Part 1 of a sermon series based on “Sent: Delivering the Gift of Hope at Christmas,” by Jorge Acevedo.
United Methodist pastor Jacob Armstrong tells of this story, that during one Advent season, his daughters asked him a very serious question: “Dad, will you ever take us to Waffle House?”
This question comes from a six and an eight year old, and was asked with the seriousness that only girls of that age can ask with. Jacob had nothing against Waffle House. He just never really thought about going there. Naturally, if there is a mysterious place you’ve never been that is prominently in your neighborhood, eventually you will think, “What goes on in this mysterious house of waffles?” So, in response to his daughters, without thinking twice, he said “Yes, we will get up early before school and go.”
And go they did. The night before their excursion, the local weather report said it was going to snow. And so, Jacob’s mind ran off into fantasy: he imagine him and his daughters on a memorable but dangerous journey, and finally make it to Waffle House with a few harrowing moments along the way. They would sit at a table by the big window and look out at a snow-capped shopping mall. Deer would dance through the Red Lobster parking lot. It would be magical.
Sadly, reality rarely meets up with the magic in our heads, as it was for Jacob and his daughters. They woke up at 5am, and as many of you know, seldom is there magic in the world at 5am. When he tried to wake up his girls, they went right on sleeping, and grumbled at his attempts. Finally they were roused and they left.
On the way, one of the girls said: “Daddy, I don’t feel normal.” “What do you mean, you don’t feel normal?” He asked. She replied, “You know–it’s dark, we’re going to a restaurant when usually we’d be getting ready for school. It just doesn’t feel normal.” “Well,” he said, “sometimes when you do something you don’t normally do, you see something you don’t normally see.”
They walked into Waffle House, and sat by the window, surrounded by the usual 5am Waffle House crowd, usually people at the end of their work shifts, people in blue collar jobs, that kind of thing. Outside they saw cars zooming by, hundreds of cars, headlights reflecting on the darkened streets. “Where are all these people going?” asked one of the girls. “who are they, driving around in the dark?” He said “they’re going to work, or coming back from work. In fact, these ladies who served us breakfast had to get up early to be here.” Their server overheard our conversation. “Sugar,” she said, “I’ve been here since 10:30 last night.”
Jacob and his daughters then thought about all the people who work when they sleep. Nurses, truck drivers, police officers–there’s a whole world that goes on when you sleep. And while the food was everything one could hope for at Waffle house, it got Jacob thinking. It hit him that the first people who got the news about the baby, the messiah, the great reconciler who comes to save us, the first people to hear about it were a bunch of shepherds working the graveyard shift in the middle of the night. God wanted them to know that the good news was for them, so much so that God chose them to be the ones to hear the news first. And Jacob wondered, and now I wonder, if that grand announcement was to be made today, would God go to Waffle House while it was still dark and tell the ladies who work the night shift? Perhaps the better question is: who else would God tell that message to?
If you were one of those shepherds all those years ago, doubtless the question you would be asking yourself as the sky fell dark after seeing a heavenly army and receiving a message announcing the birth of God’s son would be “Why us?” Why would we be the ones that God told about this miraculous thing?
The next few weeks, as we begin the journey of Advent, I’ll be leading you through a sermon series called “Sent.” It’s based on a book commissioned by Pastor Jorge Acevedo, and written by many of his colleagues, designed to look at the idea that Jesus was sent to us for a reason. Today, we’re talking about Jesus’s work of reconciliation, but before we talking about the R word, perhaps we need to tackle the idea that God sent Jesus to us, because in my mind, that’s a big issue. Why would God send God’s son to us in the first place? After all…
Jesus comes to the Unsuspecting
…we weren’t expecting Jesus in the first place. Nobody did. Nobody expected a messiah like Jesus in the flesh. This goes for his uncle Zechariah and aunt Elizabeth, the elderly parents of John the Baptizer. This goes for Mary, the mother of Jesus, a teenager betrothed to someone else. None of these people were more special than others, nor was anyone expecting this kind of event. Yet it happened nonetheless.
Jesus comes to the Unqualified
None of these people were qualified for Jesus’s presence either–but what does that even mean? Neither are we. Nobody can really do anything to qualify for having Jesus come to them. Jesus comes despite everything. Everyone protests when God intervenes. Abraham laughed in God’s face when God told him he’d have a child. Moses made excuses. Jonah didn’t even say anything, he just ran in the opposite direction. Nobody ever feels qualified, and nobody is qualified.
Look at me for instance. I’m a 28 year old man, with degrees in English, History, and Theology. That doesn’t change the fact that I constantly feel unqualified to lead these two churches as lead pastor. In fact, I always wonder whether or not I am qualified to even be a pastor. And yet here I am. God has prepared me every step of the way for being here, and God has qualified me. I didn’t earn it. It was bestowed upon me.
This message was bestowed upon the shepherds, not because they were qualified, but as a qualification. They were made worthy by being chosen, not the other way around.
Jesus was Sent for All People
Beyond all of this, Jesus was sent for all people. That much is made clear in the story of the nativity, the story we tell each other each December. He came for those whose expectations for their lives have changed. He came for those who are physically uncomfortable. For those who drive crowded streets, or empty highways. He came for those who feel they live where they work, or for those who feel as if life has passed them by. He came for those who are afraid. He came for those who need good news. He came for those who are in a hurry. He came regardless of circumstance. In short, he came for all people.
Jesus was Sent to Reconcile
So Jesus was sent for us, but why? In short, he came for reconciliation. When we talk about reconciliation, what are we talking about? Are we talking about restoring something that was lost? Are we sent something that will heal something damaged? Yes, but also he came to bring us closer to God. That’s reconciliation in a nutshell. In coming to us, God came closer to us.
Our Longing, God’s Longing
All year long, we often get lost in the shuffle of life. We have obligations, job, family, and everything else to juggle. And then, suddenly, in November, a switch gets flipped: a God switch, if you will. This switch gets flipped, and suddenly, we begin thinking of spiritual matters, primarily thankfulness, which we will be celebrating this week in Thanksgiving, and then in December, Giving.
Our God switch is flipped, and our hearts wake up to the fact that, Oh yeah, I need God. Everyone becomes more aware of the needs of others. We make a more concerted effort to care about other people, an effort that is noticeably absent the rest of the year. Suddenly, we become aware of our own longing for God, a longing that God has all the time.
I mentioned earlier Zechariah and Elizabeth earlier, and they are notable as a couple marked as being in longing for something. They had no children, and they went their entire lives wanting them. Sadly, it was not something that God granted to them in their youth. They never quit longing though. Then one day, an angel came to Zechariah and told him that he would have a child, a special child, a child that would be a prophet to the coming of the messiah. Your longing will be answered, and in the process, God’s longing for our love will be made manifest in the lives of John, and the man he would prophesy about, Jesus.
The World Needs Reconciliation
God longs for us. God wants to be reconciled with us. Even though we might push God away, even though we are blind to God’s grace and wonder almost constantly, God still loves us. God is our Father Almighty after all, and never forget that word order. Father always comes first. Love, and patience, and care, and pride over his creation comes before everything else, even sin, even rejection, even everything else. God longs for us. And in Jesus, God made reconciliation possible between us and him.
So why not embrace reconciliation? Why not embrace this value of being reconciled to God, and in turn, being reconciled to others? Are there relationships in your life that need reconciliation? Healing? Love? Then perhaps in pondering the reconciliation found in Jesus, we ought to live that out with others in our lives.
This whole world needs reconciliation. The good news is that Jesus was sent so that the world can be reconciled. Thanks be to God. Amen.