Monday, December 7, 2009
Our Life Stories
The Lessons and Carols we read and sang this past Sunday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Kingsport, told us the story of our Christian heritage. The Gospel and readings announced the coming of a Messiah. John the Baptist’s cry was to get ready! Here He comes! Get ready for God to come! However, I think we sometimes get confused about what we are really preparing for. Sometimes I think we tend to think about Advent in terms of a bumper sticker I saw one time: “Jesus is coming... look busy...” John the Baptist’s cry to prepare the way gets turned around in our minds. It really does not have anything to do with getting the last minute shopping done or getting the Christmas decorations up. The Lessons we read are the prologue of the Jesus story that we will celebrate from now through the crescendo of Easter. We are here at the middle point of Advent, the wreath is up and the blue paraments are out. In a few more weeks we will celebrate the Nativity of our Lord in which we remember the coming of a baby. It is the all too familiar story of the manger, the angels and shepherds, the wise men, the sheep and lambs, the Star of Bethlehem and that image of a lowly stable where this story unfolds. But the story sometimes gets pushed aside by the excitement of the secular holiday season. This sacred story we begin telling here during this season of Advent, intersects with the world outside these walls. The holiday rush is in full tilt. We are just barely finishing up the leftover Thanksgiving turkey from the previous week. The holiday music and Christmas Carols has been blaring in the shopping centers for a month already (since the day after Halloween, I believe…) This mixture of the secular and sacred that we have bombarding our senses all around us, can have a way of leaving us feeling somewhat overwhelmed and confused. The baby in the manger that we will encounter in just few short weeks, somehow gets lost in the visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads. Advent is very surely a season of anticipation. But we must not forget that Advent is also, and more importantly, a penitential season that calls us to look inward. It is a time for us to reflect not only on the past year, but reflect with anticipation on things that will be new in the coming year.
This was my “official” last Sunday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Kingsport. I will be moving to a new parish that has been assigned to me by my bishop, St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Kingsport, TN. I felt so very blessed to have had the presence of so many friends and loved ones, when I took on some new things by way of my ordination vows. It all seems fitting for me personally that my ordination has occurred during the season of Advent. Advent is the beginning of the Church year and a season of preparation. It is the beginning of a new chapter in our lives that will bring new stories and new memories.
Some 18 years ago I moved to Kingsport after going through some major changes in my life. I moved into this community literally not knowing a soul. But I quickly found a home AND a wife at St. Paul’s! St. Paul’s brings to mind for me so many different stories. There are so many people from St. Paul’s Church, both living and dead, that have influenced and enriched my life. Each one of us has a different story to tell. For me, and especially for Sister, my wife, St. Paul’s has been at the center of all those momentous occasions in life; our wedding, our daughter Rebecca’s baptism, the burial of Sister’s parents and now my ordination. All of these things, and many, many more to even begin to name, have shaped the story line that is our life. However, the significance of this story does not come from any one event, person or personality. Our individual life stories give us different ways of seeing the world. And all that is important, yet insignificant in the bigger scheme of things… The significance of the stories of our lives is found in the relationships we have with each other within the Body of Christ. It is through bonds we have with each other that we find God incarnate. Certainly, we can experience God through times of solitude and meditation. But to truly KNOW God, well, that has to be done in the context of community. Whether you choose to kneel or stand during the Eucharist; cross yourself or not; intinct or drink from the chalice; prefer Rite I over Rite II, it means nothing without community. It does not matter how much you give or don’t give; what you wear, who you vote for or support politically. It does not matter if you are liberal or conservative, moderate or indifferent; whether you go to church every single Sunday or just go every once in a while. It does not matter if you are male, female, straight, gay, lesbian, white, black, blue, green, purple or red with pink polka dots! What matters MOST are the relationships you have with that person next to you and, just as importantly, the relationship you have with the rest of the folks in the world outside your own walls. What matters are the relationships that are forged through service to one another both locally and the rest of the world. We serve Christ by participating in each other’s lives through our prayers, presence and coming together around the table.
This leg of my journey in Christ is entering a new phase as I depart from the regular parish life at St. Paul’s Church and move to begin a new ministry at St. Christopher’s. But the departure of myself and my family is not a total disconnection from St. Paul’s. We are still bound to the St. Paul’s church family by the love and support that has shaped the story that is our life. It is a story of compassion and caring. It is the story of how lives can be irrevocably changed by reaching out to those both known and unknown. My hope and prayer for my friends at St. Paul’s is that this will continue. And my advice and maybe even admonition would be to handle each other with care. Avoid harsh tones or cutting words when you disagree. Seek and follow Christ always. Pay attention to the relationships. That is where you will find Christ.
So, the next time you come together around the Eucharistic table, take a moment to notice the faces of those around you there. I think you will see, as I have seen and continue to see, the face of God; just as surely and as clearly as those shepherds did when they looked into that manger to see a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes.