Sermon: November 30, 2008

2 12 2008

November 30, 2008: Advent Week 1

You know, when I sat down about a month ago, I decided that I wanted to have a sermon series for this Advent.  But what should I preach on.  And then I thought – what about the Advent Wreath.  Every Advent we light the Advent Wreath.  Every Advent we do a special thing for the lighting of each candle.  That’s what I will do.  I will preach about the Advent Wreath – and the Four Candles – THE CANDLE OF HOPE – THE CANDLE OF PEACE – THE CANDLE OF JOY – THE CANDLE OF LOVE.

But then  I thought to myself – I wonder where all of this got started.  So I did what any normal person would do.  I went to WIKEPEDIA and here is what I found.

The earliest Advent wreaths were made in the Middle Ages; however, the first modern Advent wreath was made by Johann Hinrich Wichern (1808-1881). Wichern was a German theologian and educator who founded a home for poor children in the city of Hamburger. During the Advent season, the children would ask daily if Christmas had arrived. In 1839, he built a wooden ring  with 24 small red and 4 big white candles. A small candle was lit successively every day of Advent. On Sundays a large white candle was lit. This eventually led to the modern Advent wreath with its four candles.

About 1860, people started to entwine the wooden ring with evergreen cuttings. The Advent wreath became a German Christmas Tradition at the beginning of the 20th century. In Austria and southern Germany  it did not become a custom until after 1940.

So today I would like to start with the first Candle – the Candle of Hope.  And for this sermon I would like to share with you this reading from the Gospel of Luke:


In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

            You know, this promise of the Messiah couldn’t have come at a better time for the People of Israel.  These were a people who had given up.  These were a people who had believed – who had been taught – that they were the chosen ones.  They were the People of God.  All of their life they had been taught that they had a special relationship with God and that God would take care of them and provide for them.  Now all of a sudden that had been called into question.  They had been conquered by and were now ruled by Rome.  Every where they looked they saw Roman Soldiers.  Some of their young men had been taken to serve as slaves – in their military – in their mines.  They had to pay heavy taxes to finance the Roman War machine – to pay for the very soldiers who oppressed them.  These were a people who had given up on hope.  These were a people who had begun to believe that God had deserted them.  Maybe they had done something to anger God.  Whatever it was – these were a people who had lost hope.


            And now in the midst of this comes the Angel of the Lord comes to Zechariah.  The Angel of the Lord comes to Zechariah and says, “God has not forgotten you.  The day of deliverance is at hand.  Your son will prepare the way of the Lord.”  There is hope.


            You know, those are words that I think we still need to hear.  There are many people – many here to day – who might be wondering – where is God?  Has God deserted us.  We always knew that there was evil in this world, but it seems like evil is winning.  There was 9/11.  Why would God allow such an awful thing to happen?  Our newspapers are filled with one horrible story after another – one tragedy after another.  The word war is bad enough but in our lifetime we have been introduced to such words as genocide and ethnic cleansing.  The words sound so clean – almost like something you would do with bleach or Brillo Pads.  But the truth is that those words mean the death of thousands – hundreds of thousands of innocent men and women and children whose only crime is that they were born with the wrong name – the wrong skin color – the wrong family. 


            And then there is our own economy.  Millions are out of work or scared that they might soon be and then how will they support their families – how will they keep the roofs over their heads and food on the table.  Then there our senior citizens who far too often have choose between food and their medicine.


            And there are times when I think the worst result of all is not the loss of lives or homes – but the lost of hope.  And that is why this First Candle of the Advent Wreath is so important.  It is about hope.  It is about the promise that God has not forgotten about us.  It is about the promise that God still loves us.  It is about God walking with us – taking us by the hand and walking with us.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”


            This week – why not make an Advent Wreath for your house.  If you want get a wreath – place it on your table with four candles.  If that seems like a lot of work, then just get Four Candles and place them on your table – and then tonight as you gather for dinner light the first one – look at it.  Remember that it is the Candle of Hope.  Remember that God still loves you.  Remember that Jesus came for you.  Remember a promise made and a promise kept.  Remember that Christ is the Hope of the World.






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