When I sort my incoming mail at the church it goes into three piles: never bother, later, and immediate response. There’s power in three.
But we always find four Sundays in the Season of Advent. We light an Advent candle on each of the four Sundays before Christmas. Traditionally a promise fulfilled in the coming of Christ is attached to each day: hope, peace, joy, and love. Then on Christmas Eve we’ll sing “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” The Advent promises culminate in the birth of Jesus signified by the lighting of the white Christ candle. During Advent the power is fourfold, but they lead to BIG event number five.
Often we use numbers to lay out a melody: “one two three, that’s how elementary it’s gonna be…” Or to help a child learn to count: “four five six, pick up sticks.” The key is that the progression of numbers must lead somewhere you want to go. “Come on let’s fall in love, it’s easy.“ Advent is also a kind of number progression. It’s cute in its way too, with pretty candles and familiar songs. But the power comes when it leads somewhere we really want and need to be.
As you get ready for Christmas most of us find we try to squeeze three times the usual social engagements, shopping, and communications into a finite time period. As we rush through the four Sundays of Advent like a whirlwind we try to remember why and how the birth of Jesus brings hope, peace, joy and love to the world. We wonder if that will happen in our lives. But if we remember to pay attention to the message behind the four Advent candles then all our busy preparations lead us straight to the BIG event number five.
For that BIG event you don’t need to go to church; you need to be a church. There will be no fireworks, not even angel choirs in the heavens. This Christmas I hope you’ll find stillness and a calm, quiet place where you just know that God really is with you. That’s what the birth of Christ sings out. When you hear that melody you’ll find it’s sweeter than falling in love. It tells you that you count forever.
Advent helps us find that place where we can receive the message of Christmas. It reminds us how much we need God’s quiet assurance.
May you discover this Christmas how the threefold God came in Christ four you. Now, doesn’t that deserve a high five?
Faithfully, Pastor Noel
OCTOBER 26, 2018
Pastor Noel posted the following commentary in the E-Tidings newsletter of the Community Church.
Here just before the mid-term elections we are all thinking about what we “hope” will happen. Hope is an increasingly precious commodity in our life together. Rev. Amy Thompson, the relatively new Senior Minister at The Riverside Church in Manhattan, tells this story about hope:
I recently heard a Radiolab (public radio) episode that tells the story of Alan Lundgard and Emilie Gassio. Two twenty-one year old art students, they were living the dream in a loft in Brooklyn and studying art and basking in the glow of young love… One day on her way to class Emilie was hit by a truck. In the ICU, clinging to her life, her parents and Alan kept vigil around her bed.
For weeks they waited for her to recover, with few signs of hope. The doctors were getting ready to discharge her to a nursing home where she would likely spend the rest of her life. But Alan thought there was hope. He insisted, “She’s in there, she just can’t get out.” Emilie had hearing loss and wore a hearing aid. Alan in desperation tried something he’d read about in a story about Helen Keller. He traced out on her arm the words, “I love you.” Emilie immediately awoke briefly and responded. But when more proof that she could really recover was demanded, Alan tried putting in her hearing aids and turning them on. Suddenly, when that happened, when she could finally hear, everything changed. “Just by hearing your voice,” Emilie said, “I came back.”
At the end of this touching story Rev. Thompson asks simply, “Where are you hearing hope today?”
I hear hope when I listen to our Bell Choir, the Bells of Hope, play. Despite the comings and goings of different members the bells ring on!
I hear hope when I go to visit a church family and we say grace around the table together.
I hear hope sitting in my office at church and the MTA train chugs by: hope for commuters that they soon will arrive home….hope for our congested metro area that mass transit can work better than driving solo into the city.
I heard hope a couple Sundays ago when we baptized a baby with her family all gathered around…. I heard the hush of the Holy when we all shared a sacred moment. God was here.
But mostly I hear hope these days when someone lovingly reminds me to listen for hope in my life. Isn’t that kind of what we do for one another in the church… remind one another to listen? Thank you for helping me listen for hope!
Faithfully yours --- Pastor Noel