Are You Ready to Go?
[audio http://www.opcbrookhaven.org/worship/audio/sermons/11-28-10.MP3]So…are you ready for Christmas yet? I know it’s only November, but, I gotta say, it feels like we’re behind the curve already. Black Friday has come and gone, so Christmas season is in full swing.
So I propose that we, as a church, jump on this Christmas bandwagon. It’s worked out well as a shopping season, what’s to say the church can’t benefit as well? I want to pitch some ideas to you, where we might be able to take advantage of this holiday in some way. And as a result, we could easily boost the crowds, increase the traffic, and get our own numbers in the black. Here are a couple of quick suggestions, just off the top of my head:
- We could offer a 2 for 1 communion special. Instead of having to choose juice or wine, why not have both?
- How about a 10% discount on tithes through the end of the year?
- What if we opened up the church on Christmas Eve? There are always those last minute folks; maybe if we’re open, we might get some of that traffic here!
What do you think?
When we hear the question, “Are you ready for Christmas,” what pops to mind? Is it braving the madness of the holiday shopping season? Is it that search for the perfect tree, or getting the decorations down from the attic or up from the basement and then weeding through and seeing which ones are still usable? Is it making sure that we know what everyone on our list wants and where we can get it? Or is it making the list first? How about the annual Christmas cards: are we going to do another letter this year, or just the picture?
Is your blood pressure beginning to rise? Is your pulse quickening? Are you taking out a pen, not to take notes on the sermon, but to write down the stuff you’ve already forgotten?
The point, of course, is that the insanity of the season means that we sometimes lose track of our focus this time of year. The question for us, as a people of faith, isn’t about readiness for the trappings of the holiday. The question this time of year is simply this: Are we ready to welcome the Christ child into our home again?
As we begin Advent today, we start a series of conversations, imagining this season to be steps on a journey. The title of the series is inspired by a song by Ingrid Michaelson. The lyrics to the first verse seem so fitting: “They say that home is where the heart is. I guess I haven’t found my home. And we keep driving round in circles afraid to call this place our own. Are we there yet?”
There are so many different ways to describe this feeling that she elicits. It’s a restlessness, a sense that something just isn’t right with the world the way it is. Paul talks about it as being a “stranger or an alien”. For me, it’s when we get those glimpses of the way God wants the world to be, but so many more moments that seem absolutely contrary to God’s desires. We’re clearly not “there yet”, wherever “there” is. So maybe this time of year is a perfect one to take that first step on this Advent journey together.
Advent really has two points to it: the first is the waiting for eight pound six ounce baby Jesus, for Christmas, a memory of the world’s waiting for Jesus the Messiah. That’s the part we usually prefer. The second is the waiting for Jesus’ return. We sophisticated Presbyterians often ignore this one. But today’s lesson from Matthew doesn’t give us much room for denial. Jesus speaks of a future day that will arrive like a thief, when we least expect it. Here’s the simple truth of the lesson: as much as the world needed Jesus 2000-plus years ago, very little has changed. It’s not about getting ready because we know the day and the hour, because we think we can interpret the signs and the prophecies. Jesus warns against such frivolous reading of the tealeaves. No one, no one knows, the day or the hour. But there’s nothing to prevent us from hearing this as a call to get ready anyway.
So as we start off on our Advent journey this year, we begin with the question of whether or not we’re even ready to go.
It’s the most important part of the journey in many ways, the getting ready. And it can also be the most stressful part: making sure that everything that needs to be turned off is, and that everything that needs to be set up is, too. Is the Tivo programmed? The mail and the newspaper on hold? What about the neighbors, do they know we’ll be gone? Have we packed absolutely everything that we need?
And then there are the false starts. Everybody’s in the car, and somebody needs to use the bathroom. And someone else forgot their phone. Or the charger. Or the destination.
I remember one time in high school when I took a road trip to Durham with my friends Eric and Chris to see Georgia Tech play Duke in football. This was 1987, when Duke went 5-6 and Tech won two games. Even so, we were excited. We left Chris’ house early Saturday morning, taking turns driving. About two hours out of Atlanta, Eric joked and said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we forgot the tickets?”
We made it there for the half time show.
Is that what it feels like to welcome Jesus? Is it like the stress of getting ready, wanting to be sure that everything is in place, that we haven’t forgotten anything? Or is it more like those false starts, when we say, “Come, Lord Jesus,” and then quickly add, “But not quite yet?”
Maybe the journey metaphor isn’t the best. Maybe it’s more like getting ready for a house guest. You spend days getting the place ready, doing the shopping, fixing all those little pesky things, making sure the guest bath has plenty of toilet paper. And once they arrive, you are on your absolute best behavior as a family. The petty disputes can wait until they leave, because it doesn’t really matter whose job it was to get rid of those cobwebs, does it? At least, not right now. We can sort that out when they’re gone…
The truth is, any metaphor we use will fall short. We know that we’re not supposed to welcome Jesus for a few days at a time. The life of faith is one in which we walk with Jesus every step of the way. And that crack in the ceiling, or in our relationships? We could always paint it over, but that’s not really living up to the honesty that Jesus deserves, is it?
That all being said, there is something to this idea of getting ready. Our faith life has its fits and starts. There are times when it doesn’t feel like God is present at all; and, if we’re honest, there are times when we simply don’t want God around.
And so, my invitation to you this first Sunday of Advent is simply this: what will you do to welcome the Christ child into your life this year? Perhaps you have a familiar practice that has become a sacred family tradition. Or maybe it’s time to get one started.
It could be using a daily Advent devotional at home, a moment as simple as lighting a candle or saying a prayer. Perhaps it’s being sure that someone else knows that they are welcome, too: inviting them to one of our events at church, signing up for one of our AMIS hosting opportunities, sharing a family tradition with someone whom you know will be alone…Whatever way that you think you can get ready to go, to start your own Advent journey toward Christmas this year.
And when you know what it is, when you’re sure what your Advent discipline will be this year, I encourage you to put it first. Before the shopping and the lists and the parties and the cards, let’s be sure that we know what it is we will do to put Jesus at the heart of the Christmas season. After all, before Black Friday, before Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and yes, even before candlelight Christmas Eve services, if you can believe it, there was just a baby named Jesus. The world certainly wasn’t ready for him then. Are we ready for him now?