Advent Joy or Advent Chaos?

Dear Friends,
 
Thanksgiving has come and gone.
 
Christmas tree lots are full and Christmas music is being played 24/7 on local radio stations. Now all we need is a little snow for it to truly “begin to look a lot like Christmas.” I don’t know about you, but this is a conflicted time of year for me. I find myself, in these weeks leading up to Christmas, simultaneously filled with the joy and anticipation of the season, and running from one activity to another, trying to stay on top of what’s next. With all of our family and church traditions, events, and activities, it truly can be a challenge to fit it all in. I am thankful for Carrie who manages somehow to keep our family of five all moving in the same direction! I’m assuming this combination of joyful celebration and chaotic preparation describes the lives of most of you and your families, as well.
 
I share this, not to complain, but simply to acknowledge the beauty, joy, and complexity of the season. One of the things that has helped me navigate both the richness and complexity of these days before Christmas and in my relatively short time with you as your pastor, is this important reminder: “You don’t have to do everything in your first year!” Of course that’s true. I’m still in just the beginning of my ministry at First United Methodist of Lindstrom, and while there is so much I’m excited to learn, dig into, and accomplish, it doesn’t – and can’t! – all happen at once. But I’m excited to try new things, introduce new programs, present important challenges – in order to be as effective as possible at making disciples in our congregation and surrounding community. There is great anticipation by me, and others, that requires great patience. This, is the message of Advent, also.
 
We don’t have to prepare for all of Christmas in Advent. We don’t have to celebrate everything about the Incarnation on December 25th, or even during the “twelve days of Christmas” spanning Dec. 25 – Jan. 5th. There is just too much joy, too much courage, too much tenderness, too much hope, too much promise to squash into a single day, twelve days, or even the four weeks of Advent. Perhaps we would be wise to defer some of our celebrations to the new year, when the tree has come down and decorations have been put away, and when we go back to work or school. Could it be, anyway, that the promise of Christmas is most necessary and meaningful after Christmas? That the meaning and significance of Christmas doesn’t end on December 25, but really just begins during those days? Are the songs and lights and decorations necessary in order to imagine God becoming one of us and walking among us in our daily lives?
 
We all love and are familiar with the gospel of Luke’s telling of the Christmas story, that begins, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken …” The story continues to unfold with the sentimental inclusions of Joseph and Mary and the Shepherds and the animals and the Innkeeper, and of course the baby in the manger. Beautiful. Peaceful. Calm. Quiet. Mark’s gospel, on the other hand, gets right to the point, matter-of-factly stating, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” No sentimental details for Mark. It’s easy to be taken off guard by the brevity and terseness of Mark’s account. It’s intentional, however. For Mark, the whole story about Jesus, beginning with John the Baptist and running through the calling of his disciples, exercising demons, healing the sick and feeding the hungry, and culminating in his death and the declaration of his resurrection – is all just the beginning.
 
The story of the good news of Jesus Christ, that is, continues… to this day! The story is still being written! And given the headlines and scandal and upheaval and unrest and general anxiety of these days, that good news comes to me as such a timely and important word – and I hope, for you, as well.
 
So, I invite you, amid this frantic and joyful time of year, to remember that God is still with you, working through you, and continuing the story of the good news among you. This story will continue long after this season ends. This story is bigger than the news stories we hear or the worries we hold on to or even the hopes we share. God is not done. We, as individuals, as couples, as families, and as a congregation, are not yet what we have been called to be. The promise of Christmas is bigger than we’d imagined. And God’s mercy and courage and blessing extends farther and deeper than we can imagine. Christmas – is just the beginning!
 
I hope you will find time to escape from the frantic and chaotic pace of this season, and join us on Wednesday nights in December for our Advent mid-week quiet worship services. They will be held at 6:00 p.m. in the Chapel, and just might be the most meaningful Christmas gift you receive this year.
 
Advent peace and blessings,
 

Pastor Dale