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Sermon for December 3, 2005

The Days are Coming
Jeremiah 33:14-16
Luke 21:25-36

As we prepare our hearts for Advent, I invite you to listen to the Christmas Story.
“Once upon a time, a decree went out from Caesar in August that everyone should be taxed so that the deficit would not get too big. Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem. Mary rode on a donkey named Rudolph, who was embarrassed to be seen carrying an unwed mother. He blushed so at the thought that his nose glowed red. Upon arriving at Bethlehem, they could not find a place to stay. (It was, after all, the Christmas season, and the press of tourists was crushing.) As they knocked at the door of the last inn in town, the innkeeper pushed back the shutter and threw up the sash. His figure appeared so nimble and quick. They knew in a moment his name must be Nick. Meanwhile in a field nearby, seven dwarfs who were shepherds were startled to hear a group of angels singing Handel's Messiah. At the end of the concert, they were told to stand up and to go to Bethlehem. So off they marched to the beat of their friend, the little drummer boy. When they arrived at the stable, they met Joseph, Mary, the child and a fat little man made famous in song, Round John Virgin.”

Christian Century magazine published this commentary on the secularization of Christmas in 1986. In the article, the author, Michael Martin, asked, “What if most of what people knew of Christmas was what they heard in Christmas songs and in fables told to children? Worst of all, what if all they knew about the Christmas celebration was how we actually live it?” What might the Christmas story sound like if it were told incorporating all the various myths, misunderstandings and attitudes that in fact saturate our celebration?

The author suggests that we mistake the true meaning of Christmas with the "Celebration of Santa Christ," the "Sweet Baby Syndrome," or, possibly, the "Mercantile Messiah Motif." Santa Christ is the jolly god who lives far, far away, and is only mentioned once a year. Actually, all mature people know that he doesn’t really exist; but he’s a convenient excuse for celebration. The prophet Jeremiah would not approve.

The Sweet Baby Syndrome celebrates the lovable infant in his crib, smiling and cooing. He doesn't make any demands on anyone; he just lies there and looks sweet. He spends most of the year in the closet with all the other Nativity scene supplies. But, once a year, we get him out, dust him off and say, “What a sweet baby.” Of course, we always put him back in the closet when the New Year begins. The prophet Jeremiah would not approve.

The Mercantile Messiah proclaims that Christmas is all about giving. “Christmas is all about giving, so let us sell you something that you can give to somebody else,” say the advertisements. What would Jeremiah say?

The problem with Santa Christ, Sweet Baby and the Mercantile Messiah is that they come and go but they never change anyone. They don’t reveal anything about God. They don’t make demands. Jeremiah longed for a different Savior. The text says, “He shall execute righteousness and judgment in the land.” Jeremiah knew that the people needed to inventory their lives and get rid of everything that did not reveal the true nature of God. He proclaimed a costly coming of the Messiah. God says, “The days are coming, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that I will cause a righteous branch to spring up for David, and he will execute righteousness in the Land.”

I invite you to listen to another Scripture reading – This from the mouth of Jesus as told by Luke. His followers ask him about future time of destruction. They want to know what to look for when the end is near. Jesus says, “There will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides. People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory. So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!”

Stop for a minute with me and think about it. What does it mean when Jesus says to us that there is a day coming when the Son of Man will come to us in a cloud with power and great glory? What can these words mean in the midst of a busy life, a hectic life, a crazy life?
. . . a life where our kids expect to be driven here and there and ask for things that we just can't afford?
. . . a life where our employers expect us to work overtime,
. . . and our clubs, our church, and our sports teams ask for hours we don’t have?

What do these promises about the future mean when we are caught up in trying to do all we can do right here and now in the present - what do they man when we are struggling to live one day at a time - when we are trying to be all things to all to many people? What do they mean when we watch the news or read the paper and discover that senseless horrors continue throughout the world; that crime and starvation and terrorism and war and earthquakes and floods abound and indeed seen to be increasing?

To me they mean that I should rejoice, that I should stand up and watch and pray.

The promise of Christ is that the future is not going to be like the present. On that day, evil will perish and that a new heaven and a new earth will come upon us – a heaven and earth of everlasting peace and justice, joy and love.

Don’t get so caught up in the worries of this life that you are unprepared for the return of the Savior. Jesus reminds us to be alert to the bigger picture. Understand your place in the greater scheme of things. Be on guard.

Let me ask you, what one or two things do you tend to be so focused on that lose your context? What types of situations flood you with worry and cause your stomach to twist in knots, and your mind to lose perspective on the big picture?

When I was growing up in the 70's and 80's, I was sure I was going to die a slow death from the fallout of a nuclear war. There were two superpowers: the Soviet Union and the United States. We each had nuclear weapons. We each were held back from launching them by the certain knowledge that the other superpower would launch theirs ... but we knew that couldn't last forever. As children, we asked ourselves whether it would be better to try to survive a nuclear blast, or just be at ground zero during the attack. We decided it would be better to be near the blast, so we wouldn’t live to see the aftermath. When I was in high school, there was a television miniseries called The Day After that gave voice to what most people my age believed would happen before we had the chance to see old age. By mistake or intention, someone launches their weapons, and we launch ours, and the world ends -- fire, followed by ice, with famine and unspeakable global destruction.

Our worries may not be on a global scale. The toughest distractions are the personal ones. For instance, sometimes I become so focused on my work, I tend to lose sight of my place in the big picture. I can spend hours before the computer, and then rush around doing visits and getting ready for meetings and then going to them - that I forget what it is that I am proclaiming. I can miss my family’s joys and what it is God is actually doing all around me.

What about you? Do you ever feel lost in today -- lost in the concerns that this moment brings? Has your life been taken over by one worry or another so that you can’t appreciate what else is going on?

Jesus tells us in not to be distracted by the big issues: warfare, floods, famine, and creation seeming to fall apart. They are only signs that point toward a better future. Jesus also reminds us that personal worries can be more distracting than any civil war halfway around the planet. Those personal events are so dangerous because they are subtle and sneaky. We don't realize what is happening until it is too late. All of a sudden, we're trapped, feeling sorry for ourselves, working so hard, being so focused on one thing, that we miss the bigger picture.

That’s why Jesus tells us to be alert. To watch. To not be so caught up in the everyday things that we fail to look down the road and see the presence of God’s Kingdom with all its hope and promise.

Jeremiah and Jesus tell us about the signs of the coming of the kingdom so that we might ready ourselves for it. A righteous Branch has sprouted from David's line; and he will do what is just and right in the land. Look around you and prepare for Jesus to come. Spend this Advent in prayer and in hope, in righteousness and in love, knowing that as so many of promises of God were fulfilled at the birth of Christ, so too the rest will be fulfilled – to his praise and his glory.

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