Isaiah 2:1-5, Matthew 24:36-44
Today is a day of beginnings. It is the beginning of the Advent season, the beginning of our Christian Calendar, the beginning of the week, etc. It seems ironic that one part of our scripture lessons for today seems to speak of beginnings, and the other part seems to speak about an ending.
The world around us has been preparing for Christmas since before Halloween. Many of you are already sick to death of Christmas music – I don’t say carols because I cannot put “I want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” in that category! Thanksgiving was a blur and here we are blazing into December. This season of Advent has been pushed aside as well as most of the fall – our busyness is completely directed at Christmas, but not necessarily to welcome the birth of the Christ child.
And yet our scriptures draw our attention to a message of hope – hope for a world in which swords are no longer needed and spears become something to give life instead of taking it. We are told to keep watch lest we be found so busy we miss the coming of Christ. This season of Advent is a season of waiting and preparation – a time when we search our hearts and spirits for what is truly important. Jesus came as an innocent baby to be our sacrifice for sin and darkness, yet very few recognized his birth and many today have forgotten his message of love.
I find it interesting that the Isaiah prophesy notes a time of peace and restitution – a time when a final judgment will put to right all the wrongs of our world – poverty, hatred, anger, bitterness, hopelessness, fear, bigotry, divisions. Yet, in order to obtain this peaceful kingdom, we must first beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. We need to be convinced that we no longer need weapons of death but instruments of life. This is a promise of a new world complete with justice, mercy, and humbleness.
Consider the process of taking a sword and creating something new. Here are some images of blacksmiths doing the hard, hot work of melting down metal and reshaping it into something else. Notice the return to fire – anytime the metal cools a bit, the blacksmith returns it to the fire, refining it and making it pliable, in order to reshape it into something new. There must first be fire before the cooling.
Back and forth the blacksmith brings the hot metal out of the fire and beats it repeatedly, then returns it to the fire again. This is hard work – the process is difficult and requires a great deal of strength. I’ve never seen a picture of a blacksmith who did not have strong arms and a strong back – it’s hard to beat a sword into a plowshare. There must first be work and sweat and effort before there is rest and reward.
The season of Advent gives us the opportunity to examine ourselves – are we ready for the coming of the Christ child? Are we ready to step away from the commercialized chaos of the world and truly celebrate the reason for Christmas? Are we ready to set aside our swords that may be serving to divide rather than unite?
Living as Christ’s followers requires us to live against the norms of society. We are taking a stance against the swords of greed, fear, labeling that serves to de-humanize others. How easy is that for us? I would say if we truly search our hearts, the fact is we cannot get rid of any of our swords without relying on Jesus our Savior. It is far too easy to succumb to over-ambition, affluentitis, self-centeredness – we need to beat our swords into plowshares.
I would like to challenge us to two things this Advent and Christmas season. First, I challenge each of us to take Advent seriously. I am not saying we do not prepare for Christmas – true confession: since we are hosting the open house at the parsonage this evening it is already decorated for Christmas. What I am saying is we remember our covenant we signed back in July to spend one hour/week in prayer and scripture reading. If you need help with that, the church will be open every Tuesday evening during Advent from 7 – 7:30 PM for prayer. I will have some prayer stations set up, Taize music playing, and NO SERMON! This can be your quiet respite among the chaos. During Advent, closely examine where you are with your Christian faith – are you skimming the perimeter, just hoping to do the bare minimum in order to get into heaven, or are you in need of forgiveness for something festering in your soul? Are you so filled with sorrow you cannot find any joy during this season of joy, or are you overwhelmed with yet one more thing to do? I have created an Advent calendar for you to take with you – post it on your fridge or desktop and consider ways to honor Advent, including periods of rest and rejuvenation. Let us have a holy Advent season together.
Second, I am challenging each of us to have a frugal Christmas. If we consider honestly our wants and needs, we may find we are truly blessed and not in need of too much stuff. Consider instead the opportunities you have to give back. There are still some angels left on the angel tree. We have blessing bags and BackPack buddies which just added two more students. We have our youth planning and fundraising for their Rock retreat. We have ministries here at Mayo that need your support by assisting us with our general fund. Buy the extra canned goods and donate to the local food bank. Help me this afternoon as we make fresh turkey sandwiches for our AA group. Visit our shut ins and share a little of your time. Remember as we share acts of kindness to others we are shining the light of Jesus the Christ – it is not the norm these days to be kind to others.
I don’t want to overlook our scripture in Matthew today, which speaks more to an ending rather than a beginning. There are a lot of conflicting accounts of this scripture. Will there really be a day when a husband and wife will be walking together and suddenly one will be taken? I remember as a kid being scared to death by the movie “Left Behind” which I know has been remade recently. I was so fearful I didn’t even want to think about an end of time. I won’t get into a long theological discussion about this passage but acknowledge there are a lot of interpretations and understandings about how this world will come to an end. Yet one thing I do know for certain – we will not all live forever. It is highly likely that those of us who are married may in fact experience the loss of a spouse – some here have already experienced this. The painfulness cannot be expressed by anyone who has not experienced this type of loss. Perhaps part of our preparedness message during Advent is to treasure our family and friends while we are still together. Here is a picture of Mark and me on our wedding day taken in September, 1982. In this photo, on the front row are Mark’s grandparents – that was the last time we saw his grandfather who died the following January. Here is a picture of my parents, my grandmother and my grandfather. Within 2 ½ years my father died, and just 10 days later his father died as well. It was the last time I saw my grandfather. When our time on earth together is over, can we truly say we treasured our time? I hope so.
Advent was not meant to be a depressing season but one of getting ready. The advent calendars have special ways you can share a bit of hope and kindness to others which will in turn bless you. Like the story I shared last week of the man who worked through the grief of losing his wife by visiting a local nursing home, we can be the light of Christ at all times and in so many ways. Take the challenge – be in prayer this Advent season and experience a frugal Christmas while giving to others. Let’s continue to beat our swords into plowshares, bringing life and light to those steeped in darkness. Amen.