Notes from Our Pastor: December 2015

angel

According to virtually any media reports, we are now in “the Christmas season.” Everywhere we encounter images of bustling malls and online specials, as well as endless commercials advertising special prices or new items to purchase seem to be what drive this “season.” Since holiday shopping actually accounts for a substantial part of the business for many retailers, there is no point in lamenting the fact that “Christmas” has become very much of a commercial reality, but this frenzy comes at a cost.

It saddens me to hear others say things like, “I’ll be glad when Christmas is over.” What they are really saying is that the pressures to purchase things, the costs involved, the hassles of trying to meet unrealistic expectations created by advertising are all turning what should be a joyous day with family and loved ones into a self-defeating experience.

As Christians, we do have the opportunity to assert ourselves as a counterculture: choose to observe Advent. More than three weeks of December are designated as the season of Advent, a time of quieting the soul and refreshment for our spiritual life. When it comes to sacred time, “less” (doing less, worrying less, accepting less pressure) can actually be more.

In organizing the year in this way, the Church actually heightens the impact of Christmas. Officially the Feast of the Incarnation is an awe-filled celebration of Christ’s birth and His becoming one with us in our flesh. At the heart of the Christian faith is the recognition of God’s love in sending Jesus to live among us as a human being. We believe in a loving God Who cared enough to be fully one with us, sharing even our pain and death through Jesus’ human experience. His birth as a mere child born to poor parents sets the tone for the life of Jesus, who in the flesh lived as we do, both in our sorrows and our joys. Understood this way, Christmas is really a moment of rich spiritual acknowledgement what God has done for us in sending us the Christ.

But before we get there, we need some time to draw back from all the pressures of our daily life which consume our time and energy. We need to be able to stand back and make space for reflection and to make ourselves present to the Spirit of God. Taking this time out from our busyness can energize us and renew our sense of purpose and meaning. This holy season of Advent is our opportunity to prepare our spiritual selves to be present to God. Observing Advent involves a conscious attempt to tune out so much of the interference we experience when we become too busy and too exhausted. Like using the old-fashioned radios, we work to get past the static in order to tune into the channel where we can pick up God’s signal clearly.

May Advent be your time of quiet, and may your celebration of God’s Christmas be joyful!

Bill

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Notes from Our Pastor: November 2015

Freedomfromwant

There are many things to be said about our current age, filled as it is with technological marvels that have brought the whole world within immediate reach, as well as the great advances of scientific knowledge which has given us so many benefits. But along the way, in our personal and corporate lives, changing values have often left us with spiritual gaps which show little sign of being filled. Thanksgiving, to my mind, is an indicator of that spiritual loss.

With roots which are both religious and part of our national heritage, the holiday we mark as Thanksgiving seems to have lost much of its importance and meaning. Within recent memory, Thanksgiving was eagerly anticipated as the one time when families made their journeys “to grandmother’s house” or some other designated relative who would host the feast. Admittedly, the bulk of the work of preparation and later cleaning up fell to the women, but I recall sisters and daughters and aunts and female cousins gathered around the kitchen, talking and laughing incessantly, bringing each other up to date on what was happening in their lives and enjoying the togetherness. It was not an option to be absent from this family gathering, regardless of your feelings about certain members of the tribe—being together on or near the day was an unspoken rule everyone understood and respected.

I read recently that, while Thanksgiving time is still the busiest travel season of the year, the night before Thanksgiving is also the busiest bar night—when young people opt to be with their friends rather than join the family. It’s a day filled with football as well as food, but not necessarily a time when people attend church services—which frequently were community events gathering a variety of people to offer prayers of gratitude for their blessings.

The issue seems to be that thanksgiving itself has become an attitude gone with the winds of change. We consider that all we have (and as a society, we seem to have a lot!) is rightly ours, bought and paid for by us, rather than a measure of God’s blessing. Without a center which recognizes God’s presence in anything we do, why do we need to “thank” anyone?

The disappearance of Thanksgiving as a special moment of quiet and appreciation shared with family has been hastened by the rush to anticipate seasons of spending in the marketplaces. Hallowe’en is now big business, so we see its items as early as September—about the time I saw my first Christmas tree displays in a department store this year! Instead of having the Thanksgiving parade mark the onset of the Christmas shopping season, it has been passed over by earlier campaigns and the day itself threatened by the specter of Black Friday sales.

But before this article becomes a mere rant, let me offer this thought. We are a nation blessed and richly so. We need to recognize that the One who gives us both life and its richness deserves some time set aside for giving thanks, as well as for special appreciation of our families who make the years of our lives memorable by their love and support. If Thanksgiving is to be anything more than the gearing-up of our consumerism, let us pause and celebrate those things which are not for sale, and for which we cannot repay except by thankful recognition of the Lord who gives all good things and the appreciation of our family members so long as they can be with us. For we should never forget that all we are and all we have are truly gifts from God, the giver of all good things.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures for ever. Ps 136:1

 Bill Hale