Beginning with the End

Beginning with the End

Note: This series is based on the book Not a Silent Night: Mary Looks Back to Bethlehem, by the Rev. Adam Hamilton.

This Sunday, we begin our traditional Advent season. You may remember that the tradition of this season is not about the shopping and lights and trees that many began as soon as the Thanksgiving dishes were hastily rinsed. This preparation is about the arrival of the Christ-child in our midst. I have often noted the importance of welcoming Christ in our lives every year because – quite frankly – I think we need the reminder!

Every year, our Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) begins the Advent season with an apocalyptic text, and while we will not be following the RCL this Advent we will follow this model: we will begin with the end in mind.

Specifically we will be focusing on Mary, the mother of Jesus. What must her eyes have seen in her life? From angels to miracles to death, Mary was the only person in Scripture to have been present at Jesus’ birth and at Jesus’ death. What must her eyes have seen? So we begin with the end, and then an earlier text that points to that end.

Acts 1:6-14 (CEB)
6As a result, those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?”

7Jesus replied, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. 8Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

9After Jesus said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. 11They said, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.”

12Then they returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem—a sabbath day’s journey away. 13When they entered the city, they went to the upstairs room where they were staying. Peter, John, James, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James, Alphaeus’ son; Simon the zealot; and Judas, James’ son— 14all were united in their devotion to prayer, along with some women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

Luke 2:25-35 (CEB)
25A man named Simeon was in Jerusalem. He was righteous and devout. He eagerly anticipated the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27Led by the Spirit, he went into the temple area. Meanwhile, Jesus’ parents brought the child to the temple so that they could do what was customary under the Law. 28Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God. He said,

29“Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word,
30 because my eyes have seen your salvation.
31You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples.
32It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and a glory for your people Israel.”

33His father and mother were amazed by what was said about him. 34Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your innermost being too.”

Consider these questions:

  1. As we “begin with the end,” what significance does this have for you? Why do you think the RCL does this, and how might it be helpful for us to enter into the Advent season in this way?
  2. The Scripture from Acts describes Jesus ascension. What emotions do you think were likely experienced by the witnesses?
  3. The Scripture from Luke highlights the Jewish tradition of presenting a firstborn son to God at the Temple in accordance with Jewish law in Leviticus 12 and Exodus 13. But the experience becomes unusual because Simeon tells Mary that “a sword will pierce your innermost being too.” What do you think Mary’s response might have been, and how does it connect with our Acts text today?

Post-Sermon Update on 12/4

Audio from the sermon can be heard below, and video can be found at this link (will open in a new tab).

Sunday’s message began with an observation that many of us begin the Holiday season with “black Friday” shopping, and concluded with the reminder that Jesus’ resurrection and ascension gives us peace and hope in dark times. But what does that look like? And when the world – or when we personally – feel like the darkness is too oppressive, what can we actually do?

Hamilton’s book (on which this series is based) references the story of Jdimytai Damour, the part-time retail worker who was trampled and killed by a crowd of “black Friday” shoppers on Long Island, New York in 2008 (link to story here). This is a tragic story that shows the very real dangers of greed and the darkness that can infect our celebrations. But the story is not complete without one more detail.

Of the two thousand people outside that retail store in 2008 who pushed through broken doors and trampled over and around Jdimytai Damour, there were a handful of people who stopped to help. While reporting is vague, I imagine that they comforted him. I imagine that they called for aid. I imagine that they tried to protect him. And I imagine that they prayed.

I would suggest that this is what it looks like to shine Christ’s light in the midst of darkness and chaos, and I believe that the Great Commission (found in Matthew 28, and also in Mark 16, Luke 24, Acts 1, and John 20) is exactly this. This Advent season, may we light the spark of peace and hope.

Consider these questions:

  1. Remembering that Advent and Christmas are not a celebratory time for everyone, how do you experience this season? Is it a time of joy? Do you experience peace and hope? Do you experience grief? What are the practices or traditions you follow that help you enhance or manage these emotions?
  2. Is there a time during a Holiday season that you remember something significant happening that was like a light as we’ve described it here? What happened? What were your thoughts and emotions?
  3. What can you do to begin to shine the light of God’s love in Jesus Christ?