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December 1, 2019 1st Sunday of Advent

 

 

LectionAid 1st Quarter 2019-2020

December 1, 2019 1st Sunday of Advent

Advent, New Year’s Or A Long Wait to Christmas?

Psalm 122; Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44

Theme: God’s Light not Christmas phobia

Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON

Starting Thoughts

Happy new year! As our season of Advent begins once again, we have opportunities to look at new gifts and promises from God.
But we also meet a sobering reality. Where are people’s minds by now, even the few days after Thanksgiving? Christmas. Not the birth of Christ or the expectant hope of the Second Advent, but Santa Claus and the eight tiny reindeer. Getting all of the decorations up. Making the long and elaborate lists of everyone for whom we “need” to buy gifts. Dreaming about the presents we’ll be getting. Gathering up the hundreds of dollars that we spend each year on this holiday. Each year, it seems that the preparations for Christmas become more elaborate and take longer to plan, but people’s tempers become shorter. I’ve watched as the same issues that were molehills in October become mountains in the middle of December. We forget that WE are not the reason for this season!
That makes our task this time of year even more daunting, but also more important. We preachers have the difficult mission of re-introducing our congregations to the season of Advent. In the midst of the frenzied preparations for December 25th, we need to bring the transforming and unwavering Word of God to our flock.
Advent by its very nature shakes us up. The season is ripe with promises of new beginnings and is weighty with change. Advent endangers our comfortable patterns and our carefully built walls of safety and security. We know what happened when Christ came to earth the first time. Those who believed were transformed. Those who were threatened shouted “crucify him!” His coming—and going—changed the course of history. Christ’s Second Advent will do the same, though as we will find out from our Matthew text, no one is quite sure when that will happen.
Our passage from the beginning of Isaiah gives us a glimpse of what that “shaking up” will be like. We read about a prophetic vision from God to the prophet, and it was enough to make the first hearers of this text scoff with disbelief. Jerusalem, a city of promise?
Isaiah sees a vision of all of the nation’s streaming up the mountain to His temple. In a sense, people would be going against the current. Rather than taking the path of least resistance, as many of the people had been doing, they desired so much to be with God that they were willing to scramble and clamber their way up to Him. And not only that, but they believe so much in this new way that will persuade others to come with them. Evangelism at its finest.
Then and now, this passage teaches us that God is the foundation of all truth and the Source of all things. Our first desire should be for Him. What we need in today’s world is not more material goods or status or power in our lives, but to learn God’s Word, so that we can walk in His ways and light.
Fast forward several centuries...and we get essentially the same message from our Matthew text. Our safety and security are once again threatened, the world is shaken up, but this time as we think ahead to the Second Advent of Christ. One has to be careful in preaching this passage because of the variety of interpretations of this and the verses following. Some take this literally, whereas most interpret this as an apocalyptic vision.
At the beginning of chapter 24 of Matthew, Jesus comes out of the temple and the disciples ask him privately what kinds of signs they should be looking for to indicate Christ’s return and the end of time. Jesus talks about false prophets and wars and love growing cold. He tells his disciples that there would be time of great suffering. And then the Son of Man could come and would send out an angel with a loud trumpet call.
And our passage for today begins directly after that by saying that only God knows when all of these things will take place. The angels, and even Jesus Christ, do not know when the Second Advent will occur. He compares this “waiting time” with the days of Noah. We can imagine what Noah’s neighbors thought as he built an ark when there wasn’t even a cloud in the sky. Our passage says that they thought nothing of this, didn’t even give a second thought to the fact that there might be something momentous happening later—that there was a reason Noah was doing this. They simply went on with their own lives, and when the flood came, they were swept away. This is an example of how it will be in the Second Advent.
We see the vision of two people working in a field, two women grinding meal together – two are taken, two are left. Instead of arguing about whether this is a literal “rapture” or a vision, we would do well by focusing on evangelism. Two women are spending a great deal of time together grinding meal, no doubt chatting. Why has the subject of faith never come up? Why has the subject of church and beliefs and Jesus Christ never come up in their long hours together? The same with the farmers working in the field – if there are two there, most likely there in close proximity doing something together. Yet in all of the talking they no doubt did, evidently there wasn’t talk about Jesus. Now we live in an era of political correctness that has made us wary of saying anything to anyone—we don’t want to be thought of as exclusive or not accepting. But sometimes we use that as an excuse as well—we’re more than happy to suggest restaurants, dentists, and Little League teams to our friends, neighbors, and coworkers, but we shy away from inviting someone to a Sunday service or a fellowship event. We even have a hard time mentioning church.
The end of the passage once again reminds us that we don’t know when Jesus is coming again. We are to keep alert. Again, we get an example of the owner of the house and the thief. Obviously if we know when someone is going to break in and steal, we would take the necessary precautions. The timing with the thief is the same as the timing of Jesus’ return—it will be unexpected, so we are instructed to be ready. These verses as well as the parables that follow— the faithful or unfaithful slave, the parable of ten bridesmaids, the parable of the talents, and the sheep and the goats—remind us that there is also a judgment. This is probably not an attractive or welcomed message in our churches because we want to believe in a God who pats us on the head and blesses anything we decide to do. But these passages remind us that part of keeping alert for the Second Advent is living in line with God’s will. There is some kind of separation at the end.
As we begin the season of Advent, we may need to remind ourselves as well as our congregations that this season is really more about our expectant hope of the Second Advent than it is the baby Jesus. Again, this may not be a popular message because we are so focused in on the innocent, tiny, cute baby born on Christmas Day. But when we celebrate Christmas, we are celebrating the fact that Jesus has come as the Messiah and will come again. And we are to stay awake and keep alert, because we do not know when that time will come.

Exegetical Comments

It was a fine Saturday afternoon in the heat of summer. The family, some on holiday from work, were relaxing in the house and the garden. Books and magazines were lying around the place, along with coffee mugs, newspapers and packets of biscuits. Everything had the look of the sort of cheerful untidiness that a large family can create in about an hour.
Suddenly there was a ring at the doorbell. Wondering vaguely which friend might be calling I went to answer it, dressed as I was in very casual clothes. There, outside, to my horror, was a party of 30 or so well-dressed visitors. They had arranged, many months before, to come to look at the house, because of its historic associations. And neither I nor the family had remembered a thing about it.
You can imagine the next five minutes. I suggested that the visitors went into the garden for a little while (‘to get a good look at the house from the outside’), and then mobilized the family to clear everything up. Within minutes everything was clean and tidy. The children retreated into bedrooms. We opened the front door again and the visit went ahead.
You can tidy a house in a few minutes, if you put your mind to it. But you can’t reverse the direction of a whole life, a whole culture. By the time the ring on the doorbell happens it’s too late. That’s what this passage, and the next one, are about.
Once again it has been applied to two different kinds of event, neither of which was what Jesus himself had in mind (though some think Matthew was already looking further ahead). We had better look at them first.
On the one hand, a great many readers have seen here a warning to Christians to be ready for the second coming of Jesus. This goes, obviously, with an interpretation of the earlier part of the chapter which sees the ‘coming’ of the son of man not as his vindication, his exaltation to heaven, but as his return to earth. We have been promised, in Acts 1, 1 Thessalonians 4, and many, many other passages, that one day, when God remakes the entire world, Jesus himself will take center stage. He will ‘appear’ again, as Paul and John put it (e.g. Colossians 3:4; 1 John 3:2). Since nobody knows when that will be, it is vital that all Christians should be ready all the time.
On the other hand, many other readers have seen here a warning to Christians to be ready for their own death. Whatever precisely one thinks will happen immediately after death—and that’s a subject devout Christians have often disagreed about—it’s clearly important that we should, in principle, be ready for that great step into the unknown, whenever it is asked of us. That’s one of many reasons why keeping short accounts with God, through regular worship, prayer, reading of scripture, self-examination and Christian obedience, matters as much as it does.
You can read the passage in either of these ways, or both. Often the voice of God can be heard in scripture even in ways the original writers hadn’t imagined—though you need to retain, as the control, a clear sense of what they did mean, in case you make scripture ‘prove’ all kinds of things which it certainly doesn’t. It is vital, therefore, to read the passage as it would have been heard by Matthew’s first audience. And there, it seems, we are back to the great crisis that was going to sweep over Jerusalem and its surrounding countryside at a date that was, to them, in the unknown future—though we now know it happened in AD 70, at the climax of the war between Rome and Judaea. Something was going to happen which would devastate lives, families, whole communities: something that was both a terrible, frightening event and also, at the same time, the event that was to be seen as ‘the coming of the son of man’ or the parousia, the ‘royal appearing’ of Jesus himself. And the whole passage indicates what this will be. It will be the swift and sudden sequence of events that will end with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.
The point this passage makes comes in three stages:
First, nobody knows exactly when this will be; only that it will be within a generation (verse 34). Second, life will go on as normal right up to the last minute.
The result—and this is the point Jesus is most anxious to get across to his disciples, who by this stage must have been quite puzzled as to where it was all going—is that his followers must stay awake, like people who know there are going to be surprise visitors coming sooner or later but who don’t know exactly when. What this means in detail, the next passage will explain.
The warning was primarily directed to the situation of dire emergency in the first century, after Jesus’ death and resurrection and before his words about the Temple came true. But they ring through subsequent centuries, and into our own day. We too live in turbulent and dangerous times. Who knows what will happen next week, next year? It’s up to each church, and each individual Christian, to answer the question: are you ready? Are you awake? (Wright, T. Matthew for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 16-28 [2004, London] pp. 125–128)
Looking back over the whole, Matthew 24:36–44 offers us a collection of scenes from everyday life—people eating and drinking, people marrying and being given in marriage, two men in a field, two women at a mill, a man asleep in his house, a thief going about his business. These images of day-to-day existence stand in stark contrast to the unusual and even surrealistic events depicted in the first part of Matthew 24—wars, famines, earthquakes, flight from the abomination of desolation, darkened luminaries, a sign in the firmament, the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven. The transition from the extraordinary to the ordinary well serves Matthew’s purpose. Those whose imaginations hold the terrors and hope of things to come still live in the often mundane present, and their eschatological expectation does not undo the fact that they must still work in the field and grind at the mill.
Whether one transfers the exhortations of Matthew 24 to the death of the individual or prefers to maintain Matthew’s focus on universal history, it remains true that our behavior is inevitably altered if we keep before ourselves the end of things. The point is effectively made in a story told by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus. Solon, a wandering philosopher from Athens, once came to Sardis, where he met the great king of Lydia, Croesus, who had vast wealth and much power. The king, after showing his honored guest the royal palace and treasuries, vainly asked, “Who is the happiest person you have seen?” Croesus wished to hear of his own blessedness. Solon, however, surprised him, declaring that Tellus, a man Croesus had never heard of, was the most blessed. Tellus had dwelt in a prosperous city, fathered five sons, lived to see his grandchildren, died a glorious death in battle, and received the honor of a public funeral on the spot where he fell. The king could not understand why Tellus was more blessed than he, so he asked Solon for an explanation. In response, the wise man observed that he could call no one blessed before death. Why? Because a life still lived is a life not yet complete, and who knows what the future will bring? The rich may become poor, the conqueror may become vanquished, the powerful may become powerless. Good things do not make for happiness unless they endure. It is wisdom to “Look to the end, no matter what it is you are considering. Often enough the divinity gives a person a glimpse of happiness, then utterly ruins that one.”
It takes little to put a Christian spin on this story. All we have to do is think of the divine judgment that, in the end, awaits all of us. Happiness cannot be declared true happiness unless it is destined to endure. For it is the final outcome that determines the meaning of all that goes before. It is the issue of things which puts them in perspective. It is the end of the story that interprets the preceding narrative. And as it is with the individual, so is it with all of history, which is why Christianity speaks of the second coming of Christ. The victory of the cross and resurrection in the middle of history would hardly remain unaffected if it were not somehow confirmed by history’s outcome.
While all this makes excellent sense, and while there are modern theologians such as Wolfhart Pannenberg who have accordingly made the future central to their theologies, it is hard, when we are eating and drinking and at work, to keep things in perspective and conduct our affairs in the light of the consummation of things. This is due in part, no doubt, to the fickleness of human nature. Constancy of purpose derived from a fixed gaze on the future is rarely achieved, for our minds resist being harnessed toward one end. They are too restless and too readily distracted and too afraid of death. So thought of our individual end or of the end of all does not, as a matter of record, much inform our lives.
Beyond the handicap created by our fickle natures, perhaps modern technology fights against us. For, through its magical gifts, desires and whims of the moment can now be instantly gratified. Lights come on with a switch, water flows with the turn of a faucet, food is only a swing of a door away. These and so many other newfangled things tend, through habit, to make us impatient, and are not impatient people less likely to spend much time reflecting on the future?
In a world geared toward the immediate fulfillment of everyday desires, it is not easy to look to the end. But this is what Matthew 24 requires. For it knows that only the end will tell us the meaning of the present, that only the outcome can give us true perspective. Perhaps, then, it would be profitable, from time to time, to imagine ourselves on our deathbeds, or to put ourselves within Matthew’s eschatological scenario. Maybe such exercises might help refine our sensitivity to what really matters. In any event, Jesus requires us to see through the present to what is to come, to yank our minds away from the present to dwell imaginatively on the future, in which we will all, sooner or later, have to face God without excuse.
(Allison, D. C. The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis For Sunday’s Texts [2001, Grand Rapids, MI] Vol 3 pp. 140–143)
From the first days after the resurrection to our own time there have always been some Christians who were not satisfied with uncertainty concerning when the “second coming” will occur. In Luke’s narrative of the ascension the disciples ask the risen Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” His response is firm: “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power … and you shall be my witnesses … to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:6–8). Not all have accepted this counsel. Instead of concentrating on the task, they have tried to calculate the times. Drawing on apocalyptic prophecies from Daniel and Revelation, they have insisted that events in their own day were the fulfillment of biblical predictions and that Jesus was about to return. The fact that all previous interpretations have been falsified by the continuing “delay” of the second coming does not deter some in our own time from boldly continuing along the same path. The spiritual arrogance that presumes to pry into God’s secret plan is roundly condemned by Matt. 24:36. Not even the Messiah knows when the end will occur! Not even the highest archangels are privy to the Father’s intention! How foolish it is for humans to think they can play with biblical numbers and ambiguous prophecies and discover what was hidden even from Jesus!
This passage is about the coming of the kingdom in its fullness, the return of Jesus. We might find ourselves asking: What do we know and what do we not know? It is easy to say what we don’t know. We don’t know the time—the year, the month, the day, or the hour. People who pore over the books of Daniel and Revelation, attempting to crack their code, are fooling themselves. We are called to be agnostics about the time of Jesus’ return. We simply do not know.
What we do know, however, is what we are supposed to be doing in the meantime. Because we don’t know the day or the hour, we are always to be “ready”; in the context of the Gospel of Matthew, that means doing the deeds of mercy, forgiveness, and peace that characterize kingdom people. Throughout church history, there have always been groups that, convinced they knew when the world would end, would quit their jobs and wait with eager anticipation for Christ’s appearance. In Matthew’s understanding of the Christian faith, the second coming doesn’t cause us to quit the job of being the church in the world; rather, it calls us to take it up with even more urgency.
(Boring, M. E. The Gospel of Matthew. In L. E. Keck (Ed.), New Interpreter’s Bible [1994–2004, Nashville] Vol. 8, p. 448)

Preaching Possibilities

Waiting on God is a very good theme for this week. Most of us are not very good at waiting. This is often seen as waiting on Christmas, but in reality, the real theme is waiting on the return of Jesus. The question for the week is how do we wait on God which means placing total trust in God.
So at the beginning of the new lectionary year, the new Christian year we need to tackle both the waiting for God at any time as we count down towards Christmas.

Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON

Different Sermon Illustrations

How do we wait is a central question in all of life? Occupy your time. One of the best ways to avoid become anxious during a long wait, is to do something else at the same time to occupy you. One of the most frustrating aspects of waiting can be the sense that you are losing valuable time, so you can tackle this by filling this time with another activity to help the time pass more quickly. This won't always be practical, depending on the situation, but here are some examples to keep in mind:
If you are being kept on-hold on the phone, use the time to answer some emails.
If you are waiting for an appointment, read a book or newspaper, or play a game on your phone.
If you are stuck in traffic, don't sit there and stew, put on some music, an audiobook, or a language tape and try to make the most of it.
Don't try too hard. Finding ways to distract yourself is a tried and tested way of keeping impatience at bay and helping time pass. Research has suggested, however, that this technique can backfire if you are trying very hard to consciously distract yourself from the wait. Trying to force yourself not to feel anxious can prompt even greater anxiety.
Accept that you will have to wait and there is nothing you can do about it.
Take a minute to relax before you find something that will occupy you for a while. Wait with other people. There is evidence which suggests that waiting for something with other people can help the time pass quicker. For this to work, it's important that the people are engaging with each other, talking about what they are waiting for and sharing their excitement in a positive way. For example, a group of fans waiting to get a newly released video game might have a fun time in the queue together.
Being stuck in a long silent queue will not work in the same way.
Equally, being stuck in a waiting room with people who are angry and impatient will not make the time go faster.
Look for a more positive engagement with other people.
Recognize when you are being impatient. We all feel impatient and can get stressed out and anxious waiting for something to happen. The first step to learning to wait patiently is understanding when impatience has arisen, and where that feeling is coming from. Although you may be waiting for something to arrive, or happen, it is your response to that situation that results in the stress of waiting.
For example, if you were stuck in a traffic jam you would probably get annoyed at the situation or maybe the other cars for holding you up.
It is, however, your response to this situation which determines whether you wait patiently or impatiently.
People often get impatient when they perceive the environment as not conforming to their expectations.
Recognizing that expectations are only expectations and are often not totally realistic can help you to identify impatience. Recognize when you are being impatient. We all feel impatient and can get stressed out and anxious waiting for something to happen. The first step to learning to wait patiently is understanding when impatience has arisen, and where that feeling is coming from. Although you may be waiting for something to arrive, or happen, it is your response to that situation that results in the stress of waiting.
For example, if you were stuck in a traffic jam you would probably get annoyed at the situation or maybe the other cars for holding you up.
It is, however, your response to this situation which determines whether you wait patiently or impatiently.
People often get impatient when they perceive the environment as not conforming to their expectations.
Recognizing that expectations are only expectations and are often not totally realistic can help you to identify impatience.
Accept inevitable waits. Waiting can be frustrating because you feel you have lost control over something. The fact is that you cannot control your environment and there will inevitably be times when you have to wait for extended periods. Accepting this can help you to feel freer and calmer.
Acknowledging that you cannot clear an accident that has caused a traffic jam is much better than getting annoyed and frustrated about something you have no influence on. Recognize when you are being impatient. We all feel impatient and can get stressed out and anxious waiting for something to happen. The first step to learning to wait patiently is understanding when impatience has arisen, and where that feeling is coming from. Although you may be waiting for something to arrive, or happen, it is your response to that situation that results in the stress of waiting.
For example, if you were stuck in a traffic jam you would probably get annoyed at the situation or maybe the other cars for holding you up.
It is, however, your response to this situation which determines whether you wait patiently or impatiently.
People often get impatient when they perceive the environment as not conforming to their expectations.
Recognizing that expectations are only expectations and are often not totally realistic can help you to identify impatience. Recognize when you are being impatient. We all feel impatient and can get stressed out and anxious waiting for something to happen. The first step to learning to wait patiently is understanding when impatience has arisen, and where that feeling is coming from. Although you may be waiting for something to arrive, or happen, it is your response to that situation that results in the stress of waiting.
For example, if you were stuck in a traffic jam you would probably get annoyed at the situation or maybe the other cars for holding you up.
It is, however, your response to this situation which determines whether you wait patiently or impatiently.
People often get impatient when they perceive the environment as not conforming to their expectations.
Recognizing that expectations are only expectations and are often not totally realistic can help you to identify impatience.
Image titled Wait Patiently Step 6
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Accept inevitable waits. Waiting can be frustrating because you feel you have lost control over something. The fact is that you cannot control your environment and there will inevitably be times when you have to wait for extended periods. Accepting this can help you to feel freer and calmer.
Acknowledging that you cannot clear an accident that has caused a traffic jam is much better than getting annoyed and frustrated about something you have no influence on.
Image titled Wait Patiently Step 7
3
Think positively. Often anxiety about waiting is connected to the feeling that the wait will be followed by bad news or a negative outcome, which can make it harder to wait patiently. Research suggests that those people who have a more positive outlook, and are generally more optimistic about the outcome of what they are waiting for, will find waiting patiently easier.
Try to foster a more optimistic outlook and learn to feel more comfortable with uncertainty. This means letting go of a sense of control. Try to ground yourself and focus on the present moment. For instance, you could look for 3 things that are colored blue in your environment or notice the way your body feels (without judgement).
If you are anticipating bad news, try to find a positive in it in advance. This could be preparing for failure and thinking of an alternative way forward.
For example, if you are waiting for an exam result, thinking positively about what you could do if you don't get the grades can help you wait more patiently. Think of patience as compassion. Becoming impatient about something in your life is entirely normal and happens to all of us all. You will feel the stress of impatience in both your mind and body. Try to recognize that if you become particularly anxious and upset when you are waiting for something, this impatience is a stress response to the situation. Learning to be more patient is a way of being more compassionate to yourself.
By being patient and limiting the stress response you are actively taking care of yourself. You will suffer when impatient, so learning to be more relaxed will help you feel better about yourself and the situation.[11]
Learning to be patient will also help you feel more compassion towards others who get frustrated when things don't conform to their expectations.[12]
Aim to be compassionate toward yourself as well as others. Put yourself in other people's shoes and look at things from multiple perspectives. For instance, if you're waiting on hold for a customer service agent to get back to you, consider that they may have had a long day or might have been yelled at by several other customers. (https://www.wikihow.com/Wait-Patiently)

There are many fears or phobias that have been cataloged. They include such things as:
Nomophobia – (Fear of not having mobile phone access)
Phobophobia – (Fear of having a phobia)
Anthophobia – (Fear of Flowers)
Hexakosioihexekkontahexapho – (Fear of the number 666)
Heliophobia – (Fear of Sunlight)
Chorophobia – (fear of Dancing)
Ablutophobia – (fear of bathing)
More items...•Dec 3, 2015
A phobia is an overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling, or animal. A person with a phobia experiences an unrealistic and exaggerated sense of danger. We classify phobias as either specific (such as a fear of wasps) or complex (such as social phobia).
A common question is “how many phobias are there?” Because specific phobias can relate to anything, the best answer is probably “countless.” But here are a few known phobias that can be associated with Christmas.
There are plenty of people who suffer from Christmas Phobia – even if it’s not recognized officially. If just the thought of Christmas makes you anxious, and you have no rational justification for the fear, you may well be a Christmas Phobic. If the arrival of Christmas makes you even more anxious, you quite probably are one.
A phobia is an irrational fear that generates anxiety whenever we’re exposed to the thing we fear. There are named phobias for just about everything, except Christmas.
Some common phobias include:
Claustrophobia … fear of enclosed spaces;
Agoraphobia … fear of open spaces;
Acrophobia … fear of heights;
Arachnophobia … fear of spiders.
Some less well-known phobias:
arachibutyrophobia … fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth;
logizomechanophobia … fear of computers;
politicophobia … fear of politicians;
triskaidekaphobia … fear of the number 13;
venustraphobia … fear of beautiful women.
Perhaps we should name our seasonal phobia christmasophobia.
Christmasphobic
If you’re a christmasophobic, where might your phobia have come from? Perhaps a fearful or traumatic childhood experience I recently read a sad but endearing story of a Japanese lady with christmasophobia whose mother left her at the age of nine on Christmas Eve, never to return. Less common might be a similar experience later in life. One of my christmasophobic clients had experienced a trauma on Christmas Day at the age of nineteen.
Sometimes a relatively mild recurring disturbance can grow into a phobia over time. A challenging family relationship that only has to be endured at Christmas could trigger a phobia after repeated bad experiences. An acquaintance of mine could well have developed christmasophobia if it wasn’t for the fact that he only had to spend alternate Christmases with his mother in law.
Everyone knows at least one person who is obsessed with Christmas — and judging by all the internet radio stations that play Christmas music year round, there’s plenty of them around the world. Surprisingly, no print or online dictionary contains an established word for obsession with Christmas. Several online forum or crowdsourced dictionaries (i.e., Urban Dictionary, Uncyclopedia) have suggested the following words: yulephile, yuletidephile, Christmasphile, and Christougenniatikophile. There is, however, an official word for fear of Christmas, Christougenniatikophobia. Unofficial words for the fear of Christmas include: yuletidephobia and Christmasphobia. And what do you call someone who hates Christmas? That’s an easy one: Ebenezer Scrooge.
There are many Christmas-related phobias which might explain why so many people have to resort to spiking the egg-nog and drinking to get through the holidays. Here are the most common Christmas phobias:
cherophobia: fear of having fun
chionophobia: fear of snow
Christougenniatiko dentrophobia: fear of Christmas trees
decidophonia: the fear of making decisions
doronphonia: fear of opening gifts
heortophobia: fear of holidays
hodophonia: fear of traveling
katagelophobia: the fear of ridicule or being embarrassed
macrophobia: fear of long waits
nogophobia: fear of egg nog
ocholophonia: fear of crowds or long lines
pognophobia: fear of beards
santaphobia: fear of Santa Claus
simbosiophobia: fear of parties
syngenesophobia: fear of relatives
tarandophobia: fear of reindeer
Psychologists note that there is a form of anxiety, which they simply call gift-giving anxiety, that is a real problem during the holidays. Gift-giving anxiety is a form of social anxiety where the individual feels a level of anxiety based on the need for approval and the fear of being negatively judged (the recipient doesn’t like the gift, or the gift is not expensive enough, or they already have the item, etc.).
Another fear, particularly among naughty children, is the fear of not getting a Christmas present (or perhaps getting a lump of coal). One could argue that athazagoraphobia (fear of being forgotten or ignored) is the appropriate word, but it is not specific enough. (https://atkinsbookshelf.wordpress.com/2017/12/26/the-most-common-christmas-phobias/)

My parents, brother and sister-in-law, and I decided to try something new a few years ago. We still got each other a small, practical gift for Christmas. But for the rest of our ‘gift’ to each other, we donated money or presents to various agencies on each other’s behalf. My sister-in-law is active in environmental protection, so the first year she ‘adopted’ a wolf in my name through a wilderness agency. My brother gave money to help feed and clothe hungry people in his town. I bought gifts for children and women through a program in our local shelter. My parents bought a buffalo through the Heifer Project.
We had planned on doing this only at Christmas, but a transformation began to occur. What we did opened our eyes to the needs in our towns as well as the nation and world…all year. For me, it has changed the way I think and pray, and has dramatically changed the way I think about stewardship of money, time, and talent. The other members of my family have told me about similar changes in their own lives, especially an increased desire to help others. There’s no turning back once the transformation has begun.

When we think about our Christmas lists or our New Year’s resolutions, how many of us have any of the following dancing in our heads: 1) Learning God’s ways; 2) Walking in God’s paths; 3) Walking in the light of the Lord. What would happen if we all came to church on the first week of Advent really desiring those things for ourselves, our families and friends, and even for perfect strangers? What would happen if we made these three things the top priorities during the month of December?

So often we hurry everywhere we go. But when it comes to our faith lives, we dawdle. We have great intentions of doing special devotions every day of Advent. We had every intention of loving our neighbor or reading our Bibles or forgiving someone for a past hurt. But somehow, we don’t. There’s always more time, we think. Our Matthew text wants us to be prepared for the Second Advent, as though it could happen any second. We lose hope when we begin to think that it will never come. But we are to remain ever watchful and ever faithful.
There is a fable telling of three apprentice devils who came to earth to finish their ‘apprenticeships.’ The first one told Satan that he planned on telling people that there was no God. Satan said that this idea was no good, because too many people know there IS a God. The second one said that he would tell people there was no hell. Once again, Satan said that this plan would fail because people knew otherwise. Finally, the third one said that he would tell people there is no hurry. Satan says, “Go, and you will ruin them by the thousand.” (William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 2 [Philadelphia, Westminster, 1977], p. 317).

Have you seen those t-shirts that say “it’s all about me”? We buy them for our children or for ourselves, thinking that they will illicit a laugh when other people see them. Because of course, we know that it’s not really about us. Or do we? Unfortunately, most of the time we do not. We spend the season focused inward—either preoccupied with what gifts we can afford for people or how we’re going to decorate the house or the tree. We forget the whole purpose of the season of Advent and Christmas.

The headline is written in terse military slang: “11th MEU departs early to reinforce troops in Iraq.” This is the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), a combined force of some 2200 ground troops, aircraft and support functions that will take a slow boat toward Iraq. In the six weeks it will take the USS Belleau Woods to reach there, these Marines will put the finishing touches on the six months of training they completed in four and one-half months. How do you train for the ‘unexpected?’ The Marines do it by inculcating every Marine from the moment they arrive at basic training with this expectation: the unexpected will happen and since the adversary will always strike at the time of his choosing, you must prepare to accept hardship. What does this say to the average American Christian at the beginning of Advent? First, recognize we truly face an Adversary. Jesus did not come to earth to bring us feel-good presents – He came to defeat an eternal Adversary on that adversary’s home turf. Second, accept that the life of faith is hard – difficult choices of personal morality and conduct are part of being a disciple. Third, remain proficient in the basic skills of a disciple – there is no substitute for being intimately acquainted with Scripture, having a regime of daily prayer and working diligently to hone those uncompromising fruits of the Spirit.

I remember my father taking me for walks in the rain, “just to watch the clouds roll along and get a feel for the lightning,” he would say. Later, regardless of where the Marines put me, there was always some senior Non-Commissioned Officer who would show up in the barracks at an ungodly hour, announce ‘let’s go for a run’ and whether it was raining or not, an order that was dutifully obeyed by all of us. A decade or so after that, as a Scoutmaster of a troop that wanted to hike the entire Appalachian Trail, I had the policy that we hiked ‘rain, snow, sleet or hail,’ which the boys eventually took pride in accomplishing while their peers got fat on Doritos and mind-numbed on video games. So now, when those nearly full-grown guys and my sons come around when they’re back in town with their wives and little kids, they say ‘you taught us how to really be prepared for anything.’ Preparing for the unexpected isn’t something you do once and then forget about it. You prepare by maintaining vigilance about your ultimate goals, by daily challenging yourself to excel, by making decisions based on your goals rather than by your limitations. We keep wanting our preparation to be a once-and-for-all experience but the wisest among us, even Jesus Christ, signals to us that preparation for the unexpected is best accomplished by daily attention to the core habits that enrich our hearts and strengthen our hands.

“Dear John” letters are not unexpected to Marines and other military personnel deployed in battle zones. Here’s a salty story of ‘preparing for the unexpected but inevitable’ that every Marine eventually gets told.
“A Marine stationed in (fill in the blank) recently received a ‘Dear John’ letter from his girlfriend back home. It read as follows: ‘Dear (put your name here), I can no longer continue our relationship. The distance between us is just too great. I must admit that I have cheated on you (fill in the appropriate number) times since you’ve been gone and it is not fair to either of us. I’m sorry. Please return the picture of me that I sent you. I still want to be your friend, Love (fill in your girl’s name).
Here’s what you do: get your fellow Marines to give you any snapshots they can spare of their girlfriends, sisters, ex-girlfriends, aunts, cousins, etc. In addition to the picture of (your girl), put these photos into an envelope with this note, ‘Dear (her name), I’m so sorry! But I can’t quite remember who you are. Please take your picture from the pile and send the rest back to me. We’re not friends anymore, (your name).”

“What’s great about the MEU cycle is that we are trained to rapidly plan and execute missions, and to work in a fluid environment where things are constantly changing. It’s important to be able to adapt and quickly change your plan,” reported an unnamed Marine. Not some metal-on-the-collar officer said these words. A lowly mortar man – a single enlisted Marine whose job is to carry a 25.5 pound base for the 81mm weapon in addition to the 60 pounds that forms the basic combat load of a Marine in the field. There are two expectations here: the lowest member of the team understands the necessity of adapting to the environment as it changes rather than waiting for someone to explain the change to him and an optimism that treats the unexpected as normative. This training occurs in an ethos that takes pride in its vigilance and flexibility. The Advent lesson is this: wherever the Christ appears, we must be ready to welcome him, joining with him in mission.

“Be Alert” says the front of the T-shirt. The message on the back says, “The world needs more Lerts.” While the Second Coming and eschatology remains a signal of our anxieties, Christmas and the First Coming remains a signal of our hopefulness. Such is true of my watchfulness. Will I be a Lert whose vigilance is fueled by my anxieties and thus confirm my darkest thoughts? Or will I be a Lert whose vigilance is fueled by my hopefulness and thus confirm God’s brightest intentions?

“The events which Jesus predicts before the end are terrifying—enough to make anyone want to put off those final days as long as possible. But he urges his disciples to be vigilant and pray. He wants us not to be surprised, but rather fully awake and aware.” (Greg Friedman, O.F.M; www.AmericanCatholic.org)

We rhapsodize over the birth of Baby Jesus but the season of Advent reminds us of both the continuing condition of the world Jesus entered to redeem and that his next coming will give new meaning to the phrase ‘shock and awe.’

The events of September 11, 2001 showed us what happens when we assume that thieves will let us know when they are coming. God’s actions are just as surprising but infinitely more redemptive – this is the good news of Advent.

“How did this happen?” is what we always ask when we’re treated to an awful surprise. Our words betray our unconscious belief that our future should be as visible to us as it is to God.

The movie Fearless begins with a plane crash in which a jumbo jet lands in a cornfield broken into several pieces. The character played by actor Jeff Bridges has survived the crash along with a child he was holding. As he got out of his seat, he realized there were other survivors, mostly hysterical with fear and grief. Slowly he began to gather them, telling each of them to follow him and walk toward the light, the back of the airplane where daylight streamed in and showed them the way out of the wreckage and into the field and safety. The contrast between the darkness and terror of the inside of the plane and the light of the cornfield as the survivors approached it clearly became the contrast between death and hopelessness and light and possibility.

Is war so “popular” these days simply because we’re used to hearing about violence in the news? After all, when it comes to Isaiah’s vision of peace, many people are skeptical because what Isaiah speaks of is so alien to what gets communicated to us in the media. In The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Barry Schwartz tells about an experiment in which people viewed pictures of art and listened to pieces of music. On the whole, most people rated familiar paintings and songs much more favorably than those they were unfamiliar with. The research suggests that when two things are similar in quality, most people invariably choose the more familiar alternative. In other words, the study suggests that songs that are played a lot on the radio aren’t being played because they’re popular, but they become popular because of the fact that they’re played a lot. Similarly, when people visit a grocery store or drug store and they’re presented with a whole range of similar-looking products, most tend to gravitate toward what they’re most familiar with. Could it be that many people today gravitate toward violence simply because violence has been so much better “advertised” in our world than peace has?

An indication of how far our world is from the peace envisioned by Isaiah was evident in a recent visit that President Bush made to the Vatican. According to Reuters (6/7/04), when the president went to meet with the pope and to discuss, among other things, world peace, the nuclear “football” was not far away. As the pontiff and president conversed about possible resolutions to the violence in the world, a military aide sat nearby with a black attache case containing the codes the president would use to order a launch of nuclear weapons. Back in 1991, when the first president Bush was in office, he allowed the military aide to receive communion at the altar of an Episcopal Church in St. Simons, Georgia, while he clutched the nuclear football under his arm.

According to the Children’s Defense Fund, the United States is not a very peaceful place, particularly for young people. The group’s publication, The State of Children in America’s Union: A 2002 Action Guide to Leave No Children Behind, reports that according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. children under the age of 15 are 12 times more likely to die from gunfire, 16 times more likely to be murdered with a gun, 11 times more likely to commit suicide with a gun, and 9 times more likely to die from a firearm accident than children in 25 other industrialized nations combined.

We often hesitate to face up to the fact that our world today is so far from the goal that God has in mind. In Strength for the Journey: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living, Peter Gomes observes that particularly during the holiday season we focus on the glittery diversions of Christmas, “hoping that in a binge of Bing Crosby and George Bailey we can overcome the darkness within and without....” In addition, he notes, we plunge ourselves into non-stop shopping at the malls, “with the music blaring, the lights shining and blinking, and the hype going so that we will have no time for silence or for the opportunity to notice that nothing and no one has changed.”

Many people aren’t satisfied listening to the rather ambiguous statements Jesus makes about the timing of his return. By and large we don’t want anything to remain hidden from us. We want full disclosure of all the intimate details no matter what we’re dealing with. For instance, in The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need, Juliet Schor comments on how many of the products we buy come with labels highlighting unseen components. Computers come emblazoned with logos declaring “Pentium inside.” Likewise, automobiles are produced with metal signs on the back or the side that inform you about what kind of engine is underneath the hood or if the vehicle is equipped with four-wheel drive. Even if that knowledge isn’t particularly useful to us, for some reason we seem to gain a sense of satisfaction just knowing the details about what’s hidden from our sight.

The main point of Jesus’ discourse is to encourage his followers to devote themselves wholeheartedly to the way of their Lord. Some of the early desert fathers observed, though, that as time passes, we have a tendency to lose the intensity about our faith that we once had. One ancient hermit declared, “The prophets wrote books. Our predecessors came after them, and worked hard at them, and then their successors memorized them. But this generation copies them onto papyrus and parchment and leaves them unused on the window ledge.”

The Isaiah reading and the Matthew passage are a fitting match. The prophet speaks of peace ultimately prevailing, while the Gospel announces that it is through Jesus that the victory is finally won. In I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, Rene Girard highlights the fact that Jesus rather unexpectedly accomplishes his victory without resorting to violence, which many people assume is the only pathway to victory and peace. In doing so, Girard contends, Jesus revealed the demonic nature of violence, whose only goal is to draw all people into an endless cycle of perpetual violence. In essence, Jesus defeated evil because he refused to play by its rules.

One of the problems people have with talk of the Second Coming is how to envision the manner in which Jesus will return to earth. For instance, will Jesus travel from some distant point in outer space and enter our atmosphere in a blaze of glory? If that is the way it is going to happen, Jesus might have to “take cover” as he gets near. According to The Hindu (6/22/03), we are slowly creating a wall around ourselves that could eventually prevent travel to or from our planet. Russian space experts and NASA officials admit that there are as many as 10,000 objects over 10 centimeters in diameter that silently circle the globe. That collection of junk includes an assortment of spent rocket stages, abandoned satellites, and pieces of exploded and discarded space equipment. In addition, there are more than 100,000 objects orbiting the planet that are between 1 and 10 centimeters in diameter. Those items include nuts, bolts, and various space ship pieces. Although those items might sound small and harmless, considering the fact that they are traveling at a velocity of about 6 miles per second, they can easily wreck a satellite or penetrate a manned spacecraft. Even a tiny particle that measures only a few millimeters could pierce an astronaut’s spacesuit just like a sniper’s bullet. Right now space experts say that the amount of debris around the earth would suggest that the odds are that once every 15 to 20 years there will be a catastrophe due to that floating junk. But if the orbital “pollution” continues to grow unchecked, we could conceivably reach a point where travel to and from the earth will become impossible. Some experts in the field predict that such a problem could occur as early as 2030.

Advent is the church’s official time to prepare for Christmas and for the Second Coming. The society around us, however, has already been preparing for the holidays for the past several weeks, or perhaps even for the past several months. According to Fox News (12/9/03), many radio stations across the United States switch from their normal programming to play Christmas carols 24 hours a day as early as Thanksgiving week. Last year more than two dozen FM music stations switched from their regular programming in November in favor of an all-Christmas-music format. By December of last year, another 200 to 300 more stations followed suit. This trend is somewhat new. Until just a couple years ago it was considered unorthodox to play non-stop Christmas music until just a few days for Christmas. Apparently it’s what the public wants. More and more radio stations are following that trend because they find that it’s a great ratings hit.

The Christmas season was not always a time when people focused on the concept of peace. According to Stephen Nissenbaum in The Battle for Christmas, the English Parliament issued a decree in 1644 that December 25 was to be observed as a day of fasting and repentance. That law was in response to the way that many people of that time had turned the holiday into an occasion for drunkenness and debauchery. Similarly, Massachusetts make it illegal to celebrate Christmas between the years 1659 and 1681. Anyone caught violating the law was fined five shillings. Christmas only gained legal recognition in New England in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Just as Jesus urged his followers to be prepared for the coming of the Son of Man, so a French village pastor prepared his people for the malevolent coming of the Nazis in 1941. The story of Andre Trocme and the village of Le Chambon is well told by Philip Hallie in his book Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed. After France was defeated by the Nazis Pastor Trocme knew that it was but a matter of time before the conquerors would enforce their program of exterminating the Jews upon France as well. He taught his church officers and people a gospel of love for all people, one that eschewed all forms of violence. We will resist the Nazis with “weapons of the spirit” he proclaimed. He organized Bible study groups so that people could study and discuss the Scriptures as they related to their concern. People agreed to take in and hide the Jews, and others prepared to forge identity papers, and others organized to conduct the refugees out of the country. Thus when the Nazis demanded that le Chambon cooperate in rounding up Jews, the people of the village were well prepared for their resistance. It is estimated that some 5000 Jews were either hidden for the duration of the war or were transported by the villagers to safety—and not one was turned over. This was not the story in neighboring villages, where the people mostly cooperated with the German and Vichy authorities in arresting Jews. The difference lay in the careful preparations spearheaded by a faithful pastor. (Note: this great story has been told also in the documentary film shown on PBS Weapons of the Spirit and in a dramatized version called Le Chambon. Both were released on video and might be found in the collection of a public or university library. They are well worth tracking down for showing and discussing with your people.)

“We must wait for God, long, meekly, in the wind and wet, in the thunder and lightning, in the cold and the dark. Wait, and he will come. He never comes to those who do not wait.” (Frederick William Faber)

“Nothing has contributed more powerfully to wean me from all that held me down to earth than the thought, constantly dwelt upon, of death and of the last judgment.” (Augustine)

“It may be that the day of judgment will dawn tomorrow; in that case, we shall gladly stop working for a better future. But not before.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

“Death and what is beyond it will show who is wise and who is a fool.” (William S. Plummer)

“We should all be concerned about the future because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there.” (Charles Kettering)

Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)

Call to Worship

Leader: To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
People: O my God, in you I trust.
Leader: Do not let me be put to shame.
People: Do not let my enemies exult over me.
Leader: Do not remember my transgressions.
People: According to your steadfast love remember me.

Prayer of Confession

Everlasting God, we confess that we do not always trust you. We trust ourselves, we trust each other, but to trust you is too scary for us. Despite the many blessings and the abiding love you offer, we reject you. Forgive us, we pray. Turn us around, so that we may see you face to face. Restore to us your Holy Spirit. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Prayer of Dedication

Holy God, we come before you this day with our offerings and gifts. We pray that you will use them, and use us, for the work of your Kingdom. Grant that we may share the love of Christ with those around us. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer

God of Grace and Glory, we come before you on this first Sunday of Advent, as we affirm that Christ has not only come once to this earth, but that he plans to come again for the Second Advent. We bring our joys and concerns to you this morning, confident that you hear our voices.
We pray for peace in our world. We pray that the scales will fall from our eyes and that all of humanity will turn to you and to the ways of peace. Let us be humbled in your presence, affirming your Lordship over our lives rather than trying to lord over others.
We pray for our community and our church. As we light the first advent candle, as our colors turn to purple in our sanctuary, we realize that we are on holy ground. For you are about to do a new thing in our lives, just as you did over 2000 years ago. Help us to prepare to hear your voice. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.