Thursday, December 05, 2013

A few Words from Matthew 11

Come to me, you who are weary,
Come to me, you who are heavy burdened,
Come to me, and receive rest.

Your burden is heavy—Here is a lighter load,
Your yoke is hard—Here is an easier one.

I am gentle —Find rest for your soul,
I am humble of heart—Rest in me.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Advent Week 1 Sermon:Knowing where we’re going/Worship fully

    Advent is a strange part of the church year. It’s a little like Lent—a time of preparation, reflection, maybe even repentance.
         But unlike Lent it has multiple endpoints.
Easter is the sole focus of Lent,
whereas Advent points us to Christ’s coming at Christmas AND also Christ’s coming again.
         While Lent is a one-way street,
Advent is a two way street, going both backward and forward.
         For the last two years, when I’ve talked about Advent I’ve focused on preparation and hope, and I’ve tried to locate us, and ground us, in a particular time—this in between time we live in.

         But, this Advent we’re going to try something a little different.
We’re going to focus almost exclusively on preparing for Christmas.
         We, along with 1,000’s of churches this year, and 10s of thousands of churches in the last 7 years, will be following the format of a Christian group called the Advent Conspiracy, who asks the simple question, “Can Christmas still change the world?”

         We will head down the Advent Road, toward Christmas, and along the way, we’ll stop off at 4 different stations, on four different Sundays.
We’ll do this in order to make sure:
We know where we’re going,
We ensure that we’re not over-packed,
We take time to know our fellow passengers,
And finally,
We’ll stop to help some fellow travelers broken down on the road with us.
         Or to put it into the terms of the group Advent Conspiracy We’ll:
Worship Fully
Spend Less
Give More
Love All


         On this first stop—this Worship Fully, stop,
         We begin our journey toward Christmas, as one ought to, by assessing where we are and where we’re going.
         We’re in Advent, along the road, preparing for Christmas… yet there is a lot of baggage that has been hung on this holiday.
         Being that Christmas has a lot of cultural weight in our society, its gravitational pull naturally shapes the American calendar in such a way that we focus on Christmas earlier and earlier—mistletoe goes up by the time Halloween candy goes away.
         Maybe in a decade or two South Plainfield’s Labor Day parade will feature Saint Nick, a Menorah, and a Manger Scene.
         And with this expansion of Christmas, filling up large swaths of the cultural calendar, comes another type of weight
—if this one day becomes so important that it swallows whole months, imagine how perfect Christmas has to be—
otherwise you’ve failed! You’ve let months go to waste!
         Or at least that’s what it feels like
—and I know, talking to some of you and you know experiencing Christmas myself as well, there are lots of expectations you and your family have about Christmas
—a lot of perfect moments and perfect gifts that are causing you anxiety.
         Lots of obligations—dinners, Christmas Cards, time with relatives and getting everything done at work so you can have a day or two of Christmas Time.
         If former president Dwight Eisenhower were to diagnose this weighty
calendar distorting,
culture shocking,
emotional and relational sapping,
baggage of Christmas, he might even go so far as to call it a “Christmas-industrial-complex.

         And the most off-putting aspect of all of this is,
among all this hustle and bustle,
Christmas becomes less about celebrating God’s coming for us in the form of Jesus Christ and honoring this true center of Christmas with the joyful worship of God.
         And yes, as this point the sermon could very easily turn into a harangue about how we’re taking both the Christ and the Mass out of Christmas. That we’ve missed the reason for the season.
All of those clich├ęs.
         But you know what? that would be heaping still one more thing onto your backs, I would be loading just a little more baggage into the Christmas-Industrial-Complex—
but that’s not where we’re headed on this Advent Road, that would be a stop sign and I’m trying to show you a road-map.
         We’re headed toward celebrating God with us, worshipping Jesus for his coming among us as the Christ Child, and among a plethora of obligations that fact should be freeing!

         Look at Christmas up there, on ahead of us.
         As Isaiah writes, “Come let us go to the house of the Lord.”
         Let us go toward that manger!
         Where we’re headed, is to the celebration of Swords being beaten into Plowshares—tanks into tractors.
At this time that can make people feel unpeaceful and anxious, know this:
          There is peace up ahead—because ahead of us is the Prince of Peace.

         In this season where evening comes early—it’s often dark by the time we get home from work—know that, as Paul writes, “The Night is Far Gone, the Day is near.”
         Look up ahead of us—there is Jesus Christ, the one who is Light and Life for us all.
         Do you remember last week, I told you about the description of Jesus in the book of Colossians?—well if you didn’t fully hear it last week, the Gospel of John gives a very similar description this week!
         The Word of God—the Logos in the Greek—the thing that Philosophers of the time thought of as the basic building block of life,
as well as the blueprint from which all things were made,
as well as the source of that life,
is attainable! Nah, is given to you!
         Is, in fact, in front of you!
         That light,
that little light,
that single Advent flame you see there,
is pointing to it,
is counting down as we get closer to it.
         It lights our way from here—like that star the wise men saw, it is a beacon pointing us forward toward the Christ child—
It reminds us that light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.
         Reminds us where we’re headed on this Advent Journey and frees us to Worship Fully as we go. A+A