Sermon – 12/08/2013

Categories: Sermons

Rev. Joe Connolly

That One Shall Not Judge

by Rev. Joseph Connolly

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“The spirit of Yahweh, God, / shall rest on this branch, / the spirit of wisdom and understanding, / the spirit of counsel and strength, / the spirit of knowledge and / reverence for Yahweh.” — Isaiah 11:2.

A little bit ago there was much ink spilled in the print media and air time spent on cable news, over the air television and radio about the phenomena labeled as Thanksgivukkah. This— Thanksgivukkah— was the convergence of the American holiday, Thanksgiving, and the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Needless to say that was last Thursday, November 28th, 2013.

Much of that ink and air time was given over to the thought that this was the last time these holidays would converge for the next 77,000 years. Now, I don’t mean to be a spoil sport, but this is meaningless. In a real sense it was just made up out of whole cloth. What do I mean by made up?

First, Hanukkah actually started on the 27th, not the 28th. Second, Thanksgiving— at least the version mandated by secular authority as opposed to any religious celebration of giving thanks— did not even have the firm, set date it currently has— the fourth Thursday in November— until Congress made it so by passing a law setting it that way. And when did that law take effect? 1943.

Before that, the American Thanksgiving was a movable feast, most often celebrated on the fifth Thursday in November, when there was a fifth Thursday. But from the time of George Washington until the time Lincoln, the date observed varied from state to state. Lincoln issued a proclamation affixing the date to that last Thursday and after that most folks adhered to it— most but not all.

And of course, the Jewish calendar— that’s a lunar calendar— 28 days IN each month. Because of that, some years have more months that others to keep the calendar from getting totally out of wack with the seasons.

And this is year 5,774 on the Jewish calendar. As to Hanukkah and its date, the feast has a history of about 2,000 years. But that’s less than half of the aforementioned 5,000 plus years on the Jewish calendar. So Hanukkah’s a newcomer.

Well, look at all these facts. If Thanksgiving was not a fixed date until 1943, by definition that fixed date is new. And while Hanukkah is much older, it’s new on its calendar.

Add to that the fact that Hanukkah really started on the 27th, not the 28th, and the fact that these two dates never coincided before and barely converged now and shall not converge for another 77,000 years, there is only one conclusion to draw. This story was made up to entertain. And that is all it is— entertainment.

Which is also to say, the story was really not worth the amount of the ink and the amount of air time devoted to it. But it did attract a whole lot of noise. (Slight pause.)

Now, also recently, much ink and much air time was devoted to the fact that stores opened on Thanksgiving. And much of what was said had to do with painting merchants as putting money over family.

To be clear, I agree. I do not think it’s good that stores opened. And does it pit money over family? Why yes, it does.

But do you know why Thanksgiving was set by Congress as the fourth Thursday in November, as opposed to the fifth Thursday in November? (Slight pause.) It was set that way (in 1943, mind you) to ensure that the selling season before Christmas was as long as possible. And when it was set up that way, Congress was very vocal in saying it was about money and it was not about family and it was definitely not about religion.

So there is one more thing which should be clear about this move to the fourth Thursday for Thanksgiving. Commerce, if not Congress, was usurping Christmas for its own purposes.

Now, having mentioned that Christmas, the Feast of the Incarnation, the Feast of the birth of the Messiah has been usurped, let me make one more point. As you heard earlier, we are not now in the season of Christmas. [1]

In the church the season of Christmas happens from December the 25th to the 5th of January. We are now in the season of Advent. But you might not be able to tell it’s Advent based on the hustle and bustle of the cultural noise— cultural noise— we see around us.

To be clear, I have nothing against commerce. But I do ask that we make one distinction. Please do not confuse commerce of any kind with the Feast of the Incarnation, the Feast of the birth of the Messiah. The two have nothing in common. (Slight pause.)

And we find these words in the Scroll of the Prophet Isaiah: “The spirit of Yahweh, God, / shall rest on this branch, / the spirit of wisdom and understanding, / the spirit of counsel and strength, / the spirit of knowledge and / reverence for Yahweh.” (Slight pause.)

Based on what I just said, I hope this much is evident. The culture in which we live imposes a lot of things on us which are simply frivolous. Many of those things the culture imposes are not in any way dangerous and many of those things can be great fun.

But, for the most part, many of those things the culture imposes on us should not be taken seriously. They should not become or be made into the center of our lives. Why should we should waste energy, precious energy, on things which are no more than cultural noise? (Slight pause.)

In the passage the Prophet Isaiah speaks of the One on whom the Spirit of Yahweh, God, shall rest. The Prophet says that this One shall not judge by what the eyes see, by appearances, or decide by what the ears hear or by hearsay. In short, this one shall be focused on God— and focused on God, alone. In short, this one realizes nothing else matters but God. (Slight pause.)

The world throws a lot of stuff at us— appearances. Our ears hear a lot of “stuff.” But it is really, really of little matter— this stuff.

So, for me, a pivotal question becomes this: ‘What is really, really important?’ (Slight pause.) For me, the made up stuff has become less and less important over time.

For me the key issue has become ‘How does my relationship with God grow and how does God call me to grow in relationship with others?’ For me the key issue becomes ‘how do I turn my life toward God, turn my life over to God?’ (Slight pause.)

In the Gospel John the Baptizer says this (quote): “Change your hearts and minds,….” In the older, more archaic translation instead of saying “Change your hearts and minds…” a single word is used— repent.

As I have said here before, ‘repent’ in no way means to feel sorry or to regret. Repent means to turn your life toward God. Repent means to turn your life over to God. And perhaps more precisely, repent means, as much as possible, to ignore the clutter in the culture around us which distracts us from God. (Slight pause.)

I think one reason the church celebrates and we should celebrate Advent, why we should take Advent seriously, is the celebration should help us move away from the cultural clutter— the noise around us. Advent, you see, is meant as a time to grapple with the idea that God is with us at all times, in all places and in all ways because of the birth of the Messiah, the Christ, this one they called Jesus.

Therefore, Advent is meant as a time to help us see through culture clutter. (Slight pause.) Can all that cultural clutter be fun? Why, yes it can. It can be lots of fun. I have a lot of fun, myself, with it.

But we need to see cultural clutter as mere background noise. We need to realize the central message of Christmas is summed up in that other name connected with Jesus, the one we find here in the Gospel of Matthew— Emmanuel: God is with us. Amen.

12/08/2013
United Church of Christ, First Congregational, Norwich, NY

ENDPIECE— It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Congregational Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “This, the Second Sunday in Advent, we commemorated Peace. As I have said here many

Rev. Joe Connolly

times before, the Peace of God is not the absence of conflict. The Peace of God is the presence of the Spirit of God. And, as Christians, we recognize the presence of God at all times and in all places. It is my hope that in when recognize the presence of God that helps us filter out the cultural clutter which surrounds us.”

BENEDICTION: Let us be present to one another as we go from this place. Let us share our gifts, our hopes, our memories, our p

[1] At the beginning of the service each week the day being celebrated on the Christian Calendar is noted.ain and our joy. Go in peace for God is with us. Go in joy for God knows every fiber of our being. Go in hope for God reveals to us, daily, that we are a part of God’s new creation. Go in love, for we rest assured, by Christ, Jesus, that God is steadfast. And may the peace of God which surpasses understanding be with us this day and forevermore. Amen.

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