We are now entering into the season of Advent. The period of time set aside in the Christian Church to prepare of the coming of Jesus Christ anew. For the next four weeks we are going to take time in worship to discuss how we intentionally prepare our hearts, because while its a really nice thing to say, it is somethings a much harder things to do.
I love how Episcopal pastor Melford Bud Holland describes the season of Advent in his devotional book, Advent Presence, saying that Advent is “Kissed by the past, beckoned by the future, and drawn to our present moment”.
First, Advent is a time to look back to the past in order to remember who we are. If anyone understands looking back it is the people of Israel. Every time they celebrated Passover together they remembered that they were once a people enslaved in Egypt but now were a people free to worship God. When they heard the words of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, they would remember learning it as a small child or walking alongside their children and grandchildren as they learned it as well. The people of Israel were a people steeped in the tradition of their fore-mothers and fore-fathers.
Yet, somewhere along the line something tragic happened - and the Book of the Law - this book that defined who they were and their religious history with a Holy God, went missing. We don’t know when or how, but the book was no longer in its place of prominence in the people’s lives. What would happen today if you lost your Bible? Would it matter in your daily life? Would your neighbors and friends see a marked difference in you because of the loss? Maybe the analogy is a little rough around the edge, since many of us own more than one Bible, but the people of Israel were lost without the written account of their history. Yes, they went about life as usual, teaching their children, building the temple, and running their households, but something was markably different without this book that was central to their lives together. Even though they had scripture memorized, it was different when the symbol of their communal history was lost.
We have a lot of traditions that surround the celebration of Advent and Christmas. I am still trying to learn some of your particular church traditions. And each of us celebrate a little differently in each of our homes. In my particular home, the Christmas tree goes up the day after Thanksgiving, as part of our preparation. My mom and I work hard to have as much of the shopping done as we can before Black Friday. The season of Advent is filled with celebrations, baking, and laughter for the Bodle’s. But each of our homes celebrates differently, carrying on the tradition of our families of origin and making our own. But it is not so much the tradition itself that matters as much as the past it reminds us of, the past that grounds us and informs who we are. In fact, traditions become devoid of meaning when we no longer know why we do them that way, for it is our histories that inform our present moments.
Advent, also beckons us the future. It is this wonderful time, at the start of the Christian year together, when we are invited to ask big questions, like what is God’s vision for us. As Christians we all have the same mission, to go out and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as United Methodists we add a bit more onto that visions saying that we go about this work of making disciples in order to transform the world. But each local church is asked to fulfill that mission in a distinct way, which is called vision. We go about this in distinct ways because we have special gifts in this sanctuary that look different from the gifts in other sanctuaries. We are never excused from living into the mission, but we are invited by God to do it differently based on the gifts and graces present. Advent is a wonderful time to vision into the future about what God is calling us to do and be in the coming year. What is important to us as Sandy Ridge United Methodist Church? What unique opportunities are being placed before us by God?
When King Josiah found out the Book of the Law had been found the priests and prophets and the royal court re-read it together. Remember they would have already known it by heart, but this was their opportunity to hear the words afresh and wonder together about how they were going to live into them together in this new day and age. They renewed their covenant with God together - to keep the Word of God written on their hearts - and then all people pledged themselves to live into the renewed covenant together.
Often Advent is a time to look to the past to inform us as we move on into the future. But we need to be careful not to just switch back into the mode of thinking that if we did things the same as we did them before, there would be the same results, for today we live in a different context. We always need to ask ourselves what is the “so what” we are working towards, what is the purpose. So that we can feel comfortable? So that we can keep the doors of the church open? Or is it something bigger and Kingdom sized - so that new people come to know the saving love of Jesus Christ? So that we invite people into a relationship with a Savior that can change their life? King Josiah’s “so what” was so that the Word of God would be written on the people’s hearts and inform not only their past, but their present and future as well. What vision are we being called to live into in the future and for what purpose?
During Advent we are invited to reflect on the past and wonder about the future, but all while living in the present moment. One of my favorite verses of scripture is found in the book of Esther and says “for such a time as this.” In the case of King Josiah, for such a time as this, Hilkiah found the Book of the Law to be read by the servant Shaphan in the presence of the King. For such a time as this the King then called the people together to renew their covenant with God, so that the Word of God could be written on their hearts. What are we here for at this present time? What is our “for such a time as this” church? What are we being invited to be present in preparing for this Advent season? What words are we writing on our heart this season and what are we pledging ourselves to be part of?
We live in this Advent dance between the past, present, and future and must attend to each piece, for we would be incomplete in our journey of preparation without them. May we spend time intentionally reflecting on traditions, visioning with God about the future, and being present for such a time as this, this Advent season, letting God write on our hearts and be proclaimed through our lips and lives. Amen.