Advent I: “Surpised by Hope”

Click for audio:09 Advent_ Surpised by Hope Sermon_ 1

Advent I – “Surprised by Hope”

Matthew 1:18-25

Nov 28 2010

During Advent a Sunday school teacher read her class part of the Christmas preparation story from the perspective of the animals involved. She then asked which animal was missing from the story. One said a cow. Another timidly said a horse. Then in desperation the teacher asked, “Who are the animals waiting for?” After a few seconds of pausing, one brave student declared, “The Great Pumpkin!”#

This time of the year, from the time before Halloween and All Saint’s Day, it seems that we just have one big string of holidays. Turkeys wearing Santa suits. Pumpkins sporting feathers and felted Pilgrim hats. Confetti being dropped from the sky and noise makers at full blast as we begin the liturgical New Year with the first Sunday of Advent. We’re in all these… “right now” … “this second” …and “because we have to” mode of life.

I have to acknowledge that this fall has been busier than usual around the church. We’ve worked doubly hard to make sure you are aware of our congregation’s financial needs to support our ministry budget. We’ve attempted to let you know of those 5 goals that have been discerned over the past five years and accepted by our church’s official leadership: our congregation’s desire to have updated youth and children’s areas, a place for us to come together as friends and a place were strangers can become our new friends, strengthening our music ministry and their work, areas within our walls that support current technological means – like projection for a study group or watching a movie together in fellowship.

For those of you who have heard that call and have responded as generously as you are able, I add my voice to the thank yous that have been said for your support of our congregation and its ministries. I also want you to be aware of the potential for you to be apart of something wonderful and meaningful through giving. Giving in my own life has been something of a slow development. But I am getting there. Every year I have gone up…how much I don’t know …but this year I can tell you this year my pledge went up 7.5% – it’s not huge, but its what I can do. Then I went forward and pledged to the capital campaign. Do you want to know who the first person was to turn in their pledge and their commitment to the capital campaign? Me. That’s how excited I am that I can be a part of this.

I was thinking as I made my decision regarding my support of the Ministry Budget and Capital Campaign, “what do I spend my money on that actually make a lasting difference in my life and other’s lives?” A cup of coffee how long does that last? – say an hour, a haircut two/three weeks, a shirt a couple, three years. A car, what 4-5 years, a tank of gas about 350/400 miles, all fleeting moments of things I find important at that moment. But a Bible purchased for a kid, food given around the world, our general church’s work on behalf of the most marginalized people. Those a places where there is good done. Moments of God’s Kingdom being revealed on earth and by my gifts, people’s lives can be touched.

Part of my thought in giving what I could to the Capital Campaign was me wondering where else, I’d be able to point to in 25 or 50 – 60 – possibly 70 – that’d only make me 104 years old – and say I was fortunate enough to be able to contribute to that project on behalf of our children and youth and every member – now and those to come in the future. There are all kinds of ways to support the church – not only monetary gifts – we focus on Christian living much of the year, and we’ve gotten scared to speak of money as not to offend someone. But what I have come to understand through reading, study, what Ernie has preached, is that if I don’t give, I’ve got someone else to answer to – and it isn’t me. We focus on Christian living much of the year, just lately on Christian giving. In our vows of membership, we are asked, “Will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church and do all in your power to strengthen its ministries?” and your response was ____(yes)_____?

Strengthening United Methodist ministries takes much work and much money, as financial responses tend to grease the wheels of ministry. From the campus ministry at UNCC, the closest university to us with a United Methodist campus ministry, to 5th Street Ministries, to project Agape in Armenia, where we sent those 55 gift boxes and heard from their director on that Wednesday night, to supporting Lake Junaluska, teaching our children and youth, to supporting missionaries and health care programs all across the world. I say that to say, you’ve a big task before you. A worthy task mind you – but a large task.

We are hopeful that you’ll be able to complete your Letter of Intent as soon as possible – we’ll have opportunity for you to bring them up to the front, pray if you wish, receive a brick if you wish (even if you have already turned in for letter or mailed it, we’d like you to have a brick as you are assisting and enabling our congregation to do kingdom work throughout the world). Dr. Porter last week put it wonderfully: “Some of you have already made your commitment, come down to the altar and say a prayer and thank God for what you have done, some of you gona bring yours and leave it on the chancel rail, some of you haven’t decided yet what you’re gona do, come pray about that, some of you have made up your mind you’re not going to give anything, and you’re part of the family, you need to come pray about that too.” -Endquote.

We’ve a large task before us, but we can do it for the sake of fulfilling God’s calling on our church family. Our work and outreach, supporting our ministries are critical for us to answer the call of being kingdom people. But that’s what we do…as Christians there’s a forever presence of overwhelming situations, but there is something about us that should refuse to ever give up hope. Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa responded once in a 1992 interview – two years before Nelson Mandela is elected president and four years before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission began. if he was hopeful about the future of his country. His response, “I am always hopeful.” “A Christian is a prisoner of hope. What could have looked more hopeless than Good Friday?…There is not situation which God cannot extract good. Evil, death, oppression, injustice – these can never again have the last word, despite all appearances to the contrary.”#

Well, you know, I figured if we are living in the pumpkin, Pilgrim, liturgical New Year, you surely wouldn’t mind a reference to our Easter story too. But in honesty, isn’t that the real way of life. Every moment is lived in the complex situation of everything at once – Thanksgiving, New Year, Easter, and even Christmas. But at the same time we have to try and center ourselves in the present moment.

We’ve entered into the season of Advent beginning today. It is when we get ready, anticipate the coming of Jesus. We calmly go about our lives, readying our hearts and minds, preparing our homes and events to celebrate the season of Christmas, the birth of the Christ child long ago. Did you notice a problem in the last sentence? I said, “We calmly go about…”. Yeah, right, we’ve thrown the house, we’ve thrown the car, we’ve thrown our selves into high gear.

A friend sent me a text on Friday. He said, “I just saw on the news a clergy person in the middle of the state was fighting for limited quantities.” ( I wondered why Don would be in the middle of the state shopping.) I sorta laughed; sorta thought it’d be fitting as what the season has come to – I hope he just made it up. It was funny this morning in the early service – we had a great illistration – one of the candles fell out of the Advent wreath – we’re down to three Sundays over there.

But Advent is as counter cultural as the church could be in our human lives. Advent is the reminder, just as Lent is to Easter, that there is something more to Christmas than the parties of the season. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t spend time with those special to us all season long, all year long. I’ll be at all the parties I can attend. I am saying that we have to be reminded during the season of Advent that we have to wait just a bit more – things in our world aren’t as they should be. The world in which we struggle through life is not what it should be – and sometimes we, both you and I, have caused and support systems that prevents God’s kingdom from being fully revealed.

The Good News is that Advent reminds us that not only did Jesus come long ago as a child born of Mary, cared for by Joseph – a child destined for the cross, tomb and resurrection. But Advent is here also to remind us that our hope is never history. Yes, we must continue working for God’s kingdom day and night in our world, but, ultimately, Christ will return to make all things right. The end of struggle is not only in heaven, but will be revealed here upon the earth.

James Moore concludes in the book we are studying across our congregation, Christmas Gifts That Won’t Break, the section many of you have read today concludes with the story of the solider in Paris. With a phrase of “Happy Christmas” as he overpays for the flowers he purchases just to give away he transforms the whole restaurant where he’d been dining. Songs burst out, people start singing, laughter abounds. People who couldn’t speak the same language began speaking the same spirit – that spirit of Christmas. It wasn’t about the flowers given, it wasn’t about the money overpaid – it was the Spirit which transformed the moment. That is the Hope of the season. That’s what we are waiting on – a world transformed by the Christ whom we worship.

All glory, honor and power be to the one that was, is and is to come.

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