Here are my (belated) thoughts for the 4th Sunday in Advent (19 December 2010). The Scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 7: 10 – 16, Romans 1: 1 – 7, and Matthew 1: 18 – 25.
As I noted in my piece for the 3rd Sunday in Advent (“But Where Will we go?”) I am preaching next Sunday (26 December 2010) at Dover Plains UMC (Location of church); the title of the message will be “The True Gift of Christmas” instead of what I had previously announced. Service starts at 11 and you are welcome to attend.
There has been a constant discussion in our house lately about what it means to be a Christian. Is it enough to come on Sunday morning and nod appreciatively at what the pastor says? Or do you actually have to do something?
Lately, I have found myself doing more and listening less. The laws of physics still dictate that you cannot be in two places at the same time and we haven’t worked it out at my home church so that I can hear the Sunday morning services in the community room while I am serving breakfast. (As you know from early posts, my wife has started a feeding ministry on Saturdays and Sundays for the local children. On Sunday mornings, we hold the breakfast in the community room and anyone may have a breakfast, even if they are not a child. Because my wife teaches Sunday School, I get the task of watching the food and serving it. But it means that I don’t get to attend the first service and listen to the pastor; I do get to hear her message during the second service but I like hearing it twice when I can.)
But what I heard from one of the congregation who does attend the second service and had come early one Sunday morning bothered me. She asked if the food I was serving was for the “poor” people. My reply was that it was for all the people and there were no distinctions at this table. But her question/comment was atypical of many other comments that have been made about the viability of letting such people into our church.
Yes, we have had some visitors who have come and then stolen something. And we learned from those instances. We have also communicated to the people of the neighborhood and surrounding area that when these things happen, the attitude and air of trust has been broken. And it takes awhile to repair that trust.
I just wish the same could be said for those who call themselves Christians but then look upon others as not worthy of the same blessing they believe they have claimed. And it isn’t just in my church that I perceive this attitude.
I know of too many people who find solace and comfort in the words and preaching of Joel Osteen, Bennie Hinn, and all the other big-name, big-time, television-based preachers. They all preach a gospel of prosperity and dominion. They all imply in their words and actions that being a Christian is something special and that you will receive bountiful blessings from simply saying that you are a Christian.
We all know (or should know) that what they preach is a Gospel of the self and not the soul. It is a gospel that tells us Jesus will be a regal and royal king born in castle to people of privilege, not the son of a carpenter born in a stable. They expect Jesus to bring forth a kingdom where they have all the power and the ability to exclude those they feel are not worthy. Never mind where or how Jesus was born; they want a gospel message that doesn’t really exist.
Oh, they will get a king alright! Just like those who heard Isaiah’s word, they will receive a king but it will be the leader of an army that will destroy their world, not preserve it.
Ahaz was told that he could have just about anything that he wanted but he knew that one didn’t make demands like that on God. But the people today are quite willing to expect that God will give them anything they want, even if it is without reason or purpose. But why shouldn’t people believe this?
It isn’t just the television ministers that have done it; it is (and will continue to be) an outgrowth of what has been preached for some many years in the mainline and/or traditional churches. It is a message that was preached with and received with an attitude of “that’s fine for Sunday but don’t make me do it on Monday.” The people do not want to know that a child will be born who will lead them; the people do not want to know that a child will, as was stated in The Message, be able to make moral decisions for the people by the time he is twelve.
The people want the status quo, even when it means no hope, no promise for the future. And as they look around, in the darkness of this season of winter and Advent, all they see is darkness. There are no longer bright, smiling faces of the young to tell them there is a future. Those who would be the future of the church have left for other places, other venues where the message can be heard and told.
They know that the message of the present church is not the true message; they know that those who preach those words today are often time hypocrites in their own actions. This missing generation of church goers is willing to do the things that too many actual church goers do not want to even think about.
And when push comes to shove (or whatever euphemism you want to use), the modern day church member doesn’t do a thing. And one day, they look around and wonder what happened? They look around and exclaim that this isn’t what we expected. And they wonder what will happen next.
The story of Joseph as the husband-to-be of Mary is there for one reason. If Joseph had been left to his own choice, he could have abandoned Mary and no one would have though ill of him for doing so. But when it was explained to him what was to take place, he changed his course of action and stood by Mary. There isn’t a lot written about Joseph but he did what was expected of him and that should be enough for our story.
There are those of us who have the role that Joseph had, to play a part in the beginning but not necessarily the end. And sometimes we have to understand that ours is a minor role but one that is necessary for the completion of the mission. That was the role that Joseph had and one he understood.
Our role is expressed by Paul in his letter to the Romans. Not only are we to accept the gift that we will be given when Christ is born in Bethlehem, ours, like the shepherds and the wise men, is tell others what we have seen and what we have done. It may not be what we expected it to be but it is what we must do.
We can see Christmas as one day out of a year of days but then we have to ask ourselves why we have spent the last four weeks preparing for that one day. If we ignore these past four years, then Christmas will be nothing more than a single day of the year and we will get what we expected to get.
But if we take this time of preparation as it is meant to be, then we will find Christmas to be something that we didn’t expect. And it will mean all the difference in the world.