Here are the notes of the sermon I delivered the third Sunday of Advent, 2020
Advent 3 – Dec. 13 What is Christmas all about?
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
61:1 The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 61:2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 61:3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion– to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory. 61:4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. 61:8 For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 61:9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the LORD has blessed. 61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 61:11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.
126:1 When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
126:2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” 126:3 The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced. 126:4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb. 126:5 May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. 126:6 Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves. . . . . . . . . the watercourses in the Negeb is the dry beds in the desert that become torrential streams in times of rain and flood.
1:26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 1:28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 1:29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 1:30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 1:31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 1:32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 1:33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 1:34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 1:35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 1:36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 1:37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 1:38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
The words from Isaiah were the words Jesus says in Luke, Chapter 4:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Isaiah is talking about liberation for the Israelites enslaved under the Egyptians.
Jesus takes it a step further, and is bringing the kingdom of heaven to us, right here, right now.
What does the Lord’s prayer say about God’s kingdom? What do we say every week?
“Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.
Jesus brings the kingdom of heaven, to earth, so that we can do God’s will on earth, as it is done in heaven.
And what is God’s will? What does this look like, this kingdom on earth?
Isaiah, chapter 61, verse 8 “For I the LORD love justice.” Justice.
Jesus brings good news for the poor, for the blind, for the bound, and for the broken-hearted.
Jesus brings liberation.
Liberation from poverty, from pain, from oppression. Jesus brings the balm for sadness and suffering.
God loves poor people – that’s why there are so many of us.
But more than that, God expects us to treat others as we would treat Jesus. We might be entertaining angels unaware when we welcome widows, orphans and strangers.
God took on human form in the shape of a child. A helpless infant. A stranger in the manger. A stranger in a strange land. What we do for the least of us, we do for Jesus.
On December 3, 1978, South American priest Father Oscar Romero wrote a PRAYER FOR ADVENT
Advent should admonish us to discover
in each brother or sister that we greet,
in each friend whose hand we shake,
in each beggar who asks for bread,
in each worker who wants to use the right to join a union,
in each peasant who looks for work in the coffee groves,
the face of Christ.
Then it would not be possible to rob them,
to cheat them,
to deny them their rights.
They are Christ,
and whatever is done to them
Christ will take as done to himself.
This is what Advent is:
Christ living among us.
Christ was born to an unwed mother, from a town in Galilee called Nazareth, on the outer edge of the known world.
God didn’t write across the sky with chariots of fire. Jesus didn’t appear miraculously on the steps of the Acropolis in Athens. He didn’t demand a meeting with the Emperor in Rome. The Holy Spirit didn’t topple the Roman government and wipe out an oppressive, occupying army.
God became known to humanity in the physical form of a humble child.
God became known to us, as people created in God’s image – to love and be loved.
Each of us is created in God’s image – to love and be loved.
Love – like a mother loves her child.
Love – connects us to God.
Love – connects us to one another, when we share the love of God.
Sometimes it’s difficult to connect with others, and with the love of God.
It’s not easy connecting when we’re all wearing masks, or are afraid to go out in public. Or we’re afraid to be around friends and family, because someone may get sick, and die.
This is one of the reasons Christmas feels different this year.
55 years ago, on Thursday, December 9, 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas was seen in more than 15 million homes, capturing nearly half of the possible audience. That week it was number two in the ratings, after Bonanza. It won critical acclaim as well as an Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s Program and a Peabody Award for excellence in programming. It’s been televised every year since.
Except this year. Apple TV, a streaming service, bought the rights, and they are showing it. Initially, there was such a huge outcry, that they’ve allowed it to be seen for free. But I don’t know how to stream on Apple TV, do you?
Fortunately, because of the public complaints, it will air Sunday, Dec. 13, at 7:30 p.m. on public television
For the first time in 55 years, A Charlie Brown Christmas wasn’t going to be on broadcast TV.
Christmas feels different this year.
We look around at the empty pews and think of the people who aren’t here. We think about the people we miss. Those who are far away. Those who have passed away. Those who have gone away. Those who stay away. There will be empty chairs this year.
Christmas feels different this year.
The trees are trimmed. Packages wrapped. The tables are decorated. Christmas cards are sent and received. The lights are on, telling us it’s the most wonderful time of the year. And yet it feels different this year.
It’s less than two weeks away, and no matter how hard we try, Christmas feels different this year.
When A Charlie Brown Christmas was broadcast in 1965, there was some criticism, because Linus quotes directly from the King James version of Luke chapter 2
Exasperated, Charlie Brown asks, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”
Linus walks onto the stage of the Christmas pageant, and says:
“And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid … And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not! For, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward men.
“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
That’s what Christmas is all about.
Dear Lord, please keep the Spirit with us, even in our darkest moments. Please give us the strength and courage to be good to each other, to be able to comfort and support each other. Help us to see you working in our lives each day. We ask that you remind us of your grace and your ever-present love. We ask these things in your son’s holy name.