ďAnd I heard a great voice from the throne saying, ďSee the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;ÖWrite this for these words are trustworthy and true.Ē Rev. 21:3 & 5b
Notice that the biblical verses Iím directing your attention to (as we begin this season of Advent that prepares us for the great celebration of the Nativity of our Lord) are not from the birth narratives of Luke or Matthew, nor are they the beautiful words of John in the first chapter of his gospel Ė all of which are the traditional places we turn during this time of the year. Instead, they are the words that come to us from Johnís revelation in the last book of the Bible. This Word of God, I think, focuses on the importance for us of this up-coming holy day.
These verses tell us what God was up to in sending his Son, Jesus. They reveal Godís ultimate goal in his plan of salvation: a plan designed to connect us to the God who created us and who desires to dwell with us. Our God has worked continuously and persistently from the beginning of time to be with us, his people. God wants to be our God and be in relationship with us. God longs for a personal, intimate relationship with each and every one of us forever! Thatís Godís goal. Thatís Godís plan. God wants to be a real, empowering presence in our lives. Itís a plan that was fulfilled in the birth, life, death and resurrection of that Babe in Bethlehem and will be brought to completion for all time and for all Godís people in the establishment of the kingdom, Godís new creation.
Thatís the big picture!
Thatís why we call this great Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Ďthe Incarnationí. God comes in the flesh (carn or caro is the Latin root, meaning flesh) to dwell with his people. God comes to provide the way for all of us to be in community with our Creator and with each other. Itís all about relationship! Relationship! Relationship! And it was accomplished for us by the Babe of Bethlehem!!
I want us to focus on this ďbig pictureĒ as we head into the Christmas season so that we can better appreciate the little picture that comes to us from the manger. The big picture is important because it speaks to some of the major issues that we are facing as a church this Advent / Christmas season.
The Church is struggling and itís not just the secularization of Christmas that is causing us problems. There are all kinds of forces working to draw people away from the faith and they are very effective. One that requires our attention is the way we are - and are not - communicating the Good News of Jesus Christ. Much like the postmortems taking place over the Republican loss of the presidential election, the church is struggling to know how best to communicate the faith in a world that is increasingly centered on the digital media and not on face-to-face communication over and about the written Word of God (i.e. worship, Bible study, community activities). With the explosion of digital media, people are being exposed to belief systems that are effectively competing for their hearts, minds and spirits. Just in the last couple of weeks, Iíve talked with distressed parents about their children who arenít just giving them a hard time about going to church but who are declaring their rejection of their Christian faith and professing that they are, in one instance a Wiccan and in another an Atheist. Where are they getting these ideas? Theyíre getting them from interacting with their peers all of whom are exposed to, or exploring, these beliefs on the internet. Now itís not unusual for young people to question their faith (or for older people, either) but there do seem to be some elements involved here that are new.
So, what can be done about all this?
We Christians need to listen to the voices of those who have begun to explore new ways to share our faith and to come up with creative, innovative ways to communicate this faith that means so much to us. Christmas provides us with a great opportunity to do just that!
Iím addressing all this, as much to myself as, to my colleagues and parishioners. Iím as uneasy about the shifting culture going on around us as everyone else is (everyone else over the age of 50, that is!) And Iím talking here about doing more than pulling out the old slogans of, ďKeep Christ in ChristmasĒ or ďJesus is the Reason for the Season.Ē And Iím not talking about getting into a heated argument with someone who wishes you a ďHappy HolidayĒ instead of a ďMerry Christmas.Ē
Iím talking about investing some personal capital into this holiday in the name of that Babe born so long ago. What does it mean to you to know that, in Jesus, God has come into your life? How do you talk about the wonder of having a God who wants so badly to dwell with you - to be a part of your life - that God would sacrifice his only Son? Why do you make the effort of arranging your familyís schedule to include attending worship on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? And how do you explain it to family members and friends? Is it just that itís something that you always do? That Christmas doesnít seem right without worship on Christmas? Or does it have something important to do with your relationship with the God who has named and claimed you as one of his children?
Letís take some time to listen to the people around us this holiday season. Listen with the ears of faith so that we can learn better how to talk the talk of faith so that those seeking connection and community can hear. Letís practice on each other and on our family and friends. Letís listen - and then share with others - the difference it makes in our lives and our relationships to know that God walks with us through this life and that we live freed up by Godís promise that he will accompany us into the next. Sharing our experience with this God who has chosen to come and dwell with us is the most important step we can take to address the challenges that face us by this new techno world in which we are called to live as Godís faithful people.
Where do we begin?
Letís invite our neighbors, friends and family to worship with us this Christmas. That will give us ample opportunity to listen and practice sharing what is so important to us about this holy day. To help get us started, door hangers with a Christmas message and an invitation to our Christmas worship services will be available at worship on Sunday, December 16th. Letís each use them creatively to get the faith conversation started in our family, among our friends, with our neighbors.
A Blessed Advent and Christmas to All,
Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sheraden, 3102 Sherwood Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15204 412-331-0600