Sermon 29 November 2015: “Our Advent observances & King Josiah”

Text: 2 Kings 22:1-13; 23:1-3

It’s the First Sunday in Advent, and today also marks the beginning of a new liturgical year in the church. You may have noticed things look a little different around the sanctuary this morning, and I thought in light of that, we’re gonna have a little pop quiz to see how much you all know about Advent.

#1: Why is the color blue used during Advent?  What other color was used and why? Blue signifies hope, expectation, and the Heaven sky.  It is also the color of the Virgin Mary.  Purple was also used in more ancient times; a color to signify royalty and repentance as people awaited and expected Christ’s second coming.

#3: Why do we have an Advent wreath, and what do each of the candles represent on it?  It’s actually a Lutheran practice that started in the 16th century in Germany.  It actually didn’t get observed in America until the 1930s. The 4 candles are lit each Sunday in Advent, the candles represent hope, peace, love, and joy.  The fifth candle, which is White, is lit at the beginning of the Christmas season, which begins sundown on December 24th….Christmas Eve.

#4: What are the themes of Advent?   Besides hope, expectation, joy, peace, and anticipation of Christ’s coming – first or second coming – it’s also observed as a time of preparation in which we ritually prepare to receive Jesus’ humble coming into the world.

#5: Why do we decorate the sanctuary early? Well, I don’t have the answer to that….decorating churches is historically a matter of local tradition….so all of that stuff…..I would have to ask you! 

So, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let me ask you this: Why celebrate Advent?  What is the reason for Advent? 

I suppose the obvious answer is the kids’ version: Jesus.  Jesus is the reason for the season.  You’ve probably heard that more than a few times before, right? It’s not about all the gifts, the lights, the parties. Fight the commercialism, don’t be afraid to say Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays, put the Christ back in Christmas, and then there’s those blasphemous blank red coffee cups at Starbucks….the gauntlet has been thrown.  But is that as deep as Advent goes for us?  Is it simply just to get us to change our behavior – be a little more patient and kind, slow down, or be a little more philanthropic. Is Advent simply an opportunity to remind the world once again that Jesus needs to be at the center of their shallow, selfish lives?

We begin Advent with this story of King Josiah – Josiah comes across God’s Word – likely a copy of the Torah, God’s Law, as in the 10 Commandments.  And when Josiah hears it, he tears his clothes, and immediately establishes a covenant before all of Judah, and the people follow suit.  But I think the reason behind Josiah’s response and actions go deeper than simply making “God the reason for the season.”  Rather, Josiah remembers.  He recalls the God who his people has been in relationship with, and has to come to terms with Judah and Israel’s past – a past filled with mistakes, corruption, violence, and above all, sin.  And maybe for us, that’s what this Advent season is about – it’s coming to terms with our past – our past as the church.  Maybe it’s things in the past like Josiah’s that causes us to tear our clothing in anguish and despair when we recall it, or perhaps it’s something from the past in which people turned to God, making a covenant, a rededication, a promise……recommitting ourselves to God just like the people of Judah that day.

So starting today, and over the next 4 Sundays, I’m going to give you some time to remember…..remember things about the churches you’ve been a part of over your life – this church perhaps – and its past.  At the end of each week, you can either leave your sheet here and I’ll keep them safe in my office, or you can take them home and bring them back each week.  Regardless, I’d like each of you to answer the questions, and return your answers to me at the end of Advent.  Here’s the thing: I don’t know these stories, so for one, it’s an opportunity to teach me about your past with the church.  Maybe that’s a refreshing idea for you, since typically you have to sit and listen to pastors like me talk about the church.

One little caveat before I shut up and let you begin: This might be a really difficult process for some of you, because it’s going to push you to go deeper, to be really honest.  And it might surface some rather uncomfortable and painful memories as well.  Such things are indeed part of our past.  But Advent is all about hope and expectation of a God who comes down into our world and enters deeply into it.  My hope and prayer this Advent season is that as each of you goes deeper, as you go deep into your past……you’ll discover anew this God who in Jesus takes on flesh and goes deeper than ever before just to be with us, to show us a future out of our past and present.

For this week, I want you to consider the questions for week 1:  What in the church’s past has broken your heart?  And in reflecting today, do you feel that event or thing has ultimately drawn this church closer to God, or further away?

So now, let’s take 5 minutes to respond and reflect.

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