As we begin to prepare and think about Christmas again this year; certainly we think first about all that we have to do: to get ready, to entertain, to travel, to shop. And then hopefully we are thinking about time off: to relax and enjoy and be with family and friends; precious - precious time. Tonight, we raise the question: what else? Is there something more to the season? Something we do not want to miss? Something that this celebration might give us, convey to us, provide for our lives, uplift us and inform us. Is it going to whip by again this year: hey merry christmas - couple of drinks - dinner - feet up- some beautiful music and festive lights - egg nog (strong please) ; and then back to work in the new year?
And here at our first advent celebration we are emphasizing the beauty and magic of this holiday with candles, music, prayer. And we know there is meaning to the season that we can not explain but just have to experience. But my beginning advent word for you tonight is that if Christmas is anything, if it is going to have an impact on your life? Is it going to change us in anyway for the better? for the more peaceful; more comforted ? more at home with others? at home with the world? at home with God and with yourself? And if so.... It has to be based in reality. It has to be more than a pageant; more than a show ; more than a holy time to which you attend and then leave and go back to the real world; your real world. And I believe at its heart Christmas is less holiday and more reality.
On Christmas Eve when the angels will be singing and we will have dreams of sugar plums dancing in our heads (there is a time and place for that); I will say no more. But let us begin experiencing this Christmas with two feet firmly planted in reality. As a story about real people, and places and times, not a removed religious or church happening.
For, it is a story about being pregnant and not being married. It is a story about a young woman who hears the voice of God speaking to her in comforting but very scary ways that will change her life forever. It is a story of a man who looses trust in his fiancé and is about to loose his standing in the community - his good name - And in a strange way he thinks he hears gods voice too...telling him not to forsake what is in his heart even though it sounds stupid to carry on. It is a story of poor people. It is the story of having the door slammed in your face. And being told that there is no room for you - in this economy - in this country - in this family - in this relationship - in this workforce --in this tight knit church family. It is a story of stepping in cow dung; and perhaps the many ways we step in similar things in life. It is the story about the pain and uncertainty of child birth - and for that matter the pain and uncertainty of life --that wondrous risk we all take to wake up on these cold mornings and dare listen for some sign from God.
And then in the mist of this....all this - "reality"; advent begins the story of a new face of love in the world. The sweetest, kindness, most radiant face that you will ever see or hope to. It is a face not unlike your own....or the old lady down the street....or the dirty ragged clothed child on the Salvation Army poster......but also a face like you have never seen before. But, for sure, you have seen many reflections of it ; for it is the face of love in this world. And Advent is doing whatever you can do to get a closer look at it. Amen
Rev. Robert E. Bell