38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
by Pastor Cherie Dearth
It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go, at least what is associated with Christmas in a northern climate with Western European traditions. We had snow last week, and while the snow in town has melted, it’s still on the mountains, and more is forecast for tonight. The town is decorated in its best holiday lights. We may not have a grand hotel with a tree in it here in Joseph, there is a tree in one of the courtyards among the Main Street shops. We’re in the midst of Jingle Through Joseph, and last night we had our lighted parade.
People are putting up Christmas trees and lights on their house and/or in their yards. How many of you have finished your Christmas shopping? How many haven’t started yet? And, this is getting to be old fashioned … what about Christmas cards? If you still send them, do you have them out yet? My aunt who was the manager of a big downtown department store in Minneapolis never had the time to send them out when she was working. After all, the Christmas season is the busiest time of year. She would send Easter cards instead. My mother was so busy that she would often get them out in January.
But, that’s the problem for many of us, isn’t it? We’re so busy at this time of year. I was looking at the Church’s calendar for December. We have the Children’s Christmas Store on December 10th (and all the set up starting the week before). We’ll be decorating the church after worship on December 11th. (Save the date for that.) That evening will be the Sounds and Tastes of Christmas where the whole Christian community gathers for a holiday event. The United Methodist Women are scheduled to have their gathering on the 15th. Of course, we will have a Christmas Eve service, and then a special casual Christmas Day worship service, which is on a Sunday this year. This is just the church.
There are loads of other community gatherings. Just about every group and organization will have a special Christmas event. There’s the shopping for gifts, preparing for guests (or for being a guest), perhaps traveling, decorating, making special foods. And if you happen to have perfectionist tendencies … Lord have mercy on us.
It’s a special time, often a time for gathering with family. It might be people we only see once a year, and maybe you don’t even get to see them every year. Maybe, you don’t get to spend the holiday together, but you still want to feel the togetherness. That’s how I spent most of my life. No matter what your family’s traditions are, you want it to feel special.
But, there is all this STUFF that has to be done. When we’re all wrapped up in the mayhem, it’s easy to become like Martha, so harried and stressed to get everything done that we don’t get to enjoy the event. Or really, if we’re honest, we’re ready for it to be over a week before, and the day after Christmas, the tree is down. The decorations are put away because we are ready to be DONE.
I see the whole idea of this from the Grinch of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” I’ll be referring to the book and tv special, as I’ve never seen the live action movie. We’re supposed to hate the Grinch who “hates Christmas, the whole Christmas season,” but we can also relate to him a bit too. He sees these Whos, these folks, who are hanging wreaths and their stockings. They wake up early to open their toys, and they make so much noise. They shriek. They squeak. They squeal. They bang on drums and toot on trumpets that they don’t know how to play making such an unpleasing cacophony that he simply can’t stand it. By the time they start singing, maybe, just maybe the thing he could have liked, he’s completely over it. He can’t take anything more. He wants nothing to do with it. In fact it motivates him to get rid of it all. When the Whos no longer had the ability to do all those extra things and just sang, that’s when the Grinch’s heart was changed.
We get so wrapped up with our traditions that we forget the reason that we’re celebrating. I remember one of my friends saying years ago that she was going out to buy Christmas. I knew what she meant, and I didn’t think a thing about it at the time. She was going to buy things for the people she loved to help them feel loved at this time of year.
The question is, what does Christmas mean to you? Really. Is it about the gatherings, and maybe even the joyous feeling that we get for doing things for others, for making preparations for the ones we love, and the special times that we can have together? OR, do we gather and celebrate to honor that day that hope was born, the hope of peace on earth and good will for the whole human race?
I’ve been talking a lot about Christmas, but Christmas isn’t for another 29 days. Then, there is a Christmas season after that, until Epiphany on January 6th. It’s tough to do when you feel that you’ve been celebrating some form of Christmas for a month already and want to take down the decorations on December 26th.
Of course, many of you know that as far as the western church is concerned, this is the time of Advent, a time of preparation. So while Christmas music is being played on the radio, in the stores, Christmas movies are on tv, we normally wouldn’t sing Christmas songs in church until at least Christmas Eve. We sing songs of anticipation and patiently waiting … for a month. So, on the one hand, outside of worship services we have festivities and frivolity for a month, in worship it can seem that we’re drawing it out as long as we possibly can. It’s like making every excuse in the book to make the kids wait before they can open their Christmas presents.
Would it interest you to know that the main focus for Advent is not to wait to celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day? In fact the word “Advent” does not mean “wait” (though it can seem that way sometimes). Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming.” That word adventus is actually the Latin translation of the Greek word parousia, which means the coming presence, arrival, or an official visit of someone important. And in the church it actually refers to the Second Coming of Christ. In other words, in Advent we are preparing for the return of Christ. Then, as we get closer to Christmas Day, we remember and celebrate the birth of the one who will return, our Messiah, Jesus Christ. Of course, if he had not been born, he couldn’t have saved us by dying on the cross, been resurrected, and gone to heaven, so that he could return at the end of the age. So, our anticipation and excitement is for the return of Christ.
In the Wednesday night Bible study, we are looking at one of the most joyous festivals on the Jewish calendar, in the Gospel of John Chapter 7, the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths), depending on which Bible translation you use. The name came from these little shelters that they would construct reminiscent of the shelters that the Israelites used while they were wandering around the desert for 40 years after leaving Egypt. It was the biggest harvest festivals of the year. It was like a combination of Thanksgiving and Christmas wrapped together that they celebrated for around a week. It was a time of family, fun, excitement, and feasting. There would be special worship services each day, but the biggest was on the last day, and they would shout Hosanna, save now! This was a call for Messiah, their savior, their deliverer. Through the season of Advent, that is really what we are doing, too.
We wait with expectant anticipation for the Messiah in a similar way that the Jewish people were waiting for the Messiah. The difference is that we already know who he is. We know that he already came once and wait for him to come again, his adventus. We can have faith that he will return because we know what he has done already.
It is a time to prepare because we need to be ready. Jesus tells us in Matthew 24, beginning at verse 36:
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man … 42 Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
It actually seem kind of scary, but when we look at the end of Revelation, it wonderful and a great thing to look forward to, from Rev 21:1-5a:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
We need to prepare. We need to be ready. Jesus tells a story in Matthew about one of the most joyous events in a village at that time, a wedding, starting in Chap 25:1:
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten [young ladies] who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ 7 “Then all the [young ladies] woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ 9 “ ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The [young ladies] who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. 11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ 12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ 13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”
Jesus, himself, tells us that there will be signs of his coming, signs of the end of this age, but we can miss them if we’re not paying attention or we’re paying attention to the wrong things. God will do what he said he will do, but perhaps not in the way we expect. We need to be prepared because God keeps promises but loves surprises.
What does that mean for us? Does it mean that we should cancel all the parties and the family gatherings? Perhaps, we’re not supposed to have any fun at all, making sure that we don’t do anything wrong until Jesus returns? No, I don’t think that’s what it means at all. If there’s one thing that I know about Jesus, he liked a good party. Whether it was the wedding in Cana, inviting himself to dinner at Zacchaeus’ house, or having a meal with a Pharisee, he didn’t mind having a good time. There were times for other things, of course, but not to the exclusion of enjoying life.
To understand what this means for us, we have to look back at the passage with Martha. She is busy and overwhelmed. She is bold enough to address Jesus directly, in front of everyone. What does Jesus say to her? “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed” (Luke 10:41).
This is a joyous time. It is a great time for family and friends, a time to be generous and kind. This is a time of expectant anticipation, this time of preparation for the coming of Jesus, be it for his return, or celebrating when he came the first time, born a baby to human parents. We have to be careful in getting ready for everything to remember the reason that we’re doing it. If we become so busy and stressed that we forget, perhaps we need to see what can be saved for another year because only one thing is needed.
Alleluia! Thanks be to God!