HEBREW BIBLE LESSON Psalm 122
GOSPEL LESSON Matthew 24:37-44
SERMON: “Countdown to Christmas: Anticipation”
Some of you may have participated in the day after Thanksgiving Christmas shopping tradition this weekend. I don’t like to shop on regular days; there’s no way I’m getting into the Black Friday frenzy. I know a few people who want to get those bargain prices and beat out the competition. They look forward to Black Friday, plan their strategy, make their list and carry out the plan with precision. No way will they drop a hint about the best bargains in case someone should beat them to the last one of something they are determined to get at the fantastic savings. When these bargain-hunters walk in the door at the end of their shopping spree, you can tell just by looking at their faces if they have completed their plan.
They remind me of the story about three prospectors who found a rich vein of gold in California during the gold rush days. They realized what a great discovery they had, and decided, "We’ve got a really good thing going here as long as no one else finds out about it." So they each took a vow to keep it secret.
Then they headed for town to file their claims and get the equipment necessary to mine the gold. True to their vows, they didn’t say a word to anybody. They filed their claim, bought the equipment, and headed back to their mine. But when they did, a crowd of people followed them. Why? Because the expression on their faces gave them away. Their faces were aglow in anticipation of the wealth that soon would be theirs. People knew that they must have found something very special. So a crowd followed them out of town to the mine. Anticipation shines through.
It’s the first of December, the first Sunday of Advent. Once again, it’s time to start the countdown towards Christmas and we are already filled with anticipation.
In Winnie the Pooh, Pooh and Piglet take an evening walk. For a long time they walk in silence. Silence like only best friends can share. Finally Piglet breaks the silence and asks, "When you wake up in the morning, Pooh, what's the first thing you say to yourself?"
Pooh answers, "What's for breakfast?" and then asks. "And what do you say, Piglet?"
Piglet says, "I say, I wonder what exciting thing is going to happen today?"
You and I can't really make plans to meet the Returning Risen Christ
because we never really know when or where He's going to show up. But you can be sure of this, He will show up. And the Advent attitude we need to meet him is the attitude of Piglet, "I wonder what exciting thing is going to happen today?"
As excited children listen for hints about what they will get for Christmas and look forward to opening their gifts on Christmas morning, the crowd around Jesus has been listening to what he has taught about the destruction coming to Jerusalem and to the Temple. They want to know what is going to happen, and when, and what the signs will be. Jesus tells them clearly, “No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father knows.” I imagine it did not especially comfort the listening crowd when Jesus not only said he couldn’t tell them when events would happen, he also said, “You will have no idea what day your Master will show up. . . The Son of Man’s Arrival will be like that: Two men will be working in the field—one will be taken, one left behind; two women will be grinding at the mill—one will be taken, one left behind. So stay awake, alert. –– Be prepared all the time.
It's been over 2,000 years since Christ promised to return with power and glory. "Let ev'ry heart prepare him room" we sing in our Christmas carol. “We are waiting. Will we know Him?” the choir sang. Are we prepared? Our sanctuary is decorated, our tree is up and lit. Will he show up here on a Sunday morning? When you leave this place, when you are at work or in the stores tomorrow, when you go out to eat or back to the classroom, look around. You'll find complacent hearts, worldly hearts, hearts striving for popularity and success. You’ll see hearts that are anticipating a return on their investment of time and money, but not really anticipating the return of the CEO of the universe.
Christian believers anticipate. They anticipate the return of Christ.
We may not like it, but we accept that we don’t know the date. It could be tonight, or it might not be for a few thousand more years. We don't despair, but rejoice. That's what Advent is all about — looking forward to Christ's second coming when he will establish a reign of justice and peace. It’s not about the arrival; it’s about the journey. It’s about practicing being ready.
During Advent, anticipation of many things can remind us of our anticipation of Christ’s return.
* Anticipation — seeing a heavy snow fall and hoping school is closed tomorrow. Some of us don’t feel like Christmas is coming until we get that first snowfall.
* Anticipation — seeing beautifully wrapped gifts under a tree and hoping they are for you. Some of us don’t feel like Christmas is really on its way until gifts are purchased and wrapped.
* Anticipation — hoping that someone will bring pecan pie for dessert.
* Anticipation — smelling Christmas goodies and hoping to get the first cookie out of the batch. We know Christmas really is coming when we have done the “Cookie Walk.”
In the weeks ahead we will be treated to goodies we wouldn't normally eat at other times of the year: Great-grandma's sugar cookies, iced and sprinkled; special cakes and pies. My mother-in-law used to make something she called “Warner’s pudding.” – oh my! “rich” doesn’t’ begin to describe it – but only at Christmas. My friend Carmen who married into a family who originated in Slovenia makes Patitsa bread every Christmas – cinnamon, nuts, sugar. . . Christmas stollen from German. The list of the various ethnic delicacies goes on and on. Sweets prepared for us to feast on. And so it is with Advent as we anticipate a "foretaste of the feast" to come.
Preparing and baking Christmas goodies might be a part of our Advent preparation as we anticipate Jesus' arrival. We take stock of our pantry. But not just what’s in our kitchen cupboards. Do we have all the necessary ingredients to enable us, as followers of Christ, to make a difference in our family, our community, and our world this season? Is our focus centered on a spiritual walk? or on the hustle and bustle of the commercial world? Are we praying for a parking spot or praying for a tired check-out clerk? Do we pick up the Bible with as much anticipation as we do the sales flyers, hunting for "bargains"? Are we in worship as much as we are in retail stores?
It’s not just these four weeks. The good news is that attention to our spiritual walk throughout the year will enable us to reap extra blessings during Advent.
For instance, giving an understanding look and a smile to a frazzled mom with a very tired child in a shopping cart, instead of flashing a disapproving scowl. "Been there; done that." You remember having raised your own children.
Letting go of an old animosity. Remembering Jesus’ advice that if our brother or sister has anything against us that we should make peace with them.
Keeping a promise made, loving our enemies, telling the truth even when it can cause us some difficulty, loving our neighbors as ourselves and above all loving the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul.
As we move forward through Advent we are in a countdown, with only 25 days to shop. We have our lists and are relieved with each item we check off, Christmas cards, gifts, wrapping, decorating, dinners and parties, dashing through the snow. Stay focused: the real countdown to Christmas began when Christ was born in Bethlehem. The Baby born in a manger grew up, became the God-man who prepared to give us the greatest gift ever given – the gift of Salvation, forgiveness of sin, the promise of eternal life in the loving presence of God. It cost him everything and is ours for free. All we have to do is receive it.