December 17, 2006
Fourth Sunday of Advent
“This Christmas, Get Lost!”
Scripture: Isaiah 11: 1-9 Luke 1:39-45
Good Morning Everyone! As you know from our service bulletin, the sermon title for this morning is, “This Christmas, Get Lost!” For those of you who were here two weeks ago, you might recall that I told of the time when Pat Zacharias and I got lost as we drove from Boston to Kitchener and ended up going some 100 miles out of our way. I want you to know that this is not a repeat of that sermon.
I also want to ask that you try to resist the temptation to psychoanalyze my request that you use this advent season to “Get Lost.” It is not an unconscious expression of unresolved hostility or anger. I love you all dearly, and truly enjoy your company!
Instead, I want you to know that I use this title as a way to help each of us become more aware of what this season is all about and how we can use this message to grow in our appreciation of the Lord’s coming to us anew. In fact, when I ask that you “Get Lost” I mean it in a very positive fashion. Perhaps this will become clearer as we come to understand what I want us to get lost from!
As a way of explaining this, I want to take you back to something I experienced in 1982. I lived in Pittsburgh then, and remember one spring when an article appeared in the Pittsburgh Gazette – a report on a recent city council meeting. It told of their vote to approve a request made by the city parks department that involved cutting down several trees in a park that happened to be located very near our church.
The trees were a problem, not because they were infested with undesirable insects, not because they had branches that might fall off and injure a pedestrian, not because their roots were damaging sidewalks. The trees were a problem because they had grown so tall and full that they obscured a well-known landmark. It was a statue dedicated to the memory of one of that city’s famous residents. Who was this person? Do you really want to know? It was Joyce Kilmer.
You heard me correctly. Joyce Kilmer, who had penned the famous verse,
I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree
A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast … Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
Even now, some twenty-four years later, I still think it odd that those who sat on Pittsburgh’s city council, in their desire to pay tribute to that great poet, wanted to destroy the very thing that Kilmer had honored by his words. And yes, even though the public outcry was loud and furious, the circle of trees around that statue came down. They had to die for the sake of a poem that was written to sing of their beauty and majesty.
I remember walking through that park a few months later. And believe me when I say that the stumps that encircled that statue somehow spoke with more eloquence than Kilmer’s words ever could. Yes, that day I saw what fools like me can produce, especially when we are led solely by what we claim to be that thing we call wisdom. And I learned that day that a far greater and profitable guide in life is love. Perhaps this is why the Advent Season concludes with this important theme.
This truth was also expressed some 5,000 years before Kilmer penned his poetic verse. It came through the words of the prophet Isaiah who proclaimed,
“The royal line of David is like a tree that has been cut down; but just as new branches sprout from a stump, so a new king will arise from among David’s descendants.”
We tend to think of these words as a promise of what is to come in the future. But that understanding falls far short of their full meaning. For I want to remind you today that there is also a note of sadness in his words, coupled with a desire for forgiveness. After all, the royal line had been cut down. The representation of God’s leadership of his people had been destroyed due to events of human making. And so in a very real way, Isaiah was saying that fools like us can do so many destructive things. And until we acknowledge this, and allow the tree of that knowledge to grow within us, the love of God for us can never be truly felt.
And in order to do this, today I want to ask you a question. In order to see and take ownership of what we are cutting down that is of value and eternal importance in life, what must we do to open our eyes? Are we seeing and valuing those things that are made by fools like us? Or are we seeking the wonder and joy that comes anew to us from God? The former are those things from which we are to “get lost.” The latter are what we are to “take on.” And so I urge you, let us make the right choice, the choice that prepares the way of the Lord anew into our lives.
Yes, in all sincerity, today I urge that this Christmas, make the effort to “Get Lost.” And I am not talking about losing your way in the crowds that pack the Queens Center Mall! I am asking that you take the time to lose yourselves in the wonderment of the event that took place some 2,000 years ago, when the world experienced the miracle of miracles, when unto us a child was born, who came not to be our judge, but to be our Savior.
Perhaps this is why our New Testament lesson for this morning is so veryimportant, for those two women knew what it was like to “get lost” in the wonder of what was happening. We heard of Mary, who was filled with the joy that comes from learning that one is with child. We heard of Elizabeth, and how she felt the child within her move. Neither of these women were experiencing something that was of their own making. They had received Divine gifts, and these were a source of wonder that filled their hearts. And for each of us the message is clear. Rediscovering our ability to get lost in wonder is the most important thing that we can do in our Advent preparations.
There is a familiar Christian hymn that is seldom associated with the Christmas season, even though it was originally written as an Advent song. Authored by Charles Wesley, the Biblical text that inspired it was this morning’s New Testament lesson. And indeed, its last verse serves to underscore the truths that the passage convey to us.
Finish then thy new creation, Pure and spotless let us be.Let us see our whole salvation, perfectly secured in Thee.Changed from glory unto glory, Till in heaven we take our place,Till we cast our crowns before thee, Lost in wonder, love and praise.
Getting lost in wonder, love and praise. That’s what this season is all about. And as the day of our Lord’s birth draws near, may each of us take the time to do just that. Amen.