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“Advent . . . A Time to Pause”

Rev. Dr. Eric Bacon sermon - December 11, 2019
PDF is attached under Sermon Notes if you would like to print-at-home.

Inherent in all the seasons of the church year is a personal invitation for us to open our hearts and minds again to take in the chapters of the grand story of the birth, life and teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus, later called the Christ. Such is the case with the season of Advent into which we have already entered.

Here at Lawrence Park Community Church our leadership in worship and music does everything possible to raise the significance of the season through the weekly candle lighting liturgy, seasonal music, word,
and associated messages. Our advent wreath already glows with the gifts of Hope and Peace. It is hard to gloss over these two words and those of Joy and Love without acknowledging that millions in our world have little or no experience of these elements of well-being. Soon the remaining candles will be lit, culminating with the Christ Candle on Christmas Eve, signifying that Jesus is born. A humble birth . . . notwithstanding the many ways it has been told in grandiose and eloquent prophesy, simplicity, and with extraordinary

I am suggesting this morning that each step along the way requires something of us . . . that is to pause and be still, relishing this time apart from everything else that can otherwise consume us. Advent is a season
which can easily get out of hand or lost entirely when commercializationsuffocates the days leading up to Christmas.

Although a season that we associate with anticipation and expectation of Jesus’ birth, we know too well that it also heralds the start of another frenzy of activity. Once again we record our personal "to do" lists. Lists, which if we are honest with ourselves, generally bear little resemblance to the
anticipation of Jesus’ birth. They are really about the coming of Christmas. The gifts of hope, peace, joy and love are not the words we necessarily find on our lists. Gifts that we long for not just for ourselves but for all people in a hurting and deeply troubled world. Rather our lists comprise the myriad of things to do, to buy, to be, and which to attend. Indeed a mega agenda of expectations that can and often do overwhelm us. Perhaps some of us this morning are already experiencing the weight of what remains to be accomplished in the next two weeks. We can forgive ourselves for being distracted. Hopefully we can all take this brief time apart, this pause, to calm our minds and our souls.

I have noticed, as some of you may have also, that there has been more attention paid this year in social media to the season of Advent. I have seen references to the critical need to acknowledge and celebrate this four week season before we turn our attention to the twelve days of Christmas. I suggest this implies that the period of waiting, watching and anticipation is an essential prerequisite in order to experience the total significance of the birth story. Another emphasis has been on the subject of Advent calendars, particularly the one that highlights a suggested random act of kindness for each day of the month. As a matter of interest the act suggested for today, December 11, is to tape some coins to a vending machine. The idea of
“paying forward.” Perhaps you have had that experience as I have in a Tim’s and received a complimentary coffee. If showing kindness has been raised as a theme, an activity, for Advent then much has been accomplished to endorse the message of this season.

What is encouraging is that we will journey together through whatever this Advent season may bring, just as we do during all the seasons of the church year. As I see it we have two choices. First we can engage cruise control and hopefully pass through Advent and into Christmas with much the same understanding as in the past. Or, in the midst of our busyness, we can make a commitment to be open and receptive to new insights into this significant season. Is it possible that the birth of Jesus has taken on somewhat of a sentimental concept and as such minimizes the significance of the One who comes, who has changed lives, and showed us how to live and love. The Christ who becomes central to our entire being. The overriding message he
proclaimed to love one another as God has loved us is foundational to the gospel message. Jesus never wavered from his example of unconditional love which has no limiting provisions whatsoever. A love demonstrated in gentleness, compassion, forgiveness, and inclusiveness.

Six hundred years before the Common Era, that is before the birth of Jesus, The Prophet Jeremiah communicates God’s message of encouragement to the Jewish people to the effect that their state would continue under a Davidic kingship: “In those days and at that time, I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land.” What a wonderful promise to a people who had suffered long and hard through the Exile. And so the people waited and watched. Today we
wait and watch in anticipation of the coming of Jesus. I am sure that we can all identify with our preoccupations which can consume us as the world goes by.

God enters our lives in ways most unexpected and so let us be vigilant in our waiting and our watching, but never fearing. The God shown to us through the person of Jesus casts out our fears by bringing a new covenant expressed, not in judgment and exclusion, but in unconditional love. “Jesus has come, Jesus is coming, and Jesus will come again.” Don’t try to make sense of all this … just be ready to welcome him into the totality of your being. God is with us in the here and now. If so, then our whole being must be oriented and attuned to the ways of God, shown to us through what is called the incarnation…the coming of Jesus into the world. Described so eloquently by the author of John’s Gospel as “The Word was made flesh and
dwelt among us,” and which the author Joyce Rupp brings into relevance for today in her Advent writing which Laura brought to us earlier. Jesus too walked the human road, dwelt among us and taught us how to live in community.

The season of Advent is merely an opportunity to rethink the place of Jesus in our lives. Are we ready to let him in to our very being? What difference will this intimate relationship make? “Will this Advent be for you an event or a life-giving experience?”

Let us continue on our journey of faith with integrity and, above all, in love.