Pastor's Message - The View from the Pulpit...
December and January bring along with them Advent, Christmas, the New Year, and Epiphany. It’s quite the lineup. And each of these things is held in tension with the cultural feelings that surround them, I think. Advent is the season of waiting, of longing, anticipation, of becoming, but not yet being there. It is of hope. It’s one of reflection— looking at ourselves and the world around us and seeing what is waiting to break through in order to give us all new life, which of course, is why we celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas. Yet the cultural season that leads up to Christmas is nothing but an overwhelming flurry of activities, party prep, list making, house decorating, gift wrapping, and shopping, shopping, shopping! How is one supposed to wait when there is so much to get done?!
The New Year and Epiphany are similar. Culturally, everyone loves New Year’s and the chance to celebrate another year, another opportunity to better one’s self, and another year to start over. As Christians, we believe in the power of that New Year mentality because we know that we are given that fresh slate every time we confess to God and ask for forgiveness.
It’s a necessary and beautiful thing to begin a new! And then, may-be that excitement around New Year’s lasts a couple of weeks, but then it inevitably gets overtaken by the humdrum and dirge that can be the months of January and February. The newness loses its luster and doesn’t look so new anymore. Life gets in the way. Yet in our Christian calendar, Epiphany is with us. The season of light! The season that reminds us that no darkness can overcome God’s light and love. The season in which the “Wise Men” find Jesus because they followed a star’s light to get there. Growing up, my mom wouldn’t take down the Christmas lights outside our house until after Epiphany was over. I now do the same.
I think these tensions have something to teach us. Advent takes inventory of the world around us and calls our attention to the places that are laying in waiting. And calls us to prepare for those places and people to make way, like we prepare for the making-way of the Christ Child. The newness we give time and space for in the world brings light with it. Light that pierces the darkness of even the most bleak and de-pressing parts of our world.
I think the ultimate power in the Holiday Season is not actually the gathering with family, the traditions, the elaborate meals, and the presents (though I’m not knocking any of that!). I think the ultimate power of this time of year comes from the message of hope that we need to sustain us, and then the realization of that hope; that new life does get brought into this world on a regular basis, and that we have the choice to let the light from that new-ness carry us through the darkness, letting it shine through the whole year. You’ve probably heard me say before that “A Muppets’ Christmas Carol” is my favorite movie. One of my favorite lyrics from it is, “It is the season of the heart/ A special time of caring/ The ways of love made clear/ It is the season of the spirit/ The message, if we hear it/ Is make it last all year.”
“The ways of love made clear.” Love needs help to make its ways made clear. It needs us. It needs preparation and time and devotion so it can have a clear path. Love needs us to believe in the power of new beginnings so it can have a chance to break through in our world. Love needs the tension of the busy to remind us to slow down and take time for what’s truly necessary. And Love needs the darkness in order to show just how strong its light is so we will trust in following it to never be lost or without guidance on our way.
So friends, rejoice! Love is on its way. Even in the hustle and bustle of everything, Love will find its way to us on Christmas Day. May the tensions we feel remind us of what is the true meaning of the holiday times. Because the message, if we hear it, is to make Christmas last all year.
Blessings to you and yours this Advent, Christmas, New Year’s, and Epiphany!