As a pastor of two different sets of congregations, much of the year is consumed with trying to juggle the different needs of the churches I work for. They are different enough that I have different sermons, different Bible studies, different meetings and so on. Only rarely do I get to use the same stuff in both places at the same time. Most often, even when I can use something similar, it needs serious re-working to fit into the context of the other setting.
Except for Advent and Easter-or at least that is the way I am approaching things. Advent is the part of the church year set aside to help prepare the church for the remembrance of the birth of Jesus. I am a member of the Baptist tradition and while we don’t have to pay much attention to the church year, I do like to use the Advent season. So, when advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, I get to do one set of sermons, one set of Advent candle programs, one Candlelight Christmas Eve service.
And this Advent season, for some reason, I am pretty much ready for everything. I actually have each week’s Advent Candle program written, I have the sermons planned for each week, including the Sunday after Christmas. I have the Christmas Eve service roughed out and just need to get a few bits of input from other participants to have that ready. I am ready for Advent.
Except I am not really ready for Advent. I am ready to help lead other people through the Advent season, which is part of my job. But personally, I am not all that sure where I stand on the readiness issue. Part of my problem is figuring out what the whole Christmas/Advent thing actually means to me and my faith.
Christmas as a celebration has been becoming less and less significant for me the last few years–since the kids all moved out and away, there hasn’t been the same level of excitement with gift giving and over eating and all the rest. On those occasions when some of the family gets home or we are with them, some of the excitement comes back–but that would be there if we were together in July.
The whole gift process is less interesting. Neither of us has much of a wish list. We are at the point in our lives where we have lots of stuff and if we want something, we can and do buy it when we want it. The eating part of the event–well, I am pretty sure that over-eating is an over-rated sport, given the fact that it is so much harder to get enough exercise to compensate for the extra calories.
Theologically, I am happy for the birth of Jesus–but I find that my thinking is more in tune with the early church. There is pretty good evidence that the birth of Jesus wasn’t much celebrated until after the time of Constantine, about 350 years or so after Jesus. They focused on the resurrection, which makes sense–life was difficult and Christianity was technically illegal and so they focused in the really important thing, the resurrection.
But for all that, it is Advent. I do need to prepare for the celebration of the birth of Christ. And I need to do it not just for the people who have called me to be their pastor but for myself. The part about leading the church through Advent I have pretty much ready–it is all either written or will soon be written.
The personal part, well, that it a work in progress and has been for the last few years. I try to focus not just on the birth but all its implications. For me, that includes the rest of the story. Seeing the birth in its context is important–we don’t worship the baby because he is a baby, we worship the risen and living Christ whom he grew into. The baby in the manger isn’t important because of being a baby in a manger–he is important because he rose to life on the third day.
So, I will give and receive gifts; I will light Advent Candles; I will listen to the Messiah. I will help the churches celebrate Advent and Christmas and I will continue to work on my own celebration of the process.
May the peace of God be with you.