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Red Lehr Dixieland Jazz Service
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The Third Sunday In Advent
Scripture Reading: Philippians 4:4-7
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Sermon: “Leaving the Shell”
I am a turtle, a proud member of a species that has been on earth for more than 200 million years. We turtles evolved before you mammals, as well as before birds, crocodiles, snakes, and even lizards.
Today, we live on every continent except Antarctica. We even have our own day. May 23 is “World Turtle Day,” set up to increase knowledge of and respect for turtles and tortoises.
We are also a remarkably long-lived species, with lifespans of anywhere from 100 to 200 years. Sadly, few of us see that kind of old age anymore.
One hundred twenty-nine of the almost 300 species of turtle and tortoise in the world are in danger of disappearing forever. That’s thanks to you humans destroying our homes, killing us, and illegally selling us as pets.
Do I look like I want to spend the rest of my life in an aquarium or stewpot? Why would I muck around in someone’s dusty basement and slowly starve to death? Puh-lease!
But I digress. Did you know that we turtles have three ears, one on either side of our heads as well as a third on our nose? We can’t crawl out of our shells, either, no matter what some of your cartoons may say. It’s part of our skeleton, and we can no more take it off than you can detach a leg or foot.
Some of my aquatic brothers and sisters do have a special skill, though. They can take oxygen from the water while submerged, breathing through their… how shall I say it… posterior.
I’ll tell you one more fact you don’t know. We turtles aren’t as dumb as you humans think. That’s just a clever ruse on our part. In fact, we have our own Turtle News Network, TNN.
Your CNN says it’s “The Most Trusted Name In News.” TNN is “The Very Slowest Pace In News.” There’s much to commend a life of the long view and the slow journey.
All of which brings us to the seasons you call Advent and Christmas, looking forward to and then celebrating the birth of a special child in Bethlehem.
Don’t look so surprised! Of course, we turtles know the story. In fact, to us it’s not just good news, it’s breaking news, only two-thousand years old.
It takes time, after all, for word to spread from turtle to tortoise around the globe. But we’re patient and willing to wait.
But not you humans, oh, no! You’re always in such a hurry, aren’t you? So busy! That doesn’t change this time of year. You whip yourselves into a frenzy decorating, buying, and baking. Then you tear every reminder of the season down as quickly as you can after the holy day is past, forgetting its message, too.
You could do with a dose of turtledom’s long view and measured pace. After all, we turtles follow the example set by the One who made us, turtle and human alike.
Long before the holy child’s birth, men and women filled with God’s Spirit looked to a day when God would make broken places whole again.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he’s named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9: 2, 6)
You hurry and scurry about, forgetting the words of God’s holy men and women. Instead, you spill blood and spend treasure killing each other for the sake of land, power, and, more often, for no reason at all.
TNN brought us news of your human insanity down through the ages. It was enough to make a sensible turtle crawl inside his or her shell and never come out.
Later, though, there was a glimmer of hope. It came, not to the rich or the powerful, but to the despised and the looked down upon, shepherds in the fields tending their flocks.
How like God to surprise them, filling the skies with music and granting their weary eyes a glimpse of heaven. Angels sang of the birth of a special child, one whose coming would forever change the way God related to the world as well as those in it.
The child, the angels said, was in a barn on the outskirts of Bethlehem. That night there was a song in the air as well as a star in the sky.
There’s a Song In the Air
The shepherds made their way as the angels directed them, and shared news of all they’d heard and seen with the child’s startled parents. Then they went back to their flocks, laughing and singing and celebrating.
Eventually, the animals in the barn bedded down for the night. So, too, did the weary parents, as best they could. The child finally slept as well, and silence descended. Time slowed to a crawl, just the way we turtles like it.
That silent night ended, of course, and the child Jesus grew up. As he did, news broke so quickly, in the space of just thirty years or so―the blink of an eye in turtle time―that it was hard to keep up.
This much we turtles do know. Death’s hard shell is forever broken, first in Jesus and then, God promises, for all people and all creation.
God’s time isn’t our time, though. The reign of justice and wholeness long promised seems ever longer in coming. One of your poets, writing in a season of horrific bloodletting you call the Civil War, gave voice to the despair so many of you humans so often feel.
I Heard the Bells
Longfellow was wise in the ways of turtles. He understood the long view and the slow journey. Your scriptures do, too.
There’s still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and doesn’t lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it won’t delay. (Habakkuk 2:3)
“If it seems to tarry, wait for it.” I know how tempting it is to crawl inside your shell and wish the world away. We turtles can’t do that forever, though. If we do, we’ll surely die. The same is true for all of you.
Ours are shells of bone and hardened cartilage. Yours are shells of hardened hearts, of cynicism, distrust, and despair. Linger in them too long, and you, too, will die in every way that matters.
So, get your head out of your…shell…and trust the grace and promise of Jesus, Bethlehem’s child. More than that, act on it! Be the joy that the world needs, and live in hope of God’s greater joy yet to come.
Joy to the World
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go. There’s breaking news about someone named Lindbergh… sounds interesting.
Do me a favor, though. If you see a turtle on the highway, stop and help it across. And give turtle mulligan a pass. We’ve been here a lot longer than you have, so please, respect your elders.