Der Vasken’s Sermon on December 6, 2020

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!”  We all know these words.  They are the opening lines of one of the most well-known Christmas Carols of all time.  Close your eyes and you can almost hear Bing Crosby or Perry Como or Michael Buble’ filling your home with the warmth of these seasonal words.  But this year things seem different.  Christmas is being ushered in a little bit differently than we are used to.  For example, stores are less full and are expected to stay that way, although online shopping is at the busiest it has ever been.  Our state and national leaders are not recommending travel anywhere for Christmas this year.

Around here our Christmas bazaar looks different.  Our Christmas Concert will be virtual for the first time ever and our Christmas Pageant will be held outdoors this Saturday.  And so we are trying to soften some of those COVID restrictions by offering new thoughts and beginning new traditions.  We will be gathering on the Hollisian Plaza for our first Christmas Tree Lighting that will come with a nod to the Hallmark traditions of hot chocolate, ornament decorating and a little Christmas caroling.  On Christmas Eve, December 24, we will gather again on the Hollisian Plaza to usher in Christmas Eve according to Western traditions. Our Christmas Eve service has grown over the years bringing in over three hundred people every year.  And so we are going to put on our winter coats and celebrate the Birth of Christ in front of our House of Worship.

Driving home every evening, I look for the signs of Christmas that we are accustomed to seeing this time of year.  Some houses I drive by are dark.  Others have lights and traditional decorations.  From time to time I will see a house that seems like it lights up the entire street.  And while I am driving home, I keep a lookout for the manger scene.  I have noticed only one this year.  With the familiar figures of Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus and of course, there are also the shepherds and the animals, the Wise Men and the Angels.

This year, maybe because it is still early, I have seen less of those biblical figures, but many more contemporary ones. Many new ones now populate the front yards of our neighborhoods such as Santa and his elves, Rudolph and Frosty, bigger than ever, inflated and lit up.  The Grinch and Scrooge are also popular this year and on and on.  I could list some of the others I have seen.

I wouldn’t want anyone to misunderstand me.  Those characters are fun and as children, we all loved them and loved how they made us feel.  But we are becoming almost too comfortable with these additional figures from popular culture.  And so when I drive home from the church every day and I see these fun light-hearted characters adorning the front yards of homes all across our neighborhoods, I can’t help but notice that they are not only more popular than ever before, but that they are pushing aside the manger and it is becoming harder to find Mary and Joseph and Jesus.

The purpose of Advent focuses around preparation.  It is a preparation not found in stores, neither in the malls nor online.  It is about a much deeper preparation that readies us to meet Christ.  It is about getting rid of the obstacles in our lives to create a clear path  from our heart to the heart of God. Christmastime plants hopes and dreams in the hearts of people.  Thoughts of family and friends become more important than ever.  We look around us and dream of a world where peace and harmony thrive and where people care about each other more and respect each other more and live their lives with the dignity of being a Child of God.  These hopes and dreams are possible through Christmas.

Advent prepares us for the birth of God’s Son and with His Birth, He comes knocking on the door of our heart and we have to ask ourselves:

  • Are we ready to invite Him in?
  • As we willing to remove the obstacles in our lives that separate us from Him?
It would be wonderful if the true joy and peace of Christmas came with only putting up decorations and putting on a Christmas CD and stringing up Christmas lights.  Do these things and Christmas will happen is the message, but a Christmas that happens so easily disappears just as easily.  The deeper Christmas–the lasting Christmas–which invites Christ into our hearts, involves preparation.  It involves looking inward and cleaning out all that prevents us from opening the door of our heart and inviting God in.

In the middle of this unusual Christmas Season, let us not forget the purpose of Advent by cleaning out all that clutters our heart to ready ourselves for when Christ comes knocking.  Advent reminds us that we should be getting ready for not just another “Special Day,” but for “the Day” when the obstacles blocking our heart are removed and Christ enters.  Advent reminds us that we can be ready for Christmas and we ready ourselves by clearing the path between God’s Heart and ours.

So ask yourself on this first Sunday of December:

  • How does God want you to live out this Season of Advent?
  • In the days leading up to Christmas, how can you make God the focus of your life and not just something decorative?
With Advent, Christmas will not be just a holiday but a “Day of Healing” as well.

Amen.

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