This Time of Year
3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. – Luke 2:3–7
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
It is amazing that it is nearly that time of year when we watch and wait expectantly or perhaps with dread, to witness that first flake of snow. We are headed for winter and the holidays will quickly be upon us.
We wait for lots of things in this season, especially as the lines grow longer in the stores and malls. As followers of Christ, we must also be aware that we continue to receive and to watch and wait for, above all, the presence and hope of God, Jesus Christ. We pray for Christ to enter into the bedlam of our everyday lives and speak fresh words of hope into our battle weary hearts. It can be difficult to understand how this can be when we all know that Christ is already with us, always.
While I have started here with a reference to Christmas, I in no way want to skip or gloss over the importance of the Thanksgiving holiday. While a primarily American tradition, this holiday has given Christians the opportunity we long for-a chance to steal the occasion away (or back) from our culture and claim it for Christ. Often the focus is on overindulgences of food and football. A day to revel in eating, drinking and, now, thanks to Macy’s and other retail stores, shopping- all to excess.
The original celebrants of the day were just happy to be alive. As strangers in a strange land, the Pilgrims were at God’s (and the local Native American population’s) mercy for survival. Much has been debated about what they ate and the political motivations for the meal. In the end, the day was established as a day to corporately give thanks to God for the gifts and blessings of life. As Christians we celebrate this not only on Thanksgiving Day, but every day and especially as we join as the body of Christ in worship together.
It is interesting that just about every year as we prepare for Advent I have encountered the historical debate about whether or not, when the Nativity set is put up in the church, the infant Jesus is “in” or “out” of the crèche. A good case may be made for either option. For many it is a matter of faith tradition or denomination. It has been considered a traditionally Catholic “thing” to leave Jesus out of the manger until Christmas Eve and a likewise Protestant “thing” to leave the child there. It really goes beyond all of that when we begin to look at the significance of the reason behind each choice. You may have noticed that last year we did both. Some nativity scenes featured the babe in the manger and others did not until Christmas Eve. This was not an attempt to appease one school of thought or the other, but an intentional choice to allow the experience of both to permeate and enliven our faith.
The empty manger reminds us throughout the Advent season that we are waiting for Jesus to come to us again. It also gives us an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be waiting for something. In our post-modern culture this is not expected. We want what we want and we are used to getting it quickly. We try imagining what it was like so long ago to wait expectantly for hope and light to enter in and save the world from chaos and darkness. Even so, this is not difficult to visualize when we take look around at what is happening in our lives, our families, our communities and our world. We cry out in our souls for that final consummation of God’s Kingdom when all things will be made new.
At the same time, as the called out people of God who may receive redemption through Christ, we recognize the baby in the manger as the one who has already come and remains with us, even in the midst of the chaos and darkness that threatens to overwhelm us. We face difficult struggles and our world cries out for words of hope from us as those who witness to the light which has come and is still to come. Christians live daily in that tension. That is, the urgency of the Kingdom realized now and the “not yet” reality of God’s final reconciliation of the earth and all that is in it. The baby’s presence reminds us that we have already received God’s ultimate gift of love-God’s self. We must witness to this great hope and light received. Above all, we are reminded to be thankful.
So now we have come full circle, beginning and ending with thankfulness. As we enter this season of Thanksgiving and Advent, we may cry out to God, “Thank you for providing for our daily needs of food and shelter and for coming to be with us and save us. We pray in all hopefulness and faith for you to hurry to us once more and to finally gather us to yourself!”
Come, let us worship together especially as we celebrate Thanksgiving and enter into the exciting time of Advent and Christmastide. Our Worship theme for Advent this year is: Behold! Our Journey with Christ: the “Advent”ure of a Lifetime.
I pray that you all ponder these things in your heart at this special time of the year and that the Lord’s favor is upon you as you give thanks for God’s many blessings of faith, home, family and friends.
Your Fellow Servant in Christ,