Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Christians are an ‘in between’ people and this is no more evident than during the season of Advent. Advent means ‘coming’, and during this season we anticipate the coming of Christ to the manger in Bethlehem. During Advent we also anticipate and look for the second coming of Christ at God’s appointed time. Christ’s birth in Bethlehem is a mystery of the past. Christ’s second coming in glory is a mystery of the future. We live in between.
It is beyond an understatement to say that we live in a complex time, socially and politically, economically and interpersonally. The newly installed head of The Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, said in his inaugural sermon on All Saints’ Day this year, “The old saying used to go, ‘It ain’t easy being green’ and it ain’t easy being human. And it never has been, and never will be.” This is a time when there are challenges before the Church and communities of faith as never before, and a time of difficulty and hardship for many on a scale unseen in my lifetime. Yet, even with these challenges and difficulties and hardships, there is an abundance of joy in our time, an abundance of love, a stubborn persistence of hope. The entire human family is ‘in between’; in between challenge and joy, difficulty and love, hardship and hope.
Advent presents us with this reality, with the in between-ness of us all, and turns our attention to the hope we have in God becoming one of us in Jesus Christ.
On the First Sunday of Advent we hear the clarion call of God through the prophet Jeremiah: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” This announced the coming of Christ in the manger in Bethlehem to the expectant of Israel, and it announces the coming of a better day for us when Christ returns.
On the Second Sunday of Advent the father of John the Baptist, Zechariah, sings of the goodness of God in keeping God’s promises, a goodness that is as alive today as it was then.
On the Third Sunday of Advent the prophet Zephaniah calls the people of Israel, and you and me, to joy and celebration because God, “…will save the lame, and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.”
The Fourth Sunday of Advent is the first time all season we hear of the child in the manger, who, “…shall feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God…and he shall be the one of peace.” Peace is as necessary today as it was those many centuries ago!
In our in between-ness, this Advent season proclaims, “Lift Up Your Heads”. Martin Marty, the author of the enclosed Advent devotional, reminds us that the Bible urges us to not be downcast, but to look up. Looking up, lifting our heads, we peer into the reality of God where hope will propel us forward through our complex time. God’s gift to us of Jesus Christ radically changed the past and he will radically change the future; with heads lifted up we will boldly live in the present challenges, difficulties, and hardships as those who have hope, as those loved and called by God to be workers of transformation in the world.
I invite you to observe and celebrate Advent at The First Presbyterian Church, and be transformed by the call to, “Lift Up Your Heads.” Our worship, education, and fellowship will take us deeper into the themes of Advent and the promises of Holy Scripture. The enclosed devotional is for personal study and reflection, to be shared with the members of your household. We remember in this season that the birth of Christ, while an event of joy and celebration, is still the messy and painful birth of a child—Advent will prepare us to greet him and his glowing parents on Christmas.
As with everything we do at The First Presbyterian Church, all are welcome here. If you have not been with us in a while, I look forward to welcoming you back. If you have been coming consistently and have lost your zeal for the Lord, I look forward to praying with and for you as God reignites something within you. If you are skeptical, I look forward to and welcome your questions; if you are far off from God, I am eager to share God’s good news and forgiveness with you. If you need a place to pray, you are welcome here. If you need a place to weep, you are welcome here. If you need a place to laugh, you are welcome here. If you simply need a place to be, in the presence of God and other beautiful and broken people, you are welcome here.
Lift up your heads, sisters and brothers in Christ—Christ is coming! Thanks be to God!
With joy and anticipation,
The Rev. Andrew Philip Long, pastor
The First Presbyterian Church
(580) 237-5413 x24