Preparing For Christmas During A Difficult Year

Hi friends!  Sorry this is delayed, I had some computer issues yesterday (I think all of my technology is having a pandemic-related meltdown) but I think I’m back up and running.  Here is my sermon, as well as the video from worship!

Advent blessings. <3

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 6, 2020

Isaiah 40:1-11

Preparing For Christmas During A Difficult Year

Most people know that I have a strong affinity for Christmas trees.

As in – I have multiple in my house.

Last year I had four.  Our main Christmas tree in the living room, a “Christmas card” tree in our kitchen, decorated as the season goes on by hanging the cards we receive in the mail on the tree (so send me cards, I love looking at them every day on my tree!), a tree in my and Bruce’s room and a tree in Harrison’s room.

I am not sure if this is a regional thing or not, but it is something I picked up when I lived in Georgia.  My friends’ husbands generally do not like me this time of year, because my solution to most of their problems is, “You should just put another Christmas tree up.”

And they usually do.

But if my mark on this world is to encourage the display of multiple trees throughout the Christmas season, I think, in my own way, I am making the world a little bit brighter.  This is the darkest time of year in our part of the world and I do think the lights help.  They brighten up our homes and our streets, they remind us that even in our darkest of moments, light still shines and they help us to hold onto the magic of the season.

And it is magical – even though it is hard right now.

I was having a hard time getting moving on my Christmas decorating this year, to the point where Bruce looked around our sparsely decorated home early this week and asked, “Are we actually going to put up decorations this year?”  I am not really sure what my issue was – probably a combination of pandemic-life, chasing two small children and a busier-than-usual busy season at church.

When I admitted to a friend on Thursday of this week that the only decorations in my house were the ones that I put up for the Hanging of the Greens video last weekend, she reminded me that my son is at the perfect age for decorating – and that no matter how strange it is for me right now, he will still be captivated by the magic of preparing for Christmas.

And that is how Bruce came home from work on Thursday night to find Harrison, me, Adelaide and a significant part of the carpet in my bedroom covered in glitter.

I know this is kind of a strange year and that, for many of us, it is making it hard to get going on some of our traditional preparations for the holiday season.  But I do think that part of our call, as people of faith, is preparing our hearts – and our homes – for the arrival of Jesus, no matter what we are going through.

In fact, when we are facing challenging and turbulent circumstances, I think the call is that much greater.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from the book of Isaiah, which is kind of a composite work of multiple prophets who ministered throughout different periods in Israel’s history.  The book is traditionally split up into three parts – chapters 1-39, 40-55 and 56-66.  Our passage (40:1-11) comes from that second section, referred to as Deutero-Isaiah.  This second section of Isaiah is attributed to an unknown prophet that lived in Babylon during the Babylonian exile.

Now, context is important here; and in so many ways – even though this was written around the 6th century BCE – I feel like these words are so relevant to where we are in this pandemic.

Scholars believe that this section of Isaiah was written to the Israelites towards the end of their exile in Babylon, which lasted about 70 years.  We are about three-quarters of a year into a global pandemic that has turned our world upside down.  But the reason I keep saying that there is hope and that we need to keep the faith and that we can do hard things is because our ancestors in faith have done hard things before us.  Israel was in exile for 70 years and they kept the faith and saw themselves to the other side.  And so I know things are really hard right now, but there is promise in scripture that hope is real and that it is worth holding onto.

And this promise is here, in these words from the prophet.  This section was meant to console the people of Judah, promising their release from exile and their return to their homeland.  So when the prophet says, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God,” it is almost as if he is saying, “Better times are coming, but you have to be ready.”

Now I do believe that better times are coming, partially because of my faith in God, but also because of my faith in science and the conversations surrounding vaccine rollouts over the next couple of months.  And so I believe that these words are so relevant to us right now, because they remind us that we cannot be passive bystanders this holiday season.  I know things are weird this year, I know a lot of our traditions have been put on hold and I know there will be a lot of heightened grief and anxiety when most of us are used to feeling joy and excitement throughout the Christmas seas.

But what cannot and will not be taken from us is this story – this magical, lifechanging, hope-giving story.  And our hope in Jesus Christ means that we have to prepare for the arrival of the Christ child, even if we are just not feeling it this year.

And we do this because we believe these words of the prophet that when we get to that high mountain and lift up our voices with strength, we, too, will hear these words and see that they are true:  “Here is your God.”

Advent is about waiting for the arrival of Emmanuel, God with us.  And so, as Christians, we prepare ourselves for that moment; we prepare ourselves for God.  We prepare our hearts and our homes – whatever that looks like for us this year, whether it be halls that are fully decked or a single candle that we light every night – knowing that we will, as the prophet says, be fed like a shepherd feeds their flock, gathered, like lambs, into their arms, carried and led gently to safety.

I know that things are really hard right now.  I know that we are entering into a season of this pandemic where it might get worse before it gets better.  I know that our Christmas celebrations might not look we are used to and, quite frankly, what we want them to look like.  But God has not forgotten about us.  Our cries for Emmanuel – God with us – will be heard.

So let us prepare for that moment.  Let us prepare ourselves to be released from the bonds that are holding us captive right now.  Let us no longer be passive observers as we await for the arrival of Emmanuel, but active participants who are preparing ourselves for that moment.  Let us prepare our hearts and our homes for the Advent and Christmas seasons.  Let us shine light into the darkness of this moment in time.  Let us get up to that high mountain, lift up our voices with strength and have no fear.

Because God is with us.

This promise will be fulfilled.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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