As I’ve been preparing for our Advent series on “The Gift,” I’ve been remembering how I prepared for Christmas when I was a young kid.
For me, preparing for Christmas didn’t begin on the first Sunday of Advent. It began whenever the Christmas edition of the Sears catalogue arrived in the mail. I would open it up to the toys section and dream about all the gifts I wanted Santa to bring me for Christmas.
Toy soldiers, an electric football game, a hot wheels race track, a space ship, a nerf football, a real football, spinning tops, dart guns, a GI Joe, board games. And while lying on the floor looking at all of these toys, I would circle everything that I wanted. I did this all the time during those weeks leading up to Christmas!
Of course, I never got all the Christmas gifts I wanted or circled in that catalogue, but somehow Santa knew which of those gifts to bring to my house on Christmas Eve. And then on Christmas morning… WOW! I was able to receive some of those gifts.
In a similar kind of way, these four weeks leading up to Christmas give us the opportunity to focus on the most important Christmas gift we can ever receive which is the coming of Christ into the world.
And so during these four weeks, think of the Bible as the Sears catalogue that has just arrived in the mail. And instead of turning to the toys section, we will be turning to the pages of the Old and New Testaments and the various ways that they describe the gift that God has promised to give to us, the gift of God’s Son.
During our Advent Series on “The Gift” our focus will be on four important ways that will help prepare to receive this gift and these include, four words that all begin with “w.”
Wait, Watch, Want, and Wonder. Wait, Watch, Want, and Wonder. These are the ways that will help us receive all that God wants to give to us this Christmas.
Today, our focus is on that first “w” word, “Wait.” What does it mean for us to wait for The Gift?
For this, we open the Sears catalogue to two scripture readings and the first one that we heard read for us a little bit ago is from the Prophet, Jeremiah who lived 600 years before Jesus was born. What could this prophet who was alive several centuries before the time of Christ possibly have to say to us today in helping us to receive the gift of Christmas?
Jeremiah was encouraging the people of God to patiently wait for better days. At the time, the people were being threatened by the Babylonian Empire and their advancing army. Difficult days lie ahead for them, but Jeremiah wants them to hang in there because God will see them through this challenging time.
Jeremiah is teaching the people of God a very important life skill and one that we all need to learn as well, the skill of learning to wait. The problem is that the Prophet Jeremiah had the same problem that parents of young children have today. Even though parents know that Christmas morning will be a special time for their children and that four weeks isn’t really that long to wait for something, children have a different concept of time.
When I was a child, it always felt like Christmas would never come! I remember attending worship services during the Advent Season and watching the pastor light one of the Advent candles each week. Instead of focusing on the candle that was being lit, I always focused on the other candles that were waiting to be lit!
Why can’t we just light all of the candles at once and then we won’t have to wait at all? That’s what I wanted to say during those Advent Sundays. From my perspective as a child, the lighting of the Advent candles only made it seem that much longer to wait! Which is all the more reason that we have this tradition leading up to Christmas. The slow process of lighting one candle at a time teaches us to wait patiently for good things to come.
Psychiatrist, Scott Peck, who has written the book, “The Road Less Travelled,” talks a lot about the very important life skill that we all need to learn again and again and again, and not just children, but especially when we are adults, the life skill of waiting.
Scott Peck writes that “it’s important to know your limits and to delay gratification some of the time. This will reduce life’s pain.”
The life skill of waiting involves delaying gratification. When I was a kid, the Christmas Sears catalogue did not really help me learn this life skill. All it did was show me toys that I didn’t even know that I wanted before I received that catalogue in the mail! I couldn’t wait for Christmas to come!
So why do we need to wait? Why can’t we just go ahead and receive the gift of Christmas now?
We are all in need of some kind of healing and transformation. And healing and transformation take time. It’s not an overnight process.
In our scripture reading from I Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul says something very interesting. He writes, “And may the Lord so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all the saints.”
Isn’t it noteworthy that Paul doesn’t say that they had their act together, so all they need to do is wait for when Jesus comes again. Instead he says that you may be blameless. That’s a future tense. “That you may be blameless.”
Each one of us is a work in progress. Even on our best days, there are parts of us that are in need of healing and transformation. It’s true that when Jesus comes into our lives, we receive new life and salvation. That’s what we refer to as justification and being made right with God.
This isn’t what the Apostle Paul is referring to in I Thessalonians. When Paul says that we are to be blameless, he is referring to our life-long process of becoming holy and being the people that God has called us to be.
This was why John Wesley, the founder of Methodism emphasized the importance of God’s sanctifying grace, God’s grace which seeks to sanctify us and lead us into a life of holiness. Sanctifying Grace is a life-long process where we are gradually shaped and molded into God’s likeness.
It’s about taking time to reflect on those areas of our lives that we would often rather not think about like what to do with our short temper, not dealing with our need to grieve, our struggle with materialism, our way too busy lives, our addictions, our unhealthy behaviors, our impulsiveness, our impatience, our prejudices and prejudices we don’t even know that we have, our lack of empathy, our co-dependencies, our insecurities… and that’s just my personal list! But we’re all in this list somewhere and there are so many things that can be added.
These four weeks of Advent remind us every year that if we want to receive the gift of Christmas, we first need to take a deep dive into the areas of our lives that are in need of transformation and healing. That’s why we have therapy. It’s why we have a prayer of confession and words of assurance every Sunday morning during worship. We need to be able to confess where we are broken and where we’ve missed the mark. It’s why the color of Advent is blue because we have blues in our lives that are in need of God’s healing love.
And the wonderful thing about this is that we don’t need to be ashamed because each and every one of us needs this long season of Advent. This is a four week journey for all of us.
Several years ago I stumbled upon a story that a preacher had shared in a sermon I heard. I sent an email to this pastor asking for his permission to use that same story in a sermon that I would be giving.
I loved his response to my email. He said, “You are always welcome to use my stories. These stories aren’t original to me. The only thing that’s original with me is original sin.”
Yes, that’s what we all have in common. Original sin. We all are broken. We live in a world that is broken. We’re all in the same boat. Advent is an important season for us to wait for the gift of Christmas because we need this time to look at those areas of our lives that need a makeover that only God can provide.
We need those Jeremiahs who remind us that God will help us get through whatever challenges or brokenness that may come our way. Sometimes, we just need to wait before we can receive the gift that God has in mind for us.
When I think of this time of waiting, I can’t help but to think of Kevin and Shelby Saulnier. Kevin and Shelby attended our church while students here at Ohio University. Shelby sang in our Chancel Choir.
I was honored when they asked me in the fall of 2019 to officiate for their wedding which was scheduled for June of 2020 and was to be held in Michigan, Shelby’s home state. We had our premarital counseling sessions and were all ready for the wedding but then the pandemic came.
I think it was two months before their June wedding when they called me to see if I would officiate for them here in Athens instead. It would just be the three of us and a photographer. After some more time to think about it, they decided to just postpone the wedding for another year.
I remember how sad they were to know that they wouldn’t be able to get married and that they would need to wait a whole year. But it was remarkable how they handled all of this. They used that year to continue to grow in their love for each other.
This past June, their wedding was held on a picture perfect day in Michigan with all of their family and friends. It was an incredible day of celebration. They were finally able to receive the gift of marriage after a long year of waiting. They used that time to become an even stronger couple.
In fact I would say that their wedding celebration was probably even more joy-filled because of that long wait.
During these four weeks of Advent, let’s use this time of waiting to prepare ourselves to receive the gift of Christmas. And as the Apostle Paul says, may this time of waiting strengthen our hearts in holiness.
Waiting for The Gift
Righteous One, your glory shines brighter than the sun. We remember your compassion and your faithful love in our time of worship today. Lift up our souls so that we will be prepared for the challenges that come our way. May your righteous branch grow within our hearts, that our lives may abound in mercy and steadfast love. And may we be found ready and waiting when the one drawing near comes with power and glory. Amen.