December 12, 1999
ThirdSunday in Advent
(FS) A. DESCRIPTION OF AUDIENCE
This is a rough draft and starting point for a Sermon that will be
preached for the First Presbyterian Church of Navasota, Texas. Communion
will follow. The church is in a small town of 7000 or so, very near
College Station, TX, and one hour northwest of downtown Houston.
Congregation usually has about 100 in worship, ranging from very young all
across the spectrum to very old.
(FS) C. ADDRESS
"A CAROL OF HOMECOMING"
(Psalm 126, John 1)
(Part of an Advent Series, "The First
MANY OF US HAVE PLANS FOR THE HOLIDAYS. Some of us will travel "back
home", to enjoy a Christmas homecoming with family. Others will be
providing the "homecoming" as family and friends come to spend time with
us. Now, a homecoming can be a wonderful experience. But so often, don't
the "image" and the "reality" have a wide gap between them? Have you ever
gone home, only to have that much-anticipated time somehow seem flat? Or
have you ever had your eagerly-awaited company end up driving you crazy?
Homecomings aren't always all they're supposed to be.
Psalm 126 may have arisen from one of those. This is a "Song of
Ascents". As pilgrims would "ascend" the rising road to Jerusalem, they
would sing some of the Psalms. This one is full of nostalgia, of the
memory of when God brought the exiles home from Babylon. The day of
homecoming was wonderful! The trip back passed like a happy dream; even
the enemy nations stood and watched in surprise and awe. But then...then
came the years after. Years of rebuilding all that had been lost and
wrecked. Life turned out to be pretty hard, compared to the joy of coming
home. They wanted a taste of joy again! They wanted their fortunes to be
as when they went singing and dancing back home.
One of the dangers of this season is that at times we place
unreasonable demands on it, and upon ourselves. Everything has to be
perfect! We want to be upbeat and happy every moment. The family must
come together with no unpleasantness or disagreements. No one will argue.
Every present must be well-received. Our Christmas WILL be like the one in
the coffee commercial, where "Peter" comes home and wakes everyone with
the smell of fresh coffee for a joyous reunion.
Well, "homecoming" IS part of the celebration of Advent and
Christmas. But it should be turned around: we have cause to celebrate
because of a home-LEAVING. When people were impressed by John the Baptist,
and told him so, he pointed away from himself to the One coming after him:
Jesus Christ. A great preacher named Karl Barth once tied the story of
Christmas to the "Prodigal Son". Jesus is the Son who went to a Far
Country, not because he held his Father in contempt, but out of the
Father's compassionate love for us all. (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics,
ed. G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance, Edinburg: T & T Clark, 1936-77, Vol.
IV Book 2, 21-25.) He came to us, and actually embraced human life on
this earth. He knew grief, hunger, friendship, the love and pain of family
life. Finally he knew death itself, on the cross. He lived, died, and
rose to prepare a place for us in God's Kingdom, both here and now and when
our own time on this earth is done.
We long for a place where we can be loved, a home that will last. In
Jesus Christ, that's what God has given us.
Now, some of us are going to visit kin in the next couple of
weeks. Others are already making preparations to clean house, bake
goodies, and wrap presents in anticipation of our loved ones coming to see
us. May we ALL have blessed experiences!
But in the midst of all our fevered preparations-- whether we are
excited or getting more peevish by the hour --let's not forget John the
Baptist. Imagine him in desert garb, smelling of dust and sweat, standing
in the shadows cast by our outdoor lights and our twinkling trees, lifting
a hand and pointing. It's not in accusation, for he points beyond us,
even beyond all the anticipation and excitement we can barely name...and
yes, beyond all the pain and depression and heartache this season can also
rend from us. He points to the Christ, who came into this world to
"restore our fortunes", to prepare a "home" for us that will never crumble
or be spoiled; to be our peace.
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