December 3, 2023 Sermon

    12.08.23 | Sermons by Jennifer Parks-Snyder

    December 3, 2023 Sermon: Advent-ually God Shows Up by Pastor Jenn

    Scripture Lessons: Isa 64:1-9; Mark 13:32-37

    We are 22 days and counting to Christmas. That’s 3 weeks basically, which is amazing for us as adults, because didn’t we just put the Halloween decorations away? Time does go fast, for us, as adults. However, for the children, those 3 weeks will seem longer. As a child, my grandmother always got me one of those chocolate advent calendars, and I loved it. Each day, getting a chocolate treating, knowing that eventually it would be Christmas.

    You’ll notice with the sermon title, we took the liberty to play with word “eventually” and made it Advent-ually, because just as eventually means at some time later, or in the end, advent ually is to recognize that in this season of waiting,preparing, praying “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”, we know that eventually it leads to Christmas.

    So, what are we to do in this season of waiting for Christmas? Or these 22 days yet? Well, we can always eat our chocolate advent calendars, but what if God wants us to use this season to repair? Repair our faith in God, in each other, in the gift of Jesus Christ.

    These next Sundays, that’s what this series will focus in on, that in this season, we adventually get ourselves to recognize and understand what God is doing in our Scripture of the advent lessons; what God is doing in our lives; in this church; and in the world.

    The first week, our lessons question when will God show up? Hear verse 1 of the Isaiah passage:

    64 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—…to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
                Imagine, you are a prophet living in the midst of war. Military troops are fighting all around you. They are cutting off food and water supplies, so that you and all the other civilians are boxed in. And the suffering was not one you were asked about. No, the disruption is occurring because the leadership of your land and the lands around you were selfish, they had their agendas, their ways that they wanted, and you are just part of the innocent civilians caught in the midst of their war. Who do you call in such dire states? Who do you think the innocents of the Middle East call today? They don’t have the presidential and military leaders phone numbers or emails to change their minds. They call upon God. The God of Isaac and Ishmael, the God of Jacob and Essau.

    64 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—to make your name known to your adversaries,  so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
                If only God would show up, and fight our battles, the powers we fear would not harm us, because God would be there for us, just as God had done before for us. When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down; the mountains quaked at your presence. The prophet recalls the stories of God showing up and helping them. Helping them escape enslavement from Egypt and persecution from the Persians and Philistines. Because God did this before, the prophet cried, do it again! Show yourself!

    Then the prophet goes on to claim God has become distant from them, and in doing so, no one is doing right.

     5You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.

                It’s a painful text to read. In fact it’s a lament of insecurity, of guilt and blame. It’s a declaration about how God’s silence leads to hopelessness: losing hope in God, ourselves, and our relationship with God.

    For anyone who has ever lived through war, poverty, addiction, or abuse, losing hope is common, especially when you question: Where is God in the midst of the pain and suffering? Where is Jesus who promises to always be with me?

                Why start the season of Advent with this passage? Because it’s an invitation, one we recognize encourages us to mend our relationship with God, so that adventually we can see Emmanuel, showing up.

                Going back to verse 1, O that you would tear open the heavens and come down. The term “tear open” in Hebrew means rending a garment, which in the cultural world of the ancient Israel was a visible expression of grief, lament, remorse. You grieved, you tore your clothes and you wore them torn to display your grief.

                But in this passage, the prophet extends the invitation- O come, o come Emmanuel, cross the space between heaven and earth, rip open the barriers that divide us from each other, Lord, and be with us.

    The season of advent invites us to ask God to reveal Godself to us again, and in this season we are assured God will show up. The key is to keep watch. That’s what Jesus claims in the gospel of Mark, keep alert, keep awake, keep watch, because you never know. You never know when God will set things right. Further, we never know when God may be using us, as Christians, to set things right for others, when we share the grace and teachings of Jesus Christ.

    At this time I am going to invite the Director of Children’s ministry and After School Program, Cassie McCachren to come forward and share how you can have the opportunity to be the presence and the hope of God to families in our area, for the new year.

    -Cassie’s sharing-“The after school program is a ministry of this church that is showing God’s love to these families in small practical ways.  This year, we have been able to be in the trenches with 15 children and their families.  Through our work with the after school program, we hear their stories, their hardships and lows and celebrate their “highs” with them.  We know about a father who unexpectedly lost his job and the family is struggling.  We gathered around a girl while she grieved and processed the loss of her gymnastics coach.  Throughout our time with them we get to know each child personally.  We know what their favorite snacks are and what is their least favorite subject in school.  We hear about their sports and interests and their friendships.  But these are just the start of the ways that we are being God’s hands and feet. 

                The after school program is a different program than a lot of others.  We are intentionally small so that we can offer one on one homework help and can work individually with the children we are serving.  If they have a particular need in a certain subject area, we work with them to help them grow in that area.  In addition to homework help, we have structured crafts, games and activities for the children to do.  These are often built around themes and the children’s interest.  One of the favorites is when we have our own escape room with puzzles that they have to work together to solve. 

                In partnership with other community businesses, we have been able to do field trips with them.  The Hershey Story has generously done programs with us and let us go through the museum.  We’ve visited the fire station to learn about fire safety.  Last year, we were able to take them to a restaurant to see into the kitchen and get an idea of what it’s like to be a chef.  At ZooAmerica, we learned all about different animals and got to see the exhibits.  For some children, it was their first time in some of these community businesses. 

                This ministry has been blessed with many volunteers, adults and youth who have fallen in love with these children.  As a church, we appreciate your donations of snacks that are loved by the children.  As we look to the future of the program, we are asking that you consider pledging to help support this ministry of First United Methodist Church in 2024.  In the narthex is a tree with ornaments that the children of the after school program made and pledge cards.  If you are feeling led to help this ministry to continue to be God’s hands and feet in our community, we ask that you take an ornament and fill out the pledge card.  Place it in the box and keep the ornament as a reminder of the children that you are helping to support.  We have different pledge levels on the card, from a one time gift to a monthly gift.  With these gifts, you are helping our stars shine brighter and being God’s hands and feet!”

                This first Sunday of Advent, consider that as this season encourages us to mend our relationship with God, may part of the mending be to keep watch for God, and doing something you know God would want you to do, to bring God’s goodness to others. So that if the questions comes up, Where is God? The answer is, God is in the work of this church, and in the work of each of us. Amen.