By Pastor Krista S. Givens
December 3, 2017
Bishop Desmond Tutu once said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.” I must admit to you, I am a pretty optimistic person by nature. I see the silver linings on each cloud, but this has been a hard year to see the light in the darkness.
This is the year we’ve seen a rise in racism and anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim hatred… so much so that we’ve had torch-wielding KKK marches… in America.. in 2017. We’ve seen the rise of such hatred, prejudice and violence…. even the most optimistic among us find it hard to spot the HOPE in the world.
It has affected me so much that last week, head stuffed with congestion, I thought about NOT getting a Christmas tree. “Why do I need one?” I thought. “It’s only me…”
That’s when I knew that I needed to sit down, rest and remember the Hope of Advent. It’s hard sometimes, to see the joy in the season. Our expectations are that we should be giddy with anticipation, joyous and holly-jolly. And sometimes, we’re not – we’ve had personal tragedies, lost our jobs, we’re financially or emotionally or physically struggling and the holiday season reminds us of that.
And THAT’S why we need Christmas. We need to be reminded that HOPE exists. In the light of a Christmas tree or a single candle.
Let’s talk about trees… Christmas trees… when do you get yours? do you have any special traditions? German traditions….
For me, the lights on the Christmas tree remind me, that even in the darkest times, God is reaching out to us, lighting the night sky with a special star or the birth of a baby to save the world.
But why was that baby born? Why do we need Jesus? We don’t often talk about humanity’s desperate need for salvation. We don’t often talk about sin during Christmas time. It is a time for joy and gingerbread, for carols and candy canes, but Christmas day – the gift of the Savior – loses it’s impact if we forget – or we gloss over the reason – why we need saving!
Author J. EIIsworth Kalas calls this “The Scandal of Christmas:” Humanity has fallen so far from what God wants us to be and so, we need Christmas! We have disobeyed the call of God; we have disobeyed the call of Jesus to love others as we love ourselves. We have sinned against God and against humanity and we need redemption. We need a savior.
Advent is a time to recognize our “falling short” and to turn around, to repent and to see that hope is on the way, as echoed in the words of Isaiah 9:2-6, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
And these are only a few of the names assigned to Jesus this season, but the one we see in today’s scriptures refer to the ancestral roots of Jesus: ln our lesson from the book of Jeremiah, chapter 33, verses 14-15, the prophet writes this:
Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of lsrael and the house of Judah. ln those days and at that time I will cause a righteous branch to spring forth for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.’
The Savior will be a righteous branch from the Family tree of David, linking him to the royal family of the Jews and this Messiah will be the one who saves the people of God from our Sin! This family tree was important to the ancestors of Jesus, to the scholars of the day, and to people far and wide who were looking for a Messiah. Jesus was a branch from the family tree of King David, a son of David, a Kind who would protect us, a savior who would save us from our sins. A Righteous branch from a famous tree.
But there are other trees to discuss when we think of Sin and Redemption. During this time of Advent, we also look to the trees of the Garden of Eden. You may have heard this story about these trees. Let me paraphrase here:
There once was a couple, created by God, and they were obedient to
their God and were happy. Until one day, they got some very bad advice…. Pick the fruit of this tree, said their enemy, for then you will know ALL things God knows. You will be like God. And even though God told them not to,
they ate of the Tree of Knowledge, disobeying God and turning away from his call.
Genesis 3:8 “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and the woman hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”
One tree offers wisdom; others offer them protection -a hiding place from their God.
The trees of this world – those symbolic trees that connect us to one another (family trees, ancestral roots and righteous branches) AND those trees in our earthly environments – are gifts of God and should be appreciated and used as gifts of God. They should not be used to separate us from God.
As Kalas says in his book Christmas from the Backside, “The trees of the garden ought to have been instruments for revealing God to them. and for giving them still another reason to appreciate God’s blessing. lnstead, Adam and Eve used these lovely instruments as a way of hiding from God.”
Perhaps we too use the blessings of God as a way to hide on these black days: during Advent, we surround ourselves with food and parties, with to-do lists so big that they become unbearable, with rows and rows of toys and electronics and gift-wrapped presents stacked to the heights to keep from recognizing our need for salvation and the awesome power of God to bring that salvation to fruition. Perhaps we use the blessings God provides as a way to say we don’t need God anymore. We have all we need. We are in the midst of Christmas abundance with all the gadgets and gizmos we need. The promise of a light in the darkness, of a Prince of Peace, of a wonderful counselor and mighty God, the promise of a savior – is not meant for us. Or perhaps the hope offered in a new-born baby is meant for you … but not me.
- Advent proclaims in the darkness, “We need God! Now!”
- Advent cries for the light offered in these dark days “O Come O Come Emmanuel!”
- Advent forces us to step out from our hiding places, to emerge from the dark forest and step into the light that is Jesus the Christ.
ln this season of Advent, may we, Iike those so Iong ago, proclaim the glory of the Lord in our words and songs, in our celebrations and in our actions: God is with us! O Come, O Come, Emmaunel! Come,the root of Jesse! Come, the righteous branch from the tree of David! Come, Light in the darkness of our dark days! Come, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords!
Jesus is Coming! Let us Prepare the way of the Lord! Amen.