Advent Series Idea: Anticipation

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When I was a kid, waiting for Christmas drove me crazy.  I couldn’t do it. Anticipating the new toys I would enjoy on Christmas morning was more than I could take! I would utilize my best Encyclopedia Brown skills to figure out where Santa (aka Mom & Dad) had hidden my presents. Upon finding the stash one year, I actually played with my new electric kit when my brother and I were home alone. Santa wasn’t impressed.

The anticipation for Christmas is so great in our society today, that early in October stores were already promoting Christmas decorations. I think it’s a disturbing trend, but as a cultural tidal wave, it’s difficult for the preacher to try to fight it. We’re tempted to take up the Christmas narrative immediately following Thanksgiving and skip over the Advent themes of prophecy and second coming. This Advent sermon series is an attempt to stay true to the lectionary readings and still communicate with a culture clearly focused on Christmas.

The title, “Anticipation,” draws from the sense of anticipation developing over the four weeks of Advent as we look forward to the second coming of Jesus and the arrival of the fullness of the Kingdom of God. The word “Advent” derives from the Latin translation of the Greek word, parousia, which roughly translates as “appearing.” We anticipate the appearing of Jesus the Messiah. Advent looks back and forward at the same time.

Anticipation 1: Are You Ready?

Scripture: Luke 21:25-36

The first sermon in the series begins by asking the question, “Are You Ready?” Are you ready for Christmas? Some early shoppers were ready by the end of September, others will be perusing the clearance bins on Christmas Eve. A real sense of anticipation is already built up by the first Sunday of Advent for the arrival of Christmas Day. You can use this sense of waiting, of getting ready for a big day, to turn hearts and minds to anticipating an even greater day, that day, the Day of the Lord, when Jesus returns, wipes away every tear and sets all things right.

The Gospel Lesson is about as far away from “Christmas” as one could imagine. Jesus is pointing forward to his second coming. The early church was eagerly waiting for this new day to dawn and for Jesus to be acknowledged by the entire world as the one true King. Parousia, in the Roman world, referred to the arrival of a conquering king. Jesus comes as conquering king, but one who has conquered by his suffering, death, and resurrection. How can we anticipate, now, the reality of his enthronement?

The Psalter holds an answer. Psalm 25:1-10 is a penitential prayer. In order to prepare ourselves for the arrival of the King, we want to repent, seek his mercy, and begin living the lives he has called us to lead.

Anticipation 2: Mental Shift

Scripture: Luke 3:1-6

The Gospel Lesson for today introduces the ministry of John the Baptizer, the Great Anticipator. John comes “proclaiming a baptism of repentance” (v. 3). Repentance is certainly not a popular word in today’s world, especially when we’re focused on a sweet little baby in a manger!

The Greek word translated “repent” is the combination of two words: change and mind. It literally means to change your mind. In the Gospel context, it means change your way of thinking about your behavior, beliefs, and way of life. What are some of the mental shifts we need to make leading up to Christmas as we anticipate the arrival of our Conquering King, Jesus?

We can offer several points: 1. Christmas is not our birthday, so we might want our focus to be elsewhere. 2. Christmas is the arrival of a savior. We need to be saved from our sins. 3. Christmas is the arrival of a King. We want to serve the purposes of our King by being Christ’s ambassadors to a world awash in materialism, individualism, and all kinds of -isms that keep people from experiencing the life Jesus came to offer.

Anticipation 3: Christmas Fruit

Scripture: Luke 3:7-18

My aunt and uncle regularly vacationed in Florida in December and they always brought us oranges and grapefruit. Inevitably, for Christmas, my brothers and I would receive fruit as part of our Christmas gifts. Citrus fruit continues to be a big gift around Christmas.

Fruit trees produce fruit: orange trees produce oranges and grapefruit trees produce grapefruit. What is the fruit of our Christmas celebrations?

In this Sunday’s Gospel Lesson, John the Baptizer exhorts us to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (v. 8). When we examine the fruit of our Christmas celebrations, some of us have to admit that the fruit is rotten. Families are stressed from strained and difficult relationships and people are in debt from buying gifts to impress people we don’t even like very much.  That’s all many of us have to show for the season.

What is the fruit of Christ’s arrival? We have hope because we know Jesus can forgive us and free us to serve him as our true Lord. We have love because we have received the love of a Savior and now we are free to love others with this same selfless love. We experience joy because of the presence of Christ and the company of those who join us in worshiping the one, true King. The fruit of peace is evident when Christ transforms us into the people he’s calling us to be. This is not simply the absence of conflict, but the presence of wholeness, security, and prosperity in the truest sense of the word, all encompassed by the Hebrew concept of shalom.

Anticipation 4: God My Savior

Scripture: Luke 1:39-55

Mary sang: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” Mary, pregnant with Jesus, visits her cousin Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John the Baptizer. On this joyous occasion, Mary anticipates the work of God that Jesus will carry to its fulfillment. God is Savior. Several years ago, the comedian and singer-songwriter, Mark Lowry, released “Mary, Did You Know?” The song asks Mary, did she know “the child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you”?

What deliverance do we need this Christmas? As we anticipate the arrival of the Messiah, the full flourishing of the Kingdom of God and the salvation Jesus brings, from what do we need to be saved? Is it our over-reliance on wealth? Is it our self-centered celebration? Is it our apathy toward the lowly and the suffering of the world? How can God Our Savior deliver us from slavery to sin and death and free us to joyfully follow and serve the mission to which he calls us? Mary, herself, whom Elizabeth called blessed among women, needed a Savior. We all need a Savior today.

Image attribution: smileus / Thinkstock

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Dr. Chris Howlett serves as the Senior Pastor of Lebanon United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Ky. He and his wife, Roz, are the parents of Chloe, Josiah, and Lydia. Chris loves soccer, coaching goalkeepers at the high school level. He coaches clergy and laity to discover and utilize their God-given talents and strengths for ministry. Catch up with him at www.chrishowlett.me.

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