by The Rev. Pam Bell
As we approach the season of Advent, we are once again hearing the stories of preparation, waiting, and hope. The weeks leading up to Christmas are filled with anticipation and activity. As a church our busyness exponentially grows. For not only do we have our regular Sunday services and faith formation, but we also have missions and ministries like Angel Tree, Family Promise, the monthly food drive, a blood drive, a Visit from Saint Nick, the Ladies Christmas Luncheon, Sages Luncheon, Advent Lessons and Carols, Pageant rehearsal and in a few days the pageant itself along with multiple church services and music.
Yes, there is much happening here at Saint Barnabas and in our world that can fill our time, distract us, or accentuate our sadness. We are not required to put on the mask of Christmas happiness and joy when really we are feeling sadness, anger, frustration, loss, and loneliness. These feelings are honest and authentic. You may have had a loved one die. You may have lost a job or career. Your health may have changed, and you can no longer do what you used to do. Family dynamics may have shifted, and you are now alone. I could go on, but in this season of excitement and preparation, I know there are times I find myself empty and missing those that have died, and asking myself, what now?
Several years ago, I had the privilege to join with members of this parish on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In Bethlehem, we visited the story of Mary, Joseph, and the birth of Jesus. For the first time I was faced with how western religion has glamorized and changed our vision of the birth of Jesus.
Let me paint a picture. We have a very pregnant young woman (really a girl), being forced to make a long journey on a donkey to another town. The young man, who is her husband, is also a first-time parent, and is learning all about pregnancy and its hardships as they make their way to the town of Bethlehem. The donkey and Joseph carry their food and blankets and Mary. There is no family traveling with them, so the story implies. They arrive in Bethlehem to find there is no room in the inn, and so the family find themselves in a stable.
You are now picturing a wooden stable with livestock sheltered from the winter night, right? That is what our storytellers picture for us in the creche scenes we have in our houses and see in displays. What I discovered was not a stable or manger, but cut- out caves in the hillside, where the shepherds would go and get out of the winter air with their livestock. These caves were not quaint stables with straw, but rocky spaces with hard dirt floors and a fire to keep the animals and the people warm and to offer protection from the outside world. This is where this young couple ended up. Can you imagine? Having spent days on the road sleeping in the outdoors, Mary was very pregnant and looking forward to a sheltered room at an inn. Imagine the disappointment — and perhaps fear. Mary’s time was near, and she had no family to help her. Joseph was the breadwinner and culture suggests that he should provide Mary with shelter and comfort, yet all he could offer was a cave. These two young people, both having been visited by angels, filled with awe and hope, are now in a cave. Life is often not what we imagine it to be and can be filled with disappointments.
I believe that the season of Advent is really that place of holding our disappointments, our losses and griefs. It is the time where we can be sad that what was is no more, and what is to come is a big, scary unknown.
We are in that cave with Mary and Joseph. We are not sure what to expect, but, like them, let us hold fast to a promise from angels that what is to come will be humanity’s salvation.
–The Rev. Pam Bell
SUNDAYS, NOVEMBER 6, 13 and December 11 and 18, 11:45am – 1pm | Sean’s Place
If you are walking the path of grief and living with the loss of a loved one, please come together for support and to learn strategies for coping with the holidays. You can come anytime; however we recommend attending all four sessions to get the most out of this program. To register, contact The Rev. Pam Bell.
Wednesday, December 21, 7-8pm | Sanctuary
The holiday season is a time of anticipation and joy–and for many it is also a time of complicated emotions. At Saint Barnabas, we recognize that the love of God is wide enough to hold the joys and the pains of all of us, even when it may feel like the season has left us behind. The “Longest Night” service is a time of worship set aside to honor the realities of holidays marked by the loss of loved ones or life circumstances bearing the marks of the tragic. The Rev. Pam Bell offers her sermon (above) from a past year’s Longest Night service as a meditation on loss and grief during the holidays. You are invited to join us for this year’s service if your own circumstances cry out for prayerful expression.
Welcome to www.saintbarnabas.org, our church community’s online expression of our life and mission. If you are looking for a place that feels like home, a place where friends remember your name and become excited when they see you across the patio, a place where members share the value of deep, life-changing faith in Jesus, you’ve come to the right place. All are welcome.
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