Sunday, December 22, 2013

Fourth Sunday of Advent @ St Luke's

St Luke's - 4th Sunday of Advent -22nd December 2013:

Introduction to Advent:

Welcome to the 4th Sunday of Advent... 3 more sleeps to go... and then it is Christmas... the celebration of Christ coming into the world, into our story, then, today and tomorrow! Even still though we are waiting patiently, we're learning to wait for what really matters rather than that instant gratification we all so often crave. Jesus comes in his own time and on his own schedule. 

Christmas Reorientation: (stand and read aloud 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.

Advent Wreath and Candles:

This morning, with our Advent wreath, we're going to light all four candles. Hope, peace, joy, today's candle which is symbolic of love.

The light gets brighter and brighter as we journey forwards towards the coming of The Light of the World.

So this morning we need four kids to come and help light a candle...

Love - Based on Psalm 103 and John 15: (one person reads and everyone else joins in)

Lead: The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting. 
 The Lord's love endures forever. 

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

 Love the Lord with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself.

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.

We love because He first loved us. He is the light of the world. He is love.


Joy to the World - Issac Watts
Hark the Herald Angels Sing
 - Charles Wesley

Oh Holy Night
 - Adolphe Adam

Interactive: (discussion in small groups with particular focus on including kids and interacting with kids)
In small groups discuss the following questions...
What is your favourite thing about Christmas?
Which word is most meaningful for you at Christmas; hope, peace, joy or love? Why?
What might people find difficult or challenging at Christmas?
Is there a way you could show love to them this Christmas?

Sermonette: (Joseph McAuley)

Matthew 11:2-3
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"


Pre-Christian Germanic countries used to celebrate and hold a feast in the middle of winter called Yule. It was held to mark the winter solstice, the time of year when the noon day sun is its lowest. Little work could be done in the winter and now the countdown to better weather started. The celebration would often go for 12 days.

Legend had it that during these times of the year there were more supernatural and unusual occurrences than at other times of the year. Legend even has it that the god Odin, also known as long-beard as he had a big long beard, would lead a Wild Hunt through the sky every Yuletide. His role was to distribute gifts to his people. 

In time though, as the Gospel spread to these regions, this feast evolved to become a celebration of the birth of Jesus. About as early as 354 AD, the celebration of Christmas on the 25th December and the coming of Christ was an official part of the Christian calendar. Yuletide celebrations such as gift giving were re-orientated around the idea of Christ as a gift to the world.

Around this same time, in Asia Minor, lived a man called Saint Nicholas. St Nicholas was a godly man and used his entire inheritance to help the poor, sick, and children in need. He gave in secret, expecting nothing in return. Among other things Nicholas saved young women from slavery, protected sailors, spared innocents from execution, provided grain in a famine and rescued a kidnapped boy.

In his most famous exploit, a poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes. Hearing of the girls' plight, Nicholas decided to help them, but being too modest to help the family in public (or to save them the humiliation of accepting charity), he went to the house under the cover of night and threw three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the house.

One version has him throwing one purse for three consecutive nights. Another has him throwing the purses over a period of three years, each time the night before one of the daughters comes of age. Invariably, the third time the father lies in wait, trying to discover the identity of their benefactor. Nicholas learns of the poor man's plan and drops the third bag down the chimney instead; a variant holds that the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry, and that the bag of gold fell into the stocking.

In time though, Saint Nicholas and his legend merged and evolved with Odin and his legend, to become Father Christmas, Santa Clause, the man with the white beard in the red suit, who lives in the North Pole, flies through the sky on a sleigh and drops gifts down chimneys.

So you've got a Christian bishop who over time as become a magical figure in a red suit. And then you've got a Yuletide Winter Solstice Festival that has become the Christian Christmas, our celebration of the birth of the Saviour. And of course, our 21st Century as seen Christmas commercialized like never before. Pause.  

There is a real blurring of the mystery, the magic, the merriment and the meaning of Christmas.   

But hasn't this always been the case at Christmas? Even at the first Christmas?

- Wise men, Magi from the East, astrologers following star signs.
- Shepherds having supernatural encounters with choirs of angels.
- Jewish expectation that a Messiah was to come who would overthrow Roman oppression and re-establish the throne of David and Jewish rule.
- Herod and the rest of Jerusalem being frightened by reports that a new king had been born; Herod because he is an imposter and has no legitimate claim to the throne, Jerusalem because they are fearful that this could arouse the anger of the Roman Empire.
- Reports though that this new king has been born in Bethlehem of all places, in a manger, with animals, without the pomp and ceremony that one would expect.
- Reports that he is going to save people from their sins.
- A plot to murder this new king ASAP.

Imagine Bethlehem locals at the time, the tanner and his wife that life across the road from the inn without any room. What's going on? What's the meaning of this? How do we figure this out?

Questions that we're still asking 2000 years on amongst crackers, carols, Santa, stockings, trees, tinsel, ham, turkey, differed payments, presents, pressures, nativity scenes, candy canes, Christian rhymes, elves, eggnog, baby Jesus, wise men, the Christmas Grinch. What are we to do with Christmas? What are we to do with the Christ-child, Jesus? Pause.

* At one end of the spectrum some see Christmas as something to be endured, or to 'get through', or even something to be ignored.

I read this week of one Christian declaring their not going to be celebrating Christmas this year as the date for Christmas was chosen to line up with the pagan festival of winter solstice and they are endeavouring to line up their life with biblical standards not questionable traditions.

And yet Christmas is the redeeming of a pagan festival in order to celebrate Christ. It is a legit as it gets.

* At the other end of the spectrum some simply conform to the culture of Christmas as marketed to us by popular media and multi-nationals... struggle to give the right gifts, have the right stuff, throw the right kind of party. Have just the 'right kind of Christmas.'

* There is a third option though, neither disengagement nor whole hearted embrace, each December we can chose to re-tell the Christmas story for what it is: a promise of hope, peace, joy and love, the coming of Christ into our story to set things right.

Each December we can set up an Advent Wreath and light candles and re-tell the story. We can sing carols that remind us of the reason for the season. He comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found. We can pack up the kids and take them off to 'The Road to Bethlehem' or on the Christmas lights trail and call in at the various churches that participate and look at the manger scenes and ask questions and tell stories as we drive around.

Rather than fight against Santa or Rudolph or the Elves we can talk about the greatest gift of all. We talk about the reality that every good deed, good thought, good gesture, good intention, good action is ultimately an echo of God's life and God's generosity towards us.

Generosity ultimately displayed in the giving of his only Son, that whoever would put their faith and trust in Jesus would find true life.

But he came in controversial circumstances, a young women betrothed but not married, a challenge to the throne of Herod, a disturber of the peace, without pomp and ceremony. There is a degree of mystery. There is a degree of confusion.

Years on people are still asking, John the Baptist of all people is asking - are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?

Years on we all to often ask the same question. We want Jesus of course to be the Messiah, the Saviour, the answer. And we know of course that he is. And we know enough of the Christmas story to know that he doesn't come as we might always like and hope and expect, or on our time frames.

But all too often we find ourselves looking for other Saviours. More convenient Saviours. More timely Saviours.

Chocolate. A cold beer. A sleep in. A new car. A different house. A career change. A new medicine. A pay rise. Lotto. A new relationship. A new wife, a new husband. A holiday. Time spent on the beach, time spent in a novel. A charismatic leader to follow. Some success. Some fame. Some fortune.

Saviours that are more readily available, more tangible, more suited for our instant gratification. As we get more tired throughout the year it is even tempting to look to Christmas as a saviour rather than the Christ of Christmas.

Is Jesus the one or should we look for another? Jesus answers Johns disciples, essentially, well you figure it out. People can see, people are walking differently, people are being made whole, people are hearing with clarity, people that were dead all over have found a reason to live, there is good news for the poor.

He changes everything. We just all too often fix our eyes on the wrong thing.


And so we light the Christ candle this morning as well. Normally you'd wait till Christmas day, but we won't be here. It's Christmas, Christ as come, the light of the world. 

When you survey your life today, your hopes, your longings, your heartaches, areas where you need a miracle, where you need healing, where you need answers or hope or peace... It's tempting to look at the small flicker of the what candle and conclude that off the things that Christmas could bring, this is actually the last thing you need.

And yet Christ brings hope, peace, joy and love.

He is the bread of life, you eat and are hungry no more. We eat up at Christmas but it doesn't satisfy.
He has water that we drink and we thirst no more. We drink at Christmas. Some will have headaches. We'll be thirsty again.
He is the light of the world and in him there is no darkness.

We celebrate Jesus birth at Christmas of course. Really though we celebrate that it actually possible for us to experience new birth, new life, new hope, new peace, new joy, new possibility.

Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth.
Born to give them second birth.
Hark the herald angels sing.
Glory to the new-born king.


I don't know your situation, your circumstances, your pain, your joy, your heartache, your hope this Christmas. He does. We're going to take communion this morning and as we do I want this to be an opportunity for you to invite Christ afresh into your world....

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