This coming Sunday marks the beginning of the holy season of Advent, a time of preparation, a time of awaiting the arrival of the coming Messiah, a time of great expectation and vivid anticipation that are envisioned and forestalled across the four Sundays in December leading us to Christmas Eve.
But exactly what is it that we anticipate? What are we getting ready for? What do we expect to happen? Are we preparing for yet another month-long shopping spree? Or maybe we’re getting ready for the seven to ten pounds the average American gains during the Christmas season? Perhaps it is the treacherous traffic jams on Hwy 280 or the hustle and bustle of exasperated shoppers at The Summit?
If we allow our thoughts and focus to become dominated this December by what I am calling a “consumer” Christmas, we can easily find that instead of singing “O Holy Night” we are belting out “O Holy Nightmare!” The sad reality is that the more secular our society becomes, the farther we drift as a culture from the actual truth of Christmas.
For the many who only observe the consumer Christmas, it hardly ever measures up to their expectations. Even for those who manage to have some of their Christmas wishes fulfilled, the season is over so quickly that the need to make New Year’s resolutions shadows over them before the decorations can even come down.
But the Advent we celebrate in the life of the church, one that has nothing at all to do with the number of shopping days until Christmas, is completely different. And we have God to thank for that! Advent is a time of waiting and planning to receive the coming of the Christ in to the world. Liturgical traditions such as sanctuary decorations, the placement of the poinsettias in the chancel, the lighting of the first Advent candle on the Advent Wreath, the singing of carols, and reading and hearing once again the ancient biblical stories of the birth of the Christ Child invites us to embrace the Christian hope for a different, brighter future foreseen in the birth of Jesus. The question before each of us as we begin this Advent season should center on whether we are preparing our hearts to receive once again God’s greatest gift yet given, the gift of Christ. Are we willing to wait on God?
In preparation for this Advent season, I would like to share the following prayer with you that I will be praying each day this week, and I invite to join me:
You keep us waiting. You, the God of all time, want us to wait. For the right time in which to discover who we are, where we are to go, who will be with us, and what we must do. So thank you…for the waiting time.” – from The Westminster Collection of Christian Prayers.
Additionally, this Sunday in Traditions, I will introduce a unique Advent sermon series:
Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without the music – majestic carols like “Joy to the World,” “Silent Night,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful” bespeak of tidings of comfort and joy and touch us in the deep places of the heart.
However, there is a whole other collection of Christmas music from the African American tradition that is just as powerful. The problem is that we are just not as familiar with these carols as we should be. I am talking about spirituals such as “Children, Go Where I Send Thee,” “Sweet Little Jesus Boy,” “Some Children See Him,” and the one that inspired my sermon series, “Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow.” Each Sunday in December we will feature one of these spirituals in an inimitable and engaging way.
I don’t know when I have looked forward to Advent and Christmas as much as I am this year, and I am excited to share the holiday with you and your family!
Don’t forget to bring your Next Steps commitment card with you this Sunday and bring them forward with you as you come to receive Holy Communion. We will be sharing in a prayer of dedication together asking God’s blessings upon us as we get ready for the months ahead. Additional cards will be available this Sunday prior to the service if you should need it.
May this week be a time of spiritual focus and growth, and may you know the peace of God’s presence in all that you do. O Come, O Come Emanuel! See you Sunday!
P.S. Last Sunday I introduced something new that I am excited to share with you all…my Book of the Month. I am a veracious reader and many of you ask what I am reading or have read lately that I would recommend. So, going forward, every month, you will find a new book at the Welcome Center outside the Sanctuary. Sometimes the title will be one that helped me prepare for my sermon series; other times the book will be one that I found to be particularly timely or helpful in spiritual development. For December, Awaiting the Already by Magrey R. deVega is the book I have chosen and it is an Advent journey through the gospels with five sessions; one for each Sunday in Advent and for Christmas. I purchased the book on smile.amazon.com because a portion of the proceeds goes back to Asbury UMC. Just select Asbury United Methodist Church (Birmingham) and use smile.amazon.com every time you shop.