Sermon 20 December 2015: “The Unexpected: Advent & John.”

Text: Luke 1:5-13; 57-80

The other day, Kelly was telling me about a friend of hers who was having a pretty big dilemma.  Her Advent celebration hit a really big snag this week – all the chocolates from her Advent calendar were gone – because she ate them all.  “I wanted to, but I just couldn’t wait. I wanted chocolate!”

We still have 4 more days left of the Advent season….4 days to wait until Christmas!  Yet I don’t know about you, but it’s felt like Christmas the past 4 weeks (excluding the 70 degree temps!): Christmas decorations have been up since right after Thanksgiving, and Christmas music has been playing on the radio even longer than that.  You’ve all probably been to a couple holiday parties for work or with friends, bought most of your gifts, and even taking time to give a bit more to others – maybe serve, put money in the red Salvation Army buckets at the grocery store, or donated to a local charity.  In some ways – and I don’t blame anyone – we as a world simply can’t wait to celebrate the holidays and celebrate Christmas: themes of hope, joy, peace, and love; the tiny baby Jesus, laying peacefully in a manger, so well represented by the Nativity sets that adorn our homes.

In the midst of all this, I wonder if Advent and its theme of waiting is just simply too odd, too out of place.  The message of waiting is unexpected, just like our text today.  We hear a familiar story of an unexpected pregnancy to two unsuspecting parents, and the excitement and buzz created when that child is born into the world.  Only, we’re not talking about Mary and Joseph today and the child we’re talking about isn’t Jesus, it’s John.  As in John the Baptist.

You may have heard of him……living in the wilderness, wearing animal skins for clothing, hair all disheveled, eating locusts and wild honey.  John, who calls people to repent from their sin, performing baptisms….and John, who calls the rulers of the day and overly righteous things like “broods of vipers” and all sorts of brutally honest things.

Yes, John fits our holiday and Christmas celebration about as oddly as Advent does….which then begs to ask, “why do we hear about John today, and why would it be important?”

I think John’s birth and the prophesy that Zechariah gives about him causes us to slow down….it causes us to wait…to reflect.

Perhaps in our excitement and rush to celebrate Christmas, how we see Jesus in all fullness coincides with when we pull out our decorations and do our celebrations; our understandings of the fullness of who Jesus is are synonymous with our sentimentality, happiness, and optimism over the holidays. Then a few days after December 25th, we put everything away, we go back to work, and we then inadvertently put Jesus away too, never really seeing him fully at work in our lives, or understanding such a notion is true.

But reading about John in our worship this morning reminds us that Jesus shows up in the mundane and routine; in the chaos and darkness of our lives.  Jesus is born into a world ruled by empire and full of violence – sounds familiar today, perhaps – that’s where we look for him.  Maybe that’s unexpected, but perhaps with the way things are these days, that’s good news.  And maybe that makes Advent not so odd to celebrate this morning, because it’s good to slow down 4 days before our Christmas Eve worship to wait…and reflect.

For this morning, I think it’s ok we think a bit about ourselves, about us as St. Andrew [Holy Communion] Lutheran Church.  I wonder, what unexpected role, task, or experience have you had in the church that helped you see God more fully, or helped others see God at work in their lives?

The question seem confusing?  Maybe an example would be helpful….my grandpa’s house was about 100 yards from the church where I grew up.  As the temperatures began to fall, my grandpa would walk up to church every Saturday evening and turn up the heat and open the vents so that the sanctuary would be warm for worship on Sunday morning.  After worship, my grandpa turned the heat down, and closed the vents.  It saved on the electric bill for our tiny little church, who operated on a pretty small budget.  My grandpa had been doing that for about 20 years without much notice.  Yet there was one time, when my grandparents were on vacation, and the heat didn’t get turned up.  Sunday morning, we all walked into a cold sanctuary for worship – pages were hard to turn because we had gloves on, and the organ sounded like a dying cat because the electronics wouldn’t warm up. In such a seemingly ordinary and mundane task, we all discovered unexpectedly how important it was – a warm sanctuary allowed us to come together in comfort to worship God in Word and Sacrament, and to understand how God as at work in our lives so that we too could see God at work in the chaos, routine, and sometimes, darkness that existed in our lives during the week.

And so for the next 3 or 4 minutes I’d like you to take the time to think again: what unexpected role, task, or experience have you had in the church that helped you see God more fully, or helped others see God at work in their lives?

Before I leave you to your time to reflect, I want to thank you for indulging me this Advent season in reflecting on a couple questions about the history and memories here at St. Andrew [Holy Communion].  I thank you for sharing with me, and teaching me…but more than that, I hope it has helped you this Advent season slow down and to see the Jesus we’ll come to celebrate on Christmas Eve in four days at work in your lives right now.  I hope it has been for you as much a spiritual reflection as much as a history lesson…..Amen.

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