As the congregation of my church stood singing carols and decorating the Chrismon tree, I couldn’t help but give thanks for the customs that are part of my United Methodist heritage. I learned my earliest religious instruction in a tradition that did not observe the church seasons, so I grew up without knowing anything about Advent and Lent. They were words that I heard for “other” Christians.
When I broke ties with the Southern Baptist church and embraced the United Methodist faith, the one thing that captured my religious imagination was the adherence to the church year. I celebrated different festivals throughout the different seasons and felt like a new religious language came into being. My faith experience grew richer and more profound. The Christmas and Easter seasons became much holier and deeper in joy and meaning as I experienced the awkwardness of Advent and Lent. What could I add to my life, or give up, that would help me be still and sense the presence of the Lord?
This year, I have asked my congregation to spend this season of Advent in prayer. I challenge my religious community to be still and let the Spirit of God move within their hearts. May everyone experience holy transformation. Pray without ceasing, focusing in on the goodness of God. This call to the Light is our task during the sacredness of the season of preparation. Be still and know the presence of the One, who delivered you.
And strangely, when I am silent, I do give thanks for my earliest of religious teachers. Yes, the Southern Baptists. I give thanks to the mighty men and women of God, who supported me through my very formative years, planting the seed in my heart that God loves even me, a broken and lost child. God makes it possible so that I can live a life that is meant to be a blessing to others.
My prayer for everyone this Advent season is to embrace light in the middle of darkness. May we all find hope in the midst of despair, and may we celebrate the love and knowledge that our God delivers us from hopelessness. Praise be to our amazing Giver of Light. Let us embrace the reality that we are God’s children, and may we live like sons and daughters of the Highest King.
Recently I traveled to Carlsbad, California and had dinner at a restaurant overlooking the Pacific Ocean. All I had on my mind was the promise of excellent seafood. Living in a landlocked state does not afford me many opportunities to enjoy fresh shrimp and oysters. As my friends and I held a glass of wine up in the air to toast a gorgeous California day, we watched as the sun set over the horizon. I thought to myself; this is a work of art, a true masterpiece of heavenly proportions. Thank you, dear God, for allowing me to witness this incredible display of beauty.
And so, with the setting of the sun we are called to remember the business of the day. We give thanks that difficult moments and situations come to an end, and we also rejoice in our accomplishments. All, fruitful and challenging, falling under the care of God. The night comes to offer us solitude, and a chance to rejuvenate our souls for the day that lays ahead. A little Sabbath in which we open ourselves up to new hopes and new dreams.
We need the night as much as we need the day. There must be times that we can rest and focus our attention on the things that motivate us, our reason for being. Sacred times allow us to reconnect with the most intimate parts of who we are. We feed our souls, the places that are starving to come to light.
The truth is, we cannot be complete beings without both the night and the day. Each one reminds us that we all have different gifts that we must cultivate in our unique ways. Our attention to divine healing and wholeness encourages us to give proper attention during the correct time of the day. Our spiritual nourishment should never appear forced but patiently develop and grown at the right time, in the right seasons of our lives.
Today, I give thanks for our Amazing Creator, who gives us every opportunity to enrich every part of our souls. God offers us the chance to be made new, each and every day. Praise be to God for this amazing gift of resurrection. We die to self, only to rise again with the hope of what is to come. Thank you for both the night and the day, for even, You said, “It was good!”
We have a little Christmas calendar, but is in the shape of a clock. My youngest son is the keeper of the calendar. Each day he adjusts the hand that signals one day closer to Christmas. As we get closer and closer to the big day, he gathers more excitement in his voice as he announces that we are one step nearer to Santa’s visit. We all laugh and encourage him to keep us on track.
MacDonald the Younger’s excitement reminds me of the eagerness that comes with the anticipation of what is to come. Whether it be the joy of the Christmas season, the possibilities of traveling to new and exotic places, or a planned night out with my wife, I am guilty of being caught up in what lies ahead. I recapture the energy of my youth. There is a magic to this time of year.
I continue to think of the idea of joy and happiness and wonder if my life emulates this kind of excitement. Have I become stale in my faith? Heaven forbid that I have lost that moment when my life changed, and I surrendered my heart fully to the presence of God. Have I truly forgotten the feeling of divine peace? May it never be so.
My hope is that this Advent time will remind me of the joy of being a newcomer to the faith. As I reclaim the special moment of my conversion, I hope to continue forward sharing the hope that is found in my faith. Perhaps that is why we celebrate a season of anticipation every year; so that we can embrace and remember the freshness of belief. This may be the time that hope is reborn, and excitement comes in our recalling of how we were made whole.
Last night my sixteen year old son sang in his school choir’s holiday concert. I will just say that the program was a very ambitious collection of time honored works as well as new music. One could get carried away with over analyzing the program. I know I have to shut down my musical snobbery button and simply listen to the wonderful students excited about their own acts of music making. I just thought to myself, “Thank God this is good literature and I wasn’t trapped listening to a concert of Christmas music from the 50’s.”
What moved me so much was the absolute joy I saw in my son’s eyes as he had a place on the stage. His very being oozes music. I was watching him at the end of a number and he turned to a few other boys in the choir and they just looked at one another and laughed. My son could not have been in a moment that was more perfect for him than in that moment. I was thrilled for my “big ole stinky boy.”
I was reminded that, as a pastor, father, husband, etc., I can get so caught up in the business of the season that I forget to see the small expressions of joy around me. I could miss my youngest son sitting next to me rocking out to some of his favorite music. I could have missed my oldest son expressing his passion for being a part of a wonderful young group of musicians.
I hope that I never get so complacent and busy that I can’t experience and see the love which surrounds me as a pastor, husband, father, and friend. I hope that I never lose sight of the joy that is an integral part of the church as those of us who are in the choir prepare for the big Christmas Cantata. May we always find a brief moment of love as it surrounds us when we open a Christmas card. It lets me know that I am connected to something much bigger than which I am on my own.
Let us keep the joy of the season by finding the love in everything that we do. We will discover the basis of our hope and absolute dependence on God and how the Sacred is expressed in the care of others. May you find the joy in everything that you do in this Christmas season. God’s choicest blessings work through you and around you.
And as for that dad whose heart leapt for joy? There is no Christmas present greater than seeing your family happy. There is no store that can purchase it. There is no place that can manufacture it. I am fortunate to have been in a place to look and simply catch a glimpse of it. May my son have many more concerts that cause him to rear back and laugh for joy.
I can only imagine what it was like the night of the birth. Angels were working in the fields. They were doing what they had done for years. Many were going about the business of their ancestors. This was supposed to be a routine evening doing a routine job.
As the shepherds settled into their mundane tasks, they were visited by a celestial band of angels. Something happened. The colors, the lights, the music. It all was magnificent. Words could never describe it. The proclamation which came from above to those below all told of the one who was promised to the world. God in the flesh was present. We are told that the shepherds followed the angels’ instructions and visited the Holy family.
This revelation still occurs in the world today. Somehow, we encounter God and are invited into a relationship which includes beauty and awe. We are led to find that which is sacred and divine. Once we have this encounter with God, nothing is ever the same.
May this Christmas lead you to that which calls you to the sacred. May your manger experience be one that transforms you and redeems you. Experience the form of God within us and through us. Your life will never be the same.