Summary: Advent is a season of longing and anticipation of a future life without sin, death or pain.
Advent – Week 1
Nov. 28, 2010 Phil 2:1-11
As you can tell from those many announcements, the Christmas season is upon us. It didn’t start in August, even if that is when you first noticed the Christmas decorations in Costco. And it really does start today, even though our city is more focused on the big Grey Cup football game than the start of the season of Advent. Thanks to our master decorators for setting the beautiful atmosphere here in our sanctuary.
I don’t know what words you might associate with this season. Perhaps “busy”, “hectic”, or “chaotic”. Perhaps “stressful”. Perhaps “lonely”. Hopefully some positive ones: “family”, “feasting”, “friends”. Those are very much a part of this season in our culture, but they don’t really speak of the season in the rhythm of worship.
Rhythm of Anticipation and Longing:
The season of Advent in the rhythm of our annual worship journey is a season of anticipation – the time of preparation for something incredible. It is also a season of longing – that deep yearning within us, put there by the God of the Universe, for life to be fundamentally different than it is today, without sin and death and pain. Anticipation and longing are similar, but with very different feelings: anticipation is positive and excited, dreaming and eager. Longing is more melancholy, with some sadness at the present state and desperate for things to change for the better. Our broader culture does ok with the anticipation – the whole build up, the planning, the organizing, all leading up to “the big day”. Unfortunately, the conclusion of that cultural anticipation sometimes becomes the exact opposite of the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus – the culmination is about feasting and abundance and “what we got for Christmas”; whereas the story of Jesus is really about leaving the heavenly “feast”, turning back on abundance, and on giving until there is nothing left.
But where in all that is the sense of longing? Assuming of course we strip away the materialism and marketing messages that are more about coveting than a longing of the heart. Are there places where there is a desperation for change, a pleading on our knees for Jesus’ “kingdom to come, His will be done”, an honest admission of where our lives have followed our own brokenness into ways of living that are not outpourings of the Kingdom of God, but instead mirror the kingdom of this world?
As we begin around the communion table, may this be a place of that longing. We begin with the rhythm of confession, repentance, and receiving of forgiveness, and it is so incredibly appropriate that we begin our season of Advent with that same rhythm, that we start Advent with an honest, brutal, heart-rending acknowledgement of how much sin has destroyed. We have to start there, so we see again how much we need Jesus to come.
I want to make that a little more specific. We’ve been studying Philippians 2 together, it begins: “1 Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? 2 Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. 3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”
I give you some space in quiet reflection now, and invite you to allow those questions and the Holy Spirit to search your heart: “are your hearts tender and compassionate?”; or is there hardness, selfishness, and pride that looks at the sufferings of others without desire to help? Are we “agreeing wholeheartedly with each other” or are there places where we have been divisive or argumentative? Are we truly “loving one another”. What about selfishness – the command is “don’t be selfish.” Desire to impress – the command is “don’t try to impress others”. Pride – the command is “be humble”. As we head into communion, let us shine the light of truth which comes through Jesus, who is “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (Jn 1:5), upon our hearts. And allow Him to speak.
Please join me in the words on the screen, which serve as our corporate prayer of repentance (from http://www.wellsprings.org.uk/liturgies/advent_penitential.htm):
Reader: We live in a world oppressed by sin; a world of hunger – pain – injustice
ALL: WE ACKNOWLEDGE THAT WE ARE PART OF THIS WORLD
AND HAVE NOT ALWAYS PLAYED OUR PART
IN CONFRONTING THE DARKNESS
AND BRINGING THE LIGHT OF CHRIST TO TROUBLED PLACES.