Christmas is almost upon us and the waiting will be over, at least for this year. It seems like every year it takes me more time to get ready. I have an idea of what I need to do to prepare and how to do it. Maybe that is why it takes me longer; it has become familiar and I don’t have the urgency that comes from doing something new. I know it will all get done; it always has. I wonder if I would have a greater sense of urgency if I believed something new was going happen. Bishop Willimon wrote, “Whenever Christ shows up, be prepared for the birth of something new that humanity could not create for ourselves.”
The readings for Advent this year include readings from Mark. Mark has no birth story about Jesus, no manger, inn, shepherds or cattle lowing. Mark has a peculiar kind of birth story that seems to say that no matter when Jesus comes, he shakes our world. For Mark, getting ready is extreme, “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs” (Mark 13:7-8, NRSV). It is almost as if with a sense of comfort and permanence comes the beginning of stagnation and decline. No new creation, no renewal is possible without pain and letting go.
I am thankful that most of the major life changes in my life came with time to prepare. I am very grateful for the birth of each of my children, and even though I didn’t personally go through the pangs of birth, there was a period of preparing for change and letting go. Loss of sleep comes to mind most readily. There were other major life changes that happened with the birth of each child. And though by the birth of our third child, Lancy, I had a sense of what was coming, her birth was very different and filled with many new things. The death of both Kercida’s and my father was sudden and unexpected, but like Mark tells us, there were signs. “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates” (Mark 13:28, NRSV). I cannot imagine what it would have been like had we not been even the little bit prepared that we were.
The work that God does in us, around us and among us is Holy work. It is loving work but it often causes pain. One spiritual guide taught, “You will know you are making spiritual progress when you can list all the things that used to occupy your life that you have now stopped doing” (unknown). One of the laws of physics states that if there is no friction (loss), there is no movement (growth). So maybe it is ok that I didn’t get everything done the way I have always done it. Maybe it is ok that I still grieve the absence of people who are important in my life. I hope this year, as the church reads from Year B in the lectionary cycle, I can hear all the language from Mark, John and Luke, as words of hope, love, peace and joy.
Christmas is almost here and the time of waiting is over for this year. I hope you can come and celebrate the new things that God is doing in your life and in the life of the church. We will have two services Christmas Eve morning and three in the evening. Let’s celebrate the “birth of something new” each and every time we worship together.
See you Sunday,