Ready or Not, Here God Comes/What Makes People Grateful?
Preparing for the First Sunday of Advent & Thanksgiving Day (optional): Three Days Before Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 25:1-10
Old Testament: Nehemiah 9:6-15
Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
O God of all the prophets, you herald the coming of the Son of Man by wondrous signs in the heavens and on the earth. Guard our hearts from despair so that we, in the company of the faithful and by the power of your Holy Spirit, may be found ready to raise our heads at the coming near of our redemption, the day of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Ready or Not, Here God Comes!
The Christmas season is upon us. Preparations are being made. Food is being prepared, the house will soon be cleaned, presents have been and will be purchased and wrapped. Ready or not, Christmas is upon us.
For American culture, the Christmas season begins November 1. Americans go all out observing Halloween, dressing up and passing out candy, then the next day we immediately start decorating and shopping for Christmas. When I was young, the Christmas season didn't start until the day after Thanksgiving. After Halloween we prepared for Thanksgiving-- cornucopias, dried leaves, and pilgrims-- no one shopped or decorated for Christmas until the Friday after Thanksgiving. Now Thanksgiving seems like a small blip on the radar, a short interlude on the way from Halloween to Christmas.
In that context the church calendar is all the more important. In the church, we count time differently. When the world has entered into the throes of Christmas six weeks before the season, the church says, "Wait! The celebration of "God with Us' is so important, so significant, and so cosmic, that we need time to prepare!" And by prepare, the church doesn't mean making sure there's cranberry sauce on the table Christmas Day or that all the presents are wrapped. What the church means by taking time to prepare during the four weeks of Advent is that we must prepare spiritually. We must hear the words of John the Baptist once again, "Repent! The kingdom of God is at hand!" Our hearts, our minds, and our spirits need to be made ready. Celebration can only be had after preparation. And as we prepare for Christ’s first Advent, right over our shoulder watching is his Second Advent. Paul reminds us in today’s Epistle reading:
So then, let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
John begins his Gospel with the words, "In the beginning." Clearly we are meant to be transported back to the first book of the Bible when it all began, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Way back in the time before time, God spoke and the universe exploded into existence, space and time moving out in an instant expanding from nothingness into creation-- physicists call it cosmic inflation. The Word of God spoken is powerful! It brings all things into existence. It hurls the planets into their orbits and puts the stars in their place. It's a mystery beyond comprehension; yet we are here, we exist to reflect upon it.
But John is not content to leave us back in the past at the moment of creation. The powerful Word of God that creates all things is still active. Creation gives way to new creation. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). John is telling us that the Word of Creation, the powerful, incomprehensible, infinite Word of God-- God himself-- packaged himself in the flesh of a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. The same incomprehensible God in a way we cannot fathom, enfleshed himself in a first century Jewish baby in order "to live among us." In Jesus, God moved into the human neighborhood.
Is it any wonder we need Advent? We cannot welcome God with Us without preparation. We must get ready. The Creator of the Universe is also our Savior! In Christmas, God doesn't just give us a gift of information about himself. God gives us the gift of himself. Jesus is true God of true God. It's impossible to imagine, but the God who creates all things will not be tamed by our inability to comprehend, understand, or even believe. God will not conform to what we think is possible.
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
So, ready or not, here God comes. We need to prepare for this cosmic Christmas. We need Advent. But even if we are not ready, God has still arrived wrapped in swaddling clothes. God will not even be bound by our lack of readiness.
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Thanksgiving U.S.A. Holiday Readings (optional)
Old Testament: Joel 2:21-27
Psalter: Psalm 126
Epistle: 1 Timothy 2:1-7
Gospel: Matthew 6:25-33
O God, in your Son Jesus Christ you richly bless us with all that we need, bread from the earth and the bread of heaven, which gives life to the world. Grant us one thing more: grateful hearts to sing your praise, in this world and the world to come. Amen.
What Makes People Grateful?
When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive—to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love. –Marcus Aurelius
I have this quote on a card in my office at home where I can see it from my desk. It is one of my favorites.
Why is it that some people live their lives in gratitude and generosity, while others are seemingly ungrateful and stingy? I think the critical element is to be found in this quote from Marcus Aurelius.
Grateful people know that life is not something they deserve. Every new day is received not as payment on a debt owed, but as a gift given for no other reason than the One who gives it wants to do so. Even each breath is taken not as something only understood physiologically, but as a reminder that the One who gives each day is also present in each moment. Grateful people are astonished by the blessings they have received because they know that such joys are not deserved. Thus, persons who live their lives in gratitude focus on what they have been given, not on what has been denied.
And grateful people are generous. They are generous because they know that since what they have received is not owed to them, then neither do they own what they have received. As they have been blessed, so they in turn desire to bless others. They have known the joy of astonishment in receiving what they have not merited, and they want to pass such joy on to others.
Grateful people have no sense of self-entitlement. They do not ask what other people, the government, and the rest of the world owe them. Instead they ask what it is they owe to others, not because they must pay a debt they have not incurred, but on account of the fact that they want to reflect the character of the One who has so blessed them.
Grateful people can be found among the rich, the middle class, and the poor. Their ungrateful counterparts also know no social and economic boundaries. I have known very wealthy people who, in their gratitude, give out of their substance, and I have witnessed those who, in their poverty, have gratefully given out of what they have to live on tomorrow. I have also seen those who are quite rich refuse to be generous because, as they say, “That’s what I pay my taxes for!” Their ungrateful but impoverished counterparts emulate them in focusing only on what they think others have denied them. In resentment over the “blessings” they have not received, it never occurs to them that, even in their want, they can still find ways to bless others.
Grateful people embrace the generous wastefulness of God’s grace, and then pass that grace on to others, reveling in the joy of astonishment they have experienced.
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