The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
If there's one thing people hate to do, it's wait. We don't like to wait for anything. It doesn't even matter if the thing we're waiting for is "good" or "bad." How many of you have ever had some sort of unpleasantness slated for the future (i.e. a medical procedure or a meeting) and you say, "I wish I could just do it right now and get it over with! This waiting is killing me!"? Don't even get me started on the lack of patience we have when it comes to waiting for something "good." How long have the stores been pushing their "Christmas cheer" on us now? At least since Halloween time! It's getting to be so bad, that I wouldn't be surprised at all if we began hearing announcements such as, "only 364 more shopping days until Christmas!" The sad thing is that most people would bite. They'd buy into this hype hook, line, and sinker. Nobody likes to wait. I guess it's just part of human nature.
As we gather together on this first morning in Advent, it does us well to ponder what it means when St. Paul speaks of faithfully and patiently waiting for the revealing of Christ Jesus. It does us well to think on our sinfully impatient human nature. I guess the best place to begin is by asking the question, "Why?" Why should we wait for Christmas? After all, Christmas is a very joyous time, especially for us Christians who know the old cliché, "Jesus is the reason for the season." Since we know this joyous truth, why shouldn't we pull out all the stops and start celebrating now?
My friends: The answer is so simple that it almost seems foolish. Why don't we pull out all the stops and start celebrating Christmas right now with the rest of our culture? Because, the joy of Christmas can lose its meaning if we jump the gun and celebrate too early. In fact, given all the commercialized hype, I'd say that this is already the case. People don't like to wait, especially when that waiting involves things such as sin, repentance, and singing those "dreary" old Advent hymns. I can tell you that I've had more than a few people over the years complain that we don't sing enough Christmas carols during Advent. "Pastor, it's the Christmas season. People like those upbeat, classic Christmas songs. We should sing more of those! That will put people in the Christmas spirit!"
What exactly is the Christmas spirit? Is it happiness? Is it joy? Is it feelings of peace and contentedness? Actually…the Christmas spirit is all of these things, but the real question is what are these things grounded in? If your happiness, joy, peace, and contentedness are not grounded in Christ Jesus, then you what you have are nothing more than counterfeit versions of the truth. Do you think that it's any coincidence that the suicide and depression statistics sky rocket during this time of the year? I don't. All around us we hear of Christmas joy, peace, and good cheer, yet we never really hear how these realities are understood only in Christ Jesus. Walmart has been preaching Christmas joy, peace, and good cheer, complete with joyous Christmas songs, since well-before Thanksgiving time. I don't find it coincidental at all that people sink into depression upon hearing all this and striving after all this and yet never attaining the joy, peace, and good cheer that the people on the commercials or the people on the box portray. Why? They don't have Christ. Walmart doesn't give you Christ! Walmart doesn't give you the true peace that surpasses all understanding.
"Okay…you're right, pastor, but what does this have to do with waiting and Advent?" Everything! As I say every single year, the season of Advent is penitential, meaning that we set aside this special time in the weeks before Christmas to remember why Jesus came to this earth to be born of a virgin in a little stable in Bethlehem. We take this time to remember that we are sinful by nature. At the very moment of conception, we are dead in our sin, completely unable to pay the wage of sin, which is death—temporal and eternal. It's not all doom and gloom though, is it? As baptized children of faith, we know that the wage has already been paid in full with the lifeblood of the Christ Child. Yet, that's precisely why we wait during this Advent season. Think about it: The more you realize just how dead you are in your sin; the more you understand just how helpless you are in your sinful condition, completely unable to pay for even one single sin, let alone all your sins, the more you begin to realize just how awesome and precious this gift of God made flesh and laid in a manger really is.
Now, before we close, I want to also point out that waiting takes faith, doesn't it? In fact, patiently waiting can be seen as a very simple, yet profound expression of faith—a fruit of faith. In this way, I can't and I won't brow beat you into waiting for Christmas and all the attendant joys that go along with it. I can't make you faithful. I can't make you patient. I can't make you wait. I can, however, point you to the full Law/Gospel truth lying in a manger, nailed to a cross, and raised victorious for you and your salvation. My fellow redeemed: Slow down and be patient. Take some time over the next few weeks to remember why Jesus took on your flesh and was lain in a manger. Take some time to think about the true joy, peace, and good cheer that Christmas really means for all mankind. "Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!"
You know, when viewed through the lens of saving faith, the old adage is true, as much as we don't like to admit it: Good things do come to those who wait. In faith, we know that truly good and godly things—things such as peace, joy, contentedness, and good cheer—do come to those who wait; those who patiently and faithfully wait in Christ.
A Blessed and Patient Advent to you! AMEN.
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