Tuesday, December 30, 2014

that's what I call 'putting Christ back in Christmas'!

There's no manger, no traditional Christmas carols - no Hark! the Herald or Silent Night. There's not even an inflatable Charlie Brown or Linus, ready to tell us what Christmas is all about.

But this may be the most exciting and faithful Christmas observance I've seen this year.

Wait, what? Nance, this is very entertaining and impressive, but how does this Star Wars light show celebrate the birth of Jesus?
Good question. The answer may surprise you, but it's very simple: this display is a fundraiser, and everything collected supports a meal program for poor and homeless individuals at the local church.

In the information beneath the video on the YouTube page, the man responsible for this light show explains why they do this:
... people say things like, “what does this have to do with Christmas?” In all reality, what do any of our traditions have to really do with Christmas? There were no lights or even a tree to decorate when Jesus was born. I do this because it brings families together to enjoy something for free while raising thousands of dollars for those who are need. Jesus said, “if you love me, obey my commands.” He told us to help those in need - and that’s why I do it and that’s what I think Christmas is really about.

He's doing this, putting on this brilliant, apparently-not-very-Christmasy show during the holidays, to be obedient to Jesus' teachings. That's what I call putting Christ in your Christmas! And he does it in a way that's innovative, fun, and disarming. Even a Scrooge who doesn't want to hear 'Merry Christmas' and sues his city government over a nativity scene would have a hard time turning his nose up at this deeply Christian way of celebrating the holiday.

What if we all focused less on people who don't want to hear about Jesus during the season and more on finding ways to celebrate or making family traditions that honor Christ at Christmas?

Jesus taught in Matthew 25 (see verses 31-46) that whenever you're compassionate to someone in need, giving a hungry man something to eat, providing shelter to a woman with nowhere to go, when you do something like that for them, you're actually doing it for Jesus himself. Every gift you give to someone in need is a gift you give to Jesus.
A Star Wars musical-light show may not mention Jesus' name, but every dime it raises to feed the hungry adds up to a sizable Christmas gift for the birthday boy himself. What better way to celebrate?

Monday, December 01, 2014

learning the lingo: Advent

Like most congregations, a United Methodist Church comes with a lot of church lingo, "insider language."
Maybe you've heard explanations for it all before. Maybe you haven't. Maybe you did... but it's been awhile, and you could use a *ahem* refresher.
That's what this new series is all about - learning, or maybe relearning, the church lingo. What do all of those acronyms stand for? What does that committee do, anyways?  What are they talking about up there? These posts are your secret decoder ring, to help you piece together the puzzle of church terminology.

For reasons that will soon become clear, I thought we'd start the series with the word "Advent" - or you might hear people at the church talking about the season of Advent. What's the deal?

Well, just like a year is divided into four seasons - spring, summer, fall, winter - a year in the church is divided into different 'seasons' too. The church's seasons are: Advent; Christmas; Epiphany; Lent; Easter; and the season after Pentecost. If you've ever wondered why the colors of the drapery in the sanctuary seem to change at random, it's because the different seasons (and some individual Sundays) are represented by different colors.
(By the way, this isn't just in United Methodist churches - Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, and a lot of other Christians use the same 'church calendar'.)

Advent is the first season of the church year. It's color is purple (sometimes blue), and it usually starts right after Thanksgiving. In other words, watch for the color purple coming to a sanctuary near you - this past Sunday, November 30th, was actually the first Sunday of Advent for 2014.

But what is Advent? Why do we have this 'season'?
Advent always starts four Sundays before Christmas, because it's a season of preparation for the coming of Christ, a time to make our hearts and lives ready for his advent (coming). Once Christmas day comes, Advent is over, and we enter the actual Christmas season. So, while all the stores are blasting the Christmas music to get us in a generous, spending kind of mood, churches around the world are still technically waiting: it's not Christmas yet; it's Advent. We're taking time to make ourselves ready for Jesus. If we spend weeks (or months, even!) getting ready for Christmas day with the family, buying gifts, sending cards, preparing the meal, why not spend some time getting our hearts ready to celebrate Jesus?

But there's a double-meaning there. We're getting ready for Jesus' birth in Bethlehem on Christmas Day, but we're also getting ready for Jesus' coming again, his Second Coming, when the dead are raised, history as we know it wraps up, and God's new world begins. During Advent we're doing some introspection, making sure there's 'room in the inn' in our hearts for Jesus, so we can celebrate Christmas meaningfully and rightly, and trying to make sure we're people who are ready for Jesus' return, people who will hear him say "well done, thy good and faithful servant."

So, over the next few weeks when you hear people mention the Advent candles or say "this is the 3rd Sunday of Advent," or something like that, remember what it all means. These next few weeks are our chance to very consciously examine ourselves and seek the Holy Spirit's transforming power, so that we can make ourselves ready for the Christ Child and ready for Jesus' coming again.
That's Advent.