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O Come, Immanuel

December 1, 2019, Advent 1

Isaiah 2:1-5; Matthew 24:36-44; Romans 13:11-14; Revelation 7:9-10, 16-17

         The message this morning goes against all my natural inclinations.  I count down to the first Sunday of Advent.  We started listening to Christmas music weeks ago.  We got our Christmas tree Friday and     decorated yesterday.  This coming week we’ve scheduled a Christmas shopping day and I have my Christmas baking day on the calendar too.  I love all the cultural trappings of Christmas so much, my inclination is to carry the festivity into the church and treat Advent as a beautiful and nostalgic prelude to Christmas.  This poses a problem, for as much as we might dislike the fact, Advent in the church is much more akin to Lent than it is to Christmas.  Advent is a time of reflection, self-examination, confession.  It is a season of remembrance and anticipation. 

We remember what the world was like before the Christ child was born.  The Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Immanuel” gives voice to these memories and I will be lifting out these lyrics repeatedly in this  message time.  This hymn is all about how terrible things were in that time leading up to Jesus’ birth.  In verse 6 the writer closes the hymn with this prayerful plea, “Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease.  Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.”  We honor the light that came into the world when we spend time remembering how dark the world was when that heavenly light broke through. 

But we simultaneously spend these weeks not only remembering, but also anticipating a time coming when Christ’s light will once again break through the darkness and redeem his creation.  Anticipation tempered by the darkness we face daily in this fallen world.  The deeper we are able to go into the penitence and reflection of the Advent season, the greater our joy will be in the holy birth come Christmas.  And this will be a joy that lingers much longer than a fleeting day in time.  Too often our tendency is to neglect the weight, the sorrow of Advent and when we do, Christmas skates by on the level of superficial and material – not lived, but here and then gone, packed away for another year. 

We’re going to honor this church season of Advent and go deep. Our theme this Advent season is, “What are you waiting for?” This can be interpreted in a few different ways, but for today our worship material suggests this is a question we ask God. The theme is “frustration”. We call out to God. Over and over again, we cry out to God and we just can’t seem to get through. It’s like we come to this road block that says “No entry”.

This morning I’m going to offer a series of four personal laments intertwined with scripture and lyrics from “O Come, O Come, Immanuel”. These are issues that have been weighing heavy on my heart for some time now and I’m guessing and hoping they intersect with some of your own frustrations and concerns. Let’s begin…

God, I read this beautiful text in Isaiah about nations streaming to Your holy mountain, sitting and learning the law at Your feet, beating their swords into plowshares. But as I study this text, I can’t help but think about all the churches where emptiness looms large each Sunday – where pews are vacant and people remember with longing a tim