It was cold this morning--finally--and now it seems that winter may come after all. In a perfect world, Monday would be my "sabbath day". In reality, though, it is the day I tie up loose ends from Sunday and start work on the upcoming week. It is the sort of day (if you are minister planning services for Pageant Sunday and Christmas Eve) that would ideally be spent in front of the fire, thinking Advent thoughts and scanning the sacred texts for just the right thing to add depth and newness to what is, after all, an annual occurrence. As it turns out I had to settle for plugging in the Christmas lights and making some hot chocolate to get in the mood. Some parsonage committee in the distant past decided on forced air heat. The fireplace is just for show.
Otherwise, that is the sort of day I have been having. I read some Luke and its commentary. I checked out a passage in Titus--suggested by a sermon from Peter Gomes--and settled for Gomes, himself. Ann Weems is in the mix as well, along with a few other likely candidates. I try to give some serious thought to these sorts of things. Sometimes the readings set up everything else in a service. When this happens they need to bring us along. They need to point out the clearest way to the topic or image we wish to inhabit.
One of the tricks to the religious life these days is placing oneself in the world the Bible tells us about. We have to enter a place where angels bend near the earth and evil kings deceive wise mages. Yes, I understand the parallels to our society and the social justice message in the Gospels. I also see that there are clear connections to be made between the Bible and this world. In fact, I love that stuff. The detective story around who wrote what and when is a big part of why I entered the ministry. The divine charge to work toward the Commonwealth of Heaven is what gets me up most mornings.
I am also aware of the many debates in the realm of Biblical scholarship. I know that things probably didn't go down quite the way we imagine them. I know that the oldest gospel--Mark--has no interest at all in the birth if Jesus. I know that the story we tell is as much influenced by years of Christmas pageants than what is in scripture. I know that Matthew and Luke were human beings with a different sense of what history is and means from our own understanding. Again, I love the detective work of going back to figure out their contexts and intent.
Still, that isn't what I am into during Advent. I am not interested in what really happened in any "official" just the facts sense. Instead, I am interested in being there. I want to live in the story and find ways to make it true for me and--as a pastor--for my congregation. I think that many people who go to church are like this. For thousands of years we have tried to make the Christmas story (for example) true. Faith is finding a way to believe that in some way it really is.
Yesterday after church, we skipped the second half of the Patriots game to go to Waltham and attend what was billed as a sort of "Dickens Festival" with people in period costume reciting portions of various Christmas stories from that great old Unitarian X-Mas sage and generally being...well...festive. There was going to be a Santa and free hot chocolate and craft vendors of various kinds. What I missed in the online notice--but now I know--is that this isn't exactly how they roll in Waltham. It wasn't so much Dickens as Steampunk. The elves mingled with the wizards and engineers. The Dickensian carolers sported goggles and homemade ray-guns. Oh...and Queen Victoria was there...singing with the masses.
You see, this is the sort of thing I mean. Our ability to imagine a world both like and unlike our own gives depth to what we do and how we feel. If you asked any of these folks if they thought their characters were "real" they would acknowledge that, no, they are fully aware of the fact that their jobs as computer programmers or teachers, or clergy, or whatever would call them back to the boring old universe on Monday morning. However, in that moment, what could be better than celebrating the holiday as part of a dimension at once both present and distant. Church is one of those worlds, too. It is a place where magic exists and you don't have to run out to Target in order to make it so.
When we come to worship one of our goals is to stand in two worlds at the same time. We want to surround the mundane, everyday world with the world of wonder, just like the steampunks or the families at the Urban Nutcracker, or the folks who stashed a gnome (steampunks all) at the inn in Ironforge, or painters, or poets, or musicians or any number of people who use their skills to build something that tells a story which invites us to move outside ourselves. Now is the time to imagine these worlds. Now is the time to dream those dreams.
Things are picking up for many of us now. Let's not let the mindless tasks get too far ahead of us, OK? Keep the season holy in your own way. Remember the wonder that comes with the darkness. Let's make it into something special.
PS Two of these pictures (the 1st and the 3rd) are actual works of art and I neglected to get the names of the artists. They are still on exhibit, though, and they are truly worth checking out....