Sermon: December 10, 2017 – “A New Look at Advent – Part Two”

 

A New Look at Advent – Part Two

Text: Luke 7: 1-10

After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

You might remember that last week I introduced to you a new idea around the symbolism for the Advent wreath. I suggested we might look at the four candles as being a progression or a process through which we can better understand the story of Christmas, but also maybe better understand our own lives and how we might improve certain aspects of our lives. This symbolism can be thought of as a pathway or stepping stones to an enhanced spiritual discipline for example, or any other area of your life where you might want to make a change.

This symbolism begins with the first Advent candle being identified as symbolic of “annunciation” or to announce something. This is the topic for today’s discussion, but for review the other three candles in our pathway are “preparation”, “confirmation” and finally “transformation.”

But today we are looking at just “annunciation” and why that is important. The text I read a few minutes ago might seem like an odd text for the Christmas season, and I suppose that is an accurate observation. But I have chosen this text because it demonstrates better than any other text I looked at the power of the spoken word. In the story, the centurion tells Jesus that all he has to do is speak the word, and the healing will be accomplished. Jesus comments on this man’s faith, but his clarity of understanding, I think is also commendable. The power of the spoken word has many levels of influence.

One thing that I think is often overlooked when we begin to think about the power of words, is how that power impacts our own minds. In other words, your self-talk, or the words you use in your own mind, carry the same power as those words that you speak. This concept is huge, and I don’t want you to miss it.

When I was a kid growing up in our town we had an old sand pit that the city tried to convince us residents that is was an OK swimming pool. It really wasn’t OK, but we swam there anyway. It was an old sand pit and the water was kind of gross and not clear at all – but we had a good time. One of the things that was very common around the shores of this sand pit, in the sandy beach type areas away from where all the activity was, you could find a particular species of cricket. I don’t know the actual name of this particular bug, but my buddy and I called them “jumping jacks.”

They were a very small bug, which looked like a miniature cricket, except the color was a very light tan, almost translucent in color. We could dig around in the sand and find these little guys and when we found one, we usually put it into an empty jar with a lid of some sort. The lid was very important, because as I said earlier, we called these little bugs “jumping jacks” and the reason we called them that is without a lid, they would jump out of the jar.

The reason we often collected a few jumping jacks is that the fish seemed to love them. They made great bait and we could sell them to almost anyone we discovered fishing along the shores of the lakes or rivers around town.

Now this is where the story gets really interesting. We would collect 10 or 15 jumping jacks and have them in an empty Miracle Whip jar or something similar and then we would begin to search for someone fishing that we could sell them to. Of course my buddy and I are on our bikes and I had a newspaper bag that I used for my paper route that worked well to put the jar in while we searched for our fisherperson.

While we searched, an interesting thing always seemed to happen. When we first started out on our bikes, I could hear the Jumping Jacks hitting the lid of the jar as they jumped trying to get out. There was a fairly constant tap, tap, tap, as they hit the underside of the jar lid. But by the time we had ridden to the local fishing hole on our bikes, the noise had stopped. I always thought they were just tired.

The significance of this childhood experience didn’t really begin to dawn on me until decades later. I believe that those Jumping Jacks that we had in the jar began to realize that they could not jump out of the jar. Once they convinced themselves that they could not jump out of the jar, we could actually take the lid off and none would escape. They would still jump, but not one of them could jump out of the jar. They believed they could not, so they could no longer jump high enough to get out of the jar. When I think back on this experience as a kid, I find that to be quite remarkable.

Just in case you think I’m completely crazy I have another similar story. This isn’t from actual personal experience, but I know it to be true. One of the ways that the circus trained the elephants that it used in the performances was that the elephant was chained to a huge cement block. This worked particularly well with baby elephants, because they learned faster, but it also works with adult elephants. For a time the elephant would test the chain and the concrete block. They would tug and tug and tug but would never be able to get free. After a time, the elephant would stop tugging.

In the elephant’s mind there is an association with the feeling of the chain around the leg and a knowing that meant it could not move away. Once the circus went on the road, this became very helpful, because to travel with a huge cement block is not very convenient.

Once on the road, if the animal trainer needed to secure the elephant for a time, he would wrap the chain around the leg of the elephant and then attach the chain to a wooden stake he had driven into the ground. The elephant could easily pull that stake out of the ground, it would hardly even notice. But because of the training in the mind of the elephant, the feeling of the chain around the leg was enough to convince the elephant that he could not move. The elephant could not pull the stake out of the ground because it didn’t believe that it could.

Just in case you are missing the point here, let’s get back to our original thought. I think there is power in words, there is power in annunciation, and there is power in self talk. What we tell ourselves about our experiences may be the most important form of annunciation there is.

From a certain perspective both the jumping jacks and the elephant had some form of self-talk that eventually convinced them that they could not do what they normally could have done easily. Once the lid was off the jar, the jumping jacks could not jump out of the jar because they believed they couldn’t. Once on the road, the elephant couldn’t pull the stake out of the ground, because it believed that it couldn’t. These beliefs were formed through the self-talk of the prior experiences.

This is critical to understanding the power of annunciation and the power of what we tell ourselves about our experiences or what we tell ourselves about our own goals, our own hopes and our own dreams. When we set a goal, for example, and then begin to tell others, that process of annunciation also helps to convince us. The practice of annunciation is a powerful tool in realizing that to speak the word is a critical first step.

The centurion which contacted Jesus and told him to simply speak the word recognized the power of the spoken word. We should also recognize that power. Have you ever told yourself things like “you’re too old to do something like that” or maybe it’s something else, like not being good enough, or smart enough, or rich enough, or healthy enough? What you tell yourself and what you tell others has a huge impact on your odds for success.

If you remember the Christmas story, you might remember that after the first annunciation where the angel visited Mary, she began to share the experience with a few others. Joseph was a little harder to convince. Joseph had some self-talk that sounded a little like “maybe I should just quietly divorce Mary and we could go our separate ways.” So another dose of annunciation was necessary and an angel visited Joseph in a dream. After a time, Joseph’s self-talk began to be more positive and I think we all know the rest of the story.

So pay attention to all the forms of annunciation. Because when you announce to others you are also announcing to yourself. And that is food for thought.

Amen.

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