The First Sunday in Advent

isaiah61

Isaiah 60:2-3

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

 Hebrews 11:1-3

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

We’re sticking with our tradition of starting Advent early, but the way the calendar falls this year, we’re just starting a week early.  So this is the first Sunday of Advent or Hope, the second Sunday of Advent or Christ the Way or Love will be next Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent or Peace will be on December 8th, and the fourth Sunday of Advent or Joy will be celebrated on December 15th.  We will celebrate Christmas Eve on Reading Day which is December 4th.  Is that confusing for anyone else?  We’re committed to celebrating the full season of Advent as we prepare our hearts for the coming of our Savior.

When I noticed the Christian radio stations starting to play Christmas music, I was indignant because I thought it was still mid-October.  I stopped and thought a minute before realizing it was the week before Thanksgiving.  So for some of you sticklers out there that don’t listen to any Christmas music pre-Thanksgiving, you would agree with my indignation.  But considering that the Charlotte and Columbia Christian radio stations would play Christmas music starting on Halloween, I’ll take the week before Thanksgiving any day.  Thank goodness that our Halloween decorations were Harvest-themed because we still haven’t taken them down.  Who knows when we’ll decorate for Advent/Christmas?  And the kids have already started asking.  We’re decorating here at Wesley during our leadership meeting next Sunday.  Better late than never.  We’re only going to be halfway through Advent at that point.

It’s hard to get into the spirit of Advent because we’re skipping over holidays and in the life of students this is definitely crunch time.   If I start running down my list of thing to do, buy, and parties to attend I’ll want to stay in bed and pull the covers up over my head and let this Advent/Christmas pass on by.  Speaking of getting prepared – tell me you haven’t heard of Brown Tuesday.  It ISN’T a thing.

(start at 1:24 and stop at 2:31)

Brown Thursday?  Where you get a jump on shopping for Christmas presents?  Or HDTV’s for yourself?  Note:  Four years ago, Mike and I decided to get up early on Black Friday for the specific purpose of buying a TV.  So I’m not hating or judging or pointing fingers.  Well, maybe I am, but I’m guilty too!

But what if we did things a little differently this year?  Give a goat for just $120 to Heifer International, dig a well for just $35 through Church World Service, or give to UMCOR for the typhoon in the Philippines or the communities recently hit by tornadoes in the Midwest, knowing that the money you give is going 100% to the victims of these natural disasters because United Methodist Churches all over the world give money to pay UMCOR’s administrative costs.  What if we do Advent differently?

Advent is one of my favorite times in the church calendar.  But this year, as I’ve spent all morning describing, I’m completely not ready for it.  It’s much more than just getting ready for Christmas and knowing how many shopping days you have left.  We have to pace ourselves.  Advent is the season that past and future collide in the present.  A time of already (as in Christ did come and is here) and not yet (Christ will come again).  The word Advent comes from the Latin verb advenire, which means “to come toward, to draw near, to approach.”  This is the time when we remember God’s drawing near to us in Jesus Christ in the past, in the present, and in the age to come.  Just like the Alpha and the Omega – the kingdom of God is the already and not yet – here amongst us, but also something that we long to come to completion.

I guess it’s that sense of expectation and hope that draws me in.  It’s a time of preparation, different from Lent, when there’s a sense of anticipated joy and hope not just from the ashes but at the end of a long journey.  Maybe those are similar in your minds but to me there’s a difference.  Take the Gators.  I know, I know.  In many ways it feels like you’re living a life of Lent.  From dust you came and to dust you will return and to witness the game yesterday was demoralizing.  But then there’s that sense of hope that comes with being a true fan.  The hope that we’ll have a better season next year.  Or maybe we’ll end the season on a high note?  Advent teaches us to expect the unexpected and nothing would be more unexpected than if the Gators beat the Noles next Saturday.  A brief commercial for the Gator Seminole Showdown….one way that we can beat the Seminoles on Saturday is if we win the pledge per point contest so go to www.gatorwesley.com/showdown.

No one expected the savior of the whole world to be born as a baby.  No one could foresee the Great God of the Universe coming in the form of the most vulnerable thing on earth – a baby.

Although we may be more comfortable with a “baby Jesus” because he’s cute and we can find some semblance of controlling him.  We may be more comfortable with Christmas Jesus versus Easter Jesus.  But if you’ve ever had children you know from the time that they enter the world they’re on their own schedule and you can expect the unexpected.

And no one knows “expectant waiting” like a pregnant woman.  I will never forget the first Sunday of Advent in 2008.  My mom, dad, grandmother, Josh, Caleb, and my sister-in-law Karen, and of course Enoch and Mike, had all come to our town house to celebrate Thanksgiving.  Because I was about to pop with Evy.  My due date was a month away, but Enoch had come a month early, so Thanksgiving happened at our house that year.  It was baby watch.  Have you ever heard the phrase, “a watched cake never bakes” or “a watched pot never boils.”  My grandmother, Ganny (I couldn’t say my r’s when I was little, so because I was the first grandchild they became Ganny and Gandaddy) kept asking me throughout the weekend if I was feeling anything.  If I was feeling anything like contractions.  I repeatedly told her I was not and could she leave me alone!

I was preaching that Sunday at St. John’s in Fort Mill, the next town over, where Mike did the music for the non-traditional service.  That was the first Sunday of Advent.  I have never forgotten how it felt to do the first Sunday of Advent as a pregnant person – the anticipation, the waiting , the expectancy, the perceived urgency…I don’t remember what exactly I said that day.  Who knows.  I blame it on pregnancy brain.  But as soon as I was done preaching and Mike and the band started playing the closing song, I began to have contractions.  I didn’t tell Mike or my Mom right away.  I needed some confirmation first.  As we got into the car a song I had never heard before was playing.

The song was “Jesus Born on This Day” by Avalon that was originally done by Mariah Carey.  It had just come out in November 2008.  That was just the confirmation I needed.  So we dropped Mom and a sleeping Enoch off back at our house with instructions to let the rest of the family know because they had been worshipping at Josh’s church.  And we drove back in the other direction for Charlotte calling the doctor on the way.  I’ll spare you the details, but as soon as the Carolina Panthers game was over, Mike and the doctor turned around and within two pushes Evangeline Grace Jeter made her way into the world at 4:30 in the afternoon.  Evangeline means “Good News or the bearer of Good News” and Grace is self-explanatory, but what a name to start the Advent season right, and we planned the name, before realizing how appropriate it would be.

Good news.  Good news of great joy.  Grace.  God with us.

This is Advent.  Not just a time of talking about dreams or what if’s or one day’s, but getting ready right now.  Putting yourself out there, right now.  Going for it, right now.  It’s easy in the consumerism and the narcissism and the pessimism to let the weight of the world fall heavy on our shoulders.  It’s hard in student land to get in the spirit of Advent as you feel the full weight of the semester with assignments, tests, papers, group projects, etc., with most of you exhausted, sick and ready to have a break and I’m not just talking about Thanksgiving when you’ll be doing school work in the midst, I’m talking about a nice, long Winter’s break.  It’s hard in the lives of teachers and parents trying to get through these last few weeks before Santa, Santa, Santa.  It’s hard for those who have lost loved ones, who have lost jobs, who have no idea where money is going to come for electricity much less gifts.  It is hard.

But Advent is so much more than just our personal worlds.  It’s the in-breaking of the kingdom of God as God Almighty, the Great God of the Universe, became One of us.  It’s the waiting not only for this child (the already) but for the Triumphant King (the not yet).  It’s the waiting for justice and righteousness and all of the beautiful words in Isaiah 9:6-7 “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.  He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.  The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”

So in this season of Advent I’m doing my best to focus on the thanksgivings.  Which is ironic.  I’m doing my best to open my eyes and my heart to the unexpected all around me.  I’m trying to not let the to do lists or the gifts to still be gotten or the Christmas cards that probably won’t happen or the people that cut you off in traffic or the things that constantly go wrong in the midst throw me off track in centering my heart and being present to the journey towards the stable.

I am asking God to wipe away my cynicism and my weariness and to fill my heart with the joy and wonder and Christmas spirit that’s more than a cheesy Christmas song or tv movie, but that is life giving and life changing.  Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

As we enter into a season that often looks a lot more like Brown Thursday or Black Friday with the rush, bustle, mayhem, and angst than the arrival of our Savior into the world, may we remember, may we know, may we connect, may we take time to explore this Advent season anew and afresh.

May God open our eyes to some of our disconnect.  May we realize when we’re drawing from the Source or when we’re just running on fumes.  May we see and know and feel God’s rhythm in our bones as we go about our day to day resting in God’s love, strength, patience and wisdom and not our own will, arrogance, or seeming energy.

I am grateful for a God who loves me even when I’m spinning my wheels.  I am grateful for the Spirit who leads and guides and gives us the nudges and awakening when we need it.  I am grateful for the inspiration of Christ to show us how we are to live, bringing God’s kingdom to earth.

As we go forward with a different kind of Advent, may we hear the words anew and afresh from Matthew 5:16, “Jesus said, ‘Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

I’ll leave you with Amy Grant’s “I Need a Silent Night.”  Reflect on how you want to start this Advent season.  Set some goals so as to not let the season pass you by.  May we do Advent a little bit differently this year.

– I Need a Silent Night by Amy Grant

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