Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
Isaiah‘s message is about the reversal of fortunes for those who have been beaten down by life (which happens a lot, right?) Oppressed, captive, brokenhearted, mourners — that pretty much covers lots of the folks that will sit in our pews on any given Sunday, not to mention all those within a stone’s throw of our front doors! God’s work takes time and patience on our part — not to mention a bit of effort. Notice that it is the brokenhearted, et al, who actually do the work of rebuilding once God has lifted them up. And them is us.
Psalm 126 echoes the same idea — God restores the earth every season (winter, spring, summer, or fall.) Likewise, God restores our hope, our fortunes, our faith.
The “Magnificat” portion of Luke’s gospel serves as an alternate psalm reading for this day. I refer you to the opening portion of today’s podcast, Lectionary Lab Live, for some explanation of this.
Thessalonians gives us some practical ways to live out the Advent concept of “active waiting.” Pretty much any one of us can find something on this list that we can be about.
John‘s gospel — which gives us another portion of the story of John the Baptist (no relation) — reminds us of the importance of the church’s responsibility to point toward Christ. John drew lots of attention to his exciting ministry. Any pastor would be proud of the “numbers” John put up in gathering crowds. Yet, he clearly said, “It’s not about me! You need to pay attention to the one who is coming after me. He’s the man!”
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
The world’s celebration of the Nativity of Christ is surrounded by song. No secular artist puts out a Thanksgiving CD or an Easter Album, but almost everybody tries to “cash in” on Christmas, either with new songs or old favorites. Christmas songs fill the Malls and Stores and Radio playlists from early November until Dec. 25. And the question arises: What is it about Christmas that causes the heart to sing?
It was like that from the beginning. In our reading from Luke’s Gospel: Mary visits Elizabeth and breaks out in song – the Magnificat, elsewhere in Luke Zechariah celebrates the birth of his son John (to be called the Baptist) with a song that points to the birth of another child, the Coming One. The angels sing to the shepherds on the night of Christ’s birth and at the dedication of the child old Simeon sees the baby and bursts into praise.
Again, what is it about Christmas that causes us to sing?
We have lots of good Easter hymns, but the non-church world is much more likely to know “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” than “Thine Is the Glory.” But not so with Christmas Carols. Almost everybody can sing at least one verse of “Away In a Manger” or “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and can recognize the tune of a dozen more. Is it just the vast exposure on Radio and TV, or is there something about the Birth of the Christ Child that makes us want to sing?
A couple of things occur to me.
First: the only really appropriate response to mystery is adoration, and what better way to adore than to sing. The story that we anticipate in Advent is a “something more” mystery. Underneath all the theological baggage and argumentation there is this for all of us: life can be very ordinary and difficult and painful and short and depressing. The birth of a child as the Son of God, a message from beyond that God does love us after all, that this world is not “all there is,” that peace and love and joy are real and are really important and are really possible is a message we all need to hear.
So even those who have their doubts about God, and Jesus and the Church, often will themselves to believe in the “something more” that Christmas represents to them: the potential for good in a cold and lonely world. And that Mysterious Possibility is something to sing about.
Second; for those of us who receive the story as a true story, a story about how the God of the universe let go of all the trappings and power of Heaven to come and be born in a stable, taking on as the Eucharistic prayer says, “our nature and our lot,” that too is a mystery beyond words. We cannot comprehend a love that big and that deep and that complete, and when ordinary words fail us, we, like Mary and Zechariah and Simeon and the angels; burst into song, for we have no other choice.
Amen and amen.