Summary: A sermon for the fourth Sunday in Advent. Peace.
When I look back to memories of Christmas past, particularly memories of Christmas as a child, I always find that I remember Christmas Eve more than I remember Christmas Day. I wonder why that is? Perhaps it is the sense of build-up and expectation, the sense of excitement about what is almost here. The thrill of the season wrapped up into one final night knowing that in the morning there would be a pile of presents to dive into. This sense of expectation usually far outweighed the act of opening the gifts themselves, really… the expectation was part of the gift itself.
For the past several weeks, we have been building on the expectation of advent. Each week as we have lit another candle during advent, we have taken one step closer to Bethlehem… one step closer to the birth of our Lord. And it has all been aimed at the Coming of Christ. Like a child waiting to open a present, we look to tomorrow with great expectations. Tomorrow marks one of the most important dates on our Christian calendar and it is right that we look forward to it in great expectation.
Christmas Eve is a special time as we finally tip over into Christmas Day. At this moment we are on the cusp between expectation and celebration, between darkness and light, between Advent & Christmas. For those who have been waiting, whether a child for its presents, or a faithful servant for their Savior, the time of waiting is coming to an end.
And it is during this time that we remember what it was like before Jesus came, when there was only darkness, and the prophets like Isaiah waited for the light to come. This day marks that move from darkness into light, words echoed in the prophecy of Isaiah that ‘the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.’ And it is with great hope and great expectation that Isaiah writes and proclaims the coming of our Lord, knowing that the time of waiting was soon coming to an end.
The gospels pick up where the prophets leave off. While the prophets looked forward with great anticipation… the gospels looked back into the past… much like we do today and see the fulfillment of the prophecy in Jesus Christ. His birth was not a random act, not a random birth that God decides to use, but a planned event. That Christmas night so long ago fulfilled that which had been written... Finally, the rod of the oppressor had been broken as a child was born with authority on his shoulders, and he was called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.
And it is because of this wonderful fulfillment of prophecy that we look back each year and remember the prophets and feel their anticipation, we remember the disciples and the gospel writers and stand in awe at the fulfillment of the prophecies, and we remember that fateful night… and we celebrate with Mary & Joseph, the shepherds, and the wisemen as we move from that period of expectation to that period of great celebration.
For many the period of celebration ends tomorrow. For some it will end as quickly as the wrapping paper hit the floor. But we as Christians know better because the period of merriment goes on for much longer. The celebration of Jesus birth only BEGINS tomorrow. The weeks to come will find Christians all over celebrating Christmas as a joyous time where Jesus has come. And that transition happens officially tonight. Today… we are almost there… the anticipation is almost complete. Tonight… as we usher in the Midnight celebration… we take those official steps from anticipation to celebration as Midnight marks the official start of Christmas. No more advent… no more candles to be lit… no more period of waiting… instead the arrival… and the celebration.
So with this in mind… I ask a simple question. How will this Christmas affect you? What difference will Jesus make to the way you spend the next few days, other than extra family gatherings, extra food and drink and perhaps extra time off from work.
Has the birth of Jesus changed your life? Is his life continuing to change yours, as his presence among us by God’s Spirit transforms us as individuals, as a church and as a community?
As we move from expectation to celebration – I urge you to remember what it is we are celebrating. As we return tonight, as we celebrate tomorrow… let us remember the reason for Christmas… let us remember the symbolism to all the decorations, let us know that all the celebrations… all the traditions… all the Christmas events are centered around Christ.
As you look to the Christmas tree, try to see the symbolism… we have Christmas trees because the pure green color of the stately fir tree remains green all year round, depicting the everlasting hope of mankind.