The Wait of Advent
Children anticipate Christmas with a vibrant expectancy and excitement that compares to little else. Even the shyest or quietest of children cannot contain their enthusiasm at the splendor of the season, the beauty of the Christmas tree with it’s lights all aglow, and of course, the gifts they await, that are yet to appear under that tree.
Throughout Advent, we have waited for this night-the night we celebrate the birth of Christ. The night that the greatest of all gifts was given. The night that salvation came in the birth of a child, the son of God, God incarnate, God come to earth cloaked in human form and flesh.
The waiting of Advent used to be much more emphasized than it is today. It actually used to be a somber time – a time to remember our sins and how desperately we need and wait for a Savior. Advent was a time of starkness in the church when no decorations would appear until Christmas was actually here, until the birth of Christ was actually celebrated. Some churches still may wait on the decorations. I don’t know if any of you noticed, but I made you wait to sing Christmas carols until tonight. Yes, you sang them as a part of your Christmas programs, but not as a part of our regular worship services. And how I am ready to burst forth in song tonight!
The wait is over. We can sing songs of the birth. And tonight we will finally add the baby Jesus to our Nativity.
But now what? Now what do we do after the wait is over? When all that we have anticipated is behind us?
The same thing happens when a family expects a baby. Mom and Dad-to-be anticipate something they have yet to receive. They have nine months of excited preparations. They watch as sonograms show the development of their child. They look carefully … is the child a boy or a girl? They wonder and dream. They shop and buy. They decorate and prepare a nursery.
But then the child comes. The anticipation is replaced with responsibility. There are late night feedings. There are the baby’s who have their nights and days confused. There are the dirty diapers. The baby cries, and mom and dad look at each other as if to say, “It’s your turn.” The expectation has become assignment.
And so it is with Christmas. The long-awaited Christ-child is here. Now that the wait is over, now that we know the Christ is come, we have responsibilities. The responsibilities are many, but let us look at two that surface as the story of the birth is told to the shepherds in the Gospel of Luke.
The angels proclaim
An angel appears to the shepherds saying, “I bring you good news of great joy …” The literal translation is, “I evangelize you to great joy.” Our word evangelize comes from the Greek word used here. The angel comes to proclaim the good news of the birth of Christ, the coming of a Savior. The entire story of Christ’s birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension is the story of the Gospel, and the proclamation of the Gospel is the good news that brings joy to all humankind. So the angel proclaims the good news.
The angels praise
Following the proclamation, a whole host or large group of angels appears praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all men and women on whom his favor rests.”
They can’t help but praise God for this wonderful thing which has happened: that salvation has come in the birth of the son of God.
Proclamation and Praise mark the words of the angels as they speak to the shepherds. And the shepherds respond with Proclamation and Praise.
The shepherds proclaim
Without being told to go, the shepherds rush to see this thing they have been told about. And having found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the manger, they leave “spreading the word” about this child and all that has been told them about this child.
“A baby was born in a barn,” they may say. “Angels came to us in the fields and told us about it. We were engulfed in a bright light, but they told us about this child, and where to find the child and we went off and saw everything, just like they told us,” they proclaim.
The shepherds praise
After circulating around the town and to the people, they return to their fields and to their sheep, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.” The shepherds are also moved to praise.
Their response is proclamation and praise. They are done waiting for a Savior. The Savior is come, and they proclaim and praise.
I don’t think proclamation and praise can be separated. How can one proclaim something one is not excited about? How can one proclaim and praise something one has not come to see, to hear, to experience in one’s own life?
When the shepherds heard the proclamation and praise of the angels they went to see. And they in turn proclaimed and praised what they had seen. Tonight I stand before you and proclaim and praise, God has come in the flesh, born of a virgin. He has come to be your Savior. Will you come to see him? Will you come to the Communion Table, to encounter his grace, to receive his salvation that he offers freely to you? Will you light your candle, symbolizing God’s light has come into your life?
Will you go from this place proclaiming and praising?