This week marks the first week of Advent. Advent is by far my favorite major church season. There is so much happiness, so much food, friends and family, it's hard not to be excited about Advent. But the three F's of Methodism (food, friends and family) are not my sole reason for enjoying this season so much. The reason I love Advent is because of the hope it provides, it's because of the anticipation of the coming of Christ, the one who saves, the one who redeems, the one who restores and most of all the one who forgives. Every Advent season I preach an Advent series, sometimes it's based on the lectionary, sometimes it's not. This years is and it is entitled "The Waiting Season: Arrival Stories from the Gospel of Luke." This first Advent sermon is not part of that series, but will serve as an introduction to the idea that God is active while we are waiting. For what? For Jesus to come, not symbolically in a little manger scene like he does every year at this time, but for a second time, ushering in a righteous, just reign of peace and charity. I hope you are blessed this Advent season and I hope that these notes on the sermons I preach will help you grow closer to God.
Ever heard of the "Parable of the giving tree"? It's an old proverb about a young man who finds an apple tree not far from his home. In his childhood he plays on the tree, talks to the tree and enjoys the shade that the tree provides during hot summer days. This was the case for years, but as the years went by he only returned once to carve his initials and that of a young girl together, wrapped in a heart shape on it's mighty trunk. As he gets older, into his youth, he decides to pick the apples from the apple tree and sell them at market in town for money. As he get even older, like young adulthood, he uses the branches to make furniture and provide firewood for his young family. After his children grow up, when he's middle aged, he has extra time on his hands and so he cuts the tree down leaving only it's stump and uses it's might trunk to fashion himself a sail boat. Finally at his old age, when close to death, he returns to the tree and sit's besides it's stump and reminisces all that the tree had given him and all for nothing he closed his eyes and died. Kind of a neat story, eh? It has a very good meaning to. The tree gave all while the man took all and gave nothing in return. The beauty of Advent is surrounded in this idea that God has given us a gift, despite our inability to ever give back.
Along with this idea of gift giving from God, I'd like you all to consider the stump, yes the nothingness of what remained after the boy was finished with the tree. You see part of the advent promise is this idea that out of nothing, out of a useless, seemingly lifeless, tree stump will come life. A shoot for tomarrow. I'm sure many of you have seen a fellen tree with nothing but it's stump in tack and remarkably out of that stump grows a tiny little shoot, a life out of it's death. This is happening right now in my own front yard. An old Maple tree, my favorite tree by the way, I love it's strong, might branches and it's seemingly indestructible trunk. I love the bright red color of it's leaves as they seem to burn in the fall, it nothing short of beauty. Well this old Maple in my front yard had to be cut down, I'm sure it was close to 200 years old when it was cut. For the first year while I was living in our home I noticed nothing about the stump which was once that might Maple, then about 6months ago a small little shoot, a Maple sapling begin to grow out of that stump!
The Prophet Jeremiah in our passage this week speaks on behalf of God, thats what prophets do. There's been some confusion about prophesy and prophets within American Christianity. Prophets don't tell the future, they tell the truth according to God. In this case Jeremiah speaks the truth about the fallen tree of Jesse and the promise that out of that stump will come a mighty tree who's branches cover all of humanity!
This being the first Sunday of Advent is a very special day. It kicks of a time of great waiting and anticipation. Children understand this experience best. Advent for children is essentially 4 weeks of waiting for gifts! All the anxiety, all the curiosity, all the dreaming and visioning and imaging....it's exactly what we all should be doing while we wait for Christ!!! To help with these feelings we have invented the children's advent calander. It's a little calendar made of wood, paper or metal that counts downs the days until Xmas and in each slot representing a day there is a little tasty treat awaiting those eager hands. That's really the environment we are hoping to create in churches during the advent season, each sunday a little more of the gift of Xmas revealed. Another way we celebrate Advent, but not as popular of a way is with the Jesse Tree. It's a small tree fashioned from wood or paper and each week another branch is added, Isaac, Jacob, then Moses, Joshua, then we add Samuel and King David and finally the culmination of the tree of Jesse, Jesus Bar David, the Messiah!
This is our story, the Jesse Tree, it is our linage and the linage of all humanity as we await the return of Jesus. I think this gets lost in Advent and Xmas, I think we all wait eagerly for Xmas, but through commercialism and seculaialism. We wait for Jesus to come symbolically in a manger scene and then when it's over all we have left is Xmas memories of open gifts, obnoxious relatives and great big credit card bills! Advent a Xmas are suppose to remind us that Jesus is coming, not symbolically, but for real! We are asked to remind our hearts every year that Jesus came once and the world groaned and bemoaned it's waiting...the same still presents it's self today. We still wait for Jesus!!!
This past Friday I reluctantly and inadvertently participated in Black Friday, Americans biggest slap in the face of God. My mother in law had to be be at Detroit Metro Airport to fly home to Oklahoma after the Thanksgiving holiday. I got down there early, not real early but around 5, so I decided to go to Toys R Us and check out the "sales". As I walked through the store I saw Muslims, Hindu's, Jews and Sheiks all shopping for Xmas gifts, to celebrate the birth of Savior they do not believe in. The beauty of Jesse Tree is that it's leaves, it's fruit, it's branches and even it's body (Trunk) is meant to provide safety, shelter and sustenance for all even of them.