The older I get, the faster it seems to me that December rolls around. Anybody here know what I mean? And yeah – I know – that’s just the way it is. Talk to anyone and they will tell you – as we get older – every year seems to go by faster. And yes, studies have been done to try to explain why this is so.
There was a short article in the Buffalo News some two weeks ago that focused on this phenomenon. And the best answer that I have ever heard as to why this is so is this. Every year that goes by represents a smaller percentage of our overall life. So for instance – for a two year old – each year of that two year olds life represents one half of his or her existence. Whereas for a 100 year old person, each year represents 1/100th of their existence.
Or to put it another way – “Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer you get to the end – the faster it goes.”
That said, I just am having trouble realizing that December is here already. I just came back from vacation where for the last three weeks it’s been in the high 80’s and low 90’s for daily high temperatures. Where people are getting ready for Christmas by putting Christmas lights on cactuses. And for someone like me who has spent all of his life here in the northeast – putting Christmas lights on a cactus just seems so wrong. So wrong. It really is funny looking.
It’s December – ready or not. And it’s time for us to be doing all of those things that we love to do – all those things that are actually fun to do – but for some reason we sometimes stress over and we sometimes have a hard time getting done in time.
I remember a time years and years ago when my extended family was at our house for Thanksgiving. And the conversation turned to Christmas – and at whose house were we going to spend Christmas. And in the middle of this conversation I remember my mother saying, “Do you ever wonder why we do all this stuff?” And the only answer we could come up with was, “tradition.”
Listen! When it comes to Christmas – I am of the opinion that tradition is a good thing. No matter what your family traditions might be when it comes to waiting – when it comes to getting ready – when it comes to doing the things that you enjoy – these Christmas traditions are a good thing. I mean – that’s why we do them, right?
But sometimes – these things can bring with them added, unwanted stress. I like the story of a woman who said that one December, she and her husband Richard had a truly hectic season. Running out of time, she went to a stationary shop and asked them to print their signature on their Christmas cards, so they wouldn’t have to take the time to sign each one.
Soon they started getting cards in return from friends. The cards were signed with things like, “The Modest Morrisons,” “The Clever Clarks,” and “The Successful Smiths.”
After a number of cards signed like that, the woman wondered, “What is going on here?” And then it hit her. She and her husband Richard had sent out some 100 cards neatly imprinted with the words, “Happy holidays from the Rich Armstrongs.”
Well, your name doesn’t have to be Richard to know that in Jesus Christ – you can have a rich life. A rich life of joy and peace. And that is what we here in the church like to talk about and focus on during this rich season of Advent and Christmas.
The presence of Christ – which is what we celebrate – brings that joy and that peace that I know that all of you want and need. Otherwise, without the presence of the living Christ with us – especially at this time of year – what we have is nothing more than another hectic holiday.
That’s not what I want – and I know that that’s not what you want either.
So let me remind you – as I do pretty much every year – that in these days leading up to Christmas – it’s okay for you to take a step back from whatever hectic pace you might find yourself in – take a deep breath – and remember just what this season is all about. And what it’s for.
In a nutshell – we like to say that Advent is a time of waiting, watching and getting ready. The main thing that’s on everyone’s mind of course is – waiting for Christmas and getting ready to celebrate Christmas. Just look around and you can see that we’ve already started doing that here in this room. We’re waiting and we’re getting ready for a celebration here too!
And this celebration is of course a celebration of Christ’s first coming – the birth of the Christ child. It’s a past event, as we know. But the church is wisely – I think – using Advent to point out that there is a need to be mindful of the need to get ready for the second coming of Christ as well. The thing is – we just don’t know when that’s going to be. So can you see why we focus on the waiting and the watching and the getting ready at this time of year? It’s not just for the celebration of Christ’s first coming among us in a place called Bethlehem. One of my jobs today is to remind you that Christ will come again. The trouble is we just don’t know when that’s going to be.
And that’s where our reading from Mark’s gospel comes in. Listen to how it starts. “In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” Doesn’t that just give you warm fuzzies! Warms the cockles of my heart, let me tell you. After I read that just a few moments ago, I had to say, “This is the Good News. It is the Gospel of the Lord.” Just warms the cockles of your heart, doesn’t it!
Look it! Although this passage isn’t on anyone’s favorite top ten list – and as frightening as these verses might sound – let me tell you – let me assure you – that there is nothing for us to be afraid of. When Christ comes again – it will be a time of joy for all who are in Christ Jesus. What you want – what I want – and what WE need in this life is love, peace and joy. Love, peace and joy. And that is what Christ has come to give us. That – and forgiveness
Well – another word for this is grace – God’s undeserved love and favor. These are the gifts Christ brings to us. They are ours to be sure – but not to keep to ourselves. They are ours to pass on to others. Let me tell you a story, and see what I mean.
In our early colonial history George Whitefield of England made five visits here to help establish the church in the emerging nation. On one of Whitefield’s visits he stood on the steps of the courthouse in Philadelphia to preach to the typically large group of people whenever he appeared. A young boy saw that Whitefield was having trouble reading the Scripture lesson in the gathering darkness, so he got a lantern, lighted it, and held it so that Whitefield could see to read. The pastor was grateful. The lad stood there and became so engrossed in the gospel story that the lantern slipped from his hand and broke.
Years later Whitefield was again in America on his last trip here and was entertained at the home of a Philadelphia pastor. The pastor asked him if he remembered preaching in Philadelphia and how a boy who was holding a lantern for him dropped it and it broke.
“Yes, I remember” said Whitefield. “I would give anything to know what ever became of that young boy.”
“I am that boy,” said the pastor. “Your preaching that day and the kindness you showed me when I dropped that lantern made me who I am today.”
Folks – that’s grace. That’s a picture of grace.
Listen! Every year at this time of year we talk about getting ready. Getting ready for the celebration of Christ’s first coming that we call Christmas. But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t remind you to be ready for his second coming. And please don’t get the idea that that means you’ve got to clean up your act. I’m not saying that at all. Christ has already cleaned up your act. Where we are in need of repentance, we certainly need to pay attention to that. But you’re already forgiven – and that’s all you need. No. Getting ready – being ready – and staying ready is nothing more than a realization – and an acceptance of the fact – that you are already forgiven because of God’s love and grace.
So what’s it take to be ready? I would say pretty much doing what you’re already doing – IF what you’re doing is practicing that whole love God – love your neighbor thing that we talk so much about around here. Passing on those gifts of love, joy, peace and forgiveness that you have already been given.
Being the person God is calling us to be – doing the things that God is calling us to do. That’s what it means to wait, to watch and to be ready.