Adventing through anxious times
The other day my daughter sent me a text message asking for help finding jokes that would be appropriate for a company Christmas party. I posted her request for help on my Facebook page and instantly I had a dozen jokes.
Here are a couple of them:
Q. If everyone in America had a pink car, what would we have? A. A pink carnation
What do you call a snowman in June? A puddle
What does a snowman eat for breakfast? Snowflakes
Which reindeer is the cleanest? Comet
Today is the second Sunday in the season of Advent. Advent is distinctive for us – evidenced by the simplicity of the worship space, the beautiful but simple glass chalices and patens, the color blue, the Advent wreath which replaces the Paschal Candle, and just a hint of the greenery that will come with Christmas. Advent is a time when we focus less on the instantaneous nature of the world around, instant gratification, instant information and news, instant food, many many things are available to us in an instant. Advent invites us to slow down and be more intentional, anticipate the coming of Christ, and ponder how God’s love in Christ may become manifest in us in the year ahead.
Think back over this past year. A year ago we had just commissioned the delegation to go to Liberia and learn more about the school project. Now, a year later, the first two floors of the school building are almost completed. One year and God’s grace has been good, much has been accomplished, lives have been changed. A year is a long time, but it also goes by quickly. Now a new year is here and with it another invitation to ponder what God is doing.
Advent marks, for Christians, the beginning of our church year – evident in large part by the changing of the Gospel. We have moved from a year of reflecting on the Gospel of Luke into a year when we will reflect primarily on the Gospel of Matthew. Like the other three Gospels, Matthew offers us a particular view, a lens, through which we come to know who Jesus is and how we are to live our lives as Jesus teaches us. The author of the Gospel of Matthew takes great care to show how Jesus is the fulfillment of the law of Moses – the ten commandments and the 603 commandments that come from those original ten. Jesus, as the fulfillment of the law, enables the community of Matthew to know Jesus as the messiah, Emmanuel, God with us.
Advent is a time set aside by the church to invite us to consider the full significance of what God is doing in and through the life of Jesus, and in and through our lives. Advent reminds us that we exist, not for the fulfillment of our lives, but for the glory of God. [i]
Now, what does that mean, to exist for the glory of God?
The reading in Isaiah points us to consider how living with hope and in harmony reveals the glory of God. This God-infused hope looks larger and more obviously divine than anything humans can do on our own. Seriously, none of us anticipated that two floors of the school would be built in less than a year. Surely that is a sign of God intervening in this project, using us for the glory of God. Paradoxically, when we live for the glory of God we live fulfilling lives.
Human beings, acting as the heart and hands of Christ, reveal the divine in action. Divine action manifests as hope and harmony. The wolf and lamb lying together in our world mean that the rights of the poor, the marginalized, the disenfranchised; all the many “isms” of the world and of society will find new life through acts of justice – moral, ethical, and economic justice. Surely, partnering with a church in Liberia to build a school is an act of hope seeking to bring forth justice and harmony.
Isaiah describes the effort to manifest hope, justice, and harmony metaphorically as residing on the “holy mountain of God.” Here all will be filled with the knowledge of God. The peace of God will include human beings, animals, and the land.[ii] The people are to live in hope, to trust God, to live as if harmony is here now. The School project in Liberia, Blessings in a Backpack, the many groups that use this church and the many people who walk through our doors every day, the many lives that are transformed because of Christ Church, are possible because we are willing to live in hope, live as if harmony is here now, and give our lives over to the glory of God.
Paul, in the Letter to the Romans, states that hope is like trust – when we live with hope we live with trust that God has our back at all times.
If the church is to have a future, we must be hopeful. St. Paul’s sense of hope is not pie-in-the-sky optimism nor a cheery denial of reality. Hope is the undaunted force that comes from the Holy Spirit getting into our spirit and drawing us away from fear and worry and despair toward God’s steadfast love for the world and for us.[iii]
Isaiah, Paul, the Roman church, and the community of Matthew all understood that God’s desire that we live with hope and in harmony does not mean that we will live without anxiety. Life is filled with unpredictability. Life is filled with change and transition and chaos.
We are heading into a time of transition as we prepare to say good-bye to Jan the end of January and Bob the end of April. Losing two valuable staff members in the same year will be challenging. The Vestry has been discussing this transition for about six months. We have had dialogue with the Property Commission and staff. The Vestry has been thoughtful and considered and measured in its decision making process. And yet, the Vestry has embraced this time of transition with creativity and an open spirit. Today members of the Vestry will share with you the process we undertook and the decision we have reached. You all should be very proud of and grateful for the work of your Vestry. They are highly gifted individuals. We are truly blessed by their leadership. Their work deserves your trust! As they always have, the Vestry will work with me, to guide us through this transition with grace. The process will not be reconciled instantly, it will take some time to bring in new staff, train them, come to know them, and work through the kinks of transition. Building relationship always takes time. Let us proceed with a sense of hope and trust. May we work together with a spirit of harmony.
Remember, a certain amount of chaos and disorder is part of creation. This chaos and lack of order resides in all biological systems and serves to prevent creation from becoming stagnant. It is chaotic but it is also creative and necessary for healthy systems to survive. Let us embrace this time of transition with hope and trust that God is leading us toward the fulfillment of our mission as a Community-Centered church. Let us give thanks for Jan and Bob and celebrate well their time with us. Let us wait expectantly for the new staff, yet to come, and the gifts they will bring. Gifts which will surely help us continue to manifest the glory of God in our ministries and mission.