First Congregational Church
December 1, 2013
First Sunday in Advent
"The Star of Creation"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Although part of my brain says it is "wrong" to have snow before Thanksgiving, another part of my brain was loving the quiet that descended from the heavens - and the great excuse for not blowing leaves. Many of you know I really do like to blow snow, but the first two snow blowing opportunities of the season were not all that fun, in large part because the snow was so water-laden. It wasn't until the sunshine yesterday noon that I realized that during all those days, blowing snow or just walking in it, took a fair bit of ground watching, which meant that at least for me, my head was down. It's a smart thing to look for ice and things under the snow that may trip us. But maybe it was the heavenly light of yesterday noon that it dawned on me I had been forgetting to also look up. In that realization, I'm thinking that I may not be the only one that has been distracted from seeing all that is really going on around us.
Since I paid good money to Bethel Theological Seminary, there is a phrase that will come up a lot in this morning's scripture passage. It is "the Word" - with a capital W. It's an interesting little realization that way back in the beginning of the Bible, Genesis 1:1 says, "In the beginning - God". Our passage for this morning from the beginning of the Gospel of John says, "In the beginning was the Word." Interesting, too, that in the third verse of Genesis 1, it says, "And God said," - which implies that God used words - of some fashion. It is from our scripture passage for this morning that we get the link that Jesus is the Word - with a capital W.
Part of the fun of the Bible is when it takes on the "puzzle" element. And even if we don't perfectly get how all those pieces fit together, if nothing else, sometimes the pieces are so beautiful - in and of themselves, the pieces alone can cause us to lift our heads from that which causes us to miss the beauty with which God surrounds us.
Our scripture passage for this morning may not seem all that typical for a first Sunday in Advent, but in listening to it, you might tip your head back a bit, close your eyes, and allow your mind to create the picture that rises up from it.
John 1:1-14 NIV
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Thank you, Andy. If we were sitting in a theater, Andy would have been on one side of the stage, with a spotlight shining at him, and the rest of the stage would have been in darkness. When he was done with the scripture passage, the lights would darken over him, and they would come up on Marti, who would be on the other side of the stage, and so our eyes would turn to this next vignette.
Grandma ... you always had the most beautiful Christmas trees! I remember how we used to go with Grandpa and cut dow a tree each year. It was always the Sunday afternoon after Thanksgiving. We'd drive to that small forest out west of town. It was owned by Grandpa's friend. We would drive in the pickup back into the woods. We would then trudge through the snow on foot....looking for just the right tree. What an adventure! It was always so quiet, so beautiful, so serene.
And Grandpa, he was picky ... with a capital P. I'd point to trees. You would point to trees. He would take a quick look and say... "Nah, not that one!" And we would keep on looking. Then, when we finally found THE one, he would cut it down with his old saw. We'd pile it into the pickup and head back to town. You would make us up some hot chocolate to get ourselves warm, while Grandpa wrestled with the tree and got it into a stand. Once it was all set up, Grandpa would stand back and say ... "Now isn't that a pretty piece of God's creation right here in our living room."
But do you remember that one year, Grandma? The tree Grandpa picked out wasn't so great. Lopsided, that's what it was. In fact, it was SO lopsided, he finally had to take some wire and attach it to the trunk and then nail the wire to the wall just to hold it up. But even though that tree was not so great, he still looked at it and said... "Now isn't that a pretty piece of God's creation right here in our living room." Grandma ... I guess we are all a bit lopsided. Maybe there is a lesson somewhere in all of that?
Thank you, Marti. I love it that even one of my sermon writing heroes - Barbara Brown Taylor - uses Facebook. And I love it that she shared a little blurb this week that sort of made a lightbulb go off in my head. She said, ""God reaches out to us in countless ways through the material things of our lives: there are altars everywhere with sacraments just waiting to be discovered and celebrated. Anyone who has made annual pilgrimages home for Thanksgiving knows that the dining room table is one such altar, where sacraments of turkey and sweet potato pie evince the grace of a family whose loving of one another may from time to time far exceed their liking."
It wasn't the part about the love exceeding the liking of family that caught my attention, although it perhaps caught someone else. It was the part about the "altars everywhere with sacraments just waiting to be discovered and celebrated." The lopsided tree from the vignette is one such altar. From there, the potential altars for meeting God are endless! Wrapping a gift, preparing a particular food or meal, going to church - especially on Christmas Eve - even a snowblower can be an "altar with sacraments just waiting to be discovered and celebrated." And I'm pretty certain that few - if any other sermons over the earth today will link snowblowers with holy altars of discovery and celebration.
Maybe the lesson for this morning is the reminder that God not only uses lopsided trees to remind us of God's care for us, but that God uses - of all things - a baby to remind us of God's love for us. Maybe the lesson is to use the opportunity of "traditions" and preparations to remind us that God can - and does - speak to us words of beauty and inspiration. Maybe the lesson is that God - who created the world - with Christ and through Christ - and then gave us Christ - can create new "slates" and directions and lights for us to follow when we've somehow lost our way or been looking down for too long. Maybe the reminders each one of us needs comes through the scripture, or the vignette or Our Lord's Supper. Whatever the lesson God has for you - in this time of worship - be cognizant, too, of the Star of Creation that was present way back at the beginning of the beginning, shines on us, that our Advent waiting begins with blessing and the largesse of the same star that pointed to the Christ child all those years ago. So let the light shine as we prepare our hearts.
Let us pray. Star Creator and Soul Lover, we thank you for the endless altars that surround us, with sacraments waiting to be discovered and celebrated. We are especially grateful for the sacrament you gave us through Christ on his last earthly night. But thank you, too, for the altars of coffee cups and Christmas cards and waiting. Remind us in the coming week of that which you created and that which you are still creating - hope and love and joy and peace. In the awe and blessedness of being part of such creation, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.