Lectionary Year B
December 15, 2002
ThirdSunday in Advent
Psalm 126

Contemporary Address


This is a rough draft and starting point for a Sermon that will be preached for the First Presbyterian Church of Navasota, Texas. Communion will follow. The church is in a small town of 7000 or so, very near College Station, TX, and one hour northwest of downtown Houston. Congregation usually has about 100 in worship, ranging from very young all across the spectrum to very old.



(Psalm 126, John 1)
(Part of an Advent Series, "The First Christmas Carols")

      MANY OF US HAVE PLANS FOR THE HOLIDAYS. Some of us will travel "back home", to enjoy a Christmas homecoming with family. Others will be providing the "homecoming" as family and friends come to spend time with us. Now, a homecoming can be a wonderful experience. But so often, don't the "image" and the "reality" have a wide gap between them? Have you ever gone home, only to have that much-anticipated time somehow seem flat? Or have you ever had your eagerly-awaited company end up driving you crazy? Homecomings aren't always all they're supposed to be.

      Psalm 126 may have arisen from one of those. This is a "Song of Ascents". As pilgrims would "ascend" the rising road to Jerusalem, they would sing some of the Psalms. This one is full of nostalgia, of the memory of when God brought the exiles home from Babylon. The day of homecoming was wonderful! The trip back passed like a happy dream; even the enemy nations stood and watched in surprise and awe. But then...then came the years after. Years of rebuilding all that had been lost and wrecked. Life turned out to be pretty hard, compared to the joy of coming home. They wanted a taste of joy again! They wanted their fortunes to be as when they went singing and dancing back home.

      One of the dangers of this season is that at times we place unreasonable demands on it, and upon ourselves. Everything has to be perfect! We want to be upbeat and happy every moment. The family must come together with no unpleasantness or disagreements. No one will argue. Every present must be well-received. Our Christmas WILL be like the one in the coffee commercial, where "Peter" comes home and wakes everyone with the smell of fresh coffee for a joyous reunion.

      Well, "homecoming" IS part of the celebration of Advent and Christmas. But it should be turned around: we have cause to celebrate because of a home-LEAVING. When people were impressed by John the Baptist, and told him so, he pointed away from himself to the One coming after him: Jesus Christ. A great preacher named Karl Barth once tied the story of Christmas to the "Prodigal Son". Jesus is the Son who went to a Far Country, not because he held his Father in contempt, but out of the Father's compassionate love for us all. (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, ed. G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance, Edinburg: T & T Clark, 1936-77, Vol. IV Book 2, 21-25.) He came to us, and actually embraced human life on this earth. He knew grief, hunger, friendship, the love and pain of family life. Finally he knew death itself, on the cross. He lived, died, and rose to prepare a place for us in God's Kingdom, both here and now and when our own time on this earth is done. We long for a place where we can be loved, a home that will last. In Jesus Christ, that's what God has given us.

      Now, some of us are going to visit kin in the next couple of weeks. Others are already making preparations to clean house, bake goodies, and wrap presents in anticipation of our loved ones coming to see us. May we ALL have blessed experiences!

      But in the midst of all our fevered preparations-- whether we are excited or getting more peevish by the hour --let's not forget John the Baptist. Imagine him in desert garb, smelling of dust and sweat, standing in the shadows cast by our outdoor lights and our twinkling trees, lifting a hand and pointing. It's not in accusation, for he points beyond us, even beyond all the anticipation and excitement we can barely name...and yes, beyond all the pain and depression and heartache this season can also rend from us. He points to the Christ, who came into this world to "restore our fortunes", to prepare a "home" for us that will never crumble or be spoiled; to be our peace.

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