A sermon, based on Micah 5.2-5a, Hebrews 10.5-10, and Luke 1.39-55, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 4th Sunday of Advent, December 23, 2018
On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, our time of preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth draws near its end.
Standing on the threshold of Christmas Eve, I ask: What is the meaning of Christmas and how do we prepare?
I bid that we look not to the commercial culture that consumes our dollars and cents and, if we overspend, consumes our commonsense. Nor to the secular culture with its sentimental seasonal summons of “peace and goodwill,” as if such was possible by human effort alone.
Rather let us look to Micah who prophesies the coming of the Messiah and to the author of Hebrews who proclaims that the eternal Christ came in human flesh to be the sufficient sacrifice for our sins and to Luke who professes that the child Mary bears is the Lord.
Christmas, then, is no midwinter social celebration to be commemorated by commercial, even ceremonial preparations. Christmas, in the words of Charles Wesley, declares that two millennia ago, there was the first advent, the first appearance of the “long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free.”(1)
And, more Wesley, “Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art.” Jesus, as the fulfillment of ancient Hebrew prophecies, appeared in his earthly ministry of preaching, teaching, healing, dying and rising.
And, even more Wesley, “dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.” Jesus appeared in the ministry of the apostles, the good news of Jesus being spread through all the world to every nation.
And, still more Wesley, “by Thine Own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone.” Jesus daily appears in the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
And, finally Wesley, “by Thine Own sufficient merit raise us to Thy glorious throne.” Jesus will appear on the Last Day to fulfill his great promise: “I will come again and take you to myself that where I am you may also be.”(2)
This is the meaning of Christmas. Jesus has come to redeem us from sin and death, Jesus does come to rule us in righteousness, Jesus will come to raise us to life everlasting.
Now, whilst we remain in this world, we prepare for Christmas by allowing Jesus to “rule in all our hearts alone.” And Mary’s Song, proclaiming what God had purposed and has perfected in the first advent of Jesus, gives us a glimpse of what this looks like…
God “scattering our pride in the thoughts of our hearts,” leading us to confess afresh our great confidence in our human wisdom and will, though, always, faulty and frail and, thus, profess our continual need for God’s guidance.
God “bringing down the powerful from our thrones,” leading us to renounce any belief that we, to paraphrase the poem, are masters of our fates and captains of our souls.(3)
God “lifting up our lowliness,” leading us, especially in those moments when deeply aware of our failings, to be able to acknowledge our God-given dignity that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”(4)
God “filling our hunger with good things,” leading us, in the words of the Beatitudes, to “hunger and thirst for righteousness;”(5) right relationship with God, with everyone, and with everything.
God “sending our rich away empty,” leading us to forsake any acquisitive spirit within us that measures our worth by the things we possess.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. We have bare spare hours to complete our preparation to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Pray God do all these things within us that, when hearing, the Christmas proclamation, “Alleluia! Unto us a child is born!”, truly, we will know how to say, “O come, let us adore him! Alleulia!”
(1) From the Advent hymn, Come, thou long expected Jesus; words by Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
(2) John 14.3
(3) Based on the fourth stanza of Invictus (1875) by William Ernest Henley (1849-1903):
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
(4) Psalm 139.14
(5) Matthew 5.6
2 thoughts on “Preparation for Celebration”
Oh Lordy!! How do we prepare for Christmas…. My heart started beating fast just after I read that!! I read this sermon several times throughout the afternoon, including during a reflective Evensong and Benediction service. What jumped out at me is that we prepare for Christmas by “allowing Jesus to rule in all our hearts alone”… I felt low… then allowed God to “lift up my lowliness” as I was totally aware of my failings…
I’m hoping that I can increase my “right relationship with God, with everyone and with everything”… and you know where my current issues lie. I am trying to prepare myself for Christmas emotionally … without Tim, and with a poor relationship with my kid (which she is totally responsible for in her own words), and a grandkid who I don’t want to be hurt by all this because she’s had enough loss in her short life. So how do I walk into her house on Christmas morning, the last place I want to be, and be in right relationship with her? Reading this sermon has helped. I start by allowing Jesus to rule my heart. To leave all else behind. I’ll keep reading this sermon between now and Christmas morning… It will also help me in the afternoon as I spend the rest of the day with my Mom. I know that she’ll be smiling and content, and that makes me smile. I see so much of Jesus in my Mom – Open heart, willingness to be calm and content (even if you can’t explain it in those terms. I always look forward to seeing Mom, to hearing the wisdom she’ll say…. because I always leave with a smile.
I think that’s how we prepare for Christmas too right?? By going into it with an open heart and a smile???
Yes, entering the season with an open heart and a smile is good, aye, grand preparation, I believe. For with an open heart, God will enter in and do the rest, which only God can do. For it is in this, the idea, the belief that only God can initiate and complete our preparation, that allowed me to see in the Magnificat and Mary’s testimony of what God has done and is doing and will do in the coming of Jesus, that I beheld a model of faithful, holy preparation…which, for us, I think, I believe, requires our confession of who and what we are…which, I think, I believe, is captured in your image of an open heart.