I’m surprised you’re taking time to read this, what with all the things you’ve got on your "to do" list. I’m just glad you know how important it is to take time out of the busy-ness of this month to remember what it is all about.
This season is pretty exciting, isn’t it? From Thanksgiving on, there is so much to do, so much to prepare for, so much to get ready. But it’s exciting work because you know what’s coming.
In the church, this season is known as Advent — a time of preparation. The word Advent means "coming" — and that fits since we’re preparing to celebrate the coming of God as man, born in that stable in the tiny town of Bethlehem. But we’re also preparing for his second coming, when he’ll come with all glory and power and judge the world.
In Advent, even while we’re getting everything ready for our celebrations, making the guest lists, preparing invitations, cooking, cleaning and all the rest — we also want to prepare our hearts. So, Christians worship. We hear his promises. We sing songs like "Savior of the Nations, Come" and "O Come O Come Emmanuel."
Think about what that means. Emmanuel means "God with us." Do you realize that we just invited God to our celebration? And if you know anything about guest lists, you’ll remember that there is a directly proportional relationship between the quantity, importance, and pickiness of the invitees to the level of stress the inviter might feel. We just invited the one who fills heaven and earth, the one who rules all powers and authorities and the one who judges eternally according to a standard of absolute perfection. Oops?
But that’s not a mistake. Our reading from Jeremiah 33 that we’re looking at this week and next shows us why we do sing "Come Emmanuel." We needed God to come, just as he said he would, to do what needed to be done, and to gather us to his eternal home.
So, think of that party invitation list again. Imagine you’re putting on a Christmas party and want the most important people in your life there — so you invite your family, your friends, your boss, and, of course, the president of your country, right? Now, if you’re thinking like I am, you can probably be pretty sure your friends and family will want to come, and, depending on where you work — you might have a decent shot at getting your boss there — but the president, really? No way, right? There is no way the president of the United States will show up at your party just because you are one of the 228 million adult citizens of his country. You are too unimportant, your house is too humble, your connections are too weak.
Unless, of course, for some reason, the president told you he’d be there. Then, you might have a shot. Look at what God says. He promised: "’The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah’" (Jeremiah 33:14).
The people of Israel didn’t deserve to have God make this promise. They had disobeyed. They had lost their strength. They had embarrassed his name. But still he came. And the same holds true for us. We don’t deserve to have anything to celebrate, but God gave us Christmas — and as we look forward to celebrating it, let’s never forget what it means. God came to save us. Take a break from this busy season to ponder these promises. Check out abidinggrace.com for all the special worship opportunities to cherish the fact that Emmanuel did come — just as he promised — for you.
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.