Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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'"The Stuff of Advent"

Selections from Luke 1 and 2;  Isaiah 40:9-11

      Today is the first Sunday of Advent; a season of contemplation, reflection and preparation

leading up to the commemoration of Jesus’ birth we call Christmas.  It’s hard to believe it’s only

twenty-three days away.  Remember how when we were children, it seemed like it took forever

for Christmas to finally get here?  Yet the older we get, the sooner it seems to come.  In fact, the

very word Advent means “coming.”  During this Advent season, we remember Jesus’ first coming

as the babe in Bethlehem.  We also anticipate Jesus’ second coming, when He will return in glory

to, in a manner of speaking, set this mess straight.  Yet there is an overarching theme of Advent,

which is thinking about those surprising and marvelous ways God breaks into our world, and into

our individual lives.  The Bible stories we read at this time of year reveal that God is, for sure, a

God who often does what we least expect; like granting a child to an elderly childless couple.

Here’s a first story of surprise.    (Read Selections from Luke 1:5-25)

      Elizabeth and Zechariah were nearing the end of their lives, alone.  They had been faithful to

God, living righteously and blamelessly.  Yet the blessing of children had eluded them.  That is,

until God broke into their lives with the surprising announcement that a child would be born to

them; a child who was to be named John, and would grow to become a great prophet in Israel;

even preparing the way for the coming of the long-awaited Messiah.  Advent is about God get-

ting involved against all human odds; so much so that soon, a pair of very senior citizens  would

be carrying around a baby.  This is the stuff of Advent.

      In another village, not far from Elizabeth and Zechariah, lived a kinswoman of Elizabeth’s; a

girl so young that she could have been Elizabeth’s granddaughter.  She, too, was a recipient of

news every bit as astounding as that given to Zechariah six months earlier.

(Read Selections from Luke 1:26-35)

      Consider this surprising announcement, and the one to whom it was announced.  A girl –

probably of the peasant class – from a backward little village; a mere spot on the map of Judea.

At perhaps fifteen years of age, Mary is promised to a man named Joseph.  She has never been

with a man in a sexual way.  Yet here she is, receiving news from a heavenly messenger of a child

conceived in her womb.  While she is “perplexed,” she absorbs this shocking news, and later

marvels, sharing with her very pregnant kinswoman Elizabeth:  “My spirit magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his

servant.  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.”  And so we do.  God broke

into Mary’s life with the promise that her child will not be just any child, but rather that “He will

be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High.”  This is the stuff of Advent.

      And when that child was born, news was initially broadcast from the very heavens; to priests

and prophets?  To governors and kings?  To the wealthy and the powerful?  No.  But rather……..

(Read Selections from Luke 2:8-11)

      In Mary’s time, there could not have been a caste of people less esteemed than shepherds. 

They had neither wealth nor power.  They were generally not very religious people; some not

very trustworthy or honest.  They were dirty and probably smelled like their animals.  Yet God

chose to open the heavens and allow them to bear witness to the angelic hosts who rejoiced at

the birth of a child.  In a most dramatic way, God broke into their uneventful lives with not only

news of this “Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord,” but also with an invitation to visit this

newborn King in His first days of life.  What a surprising announcement, to an even more

surprising – and surprised -- audience.  This is the stuff of Advent.

      I am the grandson of an immigrant, blue collar family; born into the lower middle class where

needs were met, but not without great struggle; where expectations were low, and aspirations

were limited by both lack of resources, and lack of vision.  It was a culture of hard labor over

opportunities for education and personal development.  It was a family ethos under which

flowed a current of anger over never being able to get ahead, and some resentment against

those who did.  Yet God broke in and called this immigrant grandson to break out.  Through the

sacrifices of my parents, and the generosity of the academic community, I was able to go to col-

lege.  Later, through the sacrifices of my wife, the generosity of the steelmaking community in

which I was employed, and the support of the church in which I was baptized as a baby, I was

able to go to seminary.  And here I stand, many years later, giving praise and thanks that God is a

God of surprises; that God often does what we least expect, and acts in ways that stand against

all human odds.  This is the stuff of Advent.

      So we welcome the coming of the God of Advent through the Babe in Bethlehem; the God

who breaks in, in surprising and marvelous ways – whose blessing comes upon the very ones

who have no claim on it; the God of elderly Zechariah and Elizabeth; the God of peasant girls and

shepherds; the God of struggling blue collar families and their immigrant grandsons.  And on this

morning as we partake of the Lord’s Supper, the God of sacrificial love which knows no bounds.

That this Babe, whose birth we’re soon to commemorate – “the Son of the Most High”

is may-be God’s most surprising and miraculous provision of all;  that through this Child, the world

would  begin moving toward redemption; the in-breaking of the very Kingdom of God which will

be consummated and fulfilled upon the second coming of Jesus.  As we partake of the elements

of loaf and cup, we are reminded of the brokenness God took upon God’s self in order to mend

ours.  May our thoughts this morning, and throughout this season of Advent; of expectation; of

coming; and always, focus on the overarching theme that in surprising and marvelous ways, God

breaks into our world, and into our individual lives.  This, my friends, is the stuff of Advent.

God of wonder and surprise, we begin this Advent journey praising You for the ways

You break into our world with Your grace; Your blessings; Your gifts.  During this season,

we ask that You help us open our eyes and hearts to the many ways You touch our lives;

we who have no claim, yet we who receive in such abundance.  As we move from word to

Sacrament, open our eyes and hearts yet again to the depth and wonder of Your

self-sacrificing love through Jesus, Your Christ, in whose name we pray.  Amen.

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102