The Sunday Sermon: Reign of Christ Sunday – November 24, 2019
Scripture: Isaiah 2:2, 25:6-10
Let the Feast Begin
So, how many of you have been here in this sanctuary on the morning of the Sunday before Thanksgiving when I preached a sermon, delivered the morning’s scripture-based message? It’s happened eleven times. As a matter of fact, my very first Sunday as the Pastor of Pewee Valley Presbyterian church was on November 23, 2008, the Sunday before Thanksgiving that year. That wasn’t the last Sunday of the month 2008, but Advent began on the next Sunday, November 30th. Anyway …
How many of you have been here on this Sunday of the year, the Sunday before Thanksgiving? Most of you, almost all of you. A few visitors this morning, probably not. Of our members, I think only the Volks, perhaps. Although, maybe you were over the years. We had Laura and her family on the ten year movement-to-membership track, so maybe … ! (That’s Laura’s joke, by the way. Not my dig!)
The point is (!), most of you, almost all of you.
And since most of you have been here on the morning of the Sunday before Thanksgiving when I preached a sermon, delivered the morning’s scripture-based message, you know that I have been remarkably consistent with my message on this day – the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Is anyone willing to speak up and share – in a nutshell, maybe one word – what my remarkable consistent message on this day has been?
(Ahh, my people … ˆhow beautiful the message on the lips of believers …”) The message may be summed up in the one word, wait Just wait five more days to start the Christmas bacchanal . And, just for fun I looked back at a few sermons delivered on this Sunday to remember a few lines from what has become a yearly mantra. I have used the rhythms of Dr. Seuss, and invoked the image of his greedy, green Grinch on several occasions: For the moment, has it worked, has some time been loaned? For the moment is Christmas “the party” postponed?
I have implored you on most of these Sundays to ignore the decorations and Christmas carols that have been present in department stores since before Halloween, begged you to “please wait one more week, or just five more days.” And just last year I teased you with the sermon title ’Tis the Season, pointing out quickly that I wasn’t talking about that season. Rather …
(Twas) the season … to be thankful. (Fa la la la la, la la-la-la)
Four more days to fill our tank full. (Fa la la la la, la la-la-la)
A grinchy-move, if ever there was one!
The point is (!), on the morning of the Sunday before Thanksgiving when I preach a sermon, deliver the morning’s scripture-based message, I have been remarkably consistent. Until this year … seriously, honestly, this time. For some, mostly inexplicable, reason on the Twelfth year of Christmas with you, my true Love (capital “L”) gives to me (sing) “a new Message for this morning …
It began, I think, in conversation with the other ministerial staff of your church – Ashia, Walter, and Matt – as we sat together to plan out late November and Advent worship this year. It continued, though, beyond the planning table. I began hearing the music in Target in a different way. My gaze out the car window lingered longer at the Garden Center displays at the Home Depot and Lowe’s I passed. And I even, hit the preset radio button in our Pilot for 106.9 FM as Katie, Gabe and I traveled to Moe’s for a cheap Monday burrito. (For those who may not know, 106.9 has been playing Christmas music since at least the beginning of November.)
On Wednesday, my first full evening home last week, I found myself carrying boxes of Christmas ornaments up from the garage and placing them in their usual spots around the house. On Thursday, we decorated our mantle; on Friday, I set up the Christmas Tree; and yesterday we put the lights on it and began with a few ornaments. All of this, as Christmas CDs played on the Bose or our Google Home device.
And what happened then? Well, in Pewee Valley, they’ll speak …
Pastor Joel’s heart grew three times that week!
Pray for me … I mean … with me …
So, it’s true. This year, at least, although I do believe that the Genie is out of the bottle, at least in my home. I’m sure Katie is now thinking that I’ve done all this, this year, for a sermon illustration! I confess to going to some length to find the hooks that will lead you into the larger theological message I hope you take away from my sermons, but I don’t think there’s any going back now and … I’m okay with that. After twenty years as a Pastor, twenty-one years as a father, twenty-nine years as a husband, and for as long as I can remember as a child, it felt and feels really good, and very right, to allow the feast to begin whenever the feast begins. Even on this Sunday before Thanksgiving has even happened.
On this Sunday when we proclaim the Good News, the Gospel, the Word made flesh, the Reign of Christ, the last Sunday of our church year before Advent actually begins. Ashia reminded us of our “reality” in that planning meeting a number of weeks ago: The kingdom of God is indeed within, among, and beyond us. We do indeed “wait” for it in the birth of Christ on Christmas day. But the Kingdom, or as she so beautifully calls it “the Kin-dom,” is also “at hand” already. So this year, this morning, we celebrate it – the Joyous Feast of the Kin-dom come on earth, even as we pray for its fullness in time.
Listen now (finally!) for the Word of God. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
We are on the mountain the Lord. In Jesus, the Christ, we profess God-with us, God is here. We are to live our lives on this mountain providing the feast we have been given to all peoples, wiping away the tears from all faces, being glad and rejoicing in our salvation now and in the days to come. In a very real way this year’s sermon title is deceptive as well. It was chosen to reflect my opening story, my own journey to “letting the feast begin” whenever it happens. But this message, as all sermons, is not about me or my journey or about us and our journey as much as it is about God and God’s journey with us. The feast has already begun, whether we recognize it or not, whether we celebrate it or not, whether we allow it to happen before Thanksgiving or not.
And this feast is for “all peoples.” In the prophecies of Isaiah it is not always easy or even possible to distinguish neatly between the specific role that Israel has to play in history and the more “universal” images of the prophet’s message. But in this short passage about the future house of God, the “many peoples” may be understood not just as Israel’s many peoples, but literally as “all the nations” found in verse two of chapter two where the vision began. The promised feast is not, I read, an empty celebration inclusion, an “I’m okay, you’re okay,” you do your thing and I’ll do my thing, celebration that requires nothing but attendance. This feast, that has begun, will continue, and will be fully realized in history ahead has a requirement: Love. The Love we find in Jesus and that is found in all the true religions of the world.
And if that is the case, if this is true – that on this mountain God will indeed “destroy the shroud that is cast over all peoples … and swallow up death forever,” then how can I, or anyone in all the world, hold it off? Even if only for five more days. I can’t. We can’t. And we shouldn’t. I won’t … anymore. We’ll fight against the commercialism and packaging of our feast into boxes delivered and wrapped for the day we set aside in late December, but I’ll not longer fight the beginning of the feast, itself. We “will be glad and rejoice in God’s salvation” anytime we can. Including this Advent season.
For the past few years we have “entered God’s gates in silence” and encouraged silent or quiet reflection in our Sunday morning gatherings through Advent. This year we are emphasizing the feast, the party, the “already here reality” of God in the world. There will be music playing in the sanctuary beginning at ten o’clock. I’m hoping the music leaders, be they Chancel Choir, Bell Choir, or Quartet will come in the front doors close to the hour and meet and greet those gathered and gathering. I will come in with our worship leaders through the front door and talk with you before the bell rings. Matt’s preludes will be upbeat, inspiring and encouraging us to enjoy the feast that is ours already, even as we wait for its arrival.
We are celebrating the “Sounds of Christmas” every Sunday of Advent this year: The sounds of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, itself. Walter has agreed that we will sing Christmas hymns during Advent! At least the sermon, or second, hymn will be one we usually wait until Christmas Eve and after to sing. You’ll hear messages from me and Violet and Ashia as we attempt to give voice to the sounds all around us every day of the year, sounds that can be heard even more clearly in this season if we have ears to hear. This year, we want to have ears to hear even now the Good News of Great Joy that is for all the people!
So, my guess is that a lot of you have already begun Christmas decorating and music, but if you haven’t already – and especially if you haven’t because you just knew I’d preaching on waiting again this year, go home today with a little bit of Christmas love in your heart, take out at least one Christmas ornament or decoration, and/or listen to at least one favorite Christmas song even before Advent begins.
“Come, Ye Thankful People, Come.” Let the feast begin. It has been happening for us for two thousand years and counting and it won’t wait even if we want it to.
Happy and Merry. Amen.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / November 24, 2019