Brief history - me & Christmas
Like most kids, Christmas was my favorite holiday. I’m not sure I cared much about the birth of Jesus, and I never believed in Santa, but I did believe in presents. And my sister and I were very lucky growing up because we didn’t have just one Christmas, we had two. One Christmas we’d celebrate with my dads parents here in town, and the other we’d drive to T or C and celebrate Christmas with my moms parents, AKA Granny and Grampy. Most of you know Granny. Well like I said, my sister and I never believed in Santa, but our cousins DEFINITELY did. And ever year my Grampy would dress up as Santa, and come in the house and my cousins were just over the moon. And my sister and I loved it too, because we were told that it was a secret that Santa in this case was just Grampy. So I think I looked forward to it more than my cousins, because I loved feeling smarter than my dumb cousins.
Our favorite Christmas album was Amy Grant’s. Still when I hear those songs, it’s a nostalgia overload.
But I looked forward to Christmas all year. And I sure as most of you know, Christmas changes when you get older. B/C you get a job and you start needing less presents and you get busier. And if I’m being honest, in my 20’s I think I kinda lost my Christmas cheer. By the time you’re in your 20’s, you probably know what all your gifts are, in fact, you probably picked them out.
I didn’t want to discourage but it just started feeling kinda mundane for me.
Well about 5 years ago, as I started learning more about the Christian tradition, I learned that this Christmas season was a big deal historically for Christianity, not because of Santa and presents and all that, but it was in the form of ‘Advent’.
If you’re unfamiliar with Advent, it's the 4 Sundays leading up to Christmas. It's a uniquely Christian season - it's been celebrated for around 1700 years.
ADVENT - And it's all about waiting on the appearance of the messiah, and becoming attentive to Him.
There's a huge emphasis in the OT - especially in the major prophets, maybe most of all Isaiah - this sense of waiting and expectation for the messiah to come.
You will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 4:3)
“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel. (Malachi 4:4)
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. (Malachi 4:5)
He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” (Malachi 4:6)
This is the end of the Old Testament.
And for 400 years, there is silence. God says nothing.
I want you to imagine what it would be like living in that time. As a jew, living under the oppression of the global superpower of the time - Persia, and then Rome. Imagine reading this. And thinking "When's the next one come out?"
I always think it's important in the Christmas season to not rush to the punch line. - The birth of Jesus.
It doesn't mean as much if we don't take the time to enter into the waiting.
Where there's this sense of things being really dark, and dying, but at the same time, having hope that the light in coming soon.
Advent Season - it really about the waiting and becoming attentive.
It's not just about remembering that the people of the world WERE waiting for Jesus to come, but that we're STILL waiting in lots of ways. Waiting for God to make the world right, which he ultimately will.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)
He was with God in the beginning. (John 1:2)
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:3)
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (John 1:4)
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)
Homeschooling - one of the highlights - going to the planetarium. Amazed - you could go outside and see the same thing.
When I was growing up - my dad has always had this really raw connection with the outdoors.
I love how the advent season - learning how to see and hear the beauty of God that always leads us back to Jesus.
But advent in a lot of ways is learning how to see the light that shines in the darkness.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem (Matthew 2:1)
and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2)
We know: They were from the east - foreigners. These were not people who were waiting for a Jewish messiah. They don't even believe in all that. They're not sitting there with their bibles open doing word studies.
Almost definitely pagans. At this time in history, there's a little bit of astrology, and a little bit of science.
Weren't looking for Jesus. But they we paying attention to beauty.
And it was that beauty that ended up leading them to Jesus.
They weren't religious people, but they were people who were able to see something beautiful happening in the world.
If we find something beautiful in the world, and we follow it back to it's source, it always leads back to Jesus.
Not just religious things. Anything and everything that's beautiful will ultimately lead us back to Jesus.
When I was young, I used to think that the people who were really connected to God were the people who would talk a real strong religious game.
They say 'Praise the Lord.' You ask them how they are, and they say 'Blessed and highly favored of the Lord. How are you?'
But now, the people who I believe are the most 'spiritual' aren't the people who talk in King James english all the time, rather, they're the people who have become aware of the beautiful things that are all around them all the time.
I recently read a book about St. Francis. - Monk 13th century Italy. And one thing that stood out from him was seeing the hand of God in everything in nature. Examples - Brother Sun, sister moon. When he died, he wanted to be laid on the bare ground
What happens is that when people become familiar with the presence of God is they start to be aware of the present moment and the beauty that is happening in even really ordinary moments.
I think this is one of the things that is so great about having kids. Grace has recently begun to make this really small little laugh. And MY GOSH, like when that happens, I don’t care what else is going on in the world at that moment. It just takes your breath away. And we’re not praying, we’re not reading our bibles, but MAN, you can feel God there. And that probably sounds insane to everyone in the room except for parents. But there’s times when you encounter beauty in the world and it points you back to Jesus.
This is what happens to the wise men, because they're aware of the beauty that's happening, it leads them to Jesus.
I know for some of us, holidays are not particularly happy times.
Some of us have lost loved ones, and this season reminds them not of what they have, but what they lost.
There's a lot of moments when the presence of Jesus is NOT apparent. I'm so happy for you if every moment of your life just feels like this glorious love affair with Jesus, but for lots of people, that's not how life feels most of the time.
Here's the amazing thing: God has filled up the world with beautiful things and beautiful people so that when we see those things, we have something that can lead us back to Jesus. When otherwise Jesus can't be found. We can't see him, he have no idea what he's up to. But then we encounter beauty, and it leads us back to Him. This is the most simple Christmas message of all time.
If it's beautiful, he made it. If it's good, he made it.
I love sweet potato caserole. And as silly as that sounds, it speaks of God.
It's so silly, but there's these bunnies on the back porch, and as silly as that sounds, that's really beautiful to me. And it's things like that that can lead me back to Jesus.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights. (James 1:17)
It's amazing how the world starts to open up to you, when you start to realize that everything that's beautiful in the world comes from God. When you start seeing just how often God shows up.
Question: What in your life, right now, is beautiful?
When you can't find Jesus anywhere, just find that thing that's beautiful, and just start walking. And follow up wherever it takes you. I'm not condoning stalking. Following beautiful people home. That's not what I'm talking about at all.
In the story of the wise men, they see the stars. And because they're paying attention to the beauty of the stars, that leads THEM to Jesus.
But think about what happens to the shapards. They literally walk out into a field, and they encounter not just the beauty of God that you see, they encounter the beauty of God that you hear. They HEAR angels singing in the fields.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. (Luke 2:8)
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. (Luke 2:9)
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:10)
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:11)
This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, (Luke 2:13)
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:15)
I love that 'SUDDENLY'. That's the thing about Advent - we can go through long seasons in our lives where we don't recognize God at all, and we don't know what's happening, or what he's up to. And SUDDENLY, we see something.
What the angels have to say, which is what they always say 'Don't be afraid.' Lot I could say about fear.
You remember King Herod - ordering the slaughter - hundreds maybe thousands of infants. B/C he's threatened.
I know we can't identify with this homocidal maniac who's willing to kill babies. We can understand this - fear is at the root of all evil.
And in the case of shepards, fear can stop us from seeing the beauty that God is doing in the world.
And in a season like we're exiting in the US, where we've been fed all this fear for the last 18 months, I need you to understand this: Fear can stop you from recognizing what God is doing in the world.
For us: The fear that something terrible is going to happen. That God won't be enough. That God's somehow lost control.
So it's no surprise then, then whenever God is doing something beautiful, the first thing that has to be said is 'Don't be afraid.'
I believe the converse is true: Fear casts out love.
Have you noticed that: When you're afraid, the first thing to go is your ability to love others. B/C you start self-protecting.
And if God is love, then we can say this: Fear casts out God. There's nothing that stops us from recognizing what God is doing faster than fear.
Here's the order for the shepherds - Don't be afraid, then they hear the singing. THEN the become aware of what God is doing.
Good food leads back to Jesus. Music leads back to Jesus. Beauty in nature leads back to Jesus. Beauty in other people leads back to Jesus.
Think about what Paul said - Anything that's good, or lovely, think about that stuff.
It's not always religious. It is lovely? Is it beautiful? Then think about it. B/C all lovely things lead back to Jesus.
That's why for me, and I'm totally serious about this, for people in my own life who don't know Jesus for themselves, I'm kinda over the whole 'Muscle people into saying the sinners prayer' thing. If I can get them to notice the beauty of God somewhere in their life, I know where that leads. If I can point them back to something beautiful, or even BE something beautiful. I believe that goes so much farther then beating them over the head with my bible.
One more time: SCREEN - What in your life, right now, is beautiful? If that for you is a son, or a daughter, or a friend. What is that? Maybe a situation where God really came through. Maybe it's something in nature. What is that thing, where if you think about it, it almost breaks your heart for the joy and beauty of it. - THAT COMES FROM JESUS.
What's great: When things ARE dark, and we're scared, we feel alone, we can grab onto them and they become our compass.
Beauty is what will lead you back home. That's a really big deal.
That's why advent is so important - it's the season where we become like the wise men - we look at the stars, we watch by night - and we remember - "Wow, there's a lot here that's beautiful."
Every star points to Jesus. Every beautiful friend points to Jesus. Every good pumpkin pie points to Jesus. If you don't know where God's at, find the beautiful and it will take you to him.
If we're not careful, we can let the 'presence of God' just mean something really religious that happens in church.
We know God is present b/c people are speaking in tongues. Or B/C people are laying hands on people. Or prophesying.
That's all super cool. I'm just telling you that so much of the glory and wonder of God present through ordinary things.
And you can experience the presence of God just by learning to pay attention.
Which is really hard sometimes.
My encouragement this advent season - Find some space to slow down. And NOTICE.
That's not to say that there are some things in people's lives that are incredibly UNbeautiful. Many of you have incredible struggles and battles.
But that's the idea - The son of God, the light of God comes into a world that is full of darkness and pain, and suffering, and violence.
Why - End service -- tiny meal.
That's one of the reason we always end our service with a tiny meal. B/C if nothing else in your life is good, or pretty. - Surely this meal reminds us just how loved we really are. We taste our bread and our juice and we remember that Jesus always welcomes us.
Let's not think in this moment about what's wrong, or what we lack, or what we're still hoping for. But what we have now that's beautiful.
Classic Advent Church Prayer - God of light and life give us hope as we wait for your coming again. When we are tempted to simply be grateful to have found you while others are lost, send us out into the darkness in search of those who need you most. Amen
Pray Show us - what's beautiful. For many of us, we're already been in way too big of a hurry this season, but we want to slow down enough to see the beauty in our lives.