Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Second Sunday of Advent @ St Luke's

St Luke's - 2nd Sunday of Advent - 8th December 2013:

Introduction to Advent:

So we're in the second week of Advent, we're journeying towards Christmas. We're closer than we we're last Sunday but we're not there yet. We're waiting... Still waiting...

We're learning patience. We're learning to reflect on what really matters. What is most important. What is actually life giving but hidden and what is obvious but often draining.

Miroslav Volf, a famous Croatian theologian posted this on Facebook the other day in regards to the first Advent and countdown to Christmas... "When Emmanuel came, he disappointed the expectations of many; they failed to see that the reality was better than their expectations."

2000 years later, this is all to often, still the reality for many. Unmet expectations and a failure to see that the reality of Christmas is better than their expectations. Advent is a chance to orientate towards Christmas, the true meaning of the season. And of course, at the same time, to reset expectations in the right direction.

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 two kids to come and light last weeks candle and also this weeks candle)

Wait for the Lord - Based on Psalm 27: (one person leads and everyone joins in)

Lead: The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
All: The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? 
Lead: I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. 
All: Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage. 
Lead: Wait for the LORD!
All: Wait for the LORD and be at peace.


Joy to the World - Issac Watts
Oh Come all ye Faithful - John Francis Wade
Sing Out - Unpublished St Luke's original
Praise the Lord Coda - Edge Kingsland

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

1. Away in a Manger 
2. Mistletoe and Wine
3. Frosty the Snowman
4. Three Kings from the East
5. Santa Sack
6. A Partridge in a Pear Tree
7. No room in the inn
8. The First Noel
9. Christmas Lights Trail
10. The Grinch

Sermonette: (Joseph McAuley)

So it's the second Sunday of Advent and we continue our countdown to Christmas. We count down to the coming of Christ into the world. We count down to greatest and grandest interruption in human history. Immanuel, God with us, Jesus entering our story and changing everything.

We orientate around Jesus coming 2000 years ago.
Not as expected. Not in majesty. In humility, a baby born in a manger.
But in doing so we look forwards to the coming of Jesus coming into our world today.
We look forward to the reality of Christ coming into and working in our lives and midst today.  

This is of course is the main thing we count down to in our Christmas celebration but it isn't the only thing.

We all countdown to different things; some that we look forward to but also others that are more difficult to navigate. Some of you are perhaps waiting to open intriguing packages. Packages wrapped brightly and sitting under the Christmas tree or hidden in a wardrobe. You might have intriguing packages you've wrapped and your waiting for kids to open them and be delighted. 

Others are looking forward to waking up in a house where all the beds are once again full, with children and grandchildren that have come home for the holidays. 

Maybe you've had a baby this year and you're counting down to their first Christmas, you're counting down to your own real life nativity scene.

For others here though, I know this is a difficult time of year and you look forward with apprehension.

Perhaps there won't actually be presents under the tree this year, or at least not the kind you'd like.

For some there is an empty chair to deal with, a space at the table that won't be taken. There is a stocking that will stay packed away in the box this year. 

The rituals and celebrations of Christmas are so often designed for two or more and yet this Christmas perhaps it's starting to sound like one hand clapping and it's just not the same.

Christmas for some is the season when you wait to see if the hurt has let up any from this time last year. You want it to so that you can get on with your life. At the same time, you don't want it to, scared it might mean you've stopped caring.

For good or for ill, Christmas functions like a time machine that takes us back to every other Christmas you've had.

- you think of things that were that you hope to replicate and create again
- you think of things that were and that won't ever be again
- you think of things that were supposed to be but actually never were, ways in which Christmas failed to be what you hoped or expected it to be.

Christmas is a mixed bag for all and thus it's no wonder there is a hum, an atmosphere, a buzz at Christmas. 

Christmas is a space in time where our dreams and memories and longings and heartaches come to the surface. Our hopes and fears for all the years are met in thee tonight.

There is this idea that in amongst the good, the bad or the ugly, the possibility of hope, peace, joy and love exits. It's in the air; there is something in the air.

Francesca Battistelli puts it quite well in her song Heaven Everywhere...

I hear the bells, they’re ringing loud and clear. You can’t help but love this time of year. It’s Christmas time, there’s something in the air. There’s a little bit of heaven everywhere. Somehow there’s a little more of love. And maybe there’s a little less of us. Or maybe we’re just slightly more aware. There’s a little bit of heaven everywhere.'

You get a sense of this at Christmas. Even in the ordinariness, even in what we might describe as the secular rather than the sacred.

- The pictures and images that marketers offer us of families holidaying, of Christmas dinners being enjoyed.
- The aimless wanderings through shopping malls when you've forgotten what you're looking for and for who.
- High school kids, exams finished, holidays started, clogging up the beaches, Starbucks and the cinema.
- Staff break ups and parties. 

Many of course sense this but put it down to the festivities of the season which brings out the best in people. It's holiday time. The year is nearly done. They'll be presents, food, and drink. Time to make merry and be merry.

I however, to use the words of Aslan in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, am convinced that Christmas celebrates - a deeper magic from before the dawn of time.

"... though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards."

Christmas celebrates the birth of the one in whom there is no treachery.
The one in who being without sin decides not to cast a stone. Decides not to condemn.
The one who lays down his life in order that others would find life.
The one in whom the curse of death is reversed and in who resurrection life comes.

Christmas is the celebration that a deeper magic is at work in the world; Christ as come.   

Christmas reminds us that the coming of Jesus makes a difference and can make a difference today. 

And so, in amongst the hustle and bustle of Christmas.
The Christmas carols and the Christmas chaos.
The merry making and the migraine managing.
We hope to experience, to taste, to rest in the hope, the peace, the joy, the love, of Christ. 

However different Christmas is for each of us, we all wish for, hope for, look for this time of year to be a moment where we are calmer, more centred, more at ease with ourselves, with others, with Christ.

We hope to rise up above any heartaches of the year just gone.
We hope to keep our head up above water.
We hope to step up out of the silliness of the season.
We hope that Christ this Christmas can somehow lift us up out of all the 'stuff' even if just for a moment of peace, a moment of transcendence, to a place where the veil between heaven and earth is thin and everything is beautiful and focused and just right. Just right, like a Christmas card!

In reality though, even the pictures on our Christmas cards are just moments caught in time. If we could see past the edges we would probably see some pretty familiar sights. If we could rewind a little or fast forward a little we'd discover the picture quickly changes.

Like the family photo you have that is just right. Mum and Dad yelling at the kids, threatening, promising, bribing. Quickly now, smile, snap, great photo, back to craziness.

What I'm getting at is that even the very best Christmas cards, even the very best paintings of the Christmas scene, Emmanuel, God with us, baby Jesus and his family, the ones where the artist has really focused on the softness of the baby's skin, the warm bodies of the animals standing around him heating the air with their breath, even those pictures do not tell the whole story.

The story is really more like the messiness of life that we all know and experience.
The town was clogged with travellers, none their by choice.
The emperor wanted them all counted and taxed and couldn't have cared less where they slept.
Accommodation is at a premium. In fact it's all booked.
Joseph like to be 'spontaneous' and hasn't jumped on wotif.com/beth to book ahead.
Mary about to go into labour ends up in a manger with a feeding trough and farm animals.
The baby is born and wrapped.
And then a photo is quickly taken (or imagined).

Starlight streaming down.
Ox and donkey are watching.
Goats of to the side.
Dog is sitting still.
Doves up on the shelf.
Mary, I know, isn't looking like Lisa was after she'd just given birth, Mary's got it on, Revlon and all.  She's positively glowing.

I wish there was a follow up scene.

Goats start on the basket of food.
Dog starts up at the sheep.
Donkey and ox starting trying to eat the hay and get the corner of the blanket in their mouth.
Doves flutter and poo on Joseph's shoulder.
Baby starts crying. Mary starts crying. She wants her mum. Joseph is doing his best. They're both hurting and a bit worried and cold.

Where is God?

Well God is still right there, in Jesus, right in the middle of everything.
Hope, peace, joy and love.
In the peaceful manger scene.
In the more realistic manger scene.
In the best of times and in the worst of times. Jesus has entered the story and the story has changed forever.  

It's God with us. Not God up there somewhere who answers our prayers by lifting us up out of our lives, but the God who comes to us in the midst of them, however ever far from home we are, however less than ideal our circumstances, however much or little our lives reflect the Christmas cards we send and receive.

Christmas doesn't lift us up out of our circumstances.
Christmas isn't a way of masking and covering over the daily realities of normal life.
Christmas is Christ coming right into the midst of our lives.

We find hope and peace and joy and love, but not as we might have prayed for or expected.
Not in escaping our lives but in allowing Christ into them all over again.

There are no escalators to heaven at Christmas.
Everybody 'up there' is coming down, to here, to this place, to this context, to this world, to these circumstances, into our stories, the good parts, the bad parts, the orderly parts and the mixed up and muddled parts.

At Christmas we discover that God has come to make his home in our arms.
We discover that Bethlehem is wherever we are on Christmas day.
Whether we find ourselves having booked luxury accommodation or whether we find ourselves in a less than ideal stable. 

Charles Spurgeon said that - 'Joy is peace dancing and that peace is joy resting.'

This Sunday of Advent is about joy at rest, it's about peace.
Something that in life can be all to illusive.

Can I encourage you to take a moment to be still and discover peace this week.
Hustle and bustle and craziness and a Christmas countdown and things that need organising and, and, and...

Be still, shut the noise out, poor a glass of wine, turn all the lights off except the Christmas tree.

You might at first simply discover yourself; anxiety, worry, doubts, fears, all sorts of ways in which you actually enjoy the noise more than the silence and the hustle more than the peace.

But if you be still a little longer, maybe with a carol playing super quietly in the background, you'll discover that at Christmas, even as at the Cross, there is a deeper magic going on. That God's heart, God's desire, is to enter into your world, into your story and ultimately bring hope, peace, joy and love. 

Be still and know. Hope, joy, love and peace are found him tonight.

Grace and peace.  

(Special thanks to Barbara Brown Taylor for contributing some of the shape and phrases of this talk. Home By Another Way (chp - Past Perfection).

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