Audio here: .
Video of the Service here.
Video of the service is here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“If you can awaken inside the familiar/and discover it new/you need never/leave home” (Ted Kooser, Local Wonders, 94). If you can awaken inside the familiar, and discover it new, you need never leave home. That was written by a poet named Ted Kooser about a painting that made a familiar street take on a new light. And it’s not a bad place for us to start this evening as we consider something that is very familiar to us; a street we have walked down so many times before: this account—or maybe this idea—of the Christmas story. Even the word “Christmas” brings with it all sorts of baggage: memories, and traditions, and smells and tastes, and even its own kind of feeling: the “Christmas spirit,” we call it. And so I wonder if we can—if it’s even possible—to awaken inside this familiar story and discover it new.
I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed when Christmas Eve arrives. I know that sounds strange, but let me explain. The fact is, I love Advent. I’ve always been more at home in the anticipation than in the realization. I love the hymns of Advent, the expectation of Advent, the fact that it goes so contrary to the spirit of the world, which wants us to start celebrating Christmas on the day after Halloween, mostly for the sake of getting us to buy, buy, buy. And what’s the result? Anxiety, worry, rushing around from one place to another, one party to another, one store to the next. What’s the result? Complete exhaustion by the time Christmas actually arrives; by December 25th, you never want to hear another Christmas carol again.
But Advent! Advent preserves that warm, reflective place; a haven from cards and cookies and carols. Advent, it seems to me, is much more like real life: we spend far more time waiting than we do celebrating. And I wonder if that’s part of the issue: we don’t really know how to celebrate because we don’t really know how to wait. We don’t know how to fast, so we don’t know how to feast. We find it hard not to overindulge, overspend, overdo. Advent says, hold on a minute, light one candle a week, wait a while in the wilderness with the strange and the holy, like John the Baptizer. Hear again, as if for the first time, that this whole mess has been made right in Jesus, who is coming again to judge the quick and the dead. Advent is the skinny, crooked finger of the Baptizer, pointing in stark relief to the Mighty One who was to follow him—but pointing to a Mighty One who did not come in divine might, with fire and sword. Pointing to a glorious One whose glory was shown most clearly on a cross. Pointing to a Judge who would take on Himself the entire judgment due sinners in payment for their sin.
But that’s not the message of John only. It’s the message of the prophets, of the little town of Bethlehem, of the shepherds, and of the angels, as we have just heard. Every prophecy, every Word of God—indeed, the entire creation—is summed up in the body of that Baby, who would give His Body and Blood on a cross for you. That He is for you, you can be sure, because God raised His Son from the dead, and now He lives and reigns, the same God-Man, at the Right Hand of God’s power. And yet, we still do not see it all. His power is still hidden, just as it was in that Virgin, that manger, that cave, that Man. Advent, in its waiting, makes the wonder of Christmas all the more wonder-full. But, of course, without the fulfillment of everything we wait and hope for, the waiting would be worthless. And so, in this world that is too impatient to prepare and too gluttonous to celebrate, the Church of Christ takes her time with the wonder. To wonder at prophets speaking the Word of God centuries before the fulfillment; to wonder at God in diapers; to wonder, what Child is this in Bethlehem, silently pleading for sinners? To wonder at filthy, sheep-scented shepherds blessed with the song of angels; to wonder at God walking around in Nazareth and Galilee and Jerusalem; to wonder, as we come to adore the new-born King, what sort of King is this, who goes to a cross for His enemies, even you and me? So, whether you need help with the waiting, or with the wonder, the prophets, shepherds, and angels are here tonight to speak Jesus into our ears and hearts. Not just this December, or this Christmas, but throughout lives lived in both waiting and wonder, as the God-Man continues to come to us in water, words, wine and bread, for forgiveness, life, and salvation. There’s nothing more worthy of wonder than Him, as we wait for Him to begin the eternal celebration with a Word.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/24/13