Monday, December 7, 2009

Give More

For the second Sunday in Advent the text were Malachi 3:1-20, Luke 1:68-79, Philippians 1:1-11, and Luke 3:1-6. There was also a baptism who is the Liam that is mentioned in the sermon. This is also the second in the series of sermons using the concepts of Advent Conspiracy. Yeah so there is a lot in one sermon. Enjoy!

We have some pretty interesting lessons today. I mean it is not even three weeks till Christmas, shouldn’t we be hearing about Mary being told by an angel that she was pregnant with Jesus, or a preview to Jesus’ birth or maybe even about the birth of John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin who was born just a few months before Jesus. Instead our Old Testament reading about Israel having to be put through the refiner’s fire and the fuller’s soap (whatever that means), the second reading is some blessing Paul wrote to people who agreed with him in Philippi and the gospel lesson is a list of some dudes who ruled some lands and John the Baptist proclaiming the need for people to be baptized. Okay so at least our psalmody is not from psalms and instead it is the song Zechariah, John the Baptist’s dad, sang when John was born – but we don’t ever get to read the background story.

But Advent, this season of four weeks before Christmas, in the church is not just about preparing for Jesus’ birth. Think about it, what parent just prepares for the birth of a child and not for the child’s life to – the clothes, carriers, strollers, diapers, that is all about the child’s life. Advent is about preparing for Jesus’ life, for his ministry, for his death on the cross, it is about preparing for Jesus resurrection from the dead and for him to come again. Yes we tend to focus on Jesus’ birth at Christmas – at least if we look at the meaning of Christmas and not the way secular society has made Christmas out to be – all about presents, cookies, decorating, holiday parties and the big long to do list.

So with that in mind, the preparations that are being made not just for Jesus’ birth, but also his life, it makes since that we have today’s text. We must prepare the way Lord. We must make paths straights, mountains and valleys level. We must make ourselves clean, worthy for Christ, through the refiner’s fire, through the fuller’s soap, through the waters of baptism.

The people of Israel needed to be scrubbed clean, they needed to go through the refiner’s fire. The people John was preaching his message to needed to repent, to have their sins forgiven. The Lord was coming and they needed to make his path straight. To level every mountain, to fill every valley. But all of that takes time!

The refining process for gold and silver was drawn out, it took time to get out the other chemicals in order to leave pure silver and gold. Leveling mountains and filling valleys take time. Have you ever dug a garden bed? Making paths straight takes time. Think of how much time they have spend already on the parkway and route 7. They all take time.

It takes time! Time something that we never seem to have enough of. Time, probably one of the most precious commodities in the entire world. We are fine if we waste some of our own time, playing on the internet, watching a un-worth-wild TV show, flipping through the pages of a catalog that we will never purchase anything from. But how dare somebody else waste our time, in a pointless work meeting that has nothing to do with us, by being late to a meeting or lunch, making us wait for our appointment with the doctor or dentist, making us wait in line at the grocery store or bank.

We are constantly trying to find ways to save time. ATMs have almost eliminated the need for actual bank tellers, emails are a quicker way of trying to arrange meetings or exchange ideas. At Stop N Shop, you can now use a hand-held scanner as you shop for groceries so that when you get to the cash register all you have to do is pay – and if you bring your own bags and arrange your cart well, you don’t even have to worry about bagging your groceries either. Entire TV programs show you how to cook a well balanced meal in less than a half hour. It is all about saving time.

So maybe that is why time is often the most precious gift we can give.

We often think that we can buy our own and other people’s happiness, especially at Christmas time. If I spend a lot on a present for them, they will like me more. If I get them the gift that they really want, even if I can’t afford it, they will be happy for the entire year. If I only owned a nicer house, boat, car, designer clothes, cell phone, latest gadget, fill in the blank, then I will be truly happy.

But money does not buy happiness, however time does, or at least helps.

I’ve been talking about Advent Conspiracy with you in these weeks leading up to Christmas. Last week we talked about Worship Fully, one of the core concepts to Advent Conspiracy. But this week, lets talk about Give More. We often think at Christmas about giving and spending more of our money on our family and friends in order to make Christmas memorable. But really we should Give More of our time, our presence.

It is in giving that time that we make memories. Yes I remember fondly playing with many of my siblings and my Christmas presents, an easy-bake oven, the Nintendo, some musical instrument kit. But what I remember more about those toys was the times when my parents played with them with me. When my mom, sister and I would cook desserts in our easy bake oven then have a little party. When my siblings and I took turns beating my dad at Duck Hunt. When I got my siblings to join in a parade of musical instruments and march in front of my parents.

An as a young adult, my favorite presents have become ones that either put time and effort into making especially for me – a Christmas stocking that my dad needlepointed for me when I was a kid, or the tie blanket that Bob made for me a few years ago before we got married. Those are the gifts I treasure.

And how about you? What have been your favorite Christmas presents? Ones that someone picked off a shelf for you at a store because it was on sale? Or ones that people picked out or made especially for you? Or even ones where people spend time with you, taking you out to your favorite restaurant, tickets to a sports game or play, time to teach you a hobby that you have always wanted to try?

Time is a precious commodity. Time is what makes happiness. Time is what builds relationships. Spending true quality time with your family this Christmas is what will make them happy – at least most of them, there are always some Scrooges out there. And quite honestly we each probably have some family members that we don’t want to spend time with.

To quote the Advent Conspiracy website: Time is the real gift Christmas offers us, and no matter how hard we look, it can’t be found at the mall. Time to make a gift that turns into the next family heirloom. Time to write mom a letter. Time to take the kids sledding. Time to bake really good cookies and sing really bad Christmas carols. Time to make love visible through relational giving. Sounds a lot better than getting a sweater two sizes too big, right?

Time is a gift.

We all know it. God knows it to. All those things that I talked about earlier – making hills low and filling valleys, straightening paths, going through the refiner’s fire and the fuller’s soap – all of those things take time. And God is willing to give us that time.

God builds relationship with us through time. Today when the baptismal waters are poured over Liam, God is just starting a formal relationship with him. God is not done with Liam once his head is dried off. And God is not done with us. God was not done with us at our baptisms. We were not given the gift of baptism and then left alone for the rest of our lives to wander in the wilderness. No, God comes to us each and every day. The word of God still comes to us.

We are continually given the gifts of God’s grace. We were each given that grace at our baptism and we are continually given God’s grace whenever we remember that we are children of God, marked with the cross of Christ forever.

We are given the gifts of Christ Jesus. Jesus gave us the forgiveness of all of our sins through his death on a cross. And weekly at this altar, at this table, we are given the gifts of Christ’s body and blood through tangible offering of bread and wine. Gifts that are given to all people. Gifts of forgivness.

We are given the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, generosity, self-control, the ability to teach, the ability to preach, the ability to serve. Each have been given to us in our own ways. The Holy Spirit moves in us each and every day. We have been given these gifts over and over again. Time has been spent on us.

As we prepare for Christmas, for Christ’s birth, life and death, we are reminded of the amount of time it takes to prepare the way of the Lord, but we are also reminded about the amount of time God has and is willing to spend on us. God is building a relationship with us and relationships take time and they take love. And we are worth the time and we are loved.

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