November 29, 2020
Dear Christmas Christians,
We need an anchor of tradition in this year that seems determined to take them all away. We need a way to hold on to the Advent Hope in a year of apocalypse. We need a way to find the Advent hope in the apocalypse. Because as much as we feel that we are without what makes the Christmas season Christmas-y this year, the truth is, this may be the most Christmas-y Christmas of all.
We have no immediate backstory for Jesus’ birth. Biblical time is folded in on itself and everything happens at once, with no thought to the scenes we do not read. When you look at those scenes it is very clear that current events have a lot in common with those days: housing and jobs at risk, food insecurity, turbulent political changes and wealth flowing up and up but not out or around. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
And there’s the irony: our new sense of familiarity with the story of Christ’s birth is quite unfamiliar to us. Many of us are feeling anxieties we have never felt, and in a prolonged way that is new and uncomfortable. We are trying to deck the halls for Advent, but we are living through an apocalypse. We’ve been forced to fast from our traditions this year. I pray that as we fast, we are breaking some long held bad habits, too. When we fast, we are invited to pick up something in the place of what we have set down. This year as we have found ourselves without the regular rhythms of workdays and holidays, the safe assumptions of how the world works. Our fast from normal has us, like Mary and Joseph did, wondering what was so good about normal anyway?
This year we need a new take on old traditions. A way to bring together the traditions we miss and the new way we feel the need for the hope of Christ to come into the world right here, right now, in this time. I would like to invite you to participate in a social justice advent calendar. Make the calendar – I’m including some suggestions for how. Maybe you can give it away next year, and making one each year will become a new tradition. Fill it with some of the ideas included in the resources here, and as you go through Advent, turning apocalypse realizations into Advent preparations for hope, talk to friends and family about what you are finding. And by all means – fill them with chocolate (fair trade), too. We can have our sweets and justice, too. There is no Advent without the apocalypse. The darkness does come before the dawn, and we need one to make sense of the other. Embracing both is essential to a life of faith and to sanity in uncertain times.
Let’s share our Advent discoveries with one another, both the festive and artistic ones and the sacred and life changing ones. If you’re on social media we can use #Apocalypse2Advent #NPUMC for our photos and reflections. New and better traditions. Turning painful knowledge into Christmas clarity and hope. Refusing to let the pain of 2020 be the only story. Who knows what our new discoveries might be?
Peace and blessings,
Some thoughts from Pastor Jenn
So, it’s happened. I suppose it is inevitable, no matter how much I wish things would go differently this year. The Christmas decorations are up in every store. Maybe like me, but you just don’t feel ready. Perhaps you are clinging to the hope of a normal family Christmas, like an anchor in a time of chaos. Maybe the holidays are already hard for you and this year is just a little more intense version of the old unsettled feelings.
As pastors say, “that’ll preach!” Here’s the thing: The traditional Christmas story, as warm and fuzzy as it is, doesn’t get us to the miracle. Nope, not even with the angels and the star and the wise men. But maybe, just maybe, our everyday lives in this strange year do get us to the miracle.
Magnificat aside, I know Mary wasn’t ready to have a child. Because no one is! How can you be?! Sometimes it doesn’t matter what we think we are ready for. What matters is what we do anyway. Mary births a son in impossible circumstances, fearing for his life and her own the entire time. Even when you live in chaotic times, that certainly doesn’t mean you feel ready for the next upheaval. Certainly this year has proven that to be true.
We think of ‘normal’ as ready for anything. We have our house in order, a rainy-day fund, and a little set aside for gifts. Except, in God’s calculus, none of that matters very much. We’ve gotten ready for the holiday, but we haven’t gotten ready for the holy day. None of us were ready for this strange year. Normal, I am increasingly convinced, prepares us for nothing. In fact, I think too much normal makes us brittle, fragile, and flat-footed. We have certainly built up some muscles for expecting the unexpected this year. And nothing could be more unexpected and abnormal than the living, breathing host of Love and Hope being born into our human midst.
The first Christmas rewrote all of our stories. If there are painful holiday narratives that pull you into their retelling, this is the year to let them go. Everything is different now. In these weeks leading into the holiday, remind yourself of how much you have in common with that first Christmas: Times of turmoil, economic stress, and populations in flux. Maybe this year is your opportunity to let go of the Hallmark type expectations and embrace the story of improbable, inconvenient, unexpected, brand new hope.
As I write this, I really don’t know what our Christmas celebrations will look like. I cannot tell you what will be the same, or different. I can tell you that our holidays will be filled with the expectation and hope inherent in the promised coming of Christ. And I can promise that together we will do everything we can to make that hope urgent, current, and relevant. Because that is when the love of Christ is also miraculous – when it is born anew in us, here and now.
A Message from Our Pastor
Hello Beloved Community,
Covid-19 has changed everything. And that’s not all bad. Because of Covid-19, our small group gatherings are global. We have been joined in worship by astonishing numbers of people from an awe-inspiring range of places. We are making new friends, learning new technologies, and finding innovative ways to stay connected. In many cases, we are better connected now than ever. Miracles hide in the most unlikely places.
We shouldn’t be surprised. New ideas and practices always appear in times of strife. When our normal patterns are disrupted, when what was good enough is no longer good at all, that is when the Holy Spirit can make her greatest inbreaking. These are, indeed, those times. I know I have found myself referring to these times as being of ‘biblical proportions.’
What, then, is the role of church, the call of being a Christian, in times such as these?
The pandemic has placed our economics into stark relief, exposing how clearly our systems have favored a few at the expense of the many. Jesus has some things to say when profits are put before the wellbeing of the people. This was the question under Roman rule, too. Pandemic and plague feel much alike – are those who are safe and sheltered at home those whom God sought to rescue out of the bondage of Egypt? If not, why not? And what are we to do about it?
Quarantining has had us home and unable to look away from the murder of George Floyd. Now we are in an overdue reckoning with racism in America and the ways in which history, unexamined becomes a present unlivable and leaves future prospering unattainable. As we realize life in America is very different for people of color than it is for white people, we perhaps gain some sympathy for the Sadducees and Pharisees. After all, the system was working just fine for them, and they couldn’t understand why Jesus and his followers were upset any more than we have heard or appreciated the critiques of our non-white siblings.
We need communities of faith in ways we have not realized for a long time. We need safe places to wrestle with ideas that feel dangerous and confusing. People we trust to point out our growing edges in love. A community that will check in on us to be sure we are well in body and in spirit. And so the community of NPUMC has proven itself to be.
This newsletter represents one of the many ways we are strengthening our connections in a time when they could become weak. I am excited to hear from many different voices, representing many perspectives, skills, and lived experiences. The more we come to know one another not as acquaintances but as siblings in Christ, the better able to support each other through the more difficult terrain of our Christian journey, human shortcomings and realities that seem truly biblical in proportion. Looking forward to sharing with you, here and elsewhere.
Peace IS Justice,