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The Most Dangerous Thing About Advent

A re-post and update of one of my favs from a few years back.

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A lot of ministers love preaching during Advent…but it’s also dangerous!

For those of us in free church traditions, this is a time of year we can unapologetically turn to the lectionary and no one will give us grief about it. People also like preaching Advent sermons because words like peace and hope are easy to grab hold of. Plus, folks in the pew are typically glad to be worshipping together, congregations are filled with visitors, and sanctuaries are decorated in red and green. There are lots of good feelings around Christmas, and there should be.

At the same time, though, I fear some of the preaching during Advent is selective in it’s approach – a temptation even when it’s not Christmas. This year as I’ve re-read the birth narratives within the gospels, I’m shocked again by the scandal of the story; a story that is truly unbelievable without the asset of faith.

The story doesn’t stop at the scandal though. Just think about all those mothers clutching their little boys as King Herod’s minions draw knife and sword. And then, there’s John the Baptist, this wild man of the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord, while looking like the last person on Earth you’d want to be around.

John’s preaching also reminds us that life in the service of Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean a happy ending.

Christmas is a scary holiday.

It’s not kid’s stuff.

The birth of Jesus presents a threat to power. The coming of the Lord is a revolution of hope bought with the blood of someone’s son — both God’s and many other’s.  It’s about a pregnant teenaged mother and an uncertain earthly father given an offer he couldn’t refuse. The birth of Jesus is about lives turned upside down. It’s about one kingdom’s clash with another and the cold, hard truth that our personal and professional kingdom’s cannot be aloud to stand either.

In my house are several Nativity scenes. When I’m not thinking, these pieces of wood and marble are quaint, almost sentimental tellings of a wonderful tale. But when I am thinking, the scenes strip away the armor of my heart and reminds me that when Jesus was born nobody wanted him.

I have to ask myself again, “Do I want Him?” Do I want to invite in this man who’s birth causes such upheaval into my well manicured life (even though my life is not that well manicured). Christmas tells me that I am not the center of the universe, though so many other people want to tell me that I am. Christmas tells me that in some ways, from last year to this year, I have tried to leave the King out in the cold, and because of it, I’ve missed the angels rejoicing.

So, Christmas for me has a double-edge. While I love watching my daughters get excited about Santa and trees and decorating the house, there is a King coming, and he’s coming to turn the world upside-down.

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  • Joe

    For the record, I’m not so sure I like preaching Advent sermons. The lectionary texts are brutal, to be sure. Preparing for the coming of our Savior is no small thing and the selected texts scream this at the top of their lungs. John the Baptist, a guy we only come across a couple of times of year in the lectionary, is a guy would we avoid if we were to encounter him today. I doubt we’ll see “You brood of vipers!” on any Christmas cards this season.

    • Mark

      Perhaps though, the congregation needs to hear those brutal texts instead of having them there for no reason. When preachers like preaching on Paul, that is all the sermons tend to focus on. Change is not always bad.

  • Great thoughts. Thanks Sean.

  • Sean,
    Great post. I’m a little late but I love preaching those Christmas sermons though it seems to get harder every year to get variety in the preaching. You have some great thoughts about it.
    Thanks,
    Mark

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  • JWheatley

    In all of my years in the Church of Christ I have never heard a Christmas sermon, never heard the word “advent” used and never sung a Christmas song in December (although I have sung them in the middle of summer, which is really strange). I enjoy reading your blogs but they always serve to remind me that there is not one Church of Christ but several and that their beliefs are so far apart that we might as well be separate denominations. How can we ever reach the lost when we can’t even agree among ourselves?

  • Mark

    I know what JWheatley is talking about. I never heard it either until starting about 10 years ago and only in a few specific churches. One time I heard a real Christmas service with the gospel read while the congregation stood in a flagship cofC, but it was not repeated the next year. Obviously someone did not like it and had to ruin it for everyone. Finally a few churches are mentioning advent and have a Christmas Eve service. The not so hardline cofC members were often in the Methodist or episcopal churches on Christmas Eve. Let me commend Naomi Walters of the Stamford cofC for preaching an advent sermon for the 1st Sunday of advent. It is on line if you would like to hear it or read it.

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