Thursday, November 29, 2018

Waiting Patiently, Listening Carefully

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”  Isaiah 40:31 (English Standard Version)
If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. Proverbs 18:13 (English Standard Version)
We have one newsletter for both December and January.  What is a visionary pastor to say that speaks to two different seasons in the life of the church?  
Advent is a season of anticipation, waiting for the Christ Child to get to Bethlehem.  Many of us want to rush it; we resist going through the steps of hope, peace, joy and love.  We want to get there, quickly.  “Let’s quickly move through those steps.  The department stores have had their lights out since October!”  We are trampling on Advent when we bring Christmas into that season.  It is like celebrating Easter in the middle of Lent.  
The gifted writer and Wesleyan theologian Dean McIntyre writes:
Advent is a season rich in tradition, symbolism, art, music, and liturgical practice. It has its own unique themes as well as those that point the way to Christmas. And yet, we annually confront the pressures and questions of …"Why can't we sing Christmas carols in early December?" The answer, of course, is that to do so allows Christmas to intrude. It allows the themes, practices, spirituality, history, traditions, symbols, art, and music of one season to displace those of another. We lose the richness and the benefit of experiencing the promise, longing, hope, and expectation of Advent. The world, television, and shopping malls have done all they can to convince us that Advent does not matter; it has no place in our culture; and many of us have come to accept that for our church, as well. Our faith teaches us something very different.  (Italics are not in the original.) 
Our theme for Advent will be: Waiting patiently in hope, peace, joy and love.  Each week will focus on one of those four ideas.  We want to honor Advent I think part of how we honor the season is cherishing and embracing waiting.  The Isaiah above is a theme for all who want to move quickly.  ‘Renew your strength:  wait.’ 
It is our Hilltop tradition to have a Blue Christmas service in December.  We will continue that tradition on December 12th at 7:30 PM. 
The next season is called Epiphany.  Epiphany was originally about the recognition by the Wise Men of the Christ Child.  But we can have secular epiphanies:  “a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is very important to you.”  Many churches use the Season of Epiphany to help those who came on Christmas Eve to move from a state of annual tradition to one of faithful inquiry seeking a deep, rich “moment.”  My take of that moment is one of raised consciousness rather than true understanding.  I have personally been studying this stuff for a quarter plus of a century and parts I still don’t truly understand.  When I want to truly understand, I call our own John Davison, and he clears it up for me. 
Many have heard me say:  too often we listen in order to reply rather than to truly understand.  I hope I don’t shock anyone with the idea that all of us do this to some degree.  I hope I don’t shock anyone with the idea this is not a new problem:  look at the Proverb above.  I agree that if we are formulating the reply in our head while the conversation is going on, we are taking part in folly. 
I want to spend our time of growing consciousness around the idea of listening.  During that time, I hope to touch on the trials and tribulations of the United Methodist Church as it faces the possibility of becoming Untied instead of United.  I think the solution to some extent is one of learning to better listen. 
Join us in both seasons, a season of waiting followed by a season of listening. 
I pray that you covenant to first wait patiently, to listen carefully, and to be with us in both of these two seasons unless you are not in our fair city. 
Selah, Pastor Dennis