Advent - Celebrating Hope

This Sunday was our Service of Lessons and Music. The music cannot be posted due to licensing requirement. Instead, here are a few thoughts on the Season of Advent and the way in which we are being formed and shaped by it at FPC. 

Although I do not think we could have managed with any more help than we had, I wish you all could have been here yesterday afternoon and on into the night. We helped C.U.P.S. (Communities Uniting in Prayer and Service) distribute over 500 Gift Baskets. I’m sure there were Parthians and Medes here – at least Spiritually. We did not check I.D.s or orthodoxy; that is kind of the point of gathering with others in common unity. The common cause is all that matters. The common cause was bearing witness to the abundance of God’s grace, mercy, and providence. The common cause was demonstrating hope.

I wore lights to remember to be a bearer of light. And although three young boys were disappointed to find that I was wearing pants purchased at Goodwill and a hand me down battery powered string of lights rather than some hot new trend of extreme flashiness, I think they were also encouraged by it. My light was minimal compared to those who battled fatigue and illness to create space for light in the midst of darkness.

Although there were frustrations and noise and tension, there were yet these amazing sounds. The first one is not a sound so much as an action. Last Monday Phil Lotspeich, coordinator for church growth and transformation for the PC(USA), was here speaking to ministers, elders, and congregation members from our Cluster about a program called New Beginnings, and I just had to show him our baskets. He walked in and made the inaudible sound that everyone makes when they go up there. It was a literal – ever so slight – jaw drop.

Yesterday an 8 yr old boy did the same, except he had not been taught by the cruel hand of life to hold his breath. Instead, he gasped! He made a sound that is so deep and automatic that it communicates one thing alone – wonderment.

Then there was the single mother whose choices are limited by the needs of others – needs that become all consuming. I showed her the presents, separated by age and gender. She said, “You mean I get to choose?”

The stories go on and on – at least one for every basket. It was the wildest New Year’s Eve party I have ever been to. What? Did you miss New Year’s Eve? Today begins the New Year of the church and the season of Advent. We ended the year last Sunday by acknowledging Jesus as the Christ – the chosen one of God – and as the King of Kings – the Lord of the conscience.

Our New Year begins with the Season of Advent and the proclamation of hope. Why hope? Because we are surrounded by manufactured joy and melancholy that leave us feeling, well, nothing. All this promise of things that confirm our love or our being loved leaves us with nothing more than we had to start with, and sometimes with even less.

How many of us go through Christmas year after year feeling the need for something more – maybe even feeling a little let down. We come into Christmas with such high expectations for what the season will offer us – not just stuff but also feelings and experiences – and often we come away from it feeling like the little girl in the home movie who said, “Mom, it’s not the one I wanted – but I’ll deal with it.”

Our Wednesday night Advent Study suggested to us last week that the reason for all of this is that we are worshiping the wrong God. Our place of need moves us to worship, but we tend to think of that as being limited to what we do in here on Sundays. What if that is backwards? What if what we do in here is the result of what we do out there? What if true worship is not about songs we sing and prayers we say, but about the direction of devotion in our everyday lives? Thinking about it that way might even force a change in your life.

Exactly what change I can not say. Maybe you will begin a new tradition of lighting an advent wreath and devoting time and prayer to God. Maybe you will do like they suggest in the Advent Conspiracy and give more of your time to others, make homemade gifts, or give honorary gifts to loved ones that support important ministries like Heifer International or the Synod of Living Waters international clean water program. One year my brother adopted a Siberian Tiger for me – it’s one of my favorite presents ever. Maybe you can even tell others to give you that kind of gift to encourage a new kind of devotion in others.

Whatever you do, remember that all of it is in preparation for the celebration of the Advent of Christ – the coming of Jesus into the world! And in the midst of all that takes up the space of your life, God is still waiting to enter in – all newborn and tender.

So today we not only light – we actually become a candle for hope, trusting that as we open space in our lives for God we will see that God is already there – giving birth to new life and holding us just as we are being held.

We become this candle of hope with the faith of Joseph – who became the righteousness of God through vulnerability and subservience to the greater good. We become this candle of hope with the faith of Elizabeth – who attended to the spirit within her that gasps and leaps for joy. We become this candle of hope with the faith of Mary – who truly became a bearer of light.

And that is the invitation of Advent – to become bearers of light in a darkened world, wherever, whenever, and however we can in every chance encounter and every relationship we have been given. It is just that simple, and it is just that hard. But, Beloved of God, I tell you this. The Spirit of God has come into this world that you might have life, and that in abundance. And as we move into this season with a sense of hope, with a sense of longing, and with a sense of expectation – be assured that Jesus is the unwrapped presence of God that you will receive - maybe in the jaw dropping gasp of a child, and probably in places that you least expect it. For that is still the way that God enters in – even through you, even through me, and all to the glory of God. Amen!
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