Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bringing the Christmas Story to Life!

On December 18th approximately 30 members of Robertson-Wesley United Church gathered in Memorial Hall to get dressed and get ready for bringing the nativity story to life. People of all ages arrived with excited uncertainty and expectation of what this afternoon might bring.
As the participants entered the church they were met by the smell of chili and hot chocolate and they were surrounded by costumes, games and treats. A stable was constructed and set up on the corner of the church property, bales of straw appeared, a few lights were set up and then like magic Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, an angel, some animals and various other characters appeared. Off to the side of the stable Christmas carols were sung with the help of the choir and other volunteers. It didn't take long for people in the community to gather round the nativity scene to see what was going on. As people passed by, candy canes were handed out and people were invited to join the scene, take pictures, and to make a donation to the Bissell Centre.

As the sun went down, and the light faded, a sense of calm, mystery and warmth began to grow. As I watched from a distance I saw cars turning the corner to see what was happening, I saw families join in the scene and take pictures. I noticed people in the nearby apartments stand on their decks and listen to the caroling. Some people looked on from afar, while others wanted to be up close.

The community was curious and in many ways I think that our voices and our story reached out to others in a way that we did not expect. I'm not sure what they received in these moments of interaction, but I know that I received the gift of hope, peace, joy and love as we met new people who stopped to take a look, to simply gaze at this beautiful sight.

In those few hours outside of our church, the true meaning of Christmas was brought to life. We shared the Good News of Jesus Christ with others in a way that reminded me of the magic that Christmas once held for me as a child.

A sense of wonder...

A sense of mystery...

A sense of possibility...

A baby wrapped in swaddling clothes gathered us together and opened our eyes, our hands and our hearts to one another in a way that we had never imagined. I hope that the new year will continue to shed light on the many ways that we, as a church, can connect with the community in which we worship, study, work and live.

During this Christmas season and as we move into the season of Epiphany may these words from "Away in a Manger" bring you comfort and joy:

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay
close by me forever, and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in your tender care,
and fit us for heaven, to live with you there.

Written by Karen Bridges

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Season of Advent

It’s all about the waiting….

Patience is a virtue, and that virtue is really apparent when it comes to this season of Advent. Kids are excited about Santa coming and “can’t wait” to open gifts, people are frustrated waiting in lines to pay for their purchases, and for our society who relies so much on things that are time-saving and our communications that are so immediate, waiting and patience are words that don’t seem to exist in our world today.

However, the journey from Advent 1 to Epiphany unfolds as all good stories should, step by step. This is very apparent at a service like Lessons and Carols where we tell the story in order - the longing, the waiting, the anticipation and finally the birth, the angels and shepherds and the wise men. This service tells the whole story and Advent, Christmas and Epiphany carols are all part of that.

In an article by Lester Ruth from the periodical “Reformed Worship” (Issue 69), Ruth talks about the traditional emphasis on Advent as a season of anticipation. Although the classic calendar and the lectionary say that Christmas is December 25 and the 12 days following, if you ask people when the Christmas season is - many people would reply, “As soon as Halloween is over.”

It seems that the bigger Christmas (or the “holiday season” as the consumerist advertising has called it) has become, the more Christmas has swallowed up Advent. Many churches today are trying to consciously keep the season of Advent to maintain a clear countercultural witness to all-too-common December overindulgence. An observance of Advent is growing steadily in many churches and many Christian homes. However the secular culture ignores Advent, as there isn’t much money to be made on patience or waiting. So, the Christmas music continues in the malls, the decorations start to go up before Halloween, and the themes of Advent – hope, peace, joy and love are largely ignored.

In a blog written by Cory Howell he says that even to many churchgoers, Advent and the Christmas season are one and the same. By the time Christmas has arrived many people don’t want to sing Christmas carols anymore, as they have heard them in the malls since before Halloween. Secular practice and sacred tradition have become extremely blurred.

Yet by using the image of a people in darkness who are waiting for the coming light, we could bring back some of the meaning into our Christmas celebrations. As Howell says, instead of indulging in the worst kind of consumerism, as many do every year at this time, perhaps we could focus a bit more on our spiritual poverty, our need for something more meaningful than our everyday hustle and bustle, which is usually amplified during this time of year. It’s about trying to find that inner peace, silence, and space.

In a blog by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts, he claims that if we just jump straight into Christmas, we not only miss out on the activities and music associated with Advent, but miss out on the celebration of the full season of Christmas, too. The seasons of the church year can enrich worship and the worshippers lives. Taking time in Advent to focus on Christ’s coming, makes it more joyful when it does arrive at Christmas.

This is why we try not to sing Christmas carols in church before Christmas Eve, and why we focus on the Advent themes of hope, peace, joy and love. They help us prepare for Christmas, and help us to be counter-cultural. What better message can we as Christians send to the world - that we should have hope, create peace, live joyfully and share our love with others in our world.

The United Church Moderator, Mardi Tindal expressed this sentiment very well, in her annual Advent message, “I wish you the gift of time and space to reflect on this beautiful complex world we live in, thankful for all we have been given and all that we have to give one another and God’s world—a renewed spirit of humility and awe, along with courage in our efforts toward justice and healing for all.”