This Season Is For You

I completely shifted gears this week in terms of my approach to Advent.  I spent the first two weeks talking about the magic and joy of the season and this week I talked about what it means to be in a dark or sad place during this season.  If you are feeling pain or grief this season, please know that this season is just as much for you as it is for those who are experiencing joy.  You do not have to fake happiness or joy to participate in this season of waiting – be who you are, where you are.

If you are in a dark place this year, please leave me a comment or email me and let me know how I can pray for you.

Happy Advent, friends. <3

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 10, 2017

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

This Season Is For You

The prophet Isaiah says:

They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;[1]

Ten years ago, my parents and my sister and I went on a cruise through the Eastern Mediterranean. One of our stops was Pompeii, which, I am sure most of you know, was a Roman town near Naples, Italy, that was buried when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD. The city remained frozen in time until it was rediscovered in 1748, largely – and quite miraculously – in tact. Because so much of the city was preserved, these ruins give us a really fascinating window into what everyday life looked like so many years ago.

Now I say, “I am sure most of you know” what Pompeii is, because – confession time – being the stellar history student that I was, I actually had no clue what Pompeii was until I walked onto the site of the ruins and started listening to the tour guide in my ear.

When I made this same confession to Bruce after I returned home from my trip, he looked at me, kind of dumbfounded and said, “Did you not pay attention at all in high school?”

I prefer not to answer that question.

That being said, not knowing what I was going to see before I got there kind of gave me a more pure and authentic impression of the ruins than I think I might have gotten if I had a preconceived notion of what I was looking at ahead of time.

Because I got there and did not automatically assume I was going to see something that was ruined; in fact, when I arrived, all I saw was something beautiful.

And what that experience has taught me over time is that very often beauty can be found in the ruins; there is beauty in something that is broken, something that is falling apart, something that has been covered up and something that is in desperate need of restoration and redemption.

This is the promise of Christmas, though, is it not? Beauty found in a world that is broken; grace found in humanity in need of redemption; light found in the darkness of a humble stable.

The Pompeii ruins tell a story; the story of a civilization from thousands of years ago, but also the story of a hope that is brought to light with the realization that sometimes not all is lost. I learned while wandering through the ruins that resurrection is more than just what happened on that first Easter morning; it is what happens every time God takes something that seems to be completely ruined and gives it new life.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Old Testament, from the Prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is the most-often quoted prophetic book in the New Testament. It is sometimes called “the Gospel of the Old Testament,” because, when read through the lens of Christian theology, the promises found in these prophecies find nearly perfect fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

Isaiah is one of the most complex books of the bible, however, because it reflects a period of time that spans hundreds of years of Judean history and was likely constructed by more than one author. It is traditionally broken down into three sections: First Isaiah, chapters 1-39, Second Isaiah, chapters 40-55 and Third Isaiah, chapters 56-66.

The breakdown of these sections is actually really important from a historical perspective. I know, I know, look at me, giving the history lesson. But if we understand the history, we understand the context of what is being said and why.

First Isaiah is dated prior to the Babylonian exile, Second Isaiah takes place while Israel is in exile and Third Isaiah is post-exile. This means that where we comes into the narrative this morning, in the 61st chapter of Isaiah, Isaiah is speaking to Israel immediately following their release from captivity. Here the prophet is speaking, bringing good news to the people of Israel – who have just come out of exile – of their deliverance and glorification.

They had nothing; the people of Israel had been in exile and when they were released, everything was in ruin.

But Isaiah says in this passage that he has been sent to bring good news to the oppressed and to comfort those who mourn. The devastation and ruin of many generations will be restored – the nation will be built up, raised up, repaired.

All is not lost, Isaiah promises. You will be made whole again. There is beauty in the ruins.

Sometimes I think we need to hear these same promises today.

When I was in seminary, I used to think it was so unfair that finals fell during December and the season of Advent. I was supposed to be waiting for the arrival of the Christ child, not writing papers and cramming for exams! How was I supposed to experience the beauty of this magical season when I was stressing over school? I could not wait until I graduated and took my first call and was able to fully live into the joy of the Advent and Christmas seasons.

Well, I did graduate; and I did enter my first call; and I had every intention of experiencing the joy, magic and beauty of the Advent and Christmas seasons.

And then my grandmother passed away – on December 19th. Her services were held on December 23rd. After they were over, Bruce and I drove through the night to get back to Rehoboth in time for me to preside over our Christmas Eve services.

My point is this: Yes, Christmas is beautiful, magical and joyful. But life still happens in the midst of it. The hard stuff does not stop being hard just because stores are playing Christmas music.

In fact, sometimes this time of year the hard stuff is even harder.

I think our world sometimes gives off this false impression that we have to be happy throughout the entire Christmas season, but I think it is equally important to remember that Christmas exists not because we are whole, but because we are broken. Jesus was not born into a world that was perfect; Jesus came into a world that desperately needed to be redeemed. 2,000 years ago, grace was shown to a world in need of a savior and I have to believe that the same thing will happen again today.

Advent is a time of waiting; waiting for the birth of the Christ child, but also waiting for the fulfillment of the promise that God is with us. It is a time where we can live in the ruins of our lives, believing God will build it back up again. It is a time where we can fully experience any pain or grief we might be feeling, knowing that God’s love is stronger, God’s light is brighter and God’s grace is more powerful.

And guys – living into this season in the midst of the hard stuff is just as beautiful as living into it in the midst of the magic. Just like the ruins in Pompeii, there is real beauty in the mess.

Because that is when the promises Isaiah talks about become real.

We sang Christmas carols at my grandmother’s funeral; because she was a piano player, an accomplished musician and would have loved nothing more. And in those moments, just like Isaiah prophesied, we were given garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning and the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. We joined our voices with the hosts of the heavenly angels, not necessarily because we felt joy, but because we needed to know that God was with us and that we were not forgotten.

Friends, I spent the first two weeks of Advent preaching about the joy and magic of this season, but there is another side to it – grief, pain, sadness – that are just as real and just as worthy of Christmas morning as the joy and magic are. If you are feeling that grief or pain or sadness right now – please know that you are not forgotten. I know this is a really difficult time of year and that sometimes you feel like you have to fake joy in order to be part of this season. But you do not; this season is for you, even in the midst of your grief, pain and sadness, the promise of Emmanuel will still be fulfilled.

This sermon was going to serve as a segue for an invitation to you all to join the Board of Deacons and me next week to release paper wishing lanterns into the dark night sky and let go of some of the burdens you feel from this year.

But then we found out that those lanterns are illegal in Massachusetts.

So we are not going to do that.

Instead, I am going to invite you to let me pray for you this season. If there is something that is on your heart, if you are grieving or if you are in pain, please let me know how I can pray for you. This season is for you. This season – this season of waiting, of hoping, of believing in these promises Isaiah prophesied so many years ago – is for you.

So find beauty in the midst of the ruin. Believe that you will be built up. Trust that Emmanuel is coming.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Isaiah 61:4

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Repent And Be Transformed

Hi Friends!

When I went to upload my sermon I was reminded that I have three separate documents with three different versions of Sunday’s sermon.  I couldn’t figure it out!  It just wasn’t working – probably because I was preaching on repentance and – ugh.  That’s hard.

I hope you enjoy my sermon!  I named my struggle right off the bat and I think people really relate when I do that.  But working through this actually gave me a lot to think about as I approach my own Advent season.

Have a great week, everyone!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 3, 2017

Mark 1:1-8

Repent And Be Transformed

I told Bruce on Friday night that I was struggling with my sermon for this weekend and when he asked me what I was preaching on and I said, “repentance,” he replied, “eeeek.”

So here’s the deal: It’s Advent. Everyone is getting ready for Christmas. Homes are being decorated, Advent calendars have started, holiday cards have been ordered and Christmas music fills the aisles of stores bustling with shoppers crossing things off of their lists.

No one wants to go to church during this magical season and hear the preacher drone on about repentance.

The Gospel of Mark says:

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:4, NRSV)

Bruce’s suggestion? Change the scripture.

There is something very magical about the Christmas story. Baby Jesus is born and placed lovingly in a manger and all is calm, all is bright and then we light some candles and sing, Joy to the World!

But this morning’s reading from the very beginning of the Gospel of Mark does not put us in the manger with the baby Jesus; it puts us in the wilderness with John the Baptist.

And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to [John the Baptist], and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Mark 1:5, NRSV)

There are four Gospels in the bible – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Two of these gospels – Matthew and Luke – begin with the birth narrative, with the Christmas story where Jesus is born.

But that is not where the Gospel of Mark starts. Mark is the shortest of the four Gospels. It jumps right into Jesus’ adult ministry; it begins with John the Baptist entering the scene in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance. There is no baby Jesus; no star for the wise men to follow; no animals milling around; no angels singing, Glory to the Newborn King!

Just a man preaching repentance, calling people to confess their sins.

John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’ (Mark 1:6-8)

Now what in the world does this have to do with Christmas?

Mark stands in stark contrast to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, where angels appear, babies are born and shepherds rejoice. Mark begins the story of Jesus by calling followers of Christ to repent and to be baptized as they confess their sins.

This is not the Christmas story many of us are used to. And yet, maybe this is exactly what we need this Christmas season.

It is easy to get caught up in the magic of Christmas. I do it all the time (the fact that I have two Christmas trees is proof of this fact). We deck the halls and sing Christmas carols and fill our homes with beautiful lights. Everything is so festive that sometimes we forget that, at the very beginning of it all, Jesus was born into a very broken world, a world that needed Christmas.

I do not know about the rest of you, but right now I feel like the world we are living in is also very much broken; it, too, needs Christmas.

And, as a pastor preaching her way through the season of Advent, I cannot help but think this whole repentance thing was the whole reason for the Christmas story in the first place. Jesus came into this world because the world needed to repent; the world needed to be redeemed. It was through our brokenness as human beings that God’s hope, peace, joy and love appeared in a manger 2,000 years ago and, I have to believe, that the same thing will happen again today.

I think the way Mark’s gospel begins reminds us that living into our call as Christians does not necessarily start with the magic of a manger; but with the hard work that is required to confess our sins and admit our own brokenness. The way this Gospel tells the narrative of Jesus’ life teaches us that part of the magic of Christmas is remembering why Jesus came into this world to begin with.

Which means that every time we celebrate Christmas, perhaps we should start by remembering why we need it in the first place.

And this is where repentance comes in.

Bruce joked with me yesterday that he would be happy to get up and repent for the, what I thought was a, questionable decorating decision he made at our house on Friday night when we were decorating for Christmas.

And I totally would have let him, but then I would have had to repent for the fact that, when I saw what he did, I immediately said, “Oh so this is the tacky side of the room, isn’t it?”

I think we all have moments in our lives that we wish we could take back.

And that is the point of repenting, is it not? That we look in the mirror, see the whole of the person that we are – including our faults and our imperfections and the things that we have said that we did not necessarily mean to – admit where we have fallen short and ask for forgiveness?

This is not easy. I know I am making light of it by talking about marital squabbles over Christmas décor, but true repentance – the kind that comes when we really dig deep and confess the things we have done wrong – is hard. It is not easy to hold ourselves accountable for the things we have done while we seek to also be the people God is calling us to be.

But we do this stepping out on faith, knowing we are forgiven, knowing we are loved and knowing we are made whole by God.

The cool thing about the Advent season is that it reminds us that Jesus’ work is not done yet. As we “prepare the way of the Lord,” we remember that it is always possible to prepare our hearts and our lives for the hope, peace, joy and love of God through Jesus Christ; we bear witness to the truth that redemption is not a one-time thing.

I believe in the power of the Christmas story. And I believe that when we start with repentance, we do so not out of guilt or shame, but out of trust in God and hope that we will be transformed this Christmas season.

So, as we continue journeying our way through the Advent season, I invite you to repent. Do not be scared of it; be freed by it. Allow yourself to be transformed as you look honestly at who you are and open yourself up and see how God’s hope, peace, joy and love can come into your life today.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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We Need A Little Christmas

Hi Friends!

As I mentioned in my post earlier today, we moved up the start of Advent for several reasons this year, most of which I outlined in my sermon.  According to Facebook, I would say it was pretty evenly split as to whether people moved up the start of Advent or are waiting until next week.

My second year in Rehoboth, I did a Hanging of the Greens service.  That first year, everyone pretty much thought I was nuts.  The second year, the flower committee tried to help me set up, but ended pretty much decorating everything the day before.  The third or fourth year, Bruce and I got into an argument about whether or not we could pull off the greens on the balcony could be hung during the service itself (or if we had to be totally lame and pre-hang them).  Last year, his point was proven when the greens almost fell off the balcony during The Holly and the Ivy.

Suffice is to say, it’s a work in progress.

That being said, every year the service has gone a little bit smoother and I thought this year was the smoothest it has ever gone!  I asked for extra help and – gracious – it’s amazing what happens when you ask for help!

Here is my sermon – a little bit shorter, since the beginning of worship was a little bit longer with the hanging of the greens.  Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 26, 2017

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

We Need A Little Christmas

I am breaking all sorts of liturgical protocol this year.

As I said earlier, Advent technically does not start until next week. Because Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday this year, the liturgical calendar has us celebrating the fourth Sunday of Advent the morning of Christmas Eve and then Christmas Eve in the evening.

I have to admit, part of me was kind of excited when I realized early in the year how this was all going to go down. I know people are used to Advent beginning the weekend of Thanksgiving; in fact, people have talked about both the Hanging of the Greens worship service and Advent workshop as the things we do every year the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Well, I thought to myself somewhat snootily. This is fantastic. I am going to use this year as a teachable moment to show all of these silly people who think everything just lines up with Thanksgiving that this is about when Advent begins and not just about Thanksgiving weekend.

And then, I thought to myself, I am going to make them wait a week to hang the greens. There will be no sign of Christmas until Advent officially begins.

Forgive me, congregation, for I have sinned. I climbed up on my liturgical high horse and really enjoyed that view.

Liturgical protocol? Talk about liturgical buzz kill.

A few weeks ago, I had a change of heart. I started to think about everything we have been through this year.

In our country, we have experienced a year of political tension, several natural disasters and multiple mass shootings, all of which are weighing heavily on people’s hearts.

Here at RCC, we are in the middle of a more than one transition. Not only are we carefully moving in the direction of governance restructuring (which is a lot, in and of itself), but we also said goodbye to Jordan and Lauren and then a few weeks later again found ourselves without a Music Director.

Personally, I am trying to figure out how to balance ministry and motherhood, which is comical even on the best of days. And I know everyone here has their own story of both finding and losing balance this year.

So I thought about all of this stuff, and I came to this conclusion: We need a little Christmas!

In this morning’s scripture reading, Paul says to the Corinthians, “God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”[1] Notice Paul does NOT say, “God is faithful; by him you were called to make everyone wait a week to sing Christmas carols.”

So let us get this season started.

Friends, I think we need a little Christmas this year. And so this morning, I am going to talk about why it is so important to celebrate the magic of this season here at the church and also some of the ways that you can get involved and enrich your own celebration.

Here are three reasons I think we need a little Christmas.

  1. We need a little Christmas because grace comes alive in this story – and right now, we all could use a little grace.

Paul says in this letter to the Corinthians, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus.”[2]

Think about this for a second: Grace not only appeared in the manger when Jesus was born, it was ignited. Into this world came the incarnational presence of God, the promise of redemption and a way to live our lives.

The Christmas story sets us up for a Gospel that can change lives and transform this world. We celebrate Jesus’ birth because it reminds us that God is here with us, in our lives; that God walks with us through the highs and the lows, the successes and the imperfections.

Emmanuel means, God with us; and when Jesus was born and placed in that humble manger, there was living proof that sometimes grace is found in the most unexpected places.

And I believe that today, despite some of the challenges we all face, grace will still be found in the most unexpected places.

  1. We need a little Christmas because Christmas is happening anyway all around us, so we might as well put Christ back into it.

Paul writes, “The testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you.”[3] As Christians, it is our responsibility to ensure that we continue to strengthen this testimony. I know this sounds cliché, but we have to keep Christ in Christmas.

Now listen: I am not saying that we need to reject Santa Claus or anything (in fact, there is be a pretty good chance that Harrison Weaver has already had his picture taken with Santa Claus), but I am saying that I think we should really embrace Christ this season.

This is going to look different for every single one of you. But there are so many ways to hold onto Christ as you also get swept up in the Christmas celebration that is happening all around.

Take a tag off of the Giving Tree and shop for a child who might not otherwise receive a gift on Christmas morning.

If you are trying to come up with a gift for someone who really does not need or want anything, consider making a donation in their name to your favorite charity (or perhaps your favorite church in the village?).

Tap into some of the fun things we are doing here at the church – Polar Express Movie Night on Saturday, December 2nd, the Christmas Pageant (there is a planning session after church on December 3rd) and the Old Fashioned Evening of Christmas Caroling on Sunday, December 16th.

Incorporate a devotional or an Advent calendar into your daily routine.

For far to long, I fought the juxtaposition of celebrating Advent inside the walls of the church while the rest of the world was celebrating Christmas outside of our walls. And this year, instead of fighting it, I am just going to dance with it. While I am not going to skip over the Advent section in the hymnal entirely, we will be singing some Christmas tunes in worship this year, so hopefully you find yourself getting swept away not only in the commercialism of Christmas, but also in the magic of it as well.

  1. We need a little Christmas because sometimes we need the reminder that God is faithful.

Paul says to the church in Corinth, “God is faithful,”[4] and the Christmas story is a story about faithfulness. It is a story about our faithfulness to God and God’s faithfulness to us.

In the Christmas story, angels appear to ordinary humans and tell them that God is calling them to do extraordinary things. Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, the shepherds, the innkeeper; through the faithfulness of these individual people, something amazing happened.

We are reminded as we prepare to hear this story again that, through our faithfulness, amazing things will happen, as well.

But this faithfulness is a covenant; through our faithfulness, God is just as faithful. Not only did God walk alongside the characters in this narrative of the Christmas story so long ago, Jesus’ birth into this world proclaims to us that God is with us. God has experienced life in this imperfect world. God feels what we feel; God celebrates in our joy and weeps with us in our sorrow.

And we are not alone.

Advent has been moved up a week here at the Rehoboth Congregational Church. This is partially to accommodate our Christmas Eve worship schedule – we will be celebrating Christmas Eve at the morning service, it will be our Family Worship & Christmas Pageant.

But, even more than that, we have jumped headfirst into this Advent season because this story changes lives and I just cannot wait to tell it again. This is a story about hope that can be found in humble places, like the manger of quiet stable. It is a story about peace that comes from trusting God, even if you find yourself traveling along a difficult journey, perhaps from Nazareth to Bethlehem. This is a story about joy that is proclaimed so loudly that everyone around you can hear, as if it were coming from a multitude of angels. It is a story about love that always wins – from an empty manger to an empty tomb.

This story is too important to wait. Especially now.

Friends, Paul says we are called into the fellowship of Jesus Christ our Lord. Today, we prepare our sanctuary so we are read to step into this season together.

Our sanctuary is ready! Come, Emmanuel, come! Let our Advent journey begin!

Thanks be to God!
Amen. 

[1] 1 Corinthians 3:9, NRSV
[2] 1 Corinthians 1:4, NRSV
[3] 1 Corinthians 1:6, NRSV
[4] 1 Corinthians 1:9