Today is the first Sunday in the 2022 Advent season, and I was blessed to spend a portion of it in a place of worship that has become home and with people whom I love. I watched as my pastor/husband lit the Hope candle, the first of four advent candles nestled around a pine wreath encircling the Christ candle in the center, and felt comforted in the familiarity of tradition.
As I watched the flame flicker, then steady its glow, I remembered our first pastoral Christmas in the small, A-framed church in the Oregon mountains where I learned so many lessons about ministry that would serve me very well through the years. For instance, I learned to never get between a church decorator and her Chrismas doves that hung from the rafters in their annual hovering from on high and how to turn simple craft supplies into spectacular Bible story illustrations. I was taught the wisdom in relaxing the grip of expectations when my young children acted like actual children rather than iconic images of the holy family. Most of all, I learned how to trust God to take care of our little family, and the ways in which he so faithfully showed up for us still astound me to this day.
Then I began to recall Christmas memories of other churches we’ve been blessed to serve, remembering decorations, traditions and all the many pageants with 9-year-old wise men and little white-robed angels with glittery halos. So many Christmases….so many traditions….so many pageants!
And then it came….the kickback to nearly every happy memory involving church, because for us, church also means family, and family means the Warren 4. And right there in the middle of warm and lovely memories of Christmases past, came the familiar sting of loss that the 4 are now 3.
And I am once again reminded that the days of our lives aren’t divided into neat and predictable compartments like the tiny doors of an Advent calendar, waiting to be opened to reveal treats and fulfilled dreams. All too often, life also includes closed doors…dark passages…hard seasons that can feel like they will never end.
I’ve been there. Truth is, sometimes I’m still there. And in those places, when I can still my heart long enough to reflect, I am reminded of all the times in my life when God has faithfully shown up, time and time and time again. This is where I find my hope these days – not in everything working out the way I expect it to or for every prayer to be answered as I want it to, but in taking a longer view of the goodness, the love and the faithfulness of God.
Hope came the day Jesus was born, and he’s not going anywhere. He is Emmanuel – God with us. That’s where I find my greatest hope and where I pray you will as well.
So, to those whose hearts are heavy and hurting right here on the first Sunday in Advent, I’m with you. I see you and I choose to hope with you in the One who has never once failed to walk with us into the darkest night.
Jesus – Emmanuel – God with us.
That’s a hope we can believe in.
So much love,