The New Year

I have some disappointing news. Last night was New Year's Eve and you missed all the parties. That's right. Today is New Year's Day and it isn't even Christmas yet! Today is the Church's New Year. The cycle begins today. Advent means "coming" and refers to two great comings: the first coming of our Lord in "lowly birth" and "in great humility," and the second coming in the unknown future, its time known only to God.

As Christians we need to learn all we can about Christ. We learn principally from two sources: the Bible and the Church. The great churches of Christendom have thought it well to point to the great Christian events and truths through an annual cycle which recalls both.

As we begin the season of Advent, the four weeks before Christmas, the two notes of hope and awe are struck today and throughout the Advent season. The hope arises from God's coming to us in Christ and in the final promise of immortality for believers. The awe arises from the knowledge that we are given life and faith on trust, and we must face inevitable judgment upon what we have done with them.

Advent is a season of expectation. Advent is a season of healing. Advent is a season of listening. Advent is a season of prayer.

Advent is a season of Expectation. A tourist who visited an exquisite garden on one of the lovely estates in Italy wrote the following account of his conversation with the caretaker. "How long have you been here?" he asked. "Twenty-five years." "And how often has the owner been to see the estate?" "Four times." "When did he come last?" "Twelve years ago." "He writes to you, I suppose." "Never." "From whom do you get your orders?" "From the steward in Milan." "Does he come here often?" "Never" "Who comes, then, to look after things?" "I am left pretty much alone; very seldom do I see any strangers." "Yet you keep the garden so spic-and-span that one would think you were expecting the owner tomorrow." "Today, sir, today!"

In the Gospel lesson today, in Matthew 24, Jesus says, "Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."

That isn't only about the end time or second coming. It's about our lives right now. If we aren't awake and alert to what's going on in our lives, we can miss out on what Jesus will present to us as opportunity, as the fullness of his love and forgiveness. If we fill our minds with mindless matters, with mindless thinking, with poor attitudes, attitudes of lack, lack of compassion, lack of forgiving others, lack of prosperity and negative thinking; if we sleep by the front door and leave the back door unattended, our very lives can be stolen from us, and it isn't by any person, but by our very own thoughts.

Advent is about expectation. Expecting the best. Expecting a miracle. Expecting abundance. Expecting forgiveness. . Expecting Love.

Advent is about Healing. We all have things within us that need healing. The only way we can heal spiritually is to be willing to give up that which holds us back from being healed. A Sunday school teacher said, "Tell me, class, what is repentance?" Someone replied, "Repentance is being sorry for your sins." Everyone thought it over a moment. Then someone else spoke up, "Repentance is being sorry enough for your sins to give them up." Yes, to "repent" means to stop and turn around and go in the other direction. We want to have our relationship with God repaired, to be made whole; we want to feel totally connected to God, want to feel that God is listening to us, that God is not just out there somewhere, but right here, now, when and where we need God. But we don't seem to want to let go of the very things which make God seem distant at times. If God seems distant, it isn't because God has moved away.

A father took his young son and went out into a neighbor's field one night to steal some potatoes. He looked in front of him and behind him, to the right and to the left of him, and started to dig. The young boy spoke up, "Daddy, there's one direction which you didn't look." "Where?" asked the father with a look of fear on his face. "Up," said his son.

If we want to be healed, we need to give up that which is making us sick spiritually. If we think of ourselves as being good, doing good, obeying God's commandments, if we think of ourselves that way then the thing that is getting in the way of a full relationship with God is our ego, our pride.

Advent is about Listening. Listening to God. We don't only listen to God in prayer or meditation, but we listen to God through listening to others. Over and over, what people say they like is a person who's a good listener. Doesn't it irk you to be sharing with someone and their eyes are darting all over the place, or the least little thing seems to distract them from listening? How does it make you feel? And when someone DOES listen and you know they're listening, even if they aren't responding, it feels so good, doesn't it?

A man who operated an icehouse lost a valuable watch in the sawdust and offered a reward. After several men had searched carefully through the sawdust with rakes and without success, a small boy found the watch in only a few minutes. When asked how he found it, he replied, "I just laid down in the sawdust and listened, and I heard the watch ticking."

Jesus laid down with us in the sawdust to listen to us. He expects us to do the same for each other. One of the things I have taught in classes that I teach for those who are going to visit nursing homes (and even have taught to nurses and nurses aides in nursing homes) is that if someone you are visiting is in a chair or a wheelchair, you need to sit down or crouch down, but not stand and talk down to them. They have no sense of your listening to them when you're towering over them.

Advent is a season of listening. During Advent is when we receive all our Christmas greeting cards. Listen to them. Make space in your day to read them and listen to them. If you're part of a couple or a family, you can make space at meal time to read the ones received that day. The messages are beautiful. The greeting card may be from friends or relatives, but the message is from God to you. Be sure to listen. You can get caught up in the mind chatter of the busy season before Christmas. You need to listen to God and one of the very best ways is to listen is to the Christmas cards.

Advent is a season of Prayer. At a church service the minister said, "Let us pray," and each person bowed his head. A five-year-old girl, who had never attended a formal church service, saw all eyes turned toward the floor and asked her grandmother, not very quietly, "Grammy, what are we all looking for?" Many people laughed, but she had really asked a profound question. Most of the time when we go to prayer, we're looking for something. Looking for God to grant us something. We generally don't go to prayer to be told what to do. A mother, overhearing her son praying, noticed that what he was doing was telling God what he planned to do and seeking to direct God to help him. The mother said, "Son, don't bother to give God instructions. Just report for duty."

We usually do have a list for God, even when we're looking for help with something, we already have decided what it is we want to do, and then ask God to help us do it. Often we go to prayer AFTER we have done something and ask God to make it turn out good. In a small New England town there was a barn with a number of targets freshly painted on its side. Right in the center of the bull's eye each target had an arrow. A passerby commented, "There must be an excellent marksman in your town." "No," was the reply, "but we have an eccentric character here. He likes to shoot arrows at barns, and then he paints targets around them."

We eagerly teach our children how to pray. We teach them to pray before a meal, teach them to pray before bedtime, sometimes teach them to pray when they get up. But often adults don't set a good example to keep the children praying when they get to be adults. One night as a young girl and her mother were going up the stairs to bed, the young girl asked, "Mommy, am I old enough to give up saying my prayers? "Why, what do you mean?" the startled mother asked. "Well," the girl said, "you know, there are some things like getting to bed early and going to school that children are expected to do and older people don't do. I thought perhaps saying prayers was just like those; I never hear any grown ups saying their prayers."

Make your Advent season one of Expectation, Healing, Listening and Prayer. Expect God to heal your heart as you listen to God in prayer.


Read more sermons by Pastor Brie