First United Methodist Church — Omaha
Rev. Dr. Jane Florence
December 3, 2017
First Sunday of Advent
Scripture: Psalm 24:7-10
Sermon: “Awaiting the King”
Happy New Year! It’s not New Year on the Gregorian calendar we use in everyday life. On those the New Year starts on January 1. It’s not a New Year on the Hebrew calendar; that starts with month of Nissan. The academic year calendar starts mid-August for most. The Chinese New Year is Feb 16, 2018. Today is first day of a New Year in church calendar that is shared by Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians, Methodists, United Church of Christ and other liturgical denominations. The church calendar begins not with fireworks or a Chinese dragon dancing down a street or new backpacks and sharpened pencils. Our calendar begins with the word “wait.” Well, that’s no fun. Fireworks and dancing dragons are much more exciting. We begin with “wait.” Stop and wait. We have a hard time with wait.
In older times, advent and lent seasons felt quite similar to one another. Waiting for Christmas was the same as waiting for Easter. The waiting was penitential; we were to repent of mistakes and mis-deeds. It was somber, reflective time of the year spent. Both Lent and Advent preparations were marked by increased prayer, alms, fasting. We can’t imagine December a month of fasting now, can we? The somber tone has lifted from the church season but the waiting continues. We are all waiting for something. Let’s be honest, the children (the child in us) are waiting for presents. Gifts have become the big marker of the season. Gift getting and gift giving consume us, but the waiting of the season is a spiritual practice, so there must be something more than a new tie, toy or sweater in the wait. What’s it look like to wait – not for a cultural Christmas holiday – but for a spiritual holy arrival? How does the traditional color of Advent which is purple, inform our waiting?
Purple is the color most often used to symbolize royalty. Purple became the imperial color worn by the rulers of the Byzantine Empire and the Holy Roman Empire, and later by Roman Catholic bishops. As early as the 15th century Before Christ the citizens of Sidon and Tyre, two cities on the coast of Ancient Phoenicia (present day Lebanon), were producing purple dye from a sea snail. The process of making the dye was long, difficult, and expensive. Thousands of the tiny snails had to be found, their shells cracked, the snail removed. From each of the thousands of snails, a tiny gland was removed and the juice extracted and put in a basin, which was placed in the sunlight. There a remarkable transformation took place. In the sunlight the juice turned white, then yellow-green, then green, then violet, then a red which turned darker and darker. The process had to be stopped at exactly the right time to obtain the desired color of purple. It was delicate process. When a German chemist tried to recreate Tyrian purple in 2008, he needed twelve thousand snails to create 1.4 ounces of dye, which was enough to color a handkerchief at a cost of two thousand euros. True Tyrian purple is expensive today as it was two thousand years ago. No peasant, no commoner, no average person wore purple; someone in royal purple was royal.
The early church identified Jesus as fulfillment of Hebrew scripture; he was proclaimed as King by some. In his last hours, he was draped in a purple robe and asked, “Are you King of the Jews?” We are waiting to celebrate Jesus’ birth and to welcome Christ as king. We don’t have an earthly king in the U.S., so the image isn’t as real for us. For first century folks, the king was the absolute authority in life. The king has sovereignty over life and land.
The world will spend the next four weeks preparing for Christmas. How appropriate that before we launch into all the trimming, shopping, baking, and busyness, the church would have us stop and ask just who and what it is that rules, reigns, sovereign in our life . What does it mean to use this time to prepare for Christ as ruler instead of preparing for Christmas, a holiday? Just what do we mean at Christmas when we sing the lovely carols of “Glory to the newborn King?” or “Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates, behold the King of glory waits, the king of kings is drawing near; the savior of the world is here.”
Do we really mean that we are willing to live by the rule of God’s dominion over all the earth – ourselves included? Do we really mean we are willing to allow God’s way “in heaven” to be our way “on earth”? Do we really mean that we believe that true power is not about military might and political dominance? And God’s reign does not usher in tax cuts for corporations and wealthy on the backs of the poor? Do we mean that we believe truth and justice and liberation from the powers that be in this world is our ultimate truth? Does Christ as King inform all we do this season of Advent waiting and shopping?
We are told to guard our wallets and protect our purses during our holiday shopping. We have been warned how important it is to keep our bank, and passwords safe and secure. We have been told that there are those who will steal our identity and bankrupt us if we are not careful. But our financial identity is perhaps not the one that is most easily stolen. It is not the identity theft of our bank accounts and credit cards that should alarm us as much as the identity theft of our beings.
We live in a culture which defines our worth in possessions and power and assess our love in dollar signs and wrapped packages, yet deep within we long to be known as sacred beings of infinite worth inherent in our creation not our net-worth.
The Good news is we get to choose what it is that will name us and rule our lives.
We need not hand over our lives to allow the powers of the world define, manipulate and imprison us. We can choose to follow the way Christ taught. We can look deeply into who we are and what we have become, and we can live into what we can be.
Our waiting time of Advent is a time for recognizing the divine goodness that is seeded within us, as we awaken, connect, and live in the way of Jesus- preparing for the way of Christ to govern our lives.
May it be so.