First Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 2:1-5 • Psalm 122 • Romans 13:11-14 • Matthew 24:36-44 • Please take a few moments to read the scriptures listed above
December 1 is the first Sunday in Advent. Advent is the four weeks before Christmas Day – a time of reflection and preparation. It’s much like the Lenten season – preparations and reflection before Easter. And as we prepare for this wonderful season, let’s remember that Christmas is a time of hope and positive expectation.
So here we are – we are at the beginning of the Church Year with the first Sunday in Advent. And you know, it seems like we just did this – oh, I don’t know – about a year ago. Time flies when you’re having fun. Advent is the preparation for the “Coming” or birth of our Savior. So let’s focus on that. Let’s think about the fact that Christmas is the beginning of having it all. And as we prepare over the next four weeks, let’s focus on HOPE, LOVE, JOY, AND PEACE and do this all through introspection and prayer.
Today, let’s think about HOPE.
What is the essence of the story of Christmas? Well, the essence is that whosoever accepts the Son gets it all. The Bible puts it like this: “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11-12).
The one who has the Son has it all. What do we mean by all?” First, Advent promises new life in Christ because: now we know what God is like. The coming of Christ gave us a living picture of who God is. Christ’s coming put a face on God. The Bible says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” (Colossians 1:15-16).
This is what we mean by the incarnation — God came to earth wrapped in a human body. God of heaven came to live among us that we might know what he is truly like. He came to teach us. He came to die for us that we might be forgiven. He rose from the dead to help us know that we too will be raised. He ascended to the Father to intercede for us. He promised that he will return so that eternal hope would burn in our hearts. He opened the doors of heaven.
Think of a wonderful Christmas that you remember from your childhood. Some of you will have had a childhood during the time of the Depression. For many of you, the most important memory will be about the best Christmas gift that you ever received in your entire life, a Christmas gift which you received from your parents or some relative who really sacrificed to get a special gift for you. Even though outer conditions were difficult, they saved to get you the gift you wanted for Christmas. Remember that Christmas you had that was so special. Think about how you hoped for a certain gift – how you hinted around with that HOPE building up in you.
Here is “A Christmas Story” that was written by Jean Shepherd about his childhood. “The story takes place in a fictional mill town called Holman, Indiana. The book he wrote was called In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. It’s become a classic. There is also the classic movie that has been based on this book. It is entitled “A Christmas Story.”
This is a story about you and about me, just told through the experience of a young boy in Indiana.
As you listen to this story I’d like you to ask yourself a true question of the Advent season: How are we living in the HOPE of God? How are we living in the PEACE of God? How are we expressing the LOVE of God? How are we expressing the JOY of God? Are these just candles on an Advent wreath or are we truly bringing these Godly powers into our lives and living it? Yes, the light of these gifts can be created in your life, no matter what is happening in now. You can go above and beyond any outer challenge and problem that is happening.
I am going to edit and paraphrase parts of this story.
“ It takes place in 1937, and there was a great depression that was sweeping the country. In fact, during that year, the Depression was at its height in Holman, Indiana. But this is not a story of tragedy, rather a story of how people lived with hope and peace in their hearts despite any hardships they faced. In this story the main character goes back to Holman, Indiana and looks upon Cleveland Street, where he lived, he remembers not those hardships, but remembers the message of hope and peace his parents and family life brought him while he was there.
True religion is overcoming outer conditions through inner strength. God does not serve us when placed high on a pedestal. Nor do we serve God by placing God there. We serve God by daily living in God’s ways and by trying to think the way that God would think, about ourselves, and about other people.
Let me tell you, first, about Holman, Indiana. It is located in the extreme northwestern corner of the state. The state line ends abruptly with the icy waters of the queen of the Great Lakes—Lake Michigan. It clings to Chicago like a barnacle clings to the bottom of a steamer. From time to time, the echoes of the outside world come into Holman, but they have little effect on the people there.
Holman’s life is a mill town existence. It is a life of furnaces that go 24 hours a day, converters you can hear in the middle of the night, and petroleum distillation plants that you can smell 24 hours a day. Social life in Holman is found in the bowling halls and the union halls, beer halls, dance and pool parlors. This town is in an area of sandy, rolling country. It is more frozen and rigid in the winter by the gales that get their start around the Arctic Circle and come over the icy waters of Lake Michigan and end up in Holman, Indiana.
The trains thunder through Holman, and present a mystery to every child who lives there. They think about the trains that are all going somewhere else, and they wish they could be on them. The sky at night is always lit by the eternal flames of the open hearths and the blast furnaces. Nothing much has changed in Holman, Indiana, least of all the people who live there.
As this man goes back to Holman, Indiana, he finds himself on Cleveland Street and he is remembering. In what seemed like just a few minutes, a thousand little memories pop into his head. First, he remembered what he looked like as a little boy. They called him Ralphie. His most vivid memories were about that special Christmas in 1937.
He remembered: Christmas was coming. A Glorious Christmas on which the entire “kid-year” revolved. Downtown Holman, Indiana, was a bustle with Christmas activity.
The main feature in Holman, Indiana, was Higby’s corner window. It was traditionally a high-water mark of the pre-Christmas season. First niters packed earmuff to earmuff. They jostled in wonderment before a golden, twinkling display of mechanized, electronic joy. Inside the window was the holy grail of Christmas gifts.
There was something in this window that Ralphie wanted so much that he got so close to the window that his nose was smashed down against the glass. It was a Red Rider 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in its stock and a thing that tells time.
For weeks, Ralphie had been screaming to get his mitts on one of these fearsome steel beauties. His fevered brain seethed with the effort of trying to come up with the infinitely subtle suggestions necessary to plant the Red Rider air rifle indelibly into his parents’ subconscious for that Christmas.
For his first attempt to do this, he took a huge ad for the Red Rider and put it into the “LOOK” magazine that had just come to the house. He placed it in the middle of an article about Clark Gable and Loretta Young. He knew that his parents would see that ad. But they never commented on it.
Next, he was sitting at the kitchen table and his mother said, “Well, Ralphie, what would you like for Christmas?” Without thinking, he blurted out, “I want the Red Rider BB gun.’ His mother just shook her head and said, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”
He knew that was strike one.
His father was at the table. He was always entering contests. (This was the hope of getting beyond the Depression.) He always entered contests in hope of that serendipity, something special and unexpected coming into his life. Ralphie’s little brother Randy was at the table, too. As most little brothers, Randy wouldn’t eat. The story says he hadn’t eaten voluntarily in over three years. His mother would constantly tell him there were starving people in China.
Preparing to go to school in Holman, Indiana, was like preparing for extended deep sea diving. You had so many clothes on that your arms stuck out at your sides and you couldn’t even move. You looked more like a dressed “T” than a person. Your whole face was covered, so you could hardly see. He remembers his elementary school, (Warren G. Harding Elementary School). He was in the third grade and his teacher was Mrs.Shields.
That afternoon the teacher decided she would have the kids write a theme.
The subject was “What I Want for Christmas.” Ralphie knew that he was up at bat again. This time, he wrote in eloquent terms about the Red Rider BB gun. He turned it in, knowing that he would get the highest grade in the class. About a week later, he got his theme back and he received a C- for it. Down at the bottom of the paper the teacher wrote: ‘You’ll shoot your eye out.”
This was strike number two.
In December, 1937, the highest thing in a kid’s life happened on a Tuesday evening at 6:45pm. Little Orphan Annie was on the radio, brought to the listening audience by rich, chocolaty Ovaltine. Now, Ralphie has spent months drinking Ovaltine to get a secret seal to send into Orphan Annie so he could have a decoder ring. At the end of every broadcast, there was a special code given out for only those who had the decoder ring.
11-Y-36-N-27… The code went on and on.
This night was a special night because Ralphie had received his decoder ring that afternoon. He was quickly writing down the secret message as it was broadcast. It was so important, (according to Ralphie), that the nation’s welfare depended on his deciphering the message.
He went upstairs and locked himself in the bathroom and slowly deciphered the code. It was one of the biggest disappointments in his life when he looked down and saw what the message was after it was decoded. It said, “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.”
That night, Ralphie and his family went downtown to the Christmas Emporium of the Midwest to choose a Christmas tree. There were over 300 trees to choose from. He went in and got the biggest tree that he could possibly get. After they got their special tree home, every time they tried to plug in the lights on it, the fuses would go out.
The family sang Jingle Bells and it was a time that superseded anything that was happening outside with the economy in our country, it superseded the Depression. It superseded the hardship the family was going through. They had each other and with each other they could create hope, peace, love and joy.
The next day they went downtown to the Christmas Parade. At the end of the parade Santa Claus officially came into town. Santa got off the float and went into Higby’s. He sat upon a mountain where the line formed to see Santa. Ralphie was at the end of the line. He remembers that the line stretched all the way back to Terre Haute.
He finally got up to Santa, and he realized that this was his last chance. He sat on Santa’s lap and said “I want the Red Rider BB gun.” Santa looked down at him and said, ‘You’ll shoot your eye out.”
Christmas finally came. Snow was falling. Santa had come.
All the gifts were opened. Everyone sat in the living room, filled with joy. The father said, “Well, Ralphie, did you get everything you wanted for Christmas?”
Ralphie said, “Well, almost.”
The father said, “Well, there’s always next year.” Then the father looked and said, “Wait a minute. What is “that” behind the tree?” Ralphie looked up and his eyes got big. He went over and got the long box and tore open the paper.
Inside, unknown to his mother, was the Red Rider RB gun.
The father just shrugged his shoulders and said to the mother, “Well, I had one when I was eight.” Ralphie went outside and put the tin target up.
He aimed the air rifle and pulled the trigger. The BB hit the tin target and the BB was deflected back and hit Ralphie right under his eye. His glasses went off into the snow, and were eventually broken.
Meanwhile, Ralphie’s father was in the kitchen, trying to steal some of the turkey. Mothers are strange creatures. They know from 300 yards what the men are doing in the house. She shouts down from upstairs, “You stay away from that turkey!” Right away, he goes into the living room and sits down with his newspaper. Everything is right with the world. He’s in his favorite easy chair reading his newspaper, smelling his favorite dish, and he hears a sound. He puts down his newspaper and goes into the kitchen.
Someone has left the door open and the neighbors’ hound dogs scrambled into the kitchen and devoured the turkey.
SO, the family went out to eat in the only restaurant open in town–The Chop Suey Palace. He remembers this, too, as his favorite Christmas meal because Peking Turkey is duck and they leave the head on it. During the whole meal it was smiling back at Ralphie.
Soon it was Christmas night. All the lights were off. The two boys are in bed sound asleep. Randy is holding his favorite gift and Ralphie is holding his Red Rider BB gun.” Hope –
This story tells us about the God-given gift of togetherness. It is more powerful than anything in the outer world. It tells us the story of rekindling our hope, our peace, our love for each other, and our joy like a child, to bring the holiday into full manifestation in our life. Then it tells us that we make our own Christmas wherever we go.
We are all given the power and faith of God’s hope to go beyond all distractions placed in front of us and to celebrate that Hope and the Joy of the SEASON. Christmas is not with material presents, but with the spiritual presence of God.
We think about Jesus as an adult – those special three years of His ministry. But Jesus once was an eight year old boy, like Ralphie, with parents. Mary was about twenty and Joseph closer to forty or so. Their home life must have been good because He often referred to becoming like a little child again; to see life with eyes of hope and wonderment. How much wonder this Child must have had about the future.
We don’t read much in The Bible about this, but religion is about daily life and how we are living it each day.
Jesus was born and He brought hope, peace of mind, love, and enjoyment into the daily world. Jesus’ teachings brought these ultimate Christmas gifts to you. When you follow His teachings you can have new hope today in your daily life, no matter what is going on.
In Luke 1:79, before the birth of Jesus Christ, it says: “Jesus is coming to guide our feet into the way of peace.” After the birth, in Luke 2:14 the angels said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
I pray that you do so now. Go with God and overcome conditions. Go with God and overcome challenges and problems. Put all your hope and praise in God.
Hope with God and make Christmas real today and every day.
God Bless You!