Waiting For Christ

We inadvertently ended up with the theme of “waiting” in worship this morning.  I realize that’s the whole point of the Advent season, but on Wednesday my Music Director and I were trying to come up with a quick and easy anthem for the choir to sing this week (they’re pretty deep in Cantata rehearsals right now) and we found an anthem that was about waiting.  Not going to lie – what sold me on it was, “Advent-themed + two-parts.”  I didn’t connect at the time that I had just outlined a sermon that basically was talking about the exact same thing.  I love it when that happens!

It did, however, make me think of this amazing graphic that one of my clergy sister’s posted to a Facebook forum:

15137397_866482749816_8830336190336647814_o

#hamiltonobsessedclergy

Many many thanks to my dad’s advanced chorus for recording their rendition of Season’s Reasons so I could use it as an illustration and everyone got the full effect!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 4, 2016

Matthew 3:1-12

Waiting For Christ

My dad has a choral arrangement he pulls out every couple of years called, Three Carols. The first carol, called Seasons Reasons, is an absolutely hilarious reflection on the dichotomy of the Christmas spirit. It starts off calm and mellow, describing the pure joy and miraculous wonder of Christmas—and then launches into a frantic mess of Christmas shopping, money woes, babies screaming and fights in every aisle.

You know, the true reason for the season.

For some reason, as I was reflecting on the proclamation of John the Baptist this week, particularly those words from Isaiah, “Prepare the way of the Lord,” I could not get this song out of my head. I texted my dad about it earlier in the week and when he replied, he told me his chorus was actually scheduled to sing it at their concert in a couple of weeks and offered to record them rehearsing so you could get the full effect.

So, welcome to my brain. The proclamation of John the Baptist: Interpreted by me, sung by the New Milford High School Advanced Chorus.

Seasons Reasons

After all, it would not be Christmas without stress, aggravation and a giant meltdown, right?

When I was in seminary, I used to get so annoyed that finals would fall during Advent. The liturgical snob in me thought Advent should just be about waiting for the birth of Jesus and not any kind of stress. I could not wait to graduate so I could be done with school and spend four weeks in December centering myself on the Advent season and not stressing about anything else.

Bless my heart.

Then I entered what is known as the “real world” – where presents need to be bought, traffic is horrendous, stores are crowded, people are cranky, work is usually filled with stressful year-end tasks and cars always seem to break right before you need to travel.

We all know that the stress of the Christmas season – the quest for the perfect gifts, the Pinterest-worthy centerpieces and the gorgeous decorations – is not really what this season is supposed to be about.

But, man, if it is not hard to remember that when you are scrolling through Facebook and it seems like you are the only person in the entire world who has not put up your Christmas decorations yet.

Here is where the scripture comes into play. Because, in fairness (and I have actually used this argument in the past as a way to justify my obsessive decorating), this is kind of what John the Baptist is telling us to do. When he appears in the wilderness of Judea, he quotes the prophet Isaiah, who said, “Prepare the way of the Lord!”[1]

Prepare: I mean, what is he talking about here if not elaborate decorations, perfectly posed Christmas cards, and gifts for every single person in your life?

Spoiler alert: That is not what John the Baptist is talking about here.

First of all, the context of this wilderness sermon is not part of the story of Jesus’ birth; it actually happens after, nearly 30 years later. In the Gospel of Matthew, this narrative immediately precedes the narrative of Jesus’ baptism and the beginning of his adult ministry. When John the Baptist quotes the prophet that we are to, “Prepare the way of the Lord,” he is not implying that Israel needs to throw Mary a baby shower and fix up the roads from Nazareth to Bethlehem. In fact, John’s call is much deeper – and much more personal.

We read in this scripture that people are traveling from Jerusalem and Judea to be baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. He baptizes them, inviting them also to confess their sins, just as we do in worship today.

But when the Pharisees and the Sadducees, two political groups who oppose John the Baptist and perceive him as a threat, come to him for baptism, his reaction is quite hostile. He calls them a “brood of vipers,”[2] demanding that they “bear fruit worthy of repentance”[3] and telling them something greater that what is he doing is about to happen.

There are so many great sermons that can be preached on the Pharisees and the Sadducees and while I do not want to ignore them, today I want to focus on John the Baptist and what he is saying. Because I think his reaction here speaks to us, in our lives, as we try to find a way to balance the crazy demands of this Christmas seasons.

Water is not enough, John proclaims. He is baptizing people with water, but he knows that it is not enough; that something – someone – else needs to intercede and will intercede.

I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.[4]

John the Baptist knows that the true power of what he is doing through baptism will not come from him; it will come from Christ, it is coming from Christ. John says Jesus is so powerful that even he, John, is not worthy enough to carry his sandals; that what John is doing does not compare to what Jesus will do.

We spend a lot of time in Advent preparing: Preparing our homes, preparing our gifts and preparing our tables. But even though we can point to this scripture, this prophecy from Isaiah to “Prepare the way of the Lord,” Advent is not really about preparing; it is about waiting.

Christ is coming, whether we are prepared for him or not, and right now what we need to do is wait; that is what this season is all about.

Advent is about waiting for the birth of Christ, waiting for God to break forth into our world, waiting for the reassurance that hope is alive, that peace will prevail, that joy will be found and that love will always win.

This will happen regardless of whether or not we send out cards, put up multiple Christmas trees, bake 20 dozen cookies or buy everyone the perfect present. We cannot obsess over details and allow ourselves get lost in the stress of Christmas; instead we should wait and let ourselves to be found in the real magic of it.

This crazy Christmas season that happens all around us, year after year, is not enough. Because the true power of what we do this Advent season will not come from us; it is coming from Christ.

I say this in the most Adventful spirit of hope, peace, joy and love – this is not about you. This – this Advent season, this Christmas cheer – is not about any of us. This is about Christ; this is about the birth of Jesus in a manger 2,000 years ago and the ways in which, time and time again, God breaks through the imperfections of our own humanity and comes into our world in the moments when we need it most.

This is not something we prepare for; this is something we wait for.

This sermon that John the Baptist preaches in the wilderness reminds us that, just as he points to something that is beyond himself and what he is doing, so should we. As cheesy as this sounds, we should hold onto the true meaning of Christmas and point to something beyond ourselves as we try to find some balance over the next few weeks.

So give yourself some grace this season. It has been a hard year for a lot of people – do not make it harder on yourself by trying to create perfection this season. Instead, allow yourself to wait; to feel the thrill of hope and rejoice with a weary world as we all await the arrival of Emmanuel.

Because one that is more powerful than all of us – and more powerful than the craziness of the Christmas season – is coming.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Matthew 3:1-3
[2] Matthew 4:7, NRSV
[3] Matthew 4:8, NRSV
[4] Matthew 3:11, NRSV

Advent Starts With Us

Good Morning!  We had our Hanging of the Greens service on Sunday and it was such a fun way to get into the Advent and Christmas spirit.  There were definitely a few comedy of errors moments (we almost lost a strand of garland off the balcony) but it was nice to just laugh and remember that God doesn’t ask for perfection.

Here is my sermon from Sunday – enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 27, 2016

Romans 13:11-14

Advent Starts With Us

I am so not a morning person.

I wish I was, I really do; I am envious of those people who pop up at 5AM without an alarm and go for a run, have their first cup of coffee, do two loads of laundry and clear out their inbox before my alarm even starts going off. But that is just not who I am; I am one of those people who needs multiple alarms, fully utilizes the snooze button and has perfected the art of showering, putting on makeup and getting dressed in less than 30 minutes, all in the name of “five more minutes” in my warm and cozy bed.

All this is to say that, of all people, I understand the significance of what Paul is getting at when he wrote to the Romans and said, “now is the moment for you to wake from sleep.” [1]

Because some things are easier said than done.

But wake up from what? As much as I would like to think the citizens of Rome could sympathize with my night owl tendencies, I think Paul was actually getting at something a little bit deeper here.

For salvation is nearer to us now than when we become believers.[2]

Like in many of Paul’s letters, his focus here was eschatological; he was concerned with the Second Coming, the end of the world as they knew it. The moment was then because they quite literally did not know how much time they had left.

Granted, the end of the world is not something we are as concerned with in our own lives and existence; but I also would not say that things are particularly stable in our world right now, either. The news is hard to swallow sometimes. Just this week, national headlines were filled with a country still divided following a presidential election, protests over the Dakota pipeline turning violent and news of a deadly bus crash devastating a community.

News from around the world is not any easier to see or understand. Heartbreaking photos and videos continue to come out of Aleppo and other parts of Syria, reminding us that war-torn countries do not only exist in scriptural texts and history books, but in our own lifetime.

Here at the church, it has not been the easiest of years. Families in our community have struggled in real ways; some have suffered unimaginable losses. In board and committee meetings, we have had many conversations facing the reality of what it means to be the church in today’s changing landscape of ministry. We have come to terms with inconsistent attendance and prayerfully worked through financial challenges.

The thing is, we are not confronted with the urgency of the Second Coming the way Paul envisioned it when he wrote this letter to the Roman church. But we are confronted with the urgency of the everyday reminders of what it means to live in a broken world, of why we need God to come into our midst and intercede where our own imperfections lie and of why we need to continue to write this Christian story.

Now, more than ever, we cannot afford to pull the covers over our heads and ask for five more minutes. God needs us. We have to wake up; we have face the world that we are living in and do the work that God is calling us to do.

Paul wrote that, “the night is far gone [and] the day is near”[3] and I think this speaks to us today because it reminds us that God is getting ready to use us to do something powerful and life changing.

But what is that something?

Part of the Advent season is discerning what God is calling us to do and who God is calling us to be. When you read the news and think about the world we are living in today, it is easy to think that you, one person, cannot make a difference. But the Christmas story is not just a story about the birth of Christ; it is also a story about the moment God used humble beginnings to come into and change the world.

My Tuesday morning bible study and I are currently participating in a five week study of Advent, using a walk through of the Holy Land to look in depth at Mary, Joseph, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and the manger. During our first session last week, we looked at Mary and the city of Nazareth. The narrator of the DVD pointed out that Nazareth was not a wealthy or prosperous city; in fact, most of its citizens were fairly poor. Mary was poor; her family was not powerful. She probably never would have thought that she had the capacity for greatness.

And yet, she was the one who God used as a vessel to bring Jesus into this world. As a poor girl with humble beginnings, God used Mary as a vessel to bring hope, peace, joy and love into this world.

When we tell this Advent story we must remember that, in our own humble lives, God can use us, too, as vessels to bring hope, peace, joy and love into this world. We might not be rich or powerful, but we do have the capacity to do God-sized things.

That means we have some work to do. Paul said, “Let us the lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light”[4] and this call is just as powerful and poignant for us today as it was when he wrote it nearly 2,000 years ago. We can make a difference in this world. We can transform lives. We can create news that does not make our hearts hurt, but burst with love and hope.

Yes, we may live in a world that is often plagued with darkness, but, in our own lives, we can shine light into that darkness. We might not be able to fix all of the problems in our country or the world, but we can start here, in our community, with our families and with our friends, coworkers and acquaintances. We can teach our children how to do this in school, at sports and other activities, on the bus and with their friends. We can show love, kindness and compassion to other people, we can make sure that everyone is treated equally and we can speak out against bullying and gossip.

The world is a tough place to live in, but the Christmas story reminds us that just as hope, peace, joy and love started with an innocent child born in a humble manger, it also starts at home in our lives every single day. Paul said, “let us live honorably” and today this reminds us that we have to demonstrate our prayer for this Advent season in the actions of our lives. Advent starts here. Advent starts with us.

Paul told the Roman people to, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” and today I give to you this same call. Clothe yourselves in the Gospel; wrap yourself in the magic of the Christmas story. Get ready to do the work God is calling you to do – to bring hope, peace, joy and love into the world; to shine light into the darkness. Get ready to rise up to the potential of what God is calling you to do and what God knows you have the capacity to do. Get ready to live out the Advent season right in your own lives and change the world.

As you journey through this Advent season this year, do not get caught up in the stress of the holiday season; wake up to the magic of it. Let yourself be overwhelmed by the power of what it meant for God to come into the world in humble and human flesh in a manger in Bethlehem. And then let yourself be inspired by what it now means for God to come into the world through our lives today.

So wake up! Advent starts today. And it starts with us.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Romans 13:11, NRSV
[2] Romans 13:11, NRSV
[3] Romans 13:12, NRSV
[4] Romans 13:12, NRSV

May We All

Hello and happy (almost) Thanksgiving!

I know I went a little radio silent on here, but I decided not to post my post-election sermon last week.  I wrestled with the decision for a couple of days.  I preached a message that my congregation needed to hear and was ready to receive, but emotions were just running so high at that point that I didn’t want to create another virtual space that was open for an emotionally-charged political debate.

Ugh, truth?  I think I was just scared.  I know fear is a horrible place to lead from, but that’s where I was.  One of my clergy friends shared with me last week that one of her parishioners commented that the pulpit seemed like a “lonely and vulnerable place” the Sunday after the election and, I have to say, it was.

So – that’s that.  Here is this week’s sermon!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MANovember 20, 2016

Colossians 1:11-20

May We All

For some reason this morning’s scripture reminded me of the song, “May We All,” by Florida Georgia Line featuring Tim McGraw. For those of you who do not share my enthusiasm for country music, the basic premise of the song is rooted in the hope the songwriter has that people will have the opportunity to experience the simple pleasures of life in a small town that he had. Each verse starts by saying, “May we all,” and those sentences are finished with snippets of the songwriter’s childhood.

Of course, most of the lyrics to the song are not at all relevant to what this letter is actually saying. “May we all get to grow up in our red white and blue little town, get a one star hand me down Ford to try to fix up” – these were not the things that the folks in Colossae were really concerned with.

That being said, the connection (or lack there of) between this song and scripture made me think about what was at the heart of the messages that both the songwriter of this song and the author of this letter were trying to convey. What were their hopes for their intended audiences?

Hit with an annoying case of writer’s block Friday afternoon, I did what I always do: I went for run. While I was running, I listened to this song on repeat, hoping it might help. And while the only thing it really did was get the song stuck in my head for the rest of the day, it did make me think about what I do, as a preacher. What is at the heart of the messages that I share with you all? What is my hope for you all?

The Letter to the Colossians was written during the late first century to a church in Asia Minor that was founded by a member of the Pauline mission. The church was struggling with other religious authorities trying to come in and sway the Colossians in their beliefs. This letter was written as a way to refute those other authorities and to focus the church back on the heart of the Gospel message.

This letter reminds the people reading that their strength and power come from one place, from God, who was enabling them to emerge from the darkness that the world often is filled with and be united as one body, the church. It is a prayer that they all will feel God’s power in their lives, not be tempted by other authorities and find reconciliation with God so that peace can prevail on earth.

I know that the challenges we face today are a little bit different than the ones this church was facing in the first century, but also I feel that the heart of the message – the hope the author had for this church – is still bold and powerfully true today.

Many of you know that social media has always fascinated me. As a church, we have an active Facebook page that we use to promote our programs and share our ministries. It has been vital in so many ways as it has grown over the past five years. But I know that, like anything, social media has its pros and cons. For example, I read an article the other day calling out Mark Zuckerberg – the founder of Facebook – for not doing enough to block “fake news” from being shared on Facebook during the election.

Here’s the issue: Anyone can publish anything on the Internet and people can take is as fact. The problem with this election was that news stories containing false information were being posted to Facebook and people were sharing and commenting as if they were fact. The concern was that by the time Election Day rolled around, people on all sides were misinformed and some people feel it is Facebook’s responsibility to do a better job of filtering out the “fake news.”

I am not sure I really have an opinion on this one way or the other, but, this article did get me thinking: Where do we turn to for our information, for our inspiration? Where does our authority come from? Or, perhaps the harder question is, where should we turn to for our information, for our inspiration? Where should our authority come from?

As a church, we do not have the same struggles that the Colossians did; we are not a new church facing religious authorities trying to sway us in another direction. But we do live in a culture that is becoming increasingly secular as the years go on. We live in a society filled with so much noise from different people and places and every day that it gets harder and harder to filter it. We live in a culture where God’s voice, scripture and Christian traditions are often quieted in favor of what is trendy and popular at the moment.

Back in the spring, I preached a sermon about how I thought we all needed to spend more time reading the bible and less time in the noise of the world. I called myself to task because I knew I was just as guilty as anyone else of mindlessly reading whatever I happened to find on the Internet that day. I pledged that day to do better.

And I did.

For awhile.

I was actually doing really well when I was in Hungary and I had turned off the data on my phone.

But I have to admit, lately I find myself falling back into some of those habits. And the more I get sucked into the chaos of what exists in the Internet, the media and the culture we live in, the easier it is for me to forget the Goods News that is God’s love.

And it is good news.

I think this message to the Colossians is important, now more than ever. We need to remember that our authority should come from God. We need to keep God at the center of our lives, our relationships our conversations. We need to go back to Jesus’ life and model our choices around the teachings in the Gospel.

It is an honor and a privilege to wake up every morning and do this job. To walk with people during the most heartbreaking and joy-filled moments of their lives is to see grace, to shine light and to know that God’s love is real.

And I think that starts to get at the heart of what I want to share with you all, week after week. That is my hope for you all. I pray that you will all bear witness to this grace, light and love in your lives, that you will have the strength to quiet the noise of the world and listen to God’s voice speaking to you. I pray that you will know that you are blessed and loved child of God, created, redeemed and sustained in God’s image.

So may we all: May we all be made strong by the radical and life-changing message of the Gospel. May we all feel God’s strength and guidance we face each day. May we all find grace, shine light and show love. May we all look to God for authority in our lives, knowing that God’s work is ever-present and ever powerful in our lives. May we all be united as one Body, one Church.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.