Sermon: Symbolism of Advent

How do you deal with change?  Right now our country is going through drastic changes--- in our economy, in our government, in our relations with each other.  People have different views about whether the change is good or bad.  But change is usually frightening for people.

Today, here and now, we live as a people often frightened, crying out in the night for what we think we’ve lost.  This week we begin to follow again the cycle of Advent.

But as our ancestors did before us, we tend to miss the point. During Advent we focus on the past; the symbolism, the stories, the songs, all are a way of reliving the past, of pretending that we were at the manger, that we saw the star, that we brought the gifts. It is marvelous and it is meaningful, but it is only half the story.

For Advent is not just about gifts and candlelight. It is a symbolic remembering of Christ’s birth—done so that we can prepare for Christ to come again. It is a time to think of the future, not of the past. It is a time of already, and a time of not yet.

How do we prepare? Should it be more than just hanging some greenery, wrapping some gifts, turning on some lights—more even that singing carols, reading scripture, lighting candles?

There is a story of a pastor with the lake home. The family had bought an old house in Florida. Down at the lakefront right beside the dock, a massive bramble-bush had grown. Its long twining vines totally engulfed the earthbound end of the dock. It wasn’t possible to get past the bush and onto the dock without being snagged by thorns.

On their first trip, the family cut the brambles back just enough to get on the deck. Finally, they could no longer postpone the inevitable. They took clippers and hatchet and began to cut away the huge bush. When they reached the ground, they found a massive root system. They hacked, chopped and dug at it until they had cleared away as much as they could. It was then that they realized that they could not get all the roots out. And every year they got to go back with the axe and cut away a little more, in order to keep control of the shoreline. 

In the same way, Advent calls us to start fresh—to clear away the overgrown clutter in our lives that is preventing us for being the people Jesus wants us to be.  We can all confess to the clutter that gets in the way.  We are very aware of the bad habits we possess—our willingness to put something off, to tell white lies, our preoccupation with things that are really unimportant in God’s eyes. Instead of really going after them and cutting them back, we just ignore them.

Approaching Advent means going back again and hacking away at the deep roots. It’s fairly easy to just cut away what has appeared on the surface of our lives—but when are we going to tackle the deeper things? When are we going to make the great changes in our lives?

We all have something in our lives that needs to change. We all have a sin that lies deep. At the heart of the message of Advent is the call for us to take the shovel and the hatchet and chop away at those roots until we can pull them up completely and finally step forward free of the past.

Perhaps this Advent can be a life-changing, life-giving and life-fulfilling time for all of us.

Rev. Nancy Mead is the pastor of the First United Methodist Church.