We did a special service at ASLC this week that took us through the entire Church Year. Here is the bulletin to understand the structure of my remarks. Nov 26 2017
Some folks are Christmas people. Some folks are Advent people. I fall into the latter category. Advent people have a yearning their hearts for something that has not yet come to pass. We celebrate the birth of Jesus, but we wait for the time when Christ’s kingdom will be fully revealed among us. Death will be no more. Mourning, crying and pain will be no more, and God will wipe every tear from our eyes. [Rev 21:3-4]
Our lament is given voice in a familiar hymn of the Advent season: “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here, until the son of God appear.”
The color of Advent is blue, which is symbolic of hope. We hope for a better tomorrow. We hope for an end to injustice and suffering. This hope is rooted in the birth of Jesus, the light who shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not, cannot, and will not overcome it.
Unfortunately, the powerful themes of Advent are often overshadowed by the commercialism of Christmas which surround us. It’s not always the most wonderful time of the year. Advent bears witness to this reality. It’s not always about giving big expensive presents. John the Baptist, tells us that the best gift we can offer the Christ Child is a change of heart and mind, word and deed. “Repent, for the reign of Christ is at hand!” John yells from his wilderness outpost. When we meet him there, we understand the true meaning of the Advent season.
Christmas is a season of light in the midst of darkness; a season of hope in the midst of despair. It is the fulfillment of Advent expectation; the coming of the Messiah in the unlikely form of a baby. The good news of Christmas is that God would choose to dwell among us, taking the form of a baby in a cow’s feeding trough, so that we would know more deeply God’s love for us.
Martin Luther, in a sermon on the Nativity, once wrote “How unobtrusively and simply do these events take place on earth that are so heralded in heaven.” The great mystery of Christmas is that God would choose to adorn himself with such simple surroundings. God could have chosen to come to us as a great ruler, flexing military might, but instead God chose to come to us as a tiny babe, fragile and helpless, crying in the middle of the night. I don’t know about you but I can relate to a God like that!
Perhaps this is why Christmas is one of our favorite seasons of the Church year. Perhaps this is why we celebrate it with such enthusiasm and vigor. We understand God on these terms. We can pick God up, hold him gently, and lovingly cradle the infinite in our arms. We can know what it means to give love and to receive love. In embracing the finite form of the Christ Child we can begin to understand the infinite form of the Almighty God.
Ultimately the story of Christmas is a love story and the season of Christmas is a time when love bursts into full bloom. You might not be aware of it but one of the symbols of the Christmas season is the rose. I cannot think of a more perfect symbol to represent the season. The prophet Isaiah once wrote that “The desert shall rejoice and bloom as a rose.” And so, in the midst of the desert of Advent there appeared a single magnificent rose, this Child Jesus, who would one day blossom into the full flower of Christ at the first rays of an Easter dawn.
Christmas is a love story The story of a rose growing in the midst of the desert. And although this rose appeared in such humble surroundings the news of this miracle would soon spread throughout the entire world. One day, kings would bow down and worship this desert rose but that is another story. The story of the season of Epiphany.
Epiphany is not the kind of word we use in normal, everyday conversation. But then again, Epiphany is not a normal, everyday kind of word. Epiphany means “manifestation” or “showing.” It is a revelation; a light that is switched on in the darkness. Suddenly things become clearer and we see, perhaps for the first time, the grand scheme of things.
This is why Epiphany is sometimes called the “season of light.” As we journey through the season we begin to understand who Jesus is and why he came to dwell among us. The season of Epiphany begins with the visitation of the magi who followed the star from the East and came to worship the one true light. The Sundays which follow the visitation of the wise men focus on several key events in the life of Jesus.
The first of these events is his baptism where we hear the voice of God proclaim “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” The second is Jesus’ first miracle of changing water into wine at the wedding in Cana. The third is the Transfiguration where Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah. All of these events give witness to the good news that Jesus is the Son of God.
One of my favorite traditions from this season is the burning of the greens. During this service the congregation gathers outdoors in darkness. A few trees are placed in a pile and lit while scriptures are read and hymns are sung. As the service continues more trees are added to the fire until the whole sky is ablaze with light. This is such a perfect symbol for the season of Epiphany. A tremendous light in the midst of the darkness, pointing to the one who is the true light of the world, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Oh, no! It’s that time of year again! Some people find Lent quite depressing. After all, this season begins with ashes in the sign of the cross on our foreheads. It’s not exactly a fun activity. These ashes are accompanied by the words “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This sets the tone for the season of Lent which is a quiet, somber time, a time for reflection and meditation, a time for repentance and spiritual renewal. It’s quite a contrast to the glorious celebration of Christmas and the shining lights of Epiphany. But if we really want to experience Christ in all his fullness then we must also be willing to experience the season of Lent.
Congregations observe Lent in many different ways. In my former congregation we passed out coin banks and used the money we collected to help those who are hungry. Many churches have weekly Lenten worship services which focus on the particular themes of the season. Holy Week is usually observed through two different worship opportunities: Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The first is a remembrance of the Last Supper. The second recalls Jesus’ last seven words and his crucifixion.
All of these Lenten traditions have a reason and purpose. They help us to focus our attention on the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross. These traditions give us a deeper appreciation for the words of John 3:16 which tell us that “God so loved the world that he gave his only son to die for us that those who believe in him would not perish but have eternal life.”
So, yes, Lent is not a fun season. But I believe we cannot fully appreciate the glory of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter morning until we have born witness to his suffering on Good Friday.
Everybody loves Easter morning, except for pastors. After all the hard work it takes to pull off Lent, Holy Week, and make sure that the church is decked out for Easter, Pastors are ready for a great big power nap. However, the Holy Spirit, somehow gives us the strength to energetically proclaim on Easter Sunday, “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!”
While most people will tell you that Christmas is their favorite worship service of the year, Easter should really be everyone’s favorite. It is the culmination of what Christ came to do: free us from our bondage to sin and defeat death forever.
Yes, the babe who lies in the manger on Christmas Eve is all cute and cuddly. But the risen Savior reminds us of where Jesus’ true power lies. He is no longer contained by a human body. We don’t have to go to Bethlehem or Jerusalem in order to meet him. Instead, he comes to us wherever we are. He speaks the same words he spoke to those frightened disciples who hid behind locked doors after his crucifixion: “Peace be with you.”
You might not be aware of it, but Easter is more than one Sunday. It’s a season in the life of the church that lasts for 50 days and ends with Pentecost Sunday. The initial purpose of the 50-day Easter season was to continue the faith formation of new Christians. Today, it is a time for us to rejoice and experience what it means when we say “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.”
The last Sunday of the Easter Season is Ascension Sunday. It is on this day that we are reminded of the Great Commission Jesus gave to his first disciples, and to us: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [Mt 28:19-20]
What an incredible day Pentecost must have been. The Spirit/wind/breath of God rushing about and tongues of fire descending from the heavens. Can you imagine Peter and the other disciples addressing the crowds and everyone hearing them in their own language? Instantaneous translation! Let’s see the United Nations try to top that one! Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, Arabic and other languages, all spoken at the same time by the same person. It boggles the mind.
The day of Pentecost is not about a group of disciples babbling in a language that nobody could understand. It’s exactly the opposite. The 2nd chapter of Acts makes it clear that the day of Pentecost was a day of clarity. It was a day of proclamation where everyone heard the Good News of Jesus regardless of what language they spoke. It was a day when the Holy Spirit gave the disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit just as we receive this same gift today
The day of Pentecost marks a new beginning in the life of the Church as well as the Church year. So far we have spent our time looking at the life of Jesus and all that God has done through him. But now, beginning with the day of Pentecost, we see something new and different. The focus shifts from what Christ has done for us to what we should do in response to his love and grace in our lives.
Ultimately the day of Pentecost is a day of action and proclamation; a day when God’s people shared the Good News of Jesus with the entire world and not just the Jewish community. This day in the life of the Church challenges us to reach out to others with the message of God’s love in a language that they can understand. Whether they’re teens or elderly, upper crust or factory workers, baby boomers or postmoderns, Latinos or Native Americans, Anglos or African Americans, the day of Pentecost reminds us that all need to hear the good news of Jesus. The imparting of the gifts of the Holy Spirit on that day assure us that God has given us the power and the ability we need to get the job done.
Following the day of Pentecost, we turn to the season of Pentecost where we clarify our mission and sharpen our vision through the words and teachings of Jesus. It is this season we now focus our attention on.
Copyright ©2017 by David Eck