Isaiah 9:2, 6-7
As we enjoyed the first Sunday of Advent last week, I found the music, the readings, and all the service to be very moving. At one moment, as I watched the flame of the first Advent candle, its vulnerability struck me as representative of the vulnerability of our lives. There are so many challenges we face, and we never know what we might encounter each day. The season of Advent is about preparation, and I think that certainly means to be prepared for whatever life may bring to us.
This morning, I want to offer Some Thoughts for Advent. Technically speaking, we are not in the Christmas season; we are in the Advent season. According to the Christian calendar, the Christmas season begins on Christmas day and ends on January 6th, the day we refer to as Epiphany (Epiphany marks the coming of the magi to see the Christ child). This period of time became known as the 12 days of Christmas. Because of the economic impact of Christmas shopping, and the earlier start to the shopping season with each passing year, we have, for the most part, lost the sense of the Christian calendar’s marking of Advent and Christmas.
Christmas is a time to pray for peace.
Several weeks ago, as I read an article about the Gettysburg Address, there was an accompanying picture. It was an officer on his horse in the foreground of the picture. The horse had its head low to the ground, and the head of the general was bowed forward as well, giving both a look of prayer, but also of great sadness. In the background of the picture was a panoramic view of the battlefield, with casualties everywhere. It was such a sad picture. Out of curiosity I tried to find an answer to the question of how many people have lost their lives in all of humanity’s wars. The lists of wars and the estimates were really staggering, so much so that I didn’t bother to add up the losses.
Humanity doesn’t seem to learn many lessons about war. From Cain and Abel to our day, violence has become ingrained into the human condition.
The song of the angels was for peace on earth (Luke 2:14). Peace incorporates both the personal and the political realms. Faith is about peace!
Our world, always engulfed in political turmoil, is now so connected that the ramifications of that turmoil are far more serious than ever. Pray that the peace of God will make true the promise of Isaiah that one day they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore (Isaiah 2:4-5).
Countless are the numbers of people who lack a sense of peace in their lives and hearts. The stress of modern life certainly makes peace a very elusive commodity in the hearts and minds of people.
Christmas is a time to remember the least of these (Matthew 25:40,45).
There seems, unfortunately, to always be money for warfare and weaponry. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will, it is estimated, cost us $4 to $6 trillion dollars. That is absolutely staggering.
So much money spent on weapons to take life rather than to enrich life.
What a harsh sounding passage is this one from Matthew’s gospel. But isn’t the condition of so many millions in our world a harsh reality? Perhaps it needs to be a harsh passage to remind us of the horrific conditions of so many in our world.
So many struggle to provide the most basic of necessities. While we give thanks for our blessings, let us also give of our resources to help those who are in need.
Christmas is a time to remember those who mourn.
A number of years ago I had a stretch of years where I was called to a hospital on Christmas Eve or Christmas day every year, culminating in one year of being with a family in a funeral home on Christmas day.
Last Sunday was twenty-three years since my father passed away. One of my favorite memories of him was during the Advent season, when he would sing O Holy Night at church. My father had a beautiful tenor voice (which I did not inherit, unfortunately,) and it’s hard for me to listen to O Holy Night without feeling a twinge of emotion.
Many in our congregation, and community, will be spending their first Christmas without a loved one. Loss is always with us, but it is certainly felt more acutely during Christmas. Remember to pray for those who have lost loved ones this year and to offer them a word of encouragement.
Christmas is a time to remember those who are hospitalized or in nursing homes.
My grandmother was in a nursing home when I was young. I still have memories of visiting with her in that nursing home, and how hard it was for me to go there, and there were times I thought I didn’t ever want to visit in such a place ever again. Ministry has taught me not only what a blessing it is to visit in the nursing homes and hospitals, but also how important it is that people in nursing homes are not forgotten, and how important it is to remember people in hospitals as well.
Hospitals and nursing homes can be very lonely places, and they can be especially lonely during Christmas. Send a card or make a visit to someone who is in the hospital or a nursing home.
Many of my fondest memories from ministry come from spending time in a nursing home or hospital, listening to the stories of people’s lives. I hear of your visits. I hear from family members who are grateful for those of you who take communion to the nursing homes. The families are very grateful their loved ones are remembered. It is such a wonderful ministry.
Christmas is a time to forgive.
In the coverage of the passing of Nelson Mandela, there’s been one element of his life that has not received much attention, and that was his religious faith. When he was elected president of South Africa in 1994, forgiveness, and its attendant reconciliation, became a cornerstone of his term.
At a special United Nations gathering to mark Mandela's 95th birthday in July 2013, Bill Clinton told a story about Mandela’s willingness to forgive.
Mandela was asked why he had invited his jailer to his inauguration and why he had brought members of the opposition parties into his administration. Tell me the truth: When you were walking down that road, didn't you hate them? Clinton asked Mandela. I did, Mandela responded. I felt hatred and fear but I said to myself, “if you hate them when you get in that car you will still be their prisoner.” I wanted to be free and so I let it go.
I’m going to assume that most of us have someone we need to forgive. Maybe we all have someone to forgive. For some, it may be that we need to forgive ourselves. A cornerstone, a foundational principle of the gospel is that of forgiveness.
Think of ways to simplify Christmas.
Our modern celebration of Christmas, with its rush of activity and expense, certainly stands in stark contrast to the simplicity of the first Christmas. Perhaps there are ways we can step away from the complications of our modern Christmas and recapture some of the simplicity of the first Christmas.
The stress and rush of Christmas can be so overwhelming that we find ourselves wishing for it to be over. This is one of the sad realities of our modern era, where we find ourselves breathing a sigh of relief when Christmas is over. One Christmas, not long after Tanya and I were married, I was so tired of Christmas by the time that it arrived I took down our tree and pulled it to the curbside on Christmas afternoon. I’m sure the neighbors thought I was a Scrooge, but I was ready for Christmas to be over.
Sometimes, we long for life to get “back to normal” after Christmas. But the promise of Christmas is that life is no longer normal. The arrival of the Christ child means that life, the world, and history are forever changed.
Enjoy the season. Celebrate with your friends and family. Allow the joy of Christmas to fill your heart and soul. And from my family to yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas.