Dog Days of Summer

Stepping outside over the past couple of weeks has felt a lot like stepping into a convection oven. When the heat index reaches the triple-digit range, it gets dangerous to do too much outside. And it is more important than ever to stay hydrated! As most of you know, I’m not a huge fan of the heat and humidity. I much prefer the spring and fall with more moderate temperatures.

However, I do appreciate that we have four distinct seasons in Missouri. I just wish we didn’t have them all in the span of an hour some days! There is something to be said about the changes the seasons bring. The long daylight hours of summer do allow for much outside work to be accomplished, even if frequent breaks to drink water are needed. The cooler days of fall are a welcome respite from the heat of summer, and the harvest brings with it a celebration of months of hard work. The cold dark days of winter give us the opportunity to rest and reflect. (And I particularly like the time to warm myself by a fire, with a good book, or a cup of coffee and some conversation.) Spring is a time full of excitement of the new life that pops up everywhere the eye can see.

Maybe it’s because my own children are maturing, or maybe it is watching the young men and women of the church grow into young adults, and the young adults into parents, or grieving those who are no longer with us… Whatever the reason, I’ve found myself being a little reflective and pensive these past few weeks. Many of my thoughts have been centered on what season we are in as a community of faith. What season am I in as a pastor?

Some years ago I had a long conversation with some of my ministry colleagues about a similar topic. During that conversation it became clear to me that God was calling us to focus on scripture, delving into the Bible intentionally in a way we had not done in the first years of my ministry here. That was the impetus behind our past two year-long studies through scripture.

However, I have a deep sense that we are being called to something a little different at this point in our journey. I am feeling a strong pull to wrestle with some of the topics of faith, and how they relate to our daily lives. I long for a deeper sense of connection, to God, to one another, to my own faith and spirituality. And I believe I know how I would like to approach those topics, addressing each one through a short series of sermons. The way I imagine this happening is spending two to six weeks on each topic, examining several different scriptures and perspectives, all focused on empowering us to understand and live out our faith in a meaningful way.

HOWEVER, I know I can’t do this alone. Furthermore, I really have no desire to try. Because, honestly, I really don’t know what YOU will find most helpful as topics for these mini-series. This is where you come in. I desperately need you to share with me the topics which are most meaningful to you. Maybe it is dealing with grief, or anger, or forgiveness… Maybe it is questions about the soul, or heaven, or even the dreaded topic of politics… I especially want to hear the topics you might think are “silly,” or those you think might be specific to only you. Because one truth that I have found through the years is that someone else is definitely wrestling with that same topic, or has in the past and has some wisdom to share.

So, beginning this Sunday there will be a “Sermon Suggestion” box in the foyer, accompanied by some slips of paper for you to share your ideas with me. I’ll also be posting a form on the church website, and I hope to even post a form on Facebook as well. Of course, you are free to tell me your ideas in person (be warned, my memory is pretty slippery these days), call, text, or e-mail me as well. I truly do hope you’ll join with me as we dive deep into what it means to call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ!

Summer means Vacation Bible School!

VBS certainly isn’t something that shows up in the Bible. However, I’ve found that there is something about Bible school that empowers young people to think deeply about God. I know that I was deeply impacted by a summer Bible study my neighbor held in her driveway. (I’ve actually pondered what it might be like to have a home-based VBS at some point in the future. Maybe that bears discussion… but, I digress.)

This year we are going to take a trip to Abundance Orchard. This VBS will be slightly different than those we have participated in over the past few years. First off, there isn’t as much theatrics involved. Instead we delve right into the story and truly think about how it impacts our lives today. Abundance Orchard is provided by the Society of St. Andrew, and is focused on growing our faith and feeding hungry people. During VBS this year we will collect a love offering. Half of the offering will go to the Society of St. Andrew and the other half will go to the Bread of Life.

Sign-up sheets for VBS, both for adult leaders and for our young participants, will be available on Sunday morning, and soon on the Marshfield Christian Church website. This year our VBS will again be a day-long event on Saturday, July 22nd. Our morning will begin with an introduction at 9am and conclude around 3:30. We will have four “sessions” each an hour and a half long. Each session will have a Bible story. There will also be games and activities, music, snacks, and mission activities. We are even thinking about taking a “field trip” to the community garden to see how others are helping to feed their friends and neighbors.

In case you can’t be there, or would like to study ahead, the themes and Bible stories we are going to discuss during VBS are:

Hospitality – Abraham and Sarah prepare a meal for unexpected guests
Obedience – The Hebrew people eat a quick meal before leaving Egypt
The Miraculous – God provides manna and quail in the desert
Hunger – A poor mom shares her food with Elijah

If you are interested in helping, and want to get a head-start, there is a Pintrest board with all sorts of great ideas focused on this particular VBS program. It is found at

http://www.pinterest.com/endhungerusa/vacation-bible-school/

We will need help preparing snacks and lunch, leading games and activities, music, mission time, and help telling the stories and facilitating the discussion is always welcome as well. No matter how old you are, we would love to have you come and help us as we learn about hunger, how God provides, and how we can be a part in that process as well. Also, please invite your young friends and family members to join us as well.  It’s sure to be a day full of fun and excitement.

As always, if you’d like to know more, please don’t hesitate to email or call me!

Raise ‘em Up!

Start children off on the way they should go,
and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

Proverbs 22:6

Raise ‘em up to the sky. If you hear that you’re probably in a bad situation. When I hear that phrase I automatically think of old westerns or crime dramas. When someone is being robbed or arrested they are often told to put their hands in the air. (There is some ironic symmetry there.) However, there are positive reasons to raise your hands as well! You might “put your hands in the air like you just don’t care.” Or, you could raise your hands in celebration, or in worship!

Obviously, that isn’t what I’m talking about this month. The scripture gives it away. It’s not our hands that I’m talking about raising, but our children. The writer of Proverbs was right when he wrote about the importance of educating children in our values from an early age. Time and time again I hear stories about how young men and women raised in the church have walked away from faith, or at least organized religion, for a time. But the majority of those stories are of a return to faith as they get older. They were started on a path of relationship with God. Whether or not they actually turned from it is a case-by-case discussion, and I would say open for interpretation. The common theme is their return later in life.

You may not know it, but I am one of those who walked away from church in my early adulthood. Partially as a way to avoid my calling to ministry, and partly because of a rebellious streak, I quit going to church during college and the few years following. I don’t think I ever really turned from the path, but I certainly did take an extended siesta on the side of the road! What brought me, and many others like me, back to the church was the formative way I was nurtured in the faith as a child and a teenager.

Which is why I write to ask for your help, now. Some of the most important experiences in my young life were had in Sunday School, and during Vacation Bible School in the summer. And, as I got older, summer camp was foundational for my spiritual growth and development, as well as my first experience hearing a call to ministry. The young people of our church need you to help provide these same types of formative experiences for them.

Over the next few weeks we will be setting the date and revving the preparations for this summer’s VBS into high gear. I imagine we will be looking to hold a weekend VBS again this year; either an all-day Saturday event, or Friday evening and Saturday. (That’s going to be up to the parents!) We’ll need people to help with snacks, games, crafts, bible stories, and maybe more!

Maybe more importantly, we need some help during the next school year with teachers for our Sunday school classes! Our growing and maturing population of kids really need separate Sunday school classes for pre-K to Kindergarten, elementary, and youth. If you are willing to help serve in this way, I’d like to sit down with you in the next few weeks and plan the curriculum for the school year!

Passing Judgment

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.
For with the judgment you make you will be judged,
and the measure you give will be the measure you get.

Matthew 7:1-2

Jesus offers us a distinct challenge during the Sermon on the Mount. He urges us to suspend our judgment of others and to love them as they are. It is much easier said than done.

I remember vividly my visits to my dentist as a young man. Every time he would ask me the same question, “How are you today?” My reply was usually something along the lines of, “I’m good.” Inevitably he would respond with “Just good? I was hoping for ‘Excellent.’” At first it seems like a jovial and innocuous exchange, right? But really it shows the pervasiveness of our judgment.

We judge one day as “good” and the next as “bad” by criteria that are certainly subjective. Furthermore, if we are honest with ourselves we project our judgment on others all the time. We may judge parents by the behavior of their children, or a business-person by the profitability of their company. We are constantly judging. One thing is better than another. There is good and bad food to eat. There may even be a right or wrong way to squeeze the toothpaste.

Sure, some of those examples are exaggerations of judgments. They are supposed to be, because they highlight the fact that most of our lives are based on judgment. And yet, Jesus says, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” Which I find interesting because the person we often judge most critically is the one who lives inside our skin. The majority of people I know are hyper-judgmental of their own actions, thoughts, and feelings. We judge others, and we judge ourselves; every day!

I truly wish I could give you a magical formula which would allow you to suspend judgment and simply enjoy life in the moment, experiencing all the joy, and sorrow, without labeling one emotion as good, and another as bad. But, there is no such formula. What I do know is in those times where we are able to suspend our judgment of what is good and bad we can experience the peace that passes all understanding.

In the letter to the Philippian church, Paul writes, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” We hear Paul’s admonition to not worry, and to be at peace. But, sometimes we miss the key as to how to live that way. It is the same key which can enable us to live without judgment. Simply it is a life lived in prayer. In our individual and corporate prayers we find ourselves deepening our relationship with the living God. And it is in that relationship that we find a way to live and love without judgment, with the grace and mercy of God ever before us. May it be so in your life. May it be so in all of our lives.

Building Good Boundaries

Last week I had the opportunity to spend the day learning about maintaining good personal boundaries. This is a seminar that Disciples of Christ pastors in Mid-America are required to take every three years. However, it is more than just a requirement, it is a great opportunity to think about our boundaries and how they affect our relationships in the church, and in life. So, what are boundaries? I’m glad you asked!

I define boundaries are the “rules” we put in place in our lives to empower ourselves and others to live abundantly. In many ways boundaries are like the Ten Commandments. The are the governing principles in all of our relationships. For example, one of my boundaries is that I never lend money that I wouldn’t want to give away. In college I made a small loan to a friend. The total amount escapes me now, but it was less than $100. Whatever the amount, this friend never repaid the money and our relationship was soured for quite a while. Eventually I was able to grow to the point where I could forgive him and the debt he owed. Our relationship, however, never recovered.

One thing which is important for us to keep at the forefront of our minds is the relationship between boundaries and power. Many people I have met through the years see themselves as powerless to make changes in their lives, to control the choices they make. I believe we are all more powerful than we imagine. Furthermore, I believe wholeheartedly that there are areas in our lives where we are more powerful than others. Like in the lending example, I had more power because I had more money at the time. There are many things which give us power; age, profession, race, and gender, all contribute to our power. That list is FAR from exhaustive, but you get the idea.

I like to think of how power relates to the responsibility of setting and maintaining boundaries by thinking of boating. For this example there are two kinds of boats, power boats and sailboats (which would also include canoes, kayaks, any boat without an engine..). The powerboat is able to control its speed and direction more efficiently than a canoe. Therefore it is the powerboat’s responsibility to avoid the non-powered boats it encounters. The person in the canoe may not have sufficient strength, or power, to get out of the way of the faster, more agile powerboat.

The same thing is true in our relationships; it is the responsibility for the person with more power to maintain clear boundaries. That responsibility doesn’t fall on the person, or people, with less power. This is one of the primary reasons why the Mid-America Region places such an emphasis on training our clergy in setting good boundaries. You, the congregations we serve, grant us a substantial amount of power. And you probably don’t have to think too long to remember a situation where a minister abused that power.

This is only a glimpse into the important topic of boundaries in the church. I hope to develop a brief workshop, or study session, to help guide us through this important topic. Once I have that event planned, I’ll be offering you (and others in our wider community) the opportunity to sign up and spend a few hours learning about boundaries. I look forward to thinking with you about how we strengthen our relationships through effective boundaries.

Learning and Living Lent

It is hard to believe that Lent is approaching so quickly. As I am writing we are only one week away from Ash Wednesday. As busy as Lent can be in the life of the church, it is a great opportunity to experience and draw closer to the Living God we know through Jesus the Christ. I hope you will take advantage of the many opportunities for worship and reflection during this special season in the church year. Below you will find a list of the special activities planned for Lent this year.

Ash Wednesday – March 1st, 7:00pm – Ash Wednesday is a quiet, reflective service that allows us to confront our brokenness and encounter God’s grace and mercy. It is a moving time of worship with the chance to begin clearing space in our lives to encounter God in a new, fresh way in the coming weeks. Traditionally Lent is a time of giving up those things that hold us back, and leaning into new habits that enhance our relationships with God, others, and ourselves. Ash Wednesday is a perfect time to begin that process through worship, prayer, and meditation.

Maundy Thursday – April 13th, Marshfield UMC, 7:00pm – Joining in worship with our fellow believers from the Marshfield United Methodist Church is one of the great traditions of these two congregations. The UMC church will host this year, the combined choirs will lead in worship, Pastor Alex will preach and we will join in celebrating communion as one body of faith. This is truly a highlight of the year.

Good Friday – April 14th, MCC, 7:00pm – This year we are inviting Marshfield United Methodist, and anyone from the community, to join us for a walk through the final hours of Jesus’ life. We will be engaging in the Stations of the Cross, in a unique and interactive format. Mobility will not be an issue as we will remain in the sanctuary for the duration of the event. This unique time of worship is a powerful precursor to the joy of Easter morning, as we encounter the depths of Jesus’ crucifixion and death.

Easter Sunrise Service, 7:00am – This year we planning to have the Sunrise service outside around the fire pit. With Easter coming late in the calendar this year, we hope that the weather will allow us to enjoy the beauty of creation as we celebrate the new life we find in the empty tomb. The sunrise service features dramatic elements that allow for us to experience the resurrection in a tangible way, and is a great way to start the morning.

Easter Breakfast, 8:00am – Easter Breakfast will be a continental breakfast this year. Bagels, scones, breakfast breads, and maybe even doughnuts, will be available following the sunrise service, all the way up to Easter Worship at 10:30. This is a great way to start the day, or refuel for Sunday School and Worship!

Sunday School, 9:30am – We will have Sunday school for all ages on Easter morning. This is a great way to interact with the story of the resurrection, and how that singular event changes the course of our lives. Please plan on joining us as we celebrate and study the story of Jesus’ resurrection.

Easter Worship, 10:30am – Our Easter Celebrations will conclude with Easter Worship at 10:30am. We join together on this day to give thanks to God for the gifts of salvation, new life, and transformation that we find in the resurrection of Jesus. Please plan on joining with us as we worship God, our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer through prayers, songs, scripture and preaching. Easter it truly a time of awe and wonder, something that should be shared with our fellow believers!

Happy New Year

It is never too late, or too early, to make needed changes in our lives. However, the start of a new calendar year is the perfect time to think about our goals and dreams for the year to come. Making New Year’s Resolutions is a natural way to make those hopes and dreams concrete. However, research has shown that only about 8% of people are able to keep their resolutions. That’s astonishing.

Why is it that out of all of us who make some kind of resolution leading into the New Year only two of every 25 see that resolution become a reality? Surely the other 23 of us are not resolving to learn how to fly in the next twelve months. Nor have we decided that we are going to quit our jobs and become a quarterback in the NFL. (If you are making those kinds of resolutions, maybe we need to talk one-on one. J) There must be something else going on.

What I have found is that we often stop our decision making process too early. It is great, even laudable, to make grand plans for the coming year, but we don’t follow those plans up with actions we can take. For example, I’ve talked about wanting to write a book for some time now. However, I have not made any real progress toward that goal, that dream. Why? Because you simply don’t sit down one day and write a book. It isn’t a one-step and you’re done process. That’s the way most things are in our lives. Most of our goals and dreams take more than one action to accomplish. If yours don’t, maybe there are bigger things you can strive toward.

All too often we stop at the large dream and don’t think about the specific, measurable steps to get there. You may have noticed that I just mentioned two of the five steps toward setting SMART goals or, as I prefer, SMART steps. The acronym, SMART, stands for Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Reasonable, and Timely. We actually already talked about the achievable part when we talked about not trying to fly, or become a star quarterback in the NFL. The reality is that there are some things which are just not possible for all people. I may be tall enough to be a viable quarterback, but I can’t pass worth a darn, I’m really too old for the NFL, and considering I’ve never played a day of organized football in my life, all come together to make that an unrealistic and un-achievable goal for me.

So, let’s assume that the goa we’ve set for ourselves is something that actually CAN happen. It is achievable. Now it’s time to set those specific and measurable steps. Let’s say that I want to be healthier in 2017. That is an achievable goal, but it isn’t specific. What do I mean by healthier? Do I mean I want to lose weight, exercise more, change my diet, or some combination of those things? We need to get specific. This is where those steps, or actions, come into play. I want to improve my overall health in the coming year, so I will improve my diet, exercise more, and become more fit. Three steps. Now we are getting somewhere.

But we’re not done just yet. Those three steps aren’t really specific enough, or measureable enough, just yet. What do I mean by exercise more? What do I mean by improve my diet? What do I mean by becoming more fit? Those are all questions that must be asked, and answered, to propel us toward achieving our resolutions in the coming year. It’s not an easy process, and it may be helpful to have someone else help by asking you the hard questions, what do you mean by that? What is the first thing you can do to achieve your goal? When will you commit to doing that task?

We’re not used to asking questions like these in the church. They can seem very forward, even judgmental. And they are not easy to ask, or answer. That is OK, because as long as we are seeking to improve ourselves, and to support one another in the process, I believe we are truly living into our commitment to journey together with God. If you want some assistance in thinking through your resolutions for the coming year, please let me know! I know I want to enter 2017 SMARTer!

 

Understanding the times

A few years ago I heard a phrase which piqued my interest. One of my professors was talking about his weekly schedule and talked about what he labeled “Issachar meetings.” Intrigued, I asked what he meant. He referred me to a brief passage from 1 Chronicles 12 where the makeup of David’s army at Hebron is recorded. In verse 32 the author writes, “Of Issachar, those who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, two hundred chiefs, and all their kindred under their command.” (NRSV)

My professor made it a point of scheduling regular meetings with men and women who he knew had their thumb on the pulse of the community, and of the world. Since that class, I’ve tried to develop my own set of Issachar relationships. People who help me keep pace with what is going on in the community, the country, and around the world.

Here at the beginning many of my friends have shifted their gaze to Christmas. However, there is this whole season of Advent. It’s an important time of year and one, in my opinion, that doesn’t get enough attention in our day and age. So, to help you know what is coming up over the next few weeks, I thought it would be a good idea to make this an Issachar time.

For the next few weeks we are suspending Believe while we observe Advent. To enhance our worship, we will be incorporating several unique elements, including the candle lighting, singing of Advent hymns, the reading of scripture, and special Advent reflections. We will also be taking a break from our normal adult Sunday school classes to spend a few weeks talking specifically about who we are as Marshfield Christian Church.

This is a great time to get more information about what we believe, how we are structured as a church, and to spend some time in fellowship with other members of the community, both those who have been here a while, and those who are relatively new. We will talk about who the Disciples are as a denomination, as well as how we live that out in our specific context here in Marshfield.

There will also be several special worship opportunities throughout December as well:

December 11th – 10:30am – Children’s Christmas Program – This year we will be holding the children’s program during our normal Sunday morning worship time. After worship we will move back to the Fellowship Hall to share in a Christmas lunch complete with cookies and special gift bags for the kids, as well as a special visitor. I even hear there is a chance that our visitor may bring his wife all the way from the North Pole!

December 21st – 6:00pm – Longest Night Service – The Longest Night Service is a reflective time of worship where we gather with friends and family to acknowledge our grief that we don’t get to share the holidays with everyone we might want to. Whether we are separated by death, by distance, or by strained relationships, the holidays can magnify our pain and grief. This is an opportunity for us to share those hurts and to support one another as we look to God for peace, presence, and comfort.

December 24th – 6:00pm – Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols – This is a very traditional, and meaningful service. We gather in a dimly lit sanctuary to hear again the story of Jesus’ birth, to sing those familiar carols, and to light candles as a reminder that the light of Christ came into the world to chase away darkness and fear. We will end the service by surrounding the sanctuary with candlelight as we sing Silent Night.

December 25th – 10:30am –Christmas Worship – There won’t be Sunday school on Christmas morning, but we will gather together for a brief, informal, service. We will encourage all children to remain in the sanctuary with us for this worship opportunity. We will sing some of those familiar carols, and in place of a sermon I will give an extended communion meditation. There is something special about gathering to worship on Christmas day. I hope you’ll plan to join us. You can even come in your Christmas pajamas (assuming they are appropriate to wear in public!) This will be a fun, and informal, celebration of the birth of Jesus.

We pray you will have a blessed Advent as we all await the coming of Christ, and hope that you will join us for one, or all, of these special worship opportunities in the life of our church.

Past, Present, and Future

Forget about what’s happened;
don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
rivers in the badlands.

Isaiah 43:18-19 (The Message)

There is an old saying, “If you forget about the past, you are destined to repeat it.” But there is a fine line in that remembering. Countless times throughout my ministry I’ve met people who are being held captive by their past. Past mistakes and trauma keep them from the potential of a bright future. While we certainly don’t want to repeat our past mistakes, I find the prophet Isaiah’s advice to usually be more applicable. Instead of wallowing in the past, God calls us to be present in the here and now. But, more than that, to look forward to the overflowing abundance of God’s grace.

One of the best places for us to live, both as individuals and as a community of faith, is in the intersection between history and the future. When I talk with churches who are embroiled in conflict, I often find they place an emphasis on the future, or the past. Focusing on one at the expense of the other is a recipe for heartache. One group feels that they are not as important as another group, which is never good. Everyone wants (and needs) to know that they are a valuable part of the community, that they matter.

In the past year or so, we’ve been blessed with many new faces at the church. But I’m afraid we haven’t done as good of a job as we would like in integrating these new folks into the life of the church. In our Elders training two Sundays ago, and our regular meeting this past weekend, we talked about ways to help us get to know one another better, and to encourage better care of and communication with our community of faith. Two main ideas surfaced. They aren’t particularly new, or innovative, but we do hope they will help us to get to know one another better.

The first thing we are planning is a new church directory. We plan on producing this directory largely “in house” but are talking about how we might include family pictures. It is just so helpful to be able to put a face and a name together. Plus we’ve had so many new people joining our community, we have missed out on some important information. So, in the next few weeks we will have “information sheets” which we are asking everyone to fill out. This way we will have accurate phone numbers (I know our number changed before we decided to drop the home phone…) as well as email addresses, birthdays, and anniversaries. This way we won’t miss someone’s important day just because we didn’t know when it was!

Also in 2017 we will be revisiting an old practice which the Elders feel is needed in our current day and time as well. We will be kicking off what we are calling “Shepherding Groups.” The Elders and I want to make communication and relationships a priority for our church. But it is hard to keep in close contact with everyone, so each elder is taking responsibility for a few families. Our hope is to share joys and concerns, and to create small groups where we are able to get to know one another better, even as we grow in our spiritual walk with God.

Personally, I am very pleased with these positive steps we are making. We truly want to live into our mission of “journeying together” and we hope these two ideas will help make that a deeper reality in the days ahead. I’d also love to hear your ideas about how we might build relationships among our community. Would you like to see us go on a mission trip, have a monthly fellowship event, have a fish fry, serve others in our community in some way? Whatever your ideas are, we’d love to hear them. So we can grow closer to one another as we grow closer to God.

Looking Ahead

According to Kaia it’s now Christmas time. Apparently as soon as the temperature drops below 40 degrees she thinks it’s time to put up the tree and start singing carols. I’d rather wait until after Halloween and Thanksgiving myself. But, I do think this is a good time to talk about all the special things we have coming during Advent this year.

Advent is one of those “church words” which refers to the four Sundays before Christmas and leads up to Christmas Day. This is usually about four weeks, but can be almost 5 like this year. Advent begins on November 27th and will continue all the way up to Christmas Eve. Since Christmas is on a Sunday this year, that’s as long as Advent can be.

Part of the confusion with Advent is that it lines up with the secular “Christmas Season” beginning after Thanksgiving and continuing through Christmas. (Let’s not get into the retail Christmas season…) But, the Christian Christmas season is actually AFTER Christmas! You know that song, “The 12 Days of Christmas?” Well it is based on the season from Christmas through January 6th (or the Epiphany.)

The Christmas season is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, where Advent is a time of preparation for that birth. Advent is a time of waiting, of anticipation. And, waiting is something that I don’t do well, and I don’t think I am alone. When I get into the checkout line at the grocery store, or at any busy retail outlet, I get anxious. Well, no, I get downright evil. I grumble about the slowness of the line and wonder why I am cursed to always choose the slowest line. I think the license bureau gets such a bad reputation because of this same thing, waiting.

It’s hard to wait. It can be even harder to wait for a birth. Talk with just about any mother in the last month of her pregnancy, and she is likely to express that she is “Ready to have this baby!” There are a LOT of emotions tied up in that statement. Those emotions of waiting and anticipation are what Advent is all about.

Each of the four Sundays has a different theme: Hope, Joy, Peace and Love. To help us think about those ideas we include the lighting of Advent Candles in our worship services. Each Sunday another blue candle is lit to remind us of that week’s theme. And we light the candles from the prior weeks to celebrate the building anticipation.

Then Advent comes to its completion on Christmas Eve as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. On Christmas Eve we retell the story of Jesus’ birth through the reading of scripture and the singing of Christmas Carols. And we light not only the four blue candles on the wreath, but the central, white, Christ candle as a reminder of Christ’s presence with us. Then we conclude our Christmas Eve worship by singing silent night and each person lights a candle and we surround the sanctuary with light, reminding each and every one of us that we carry the light of Christ with us.

This year, because Christmas is on Sunday, we get the opportunity to celebrate Jesus’ birth again on Christmas day. We will have an abbreviated service (no Sunday school) where we will hear the Christmas story again, sing familiar Christmas carols, and take communion together. I look forward to celebrating Christmas with my family, and my church family this year. I also look forward to celebrating Advent with you this year, as we anticipate the coming of Christ even as we remember the anticipation of Jesus’ birth.