Who here gets frustrated at the holiday times? I think we all do here and there. It is all the questions that need to be answered. Then there are all the traditions that need to be done just right; all the preparation that goes into a short four weeks for one day. I remember as a child looking forward to getting the Christmas tree every year. But for my father there was the dreaded task of unknotting the tree lights and then trying to figure out which bulb was out and why they were not all working. I remember as a child looking forward to baking Christmas cookies with my mother and sometimes my aunts. But for my mother there was the anxiety of trying to get everyone to come to the house on the same day.
I remember looking forward to getting/making gifts for my family with excitement. But for my parents there were the long lines and the stores being out of whatever they needed and the months of saving beforehand. I remember the Christmas pageant with excitement but my parents had to wrangle three children into costumes and deal with the tears when we didn’t get the parts that we wanted. Children truly feel the promise of the holiday season perhaps more so than adults. Sometimes the stress and the anxiety of the season overshadow the excitement and the joy of the promise of our coming messiah. For 38% of Americans there are reports of an increase in stress and irritability during the holiday season. Somehow I feel like we are missing out on the joy we all felt as children.
As adults we can still achieve this. We can feel that joy, hope, promise and peace. It may not be in the material things. But it is in the promise of our scriptures. The true promise of Christmas. The promise is of our Messiah offering us more than what there is to this life. The promise is that the messiah brings peace to the world, end to the violence, and create a better environment for us to raise our children in. Now for some Messianic Jews this is very apocalyptic and connate the coming of the end of the world. For many Christians they wait in hope for the return of Christ at the end of days.
But I believe these are perhaps too literal of translations. Why do we have to wait for the end of times to strive for this promise? Perhaps there is hope that one day Christ’s message of love and acceptance for all will reign true and that one day there will be an end to war, death, worry, starvation and suffering. One day there will be unity amongst humanity that humanity will learn to care for one another first. We are called to hold the promise that the Christ child represents in our hearts and to allow for the promise to lift us up above the stresses of the season. And although each religious group differs in their belief around the Messiah: when he will come, what will be the signs, and who will benefit, all groups of believers in the promised Messiah believe that there will be peace, prosperity, unity and abundance in the world.
We all yearn for those times when our solders no longer need to go across seas, when people do not suffer from violence, starvation, hatred, fear and poverty. This is what was promised to the world with the coming of the Messiah. When Christ came, he came to a world that much like ours lived in fear and poverty, hatred, violence and disease was a regular concern of their lives. They needed something more. They needed someone who would remind them of God’s love and care, a person of divine background that could help to deepen their relationship with God and one another. This is a person who would inspire hope into their hearts once more.
Like the people of Ancient Israel, we too wait in this world and more than in Advent for that day where God will bind all people together, a day where the world will experience the salvation of Christ. Until then we work to help others feel that hope and joy of the Promise of Christ’s work in our lives and in our world. It is that Promise that should spur us forward in our work and in living better lives. It is that Promise that should inspire our hearts to hope and to believe that through God something better is on the horizon for us and future generations. Our scriptures for this morning were filled with more questions than with answers. The people asked “What should we do” ? They ask what should we do. How do we prepare ourselves for this savior? This season we are being promised that there is hope and peace for tomorrow. We are being called to contemplate these same questions: what should we do as believers? How do we prepare our hearts for the coming Word? These questions are not unanswerable. The answers lie deep within our hearts and God calls us to use those answers to bring joy, hope and peace back into a world that is struggling, a world that is in pain. We are called to live our hope, to strive for peace, to act in love and to share the promise with others this holiday season.
 Berktold, Jennifer, and Anna Greenberg. “Holiday Stress.” December 12, 2006. Accessed December 1, 2015. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2006/12/holiday-stress.pdf, 5.
 Luke 3: 10, RSV.
(based on Malachi 3: 1-4 and Luke 3: 1-16)