Preparing to Remember
I was reading this week where an atheist was complaining to a Christian friend, “You Christians have wonderful holidays, like Christmas and Easter. Jews celebrate their holidays, too, such as Passover and Yom Kippur. But we atheists have no recognized holidays. It’s unfair, it’s discrimination!”
The Christian friend replied, “Why don’t you celebrate April first?”
We have a lot of holidays! In fact, this time of the year is often referred to as “The Holidays.” I find it somewhat ironic that an atheist would want to celebrate any “holiday” at all... since the word literally means “holy day.” And holy means consecrated or dedicated... to God!
Of course, today begins the “holy days” of Advent. Advent’s the four-week period of fasting before the 12-day feast of Christmas! It’s also the beginning of the Christian year. It’s when we get to start over… When we begin anew… as we tell and retell the old, old story of Jesus and his love.
The color for Advent is not red or green (which are the colors for Christmas in the world)... it’s purple & gold. The colors of royalty. The colors of Advent in the church are intended to remind us the King is coming - both historically (as the sweet little baby lying in a manger), figuratively (as into our hearts) and literally (as in the second coming, Christ is coming again)! In fact, the word “Advent” literally means “coming”.
So, in-other-words, Advent is a time of preparation, a time to get ready, a time to make things right. Advent is the fast before the feast. Advent’s a time set aside to prepare our hearts, minds, and souls for the coming of Christ. It’s a time to pray, time to meditate on God's word, a time to wait on that which is yet to come... And the hardest part of all, is the waiting.
Can you remember how slow Christmas seemed to come when you were a child? Lord knows I can!
I remember getting up early, every single morning, particularly once the tree was up and decorated. I’d run into the living room see if Santa had made his visit, and I can remember the disappointment that I felt when I realized he had not yet come.
But I remember so much more than just anticipating Christmas... most memories involve preparing for Christmas. Do you remember helping your mother get ready? Do you remember helping her in the kitchen... maybe licking batter off the beaters? I always wanted to lick the lemon pie bowl, in fact, I still do!
When your mother was out and about shopping, purchasing items to cook, or maybe even buying gifts... do you remember pointing out everything in the store that you could possibly want for Christmas!
Can you remember helping your dad go out and find a tree for your living room? Did your dad string Christmas lights on the front porch or get a dress up like Santa Claus and wear a fake beard?
Can you remember the whole family gathering together to decorate the tree... and yes, to eat all that food?
I can remember lying on the sofa in the living room… just watching as the lights twinkled on the tree. Growing up we always had different colored lights on our tree… Red, blue, yellow, green... and different stings of lights would blink on and off at different times... in different sections on the tree! I remember the beautiful angel on top (or at least she was beautiful to me). She blinked too! I can remember it all like it was yesterday.
Of course, I also remember plenty of church activities around Christmas time, too. We had plays and choir cantatas... we went caroling at the nursing homes, and had parties and gifts for the children. All that church stuff was trying to remind us of the true meaning of the season… and that point wasn’t entirely lost on me… even though I was young.
How about you? Can you remember?
All those church & family things over the years in preparation for Christmas are actually some of the most cherished of my childhood memories. And it’s memories like these that have formed in our hearts and minds, what Christmas is really all about.
In our scripture this morning we hear the prophet Jeremiah speaking for God... the God who promises that in the future, He would, “cause a righteous branch to spring up” - and from that promise, that divine promise, the people of God we’re preparing themselves… They were getting ready to welcome Christ, the Messiah... the ONE who would deliver God’s People from captivity and oppression...
The fact of the matter is... God’s people were desperate for deliverance. They were facing captivity in Babylon... a conquered people, oppressed by foreign rulers.
But Jeremiah was able to see through all the present heartache and suffering of the people… to a future glory, to a future Advent of God. Jeremiah could see ahead to a time when God would fulfill his promise.
And Jeremiah wasn’t the only one:
The prophet Isaiah spoke of this Branch, too: “In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the remnant of Israel.” (4:2).
The Prophet Zechariah said, “‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two [king & priest].’”
Of course, 2000 years of hindsight have helped us see that Jesus is the fulfilment of these promises. Jesus came, born of a virgin, to suffer on a cross, and defeat death in order to bring us full and lasting peace.
And of all people... you and I... as followers of Jesus Christ... WE KNOW the promises of God. The promises to deliver us, to rescue us, to comfort us, to fill us with life and light and hope and peace.
But honestly, at times... all those things seem elusive at best.
And that’s where the call to remember comes in... the call of Advent. “For the days are coming, when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made...” declares the Lord.
Advent points us to the continuing story of God’s love, and our part in that story. And as you and I look into the unknown and uncertain future of our own lives (and church)... we can do so with confidence and assurance - because we have God’s absolute and unchanging promise of faithfulness.
Let’s make it our purpose... our goal... to prepare our hearts and minds and souls for the coming of Christ, this Advent season. We’ve spent a lifetime in preparation. Every church service, every Christmas carol, every sermon... all intertwined with a lifetime of joys and sorrows... in preparation for that future second coming of our Lord.
Are you ready?