Last Sunday, Rev. Anna told a story about a pastor who was less than thrilled about entering the 2020 Advent/Christmas season, and of a congregant, Connie, who gifted the pastor with a handcrafted Advent calendar. The calendar was filled with daily gestures of hope and kindness, some for the pastor to receive and others for him to offer. During the waiting time of Advent, the calendar served as a lifeline of hope for this pastor who, after weathering everything 2020 had to offer, really did not start off the season with much hope. At the conclusion of her story, Rev. Anna posed the wondering question "I wonder what it means to wait well during this season of Advent?"
This question has been on my mind a lot this week especially as we (clergy and staff) continue to re-imagine how to mindfully live well into the season Advent and tell the Christmas story in 2020. How do we hold the grief of what cannot be safely experienced this year while also tapping into the excitement, anticipation and even celebration of the coming of baby Jesus?
A related wondering question that seems particularly salient this year is "what does it mean to live well?" My social media news feed is full of comments like "I refuse to let this virus keep me from living," or "I will not live in fear." So, I wonder if part of contemplating what it means to wait well during this season also includes what it means to live well?
For example, my advent wreath this year may be made with toilet paper rolls, construction paper, and hot glue but that does not diminish the meaning around this holy season. I can still tape my construction paper flame each Sunday of Advent and maybe, just maybe, hear new meaning or assurances of hope, peace, joy, and love.
My children won't get to participate in our usual annual Christmas pageant, but they will be able to tell the story in a new way in the Greatest Digital Christmas Story Ever!...and maybe, just maybe, hear something that they never have before.
And even though I miss the Christmas carols in church, I have the opportunity to ask myself what about them is so special to me anyway? -- other than "we always sing that at Christmas." There is the bonus of being introduced to other variations of these beloved hymns online and in worship. In both thinking about the why and being exposed to new arrangements and sometimes even words, maybe, just maybe, I might wade deeper into meaning to these Holy Days.
So I guess, when people say things like "I will not let this virus keep me from living" my answer is "neither will I!" It just looks a little different this year, and just because it is different does not mean it is not good. In fact, maybe, just maybe, in some ways, even better?
I recognize that this can be a time of immense grief and loss - even more so this year. But even in hard times, we can focus on what it means to wait and live well. To that point, I hope you consider attending our Longest Night Service on Monday, December 21. Pastor Arlene will be leading this set apart time with liturgy written by Rev. Elsa Cook that names our grief and sadness even in the midst of what is supposed to be "the most wonderful time of the year."
Friends, I encourage you to seek out ways to both wait and live well during this season of Advent. Whether it be through one of our church activities (Advent at the Movies, Stations of the Nativity, Reflecting on Advent Devotionals or Advent/Christmas worship services) or through your own re-imagined traditions, I pray you do it well.
With you in hope, peace, joy, and love,