Year B Advent 3 John 1
John 1:6-8, 19-28

As a child I remember that the most difficult part of Christmas was simply waiting for it to come. From Thanksgiving to December 25 seemed more like an eternity than a month. Days seemed like weeks. Weeks felt like seasons. Time seemed to stand still.

Waiting is foreign to our society. It seems unnatural. We hunger for immediate gratification. The idea of delayed satisfaction is a stranger to our thinking.

The symbols of our unwillingness to wait are all around us. Fast food chains boom because we don't have time to eat. We stand in crooked lines, then yell out an order, get it down in five minutes and then get back to the rat race. We haven't got time to sit down and read a book anymore. Perhaps it is a sign of the times that we have condensed versions of the Bible. In kitchens all over America there are gadgets to get the meal prepared quickly. I would guess Mr. Coffee started it all. Simply spoon in the coffee and pour water. The coffee is made before you can even find a cup. When we become sick we want to be made well now, not later. Medicine, doctors, pastoral care and love are often rejected if they are not swift.

I, like you, accept most of our no-wait approach to life, with the exception of instant potatoes, which are intolerable. But the truth is that, though we do not like waiting, waiting is a part of living. We must wait for payday, a break, quitting time, and for the mailman. When you do your Christmas shopping, you had certainly better be prepared to wait in a line to get checked out, wait to get a parking place, and wait through at least four red lights before making a left hand turn on Poplar Ave.

But there are also very serious matters for which we wait. Some wait for health to return, some for the coming of food stamps, some for marriage or remarriage. We must wait for peace. A scared child waits for the coming of morning, and a scared adult awaits death. And an expectant mother waits for delivery. Waiting can be pure agony. It's like the jury is out.

The problem is that scripture time and time again tells us that God's clock is wound in a different way. Time is different to him. We look at seconds; he looks at the ages. Waiting, not hurrying is one of his characteristics. And this waiting God tells his people that often, they too must wait.

And that is where the story of Christmas really begins. It begins thousands of years before the birth of Christ. They longed for that one who would bring light out of darkness, and make the blind to see. They longed for that one who would turn their sorrow into joy, and vanquish their enemies. But, God said, you must wait. Let us look at how God's people have waited throughout the ages...

  1. Waiting in the Old Testament
  2. John the Baptist's Waiting
  3. The Waiting in Advent

Is Your Christmas Spirit a Controlled Substance?
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

We are two days into the "Twelve Days of Christmas" countdown. This means you are either swimming in the "Christmas spirit," or you have by now been swamped by the "Christmas spirit."

Which is it? How many of you are swamped? How many of you are swimming?

We are supposed to be suffused with the "Christmas spirit" these days. But here's our problem: the "spirit" that is touted as "Christmas," as in "Christmas spirit," isn't necessarily "Christian."

"Christmas spirit" has almost become synonymous with "schmaltz." You know "schmaltz:" sticky sweet, sappily sentimental, laden with story-book scenarios that make the Hallmark Channel look like WWE Raw. What passes as "Christmas spirit" in twenty-first century culture is all that is cuddly and cutesy, like the "Roly poly nativity" set for sale in the latest catalogue that just arrived: the holy family, three kings, angels, shepherds, and stable animals all rendered as round, rolly ceramic balls.

True "Christmas spirit" is something quite different. True "Christmas spirit" isn't nearly as "acceptable" as the feel-good fuzziness that permeates commercialized Christmas. So what is the true, not commercialized, non-consumerist "Christmas spirit?"

The "Christmas spirit" is a "free spirit."

Yes, you heard that right. You're having trouble hearing what I'm saying because you don't like what I'm saying. So let me say it again: The true "Christmas spirit" is a free spirit and a freeing spirit. The spirit that Christ's birth brought into this world is a free spirit, a spirit that frees us from fear, from fatalism, from failure of nerve.

Those words "free spirit" have been denigrated, even demonized, by the power banks and power brokers. "Free spirits" are denigrated when we equate them with fossils-from-the-sixties wearing pony-tails at one end and Birkenstocks (with socks) at the other end. In other words, in our minds "free spirits" are crunchy granola, earth-muffin tree-huggers.

Then there are the free spirits that are demonized by those who want to maintain the status quo. For them "free spirits" are those who refuse to toe the party line. A "free spirit" is dangerous and untrustworthy, a threat against authority, someone who goes off on their own, someone you can't control.

In both cases a "free spirit" equals someone outside the system, outside the norm, outside our safety zone.

Paul's message to the Thessalonian Christians reminds us what the "Christmas spirit" really is -- a "Christmas spirit" that relates less to Santa and Frosty and more to the Christ born into this world, miraculously offered to each and every one of us... presents Leonard Sweet