"Bring Out the Candles!"

Date Sunday December 02, 2018
Service First Sunday of Advent
Text Text: Luke 21:25-36
Author Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Previous Sermon "Listening to Jesus’ Voice"

    About a month ago I did a “Google” search on “Christmas Eve Order of Service”. In case you haven’t noticed, we changed the Christmas Eve service times this year to 2 p.m. and 9 p.m., and I was looking for ideas for the 2 p.m. service. I came across an article that both surprised and amused me. Among the innovative ideas for Christmas Eve were to read the story of Jesus birth in its entirety from the Gospel of Luke, sing traditions Christmas hymns, offer Holy Communion and do individual candle lighting. I thought, “What’s the innovation? We’ve been doing those things for years!”

      Then I realized that the list was written for non-denominational mega churches where they do not usually – evidently even at Christmas – read significant portions of scripture, sing hymns, or offer Holy Communion and candle lighting, both of which could be a logistical nightmare. But, the writer surmised, these things could add a special, nostalgic mood to Christmas Eve. I guess that means we are on the right track!

     There was, however, another suggestion that got my attention. It was to create an inside snow storm through which worshippers could walk while departing, and playing, “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” on the sound system. What to do think, should we do it? The sanctuary entryway is the perfect location for this special effect. We could hide the snow-making machine behind the organ pipes and suspend some twinkling lights to imitate stars. Now, that would be memorable, wouldn’t it? It would get people’s attention!

     In a recent edition of Christian Century, Pastor William H. Lamar IV reflects on how churches get people’s attention so that divine encounters of the 21st-century kind are easy and relatable, even fun, for those who come seeking God. The thing is, though, that God doesn’t need our help; God shows up in our lives and in our world in many ways, and we cannot do anything to make it happen, he says. (1)

     In the season of Advent we are reminded that God showed up as an infant, born in a barn, sleeping in a trough and God will show up again as, “the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory”. In today’s Gospel reading Jesus declares that signs of his coming will be visible in the sun, moon and stars. The nations will be confused and distressed by roaring seas and mighty waves. The heavens will be shaken. It’s language that points to a cosmic victory.

     Context is important here; these words recorded in Luke had a particular purpose. By the time they were recorded, the Holy City Jerusalem and the Temple have been destroyed by Rome and the people of God, including those who had become followers of Jesus, were straining toward HOPE, which they found in Jesus’ promise.

     Jesus’ words are still meant to raise our heads and our hopes. Many people in our world are straining toward hope. If we believe in the Kingdom of God, writes Pastor Neal Plantinga, we will hope for those without much hope left. And, we will work in the same direction as we hope. He quotes Lewis Smedes’ book, Standing on the Promises, who says that “hoping for others is hard, but not the hardest. Praying for others is hard, but not the hardest. The hardest part for people who believe in the second coming of Jesus is in living the sort of life that makes people say, ‘Ah. So that’s how people are going to live when righteousness takes over our world’. The hardest part is simple faithfulness in our work and in our attitudes – the kind of faithfulness that shows we are being drawn forward by the magnet force of the kingdom of God.” (2)

     There’s a story about an event that occurred more than 200 years ago when the Connecticut House of Representatives was in session. It was a bright May day and the delegates were able to do their work by natural light. Suddenly, though, in the middle of debate, the day turned to night. Clouds obliterated the sun, and everything turned to darkness. Some of the legislators thought it was the Second Coming, so a clamor arose.

     People wanted to adjourn. But, the speaker of the House, who was a Christian, rose to the occasion and spoke with good faith. “We are all upset by the darkness,” he said, “and some of us are afraid. But, ‘the day of the Lord’ either is approaching or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. And, if the Lord is returning, I, for one, choose to be found doing my duty. I therefore ask that candles be brought.” (3)

     Well…we are the candles, the light, in an often dark world. Remember what happens in baptism? At the end of the service a candle is lit and these words of Jesus are spoken, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” It’s a reminder to us all that we are the bearers of hope because God shows up, in us.

     I wonder how many of you have seen the series of articles published in the Akron Beacon Journal this past week about an Egyptian young woman named Lamise ElBetar who is a graduate student at the University of Akron. I hesitated to bring up her story out of a desire to be respectful, but I decided that it should be heard.

     Lamise was born with a condition that has continued to grow and causes the lower right side of her face and lips to protrude. It threatens her life and the quality of her life. If you have seen the photos of her, you know that this malformation – she calls it a facial difference – is disconcerting and would keep many people at home, out of the public eye. But not Lamise, she is a bold person even though she constantly deals with stares, comments and people trying to take her photo while she’s walking down the street or sitting in a restaurant. Yet, she’s not bitter or angry, but is someone who encourages others to be positive, face their fears and stand up for themselves.

     One of her supporters described her as being among those who “humble us, change us, and inspire us to become better people.”  She so impressed a group of UA professors and community members that they founded “Team Lamise” to raise funds for her medical treatment and to finish her degree. Because of the articles, many in Akron have joined the effort. (4)

     What we have here is a situation where light leads to more light; hope leads to more hope, and it began with the one who many would say needed the light and hope the most. Now, there is a circle of light that is coming back to her and is a source of hope. Who knows how it will multiply? God shows up, empowers us to work in the same direction as we hope, draws us forward with the magnet force of the Kingdom of God and then shows up some more. So, bring out the lit candles and be prepared to shed some light. AMEN

                

(1)   “Living by the Word” by William H. Lamar IV, Christian Century, Nov. 7, 2018, pg. 20.

(2)   “Advent 1C: Luke 21:25-36” by Scott Hoezee, Center for Excellence in Preaching,

(3)   Same as #2

(4)   “Woman’s Story Elicits Outpouring of Support” by Betty Lin-Fisher, Akron Beacon Journal, November 27, 2018, B1