Beyond Advent

Sermon Title: Beyond Advent: The Flame that Won’t Go Out

Good News Statement: Christ provides us with Eternal Light

Preached: Sunday, December 26, 2021 at Dogwood Prairie and Seed Chapel UMC

Pastor Daniel G. Skelton, M.Div.

 

Scripture (NRSV): Matthew 25:31-37: Today’s scripture reading comes from the Gospel of Matthew chapter twenty-five verses thirty-one thru thirty-six. Listen to the words of Matthew…

 

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

 

This is the Word of God for the People of God; And all God’s people said, Amen.

 

 

 Introduction:

The Advent season is a four week period before Christmas that celebrates the anticipation and coming of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. The origin of “advent” is from the Latin word adventus which simply translates to be mean “coming” or “arrival”. We see this arrival predicted in the Old Testament when the Prophet Isaiah states, “Therefore the Lord himself will give a sign. Look, the virgin is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14); and then later in Isaiah, a voice cries out in the wilderness, “[Prepare] the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3). Not only is Advent the Christian meaning for preparation and celebration of the coming of Jesus Christ but it is also a celebration of new life when someone accepts Jesus Christ as their Savior.

There are beautiful and rich traditions behind the celebration of Advent. These traditions range from lighting candles placed in a wreath or surrounded in garland to having certain scriptures read each Sunday, to decorating the church to hosting different events, to participating in an Advent calendar to opening a single gift on each day during the Advent Season. Other traditions involve the act of collecting items or monitory donations which will be given to either a particular organization, a Third World country, or to a local disaster fund. During the Advent Season, during the time of “coming” and “arrival,” we partake in certain traditions that separate this time of year from the rest of the year. But why is that?

Why does the meaning and traditions of Advent only have to exist during the Advent Season? What would happen if the candles that we lit each Sunday—the candles of hope, peace, joy, love, and the Christ Candle—remained lit for the entire year? What would happen if what we learned and experienced about hope, peace, joy, and love were carried over into the New Year? Should Advent only be four weeks long?

The Psalmist writes, repeatedly, that God’s steadfast love endures forever. Paul writes in his epistle to the Romans, “For in hope we [are being] saved” (Romans 8:24); and once we accept this fact we can begin to rejoice always in God’s everlasting hope. The author of Thessalonians writes when talking about giving thanks and having joy, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).  And when talking about peace, the Scriptures articulate that we are to continually “seek and pursue peace” (Psalm 34:14); and we are to “make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy…” (Hebrews 12:14). None of these passages stated that love, hope, joy, and peace are a onetime thing. Rather they are to be continually—always and forever—practiced by each of us. I wonder what would happen if we all observed Advent for an entire year?

Opening Prayer:

            Let us pray… Dear Savior, we give thanks and praise for your arrival. We have been anticipating your birth for several weeks and the time has come. You have come to save us. But Jesus, we need your help to make sure that your birth lives eternally in our hearts so that we will forever be receptive of your hope, peace, joy, and love. I pray that my words fall to the ground as your words settle in the hearts of all those before me. In your name we pray, Amen.

 

Body:

In 2000, songwriters Leonard Ahlstrom, Eddie Carswell, and Isaiah Daniel released a song that continues to change the world today. Their song is titled, Christmas Shoes and it is during this season that we hear this song played on the radio. This song, with its heart-breaking words, its powerful message, and serene beauty captures its listeners in the moment and makes them think about the true meaning of Christmas.

The main chorus which is sung by a little boy is this: “Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my mama, please. It’s Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size. Could you hurry, sir, daddy says there’s not much time. You see she’s been sick for quite a while. And I know these shoes would make her smile. And I want her to look beautiful if mama meets Jesus tonight. He counted pennies for what seemed like years. Then the cashier said, ‘son, there’s not enough here.’” In response, an older gentleman standing behind the little boy says, “So I laid the money down, I just had to help him out. And I’ll never forget the look on his face when he said, ‘Mama’s gonna look so great.’ I knew I’d caught a glimpse of heaven’s love as he thanked me and ran out. I knew that God had sent that little boy to remind me just what Christmas is all about.”

What I appreciate about this song is the fact that the songwriters not only remind us about the true meaning of Christmas: love and giving back. But they bring two strangers together who are living two different lives, who are different in age, who have two different understandings of Christmas. God brought together two persons to remind the world that Christmas is more than a simple gift. Christmas is hope, peace, joy, and love; and these four things aren’t meant to be only experienced four weeks out of a year. Because what we do today, will affect us tomorrow.

Comparable to the song Christmas Shoes, the author of the “The Christmas Coat” shares a similar story, but instead of ending the story in the store, the author provides us with a future: a future when the little boy, who is all grown up, gives back to the older gentleman when the older gentleman needs help. What I appreciate about this story, is the fact that what we do today does impact us tomorrow.

The little boy walks into the store, seeking a coat to keep his mother warm during the cold nights. This boy is probably feeling scared, possibly a little nervous, but yet he has the courage to do what God wants us to do on a regular basis. God wants us to give from the heart. Here is this little boy in a store that is filled with older people who understand the methods of shopping. He approaches an older gentleman and asks, “Mister, can you help me find out how much something costs?” Now, the little boy, who has been working for his neighbors for quite some time, only has earned a dollar and a dime. You and I both know that a coat costs more than that. The gentleman says, “Son that’s just what this coat costs.” The gentleman, seeing and hearing the hope and joy of this little boy bought the coat so that the boy’s mother would be warm during the cold winter nights; so that the little boy and the boy’s mother would experience both peace and love.

Fast-forwarding several years, the gentleman is found to be in a related predicament. The gentleman’s wife needs eye surgery but does not have enough money to pay for it. After listening to his story, the doctor said, “The total cost [of the surgery] old friend is a dollar and a dime.” The author continues by saying, “The gentleman stared in disbelief, then he recognized that smile, the one he’d seen those years ago. The Doctor said, ‘What you gave to me that day was more than just a coat. You gave me the gift of giving and you gave my mother hope.’” What we do today will affect us tomorrow.

So what does this story teach us about Advent? First, the hope, peace, joy, and love that we anticipate during the Advent Season are elements of God’s saving grace that extend beyond this season. What we experience as we light each candle, is something by which we are to experience day after day after day. The first week, we lit the Candle of Hope: a promise that through Jesus Christ we will be forever saved by his hope. The second week, we lit the candles of Hope and Peace. Peace is a promise from God that grants us the opportunity to continually seek his peace whenever life seems busy and stressful and anxious. Through his peace we experience a calm reminder of Jesus’ presence in our life. The third week, we lit the candles of Hope, Peace, and Joy. Joy comes in the morning; joy comes in the evening; and joy comes whenever we realize that we have the joy of Christ down in our heart. Scripture reminds us to rejoice always. Joy just doesn’t happen during Christmas, it happens all year round. The fourth week, we lit the candles of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Love bears all things, hopes all things, believes all things, and endures all things. Love happens when we experience hope, when we embrace peace, and when we embody the joy of Christ’s presence in our life. Hope, peace, joy, and love are continual actions that find ways to extend beyond the Advent Season. They find a way to live in our heart all year round. They find a way to affect our lives today and tomorrow.

Second, the candles of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love come together to provide the flame for the Christ Candle. The Christ Candle is our reminder that although we distinguish each flame after service, it is the flame of the Christ Candle that stays lit for eternity. What we light today, stays with us for eternity. Christ is the eternal light that can make a dollar and a dime buy any coat, pay for any surgery, provide food to the hungry, offer a place of rest and shelter to the homeless, and be an angel to all those in need. Having Christ as our eternal light should not only be thought about during the Advent Season; it should be thought about beyond the Advent Season.

The Advent Season fulfills what Matthew writes in is Gospel. Matthew writes, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;  for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me’” (Matthew 25:31-36). The four weeks leading up to the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, are weeks of preparation for what we are to do for the remainder of our life: to take care of all God’s children by giving them what God has given us. God has given us hope, peace, joy, and love in a manger.

Conclusion:

During our life we are to offer hope, peace, joy, and love to those who deserve to experience the light of Christ. And by deserve, I mean everyone. When the angel appeared to the shepherds, the angel did not say, I am bringing you good news of great joy for a selected few. No, the angel said “I am bringing good news of great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10). We are to share the light of Christ with all people whenever we can, by all the means we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, at all the times we can, as long as we can. We are to help buy shoes or a coat for everyone because you never know when that person will be there to help you. Advent is not a onetime thing. Advent is the preparation for what is to come; and what is to come is something that we are to practice and share for eternity.

Even though this Advent Season, with its candles and traditions will come to close, it does not have to go away. The hope that we receive today, will be there tomorrow. The peace that we long for will be there as long as we seek it. The joy that we experience right now, can last for eternity. And the love that God sent down from heaven is a love that will always live in your heart. The flame of Christ, our eternal light, will never go out. What we do today will affect us tomorrow. So, what would happen if the Advent Season extended into the New Year and we continued to both receive and share God’s hope, peace, joy, and love with all people? I think we just found a New Year’s Resolution!

Closing Prayer:

            Let us pray…Dear Eternal Light, as we give thanks for the birth of your Son and our Savior Jesus Christ, help us to remember what we have prepared for this Advent Season. Let us continually—forever and always—practice and share Your hope, peace, joy, and love to all Your people. In your name we pray, Amen.

 

Benediction:

As you think about the New Year, I encourage you to continue to observe Advent in all of its lessons and traditions. Accept Christ’s hope, peace, joy, and love into your heart so that His eternal light will forever light your way. You never know how today will impact tomorrow. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, go, carrying Advent in your heart, as you live wisely and well in God’s world. Amen. Amen. Amen.

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!!


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