Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Advent 1

My spiritual awakening traces (as far as I can tell) back to an Advent season when I was in 5th or 6th grade. We attended a Methodist Episcopal Church (yes, I remember Methodism before the UMC) in Bronson, Michigan. It was a charming old sanctuary, classic in every way, in my memory at least, and this would have been one of the last years that congregation had before it was replaced by a "totally 60's" new sanctuary. And Reverend Phillips was a charming pastor. The first thing I "wanted to be when I grow up," apart from the usual grade-school boy dream of fireman, etc., was a minister. That was entirely because of my young admiration of Rev. Phillips.

I soon outgrew that, but that's another story.

The Advent season was the only time in my home that we routinely got out the Bible and read. That was Mom. She prepared the Yule log (seriously, we had a Yule log) and we would read and light the candles. I have no idea how often this happened. It may have been only one year, but it is powerful in my memory, and tied to one particular Advent at Bronson Methodist.

What I recall is the sense of it all, not the particulars. I do know that we heard sermons from Isaiah. And . . . that's pretty much it! The readings, the fact (but not the content) of sermons, the look of the church, and a Yule log. It would be years before I knowingly put all this together; years after I had begun to understand the relationship that was stirred by the Spirit of God through the words of Isaiah proclaimed by Rev. Phillips. And it came together one Advent.

So this has been a special season for me, and consequently for my own family, all my adult life. Karen and I learned Advent worship in the Village Church of Western Springs when we were newlyweds and beginning a family. We took that into my ministry of music at Berean Baptist Church in Minnesota, where it was a delight to help move along the nascent seasonal observation there. When we came to College Church, we found a rich season well developed, and it was in so many ways like finally finding our Advent "home."

It should not, then, be a surprise that it is now, at the beginning of this season, that I begin to fully understand what I am missing during this ministry hiatus. The "ordinary" season has past, and while College Church is hardly a liturgical calendar kind of place, there is that sense of new beginnings that comes with Advent there. This year we will see that from the other side of the chancel, particularly when we attend "Lessons and Carols" as part of the season.

We have been visiting churches this fall. Not so much to "find a church" but to get to places that we had never been able to see before. But for Advent, we thought it would be a good idea to settle into one church for the four Sundays. We narrowed this down to two options, and Saturday night made our choice. It seemed like such a good choice, for all the right reasons. But you know, it was not, as it turns out. Advent can be celebrated properly in myriad ways. So when I say that this way didn't quite "do it for us," it is hardly a critique of the service or of the excellent church we attended. It should have worked on every level, and yet it didn't. So, since we never thought we'd consider this particular church a place we could settle long term, we will change course for the coming Sundays.

And, no surprise here, our other option will have a service very much like what I've had the privilege of planning and leading for decades. Very much, I am pretty sure, like that Advent season long ago in Bronson, when my spirit was stirred for the coming of Christ into my life.

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