You and your spouse may have a December tradition of driving around residential neighborhoods at night to look at the Christmas lights. You don't need a spouse to do that, though. It's relaxing just to get in the car and drive around looking at fellow citizen's efforts to bring beauty and joy to their part of God's creation. To those of you who have gone to great efforts and expense to decorate your house, we Christians thank you, or we should.
Passing by a house that is decorated or all aglow with bright colors can give us a sense of community without saying a word. Whether it's lots of lights or a simple red ribbon wrapped around the mailbox pole, the residents are reaching out to their neighbors to help them remember that there is reason for joy and hope these days. We all need that reminder. We've all experienced some family strife, economic woes, deaths of loved ones, health issues and/or battling with the Accuser and struggles with sin since last Christmas.
It is appropriate that the new year for the traditional church calendar comes in early December--before Christmas, rather than after. Many mangers displayed in lawns and in front of churches do not include the baby Jesus until December 25. Advent is about anticipation--awaiting our Savior. Advent ends on Christmas Day, when we celebrate the birth of God Incarnate, to save us from our sins and resurrect us to eternal life.
If you have no tradition of a night's cruise in mid-December to check out all the lights of this blessed season, try it. It's not a night for critiquing the displays, but for quietly enjoying the beauty of the lights and appreciating the loving efforts of the home or business owner. Think of God so loving His creation to become one of us to save us.
But before you grab the keys and your coat, open your Bible to Jeremiah and read from chapter 33, verse 14-16. The prophet proclaims the "Branch of David" to save the Israelites. The Savior is called by Jeremiah by the moniker, "The Lord is our righteousness."
Jeremiah's words offer you community of faith, too, much like your neighbors. Jeremiah lived on the other side of the cross, era-wise, but we look back to it. When looking at those cheerfully illuminated lights through your car window, remember that you are saved, believer, because the Lord is your righteousness.
For churches following the three-year Scripture Lectionary series, the Gospel reading for this first Sunday of Advent is from Luke 19: 28-40. It may seem like an odd reading for Advent, as Jesus is preparing for His return to Jerusalem to be the Lamb to be slaughtered for the sins of the world. But that's how the Lord is your righteousness, as He bore yours and my sins. That's why He came on that night in Bethlehem. And that's why Advent is considered a "mini-Lenten" season of contrition and reflection as we anticipate the most wondrous Gift of Christmas.
Save the Luke 2 reading for later. For now, commune in the Holy Spirit with words of Jeremiah and your neighbors' joyful lights. Return to His house this Sunday, to worship Him with equally unworthy people just like you. Gloria Deo--Glory to God.
Rev. Timothy Matthew is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Kennett.