Advent II – Dec. 13, 2009
Broad Street UMC: Statesville, NC
The Canticle of Zechariah – Luke 1:68-79: Malachi 3:1-4; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6.
The Rev. Jason W. Harvey
Some times in life you realize you make good choices. Other times you realize you don’t necessarily. This morning I chose to put on the socks that don’t stay up. I hate that. I was in the office this morning and I reached down to pull up the socks that don’t stay up and I realized I wore blue socks with my black suit. They are dark blue – good news. The other news is I felt if I wear my blue stole I’ll be ok. A little edgy, but that’s ok. It is the fashion trend of Statesville, I started it right here.
The other thing you realize that you make choices, well, when you type up the bulletin (those three mistakes are mine – out feet, our feet – something like that). You print the bulletins and you then you realize that the text that you put into the bulletin and you realize that you have put in the texts from the week before, but I like the text from the week before, so we are doing Advent, number two today and you have another week to shop before Christmas this year. So we’ve stretched that out a week more. Our merchants are glad to hear that. We have another week to shop.
However, since last week was such a wonderful celebration of our 100 year sanctuary. I look out and I see the remainate of the festivities gone past, but I am greatful you’re here. I don’t blame you, I thought about staying home and listening by the radio. If you are listening on the radio, we welcome you.
But there are some wonderful things going on this time of the year. I love it. All around town and even right here in our church. Sunday school parties, UMWomen Circle parties – one tomorrow; I’m looking forward to it.
Church trips we go on. The van tires are still cooling down at Boggs Motor from the Senior trip to Lake Junaluska yesterday. Twenty-five of us went yesterday – it was a great trip.
Last Saturday, 19 of the youth and I and some others took off to the Candle Tea in Winston-Salem to a neat event. We wound up watching the Christmas parade sitting inside the Mellow Mushroom Pizza in Winston-Salem. We were right there on Fourth St. the parade went by as we were munching on pizza. I found a way to watch a parade and it is not out standing in the cold.
However, at Old Salem we went downstairs, I don’t know, several of you have been to Old Salem… There is one rumor I want to dispel – it is Moravian Sugar …Cake, not Sugar Bread, being from Winston-Salem, I am somewhat of an authority, it is Sugar Cake, not Sugar Bread. So I am here to change Statesville, I understand there is an ugly rumor of Sugar Bread in our midst. The Moravians have sent me here to do that.
We went to the Candle Tea, we sang some Moravian songs, we saw them make candles, the beeswax candles, ate some of the Sugar, what’s it called? Cake, good, no rebels. So we went downstairs to the PUTZ and from what I understand, I’m Methodist, with some Moravian influences. They would put these small houses around the bottom of their trees in family homes – small wooded houses sometimes with candles. They would go around and see the neighbor’s villages. The PUTZ in Salem was dying out, so they included it at the Candle Tea. It takes about three months to set it up, it is viewed for a month and it takes a month to take down. They use marble dust for snow. It is great. All kinds of wonderful things.
We had this tour guide, she really hammed it up for the kids. She made Salem come alive. Well, I was standing on one end, probably about the Wachovia Building and I was looking over the village. I couldn’t see all the way to the end.
I asked her how long she’d been near Salem? She replied, “All of her life.” I thought she would remember what it was I was about to ask her. I told her I couldn’t see that far down, but was there a Rambler dealership at the bottom of Salem hill – Winebarger and Adkins? She said no, but she remembered it. It was my Granddad’s dealership. Not far from Krisby Kream – another W-S treasure. As I walked by she said they’d bought two cars there – a wagon and convertible and I absolutely loved them.
Well, I, I’m not trying to sale Ramblers, althought I could probably do it; but I could I’ve got some good lines down – “It’s a good solid car.” “It was a car before it’s time. It really was.” They don’t make it anymore, but that’s par. I could sale it.
Have you ever noticed that a person who asks a question in some public setting they somewhat become an authority on the issue. People automatically look toward one person to do the speaking. Have you ever noticed that in a meeting?
Well, I asked that one question and one of our kids looked at me. She observed some of the details. There were footprints coming in and out of this one small building behind some of the houses. And she asked, “What’s that little building out back?” I replied an “Outhouse.” I still got a blank stare. I pushed forward and said, “Well, that’s the place they used to go to the restroom.” That got her attention. She looked at me like a murder had just been committed. “What, they didn’t have indoor pluming?” I said, “no, they didn’t” and one of the parents added in, “nor did they have cell phones.” A bit of a reality check for how far we’ve come in a short while.
Back to our guide person – she really made Salem come alive – making up little stories about houses and people chatting on the street. She even told a story about what the town crier was saying. You know what a town crier is don’t you? It’s not gone the way of the outhouse, has it? Well, he was the internet, tweeter, the evening news and newspaper all rolled into one noisy man walking along the streets. Often ringing a bell, hollering out “Oyea, Oyea,” and would then yell the headlines. Sorta like a prophet, a little bit. He made the announcements for the courts and the government.
Did you know the Lord Mayor of London still has a town crier? Did you know that the town crier is still protected by law against assault and harassment? The town crier was a agent of the king, so therefore, if the town crier was accosted or something, then that is treason on the words of the king. The town crier would announce something like tax increases and that is never welcomed.
So you have these town criers that are somewhat still existent. They have competitions and things where they get together.
You know sometimes in Advent, I feel a little like a town crier (ringing huge handbell, requiring both hands – at this point) – Oyea, Oyea! In Advent, I feel a little like a town crier. I stand here saying something similar to before, just in a different time and place.
Thinking back to December two years ago – we thought we had the world by a string. A year ago in December, you probably remember it – we were wondering if the world was going to be around in a couple of months. Dire faces because of dire funds. This year we’re a little better, but we’re not out of the woods yet on that issue.
But I take my place here again to say we’re in the Season of Advent once again and not Christmas – not yet! It is the way that the church says we’re different – things inside these walls aren’t the same as outside the walls.
Advent say to us, “wait, slow down, remember the reason we are to celebrate – but in a way more than just being reminded that, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” In my opinion, a rather trite explanation of the Incarnation of God – God made flesh. That little mantra doesn’t seem to capture Jesus. Advent is the church’s way to say to us, “anticipate the joy of Christ’s birth, but not yet!”
Stanley Hauerwas, Time Magazine’s 2001 America’s Best Theologian – How many of you’ve heard of him? (Only one had – my senior pastor) – he teaches at that other divinity school, down there, where ever it is, at Duke. Sometimes I think he pushes us (the church) against the culture too much, some I can really get behind. But my understanding or memory of a quote in this pass issue of “Christian Century” that today’s church has lost its ability to be counter cultural, since it has become a slave to consumer trends. He says, today’s church has lost its ability to be counter cultural, since it has become a slave to consumer trends. We my friends, we want people to like us, so we’ve made concessions:
If you are visiting, we want you to come again.
If you are here, we really want you to stay.
If you haven’t been here or it has been a while, we would love to see you again. But in our process of trying to make everyone happy; to get everyone to like us, we’ve forgotten that our message isn’t always comforting – to the ways of the world.
Advent says to us, we can’t put on some festive sweater, a painted on smile, purchase someone an artificial gift we’d rather give to someone else. And then go out into the world and everything will be happy. That, my friends, is called “denial” – and it isn’t just a river in Egypt.
Advent says the ways of God are not the ways of the world – not anywhere close. Might does not make right! Ask Mary and Joseph in a tiny stable in a few days. The old king might not know about the new king. And tell me the last time a bunch of roughen shepherds were the first to be invited to the biggest party in the world’s history by a choir of angels.
Not the same! Not the same. – Yells the town crier.
Jesus Christ for whom we wait isn’t the same ol’, same ol’. This Jesus – both the infant that we celebrate and the ruler who has promised to return in the end – is a major change agent in our lives – and can be in each of our individual lives, if we so choose.
This Jesus – for whom we wait – reminds us that our world, no matter how tough we may experience it, will not fall from its axis – it may change, it may look different – the North Pole might be the South Pole – or the South Pole the North Pole. But it will not have final say over our lives, over our souls. I wonder what December 2010 will look like, I wonder what December 2020 will look like, or maybe December 2222? What will they look like how will they be? But we need not fear it. “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow – they neither toil or spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” (Matt. 6:28-29).
There are paths we fear to trod before each of us, but even though life may threaten, we do not face our challenges alone, because of Christ’s presence.
Advent reminds us that Christmases and days have come before. Some are now fond memories, others are painful scars – but Advent reminds us there are new memories to be made in the here and now – and the scars of past wounds that make us who we are, but they are not our defining feature.
This morning on my way in I was listening to the BBC Worldservice on 90.7 – 88.5 and 89.9 were playing these elaborate classical pieces and I wanted companionship on my way in. They were interviewing this guy from South Africa who was missing a bone in his leg. This man was born and his parents had to choose to have both of his feet and part of his legs amputated – one was misshapen and the other was missing a bone need for structure. But this young man had decided to make a go of life. He’d had some prosthesis made and he was able to walk and to run. In South Africa they aren’t as easy on their kids as they grow up. He said had his Mom ran after him each time he fell over, she’d still be running. She’d say, “Yeah, he’ll get up.” And he did. He said once he got in trouble and was sent across the street to the girl’s school from his boy’s school and he had to do ballet for two hours a day for a month. He said ballet for a kid with no feet was a challenge. He said he did it, he tried. He made a go of it.
Now he’s bring up an issue in the world of sports. Can he compete with so called “able bodied” runners, ‘cause he is so good, so fast? He’s moving on. He has figured out a way to live in the circumstances where he’d found himself. He’s made a life. Now he’s being interviewed by the BBC. Pretty amazing.
Advent reminds us that promises made have been fulfilled and the Messiah is here, the Messiah is come in the birth of Jesus, the little infant. But we also know there is hope for the future. All things wrong will be made right.
That’s what Advent reminds us of.
Advent says to us, “wait, just you wait!” the future is to be your present. Not something for us to dread, but for us to hope. Not merely to hope, but to work toward. It is great for us to help out a person who needs even the basics of life during this season, but what is it that we, many of us some of the most influential people in this town and county, what can our church do to correct injustices that created this situation in our society? Where has the spirit of transformation gone from Christianity?
Foundry Church in DC. I was listening to a sermon online the other day, back from November. Dean Snyder, the Minister there, was laying out the goals of that congregation for the next five years for that church. One of their goals he laid out was to alleviate homelessness in Washington, DC. That’s pretty big, isn’t it? They plan to work through church communities throughtout the District. They estimate that for $19 million they can eliminate homelessness in DC. He said he’d watched homelessness as we knew it had developed over the past 30 years. It’s not something that has been present throughout our nation’s history. But they could end homelessness by 2014 for $19 million dollars.
I am reminded of Bishop McClesky’s illustration last week. This thought has stayed with me all week long – about how Liverpool could build an $11 Million dollar cathedral. The Dean of the cathedral asked why we were so willing to put forth the necessary money for a nuclear submarine or concord jet, when one day they will be obsolete? But we are not willing to spend $11 million dollars on a cathedral that will last 500 or 1000 years and touch so many people’s lives. $19 Million is all it takes to cure homelessness in our nation’s capital. That’s amazing, that’s a Christian vision. That’s going after God’s way.
We must move forward to live out the promises of God. Yeah, God is working to bring about transformation, but what are we doing to help? When is the last time you wrote a letter or made a call to some leader in some place – especially because of the Scripture’s calling us to be and do and not our pocketbooks? Advent isn’t always fun – contrary to what the world’s idea of what Christmas always is, Advent isn’t always fun.
You know, It’s a Wonderful Life was on last night. Produced in 1946, I believe, know telling how many times it has been shown. It shows how much one person can shape a small town and the impact they can have on it. After George wished that’d he’d never been born and Clarence, the angel shows up and he hasn’t been born and we sees how Bedford Falls has changed to Pottersville. He finally realizes the impact he’s made on his small community and then he stands on the same bridge and prays, “Please God let me live again.”
And he does.