From the Pastor….

One of the challenges that pastors who try to follow the calendar for the Christian year have is getting congregants to recognize that Advent is all about contemplation and preparation for the coming of Christ into our lives and remembering that, one day, there will be a Second Coming (either at our deaths or at the end of the world). That message has a hard time competing with the story of Christmas, even if, in our Christmas observance, we stick to the sacred elements and avoid the commercialism of the co-opted celebration.

Both Advent and Christmas, however, are about gift-receiving. I know we like to talk about how at Christmas we should think more about what we are giving than what we are receiving and how it is more blessed to give than to receive, but remember that what we are celebrating is the gift that has been given to us through the presence of God in Christ. And during Advent, certainly there is a lot to be said about giving our lives over to God, but we won’t be able to do much with those lives unless we are given something by God.

All of this has led me to thinking about what Paul called “the fruit of the Spirit,” or, for my purposes here, what I would call “the gifts of the Spirit,” since these are not attributes so much cultivated as accepted. 

To remind you, in Galatians 5 Paul wrote, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things” (verses 22-23). Paul believed that if the Spirit of Christ was alive in us, if we truly gave up our wills to the will of our Lord and Master, then these would be the attributes that would be demonstrated in our lives. We would not so much need to concentrate on developing these characteristics as they would be a natural outgrowth of our life in Christ.

I choose to emphasize this reality in this final newsletter column of the year of our Lord two thousand nineteen because, in the world at large these days, these are not words that anyone would choose to characterize our culture. And, to be candid about it, they seem to be the opposite of the characteristics on display (at least publicly) in the lives of our leaders — whether in politics, religion, or popular culture.

Pick at random a person on the world stage today. Think about everything you know about that person’s life. It may not be much more than what you have seen on television, read in a magazine, or observed through social media. If you were asked to describe that person, would words like loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle, or self-controlled come to mind?

Or would words like self-absorbed, insistent on having one’s own way, despiteful of others, contemptuous of the weak, materialistic, or manipulative be more likely to be what you think of?

I know, and you know, that we aren’t supposed to emulate people just because they are powerful or popular or well-known, but we also know that these are the people who seem to garner the most attention. And what is really frightening is that these are the people that our children are watching — and if we aren’t careful, they are the ones after whom they are patterning their own lives. We know that Jesus is not only our Savior, but also our role model, but there are plenty of other options out there.

So whether you are thinking right now more about Advent or Christmas, consider this: God has given us the greatest gift the world has ever known through God’s own presence in the world in the person and work of Jesus Christ. And through that on-going presence in the world we are able to receive the gifts of the Spirit that will allow us to be a witness in the world for all that is good and holy. And by God’s grace, it will be enough to overcome all the bad examples that are out there vying for our attention.

Have a blessed Advent and a Merry Christmas. And accept the gifts of the Spirit with joy and gratitude.