Wednesday, December 4, 2013

First Sunday of Advent @ St Luke's

St Luke's - 1st Sunday of Advent -1st December 2013:

Introduction to Advent:

This coming Sunday marks the beginning of Advent  – the time in the traditional church calendar when Christmas is celebrated. Advent is about expectant waiting, preparation and reorientation as we look forward to Christmas, to the coming of Christ into our world. Advent offers us four weeks to re-orientate our thinking around the true meaning of Christmas – Christ with us. We remember Jesus' birth two thousand years ago and that, in Jesus, hope entered our story. Knowing how the story unfolds, we're reminded that in Jesus, his life, his death and his resurrection, there is an arms wide open invitation to receive grace and love and reconciliation. Advent is also a chance to remember that Jesus still seeks to be a part of our lives today! Hope, joy, peace and love are found in Christ and that’s what we celebrate at Christmas.

So, with Christmas coming, if you're feeling overwhelmed by the ‘jolliness’ of the jingles, if you're feeling pressured to give beyond your means, if you're tempted by months and months of differed payments and interest free options, if you're feeling anxious, stressed, disorientated, lonely or lost – take a moment to pause and reflect. Advent is a time to consider the reason for the season, the coming of Christ and the joy, hope, peace and love found in him. These things can be a reality in your life today.

And we celebrate this throughout Advent.

Christmas Reorientation: (stand and read together)

Christmas is coming
Some see this as "the silly season" - as a time of stress and anxiety
We chose though, not to be consumed by the consumerism.
Christmas is the coming of Christ into the world
Rather than be frantic, we will be still.
We celebrate Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. Everywhere.
A new way of living, a new day has dawned
Though there may be darkness, The Light has come.
We remember that Christmas is hope, peace, joy and love
Christmas is Christ.

Christmas Wreath and Candles:

As a part of Advent each year we set up an Advent Wreath with five candles. The four candles around the outside represent hope, peace, joy and love; and then in the middle we have a white Christ candle.

We don't light them all at once though, rather we light them one at a time, as we journey towards the coming of Christ into the world. In doing so we remember the waiting of Advent, we'd love to rush the work of Jesus in our lives and in our world, but all to often waiting is involved.

The light gets brighter and brighter as we journey forwards though.

(invite one of the kids to come and light our first Advent candle) 

The Light of Hope -
Based on John 1: (one person leads and everyone joins in)

Lead: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Everyone: He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him.
Lead: In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
Everyone: The light shines in the darkness, and die darkness did not overcome it.
Lead: The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
Everyone: And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.


We Are Here for You - Matt Redman
Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) - Hillsong United
He Has Overcome - Unpublished original by a friend of a friend in Melbourne

Hark the Herald Angels Sing - Charles Wesley 

Interactive: (discussion in small groups with particular focus on including kids and interacting with kids)

In small groups, discuss the following questions...

* Can Christmas be good even if you don't get the presents you want? What about if you didn't get any presents?
* Why is waiting for Christmas a good thing, even if it's annoying?
* How was Jesus coming a good thing for us all?
* What does Jesus have to do with hope?

Sermonette: (Heidi Seal)

Today we’re going to gather around the word HOPE
Not simply around the word HOPE but specifically Christ as HOPE

I’d like to ask you a question: What does the word ‘hope’ mean to you?

It’s the kind of word that can have so much attached to it. When I say the word ‘hope’ many of you will feel your gaze lift, your spirit soar, your eyes opened, your heart get a-flutter and an excitement brew about the possibilities of that word.

When I say the word ‘hope’ many of you will also feel immediately jilted, your eyes lower, your spirit hurt, your heart sinks and your thoughts retreat to the disappointments, dreams unrealized, let downs you’ve experienced and the times when hope has been a sore point in life

Proverbs 13:12
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire is fulfilled, it is a tree of life
The Message: Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick,
but a sudden good break can turn life around

We've all experienced hope deferred, or unrelenting disappointment at times in life haven’t we?
For some it is an experience of the past, for some it is the story of your present.

For some here today while you’re busy wanting to have peace, joy, love, goodwill to all mankind with Christmas nearing– there’s a heartsickness that’s simmering away. And the word HOPE is much more of a challenge than a reality.

I read a great quote from an Irish Christian philosopher called Peter Rollins this week

“To hope is to enter into a field of risk. It involves committing oneself to the idea that better is possible, and thus opening oneself up to the very real possibility of disappointment and depression.”

Isn't that a cherry thing to reflect on at Advent …Truly though, it is the reality
To truly engage in the spirit of Advent, in the reality of Christmas, to dare to have hope, is to enter into a field of risk. It involves committing ourselves to the idea that because of Christmas, there is something better that is possible.

Hope at Christmas involves committing ourselves to the idea that because of Christmas, better is possible

Yet in entering into this hope and entertaining this possibility, we also engage in the reality that hope may not be realized, we make ourselves vulnerable to the potential of disappointment or loss.

Has anyone ever been let down before?
-          a friend stood you up?                             - a relationship disrespected your trust?
-          a colleague broken their word?              - hurtful words or actions done against you?

We all have, to one extent or the other. And really, the only reason those disappointments were disappointments was because we had some sort of hope, trust or expectation.

We hoped things would be like this.               We trusted this person to act like this            We had expectation

So perhaps the logical and self-protecting response to disappointment and hurt is to put to rest the notion of hope altogether...

If I don’t hope, I can’t be disappointed
If I don’t trust, I won’t be let down
If I don’t have expectations, I can’t have them shattered.

Any you know, to an extent there is wisdom in this in some contexts and relationships in life.
But it not what God wishes to become the story of our life or our framing narrative.

Let me tell you a story about the Christmas Truce of 1914.

The Christmas Truce of 1914

The five months of World War 1 saw an initial German attack through Belgium into France.
In subsequently battles the Allied forces were unable to push through the German line, and the fighting quickly degenerated into a stalemate; neither side was willing to give ground, and both started to develop fortified systems of trenches. Within a few months, by November of that year, there was a continuous front line running from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier, occupied on both sides by armies in prepared defensive positions.

November became December. And December of course bought Christmas.
Christmas Eve of 1914 rolled around, and with nothing more than a few hundred metres separating lines of British and German troops who had been intent on dominating the enemy to death something strange happened. No one really felt like shooting, killing, attacking on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. So unofficially, each camp of soldiers took a break and making the best of the Christmas they had on their plate this year – away from friends and family and loved ones on the call of duty no one loves.

On Christmas Eve, the Germans began decorating the area around their trenches. They put up Christmas trees and placed candles on the trees as well as their trenches. Then they continued to celebrate by singing Christmas carols together. In turn, a funny thing happened. The British could hear the singing of carols and they responded by singing carols of their own. Stille Nacht (German) returned by Silent Night (Brittish). O Tannenbaum (German) returned by O Christmas Tree (Brittish) and so on….The two sides then eventually started shouting Christmas greetings to each other from their trenches into the evening air
Merry Christmas!
Froehliche Weihnachten!

Soon after there were excursions across No Man’s Land. Men climbed out of the trenches and stood in fully vulnerable and open air, at the mercy of the opposing forces. Just imagine: that walk in no-mans-land would have been the boldest, wildest, most foolish and vulnerable act to take part in at this time and place. Yet there was a sense of hope, unity and trust – a hope that something better was possible in this time and place – so many took the risk and stepped out.

As they met in no-mans-land, small gifts were exchanged – food, tobacco, alcohol and souvenirs such as buttons and hats. Not only that, because of the truce there was opportunity to recover the bodies of recently killed soldiers and have them properly buried. Joint services were held. In one part there was even a football match played between sides.

Stories like this emerged:

Bruce Bairnsfather,"I wouldn't have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything. ... I spotted a German officer, some sort of lieutenant I should think, and being a bit of a collector, I intimated to him that I had taken a fancy to some of his buttons. ... I brought out my wire clippers and, with a few deft snips, removed a couple of his buttons and put them in my pocket. I then gave him two of mine in exchange. ... The last I saw was one of my machine gunners, who was a bit of an amateur hairdresser in civil life, cutting the unnaturally long hair of our opposition, who was patiently kneeling on the ground whilst the automatic clippers crept up the back of his neck."

Another soldier described a sing-song which "ended up with 'Auld lang syne' which all joined in. It was absolutely astounding, and if I had seen it on a cinematograph film I should have sworn that it was faked“

The truce is seen as a symbolic moment of peace and humanity amidst one of the most violent events of modern history.

Though only in part, I think this story beautifully illustrates that although hope carries risk (the stakes were huge for each party to have hope and trust in this context, there was massive room for disappointment with real consequence); because of it, better things were possible.

The stories of these men, this Christmas, this beautiful illustration of peace and humanity in the middle of a violent, chaotic, terrible time of sadness would not have emerged if someone had not taken a chance on hope, if these people had not taken on board the risk, knowing that a ‘better’ was possible

Even more poignant, powerful and hope-worthy is the story of the first Christmas

I've been thinking, what is it about Christmas that really gives me hope?

I'm sure there could be a million tangents you could go down for this one, and perhaps if we went around today each would give a different answer

Here is my answer today:

Christmas gives me hope because it reveals to us a God who is not out of reach, out of touch or disconnected from the problems of this world.

Christmas gives me hope because it shows our God, revealed in Jesus Christ joining us – not as a powerful ruler or ready made warrior – but starting life as a regular human, as the helpless and humblest of babes – interacting with, coming alongside and joining in with the problems of humanity on earth.

I think NT Wright says it well: The Christmas story, isn’t about an escape from the real world of politics and economics, of empires and taxes and bloodthirsty wars. It’s about God addressing these problems at last, from within, coming into our world – his world! – and shouldering the burden of authority, coming to deal with the problems of evil, of chaos and violence and oppression in all their horrible forms. And only when we look hard at those promises and come to grips with what they really mean are we able to grasp the real hope, comfort and joy that Christmas does truly provide.

The Christmas story doesn't transport us away from the real world – where pain, heartache, injustice, abuse, sadness and loss are sore realities at times. It doesn't invite us into an idealized state that is more like a fairy tale, escapist framework, dualistic pursuit or a temporary façade.

The Christmas story is about us and our mess – the sad and bad stuff that is going on in our lives and our world, in the here and now, being seen by God, being experienced by God, being carried by God, and being made right from within by God

This gives me tremendous hope because it means
-          I don’t have to have to have everything perfect, all together or a certain state or be worthy of God coming alongside my life. That was settled once and for all at Christmas: Jesus becoming fully human, being born into the most humblest of context and living a life rubbing shoulders with the spectrum of society. Immanuel, God is truly with us

This gives me strong hope because it means
-          I don’t have to shoulder the burdens of the world alone. There is enough chaos, injustice, oppression, violence and sadness to make us keel over in an overwhelmed state.  Christmas shows us that God sees, God knows, God cares and God came to make these things right. We can be assured that God is at work in the world, he continues to be involved, and rather than us keeling over under the strain of problems, we can work alongside and co-operate with HIS work in this world. Immanuel, God is truly with us

This gives me hope because it shows
-          Our God can be trusted. In Isaiah there is a prophesy given to the people of Israel that a messiah would come and put things right, to deal with their problems, hurts and sadness. Immanuel – Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. This was realized in Jesus. Jesus preached good news to the poor, bound up the broken hearted and set captives free. He proclaimed and established the Kingdom of God. A kingdom which is now and today, yet at the same time it is still to be fully realised. A kingdom which begins with the rule and reign of Christ in our hearts and from there impacts every area of society and every facet of life. We can trust that Immanuel God is with us TOO – and although we may only see in part right now, we will one day see in full that the problems, hurts and sadness of our world will be dealt to and put right. Our God can be trusted, our God does not disappoint, our God is worthy of our hope.

This gives me hope, not only for myself, but for all who face sadness, oppression, hurt and problems
-          for the young girl who I know who is motherless and emotionally orphaned by her Father, facing things no child should ever have to deal with
-          for the friend I have whose heart has been damaged and does not know who or how to trust anymore
-          for the self-sufficient and individualistic friend I have who materially has it all but is plagued by the problem of forever trying to search for the career that will truly satisfy the desires of her heart
-          to our kids with parents in prison that we’re blessing with presents
-          for those I don’t know who are facing oppression, evil, sadness and different challenges that cause them to struggle through life unsure if it all really matters to someone

To all out there, and all in here (this room) Christmas brings REAL hope
Christ is hope. Christ is Christmas.

To hope is to enter into a field of risk. It involves committing oneself to the idea that better is possible, and thus opening oneself to the very real possibility of disappointment.

This will always be true. To truly hope is always to open oneself up to risk and the potential of disappointment. It’s something we need to steward wisely.
Let me assure you though, to hope in, trust in, lean on and look to Christ at Christmas is good for you who are risk averse. People, systems, society will continue to let us down at times, but Christ will not disappoint. Putting your hope in Christ will not be disappointed.

Do you think you can open yourself up to having hope in Christ today?
Can you pull yourself out of the trenches, respond to the song of God you’re hearing, walk into no-mans land, into vulnerability, into entrusting yourself to God and commit to the idea that better is possible? That things can be made right? That all that I have said about Christ is true for you today?

Unlike us humans, God will not let us down. We can truly have hope and trust in Immanuel, God with us.

Where do you need God to breathe hope into your life that you can lift your eyes to believe that better is possible?
Where might you be able to partner with the work of God in the world, bringing hope and pointing towards Christ as hope this Christmas?

Let’s Pray

Grace and peace. 


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