Sermon Series:

Turkish Delight

December 07, 2017 - December 10, 2017

Isaiah 40:1-10

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Elizabeth Shen O'Connor

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Advent has begun. Our time of “waiting” begun. It’s such an odd practice to “practice” waiting. What does that mean really? During this time of year, the last thing we are doing is “waiting” or holding still. I don’t know about you, but the pace notches up something like ten-fold. Slowing it down seems like an impossible task. Isn’t it true, in this season especially, that the very thing we need– for health, well-being, sanity even – is the thing we don’t ever seem to get to? Other “stuff” always gets in the way.

 

And so, that spiritual emptiness we can feel at this time of year grows because we don’t feed it properly. We let what we think Christmas should be or be like determine our activities in this season. All the while, Christ is coming.

 

Last week, Henry talked about this same spiritual hunger that had captured the Israelites. God had made this epic promise to them. He would send a savior to them. One that would solve every problem, answer every question. Their lives would be turned around, in an instant. All would be well. The stockings hung. The children nestled. But the wait was getting to them. Now, I think the fact that these people waited those initial two thousand years is actually quite commendable. I can’t seem to wait two minutes on hold without becoming cranky. But they did it. And it’s natural to hear that they eventually became restless and disturbed and even disinterested. God’s plan seemed to be on the back burner. And so life went on, wars ensued, battles were won and lost, homes and land destroyed, exile became their new reality, and their holy city, Jerusalem, well it seemed abandoned by God.

 

It seemed to them like they were living an eternal winter. And then things started to change.

 

Narnia is this imaginative land out of Lewis’ mind that takes on these similar characteristics. A false queen, Jadis the White Witch, has taken hold of the kingdom and all its creatures. Aslan, a great lion and the true king of Narnia hasn’t been seen for ages. Then, four English children are shipped off to the country during World War II for their safety. While playing in an old house and near an old wardrobe, Lucy, the youngest, stumbles into this world. She encounters a good and noble faun and finds out more about this fascinating place. Her brother, Edmund is the second to discover Narnia. In contrast to Lucy, though, he encounters the Queen and immediately these children are dropped into Narnian politics.

 

Edmund’s encounter with the Queen becomes the point upon which the plot of the book turns. You see, right off, she recognizes him as someone she can manipulate – tempt for her selfish purposes. She offers him the warmth of her sleigh, a delicious drink and…Turkish Delight. For those who aren’t familiar this middle eastern jelly sweet, it is often made with rosewater and fruit and nuts and dusted with powdered sugar. Now, before you starting picturing fruit cake here, it is cut into small, delicate cubes. It may not be to everybody’s taste, but it sure is to Edmund’s. It doesn’t hurt too that Lewis made it “magically” enchanted.

 

The Queen promised Edmund as much Turkish Delight as he could ever possibly want, along with power and fame and riches, if he would only bring his siblings to her the next time he came to Narnia.

 

Edmund’s temptation leads to the betrayal of his family, their new friends and eventually to an epic battle. For at this point in the story of Narnia, and with these confluence of events, good and evil are revealed as people choose sides.

 

For the people of Israel, the coming together of their spiritual hunger and an ever growing – what may be called – spiritual ignorance pushed their story to an unexpected climax. It was the perfect storm that set the stage for Christ.

 

As much as God’s people needed relief from the political pressures and tensions and so hungered for the Messiah’s coming, in that long wait they lost sight of God’s true desires for them. Spiritual ignorance set in. They pinned all their hopes on some political giant who would rescue them from the grip of the Roman Empire. But they neglected to look within themselves. They were blind to their own doubt and confusion and misperceptions about how God would fulfill his promise. “All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.” As a result, their worship life diminished and their faithfulness – their loyalty – faded. They became distracted by all the other seemingly powerful and captivating things around them.

 

Christmas has always been a Christian holy day. It came out of the church as a way to remember the coming of God in Christ. Now, at least for us, Christmas is more culturally determined than anything else. Yes, there are similarities between the Christian perspective and the cultural perspective. Love is the motivation for gift giving. Joy is something for which to strive. But there are differences too. Culture is shy about naming Christ and instead identifies the “magic” of Christmas.

 

Don’t get me wrong here. Christmas is a favorite time of year for me too. I give gifts. I even accept gifts. I go to the mall, though I regret that decision as soon as I see the parking lot. I panic when I realize I only brought 14 treats for my son’s Christmas party instead of the needed 16!

 

I don’t believe the church has to separate itself from culture altogether. No, in fact, the church needs to be present in the midst of cultural Christmas. God asks us, though, to resist being misled about the source of real love and real joy. We need to be on guard because the traps of cultural Christmas are prevalent and subtle. The White Witch calls herself the Queen of Narnia, but there is a true King of Narnia. And there is a true Christ of Christmas.

 

In spite of all the commercials that say otherwise, now is not the time to focus on making Christmas perfect. To pin all our hopes of a “good” yuletide on if we gave everyone who’s anyone to us the perfect gift or if we executed all the traditions of the season seamlessly or if the family all sat around the dinner table without fighting. As much as we put our energy toward those activities, that’s not what makes Christmas. No, Christ makes Christmas. Christmas is the perfect reminder that God comes to us at the right moment, in our weakness and faithlessness, our imperfection.

 

Yet, God’s plan for rescue was perfect because God’s plan was Christ. There is a plan for Edmund, for all of Narnia really. This isn’t a spoiler alert. You’ll hear more of this in the weeks to come. For the Israelites, that plan of Christ involved many wonderful things. But God knew that he first had to deal with the spiritual state of his people. He needed them to turn away from their temptations, to turn to the God who was true salvation. So God sent John. In hearing the passage from Isaiah, for those who have spent any time in the church, we can’t help but hear the prologue to the story of John the Baptist. “A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD.’” Upon his birth, John’s father, Zachariah, declared: “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins…” (Luke 1:76).

 

The work of faithfulness, of loyalty, can be hard work. It involves reinvigorating the spiritual practices in our lives that have gone slack. Removing things that distract. Smoothing out the rough and rugged. All so that the Lord has a clear path to our hearts. The first step in this work is acknowledging our sin. That we have been distracted by things that glitter. That we have betrayed God for a life of illusion. This may sound rather dramatic. But it happens. And it happens slowly and small at first, until we no longer seek Christ’s return, but our own aggrandizement and worldly security. If the Bible is a mirror for us, then we are weak and faithless. There’s no way around that. And so we can’t trust ourselves or anything of this world for salvation. We can only trust the word of our God that endures forever.

 

That word says, “Comfort, comfort my people.” All of God’s work is toward the goal of comfort.  Not a comfort that is merely about calming us or soothing us. But a comfort that is about saving us…from ourselves. God asked a man named Simeon to wait for the “consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25). Upon seeing Jesus, he declares to God: “…my eyes have seen your salvation…” (Luke 2:30). God’s salvation means our peace, our wholeness, our utmost well-being. It is our true comfort in a world that pushes false comforts of all shapes and sizes. It is a comfort that is strong as much as it is tender. We end our passage with this image of God as shepherd, gathering the lambs in his arms and keeping them close to his heart. But this tender God is one and the same as the Sovereign Lord who comes with power, who rules with a mighty arm. Strong and tender. Just and merciful. God’s comfort is complete. It is our salvation.

 

God’s word endures. Our strength will carry us only so far. Will leave us vulnerable and distractible. As much as Simeon praised God for Jesus, he saw too the struggle Jesus would bring to God’s people. Simeon even says to Mary: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35a ). Simeon spoke of temptations that would cause people to put their trust in other powers. Powers that would promise Turkish Delight, but in the end prove to be the same grass that withers and flowers that fade.  

 

 

 

So, the task before us this Advent is to keep our focus, to stay true to Christ. To do so, we must accept God’s comfort that our sin has been paid in full. We must commit to spiritual preparation as much as holiday preparation. We must acknowledge our failings and God’s enduring promise. And, then, we must “Go Tell It On the Mountain”! Amen.


 

To contact Elizabeth Shen O'Connor about this sermon, please email or write to: Brunswick Presbyterian Church, 42 White Church Lane, Troy, NY 12180