Today is the first day of our new year in the church, the first day of Advent.
- The scenery has changed here in the front of the church.
- The candles have changed.
- The colors has changed.
- And we are invited to embark, once again, upon something old ... the story of Jesus ... we are invited to engage, once again, in something new ... the story of Jesus.
And an incredible story this is ... it is the story of birth, and of life, and of mission, and of death, and of life again. It is the story of our lives, the lives of the faithful, the lives of creation. And we, you and I, are blessed to be in this place of proclamation to share that story with one another. And we, you and I, are called to be sent out of this place to declare this story to all of creation.
Happy New Year, people of God! Happy New Year!
Often, as we look forward to a new year, we also look back on the previous year ...
- to reflect on lessons learned,
- to remember our challenges and celebrate our blessings, and
- to see from where we have come and look to where our journey leads.
I have to share with you, that this past week at Bethel, has given us plenty to reflect upon, to remember, to celebrate, to move ahead into our new year. For those of you who were not here this past Sunday, during the announcements, we shared, among others, these three things:
- our 105 year old saint, Margaret Alice Thone had died peacefully in her sleep, the previous day.
- our expectant family, the Chovan-Spences’, had announced the birth of Grayson Robert, the previous day.
- our congregation and community were invited into the next phase of our long awaited vision and mission process, led by our consultants from 5 Deep.
As I look back at this past week, I see that we are a blessed community, and we have so much to share and to live into, together. And for this, I am deeply grateful.
On Monday, I joined the Thone family to plan a celebration of faith and life of this wonderful miracle and gift from God, Margaret Thone. What an incredibly faith-filled, inspirational, and fun-loving woman! She died as she lived, at peace in her world, with family around her, and believing in the firm foundation of faith on which she stood.
On Friday, as we celebrated her life here on earth among us, we heard stories of her humor, her love, her values, her hobbies, her husband Henry, her service to others, her faith, and her ever growing family.
We celebrated one who was among us on this earth. And Margaret’s faith and Margaret’s life can serve as a reminder that we too celebrate the One who once joined us on this earth. Jesus, who lived among us and taught us God’s intentions for human beings and for relationships.
Happy New Year Margaret! Enjoy your new adventure in heaven, and thank you, dear God, for the gift, the birth, the l-o-n-g life, the death, and the eternal life of this beautiful saint.
Last Sunday after worship, I took a baby shawl knitted by our Prayer Shawl minister to Grayson Chovan-Spence. Grayson is a beautiful baby, 8lb, 2oz, 20 inches long, with brown hair and the deepest and darkest eyes.
He was about 12 hours old when I first held him, and just beginning to notice the changes in his little world.
- Listening to his mama’s voice and my voice,
- screaming a little when given one of his first shots, and
- completely blessed as his family totally fell in love with this wonderful miracle and gift from God.
We celebrate one who is among us on this earth, today. And the fact that Grayson was not only born into the Chovan-Spence family, but also born into the Bethel community (and will be baptized here soon) can serve as a reminder to us that we too celebrate the One who joined us on this earth, in the form of a baby named Jesus. The same Jesus who continues to delve into our everyday lives as Holy Spirit and as faith, here and now.
Happy New Year, Grayson. Welcome to creation, we are so glad you are here! Thank you, God, for the gift, the birth, the life of Grayson, and for the faith he will be brought up in along side and with his big brothers, Gavin and Gabriel.
Friends, I wonder if you are seeing the pattern God has offered throughout this past week, as we start our new church year.
- This season of Advent is about celebrating the one who was - Jesus, who lived among us years ago.
- This season of Advent is about celebrating the one who is - Jesus, who lives among us today, in the form of Holy Spirit, in the form of shared faith and prayer, in the form of the body of Christ, which joyfully includes Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church!
- This season of Advent is about celebrating the one who is to come - Jesus ... who promises in our Gospel lesson for today to come back again to live among us, to move into our neighborhood, to welcome us and invite us, once again, into the life and faith and love that is our gift from God.
And what does this gift look like? What does this life and faith and love look like here at Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church?
- Well, it looks like faithful people of God sharing our hopes and dreams as we venture into a new day, a new vision, and new mission with our God.
- It looks like 67 people filling out surveys ~ helping us understand our community, prayerfully and openly sharing who we are and from where we have come ~ in effort to learn where our journey with God and community leads.
- What is to come looks like 30 people, intergenerationally, joining together yesterday morning, for a congregational and community workshop.
- It is where we explored collective values from which to move,
- offered various ideas and heartfelt longings, and shared our hopes and dreams for who we are and who we are to become.
If you have not yet learned about what God has started to create among this community, please take the time to stop by the portable walls in the narthex today and over the next two weeks.
- Talk to one another about what you see.
- Share feedback with one another and on post it notes.
- Be a part of our future, today.
So we celebrate who we are to become as a part of the family of God. Knowing we are not alone, as thousands of faith communities work to find avenues to spread the love of God in ways that are relevant, foundational, serving, welcoming, and responsive to the here and now, in all of creation.
We celebrate knowing that our God will come again and again, into our lives, poking and prodding us to live into the truth that
- God was with us,
- God is with us, and
- God will come again in glory to be among us, forever.
This is our gift, this is our call, this is our life as people of God.
This is our invitation into the new church year.
This is our opportunity to represent, represent the God who loves us more than we are able to comprehend.
This is our season of anticipating the birth of a baby ~ a baby ~ who proves to be the epitome who we were, who we are, and who we are to be.
Happy New Year, people of God! Happy New Year!
With you, for Christ,