Why Wait?

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I have to admit I’m not good at waiting.  When I have a task on my “to do” list, I want to get it done and check it off.  When I’m due to be at an event, I get there early, and I have little patience for those who show up late (i.e. at the last moment.) I’m certainly not alone in my “hurry up” attitude. These days we’re not accustomed to waiting for anything — our cell phones give us instant connection with people, the internet pops up any fact we need with the push of a button, using GPS technology we can check to see exactly where our spouse or child is right now and when they’ll arrive at home. Sometimes I want God to hurry up, as well — fix my problems, show me the right decision, give me a burst of inspiration — or at least let me know WHEN the answers will come.  However, the Bible tells us that some things can’t be known immediately — they’re in God’s hands and they’re worth waiting for.

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“The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.  It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”  Lamentations 3:25-26

Advent is a time of waiting and remembering the Old Testament prophets who foretold the coming of the Messiah, the Savior.  Although they delivered the message, the timing was up to God.  The author of Hebrews says,

“These (the heroes of the Old Testament) all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar …”

Abraham and Sarah, Noah and Enoch and many others never saw the fulfillment of God’s promise, but in faith they trusted Him.  They were willing to wait. It’s a lesson I need to learn. God sent my Savior at “just the right time.” (Romans 5:6) — He’ll take care of my other concerns at the right time as well.  I just have to wait. Advent it good practice.

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Advent – Part 3 – Final Installment

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This is the third and final installment in the Advent sermon given by Jim Edgel.

 

Last week Michele and I were driving home from a friend’s house and were struck by the number of homes that already had Christmas lights brilliantly lit.   And during this week it has become even more so. It was my feeling that this year there are more lights than past years and I wondered why. Especially why there are so many on the homes of those who do not believe in the one who’s birth we celebrate in just a little over three weeks from now. Those who do not understand the treasure that is contained within our faith. I believe the lights that we see everywhere we go are expressions of defiance in the face of hard times. A tangible way to show that when all is increasingly dark – that there is hope. These lights are an attempt on the part of believers and non-believers alike to show that there is goodness and joy to be had. We all need beauty, we all should defy darkness, and we all need hope. The lights of Christmas provide or represent all three. Sadly, however, they do it differently for different people. For many people the lights that they string up represent a sad and futile hope.
                                 The hope of a Christmas like they had as a child and did not know the sorrow of this world –                                           a  Christmas of warm fires, cold snow and sweet aromas
                                 The hope for a family gathering – and a family life like that before they knew the pain of                                                  divorce, the agony of untimely death and the grief that separation brings.
                                  The hope for a world of magic, a world in which Santa Claus and his elves really make and                                            deliver all the toys that our children could possibly desire.
                                  A world in which all the problems and pressures of daily living can be erased if only the                                                  carols are played from the rooftop speakers loud enough.

But for those that do not have the real hope that Christmas represents… this is all in vain.

— The lights of Christmas cannot and will not make Christmas like it was when we were children.
— The lights of Christmas cannot and will not hold back the darkness of sin and sorrow.
— The lights of Christmas cannot and will not change the world and bring us the salvation we desire.

Only the Christ that was born on Christmas day can do that. Only the hope that we have in him, who was crucified for our sins and who rose from the dead and who has promised to return can change our lives and make them worth living. Only the risen and living Lord can make the celebration of his birth something that is more than a brief, frantic and senseless time of feasting until we are sick of sweets, drinking until we are sick of drink, and spending money we don’t have on gifts that our children don’t need – until the rest of the world is sick of our wasteful and self-indulgent ways. For too many people the lights of Christmas are a reminder of the joy that existed in the past, rather than the promise of a joy to come – the joy that is to come when the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains. For too many the decorations and the preparations are an attempt to capture for a brief moment the peace of forgetting the pain of the world rather than the triumphant proclamation that the Lord if light, the living God, will soon come and judge between the nations – and that on that day they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks – and that the pain of the world will be ended. Nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. There are many kinds of hope my friends, some are false hopes and some are true.

— It is a wonderful thing to prepare for Christmas by hanging lights and decorating trees and preparing gifts for those you love
— It is a wonderful thing to defy the course of the world and to proclaim that there is a special day – a day in which family and friends may gather and dine together in peace and with joy.

— But it is even more wonderful – when in doing so – you have reason to believe that a day is coming when the whole world will be at peace – reason to believe that when your life is done you will enter into a joy that is eternal – when you have reason to believe the light which only briefly defies the darkness during our Christmas celebrations, will be established forever.

We have such reasons – we have such hope.
And because of that – I – and you – can rejoice at Christmas time.

–Even when the money is tighter than we have ever known.

— Even when jobs are not secure or our health if failing.

— Even when our children have moved far away or our parents have died.

Because of the one who came at the first Christmas – because of his life – his death – his resurrection and his promise to come again – and because even now he is present in the hearts of all those who believe in him – you and I can face the world as it is – and make a difference to it – and be at peace in it.
The light of the world has come – may his light shine from your homes this Advent season and in all the seasons of your days. Amen.

Amahl and the Night Visitors

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This one act opera was written specifically for TV in 1951 and was the first Christmas special to be shown annually.  My husband and I remembered it from our youth and were eager to see it with our children years ago when a local church began staging it yearly.  Children love it — it has funny moments, beautiful costumes and a main character (Amahl, the little shepherd boy) with whom they can identify.  I thought I’d include one of the songs here on the blog.

A Poem by John Donne: Nativity

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Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-belov’d imprisonment,
There He hath made Himself to His intent
Weak enough, now into the world to come;
But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars and wise men will travel to prevent
The effect of Herod’s jealous general doom.
Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith’s eyes, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.

God Is In the Manger

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This quote is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Book, “God Is In the Manger.” I’m planning to request it from our local library, so you may see a review later this month!

“Jesus stands at the door knocking (Rev. 3:20). In total reality, he comes in the form of the beggar, of the dissolute human child in ragged clothes, asking for help. He confronts you in every person that you meet. As long as there are people, Christ will walk the earth as your neighbor, as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you, makes demands on you. That is the great seriousness and great blessedness of the Advent message. Christ is standing at the door; he lives in the form of a human being among us.”  

Tradition!

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Remember the song, Tradition! from the movie, Fiddler On the Roof?  As the plot progresses, the father, Tevye, who wants to maintain the traditions of his Jewish culture, finds circumstances and people pulling him further and further away from them.  It’s difficult when this happens.  Throughout the story, Tevye adjusts to changes that are not always welcome or comfortable.

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What’s your favorite Christmas tradition?  When our children were at home we would always play a recording of “The Nutcracker Suite” while we decorated the tree.  Our girls still remember this.  As a family, we went together to see the play, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” at a local church. We always watched the George C. Scott version of the Christmas Carol on TV (when we visited our younger daughter over Thanksgiving, she insisted we do this).  We spent Christmas Eve with one side of the family and Christmas Day with the other.  Now our children are grown and these traditions have been replaced.  We go to church for Christmas Eve Service;  we have a big family party with all of our brothers and sisters;  we visit my mom at her nursing home.

Every family and every church, even groups within the church have their Christmas traditions.  Our traditions often include decorating, partying, giving gifts, singing particular songs, eating certain foods.  Traditions make the celebration meaningful.  It’s good to connect with the past.  However, we need to make sure we are not turning our traditions into idols.  The focus of Christmas and the object of our worship should be our Savior Jesus, not the trimmings we humans like to add on.  Traditions will change;  Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.

Martin Luther on Christmas

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Luther’s writings contain a multitude of references to Advent and Christmas. The following excerpt comes from a sermon on the Nativity that he preached in 1530:

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If Christ had arrived with trumpets and lain in a cradle of gold, his birth would have been a splendid affair. But it would not be a comfort to me. He was rather to lie in the lap of a poor maiden and be thought of little significance in the eyes of the world. Now I can come to him. Now he reveals himself to the miserable in order not to give any impression that he arrives with great power, splendor, wisdom, and aristocratic manners. But upon his return on that Day, when he will oppose the high and the mighty, it will be different. Now he comes to the poor, who need a Savior, but then he will come as a Judge against those who are persecuting him now.

O Come

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As Michele said in an earlier post, we Lutherans are still celebrating Advent, not Christmas.  Every Sunday for the four weeks before Christmas, we light one or more candles on the Advent wreath and we sing “O Come O Come Emmanuel.”  My granddaughter who is 15 always tells me it is one of her favorite hymns, maybe because she has been hearing it over and over again every year of her life.  The liturgy and the familiar hymns have a way of embedding themselves in our lives that way;  they bring back childhood memories and associations that comfort and sustain us.

Anyway, this hymn has an amazing history.  We have no idea who wrote it– the song is ancient and penned by monks sometime before 800 A.D..  The tune was written by nuns in an obscure French convent in the 1500’s, then rediscovered by an evangelist named John Mason Neale who had been shunted off to labor in a church in the Madeira islands near Africa.  Isn’t it amazing how God works?  It uses a wealth of phrases from the Old Testament prophecies that speak of the coming of the Messiah:  rod of Jesse, dayspring from on high, key of David, wisdom from on high.  It was no doubt meant as a teaching tool for what was then an illiterate population.  If you’re not familiar with Katelyn’s favorite hymn, take time to listen as you wait with God’s people for the coming of the Savior.

Advent – Part 2 – The Wreath

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This is a continuation of the sermon Jim gave during Advent – Here he talks about one of the explanations of the Advent wreath.

 

“The Advent wreath was first used as a Christian devotion in the middle ages. I suspect Martin Luther had a hand in keeping it popular because the Advent wreath in its present form started in Germany as a Lutheran family custom. It was used as an in home Christian education device; and did not become widely used in churches until the 20th century, and therefore an exact standardized meaning for every part of it would not be possible. I will try to give a good general meaning to all of its components. First the wreath gets its design from the customs of Pre-Christian Germanic and Scandinavian cultures who used candles and greenery as symbols of light and life during winter.
We have a circular evergreen wreath with white flowers, the evergreen symbolizes renewal – In ancient times the cedar was revered as the tree of royalty, it also signified immortality, all these the sign of Christ who reigns as king forever. The circular shape represents the completeness of God. No Beginning and no end. The white flowers represent life and resurrection or purity. I’m sure you now understand that each part could have different meanings, yet lead us to one common meaning. There are five candles; the candles symbolize the light of Christ coming into the world. We have one white candle in the center, slightly taller than the rest, surrounded by four candles which represent the period of waiting during the four weeks of Advent, which themselves represent the four centuries of waiting between the prophet Malachi and the birth of Christ. There are three blue candles and one pink candle. The weekly progression of lighting the candles symbolizes our preparation through prayer and penitence. The blue color represents Royalty, prayer, penitence and preparation. We will get to the pink one in a minute. We light one blue candle on the first Sunday of Advent this reminds us of the hope Christ brings us. On the second Sunday in Advent we light the Hope candle and a second blue candle to remind us of the peace Christ brings us. On the third Sunday we light the first two and we light the pink candle to remind us of the joy that Christ brings us. Why is it pink? Long ago, the Pope had the custom of giving someone a rose on the fifth Sunday of Lent. The effect was to give some relief to the solemnity of Lent. ”

“Originally, before shopping malls, Advent was a solemn fast in preparation for Christmas, so the custom was extended to the third Sunday of Advent to lighten it up a bit too. On the fourth Sunday of Advent, we light the first three and the remaining blue one to remind us of the love that Christ brings us. Each Sunday the light keeps getting brighter until we celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas Eve and the light is brightest when we light the Christ candle. This, of course, is the slightly taller white candle in the center which reminds us that Jesus is the sinless, spotless Lamb of God, sent to wash away our sins. His birth was for his death and his death was for our birth.”

 

More to follow – Stay tuned