Advent. One the one hand it’s here already. Where’s the year gone? How can it be December 1st tomorrow? On the other hand it’s hard to believe in 25 days we are going to be back here on a Christmas Eve night telling the story of the night in Bethlehem; shepherds and angels on the hillside, the tiny cry of a newborn baby in a stable.
We thought it would never come and yet we can’t believe it’s here already, right? That’s what we usually say about Christmas, it works for Advent as well; a period of waiting, longing, anticipating. A period of searching our hearts and singing our songs, praying our prayers, and waiting.
And I’m with Abraham, I don’t like waiting, it’s hard. It’s really hard.
I love Advent. I love the preparations that are coming. I love the hanging of the Greens, the lights and the decorations. I love anticipating, and there’s even a part of me that sometimes likes waiting.
And I find myself looking at Advent from two different directions which is what we’re supposed to do right? We look back at the advent of the first coming of Jesus when He came; God, Emmanuel, God with us into that tiny little place in Bethlehem. But we also look forward and we look to the time when Jesus will come again and once and for all repair a broken world. And I think about that.
But I wonder sometimes, if Jesus came back and he was standing in Times Square or on the steps of the Capital or here at 304 E. Church Rd., would we even believe Him? Or would we call the guys in the white coats and have them come and take Him away?
Sometimes I think that Jesus missed the perfect time to return, a time when we weren’t quite as cynical as we are today. But then again, when Jesus comes again I am quite certain He will manage to get His message across. And after all He has a great deal of experience dealing with cynics. So He’ll take care of it. I know He will.
But still I wonder, what would it be like? And it is that second coming, that Second Advent that we anticipate every Sunday when we’re here in church. But it’s not the only advent we celebrate because beginning today, the first Sunday of the church new year we begin the season of advent that anticipates not just the second coming but the time that we get to celebrate all of this; the stable and Mary and Joseph and the shepherds, Jesus coming.
Christmas is filled with all kinds of things. A certain amount of chaos; probably proportionate to the number of children you have in your house. Wonderful smells, right? The smell of evergreen trees. We have an artificial tree and Robin gets one of those candles that smell like an evergreen tree.
The beautiful sounds – you know they have already started playing the Christmas music 24/7 on the radio. The lights, the flickering candles, the decorations, the cards, laughter, the presents.
I don’t really care about the presents, I mean I can’t really think of anything I need or want, but I just really like the being together part and the music. I like the music – not the Rudolph and “It’s the Holiday Season…” but the carols and the classical sounds of the season.
And sometimes you let all of those things overtake you and the true meaning of what we are here to prepare for. And instead it takes on the whole idea of “caroling out in the snow, with scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long long ago.”
This year for advent maybe we can slip back to a quiet place, on a hill just outside of Bethlehem. Maybe today we can sit with the shepherds and listen to the bleeping sheep, take care that they are safe, and around a small fire maybe just tell stories – our favorite stories.
When we were little our stories always began with, “Once upon a time…” and the story for today begins with, “In the beginning…”
Genesis 1 is one of those texts we can almost all quote from memory, right? The very first words in the Scriptures are these, “In the beginning God created the heavens and earth“ (Genesis 1:1).
In the beginning, there was just God … and God alone. He is the one that brought everything else into being. The Creator brought forth creation. God spoke it and it was so. Hebrews chapter 11 brings forth that very same truth: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.“ (Hebrews 11:3).
It is interesting to note that the first thing that God brought forth was light. Genesis 1 says: “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness he called ‘night.’ And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day” (Genesis 1:3-5).
In the beginning light shattered darkness…and that light was good. It was very good!
As we know, humans were brought forth as the pinnacle of God’s creation. They were to care for it and tend to it. It was theirs, if you will, as God’s gift to them.
In John chapter 1 we read that Jesus was right there at the very beginning of creation: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind” (John 1:1-4).
Yes, the Son of God was right there in the beginning. “Through him all things were made.” And, “in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible… He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16-17).
But then, not all that long into the life of God’s creation, darkness entered the world in a whole new way. When our first parents fell into sin, the curse of the darkness entered our existence. The darkness seemed to win out when sin entered our world. And human beings came to be comfortably at home in this darkness. As the Gospel of John declares: “People loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
Now if I was God, I guess I would have looked at my creation and been utterly disappointed. And, in my utter disappointment, I probably would have wiped that creation away.
But not God.
He was not going to let the darkness hold sway. He was not going to let the darkness win the day. And so he launched a plan. His plan was to once again shatter the darkness with his glorious light. Darkness was not going to win out. God would make sure of that.
It was into the darkness of the earth’s night that a new light dawned and people took notice. A star, a heavenly light appeared in the east. It must have been a brilliant light, indeed. Sages, Magi, Wise Men saw this star from afar and followed where it led.
And where it led them was to a place called Bethlehem. That star was the star of creation.
What does that old favorite hymn say?
O little town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie.
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light.
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
But when they finally arrived in Bethlehem after their long journey, the Wise Men found out that the true star of creation was not the one shining in the sky. The true star was the child they found in a tiny stable in Bethlehem. They saw light in the face of Christ. The Gospel of Matthew records this so well: “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).
In a humble act of worship, those Wise Men offered the Creator some beautiful gifts from his creation. He did not need any of it, but that’s what we do … we offer the Creator gifts of his own creation in worship and praise and thanksgiving.
It is right here and right now that we must note that the Creator, the One who tossed the stars into the skies, the One who whirled the planets in their proper orbits, the One who by his fingers formed the mountains and fashioned the seas, the One who created all living creatures and breathed life into them, this very same Creator entered his creation. And not only that, he himself became a created being.
The Creator was born of a woman at a specific time and in a specific place. The name of that place? Bethlehem.
That was Jesus’ mission, to enter the darkness of our world and set things right again. No longer would darkness hold sway. No longer would darkness seem to overcome the light. Jesus, the bright star of Bethlehem, the star of creation, had entered the world. The Creator came to redeem his creation.
And that’s exactly what Jesus, the author of creation, did when he entered creation itself. He came to redeem it, to set it all right again. His perfect life, his sacrificial death, his victorious resurrection were all about setting things right again. And when Jesus, having paid the penalty of our dark sin by his death on the cross, rose from the grave, he ushered in a whole new creation. Darkness was shattered and death destroyed.
You see, Jesus’ redemption of all creation is not just about making life in creation a bit more bearable. Nor is it merely an act of rescuing human spirits and souls out of the evil of this created world. When Jesus rose from the grave, a whole new order of creation was ushered in. Everything is made new. It is recreated.
And this work of redeeming all creation was inaugurated in that little town of Bethlehem. The apostle John writes, “ The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Dr. James Dobson relates a story of an elderly woman named Stella Thornhope who was struggling with her first Christmas alone. Her husband had died just a few months prior through a slow developing cancer. Now, several days before Christmas, she was almost snowed in by a brutal weather system. She felt terribly alone—so much so she decided she was not going to decorate for Christmas.
Late that afternoon the doorbell rang, and there was a delivery boy with a box. He said, “Mrs. Thornhope?” She nodded. He said, “Would you sign here?” She invited him to step inside and closed the door to get away from the cold.
She signed the paper and said, “What’s in the box?” The young man laughed and opened up the flap, and inside was a little puppy, a golden Labrador retriever. The delivery boy picked up the squirming pup and explained, “This is for you, Ma’am. He’s six weeks old, completely housebroken.” The young puppy began to wiggle in happiness at being released from captivity
“Who sent this?” Mrs. Thornhope asked. The young man set the animal down and handed her an envelope and said, “It’s all explained here in this envelope, Ma’am. The dog was bought last July while its mother was still pregnant. It was meant to be a Christmas gift to you.” The young man then handed her a book. In desperation she again asked, “Who sent me this puppy?” As the young man turned to leave, he said, “Your husband, Ma’am. Merry Christmas.”
She opened up the letter from her husband. He had written it three weeks before he died and left it with the kennel owners to be delivered with the puppy as his last Christmas gift to her. The letter was full of love and encouragement and admonishments to be strong. He vowed that he was waiting for the day when she would join him. He had sent her this young animal to keep her company until then. She wiped away the tears, put the letter down; and then remembering the puppy at her feet, she picked up that golden furry ball and held it to her neck.
Then she looked out the window at the lights that outlined the neighbor’s house, and she heard from the radio in the kitchen the strains of “Joy to the World the Lord has Come.” Suddenly Stella felt the most amazing sensation of peace washing over her. Her heart felt a joy and a wonder greater than the grief and loneliness. And she spoke to the dog, “Little fella,” she said, “it’s just you and me. But you know what?” she said. “There’s a box down in the basement I’ll bet you’d like. It’s got a little Christmas tree in it and some decorations and some lights and a star to go on top that are going to impress you. And there’s a manger scene down there. How about let’s go get it.”
That’s the message of advent. That’s the wonder of Christmas. God has a way of sending a signal of light to remind us life is stronger than death. Light is more powerful than darkness. God is more powerful than Satan. Good will overcome evil. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light,” the prophet said. “On those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.”
When the Word became flesh, when the glorious star of creation shined brightly in Bethlehem, it was a glorious light indeed…filled with grace and packed with truth. That grace and truth are God’s redeeming power at work.
And you and I have the joy and privilege to join in this all-important redeeming work of God today.
The Gospel of John celebrates the fact that the light of Christ shining through cannot be overcome: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
That Biblical truth is just a true today as it ever was. In the midst of darkness, the light of the star of creation shines brightly today. It cannot be overcome!
Mitri Raheb also has written the following: “The good news is this: God came into no other than this troubled, wounded and real world. He is real and wants to enter into our real world with all its complexities and fears. Christmas is real. It is not a myth or a wonder world. The Gospel is that God became one of us, one like us. He came as a child, vulnerable, and weak…Christmas is God’s promise to us that we will have life, peace, and a future” [“Bethlehem: Then and Now” by Mitri Raheb].
As we begin this season called Advent, we must remember that there are really three Advents we must consider when it comes to Jesus.
There is, of course, his first Advent when he became a human child in Bethlehem.
The second Advent is the current one we celebrate today. It is being realized right here and right now. He comes to us today in his Word and in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. How he comes to us where two or three are gathered in his name.
But there is also an Advent to look forward to…that is when Jesus will come again as victorious Lord of all.
When Jesus comes again, he will restore all things. He will not just snatch people to heaven, he will restore all things by his creative power. We are longing for that day.
When Jesus comes again, he will be the bright star of creation in a whole new way. It’s described so beautifully in Revelation 21: Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God … He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new! … I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” (verses 2-5, 22-23)
What a glorious day that will be! Jesus, making all things new, will shine brightly as the star of his new creation. I can’t wait!
But, until Jesus comes again, we have work to do. It is the work of redemption. It is the joyful task of reflecting the bright star of creation into the darkness of our current world, so that people may experience the light of Christ and come to the brightness of his dawn.
And that light is here for us today. It shines in the star of creation that we follow on our journey toward Bethlehem. Jesus is the bright star of Bethlehem, the Star of Creation and we are invited this season, this day, and every day we are invited to follow the star. How very very blessed we are!
Shine, Jesus, shine! Shine today as the star of creation!
Sermon Topics: advent