You see kids, I rarely preach. Usually it is like once a quarter. If that. This Sunday I preached, so I thought I would share. Below is the transcript I worked from. Enjoy.
An Introduction to the Advent
There was this one time, I was driving along and I saw my friends car about two blocks ahead of me. Wanting to say “hello” I began flashing my light and waving. Suddenly it occurred to me, “He can’t see you from two blocks away goofy!” So I sped up to catch him, started flashing my lights faster, and waving with more gusto. I also started yelling his; not that he could hear me from inside my car with the windows up. Finally I caught up to him only to be surprised. It wasn’t my friend’s car at all. It was a terrified elderly man whom I had never met.
I used to do that kind of thing all the time in college. There was this long grassy strip in the middle of campus. I would be on one side and spot a friend 150 yards away on the other side. So I would yell and wave. Sometimes they waved back. Sometimes, as I got closer, I realized that I was mistaken and I didn’t actually know the person I was yelling at.
I wonder how many times I’ve yelled at people from afar, thinking they were someone they weren’t; but never got close to them to find out. How many times did I go about my merry way never knowing I actually didn’t know the person I was talking to.
This Sunday begins the Advent (or Christmas) season. The word Advent means “the coming of…” or “the arrival of…” For most of us (myself included) we think of the advent as the arrival of the tree, the presents, our family, and the little sweet baby Jesus in the manger. It’s the shepherds, the angels, the hot apple cider, Scrooge and his four ghosts, the wise men, Charlie Brown’s Christmas special, and the Christmas star. That’s the Christmas story right?
See, most years I see the Christmas story from far off and I never take time to run up to it and see if Christmas is who I think it is. And the problem is that when I run up on it, it looks very different from what I thought. Today I want to redefine the Christmas story in hopes that this year might be different for us all.
So at christmas relationships were restored, are being restored, and will be restored.
Say that with me, “At christmas relationships were restored, are being restored, and will be restored.”
So let’s run up on Christmas, shall we?
Reframing the Story
The story begins with three relationships in a garden. God spoke creation into existence and then Genesis 1 tells us:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
God blessed them…
So the relationships… First there is humanity and the earth. We have dominion over it. The second chapter explains further that we are care takers of it – given dominion to look out for earth’s best interests.
Second there is our relationship with one another. Again the next chapter explains that we are to be “help-mates” to one another – that we were created to love and care for each other.
Finally there is our relationship with God. This is a relationship in which He loves (or blesses) and we surrender to His love.
We are only fully what we were created to be when all three relationships are in play.
The chapter reads on, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
Not perfect or stagnate. But very good. Growing, developing, dynamic, wonderful relationships of love.
Then in chapter three we mess them up. We reject God’s love, His blessing, and decide instead that we want to be our own gods. When we break that first relationship the other two crumble as well. Our relationships with one another are damaged; and the earth suffers as a result. Injustice, prejudice, hatred and death enter the world and every thing breaks down.
As the story continues we see one brother kill another, the world spin wildly out of control, the only family maintaining a relationship with God falls apart, and finally the people build a huge tower and try to be gods once again.
This is where we might expect God to scrap the creation experiment and start over – but God loves too deeply. He loves too fully. He instead embarks on, what by human logic, seems an insane plan – a plan of restoration.
It starts with one man – Abraham. God begins to restore His relationship with this one man. God blesses and Abraham surrenders (for the most part).
That man grows into a clan, and then the clan becomes enslaved. It is in slavery that they learn that God hears the cries of the oppressed and that even when they are chained, He is not. They learn that God loves setting people free and that He hates injustice – because these actions restore relationships to what they were intended to be. So He frees them from their chains and they go on a journey with Him to land He promised them long ago.
But once they arrive in the land they begin to reject Him once again. Finally, they cried out for an earthly king – a king they could see and touch; and God, because of His great love for us, gave us what we wanted.
But this goes horribly wrong as well. With each king the people forget God and the relationships continue to crumble. God sends prophet after prophet to explain, “This is not how it is supposed to be. Come back and I will restore you.”
Amos was the first and he cried with pain to the people, “Let justice (or your love for one another) roll on like a river, righteousness (or your loving relationship with God) like a never-failing stream!”
And as the people do not respond the prophets began to speak of a special day – the Day of the Lord – when all things would be made right, when everything was going to change. When chains would be broken, the blind would see, the lame would walk, and the prisoner would be set free. Here are some of their words:
“The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, thought I was a husband to them. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
“In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the creatures that move along the ground. Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety. I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord.” (Hosea 2:18-20)
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:2, 6-7)
But because the people did not repent, they refused to restore the relationships they were created to have, so God allowed them to be taken into exile. God’s hedge of protection was removed and they were scattered around the world like dust in the wind…but God in His love did not end the story there. He chased them in exile and pursued relationship with them there, longing for them to be restored, calling them back into relationship with Him.
After time some returned and were restored to the land. Under leaders like Ezra, Haggai, Zechariah, and Nehemiah, they began to once again rebuild their relationships with God and one another. And again their hearts called for a deep relationship with God. They longed to see Him. And they cried out in hope…
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to bring up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:1-3)
Then finally the day came. The Advent! The Arrival. John put it this way…
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
This is the celebration of the Advent. This is the story of Christmas. We were created for loving relationships – relationships of love with God (righteousness), and a relationship of love with one another (justice). And we broke them. But God has been pursuing us through all of history, working to restore these relationships…and when all else failed, He showed up.
He left His throne in heaven, wrapped Himself in flesh, and joined us in our mess. Like John said, “The Word, that was there in the beginning, that is God…became like us and moved in next door.”
And in life He showed us what a life of love, a life dedicated to truly loving God and one another looks like. He showed us what a life with restored relationships looks like. His life was the fulfillment of the law and the prophets – a life of true justice and righteousness, love for God and love for people
And in His death and resurrection He removed the divide we dug between us and Him making relationship with Him possible like it had never been before. He carried light into our darkness and brought a new Kingdom, a new reality to earth.
This was the advent – the coming of God to restore broken relationships.
God, because of His deep love for us, came to us and showed us how to live lives of love. Lives of restored relationships.
Now wait…don’t think the advent story ended there. God coming to earth was just the beginning of the restoration. Like we said when we started today – Christmas restored, is restoring, and will restore. The advent continues!
You see, you, followers of Christ, carry His Spirit in you. You are walking ambassadors of His Kingdom, representatives of His love. As 1st John 4:9-12 says,
This is how God showed His love among us; He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.
And when you enter a room, Jesus once again is there. You are restorers of the intended relationships. You carry God’s loving message of restoration to the rest of the world.
You are the advent!
With every conversation you have, with every act of service, with every sacrificial moment, with every moment of love, you recreate Christmas day, you restore the relationships we were created to have and you bring Christ to the world in the flesh.
Church – you are the advent! Where ever you are, Christ is. You therefore are the incarnation. Every time you walk into a room and love like Jesus, the word is made flesh once again.
Christmas restored – and it continues to restore, through you.
And a day is coming when it will restore completely.
Someday our God is returning. Even now, even though He has pitched His tent in our hearts, even though His Spirit is with us, the story is not over – the relationships aren’t complete.
Like Paul said, “Now I see vaguely as if in a mirror – but someday I will see Him face to face!” The advent will be complete when Christ returns and brings with Him a new heaven and a new earth. Everything will be restored to how it was created to be.
This is the Christmas story – that the Word became flesh and moved in next door. And we recreate it every time we surrender to Him and allow Him to love others through us. And some day…some day the story will end with joy, the advent will be complete, and He will arrive again.
As He said at the end of Revelation – “Behold, I am coming soon!”
So now we have run up on Christmas. I hope it looks a little different for you.
This Christmas know that you celebrate an advent that has begun but is not complete. And you are a part of it because you are His hands and His feet…where ever you love – He is!
His restoration has come. It is coming through you. And it will come in completion. You show the fulfillment of the law of love. You be the answer to the call of the prophets. You live as Christ and by this we will have advent!
Go from here and celebrate Christmas with every conversation and action by sharing the Love of Christ with everyone you encounter!
So this year do not think of the advent as the arrival of the tree, the presents, our family, and the little sweet baby Jesus in the manger. It is not simply the shepherds, the angels, the hot apple cider, Scrooge and his four ghosts, the wise men, Charlie Brown’s Christmas special, and the Christmas star.
Christmas is the celebration of the coming of God. And we celebrate it best when we bring His restoring love to others, giving them hope for the future and His coming.