There is an old story that sticks in my mind. As I remember it, a group of people step on to an elevator together in early December. A number of them are carrying packages that look to be Christmas gifts. As they politely visit with each other, one of them notices a gift wrapped differently from the rest. “Wow” he comments, “that looks like a really different Christmas present.” “Oh no” the person responds, “it is for my nephew whose birthday is December 25.”
Without thinking the first conversationalist responds, “That must be tough. One present fits all and you don’t really get to celebrate your birth!! What bad day for a birthday! Thank God I don’t know anyone born on Christmas day!” In the embarrassed silence of the elevator, there is quiet for a moment. Then someone from the back comments just audibly enough to be heard, “Thank God I do!”
This season of preparation calls us into a relationship with Jesus today.
The season of Advent, at its best, calls us beyond simply a vague notion of the “spirit” of Christmas. It calls us into a relationship with the Christ child who was born and will return to rule and reign in glory. Advent calls us not just to prepare for a birth but embrace His reign in our lives today. Much of the better, modern scholarship lifts up the early and medieval Christian church’s insistence on Advent as a time of preparation for the return of Christ! This season challenges us again with the call to discipleship, to committed disciplined faithfulness (trust + obedience) to the Lord.
As I have noted in previous blogs, we have assumed that people have been indoctrinated in the Christian faith and they haven’t! Casual discipleship isn’t really discipleship at all! A faithful Advent radically enlivens our great disciples making commitment as given by the resurrected Christ in Matthew 28. This is, and remains our WIG, our Wildly Important Goal – actually it is highlighted even more in Advent!
Another Fleming Rutledge quote (see Embracing Advent blog from Dec. 7 for more from Fleming Rutledge) from her marvelous book Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ helps us connect Advent with our towering WIG mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Dr. Rutledge comments, “There is the deepening mood of Advent, which calls us to a mature, clear-sighted, and steadfast faith.” Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ by Fleming Rutledge)
Advent WIG Narratives
By way of both celebration and demonstration, I offer some highlights of the Advent WIG coursing through the lives of some Central Texas Conference Churches...
At Lorena UMC, South/Central DS Beverly Connelly reports, “We celebrate Lorena UMC, with Pastor Chris Rowe, where 11 families have joined the church since July 1, 2021. We highlight their WOW ministry (for young children), their Club 56 (for 5th and 6th graders), their youth ministry and Destination Discipleship (a deep Bible Study for adults). In Chris’s own words, “The Spirit is moving!”
Nearby, at Harker Heights UMC, Dr. Leah Hidde-Gregory shares, “For ten years the church has gathered on the second Saturday of the month to make sandwiches, prepare hygiene kits and then they go out to four places where homeless gather to distribute them. Many of these church members have been doing this for the entire10 years. Rev. Leslie Tomlinson led the congregation to go deeper with the men and women they met when they went out. They had discussions with their homeless friends, learning about their names and some of their backgrounds. A builder in the church met a man who was a displaced construction worker and was able to get the man some work, and then an apartment, and then a small group at church. This man is now an active member of the church.
Together, the Central Texas Conference has lived a combination of extravagant generosity and missional outreach through our special offering this fall for areas of the U.S. and around the world in distress. Initial reports are that a total of $81,159 has come in (probably more since the writing of this blog). These financial resources are being shared in the following way:
There is more, so much more to share, so watch for more WIG narratives to come throughout the coming 2022. I live in great thankfulness for the privilege of sharing in our WIG work together here in the Central Texas Conference.
Another of Charles Wesley’s great Advent hymns, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus,” sings in my heart. I hope and pray that it resonates with the essence of your being as well.
“Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all-sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.”
(Charles Wesley, “Come, Thou Long-expected Jesus,” No. 196, The United Methodist Hymnal)