My voice is back! Mostly. I still have that lounge-singer thing going for me. But that didn’t stop me from standing behind the pulpit with a lot to say! Here is this morning’s sermon. This will be it until Christmas Eve – next week is our Christmas Cantata!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
December 14, 2014
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Letting Go Of The Urgency Of The Season
Christmas only comes once a year.
I know, I know. Profound statements from the pulpit this morning.
Christmas only comes once a year. It is full of magic, beauty, joy and love. Traditions burst through the routines of our everyday lives. Parties and gatherings put us in the holiday spirit and give us time with our family members and our friends. Decorations light up our homes, bringing awe and wonder to our guests and neighbors.
Of course, because Christmas only comes once a year, there is a sense of urgency to all of the magic, beauty, joy and love. We feel pressured to make sure we squeeze in all of our traditions and work tirelessly to make sure they are perfect. Parties and gatherings fill up our already busy schedules, leaving us feeling exhausted, stressed and sometimes even slightly annoyed at those well-intentioned family members and friends. Magazines and pinterest boards full of exquisitely decorated homes start to give us an inferiority complex when we begin our own decorating.
Boy, that sense of urgency really seems to cut the merry out of our Merry Christmas, doesn’t it?
In this morning’s reading from the New Testament, Paul addresses the church in Thessalonica. This is one of the earliest of Paul’s letters, written not long after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
This should have been a time of great celebration and joy. After all, they had just witnessed a miracle, a moment in time that changed the world forever.
But the Thessalonians, too, felt a sense of urgency among them. They believed in the great mystery of our faith that Christ had died, that Christ had risen and that Christ would come again. But they also believed the second coming of Christ was imminent; not only did they believe that this would happen in their lifetime, but they believed that it would happen in the time and space that they were living in.
There was a sense of urgency; there was a sense of urgency for them, as individual believers and there was a sense of urgency for their community of faith. If Christ was coming, they wanted to – and needed to – be ready.
So here was the question at hand: How were the Thessalonians supposed to let go of their sense of urgency that they felt concerning the return of Christ and just live into the moment that they were experiencing then?
Today the question at hand is this: How are we supposed to let go of our sense of urgency during this Christmas season and just live into the moment that we are experiencing now?
In this letter, Paul encourages the Thessalonians to let go of the sense of urgency that they were feeling and to live faithfully into the moment. He tells them to rejoice and give thanks always, to pray unceasingly and to cling tight to the good news of Jesus Christ and of the fact that they are redeemed and sustained by a God who loves us.
He also urged them to hold on to what the prophets said so long ago, to look to scripture for encouragement and help in our lives.
So let us look at what the prophets say.
This morning’s reading from the Old Testament comes from the prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah was speaking to the very broken nation of Israel; to people who had been oppressed, whose temple had been destroyed and who were struggling economically. There was a sense of urgency in their lives as well; there was a sense of urgency to restore their nations and to deliver their people.
But Isaiah assured them that God was very much active and alive and present in their lives. He proclaimed that God had sent him to bring good news to the nation of Israel, to tell them that change was on the horizon. He prophesied that he was called by God to heal the sick, to ensure dignity for the oppressed and to release those being held captive. He told the Israelites that better times were coming, that their temple was going to be rebuilt and that justice was going to prevail. He promised that God was going to be faithful to the covenant that he made, not just to the people of Israel living then, but also to the generations upon generations that were still to come.
And God was not a distant God, either. The fact that Isaiah was actively prophesying throughout the nation proved that God was with them, that God heard their cries and that God was fighting for them and with them. Isaiah’s presence made confident the truth that God’s promises were not empty, but real and alive in their lives. His prophesies encouraged the Israelites to remember that even though there was a sense of urgency in their lives at that moment, that something powerful was still happening in their midst; and they needed to believe the promises of God – and live into that moment.
God’s promises are still true for us today. Yes, there is a sense of urgency among us during this Christmas season, but we, too, have to believe that something powerful is still happening in our midst and hold onto the promises of God and live into these moments.
The question at hand was: How are we supposed to let go of our sense of urgency during this Christmas season and just live into the moment that we are experiencing now?
This morning, I am going to share with you a groundbreaking discovery.
Are you ready?
Christmas will still come even if the season leading up to it is not COMPLETELY full of magic, beauty, joy and love.
Earth shattering, right? Here’s another one …
The meaning of Christmas will still be the same even if you are not able to carry out all of your traditions exactly perfectly.
I know – crazy, right?
You will still be able to come to church on Christmas Eve and open presents with your children on Christmas morning even if you did not make it to every party and gathering that you were invited to.
And Christians around the world will still celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th even if your decorations would not land a photo of your house on the front cover of a magazine.
There is a sense of urgency to the Christmas season, but we have to remember that the urgency that we feel is something that WE have created in our lives. That sense of urgency is not something that God brought to us; God brought to us – in the form of a baby boy born in a manger – a savior.
And that is what we are called to remember that this holiday season.
At the core of who we are as Christians, that is all that we are called to do.
It is entirely too easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season so that we are not actually able to experience the season. In fact, it is entirely too easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season so we forget what it is we are actually celebrating.
We are celebrating the moment in time when God broke through the imperfections of our humanity and sent to earth a savior whose life, death and resurrection would change the world. We are giving thanks to God for the humble ministry of a man that generations of people would follow and look to for guidance in their own lives. We are – sometimes against all odds – trusting in that bold promise that God will never abandon us.
We have to let go of the rest of it.
Paul told the Thessalonians to, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” This holiday season, I encourage you to do the same. We are re-experiencing something that is so much more powerful traditions or parties or decorations. We need to rejoice and give thanks for the way that God came into our life and pray that God to continues to reveal himself and guide us in our lives. If we do that, the rest of that “stuff” – the stuff that is generally causing us stress during the holidays – will fall into place. In fact, I think a new kind of magic, beauty, joy and love might emerge as well.
This is not just a promise that I am making today, this is an ancient promise that Isaiah made thousands of years ago.
You know, in many ways, we are not that different from the Israelites crying out for the nation to be restored. On a day when we remember the lives of 20 beautiful little children and six staff members killed in Sandy Hook, CT two years ago, we are blinded by the devastating reality that we, too, are living in a broken world. We, too, are calling for our people to be delivered, for our world to be restored.
But that is precisely why we have to cling tight to the promise of the Christmas story; that God’s light will not be overcome by the darkness of evil and that God will always dwell among us.
So let us give ourselves permission to let go of the “stuff.” Let us let go of the sense of urgency that this season brings, live into the moment that we are experiencing now and celebrating the coming of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel – God with us.
Thanks be to God!