Sunday, November 27, 2005

Longing for Christmas in the Midst of Winter

[Message shared with the people of Friendship Church, November 27, 2005]

Mark 13:24-37

On December 9, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the original book one in C.S. Lewis’ classic Chronicles of Narnia, will come to movie theaters. I haven't been this excited about the release of a new movie since A Hard Day's Night came out in 1964.

Near the beginning of Lewis' classic tale, four children from our world, enter by way of a wardrobe, into another world. They find themselves in a place called Narnia, then living under the spell of a White Witch who has made it “always winter, always winter and never Christmas.”

But the hope of spring comes into Narnia when Aslan, the Great Lion, the son of the Emperor-over-the-Sea, returns to Narnia. I’ll say no more for those who haven’t yet read the book. (And please do yourself a favor by reading it and all the Narnia books!) But I will say this:

I suspect that the moods of many people in our world today can be described as Narnia is described at the beginning of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. For them, life is “always winter and never Christmas”:

drudgery without joy,

longing without fulfillment,

fear without encouragement,

and for some, sorrow without hope.

We each of us know what it is like to yearn, as Lewis puts it in another book, for "another country." I imagine that at their root, every longing you and I have ever known, goes back to our desire for something better, which we are all the time imagining can be fulfilled by some one or some thing here on earth.

I certainly remember that as a boy, this time of year seemed to drag on endlessly. The sun sank early, the nights lasted forever, and it seemed that Christmas would never arrive. And while I was usually quite happy with my gifts, they didn't give me a joy that endured.

But the wintry state of our souls can be seen in more than little children with their Christmas lists. I spoke with a man the other day who told me that his teenage son, formerly an honors student and a great athlete, has gotten involved with sex and drugs and destructive patterns of behavior. When a psychologist asked the young man why he had taken his life in this direction, he said, “Look, either the terrorists, or global warming, or some natural disaster is going to get me anyway. We’re all going to die soon. So, I just want to live while I can.”

For this young man, it was always winter and never Christmas. But it doesn’t have to be that way for any of us!

We can live with joy, even in the midst of the humdrum.

We can have our deepest yearnings for wholeness met.

We can face each day with a hope that knows that one day all our sorrow will be turned into laughter and dancing!

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the beginning of a new Church Year. Advent is a season of anticipation, of waiting. It coincides with the ebbing days of fall and the first stirrings of winter. But unlike that Narnian winter, our winter of waiting looks forward with the confident assurance that Christmas will come.

And it’s more than the celebration of Christmas, that day long ago when God came into the world in the person of the baby Jesus, that makes our Advent winter waiting bearable.

In Advent, we also remember that one day, Jesus, the Lion of Judah, the King of kings, the Son of God the Father, is coming back.

He, Who once died and then sprang to life again, will return.

All the dead who have hoped in Him will rise again and all still living who have followed Him will be with Him in a kingdom that lasts forever.

In Advent, we remember that all followers of Jesus Christ, whose sins have been forgiven, have a hope that not even death can destroy. (Did you hear that? We have a hope that not even death can destroy!)

That’s why the color of this season is blue, the color of a bright spring sky, when life is new and the possibilities are endless.

In our Bible lesson for this morning, Jesus addresses people to whom He has revealed that the massive, sumptuous stones of the temple in Jerusalem will one day crumble and disappear. His fellow Jews can hardly believe it! Like us, the ancient people of God built monuments of faith to God which also, in their way, served as monuments to their own egos. The ancient Hebrew and Judean peoples thought that the Temple would stand forever.

If it were to crumble, Jesus' disciples seem to think, then surely the end of the world must be close at hand. It depresses them. They wonder about the signs that will take place before the end. Jesus goes on to describe events like earthquakes and persecutions of believers, things that are going on today...and that have gone on for thousands of years.

What Jesus is saying is that the end, which will be followed by His reappearance and the establishment of His eternal kingdom could come at any time. But that shouldn’t depress us. Nor should it be the subject of speculations. Instead, we need to be prepared for His return. Jesus puts it this way:
"But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."
During our season of waiting, of longing for Christ to act in our lives, we’re called to remain awake, alive, tuned in to God, ready for Jesus’ appearance. But what exactly does that mean?

In a wonderful message on this text, Lutheran pastor David Stark identifies three ways you and I are called to wait on Jesus.

First: We learn how, in the phrase of the Old Testament, to “be still and know” that God is God.

You know, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, there are radio and TV broadcast signals and cable and satellite transmissions. We’re literally surrounded by signals and transmissions in the air and the earth around us. It never stops. But unless you turn on your TV set or your radio, you won't receive any signal.

Long before there were radios or TVs or the Internet, God was reaching out to us. God is a great communicator. Isn't it interesting that in one of the accounts of creation in Genesis, we find God saying a word and bringing life into being? And the Gospel of John describes the God Who comes to us in Christ as "The Word." "The Word became flesh," John says, "and dwelt among us."

God speaks a word and hope and brand new starts come to every one of us. And He does this 24/7. People who wonder where God is in our world are people who haven’t taken the time to be still, to read God’s Word, and let Him speak to them in some silent portion they dare to carve out of their days.

David Stark points out that on the first Christmas, the only ones who seem to have gotten the word about the birth of Jesus, were shepherds, men who spent long nights in silent watching of their flocks. The saying is true, “If you feel a long way from God, you can be sure it isn’t because God moved.” God is as close as your Bible, as close as a prayer.

As hard as it may be in the busy-ness of this Christmas season, I challenge you if it isn’t part of your daily routine to wake up fifteen minutes earlier than usual or to turn off the TV or computer fifteen minutes before you go to bed at night and spend time asking that the dear Christ will enter into your life in fresh ways to guide you and fill you with hope. In the stillness, He will come to you, I promise.

After we’ve experienced Christ in the stillness, we’re then to act on what He shows us in our silent times with Him.

Years ago, during a time of silence with Christ, the thought impressed itself on my mind that I should send a thank you note to my fourth grade teacher, Dorothy Everett. It had been decades since I had seen her or talked with her and I thought at first that the whole idea of sending a note to her was a bit looney. But then I remembered that she had believed enough in us not to accept anything less than our best efforts. So, I sent my note. Two weeks later, I learned that she had just died.

The love of Jesus in our lives calls Christians not to a life of passivity, but to a life of action.

Sometimes, the action to which Christ calls us will make us blessings to others, as I hope I was when I sent a note to one of my elementary teachers.

Sometimes, Christ will call us to act to receive His blessings.

I'm sure that you know the story of the man whose house was caught in a flood and the water rose so high that he took refuge on his roof. A neighbor came by with a row boat and offered to take him away. But the man said No, he was waiting for God to save him. Then, a rescue crew in a speed boat offered him a ride. But again, the man refused, saying he was waiting for God to save him. Then, the National Guard came along in a helicopter and lowered a ladder to him. No thanks, he said, I’m waiting for God to rescue me. Not long after, the man was drowned. In heaven, he told God how disappointed he was that God hadn’t saved him. “What do you mean,” God asked, “I sent two boats and a helicopter for you.” Part of watchful waiting for God is to act when He prompts us to do so.

Waiting on the God we know in Jesus Christ also means not giving up on Him. This only makes sense, when you think about it. God has never given up on you: He went all the way to the cross so that He could bring you back into fellowship with Him. He’s never going to leave you. So, waiting for Him with watchful, trusting faith is a reasonable, rational response to Him.

Those who belong to Jesus Christ know that no matter how wintry this world may become, Christmas is coming and beyond it, the certainty of a resurrection with Jesus Christ. Life in this world isn’t perfect, but the God we know in Jesus is and He promises a hope that never dies to all who dare to wait for Him--
  • Who take the time to be still and sense His presence;
  • Who act on their faith in Him through lives of love and service and humble acceptance of His blessings; and
  • Who trustingly wait for Him when all around us may be crazy.
The crucified and risen Jesus is still on the march. Let’s be ready for His return, whenever it may come.


"ME" Liz Strauss said...

They say what we need is food, clothing, shelter, love, and something to look forward to. Guess we've got that covered. I'm smiling at how well you did that in this post.

Mark Daniels said...

Thank you, Liz.


Energizer Bunny said...

I LOVE books by C.S. Lewis. What an incredible vocabulary and mind...need I say more about the man...LOL.

Mark Daniels said...

Lewis is absolutely my favorite writer. Nobody else even comes close.