I wish to acknowledge Pastor Sample for the thoughts in this Advent
Luke 21:25-36 2nd December 2012
There is a song that is familiar to all of us, a secular song, that could be called an advent hymn - although it does not talk about God, or about the coming of Jesus, or about the Christian hope.
I wonder if anyone can think of what that song is as I go on talking about it for a minute? The song is loved by millions of people - especially by children. It is a song that speaks about the coming of an important person, a person who knows us and our every action, a person who is good and loving and who expects us to be the same.
Do you have it now? The song is “Santa Claus is coming to town”
You better watch
out! You better not cry!
Better not pout I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
He's making a list and checking it twice;
Gonna find out who's naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town
He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!
O! You better watch out! You better not cry!
Better not pout I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
For a world no longer accustomed to reading the scriptures “Santa Claus is coming to town” summarises the Advent message in a secular way - all that remains to be done, and it is something that as Christians we can do - is substitute the name of Jesus for the name of Santa Claus and we would then have, in lyrical form, the essence of what the gospel tells us about the return of Christ and how to be ready for it.
Image yourself as a child for a moment - a child from a reasonably normal, healthy and loving home. Do you remember what you father and mother, especially your mother did around the house during most of December? Remember what happened at that time of year? How the house was decorated and lights were hung up, a tree trimmed, and baking - scads of baking was done: shortbread, cakes, biscuits cut into the shapes of trees and stars? Think of how it seemed everyone around you was doing things that they often never did at any other time of year.
They wished people "Merry Christmas" and smiled a lot. And people came visiting - and how they came visiting! - the aunts & the uncles, the cousins and nephews and nieces - nan and pop, and all kinds of other people, some of whom you never saw again till next Christmas?
Remember how you knew something special was going on, that Christmas was coming and Santa was getting so close to town you thought you could hear the sound of the reindeer practising for the big run days ahead. And do you remember how you did special things to get ready for the big day - wrapping gifts, making up cards and pictures for all the relatives and trying just a bit harder than usual to be nice to everyone?
Do you remember what it meant at this time of year to look forward to Christmas...? To think about the coming of Santa Claus and how everything would be wonderful when he came - and that you would get lots of good things from him and everyone would be happy?
Everyone that is but people who just were plain mean, people like Scrooge in the old black and white “A Christmas Carol” movie they played - and I guess will be repeated again this year...
I may be off base here, because I am thinking of my own experience of the Christmas season back then, but in the back of my mind - almost unconsciously - I knew even then as a child, that what I did, or did not do, made a difference somehow; and in some way that difference counted with my mum and dad, and of course with Santa Claus but it didn't really worry me all that much even when I heard the words of the song that go:
He knows if you have been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.
It didn't worry me - because in the back of my mind, I knew that Santa Claus loved me, and that he would be fair to me, and overlook all the little things I did that just maybe I shouldn't have done, but couldn't really stop myself from doing!
Although my parents may have teased me about how if I didn't do what they wanted me to do Santa would leave coals in my stocking, I still didn't get too worried because I knew that my parents loved me and I knew that I was trying to be especially good - when I remembered that is!
All in all, December was a great time of year, a time in which you, and everyone around you, prepared for a great event - the coming of Santa Claus, and the song told you all about it - even if it did have a couple of lines that your parents seemed to like a bit too much.... The song told you though what it was all about didn't it: "You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not shout, I'm telling you why - Santa Claus is coming to town."
And you watched out - from mid-November you watched out - and you read the Christmas catalogues with the same passion than a starving man has for food, you read it because you knew that Santa read it too; and whenever you thought about it - the part about behaving better, or whenever your parents thought about it for you, you did your best to be good to everyone. That is what a lot of childhood's are like around Christmas time. They follow the song. And everyone else it seems does the same.
As adults, and as Christians, we are called to follow that song too, and recover the joy and the blessedness of our childhood faith in goodness. As adults and as Christians, though, we are called to follow the song with one major difference: we are called to substitute the name of Jesus for the name of Santa Claus. But that is about the only difference. For we are called to expect his coming, the coming of Jesus with the same energy, and the same dedication, and indeed the same joy, as we waited for Santa Claus when we were children.
I say with the same joy because joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit of God in us -- and because too many well meaning Christians want to take the joy out of Advent - the time of preparing for the return of our king.
I remember once listening to a preacher talking about the second coming of Christ. He made it sound like one of the most terrifying events imaginable. He focused on the negative and missed the positive in all that he was speaking about. He didn't tell us about the peace, the joy, the hope, and the love that a Christian experiences when they prepare for the return of the king, but instead he asked: "where will you be when Jesus comes back? Will you miss seeing him because you are in a pub? In a theatre watching a dirty movie? In bed with someone else other than your wife? Will you be found in sin?, he asked? Nowhere in his sermon was there a hint of blessing - rather he explained that if we played cards or danced or listened to the wrong kind of music that we would go straight to hell when Jesus returned.
For him preparing us for Christ's coming meant trying to scare us out of our wits... Some would say this is biblical: they might even quote today's gospel which says:
"be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live upon the face of the earth. Be therefore, always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man."
"You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not shout, I'm telling you why - Santa Claus is coming to town."
It is true that at the coming of Jesus there is a judgement, but as during this advent season we prepare for the coming of Jesus, for his birth in Bethlehem and in our hearts, and for his return to the earth, starting with his rule over our us, let's remember that like Santa, he loves us, and like our parents, he will not put coal our stockings because we have forgotten to pick up our socks or left our toys on the living room floor.
That is simply not how God operates - the God we believe to be more loving than the most loving mother, the God we believe to be more caring than the most caring father.
Yes there is judgement - judgement for those who totally ignore what is right and what is good, but this is the promise of God for his people, for those who try to be good for goodness sake.
"'The days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will fulfil the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. 'In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.'”
That is what the gospel of the second coming is about, it's about good news - not bad, it's about the gifts of God for our world, and not just, or even primarily, about the anger God has for those who totally ignore his law of love.
We are called to prepare ourselves for the gift of God to us of a king who will do what is right and just in the land, of a king who saves the world, not destroys it.
And the best way to prepare for that king, and that is what Advent is all about, preparing, is not by developing fear of what will happen if we are not prepared, but rather by developing ways of giving hope, and peace, and love, and joy - the things that our Advent candles are meant to remind us of.
We prepare for our king by studying the bible just as fervently as we studied the Christmas catalogues, and by taking time to communicate our best wishes and our fondest hopes to others, just as we did when as children we coloured pictures and made up special parcels for our teachers, our relatives and our friends so that they would feel special.
This advent - give hope by showing care for those who are in need, - give peace - by turning the other cheek when you are provoked, - give love by hugging someone who is feeling sad or tired, - and give joy by being encouraging and helping someone who feels at the end of their rope, by showing them that you care and that therefore God cares as well.
When you do these kinds of things you will receive hope, peace love, and joy in return - and you will know that when the king, our Lord Jesus, does return, that you are ready for him - for you will know his presence in your heart long before he actually arrives on the clouds with glory.