebrating his birthday.
Put God in charge of your money. God doesn’t want you afraid to answer the telephone because creditors are calling at all hours of the day and night. Live within your means. Don’t buy anything you can’t afford. Don’t buy anything on a credit card that you won’t be able to pay for on the next billing.
Put God in charge of the gifts you buy or make. Gifts don’t have to be expensive or numerous. Did you notice the thought for the week- “I’ve never seen a hearse with a U-Haul behind it!” (Anonymous). A gift from the heart means much more than an expensive gift bought at the last minute because you “had to get something.” The best present I ever got was a hand-made card from one of my children telling me how much they loved and appreciated me. Don’t buy cheap stuff from the street. Your purchase encourages others to sin- remember “Thou shalt not steal.” (Yes- all the way back from the book of Genesis- we are our brother’s and sister’s keepers.)
Finally, put God in charge of your time. Do you recall the episode when Jesus went to the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha? Remember how Mary sat at Jesus’ feet learning from him while Martha worked away in the kitchen. Finally Martha couldn’t stand it any longer and came storming out to Jesus. “Master,” she said, “make my sister help me in the kitchen!” Jesus responded, “Martha, Martha- just one dish was needed. Mary has chosen the best thing and it won’t be taken from her.” Choose Jesus, not busyness. How? Maintain your focus- whose birthday is it anyway? Don’t miss our video church service one Sunday this Advent. Don’t neglect your prayer life. The busier you are, the more you need to start your day with the Lord. Get your ChristMass preparations focused on Jesus before things get out of hand. Start ChristMass preparations early and pace. If you’re running short of time- prioritize and eliminate what isn’t absolutely needed. There’s a good chance no one will even notice. In terms of cooking, cleaning, and decorating- keep it simple. Most of all- don’t miss the Christ Mass on ChristMass Eve, December 24th, at 8 PM- that’s what it’s all about. Watch it on TV this year.
I’m going to close with a true story from one of my internet friends who is a Roman Catholic priest. I’ve told it every Advent since I read it. He heard it on the radio and shared it with his friends. There was a woman who was out Christmas shopping with her two children. After many hours of looking at row after row of toys and everything else imaginable and hearing both her children asking for everything they saw on those many shelves, she and the kids finally made it to the elevator. She was feeling what so many of us feel during the holiday season- overwhelming pressure to go to every party, every housewarming, taste all the holiday food and treats, buy that perfect gift for every single person on our shopping list, making sure we don't forget anyone on our card list, etc. Finally the elevator doors opened and there was already a crowd in the car. She pushed her way in and dragged her two kids in with her and all the bags of stuff. When the doors closed she couldn't take it anymore and stated, “Whoever started this whole Christmas thing should be found, strung up, and shot.” From the back of the car, everyone heard a quiet calm voice respond, “Don't worry lady, we already crucified him.” For the rest of the trip down the elevator, it was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.
So- what is Christmas for you really- the gimmee, party, pig-out, decorating time or is it Jesus’ birthday? The truth is not shown by what you say, but what you do- your priorities. “First Things- First.” I hope the Crucified Christ-child is really first for you! My prayer for us is that we not crucify Jesus again with our choices this ChristMass. May we not argue or complain. May we not fight or say cruel things to someone acting as if they’re our enemy. May we not spend more than we can afford or encourage our children to be greedy. May we not get so frantically worried or rushed that we don’t take time for Jesus. My prayer for us is that we make our preparations joyful and remember ChristMass is Jesus’ birthday and Jesus is the reason for the season. Amen.