What is this “Advent” thing?

Have you ever noticed that groups develop their own kinds of codes to communicate? For example, liking something has a whole new connotation after Facebook. And, if Google has their way, we’ll all change our thinking about what +1 means…

We have our own codes in the church, too. When was the last time you heard anyone talking about sin if it wasn’t in the context of church? I’ve not heard anyone who was wronged by another proclaim, “They sinned against me!” Certainly the concept of the Trinity, God who is three-in-one, is not something I’ve run into outside of theological discussions. And then there are Advent and Lent.

I’ll save the discussion on Lent until we are a bit closer to that season of the Christian year. But thought it might be helpful to try and get us all on the same page about this whole Advent thing. Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and leads up to Christmas Day. This is usually about four weeks, but can be almost 5 (depending on when Christmas falls in the week.)

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.

I 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.

Look! Christ is coming! Behold, Christ is here!

 

Week of Compassion responds to Midwestern storms

A swath of tornados struck the Midwestern United States yesterday, causing significant damage across the region. Media outlets are reporting that 68 tornados were spotted, leaving thousands without power, destroying hundreds of homes, and killing 6 people in Illinois.

Communities from Washington, IL to Kokomo, IN, have been impacted. Week of Compassion is currently monitoring the situation and working with regional offices to assess needs. We have been in touch with Regional Ministers and local church pastors and will continue to respond as needed. As always, Week of Compassion and our partners are committed to Long Term Recovery in communities affected by disasters and plan to respond in the days to come.

We give thanks to the God who calls us to respond to chaos with hope, peace, and compassion, and we give thanks for all of you who partner with us to minister to those affected. Please consider putting your Compassion into Action by responding to needs in Illinois and Indiana.

Prepared to Serve

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
Ephesians 4:4-7, 11-13 NRSV

Sometimes volunteering, whether it is in the church or elsewhere in the community, can be a thankless job. It is easy to forget to say “Thank you!” to those who have faithfully served the church as board members, elders, deacons and Sunday School teachers. So, in the season and spirit of Thanksgiving, I think it is more than appropriate that we pause for a few moments in worship to recognize those who have given so selflessly over the past year to the ministries of our community of faith.

Therefore, during worship on November 17th, we will have a celebration of the volunteers who have helped us over the past year. But, we are not going to stop there. For the first time in several years, we are also going to take the time to ordain and install those whom we have called to be the Elders of our congregation, and to install the servants we have called to be our Deacons. Yes, November 17th is going to be a very busy day! (On the first Sunday of January we will install the new officers of the church.)

You may be wondering, why is it important to do all of this ordaining and installing? Why are we taking the time? We are taking the time because words have the power to change things.

A couple of months ago, I was honored to officiate at two different weddings. Toward the end of each of those ceremonies, I said “I now pronounce you husband and wife.” Those are more than words that are spoken. Those words DO something. Those words make a change in who two people are, in relationship to one another and to the world.

Saying that we recognize the leadership of our elected leaders is important. The words of ordination and installation matter because they do something. Those words change us. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t look at the certificate of ordination that hangs on the wall of my office. When I look at that paper, and the many signatures on it, I am reminded of that day when this congregation, and others from the area and region, gathered to recognize my call to ministry. I also remember times when I have been blessed to participate in someone else’s ordination service. They are powerful, profound moments of worship that recognize the calling of individuals to leadership.

I hope you will join with us in worship on November 17th as we celebrate the gifts that we have been given as a community of faith. And, as we prepare those who will have committed to serve us in the year(s) to come.