Christmas. No doubt we all have deep, hard to express feelings about this season, often involving a sense of gentleness, a respite from too frequent anxieties, and a “peace that passes all understanding.” Love, compassion and generosity are just a few descriptors that even unbelievers acknowledge seems to be in the air.
It’s also a time for reflection. As I reflect, I see the Christmas season as a time of transition. I look back in time with thanksgiving at all God has done to bring us to this place in time; pause now to live into the hope embodied in Jesus’ birth; and then look forward, anticipating the coming of the cross. I don’t like the agony Jesus will undergo but I know, just as He did, that it is necessary if we are to live now and on the other side of that cross. That transition is captured stunningly in a picture sent to me by my friend Andy Oravetz. There are actually two pictures, side by side. The first depicts a beautiful, young Mary lovingly cradling her infant son Jesus. The adjacent picture shows an aged, grief-stricken mother cradling her bloodied, tortured, lifeless adult son. Like it or not, this is part of the story of transition from perfect creation, through redemption and to final restoration at the Last Coming when Jesus returns in triumph.
So, how do we, in this present age, fit into this “Big Picture” transition? There are parallels between the Big Story and our local story at Immanuel. Beginning with thanksgivings, I won’t even attempt to list all that we experienced at Immanuel in the past year. For brevity’s sake, I’ll mention just one. You may recall that about mid-year, it looked like our income might fall short of need for both the building fund and for ministry operations. Your Vestry and Rector quickly and unanimously decided to not ask for more income but to ask for prayer. We all prayed, God answered and now, as I write this nearly at year end, our needs have been met. For ALL of our victories in 2023, it leaves us, at least in this brief season, in a place that includes a “peace that passes all understanding”.
As to anticipation for 2024, the cross is certainly prominent but so, too, is our calling. From Mt. 28: 18-20, “Jesus…gave his charge: ‘God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.’” (The Message).
This command would seem to be to tell our story; but how, in practical everyday ways, can any of us do that? We are not all preachers. We are not all going to seminary. But we are all committed Christians, with our Heavenly Father guiding us, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in us, together empowering us, even beyond our imagination and sometimes even against our first inclination. Here then is a (partial) list of possibilities for telling (or acting out) your story of faith, dedication and obedience: serving on the altar; leading or participating in Bible Study; joining our healing prayer team; serving on the Vestry, the Finance Committee, the Mission and Outreach team or one of the Ministry teams; becoming a Stephen Minister; teaching and/or helping with children and youth; cleaning the church; helping with landscaping; providing technical services in audio-visual, communications or security; singing in the choir; playing an instrument; serving in fellowship; ushering; reading the lessons; engaging with other ministries like Life First Pregnancy Center or ACTS; and welcoming newcomers. Every one of these (and others I have no doubt neglected) is a story by itself and gives a chance to elaborate on our story. Please, pray about your place to tell (or act out) your story and, by all means, actively seek out a chance to explore your place in Immanuel with Fr. Travis, Pastor Sallie or a Vestry member.
The one common thread that runs through everything is Jesus. At this special season of the year, may you rejoice in your thanksgivings, your present peace and your anticipations for the future.
P.S. While I prefer to reflect on spiritual issues, there is a “spreadsheet” side of me that compels me to remind you to submit a Pledge Card for 2024. That critical information helps the Vestry in two ways: first, to capture and implement God’s vision for Immanuel; second, it provides “we’ve got your back” encouragement to your elected and appointed leaders and staff. (So perhaps this is a spiritual reminder after all!)
Alan B. Clark