Open the Gift of Expectation – Pastor Robert’s sermon for Sunday, December 3


Every year, my brother sends Christmas presents through the mail.  And every year, he has the words, “Don’t open until Christmas,” printed on each package.

He does this because when he first started sending us Christmas packages, we would open them up on the day we received them, even if it was a week or two early.  And it would really bother him when we would break the news to him that we had already opened his gifts before Christmas.  Who doesn’t want Christmas to come a little early?

 

Well, for those of you who don’t like to wait for Christmas, I have some really good news for you!  We get to open up a different Christmas present each Sunday from this large wrapped Christmas box!  These are Christmas gifts that God wants us to have even before Christmas Day arrives.  Each week, a child or youth who is involved in our children and youth ministries will open the Christmas box on our behalf.

For this 1st Sunday, I need a volunteer to open the Christmas box.

[Volunteer Lifts the Mary Figurine from the Box]

Today’s Christmas gift is the gift of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Mary is the right person to symbolize this gift since she received the unexpected and very surprising news that she was with child.

Every year on the first Sunday of Advent, the Gospel reading has this theme of expectation.  It’s the scripture where Jesus is telling his disciples to expect great things to happen.  He tells them to be alert at all times and to know that the kingdom of God is at hand.  The Kingdom of God is just around the corner.  It’s breaking in even as we speak.  Don’t blink because you just might miss it!

Jesus tells us that the way to receive the gift of expectation is to be alert.  Be ready.  Expect the unexpected.

In my previous church before coming to Athens, I was asked to be part of the church float for the big holiday parade which was on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.  They needed more people so I innocently said, “Sure, I’ll help.”

Little did I know what I was getting myself into!  I was then told that I would have a costume for me to wear.  No problem, right?

So here’s my picture of me wearing that holiday parade costume.  Someone said I looked like a frozen Rod Stewart.  My make-up included a lot of sparkles around my eyes.  Do you know how hard it is to get rid of those sparkles?  I had a wedding that day, and the bride and groom chose not to include me in their pictures!

The theme of our float was “Joy to the World” complete with dancers, singers, and people like me who handed out candy and church invitations.  Here’s a picture of Mary and Joseph and the “Joy to the World” singers behind them.

The Christmas gift of expectation is the gift that helps us to be more like Mary and to be ready for the unexpected thing that God wants to do through us, even if that means wearing a crazy costume.

Roswell United Methodist Church in Atlanta has opened the Christmas gift of expectation. Twenty years ago, one of their Sunday School classes started a conversation with, “What If.”  From there, they began a ministry for the developmentally disabled.  Let’s watch a video about their ministry.

Opening the Christmas gift of expectation is exciting because when we live out our faith knowing that the kingdom of God is at hand, incredible things happen. Miracles happen.  We are able to reach out to more and more people with the good news of Jesus Christ.

Mary was the first person to open the Christmas gift of expectation when the angel told her that she was with child of the Holy Spirit.  She knew that the kingdom of God was at hand, even within her own womb!

I’m also impressed that Mary, as a young teenage woman, was able to persevere through the challenges that came to her as a result of her pregnancy.  Think of the rumors, the gossiping, and the ridicule that she endured as she waited patiently for the birth of her child.  It’s not always easy to open the gift of expectation, is it?

I want to list four barriers that can keep us from opening the gift of expectation in this Season of Advent.

Pride

And the first barrier is our pride.  While Mary was planning for her wedding and this exciting transition in her life, God interrupted her plans with this news that she was with child of the Holy Spirit.  Things didn’t go as originally planned by Mary.  Have you ever noticed how God has no problem in messing with our carefully planned out lives?  Christmas is a time to remember that it’s not about us.  It’s about what God wants to do in and through us.

One of the greatest lines in all of scripture is when Mary responded to the angel by saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord: let it be with me according to your word.”  Mary didn’t let her pride get in the way of receiving the holy gift of expectation.

Cynicism

The second barrier is cynicism.  This is when we say negative things like, “It will never work like that for me?”  Or, “It will never work here in our church.”  Or, “God can’t possibly use me to make a difference like that.”  Cynics always find ways to keep the expectations so low that we can’t possibly fail.  But failure isn’t the worst thing that can happen to us.  Not trying and responding to God’s voice is.

Mary was willing to take some risks in order to respond to God’s calling in her life.

Apathy

A third barrier is apathy.  Do you know the difference between ignorance and apathy?  “I don’t know and I don’t care!”

The opposite of love is not hate.  It’s apathy.  Apathy is when we simply don’t care.  And if we don’t care, then why would we want to open the gift of expectation to include more things that we probably don’t care about?

The story of Christmas is a story of God’s tremendous compassion for the world.  God risked everything by sending us Jesus.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”

Distraction

And a fourth barrier is a more subtle barrier and this is the barrier of distraction.  This is when we put off responding to God because we are so caught up in our usual pre-holiday busyness.  The problem is that we never do get around to responding to God’s calling because there’s always another distraction.

Since the kingdom of God is at hand, we need to set aside any distraction that would keep us from the urgency of this present reality.  This Advent season, think about setting aside the things that on the surface may seem important to do, but in reality, are things that are just keeping us from opening the Christmas gift of expectation.

Maybe you can think of some other barriers that keep us from opening this incredible gift.  I believe that one of the reasons why Mary didn’t let these barriers get in her way of opening the gift of expectation was something that the angel told her when she found out that she was with child.

The angel said to her, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Since today is the first Sunday of the month, we will be celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Communion. When we receive the sacrament of communion in December, it kind of feels like we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

I mean, here, we’re supposed to be getting ready for the birth of Christ during these weeks of December, but on this day, when we receive communion, we’re already focusing on the events of Holy Week when Jesus was with his disciples in the Upper Room and shared the cup and the bread with them.

But think of it this way. When those disciples were with Jesus during that Passover Meal, just think how surprised they must have been when Jesus changed the script for that special meal.

When Jesus lifted the bread, he did the unexpected when he referred to that bread as his body. And when he lifted the cup, he told the disciples that this was his blood.

Jesus was helping them to see that his death on the cross would be the means by which salvation and forgiveness of sins would be accomplished. Even during those last couple days of his life, Jesus was helping the disciples to open the gift of expectation.

God is always doing a new thing. A disciple’s denial will lead to forgiveness. A cross will give way to an empty tomb.

God can take any barrier in our lives, even the barriers of our own making, and turn them into something good.

Like the angel told Mary, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

On this first Sunday of Advent, Mary reminds us to open the gift of expectation.

Outside the Box: The Gift of Expectation

Small Group Questions

Jeremiah 33:14-16 & Luke 21:25-36

December 3, 2017

During these four weeks of Advent, we will be opening a Christmas gift each week to help us prepare for the coming of Christ into the world. The first gift that we open is the gift of expectation. Mary, the mother of Jesus is a symbol of this gift because she was open to new thing that God was about to do.

What helps you to stay alert for the new thing that God wants to do in and through you, not just as we prepare for Christmas but for any time of the year?

Pastor Robert mentioned four possible barriers that can keep us from opening the gift of expectation during this season of Advent. These include the barriers of pride, cynicism, apathy, and distraction.

Which of these four barriers do you struggle with the most in your faith? How can opening the gift of expectation help you to overcome these common barriers?

The bible is filled with examples of how God is always doing a new thing. For example, at the Last Supper, Jesus redefined the meaning of the Passover meal when he said, “This is my body and this is my blood.” This new understanding of the Passover meal, led to Jesus offering his life on the cross which then led to the good news of Easter and the resurrection.

Share a recent time where you experienced God doing a new thing in your life? Did it take you by surprise? What was your initial reaction? What was the outcome of this new thing or is it too early to tell?

Close your time by saying in unison this awesome promise of scripture where the angel reassures Mary by saying, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

“For nothing will be impossible with God!”