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!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
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.” 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.
- 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.”
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.
- 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.” 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.
- 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,” 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!