This sermon was delivered by Wendell L. Griffen, pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark, on November 22 2009.
What are we doing in this place? What is the meaning of what we see and hear? What’s going on? If someone should walk into this place and ask those questions, I have an answer in four words. But because I a preacher and preachers always use more words than necessary to say anything, I not stop with four.
Singing. We are singing about God’s love. We are singing that God loves the world and people. We are singing that God’s love is not some hypothetical or imaginary or illusion, but that it is real. And we are singing that God’s love is personal. Not merely personal to and for every person and creature, but that God is personal in loving us. God has not out-sourced love. God has not delegated love, with all its vulnerability and risk of rejection. We are singing about a love so Personal that it took a human name and a human frame and endured human pain. We are singing about love here today, because Advent is the season that reminds humanity that God is love—real, personal, human, redeeming, and oh so very necessary for us to live with hope.
Remove love from Christianity and we have a religion that does not deserve to be accepted. Remove love from God and we have a Deity that is either a Fiend or Tyrant. But because we know and trust that God is Love, and that we have experience Love most sublimely and personally through knowing Jesus Christ, we sing. We sing of Emmanuel—God with us. We sing about Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus Christ—the God-Man of Love. We urge each other to spread the news about Jesus Christ—”Go Tell It on the Mountain!” We sing with glad hearts because God’s Love makes us glad, gives us strength, and comforts us during even our times of greatest pain and trouble. We are here singing, because the Love of God that we know in Jesus Christ has inspired great songs and great singing, including songs from people whose voices may not be clear but whose hearts are in tune with the Love that is God and the God who is Love. We are here, singing, because of Love.
Seeing. We sing because we see. Christians affirm, always but especially during Advent, that God’s Life and Love has visible effect in the world. Yes, there is great suffering in the world. Yes, we individually pass through terrible situations. Sometimes life is tragic. Sometimes our situation looks dreadful. Sometimes, death, sin, and evil produce oppressive results to us, around us, and within us. Christians are not blind to these results, or ignorant about their causes.
Nevertheless, Advent season affirms that we see God’s Life and Love working anyway. We see God’s life despite the pain and burden of death. We see God’s Love despite the evidence of hate and fear around us. We see God, the invisible One. At Advent, we who have seen what sin, death, and evil can do, affirm to each other and to a questioning world that we see God continuing to work because we have seen what God has already worked in Jesus Christ.
Shining. Lights, blazing, luminous, sparkling, and colorful lights, have long been a prominent feature of the Advent season. The shining and colorful vessels of light, and the colorful vessels that we use to reflect the light that shines, speak to us about God’s Truth. In a dark world, God’s Truth still shines. In a confused world, God’s Truth still shines. In the midnights of our various situations, God’s Truth still shines.
At Advent, Christians look at the faces of people in our worried and weary world and say, the Truth is still shining. Sometimes it shines like a candle, flickering, almost fleeting and appearing to be on the verge of being snuffed out by wicked schemes, plots, and misguided people. But it shines anyway. Sometimes the winds of change appear to blow out the light, but the Truth still shines. In dark seasons of the soul, and dark places in every society, the Truth must shine, because God is Truth, and Truth does not die. Truth cannot be extinguished. It may smolder, but eventually, it will erupt in a brilliant blaze to guide the lost, comfort the cold, and expose corruption and error. We sing, because God’s Love and Life is True, and visible, and Shines on us. And because it shines, we shine in it. This is true at Advent, and always.
Sharing. God has shared Life with us, Love with us, and Truth with us in Jesus Christ. So Advent is a season for sharing that Life, Love, and Truth. Advent calls us to be partners with God, in Jesus Christ. We are called to share in His holy life by faith. We are called to share in His Love, by faith. We are called to share in His Truth, by faith. And we are called to share God’s Life, Love, and Truth in all our relationships.
Advent season reminds us that all beings and creation share One God. We share this world and its resources. We live our highest and best when we share in the spirit that God has shared. We relieve suffering by sharing. We lift burdens by sharing. We inspire hope by sharing. We declare that we are people of God by our sharing.
Advent is not about ostentatious giving, but about obedient and reverent sharing. God shared Love, Life, and Truth with us at Bethlehem through an humble girl from working class people, not at Jerusalem or Rome in an ornate ceremony. We sing and read about the Magi who visited the Christ child and shared their gifts. Let us remember, however, that the Magi did not present gifts to draw attention to themselves or what they were giving, but to show reverence for the Christ. In the same way, our giving will only be sharing when it is done with reverent hearts.
Advent season draws nigh, so we are Singing, Seeing, Shining, and Sharing. Advent season draws nigh, because God’s Love deserves our Song, God’s Life is too real to not see, God’s Truth is too brilliant to be hidden by the darkness of our situations and the reality of evil, and God’s Christ deserves our reverent acts of sharing. We sing of God’s Love. We see God’s Life. We are inspired by God’s Shining Truth. And we share in reverence for the Christ who is the Way, Truth, and the Life to God.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.