Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Well, it’s started. Already we’ve had the ‘busiest shopping day of the year’ and the ‘second busiest.’ Thanksgiving turkey is a leftover memory; football is a Sunday afternoon event again. The Christmas decorations are up in town; soon the church will be decked out in green boughs and candles. And the beautiful blue paraments on the altar are great. I guess it’s official the Christmas season has started. There’s going to be parties. No, eating too much doesn’t end with Thanksgiving, does it. There’s going to be wish lists made up, Christmas cookies made and maybe even a little snow (this year!). Everywhere you look people are going to be smiling, saying “Merry Christmas!” Busily going about their necessary Holiday errands. For the dark of winter, Christmas seems to perk just about everyone up. Christmas day is one of those things that just about everybody looks forward to, and prepares for. After all, it’s Christmas.
Of course in the Church it’s Advent. That’s why the blue color. For Christmas we use white. Advent is just a little different from Christmas. The Church celebrates Christmas following the birth of Jesus. We spend the weeks before Christ preparing for Christ’s coming. The radio is playing Christmas songs already, we generally hold off until January. It’s not because we are scroogy… after all the Christians have been celebrating Christmas longer than anyone. You know, it’s our holiday. It’s the birth of Jesus Christ. Shouldn’t we be the ones to say how it’s done?
The word Advent means coming. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. Waiting for Jesus coming. Over the years the Church has come to realize that it’s better not to jump right to Bethlehem, but rather to take some time in anticipation. And that’s what Advent is all about, anticipation.
But exactly why do we want to spend the time waiting that everyone else is spending at the party? Why do we want to think about other things when everyone else is having fun? Well, that’s exactly what Jesus is talking about in this text.
34“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:25-36 (ESV)One of my favorite comics is “Agnus Day.” It’s an unusual strip that matches the readings we do every Sunday in church. It always features two sheep, Rick and Ted. Rick is a sheep after my own heart because he’s always holding a cup of coffee. But unlike me he always knows what to say. This week Ted asks Rick about the word dissipation in the text. And Ted gets it right.
Dissipation: That’s what the season isn’t about. Seeking fulfillment with in the joy of the season. And as Rick the sheep says “when you wear yourself out chasing things that never really satisfy.”
Just think about it. Isn’t that what the Christmas season has really become? Isn’t that what most people are really starting up on right now? Isn’t that what you and I are starting right now? You know the feeling that I’m talking about. You think you should be happy. You think the Christmas carols should “get you in the Christmas spirit.” But they don’t seem to work. You concentrate on buying the perfect gift. After all the ‘real’ joy of the season is in giving, right? But you wonder what people are going to give you. You know the empty feeling you have when you open your own presents. And how often have you seen the same disappointed look on others faces as they opened gifts from you. So you sit down to watch one the myriad of “Christmas specials” and feel good Christmas themed programs on television. But it doesn’t really seem to make any difference. Your family is coming together for the holiday because that’s an important part of the season. But there’s always a fight of some kind or and argument leaves everyone angry or disillusioned. As the season goes on instead of getting easier to focus it gets harder. And all your ‘Christmas cheer’ has up and left. And long about the double digits of December you start to look for the end. You wish it was all over and you had everything done. Of course you can’t say anything to anyone, you don’t want to ruin the season for anyone else, because they all look like they’re having such a great time. And maybe some of them are, but you really wonder if anyone else is feeling the same way you are. Well… they are; lot’s of them. You’ve heard about the “holiday blues” they strike more people than you might think. But you just put on a brave smile and pretend that the holidays are your favorite time of the year. No one wants to be The Grinch.
You see. Jesus knows what he’s talking about. Dissipation. Chasing after things that never really satisfy. The reason why all that stuff surrounding this season feels empty is because it all really is empty. Ultimately this time before Christmas isn’t about decorating your house. It’s not about creating family memories. And it’s not even about getting our hearts ready for Christmas. It’s about Jesus. It’s about God doing something about our loneliness. It’s about God doing something about our despair. It’s about God doing something about the pain in our hearts. It’s about what God has done in Jesus.
It’s become an old cliché but it’s still one of my favorites Jesus is the reason for the season. Christmas is about Jesus. Of course you agree. It’s about Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. And that’s right, but if that were then end of the story we’d be right back where we started. So what if another baby is born into this world. So what if Shepherds visit him. So what… The story of Christmas isn’t just a sweet story about the birth of a baby; it’s about what that baby has been born to do.
The manger of Christmas is empty if we don’t see the shadow of the cross over it. It is on the cross that Jesus gives us the reason for the season. That baby in swaddling clothes doesn’t stay a baby, he becomes a man. And he’s not just and ordinary man; he is God himself in human flesh. He is God coming to take the emptiness out of life by filling it with his own life. Because everything in life that is apart from God is meaningless. You know it because you’ve felt it, every time you get caught up in the hustle of the season and forget about Jesus. You feel it every time you take your eyes of the cross, or see just the manger and forget the cross.
Remember the cross of Jesus is for you. It’s where Jesus takes the pain and suffering of sin and buries it forever in death. He feels the emptiness of life lived apart from God and he cries “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” Why have you forsaken me? That kind of empty death isn’t yours anymore. What awaits you after death is a resurrection, just like Jesus. He rose from the dead and you will rise from the dead, too. That’s his promise to you in Baptism. And hey, that’s his promise to you in Christmas.
But I want you to see one more thing. Advent isn’t just about waiting for Christmas. It is, in fact, waiting for something much greater and even better than Christmas. Jesus is coming again, and this time it’s not going to be in swaddling cloths. This time he’s coming in power and glory. He is going to raise me and you from our dusty graves to life again. No day of joy that you have ever experienced is going to match the joy you’ll feel standing before Jesus in your resurrected body, seeing Jesus face to face. Every time we prepare to celebrate Christmas by thinking and focusing on Jesus we are thinking and preparing for that day. And that’s just what Jesus means when he says Watch yourselves!
So, Happy Advent! Get ready Jesus is coming. Prepare yourselves by remembering what he has done for you. Do some shopping, hang some lights, eat some Christmas cookies. Jesus is coming soon. And he is the reason for the season. Amen.
The Peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.