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Good morning, friends how are you doing today? If you’re visiting my name’s Alex, I’m one of the pastors here it’s great to have you here we’re making this transition from the season of fall thanksgiving into potentially at some point of winter if the weather ever drops below 60 degrees but we’re making this movement and hopefully you guys had a great thanksgiving. I got to deep fry a turkey for the fourth year in a row and I always say this is like my one day of kind of tapping into some kind of hillbilly type side to me I’m just I’m more likely to wear a plaid on this day and stuff like that and I drop this turkey and I just feel really manly that’s the downside was it’s got a little boring after four years now it just feels normal so I got to do that though and it was delicious and wonderful and then and I have to say this because it’s been nine years I got to watch Michigan beat Ohio state yesterday and yeah go blue even in Colorado and so there was this deep joy and now I’m navigating for myself this movement towards advent and many of you will be navigating the same ways perhaps in controversial ways within your own house I have a principle we do not decorate before the 1st of December that’s just locked in my head my wife has a different principle and so out of the goodness of my charity and all those types of things uh we decided we would decorate earlier this year and so the stuff’s starting to come up but here’s the tension really advent this season in the church calendar and if that word is familiar unfamiliar to you it literally means this approach of God’s advent his entrance into the world in Jesus advent traditionally

is not a season of bright lights advent is a season where we recognize that there is darkness both in the world around us and within our own hearts and you don’t have to go very far to find it advent has not generally been a season where we sing all Christmas songs so all through advent what you’ll get is the tension of songs that we will sing that reflect the idea of the coming of Jesus the wonderful words of that last song we sang here comes heaven this approach of god into the world you’ll see the lights of Christmas and all those sorts of things and yet there will be some darkness to the conversations that we will have during this time so much so that I think I scared away half the first service this morning I’m not sure some of them will come back to be honest it got a little heavy if it gets too heavy for you know where the doors are I’m not sure what I can do about it at this point it is what it is but it was weighty so we start with this idea here what are our expectations of Christmas maybe what are our expectations of advent as well and how is that impacted by reality this conversation will allow us to tap into some of the struggle into some of the darkness what are our expectations at Christmas because whether they are spoken or whether they’re just somewhere in the back of your mind you have them you have expectations of what a good Christmas season looks like maybe it just reflects back on some of the things you experienced in your childhood especially if you had a good childhood you might say there’s things that I look back on and I long to create the same moments I experienced for my kids or my grandkids and these

things can be pretty weird they don’t have to be uniform at all my dad always bought loads of nuts at Christmas like he would go to the store and he would come back with like baskets of nuts and he would put them all over the house I don’t even like nuts but something about Christmas makes me want to buy them because he taps somewhere back into some of my childhood experience I have one memory of Christmas from around the time of seven or eight where I won this mammoth game of monopoly I’m talking about a game that went on for hours and hours that’s actually just monopoly all the time it always goes on for hours and hours and we got to the finish at like two o’clock in the morning and I won I was victorious and it makes me want to play monopoly at Christmas as for winning I’d like to just finish a game of monopoly with kids you just feel like I don’t know if I’ve ever finished a game of monopoly I always do the good parenting thing where I put everything into little envelopes and say we’ll start again tomorrow kids and we never do but there’s all these weird little things that we may tap into and say that signals Christmas to me and if I get to eat these foods and I get to be with these people and have these experience then therefore it has been a good Christmas maybe if you wanted to summarize these into some categories we might say this at Christmas we want to be around family we want to experience wealth and when I say wealth I don’t necessarily mean excess I just mean having enough and we want to experience health and one of those three missing can definitely throw off our experience if you

find yourself lonely at Christmas there is that sense of this doesn’t feel right if you find yourself not having enough at Christmas that in itself can throw you off my neighbors are currently throwing up decorations all over their house and in good American fashion I’m trying to keep up with everybody around me because that’s how you know you’ve been successful right and I thought I had a chance to one of my neighbors drove into our cul-de-sac with a crane lift on the back of his truck uh and there he was 500 a day splashing decorations everywhere and at that point I gave up and surrendered but wealth can just mean that you want to have the same things everybody else has and then of course health those times where you sick at Christmas can make you think wow what is going on here i feel like something is out of whack especially if that sickness leads you to question just how many more Christmases you’ll get to experience these things are what you might call reality and they hit our expectations or our understanding of Christmas now here’s what’s interesting think about things that you do at Christmas many of you will tap into watching a bunch of Christmas movies most of the movies you watch at Christmas they’re not normal expectations get thrown out of the window with these types of movies they’re not normal at all so we have the wonderful home alone what is home alone really about it’s about a couple of thieves who are so intent on one house that they’ll attack one small child in the midst of this incredible drama instead of just walking away it’s a break from what’s normal at Christmas to something over

the top and absurd there’s die hard and I don’t know if die hard is a Christmas movie in Colorado I mean jury’s outright some people yes some people know it’s as controversial as pineapple on pizza I believe but there is this this moment where suddenly a simple Christmas party everything again goes out the window expectations are cast aside not by reality but by absurdity there’s the Santa Claus a normal everyday guy suddenly finds out that he is the new Santa Claus and he’s inherited this through some kind of tradition that’s been running for years and years and then even this newer movie this is the Christmas chronicles has this weirdness to it it’s the extravagance of Christmas meets a family in their mundaneness in their normalness and this Santa Claus somehow rescues this family that are going through family drama and struggle he rescues them into the spirit of Christmas or some kind of high idea like that none of these are really about reality meeting expectation they’re about absurdity meeting expectation and yet in our moments of experience in Christmas when everyday life encounters what our expectations are I wonder if it just really throws us off what happens when reality meets our expectations what happens when our picture of an ideal Christmas season is met by some part of life that we didn’t expect to turn up at that moment maybe some of the best Christmas movies actually deal with this struggle this is a picture of the family stoner a movie that wrestles with what it is to fall in love with someone you’re not supposed to fall in love with but also wrestles with what it is to

have death in the midst of the Christmas season what does it mean when a family loses someone who is deeply beloved and there is an absence around the Christmas tree the Bing Crosby song I’ll be home for Christmas finishes with this poignant additional line it’s the image of a soldier in world war ii imagining that he might return home and all of the things he wants to experience during that season he wants mistletoe he wants snow he wants all of these different things that make his Christmas perfect and then he ends with this poignant line I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams it’s this moment of realization that he won’t be home at Christmas that he may never get home for Christmas the struggle with this Christmas season is Christmas is a force Christmas is a force multiplier what does that mean it means this if you’ve had a good year Christmas makes it better if good things your general experience of 2021 has been I’ve had all of these joys to celebrate maybe you’ve had good health maybe you’ve had a new addition to your family maybe something has changed in a relationship all of these different things take place and you get to Christmas and you get to celebrate but if you’ve had a bad year what does that mean if you’ve experienced struggle if you’ve experienced things that aren’t ideal well then Christmas has the potential to make a bad year worse I knew this early on in my experience of pastoral ministry I was running a Christmas event and on Christmas eve about 11 o’clock in the evening someone called me and said I’m leaving the church the person who called me just happened to be running

all of our Christmas event for us the next day and suddenly in this moment said I just can’t keep doing this anymore so in my conversation I said there’s got to be a story behind the story tell me more and he went on to unpack that his wife had got into a conversation with another person on staff that he just didn’t like and that was enough for him to say at this point I’m out I’m done now was that thing itself enough to push him to this monumental decision absolutely not but so much else had been going on his life that when Christmas season came along suddenly it was like this increased weight suddenly it felt like everything might collapse it made everything a big deal this is what this Christmas season does it becomes a force multiplier that takes the good and magnifies it and it takes the bad and it magnifies it takes the good and it adds weight to it takes the bad and it adds weight to it we walk into this season and suddenly things that we didn’t expect to become a big deal become a big deal and when I experienced this for the first time in this conversation I called a friend later that week and said can I just ask do people act weird at Christmas when you’re a pastor and he said yes they do every Christmas and every easter he said I know that I’ll get some phone call with some piece of drama that actually wouldn’t have been a big deal at any other time of year as we walk through advent towards this season of Christmas we get to become aware of the number of ways that that affects us it affects our emotions affects our responses to things so what is the traditional response to that feeling how do we respond during the course

of this sermon I’m going to give you three possible ways that I think we could approach advent one is buried in this text in a book called Micah we’re about to look at but this first one I would suggest is the western way of dealing with it when we experience that sense of trauma when we experience struggle when we experience hardship when reality impacts our Christmas experience where it impacts our expectations I would suggest this is what we do we put up the lights and pretend it’s all right we put up the lights and we pretend it’s all right if you’ve got loads of how lights all over your house this isn’t this is meant more of a as a joke than an actual attack but I sometimes wondered if the more lights you have on your house the more struggles there are going on inside the walls sometimes it can just be a way of covering up all those different things or maybe just an excuse for me not to put any lights on my house this year but I wonder if that becomes our hypothesis put up the lights and pretend it’s all right if you want a question to reflect on as you encounter this season you may ask this how am I pretending how am I in this season pretending what have been my experiences of 2021 and as I come closer to this Christmas season how am I pretending I’m just okay with everything advent is an alternative season where the church in its history has experienced and embraced the idea of waiting we’ve celebrated this season where we build up towards Christmas and we recognize that a group of people the Jewish people waited for hundreds of years for this moment where the messiah would appear we recognize the

fact that for two thousand years since Jesus death and resurrection the church has waited for his return waited in the tension of what comes next but more than just waiting advent is an alternative season of waiting for light in the midst of darkness for light in the midst of darkness so during the season what we’re going to do over the next four weeks is we’re going to read alongside a group of men called prophets we’re going to read some of the minor prophets and we’re gonna embrace some of the ways they talked about Jesus before he appeared on earth and we’re gonna ask some questions about what that might mean for us today so if you have a text in front of you can turn to Micah chapter five uh it will come up on the screen when I read it through the second time but for now I’m just going to read it out loud for you when you turn to Micah chapter five in your bible it will probably say that five chapter five verse one starts off marshal your troops in the original Hebrew text that’s actually the last verse of chapter four so we’re going to start in verse 2 but you Bethlehem Ephrathah though you are small among the clans of Judah out of you will come from me one who will be ruler over Israel whose origins are from of old from ancient times therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites he will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the lord in the majesty of the name of the lord his god and they will live securely for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth let’s pray god as we read this text as we join with a group

of people who waited for hundreds and hundreds of years for a new light to appear in the world for something to happen we join them in our waiting as we prepare ourselves for this new season for this Christmas moment where on Christmas eve we celebrate your entrance and advent into the world prepare us to look and recognize that there is a world that experiences so much darkness and that often that darkness is our in our own hearts as well would you challenge us and form us would you comfort those of us that are afflicted would you afflict those of us that are comfortable most of all would you speak bring your presence amen so what can this text possibly mean for a group of people in the 21st century we just read a text that’s about 2700 years old that has some vague ideas about a future coming king now if you’ve been following Jesus for a fair while if you’ve been doing this church thing for a while you may just say instantly well we just read about Bethlehem that must be talking about Jesus and the answer is yes and or no because maybe it is to us but to a group of other people I would suggest it probably didn’t mean that originally before we get into that and note on what the word prophet means in the bible there are a bunch of books in the old testament that are called prophetic books written by a mixture of people called major and minor prophets that doesn’t mean some of them are important and some of them aren’t important it simply means that some of them wrote longer texts and some of them wrote shorter texts but we might start here a biblical prophet did lots of fourth telling along with some

foretelling lots of forth telling along with some foretelling so what does that mean for telling is really to proclaim against something to bring out some truth so these prophets for the most part would look at society and they would call out a bunch of ills in society they would point out the ways that people weren’t acting the way that god was calling them to act they would demand change if you want a picture today we’re talking far more far more along the lines of social activists than we are fortune tellers or the people that we may imagine this is what these people did they spoke to society but occasionally just occasionally there were moments where in a different way they spoke to something that was going to happen in the future now the tension line here is that they were always kind of talking about the future mostly along these lines if you continue to act like this bad things will happen to this nation again same language that you hear in many social reformers or social activists today if you keep acting like this things will go south very quickly and then occasionally they would point to these things that were actual events that were happening in the far off and the line isn’t always super clear this is a moment where Micah the prophet we just read will do that fourth telling peace as he has shown you o mortal what is he has shown you on water what is good and what does the lord require of you to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your guard right after a section where he points out all of the ways that these people aren’t doing these things he then says no this is what god is calling you to do this is the

life he is calling you to live this is forth telling and then there are those moments of foretelling which fits the passage that we just read today so i think we often when we hear foretelling picture this guy who’s available on every boardwalk and can tell your future precisely reportedly for a mere five dollars or something like that but we have these pictures of sort of these what we might call prophetic type people maybe sybil Trelawny from the harry potter movies something like that is these pictures of people that predict the future that just generally isn’t how prophecy worked in the old testament for the most part prophets would speak to what would happen if society continued as it was going and occasionally they would have those moments where in incredible ways god would give them some picture of the future but that picture was usually a little bit more blurred than we appreciate today there were usually lots of ways that that could be interpreted at its time and this passage is one of them but you Bethlehem Ephrathah though you are small along the clans of Judah out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel whose origins are from of old from ancient times you and I hear Bethlehem and we think Jesus a Jewish people when Micha was writing this here Bethlehem and they think David Micah wrote this in about 720 ish BC just before everything went terribly badly for the nation of Israel and then following that the nation of Judah in 701 BC the capital of Samaria uh the capital of Israel Samaria would be captured would be overthrown everything went very badly from there and the nation of

Judah had the same fate about a hundred years later Micah is speaking into a time of incredible trauma incredible brokenness and so when he says a ruler will come from Bethlehem every single Jewish person listening would say wait David came from Bethlehem and when we had David life was great when we had David other nations respected us when we had David things were on the up things were good if only if only we could have David again that would be where their directions that would be where their thoughts went and we’ll skip over this awkward little bit for just a second because it does get a little bit awkward therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites Michael will then go on to say he will stand and shepherd David was a shepherd his flock in the strength of the lord in the majesty of the name of the lord his god and they will live securely for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth there’s this moment where these first listeners to Micah would have said man god is promising us greatness again in the midst of our struggle in the midst of our brokenness god is promising us a preferred future and it will be just like when David was here you might say that the first to the first listeners Micah’s words could be understood as wait for a time when your past will become your present wait for a time when all the good things you’ve lost will be restored to you wouldn’t that tap into the cry of their heart and at times wouldn’t that promise tap in to the cries of our hearts if only I could go backwards if only

things could be as they used to be things were so much better when it was like before but then these awkward words that are just thrown there in the middle of this therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son how can he speak of these moments where everything’s going to be great again and at the same time speak of abandonment same time speak of tragedy same time speak of a nation whose god has left them this whole conversation reflects this constant tension point for these people in Israel and I would suggest a constant tension point for you and I as well when we experience moments where reality hits our expectations where things don’t feel like they should be they knew this god is an agent to the people of Israel that was without dispute god worked he did things and he was on their side for the most part too god was an agent who worked in the world so they could pray prayers like this this is Isaiah speaking at the same time as Micah within just a few years look at the language here oh that you would rend the heavens and come down that the mountains would tremble before you as when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil come down and make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you for when you did awesome things that we did not expect you came down and the mountains trembled before you since ancient times no one has heard no ear has perceived no I have seen any god besides you who acts on behalf of those who wait for him this was an articulation of another prophet who says god acts and he will act he’s acted in the

past and he’s going to act for us now god is an agent in the world he does things he works and yet at times for these people god is an agent who has gone missing why aren’t you doing it now why do you make us wait when will it happen we’ve been waiting for so long when does the action take place therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son and the rest of his brothers returned to join the Israelites when did the action take place just as it was for them when reality hits our expectations isn’t that our cry as well god why aren’t you doing something why aren’t you acting now why have you in the language of psalm 74 why have you put your hand in your pocket and just said I’m just gonna wait I’m just gonna wait as people we don’t like that tension point we want god to work when we want him to work and when he doesn’t we’re like I don’t know what to do with that in Samuel becket’s book waiting for god out there’s a conversation he imagines between two people who are waiting for some person to turn up they’re not sure who he is he might be god he might not be but they’re waiting and waiting and waiting and in the midst of their waiting in the midst of their conversation there’s this one moment where one of the speakers he gives this heart rendering cry he simply says nothing happens nobody comes nobody goes I’m waiting and waiting and it’s just it’s just waiting that’s all it is I wonder how many times these people that we first read about responding to Micah I wonder how many times in that moment of abandonment and that moment of it’s not all making

sense in that moment of god isn’t acting they were tempted to just say it’s never going to happen we’re just done with this thing because haven’t you and I felt close to that point as well or don’t you at least know people who have gotten to that point I just can’t wait anymore if god is an agent he should have acted by now and he hasn’t acted while we have the western approach that we talked about earlier the western approach to advent the western approach to reality hitting expectation which is to put on the lights and pretend it’s all right I think there’s a temptation to a different approach that is equally troubling I think that’s the approach of turn off the lights and embrace the night I can’t do this anymore can’t do this I can’t pretend that Christmas fixes things I can’t pretend that everything is okay I can’t keep going and so I’m just done I’m just done I can’t nobody comes nobody goes I can’t wait anymore I can’t keep waiting I wonder how this Jewish people felt after hundreds and hundreds of years of waiting hundreds and hundreds of years of telling the story when Micah writes it’s been 300 years since David lives and even if these people would come to believe that Jesus was the person he claimed to be at 700 years from Micah’s writing until Jesus appears isn’t that more waiting than people can be expected to do one lifetime after another lifetime passes and this group of people are still waiting for something and we might add experience lifetime after lifetime but isn’t there a cry in us that I’m still waiting for something and maybe we don’t even know what we’re waiting for maybe a question for reflection

might be what am I waiting for what am I waiting for nobody comes nobody goes it’s awful we just keep on waiting does god act will he act why does the world look the way it looks these are articulations that we may make deep in our own hearts questions that we might ask have I been abandoned did the god of the universe stop caring did he stop working for me at least there’s a struggle with this word abandoned this writer throws in this word abandoned and of course we’re working from an English translation of a Hebrew text I don’t love this translation abandoned I don’t think it gives it the full meaning and I think when we understand some of the full meaning maybe it gives us a third way of looking at this that isn’t just put on the lights and pretend it’s all right but doesn’t land and embrace the night doesn’t land in it’s all going to be awful forever maybe there’s another way that gives us some hope to move us towards Christmas this word abandoned it only appears translated like this once in the old testament in other places it’s translated more like this give them up to something allow them to go through something the language actually has a little bit more purpose than abandoned gives it there is this journey that somehow god is still involved in even though he isn’t necessarily completely visible in the story when we understand what Micah says that way it starts to tap in a little bit more to some other texts that we might think of when we think about this experience of night of darkness this is psalm 139 just one of my favorite texts if I say surely the darkness will hide me and the light becomes night around me even the

darkness will not be dark to you the night will shine like the day for darkness is as light to you this writer of the psalms pictures even in those moments of waiting that god is somewhere behind the scenes working somewhere he is inactive he may not be agent in a way that we can see but somewhere he is still acting this is a letter that nelson Mandela wrote to his wife as he was experienced this sense of abandonment in prison he said i wish i was in the position to tell you something that could gladden your heart and make you smile but as they see it we may have to wait a long time for that bright and happy moment in the meantime we must drink the bitter cup to the dregs perhaps no I am sure the good old days will come when life will sweeten our tongues and nurse our wounds I wish I was in the position to tell you something that could gladden your heart and make you smile but we may have to wait this is a man who at this point has been in prison for six years and will be in prison for another 20 years this is a man who in the season learns what it is to wait and I don’t know where he’s Jesus with his journey with following Jesus looks like at all but what I do see is a man who experiences what it is to sit in darkness and believe a new story can come from that darkness I wonder if that’s the direction we’re called to go at advent not to just pretend everything is fine not to give in to the defeat that nothing will ever change that nobody comes nobody goes and it’s just awful but I wonder if somewhere there’s a way in this season we get to do this I wonder if we can acknowledge the night but wait for the light I wonder if

we can acknowledge the night but wait for the light I wonder if we can allow ourselves in the midst of those experiences of darkness and struggle in those moments where reality hits our expectation in a way that we just don’t like and just feel shouldn’t be I wonder if there’s a possibility in that moment that we can wait and believe that light will appear 700 years these people of Israel would wait until this moment that a messiah would appear then most of the Jewish people didn’t believe it was him but so ingrained in their minds was the idea of Bethlehem with this messiah that when Jesus appears and somebody asks tell us where the messiah is born the answer his answer is just instantaneous this is Matthew chapter two after Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judah during the time of king Herod Maggi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked where is the one who has been born king of the Jews we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him when king Herod heard that he was this he was disturbed in all Jerusalem with him when he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law he asked them where the messiah was to be born in Bethlehem in Judah they replied for this is what the prophet has written but you Bethlehem in the land of Judah are by no means least among the rulers of Judah for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel for 700 years this text had lurked in the consciousness of these people in Israel and now in this moment it finally appears it’s no wonder that we write songs like oh little town of Bethlehem with this incredible first verse oh

little town of Bethlehem how still we see the lie above the deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light the hopes and fears of all the years are met in the tonight constantly advent will play on that interchange between darkness and light and this moment of this emergence of hopes and fears the hopes and fears of all the years are met in the baby in Bethlehem this is the moment that they’ve been waiting for but what hopes whose hopes are met because it’s not the people of Israel’s hopes it’s not David it’s not what they expected it’s not a king that will come and build the empire of Israel back up again it’s not someone who will come and overthrow the romans in the way that they expected it’s not the hopes and fears they expect to get met it’s not the expectation they have of what the world should look like it’s a different kind of reality it’s a different kind of emergence of light he will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the lord in the majesty of the name of the lord his god they will live securely these people of Israel pictured a military leader that would come and bring rule and yet what they got was far more like David as shepherd who would nurture and care for his people what they got was new light emerging something changing in the way that the world worked all of this story has been building and leading to this moment where god steps into his own story and that too leads on to this moment of easter this moment where we get to experience this death and then this resurrection this is a story that god has been preparing for years and light is

emerging out of darkness and yet a whole group of people missed it and why because the story didn’t look like the old story they couldn’t see a news story emerging they could only look for the old story in this moment in eastern easter in this moment in advent as we walk towards Christmas we get to acknowledge the darkness around us and in our own hearts also and yet we get to move towards Christmas believing that god has constantly and joyfully and repeatedly brought a light out of darkness and he does it over and over again in this season as you attempted to have pain maybe these two approaches maybe your personality and your temptation is I’m gonna put on the lights and I’m gonna put on the smile and I’m gonna pretend everything is fine I get to let you know you don’t have to do that that you need to have a space where you can say I am not okay it is not all right this year has brought trauma and her and pain and you need someone to be able to share that with but you also don’t need to descend into nobody comes nobody goes it’s awful because this god this god of the universe has specialized in turning up and bringing light from darkness in this season you can acknowledge the darkness in this world and your own heart also but believe that the new light emerges from that darkness going to invite Aaron and the team up on stage to lead us in worship and we’re going to move afterward to this lighting of our first candle it is the candle of hope my

hope is in this moment wherever you are in that journey whatever you see in the world around you whatever darkness you wrestle with that in this moment we would light that candle and it will kindle hope for you hope not in a return to an old story of a warrior king but hope in a shepherd king who came to rescue his people in whom you are included