Dec. 1, 2013
Are you getting ready for Christmas? If so, which Christmas? Are you getting ready for the depression, the anxiety, and even the rage that accompanies the secular holiday season? If you allow yourselves to get caught up in the consumer Christmas — and I firmly believe that we in America celebrate two separate events on December 25 — if you allow yourselves to get caught up in the consumer Christmas, you can easily find that instead of preparing to sing “O Holy Night” you will find yourselves living out one holy nightmare.
For the many who faithfully observe the consumer Christmas, Advent is the inevitable prelude to disappointment and darkness. For most of these folks, Christmas somehow hardly ever measures up to their fantasies. Even for those who manage to have some of their Christmas wishes fulfilled, the season is over so quickly that the need to make New Year’s resolutions to lose those added pounds bears down on them even before the decorations come down.
But the Advent we celebrate in the church — the one that has nothing at all to do with the number of shopping days left until Christmas — is altogether different. The decorations, the lighting of the first Advent candle –— these are invitations to dream dreams of a better world, to allow expectant visions that have nothing to do with sugar-plum fairies dancing in our heads. Advent invites us to fill the cup of today with a full measure of tomorrow.
And somewhere in the midst of all this, we are called to open ourselves up to a renewed understanding of just what all this fuss is about in the first place. We are called to wait and to take time, to make time, for the baby Jesus and all that he represents. And I'm pretty sure that much of our world doesn't have time for that.
After all, Advent does mean “Waiting,” actively waiting in anticipation:
- for Christ’s ultimate return to reign and the fulfillment of God’s peace, freedom and abundance for all God’s children
- for Jesus’ coming to the people of Galilee, of Judea, of Samaria and God revealing Godself in a teacher of wisdom, a healer, a person of peace and of peaceful, powerful protest
- for the coming of Emmanuel to our broken world, and to our broken hearts again and again as the Incarnation of God’s Word in us
- and for the everyday, natural event of the birth of a baby boy in Bethlehem, an event that turned out to be not what people expected.
In each of these ways, God does come to us, and in each of these ways we celebrate, we marvel at, we are surprised by, we rejoice in, and we hope for the coming of God into a world that sorely needs God’s presence. But can we open our selves to this message? Can we hold to a promise too good to be true, too good not to be true? And will we follow that promise where it leads us — into the heart of human need, into the building of community with people (whether we think we agree with them or not), into sometimes costly witnessing for peace, for freedom, for healing?
Friends, this year, let’s not deny the darkness. That would give the darkness the upper hand. But let’s acknowledge the darkness in ways the shines the light of Christ in and through our lives so that those around us are blessed. That is my prayer for you and everyone this Christmas and always.
One way for that to happen is at what is, for me, the most wonderful service of the year. The Service of the Longest Night makes the Spirit of the Incarnation real, and this year it will be Dec. 21 at 7 p.m. This service lifts up the reality that some people just have a hard time doing the merry thing. There are lots of reasons why that happens, and one time or another, those dark times happen to all of us. We come together on what is about the longest night of the year, recognizing the darkness for what it is. The service is about all of us coming together to provide the light and love of Christ for others. It is about all of us embodying the Spirit of the Incarnation with and for one another. I invite you to come and be with each other in the Holy Spirit of the Season. We need you.
We need you because the world sorely needs God’s presence. God came to the world in a real, specific person. God continues to come to the world as the Holy Spirit is active in real, specific persons like you. That is the promise of the Incarnation. That is the promise we live for each other in the Spirit of Christ. That is a promise that is too good to be true, too good not to be true.
My Christmas prayer for all of you is this: that the Holy Spirit of Christmas will keep popping up all over the place for you, and that through you, many others will be blessed by the Spirit. May we follow God’s Spirit where it leads us — into the heart of human need and into the building of community with all people.
May many, many blessings be yours this year at Christmas and in the year and years to come. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good will to all people! May it always be so!
In Spirit of the Christ, the One who is coming,
Blessed and being a blessing
Oct. 27, 2013
Grace to you and peace in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
As you read this, most of you will be looking forward to the busy month of November. The foundation for the month is All Saint’s Day, traditionally on November 1 and which we celebrate on the first Sunday. The month goes on through Reign of Christ Sunday to Thanksgiving and all the way to the first Sunday in Advent. That’s right, the time of preparation for the incarnation begins on Sunday, Dec. 1. Or maybe I should say the day before, Nov. 30, when the church sanctuary will be decorated.
Given that there is so much that goes on in November that I could write about, I have decided instead to reflect on you — giving thanks for you and all you have done in these two years I have been among you.
These two years have been a blessing. I wonder, have you ever thought about what “blessing” means? Many of the newer Biblical translations use the word happy instead of blessed, though I think that is only part. A blessing is a good gift, something that makes someone happy. But a blessing is only a blessing when it is shared, when it can make another happy.
For example, I do believe that God-With-Us is a blessing. I do believe that Emmanuel is God’s good gift to us. I do believe that God blesses us so that we can share all those blessings. That is why you are a community of faith. You are communal. You are not alone. Never. Being here as part of Eliot demonstrates that in your lives and in your living, 24/7. You come together to worship and learn and care for others. But it is always together.
That is how I feel abut my time here. Being together with you is a blessing. You might be surprised how often I talk with others about the wonder that you are. Being truly multi-cultural as Eliot is requires taking what are normally very disparate people and coming together in ways all too uncommon in our world. A great blessing you can share with others is the very nature of Eliot.
Please realize that this is what you thought about in your mission study. You came to decisions about how Eliot can share the blessings of you with others. And you thought about how you needed to transform to realize the blessings. That is why the mission study process focuses so much on where our faith intersects with the rest of life — so that you can stand over against those parts of culture that need to be open to God’s re-forming. That is the why community — the blessing of together. Together you can see God in one another and know that God is in it with you. Together God’s blessing is shared among you and with all those around you — from Lowell all the way out to the whole world.
This is particularly poignant right now. Your Pastor Nominating Committee is well at work, developing the Ministry Information Form. That form is the description of Eliot, based on the Mission Study, that prospective pastors will see as their first introduction to Eliot. It is the first step on the committee’s journey together to bring you a candidate for your new pastor. Please understand that all this will take time.
That, in turn, means that soon it will become apparent that my time with you is growing shorter and shorter. It is normal for there to be some angst around such times. “What will the new pastor be like?” “Will we have what we need to do the ministry God calls us to?” “Can we more that just survive? Can we thrive?”
Aside from the first question, the answers to the rest are up to you. This is where your blessing of together comes to the fore. With Paul (Romans 12), I urge you, sisters and brothers, to be present throughout the year, so that you may be the blessing that is transformed and renewed continually by the presence of Jesus Christ in your life and through the gifts of many others who are with you through all things. You ministry will thrive if you but let it. It is up to you all to step up together.
I pray that, with God’s help and the presence of the Holy Spirit, this will become a happy year for all of you.