first sunday in advent sermon

Grace and peace to you, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Lord, be with us this morning as we gather and wait and anticipate your birth. Amen.

I just asked the kids what advent means to them, what it means to wait for Jesus’ birth. The irony of our waiting is that usually we wait once for a birth, but we’ve been celebrating this particular birth for about 2 millenia. And each year we are still excited when Christmas will finally arrive towards the end of December.

Our texts today highlight some of the tension as we wait. Whether we are waiting for a ride to come pick us up, or perhaps waiting for a meeting to start, or waiting in line to get the best present ever at an overcrowded store, we spend a lot of time waiting. We are always waiting for events to start.

One of my favorite sayings is “Hurry up and wait.” We spend our time rushing around, only to get stuck and then we are forced to wait, and our patience is put to the ultimate test as we are stopped in our tracks in order to wait.

Waiting is a part of the season of advent. Waiting is how we use up the time that remains.

But waiting really isn’t all that we do.

Our texts today stress the importance of being prepared. We could opt to wait by sitting around and twiddling our thumbs or just staring blindly at whatever is around us. Or we could opt to be active and intentional in our waiting, to be intentional at preparing for the event to come.

We prepare for Jesus to come back in several different ways.

We decorate our homes with lights and evergreens and bring joy and happiness through that process.

Some focus on the gift-giving, of taking the time and energy to make sure that everyone gets what they want or need come Christmas time.

We might have advent calendars. I always loved moving a mouse from pocket to pocket in the calendar we had while I was growing up. It was exciting to see that the big day was drawing closer.

I know other families light candles every day while they say prayers, who are very intentional at taking time each day to prepare not just their homes with decorations to also prepare their hearts for Jesus to arrive.

When I was in Germany a few years ago for Christmas, I was amazed at some of the traditions they have held to firmly. They have their Christmas trees and decorate their houses and buy Christmas presents. But was what most puzzling to me and yet exciting for them was putting up a fancy candle holder in the window. I asked why they would want candles in their window, and I was informed that the candles show that someone is inside and waiting for the guest to show up. And in the case during the season of Advent, the guest might be a family member or a friend coming home for the holidays, but the guest is also God. Each year they put candles in their window to remind them to wait for Jesus.

These candle holders are elaborate arches with great detail and designs, they are truly works of art as people put a lot of time and energy into designing their Christmas traditions.

Where I grew up, we didn’t put candles in the windows to let someone know we are at home. We have front porch lights for that, but even here in North Dakota, I’ve heard stories of how in decades past people would still be placing the candles in windows so that people could be guided in the dark to a house that is waiting for a guest to show up or to show that they are willing to welcome in a stray traveler. The candle in the window is a sign that they are waiting to open their home to whomever shows up that night.

This morning we light one candle on the wreath. One because this is the first of four weeks of Christmas. We have a month to wait for each candle to be lit, but in the meantime we get to wait and prepare for Jesus to come.

We light candles because we are hoping that Jesus will come. The candle flame is a reminder of the significance of light in the midst of the dark, a reminder of the hope we have that the sun will rise every morning no matter how dark the night was, a reminder of the season of waiting and preparing and hoping where we anticipate Jesus coming to the world, anticipate how God will walk among us.

Advent comes from the Latin word for “coming.” Advent is the time when we prepare for Jesus’ coming, when we are waiting and preparing for God to enter the world in the form of a tiny baby yet again. We sit and wait for Jesus to come back. We look to the past and celebrate what happened, but we also cling to the hope that Jesus will come again.

So as we begin the season of Advent and as the month of December is about to start when we once again actively count down the days until Christmas, may we remember for whom it is that we are waiting and preparing.

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