Advent in a strange year

This Sunday, November 29th, is the first day of the season of Advent. As I sat down to compose this letter, two days before Thanksgiving, my thoughts wandered to how different this Holiday season will be from any in recent history.

For nine months, the world has been reeling from a pandemic, the likes of which haven’t occurred in over 100 years, since the Spanish flu of 1918. Many places of business have been closed, either temporarily or permanently. Many schools were closed and now are teaching children virtually. More and more people are working from home. Of course, there are those who have contracted the Corona Virus. Some have not survived, but fortunately, many more have recovered. For us, at Berlin Center and LeValley Churches, our worship has been turned upside down. Both churches were closed completely for a couple months. When we returned, the wearing of masks, social distancing, and sanitization were the new normal.

As Summer drew to a close and some children returned to school and people had to spend more time indoors, a spike in cases of the virus, also known as COVID-19, occurred. A near repeat of the Spring precautions was ordered in many states. Michigan entered into a three week “pause” of many activities to try to bring down the number of new cases. The Bishop of the Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church strongly encouraged churches to discontinue in-person worship until the end of the year.

LeValley chose to follow the State guidelines and to worship via Facebook Live only for three weeks. Berlin Center has chosen to continue worship as normal, following the safety precautions of masks and social distancing.

So, what will the Advent and Christmas seasons look like in the churches? Should LeValley even decorate pending the decision of whether to resume in-person worship on December 13th? How many at Berlin Center will attend as some depart for Winter destinations and others become uncomfortable with being in the church? Should we even attempt to worship on Christmas Eve? As we struggle with these decisions, possible quarantines, and the fear of illness, may we instead focus on the season of Advent and what it means for Christians around the world.

While Advent is certainly a time of celebration and anticipation of Christ’s birth, it is more than that. It is only in the shadow of Advent that the miracle of Christmas can be fully understood and appreciated, and it is only in the light of Christmas that the Christian life makes any sense. It is between the fulfilled promise of Christ’s first coming and the yet-to-be-fulfilled promise of his second coming that Theologian Karl Barth wrote these words: “Unfulfilled and fulfilled promise are related to each other, as are dawn and sunrise. Both promise and in fact the same promise. If anywhere at all, then it is precisely in the light of the coming of Christ that faith has become Advent faith, the expectation of future revelation. But faith knows for whom and for what it is waiting. It is fulfilled faith because it lays hold on the fulfilled promise.” The promise for Israel and the promise for the church is Jesus Christ; he has come, and he will come again. This is the essence of Advent.

 As we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent, lighting the candle of hope on the Advent wreath, these words do give us hope for the future. If you do find yourself fearful or not feeling well, pray the following prayer to bring you hope and peace.

This Advent, Lord, come to the manger of my heart. Fill me with Your presence from the very start. As I prepare for the holidays and gifts to be given, Remind me of the gift You gave when You sent Your Son from Heaven. The first Christmas gift, it was the greatest gift ever. You came as a baby born in a manger. Wrapped like the gifts I find under my tree, Waiting to be opened, to reveal Your love to me. Restore to me the wonder that came with Jesus' birth, When He left the riches of Heaven and wrapped Himself in rags of earth. Immanuel, God with us, Your presence came that night. And angels announced, "Into your darkness, God brings His Light." "Do not be afraid," they said, to shepherds in the field. Speak to my heart today, Lord, and help me to yield. Make me like those shepherd boys, obedient to Your call. Setting distractions and worries aside, to You I surrender them all. Surround me with Your presence, Lord, I long to hear Your voice. Clear my mind of countless concerns and all the holiday noise. Slow me down this Christmas, let me not be in a rush. In the midst of parties and planning, I want to feel Your hush. This Christmas, Jesus, come to the manger of my heart. Invade my soul like Bethlehem, bringing peace to every part. Dwell within and around me, as I unwrap Your presence each day. Keep me close to You, Lord. It's in Your wonderful Name I pray.

Amen.

 

Advent blessings, Pastor Nancy

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