Psalm 25: 1-10
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.
Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!
Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
A letter to Santa
Dear Santa, We sing that song about you every year. You know the one: You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout. I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town. He knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake. So, you already know that I hit my brother - but he hit me first. And mom made us make up. But I know you’ll forgive me, because I try to be good like you want me to be. And I have been - most of the time. So would you please bring me a new soccer ball, and a smart phone like my friend Allison’s. I can’t wait till Christmas. I’ll leave you milk and cookies near the fireplace. Oh, and thank you. Sincerely, Jadyn
Jeremiah 33: 14-16
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
Only 23 more shopping days till Christmas. Santa is busy up there in the North Pole preparing to fulfill your every wish. But you don’t have to wait till Christmas to get the best bargains on smart phones, flat screen TVs, computers and iPads. We’ve got them all at reduced prices. If you missed Black Friday, we still have deals. Stop in to Jerry’s Electronic Wonders and make your loved ones Christmas wishes come true.
If you stopped and asked a child who they were waiting for this holiday season, you know what their answer would be: Santa! If you stopped and asked most of the people standing in line at 6:30 a.m. on Black Friday in front of Wal-mart what they were waiting for, you know what they would say: sales! If you asked them how they were observing Advent, they would most likely say: What? Advent? What’s that?
We live in a secular society. Oh yes, everyone knows about Christmas, but these four weeks of waiting in darkness for the coming of the Christ child, the light of the world, has been lost. For many the true meaning of Christmas has been lost.
Advent is a Latin word meaning “the coming.” It was officially established by church leaders in the 6th century, and originally meant to be a time when Christians reflected on the meaning of Christmas, what the coming of Jesus meant, not only to the world, but to every individual soul. It was a time of looking back over past events, and what growth had taken place in your life. With the secularization of Christmas, I think it’s important to ask ourselves: Who are we waiting for?
This morning Carrie and Morgan lit the first candle on our Advent wreath, a candle for Hope. The Advent wreath was created by Vikings who had converted to Christianity in northern Europe. During those dark, harsh, long winter days when almost everything else died, the fir tree remained hearty. So they removed limbs and shaped them into a wheel like decoration, and put a candle in the middle, representing the light brought into the world with Christ’s birth. Over the years candles were added representing the most precious gifts of Christmas: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.
The scripture passages I read this morning were written long before Jesus’ birth by people living in darkness, looking for hope. Psalm 25 was a personal lament, written by someone expressing sorrow over a loss, possibly the defeat by an enemy. He looks to God to provide relief, asking God to look beyond the times he has walked away from God, trusting God’s loving kindness to forgive and lead him in God’s ways. Advent is a time to look at our own lives. Where have we strayed? Where do we need God’s forgiveness, or guidance or support through difficult times?
Six hundred years before Jesus’ was born, Jerusalem was destroyed, the temple lay in ruins, and the people of Israel were carried off into exile in Babylon. The prophets had reminded them that their failure to live faithfully, in justice and righteousness, would lead to their downfall. Those glory days under King David were a dim memory. Their hopes of returning home had been crushed by a brutal empire.
Amid their despair Jeremiah speaks words of comfort and hope, assuring them that God is still there with them. He says “that a better day is surely coming - and you can count on it because God is the one making the promise. Everyone will have enough to eat, shelter and safely, the goods of life provided so generously by a loving God. The one who is yet to come, the one we await, he says, will bring justice and righteousness.”
Six hundred years after Jeremiah spoke these words of hope to the people of Israel, Jesus was born into another dark world under the occupation of the Roman Empire. The Israelites had returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt their city and temple, and were looking for a Messiah to save them from oppression. Jesus didn’t come to wage war, but to teach the way of peace.
All these years later so much of the world still lives in darkness. Many of us cry out to God our personal laments, while others bemoan the state of our nation and the world. We look for glimmers of hope, for a prophet to comfort us and lead us into the light. They seem hard to find these days. This morning let’s take a minute to lift up our hopes to God this Advent season. They may be personal to you, or hopes for our world. I’ve asked Reebee to light a candle for each of those hopes as we speak them out loud. We will pass the mike.
Jesus was a light in that darkened world he was born into. He didn’t come and solve all the world’s problems, in his day or ours. But he showed us a better way to live, with love, compassion, forgiveness and generosity towards all of God’s children. And those of us who learn his ways, help to recreate this world into the kin-dom he spoke of.
Elsa Cook, in her Still Speaking Devotional last week, relates a story about hope from Rev. William Barber, who leads the Poor People’s Campaign. He remembers, “When I was growing up in eastern North Carolina, I used to love to sit in my Grandmama's kitchen and listen to her sing as she made dinner. Whenever she was done cooking, she'd give me a plate to eat. Then she and some of the other sisters from the church would make up some to-go plates and, with their aprons still on, they'd head out the door to visit the sick and shut-in. 'We going to hope somebody,' Grandmama would say.”
He loved his Grandmama, but he was convinced she had really bad grammar. He knew that hope isn't a verb. Elsa Claims, and I agree with her, that Jesus sides not with the good reverend but with Grandmama.
“Hope is a verb, he says, that pulls you up from the depths of despair, shakes you from your pain and points toward life. It's not just an idea, but it's what pushes you out the door to say that this isn't the end. This isn't all there is and there is justice to be done.”
St. Nicholas, who the figure of Santa Claus can be traced back to, went out in his day to hope on his neighbors. He was born in the 4th Century to wealthy parents in the town of Patara, Lycia (now part of Turkey). Legend records that when his parents died, the young man took all his families money and distributed it to the needy in his hometown. He then accepted the call to become a monk at age 17, and shortly thereafter, a priest. It was his generosity that endeared Nicolas to those who knew him and made him a legend that lives on today. This makes him a perfect secular companion for the holy day when we stop and recognize Christ’s birth.
Maybe we all are the hope of the world - all of us - Christians and non-Christians. We are here to hope our neighbors: those who participate in our alternative giving by writing checks to Bridge Over Troubled Waters and Growth Through Learning; those who bought coats for City Mission and will bring gifts for their Christmas Shop on December 16th; those who will participate in our Christmas Party for the families in transitional housing at Home Suites Inn. With each gift and act of generosity we are bringing a little light into this darkened world. So head out the door today and go hope on somebody.