Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | November 28, 2010

2010.11.28 A Life Giving Christmas: “Hope . . . Next Year, Things Will Be Different” – Romans 13: 11 – 14

Central United Methodist Church

A Life Giving Christmas:

“Hope . . . Next Year, Things Will Be Different”

Romans 13: 11 – 14

Pastor David L. Haley
The 1st Sunday in Advent

November 28th, 2010

“But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obliga­tions that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!” (Romans 13: 11 – 14, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson)

     Hard to believe though it may be, we have arrived at the “holiday season.” It’s that time of the year in which we celebrate some of our favorite holidays, beginning with Thanksgiving leading up to Christmas. 

      It is also a time of the year when we eat too much, drink too much, spend too much, and exercise too little. How do you feel today, after Thanksgiving?  Is that any clue to how you’re going to feel in about four weeks?  Will that be a good thing or a bad thing?

      Some of us vow each year, after it’s over, “Next year it’s going to be different!”  But the truth is, it rarely is.  Why is that?

      There are probably several answers to that question, but one may be that we’re giving the wrong answer to the right question, which is, “What do you want for Christmas?”

      The problem is, when we’re asked that question, we’ve been set up by our culture to answer it in a materialistic way.  So some of us, who have everything we need if not everything we want, wind up scratching our heads.  “What do I want for Christmas, as if there is some thing out there which will finally make me happy.”  As we learned during our “Enough” series, deep down we know that there is no “thing”, nothing we can buy, that will make us happy, at least not for long.

      For most of us, what would truly make us happy is to be found at a much deeper level, a spiritual level. If we were to stop right now and ask ourselves – while sitting here in church – what we would most like for Christmas – if that gift were possible to be given – what would it be?

      For the four Sundays of Advent this year, I would like to seek deeper answers to the question, “What do you want for Christmas?” by looking at four answers we all might give, which are “hope, peace, joy, and love.”

      It is an Advent series developed by United Methodist Communications as part of their “Rethink Church,” series, called “A Life-Giving Christmas.” I have to tell you it’s a series like those Christmas gifts with instructions which caution “Some Assembly Required.”  (Whenever you see that one, you know you’re going to be up late.)

      As I’ve worked on it, trying to figure it out, I think there are three key assumptions.  First is, what we are about in church, especially during such preparatory seasons as Advent, should be deep spiritual values, such as hope, peace, joy, and love. If – along the way – we let ourselves be sidetracked by a commercial agenda, or the frenzy of the season, we not only shortchange ourselves, but all those who come to us seeking. 

This is what Advent is about:  it’s a time to ask questions and seek answers regarding our deepest questions and longings. Just as we know hunger, and seek food; just as we know loneliness, and seek companionship, so it is that in our seeking answers to our questions and fulfillment for our deepest human longings, we prepare ourselves to receive the answer.

We Christians believe God gave us that answer at Christmas, not in anything found under a tree, but in a baby born at Bethlehem, the God-made-human, Jesus the Christ. We believe that in Christ God gave us that which we ultimately seek: hope, peace, joy, and love. The problem of course, is how we actually realize it in our lives.

      Which brings us to the second assumption of the series, which is that while Advent addresses our deepest spiritual values, there must also be practical applications, otherwise nothing’s going to change. If we keep celebrating the season the same way we always have, we know how it’s going to turn out. So each week we will look for practical changes we might make, in order for the season to actually be “Life-Giving”, rather than “Life-Draining,” as we often experience it to be.

      The third and final assumption is this, that as we focus on our spiritual values and seek practical applications, we’ve also got to “keep it real.” We’ve got to make it not only practical, but “outbound,” and relevant to the real needs of people.

      I met recently with some of my clergy colleagues to discuss a book we read together, The Great Emergence, by Phyllis Tickle. The premise of Mrs. Tickle’s book is that every 500 years the Church has to have a huge Rummage Sale, not to get rid of old computer monitors and clothes and knick-knacks, but all the things that used to work but don’t work anymore, things such as beliefs, rituals, language, institutions, and styles. 

      For this discussion, our Superintendent, Rev. James Preston, was present. I made the point that as we look at the future, what scared me was the younger generation’s perspective that the church is judgmental and hypocritical, which keeps them away.  Rev. Preston said, what scared him most was that the younger generation not only sees us as judgmental and hypocritical, but even worse, as “irrelevant.”

      Now that’s a scary thought.  That – despite all we believe and do, as important as it may be to us, the younger generations shrug and say, “So what?” And they ask of us, “Are you as Christians and the Church relevant to the questions we have, the issues we face, and the needs of the world we live in?”  As just one example, John Buchanan, pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago (for one more month) and Editor of the Christian Century magazine, says that every time the subject of his denomination’s position on sexual orientation comes up, his children remind him: “Dad, are you still talking about that? Don’t you know the world has moved on?”

      So, each week as we do this series, we will focus upon a theme, a Scripture, practical applications, and outbound application, and a multimedia clip, illustrating the theme. 

      Let’s look at the first theme, the one for today:  Hope. How do you define hope?  What would hope look like and feel like for you?

      I have always loved the poem by reclusive poet, Emily Dickinson, entitled “Hope is The Thing With Feathers.”

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard; 


And sore must be the storm 


That could abash the little bird 


That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land, 


And on the strangest sea; 


Yet, never, in extremity, 


It asked a crumb of me.

      Like Miss Dickinson, all of us have known times in life when we were desperate for hope, and hope might have been the only thing that kept us going.  Even today, for some of us this might be the case.  You’ve looked for a job so long, and you just can’t find one.  You’ve been in that relationship so long, and no matter what you do, it just gets worse.  You’ve tried so hard to kick that addiction, and after all the time and effort, you still can’t resist.  The news about your health gets worse and worse, and it’s starting to look like you’ve turned the page on the final chapter of your life.  Where do you turn for hope?

If you’re hungry, hope can be found in food. If you’re ill, hope might be found in a new treatment, a new medicine. If you’re in the grip of addiction, hope might come in the form of friends at AA, who’ll support you and see you through. 

But sometimes hope comes in no tangible, earthly form. Sometimes it comes only when you’re so low you have to dig to look up. Sometimes it’s only then that you are able to see hope “as faith holding out its hand in the dark.” (George Iles)

      As Christmas approaches, as darkness increases and our obligations weigh us down, and some are tempted to despair, remember what St. Paul said in his Letter to the Romans: 

“But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obliga­tions that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!” (Romans 13: 11 – 14, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson)

Although Paul wrote this long ago, he could be writing to us, as he describes the challenges of the season. Day-to-day obligations increase as Christmas nears and people think about the entertaining, shopping, decorating and duties that have come to define a perfect Christmas. Yet the point remains; deliverance is near! Dawn is about to break! God intercedes in human affairs to provide something life giving, real, lasting. Far from the temporal satisfac­tion we get from acquiring goods, God’s incredible love is dwelling among us, receive a gift beyond anything manufactured or marketed on store shelves. 

So if we truly want a life-giving Christmas, drawing closer to God should take priority over any thing on this year’s wish list. But in order for this to happen, we may need to make some changes in Christmas as we’ve always done it.  What if we all came up with three things we’d like to do differently this year, things that bring renewed hope and faith, rather than things that deplete our energy and bank accounts.

For example, instead of spending all day Saturday shopping for the perfect gifts, what if we spend Saturday morning having coffee with someone we’ve not had time for lately? What if we spent time with our children to help them develop a common wish list? By promot­ing a common wish list, children will be encouraged to negotiate with one another in individual desires, spend time together and share their gifts. Wouldn’t that be novel?

What if we tried journaling through Advent? If you don’t want to do a traditional journal, try “fridge journaling.” Keep a notepad on the refrigerator and jot down times when God gets us through something that, at the time, seemed hopeless.

And here’s a leap: what if we posted today’s Scripture on our church’s Facebook page, with new questions each day for application? For example, on Day 1: “Where does time with God fall on today’s “to do” list? Day 2: “Look for hope in today’s news stories. How is God at work?”  What a radical thought!  All of us on our church’s Facebook page, working with and encouraging each other together!  What hath God wrought?

In addition to practical applications of ways to look for hope, what are outbound ways we can share hope with people in our community?  How about, instead of sending cards to a long list of people this year, we send cards to some of those to whom it might mean the most: a card to someone in a nursing home, a note to a youth or young adult who may be having a tough time, or call up someone with whom we’ve lost touch and reconnect?  Because, when we share hope with others, our hope increases as well.

What about in our community? Is there a social justice issue that we could take on as a congregation, to bring hope to people who live amid hopeless situations? The hungry?  The homeless?  Those discriminated against, religiously, ethnically, racially, or by sexual orientation? We get so focused upon ourselves and our “place”, it’s time we looked beyond our walls to bring hope to those who need it, not just at Christmas, but throughout the year. Because building a hope-filled world is one of our responsibilities as Jesus’ disciples.

Let’s look at just one example. This Wednesday, December 1st, is World AIDS Day. At the end of 2008, in addition to the 25 million people who have died from AIDS since 1981, it’s estimated that Africa has over 15 million AIDS orphans, children under 18 who have lost either one or both parents to AIDS.  If you were such an orphan, what would you do?  What kind of life would you expect? What hope would you have? Let’s hear the story of one such orphan, Purity Muthoni, from Kenya.

[Video]

Kind of puts the things we worry about at Christmas into perspective, doesn’t it? My final question: Out of the hope we receive this Christmas, how can we extend hope to others?

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: