Thursday, December 1, 2016

Gifts and Advent

I wrote this piece for our church's newsletter. I sat down at a blank computer screen, and the words came pouring out on the page.... and I realized that too often, I quiet my Voice. And two, I am surrounded by Gifts.


Advent is a new beginning, a new year in our church calendar.  Advent speaks powerfully to me, ever since Aidan was very young and I witnessed him arranging, then rearranging, the characters in his chunky, child-sized nativity scene: there is nothing to capture one’s attention more completely than a child retelling the story of Jesus’ birth.  When he was two years old, I was listening to him deliver the good news that the Angel Gabriel spoke to Mary.  In that instant, I recognized a most fitting middle name for the second son we were expecting, Leo Gabriel, as he was our “good news” baby.  Witnessing how intently Pax listened to the secular yet beloved “Little Drummer Boy,” I marveled at how humbled we are in Christ’s presence, at times prepared with only the simplest of offerings.  Last year, I was smitten with Mary, and the faith she had in God, for her strength and dignity and grace.  Despite the predictable return of Advent each year, I am still struck by how God reveals God’s self in unique and powerful ways, again and again.  

This year, I am focused on the gift that we celebrate come Advent: the gift of the tiny baby Jesus, delivered to the world as a helpless and mewling newborn.  I am amazed by this tiny child, and what He did for our world.  And it leads me to think very much about the gifts we have in our own congregation, the gifts our children and youth bring to our faith family.  

Like many of you, I watch with wonder and marvel as the youngest in our congregation gather around the chancel steps, to hear the children’s message, and later, to receive the body and blood of Christ at the communion table.  I listen to their questions, breathtaking in their complexity, joyful in their simplicity.  I watch their tiny, solemn hands raise up to meet the pastor’s hands, delivering bread; the chalice bearer’s hands, delivering wine.  Week after week, I watch the children; they return me to solid ground.  They reveal to me the mystery of Christ within us.  In their sweet, unknowing, hopeful faces, they reveal all that is good in this world, all that we may hope to do for them.  I watch the way they run with abandon in the sanctuary, not yet recognizing the space as Holy Ground, or perhaps, better still - recognizing at once, and allowing their feet to dance across it joyfully.  I’ve marveled at the draw of the simple mosaic stained glass windows that line both sides of the sanctuary - a mere $10 at time of purchase - for the joy they have brought nearly every child who has entered into our sacred space of worship.  I witness beautiful moments between parent and child in church - a lingering hug; a meaningful look that passes; a calming embrace around a child’s shoulder; a long lap snuggle during the sermon; a soundly sleeping infant in arms - made more beautiful in the context of worship.  Our children, our gifts.

I watch as our older children have grown into the acolyte robes they coveted wearing as youngsters.  I witness their solemn devotion to bearing the cross, offering the chalice, week after week. I listen as they offer up their gifts of music, of the readings of the Word during worship, of a welcome extended at the church’s front door, the laughter they share with one another in the narthex and hallways and rooms of our church building.  I watch as they guide their young peers into getting apple juice at the snack table, or helping them climb a ladder to hang an ornament on the tree just before Christmas.  I see how they act as role models, being kind and loving and open, unique and independent, being engaged in community with our faith family.

In youth group and Sunday School, I witness our youth grapple with difficult questions about life and faith.  I watch them confront challenges and face obstacles, offering help to one another, acting as both leaders and followers.  I listen to their prayers, hear their joys and sorrows, their worries and fears, their gratitudes and deepest desires.  During service projects, I marvel as they serve with accepting and loving hearts, wanting to affect change to the marginalized in our immediate community and beyond.   

Time and time again, I see the face of Christ in our young people.  So often, they are my Godsights - moments so powerfully filled with God’s presence that they are sightings of God.  This Advent season, as I reflect on the gift of the baby Jesus to the world, so too do I connect with the gift of all children, and especially the children and youth of our congregation - and I am filled with such deep gratitude for them all.

As we prepare to welcome the baby Jesus into our hearts again this season, let us also celebrate the children and youth of this congregation: the wonder and newness of them; the joy they bring, and the richness they provide our faith family.