11/30/22014 First Sunday in Advent The text for today’s sermon is Isaiah 64:1-9
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
On this first Sunday of Advent, I want to share with you a poem that I received and kept through the years. It’s written by Todd Jenkins and it’s entitled, “Twas the Beginning of Advent.”
‘Twas the beginning of Advent and all through the Church
Our hope was all dying—we’d given up on the search.
It wasn’t so much that Christ wasn’t invited.
But after 2,000 plus years we were no longer excited.
Oh, we knew what was coming—no doubt about that.
And that was the trouble—it was [just] all “old hat.”
November brought the first of an unending series of pains
With carefully orchestrated advertising campaigns.
There were gadgets and dolls and all sort of toys.
Enough to seduce even the most devout girls and boys.
Unfortunately, it seemed, no one was completely exempt
From this seasonal virus that did all of us tempt.
The priests and the prophets and certainly the kings
Were all so consumed with the desire for “things!”
It was rare, if at all, that you’d hear of the reason
For the origin of this whole holy-day season.
A baby, it seems, once had been born
In the mid-east somewhere on that first holy-day morn.
But what does that mean for folks like us
Who’ve lost ourselves in the hoopla and fuss?
Can we re-learn the art of wondering and waiting,
Of hoping and praying, and anticipating?
Can we let go of all…things and [even] the stuff?
Can we open our hands and our hearts long enough?
Can we open our eyes and open our ears?
Can we find him again after all of these years?
Will this year be different from all of the rest?
Will we be able to offer him all of our best?
So many questions, unanswered thus far,
As wise men seeking the home of the star.
Where do we begin—how do we start
To make for the child a place in our heart?
Perhaps we begin by [just] letting go
Of our limits on hope, and of the stuff that we know.
Let go of the shopping, of the chaos and fuss,
Let go of the searching, let Christmas find us.
We open our hearts, our hands and our eyes,
To see the king coming in our own neighbors’ cries.
We look without seeking what we think we have earned,
But rather we’re looking for relationships spurned.
With him he brings wholeness and newness of life
For brother and sister, for husband and wife.
The Christ-child comes not by our [talent or] skill,
But rather he comes by his own Father’s will.
We can’t make him come with parties and bright trees,
But only by getting down on our knees.
He’ll come if we wait amidst our affliction,
Coming in spite of, not by our restriction.
His coming will happen—of this there’s no doubt.
The question is whether we’ll be in or out.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock.”
Do you have the courage to peer through the lock?
A basket on your porch, a child in your reach.
A baby to love, to feed and to teach.
He’ll grow in wisdom as God’s only Son.
How far will we follow this radical one?
He’ll lead us to challenge the way that things are.
He’ll lead us to follow a single bright star.
But that will come later if we’re still around.
The question for now: Is the child to be found?
Can we block out commercials, the hype and the malls?
Can we find solitude in our holy halls?
Can we keep alert, keep hope, stay awake?
Can we receive the child for ours and God’s sake?
From on high with the caroling host as he sees us,
He yearns to read on our lips the prayer: Come Lord Jesus!
As Advent begins all these questions make plea.
The only true answer: We will see, we will see.
As Advent begins, we are challenged to stay alert and to keep watch by the writer of this poem, and also by the prophets and by Jesus, himself. We are challenged to focus our minds and our hearts upon what is really important. For, Advent is a time of expectation and hope. It is a season for repentance – a time when we look back over our lives and confess that we indeed need someone who can wipe away our guilt and cleanse our sinful hearts.
Isaiah is convinced that God will do something about the problem sin causes if we just repent…that is change our direction in life. But in order to repent we first need to stop all our rushing around this time of the year and see what direction we are heading. Is the direction that your life is taking bringing you closer to God or pushing you further away from Him? Are you running in a spiraling cycle of self-interest and commercialism in which buying the newest gadget or toy becomes top priority? Are you running around in circles, filling schedules and being overrun by things to do, but getting nowhere fast?
If we take the time to stop long enough to get our bearings we may be surprised to find out what really matters in life. And it’s not the hype or the promotions; it’s not the accumulation of things or the fulfilling of our every want and desire. What matters is that we have a God who loves us so much that he chose to be our God. He sees our desperate plight brought about by our sinfulness, and in overwhelming compassion He sends his only begotten Son to be our Savior.
Isaiah uses the image of the clay and the potter to illustrate God’s care for us. I like that image as I fondly remember when I was a counselor at Camp Long Acres and took some time during my precious day off to shape clay. I learned there’s much more to making a pot than the initial shaping of the clay by hand on the potter’s wheel or on a work bench. That’s only the first step – trimming, adding handles, decorating, a first firing, glazing and a second firing follow. During the time that it took me to finish the project, I became wet, and my clothing became spotted from dusty, dirty hands and the glaze I used. But that didn’t matter. It was part of the fun of making something with bare hands.
I remember with fondness the “Gabby Pot,” as it was dubbed, that I made that year at camp. It wasn’t the prettiest thing in the world. I guess you would call it a primitive creation. It had a few lumps and bumps here and there, but it was serviceable and something I was willing to identify as coming from my hands.
By calling God a potter, Isaiah wants us to understand the detailed attention that God gives to us and the time and energy that he’s willing to expend on our behalf. God is consistent, nurturing, and is willing to get dirty for us, the creations of his hands. Like my Gabby Pot, we may have a few lumps and bumps that give us character, but God still loves us. God wants us to live in that love. But we can only do that when we take the time to stop, repent and refocus our lives on him. When we do, we will see ourselves as sinners in need of God’s help. When we do, we will begin to understand that we have a God who is willing to go the extra mile for us and for all people because he loves us that much.
My friends, that’s what Christmas is all about! It’s about God’s love becoming flesh in a baby born somewhere in the mid-east. It’s about God fashioning us with his hands and then stepping into our shoes and entering into our struggles. It’s about the one clay, the one potter and the oneness we share. It’s about the turning around in the direction of God so that we will be ready when Christ will come again. But, the questions remain – will we see…will we see? Will we see ourselves and others as we are – both beloved creations and sinners? Will we see God as the sources of life and salvation? Will we stay alert and keep watch? Will we see and will we find the peace and joy of this holy-day season? Will we change our direction so that Christmas can find us?
I cannot give you the answers…the answers remain with you. But I can invite you to step back from all the busy-ness, and watch and wait with me. Watch and wait, and let the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.