Advent Traditions Can Help Us Slow Down and Get Ready

Every year the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day seems to go very fast for me. I know the advice when life gets going too fast is to slow down and enjoy the moments. How can I slow down when there is so much that needs to get done?

A good way for me to slow down my life and home is to adopt or renew some traditions in my home for Advent and Christmas. Advent is a season filled with expectations and anticipations that focus on the longing for the arrival of Jesus Christ. We rejoice that Christ was born in Bethlehem. We also renew our longing for Christ in our personal lives. As I look to the past and present, I also look forward to Christ’s Second Coming. I trust that even in our present chaos there will be a time when the fullness of the kingdom of God will be revealed.

The traditions of Advent and Christmas prepare us to receive the gift of Jesus and also help us to look forward to His kingdom to come. As I think about adding traditions into my family, my goal is to help my life slow down. It feels counter-intuitive to slow down by becoming busier. So my goal is not simply to become busier. I want the pace of my home to slow down by centering our lives on what makes everything else important.

Here are a couple of Advent and Christmas traditions that may help you and your home refocus on the coming of Jesus Christ in your life and in the world.

Home Devotions

Daily devotions in the home are good because it is important that we keep our lives crafted by the Word of God. During Advent many good resources are published to encourage home devotions. So if you have not gotten in the pattern of home devotions, Advent is a well-resourced time to begin. The daily devotions published by Lutheran Indian Ministries can be found on the countertop in the narthex at St. Paul. This organization shares the Gospel of Jesus Christ with Native American people, encouraging them to proclaim Christ’s Kingdom to their own and to others. This devotion booklet is a great resource they provide for congregations. I think you will enjoy reading the devotion for each day. Besides picking up the devotion booklet in the narthex, you can go to lutheranindianministries.org/devotions#advent to download the entire 2016 Advent Devotions booklet. We have a few copies available  of an Advent daily devotion booklet called “Jesse Tree,” which matches the program we will be using for our Advent Midweek Vespers.

Advent Calendars

The Advent Calendar is a special calendar that is used to count down the days in anticipation of Christmas. Chocolates, legos, or toys can all be found behind the doors of an Advent Calendar. The calendar helps build expectation for the arrival of Jesus at Christmas. In the past, our family has purchased our Advent calendars at Aldi. They are cheap and filled with chocolate, which is a great combination.

Advent Wreaths

The Advent wreath, like the calendar, helps build the expectation for Christmas to arrive. It is usually an evergreen wreath with four candles and a white candle in the center. Each week in Advent another candle is lit during the time of Bible reading and prayers. By the end of Advent all four candles are lit, and everyone is encouraged to see that the light of the world is arriving. The fifth candle, in the center, is lit with the arrival of Christmas. The Advent wreath works well alongside of home devotions to mark the passage of time towards Christmas.

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Midweek Simple Supper and Vespers

On Wednesday November 30, December 7, and December 14 St. Paul Lutheran Church will host a simple supper and vespers. The simple supper at 6pm is a potluck meal. The signup sheets to announce what you will bring hang on the clipboards in the fellowship hall. Even if you don’t bring something to eat, you can come and enjoy the food. There has always been enough food for everyone who comes. Vespers, a prayer service, will start at 7pm. The prayer service lasts about 45 minutes. This year our services will focus on the tradition of the Jesse Tree. The tradition is to highlight different people from the genealogy of Jesus. Each week we will look at four people and rejoice at how God was at work in their lives. During the meal there will be ornaments for each character which can be decorated.

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Carols

I love singing Christmas carols. I am so pleased that my wife will sit at our home piano and play Christmas carols. Fire up Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Music, or one of the other streaming services to listen to some Christian carols.

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Children’s Christmas Program

On December 18 at the 11am service we will enjoy a children’s Christmas program. The children and youth of our congregation will help us see the joy in the coming of Jesus. The preservice music for this service will be an offering of talents from our young musicians. Plan to arrive early and wonder at their gift in spreading the good news that Christ our savior is born in Bethlehem.

Christmas Decorating

The traditions of decorating the home and the church for Christmas are wonderful. I know some homes which are overtaken with Christmas decorations, and that you will be fortunate if you do not trip over one of many Christmas trees in the home. I love the excitement of refreshing our homes for the arrival of the greatest guest our world has ever received. Our church is decorated on November 29 at 9am. We are always looking for strong people to help us raise the tree. After the tree is up, we add the chrismons to the tree. Chrismon is a contraction of Christ and monograms because each symbol is representative of the name of Jesus. They remind us of how Christ is the fulfillment of God’s promises. I think it is okay if your decorations are over the top. We are celebrating the event that all history hinges upon.

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Advent by Candlelight

On Monday, December 5 at 6pm the women in our congregation and community ages 13-113 will encourage one another to find strength and renewal in the gift of Jesus.

Special Worship Services

Your family will be blessed by participating in the worship opportunities at St. Paul Lutheran Church. On Christmas Eve there will be Lessons and Carols with Holy Communion at 4pm, 7pm, and 10pm. On Christmas Day we will gather to receive the promise that Jesus is born at 10am. Prepare to enter the New Year enriched by the Word of God on New Year’s Eve at 7pm and New Year’s Day at 10am.

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Sermon from 1st Sunday after Christmas

A study in Joseph’s movement through
Law and Gospel
Love of God in free service to neighbor
Obedience in suffering

Intro the scene: Today we continue the celebrations of Christmas as we become witnesses to the reality that Joseph raised this holy child in a world which provides grave threats to the child born to his beloved wife Mary.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The shepherds visited. Mary treasured all these things in her heart and the shepherds returned glorying and praising God.

Later, when the Holy Family are in a house in Bethlehem, wise men visit bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, myrrh.

Then a difficult transition is made that seems so jarring in the midst of the carols and presents. Joseph is warned in a dream to take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt and remain there until told. For Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

Herod’s desire to destroy this child is an indication that opposition will follow Jesus throughout his life.

Joseph rose and followed the commands of the angel. The family remained in Egypt until the death of Herod, interestingly we can use this information to help understand when Jesus was born. Herod died in 4 BC. So certainly Jesus was born before Herod’s death and so born before 4 BC.

There is a child’s story told about the Holy Family hiding in a cave. A spider was there in that cave and wanted badly to do something for the little King. The spider decides to give what he can – he spins a web at the entrance of the cave, creating a curtain that keeps out the evening cold. Then some soldiers come looking for the Holy Child and approach the cave. Seeing the spider’s web is undisturbed, they assume the cave is empty. The spider saved the little King’s life! So as the legend goes, this is why we put tinsel on our Christmas trees, recalling the glistening web of the spider at the cave’s entrance. There is of course no corroboration for this story, but it is lovely to tell how this little child, in whom heavenly and earthly had become one, humbled himself to need the care and protection of Joseph and even that little spider.

The fright of Joseph and Mary, as the rose with the child to flee to Egypt, is so jarring against the backdrop of the visit of the shepherds and the wise men.

Some families have known first hand the two-fold reality of Christ being born and specifically being born into a world full of sin and struggle. On Christmas Eve there were people in the emergency rooms of the hospitals around us. On the day after Christmas I was in a hospital visiting someone and I was struck by the reality that even while I enjoyed opening presents with my family and enjoyed a peaceful Christmas day, there were many who were suffering and dying.

I was also grieved to read that there were Christians in Iraq that heard the sounds of bombs jarringly disrupt their worship and kill 37 people.

This first Sunday after Christmas with its gospel reading from Matthew reveals that we cannot be blind to the real world in which Jesus is born.

How do we worship the newborn king while we live in a world filled with so much evil?
We will answer this question as we move from the majesty of the miraculous birth of our Lord and him receiving of the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, to Joseph being warned in a dream to take his family and flee to Egypt.

Joseph and the Holy Family experience the grave struggle against sin. Herod was breathing his murderous threats against this child knowing that he has been deceived by the magi who, having been warned in a dream, returned home by another way.

We continue to live in a world with Herod type men and women who seek to harm the good news message of Jesus. We continue to live in a world in which people still must seek refuge, shelter, protection from the dangers of this world.

Joseph is a witness to us that we cannot control how the good news is shared in this world. Jesus arrived in the midst of an evil world. We can respond like Herod and so see Jesus as a threat to our power and selfish desires. Or we can respond like Mary who pondered everything in her heart, or like the shepherds that returned glorying and praising God for all that they had seen and heard, or like Joseph we can rely on God to guide us.

Joseph did not rely on his own strength to defeat the threat of Herod. He trusted in the word of God that was delivered to him by the angel. Our deliverance from the evil of Herod continues to have trust in the Word of God.

The response to Jesus being born can be either to breathe murderous threats of Herod or care taking of Joseph. Which response will you make?

God will continue to bring into his world the good news of Jesus, even while the threats of evil seem to silence the celebrations. The Gospel of Matthew shows God’s controlling hand works so that even the evil of Herod would serve his divine purposes. There were prophecies that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem, come out of Egypt, and be a Nazarene. God worked through the treachery of the world to yet accomplish his purposes.

The plan of God for salvation through Christ moves relentlessly forward. The evil in this world cannot stop this good news and will only find themselves unwittingly used by God to fulfill his promises in even more remarkable ways. Men who fight against the promises of God will fail.

Herod the Great died. Jesus and his family were able to return. They did not settle in Bethlehem because they heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod. Archelaus was known for his evil and in AD 6 the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem forced Rome to recall him and he was exiled.

As dependent as a child is in this world, God yet reveals that he can fulfill his promises. Our greatest strength is found in humbly trusting in the plans and purposes of God and so trust him to be our salvation. In the trust that God is our salvation, we will love God and serve our neighbors. Our obedience may bring us into frightful moments of suffering, but we will trust God to be our protector and guide. Even in the midst of the greatest of evils and treachery we can remain faithful to God. The work of Jesus was not filled with interruptions or detours. God worked through the weakest moments to reveal his ability to bring about our salvation.

In your weak moments that jolt you away from the praises of the glories of the angels, trust in God to be your salvation.

Advent waiting

Advent is an ancient custom of the church. It is a time of waiting and anticipation. During this time we are invited in the readings from Isaiah to remember the Old Testament waiting for the messiah to come to rescue God’s people. We also find ourselves joining with Christians around the world as we eagerly anticipate the return of Christ on the Day of the Lord.

Since the fourth century, Christians have been observing this time of Advent as a period of fasting and penitence. As the darkness of winter crushes the spirit, I seize this moment to also be reminded that my sin is crushing me. Humanity is filled with a darkness that we cannot find our way out and so we need a new light to shine in this darkness. This time of preparation in Advent is a time to remember our need for the divine promises of God to be filled. The candles of the Advent wreath gradually are lit during this season and the fullness of God’s promises are anticipated.

It is in the midst of the winter darkness and my own sinfulness that I marvel that God would take upon himself our humanity. Jesus is the incarnation, the coming in the flesh, of our Lord God. As dark in death our sin has brought us, we are invited to rejoice that God has become flesh and dwelled among us. Even as I remember during this time of preparation my own sinfulness, I also rejoice that God has come to dwell among His people and rescue us lost and condemned sinners.

Come, let us adore Him.

+ In Nomine Jesu +
Christmas 2012
“No gimmicks!”

The story is well-known but it is not worn out. Someone at the bank asked if I was worried about preaching something exciting for all the visitors at Christmas time. I answered no. I want to share with you that I am certain my confidence is not founded upon my own greatness. I am not worried about needing a gimmick tonight, because I trust that the story of Jesus being born for us requires no cute stuff.

O come, Thou, Day-Spring, come and cheer
clip_image002Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Even my favorite Christmas songs don’t rely on any gimmicks. I love that Christmas is a time filled with songs. Some Christmas songs can be cute. But in the end my favorite Christmas songs are the ones that point me to Jesus.

Yes, I know…Christmas music is not loved by everyone and it can be hard to maintain love for Christmas music when it starts being played so early. There are some songs from Christmas that I can listen to endlessly and there are some songs that have worn out their welcome.

I believe that the music of Christmas in the church is some of the best we have in our hymnal. There are many church bodies that have abandoned the core theologies of what it means to trust in Jesus as the savior from sin, but interestingly if you take a moment to investigate the hymnals in the pews you will still find good Christmas hymns with good Christmas theology.

Because people have for centuries gathered as believers in Christ in their town squares, villages, parlors, living rooms and sanctuaries to celebrate the birth of Jesus, these hymns are not going to be quickly abandoned. Some of my cherished moments at Christmas time involve my family gathering around the piano in our family room and singing carols. I enjoyed going caroling this year with my family and friends from church. Continue reading

Jubilee

This Sunday at St. Paul in Hamburg our Sunday school children will help tell the Christmas story.

The annual Christmas program by the children is a highlight for my Christmas preparations. I love the hard work that my wife, along with so many wonderful people at our congregation, puts into teaching the kids the story  of Jesus’ birth.

This year our program is from CPH and it is written by Terry Dittmer. It is called, “Christmas Jubilee.” This program gives us the chance to teach the Sunday school children Christmas hymns. We also have the chance to learn from the children our redemption, freedom and restoration – Jubilee – has arrived in Christ’s coming.

I like the old school idea of children taking turns reading from the Scriptures and walking us through the promises for Jubilee in the Old Testament and the fulfillments of the New Testament. I don’t need a secondary plot with artificial dialogue. I need to hear the joy and freedom that our savior has been born for us our hopes have found fulfillment in Jesus.

This afternoon at the bank I was asked if I am real busy this time of year. Yes, I am certainly busy but I also have the joy of knowing that, shazam, we have good news to share with our community. When I preach this Christmas I have confidence that I don’t have to come up with a gimmick. I need to tell the truth. Our savior has come and he will come again. This is good news.

Our children are not coming up with any gimmicks this Sunday. They will share the good news that we have freedom from our sins, because our savior has been born.