Not just for the Kids

Not just for the Kids

A sermon preached by Rev. David M. Crawford at Rundle Memorial United Church, Banff, on December 4, 2011(Advent 2).  Based on Isaiah 40:1-11.

I was watching CNN the other night,  watching a new host of a new “news” program.  It was near the end of her hour,  (Anderson Cooper
waiting in the wings), and she was finishing with a humorous little commentary on some weird web site her producers had found which they
felt was misusing the image of Santa.  CNN showed photos of this web site while the host added commentary.  I don’t recall a lot from her scripted comedy routine except for one statement, an often-heard verse in our time, repeated frequently in a culture that’s lost touch with the focus of Christmas.  “After all”, she said, “we all know what Christmas is about,  it’s about the kids!

I’ve always assumed from that statement, or others like it, that what is meant is – Christmas is about making sure the kids have a good time, making sure their notions of Santa are encouraged (until those notions are no longer useful), making sure, through our extravagantly-lighted homes, our wonderfully-decorated trees,  our particular family traditions, and the numerous community activities,  that their sense of wonder is nurtured, encouraged, adored,  for who knows how long it will last in their young lives?

Don’t get me wrong – in a way, December 25th and the weeks leading up to it,  is about the kids,  which is why this preacher standing before you, who sometimes resembles a big kid, still must watch “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” every year!  It’s tradition.  But surely there is another, deeper, eternal aspect to the season we’re in,  which is why this preacher must also watch, each year,  the Alistair Sim, 1951 version of “A Christmas Carol”!  Again, tradition.

Were it solely for “the kids” Christmas would likely be no different than Halloween, a fun day that comes and goes, all the hype of Christmas gone Noon Christmas Day,  the Christmas event and Christmas spirit taken away with all that wrapping paper carted off to the garbage bins, while we adults refocus,  prepare for the next societal distraction from the daily grind  – New Years or Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s or even The Easter Bunny not so far off.    But it is different, Christmas, and while this time of year is certainly partially about the kids, it is also, and I’d say more importantly, about we adults,  we who deal with very adult struggles, fears, and failures, even at Christmas-time,  we who at different points of our lives yearn for something more than childish legends, more than singing Rudolph and Frosty, we who know, in the depths of our souls, that candy canes and gingerbread and stockings hung by the chimney with care, will ultimately not do it for us, will not suffice will not feed our longing souls.

“Comfort ye”, sings the tenor soloist to begin Handel’s Messiah, King James version of course, “Comfort ye, Comfort ye, my people,  saith your God.”    And Handel knew, as the prophet himself knew, that a word of comfort, a promise of consolation,  is what the human spirit seeks, at
Christmas-time and any other time,  and not as we might say to one another, “Hang in there,…  Keep your chin up,… Don’t give up!”  but as God, the very Source of all Life, the Foundation of all that is, the Creator, saying to each of us, we, as the passage states, we God’s people,  “MY” people, says the Lord,  “Take comfort, take comfort;  I am near;  I “am”; I will come to you,  I will get you through this, whatever “this” is;  You are not alone…”

What was true for the ancient Israelites has been true for all throughout our long history of being in and out of relationship with God (mostly “in” by the way, especially when we didn’t think so)  —  a word of comfort when exiled in some foreign land of hurt or depression, sorrow or failure,  loss or tragedy;  a word of consolation and promise when things were at their very worst and the rent can’t be paid and the doctor says you have six months and…and…and… “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for God”, which means a highway to God.  “I will come to get you,” says the Lord, and “get you in the best way possible – rescue, redemption, renewal,  restoration.”

Alfred Delp was a German priest who wrote a series of Advent sermons in his prison cell where he was being held by the Nazis in 1943.   He
sermons begin:  ‘Advent is a time for rousing.  Human beings are shaken to the very depths, so that they may wake up to the truth of themselves and of God.  The primary condition for a truthful and rewarding Advent is … A shattered awakening; that is the necessary preliminary.  Life only begins when the whole framework is shaken.‘

The Nazis arrested Father Delp because he was a member of a group of Germans who dared to think about what a new social order might look like after Nazism’s inevitable collapse.  Such imagination was illegal, counter to the collective national delusion, so Father Delp and his friends were imprisoned and executed.  The dominant order cannot tolerate people running loose who have been roused, shaken by some counter-rationality, a vision of some alternative reality.

Father Delp noted that Isaiah, the great prophet of Advent, also wrote his words of hope in a politically hopeless time, not unlike that of Germany in the early 1940’s.

“From the imperial throne to the holy of hollies the outlook was hopeless… Hopeless – that is the iron with which history often seeks to fetter healing hands, to break the hearts of the enlightened few and reduce them to trembling hesitancy, cheap silence or tired resignation.”

Hopeless – an aspect of the human condition we all know, and which God knows we know!   Yet there is more than hopelessness  –  for exiled Jews enslaved in a foreign land;  for a world forlorn, oppressed by Roman domination 2000 years ago,, strangely enough “the fullness of time”,  in need of a Messiah;  for we in Banff in 2012, perhaps plagues by a lack of hope in our personal journeys.  There is more, there is hope, there is
comfort, there is God.

That’s what Advent reminds us.  That’s what Christmas promises, is all about, for we adults, and also the kids, and maybe the child within each of us.  There is hope, there is always hope,  for there is God. May the Lord be praised, and served, this day and forevermore. May all glory, honour, power and wisdom be to our God.  Amen.