Applying Advent


November 30, 2018

By Fred Koenig

One came and said to him, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” And he said, “You know, the commandments and all of that. Do those. Say, did you know that my mom was still a virgin when I was born?” 
    
They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? He replied, “Leave her alone. By the way, angels sang to shepherds to announce my birth. I kid you not – a choir of angels up in the sky. It was incredible.” 
    
And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered. “Neither. And another thing, did you know when I was born, these guys traveled halfway around the world to be there, guided by nothing less than a star in the sky, mind you, and brought me three gifts. Know what those gifts were? I’ll give you three guesses, and even spot you frankincense and myrrh.” 
    
No, Jesus didn’t share the miraculous story of his birth in the back and forth dialogue that we have recorded in the Bible. It didn’t come up in any of his recorded sermons, either. That could make one wonder how much importance he placed on it and if we’re getting it quite right when we compare Advent to everything else Jesus was trying to convey during his time physically walking among us on Earth. 
    
I’m certainly not advocating abandoning what we’ve come to know as the Christmas story. If visitors come to your church at Christmastime and no one mentions the birth of Jesus they may be kind of disappointed. But it is good to keep in mind the life-changing teachings of Christ along with the miracles of the season as we share the story of our savior. 
    
The Christmas story definitely has sticking power, and we’re better off for it. It’s one aspect of our culture that still puts Christianity in the spotlight, even if you do have to wade through a whole lot of consumerism to get there. I’ve heard Bishop Farr say multiple times that we should never resent or fail to value the people who come to church just on Christmas. He goes on to say that if you were in business, and there was one day a year that your store was packed full, you would give thanks for the opportunity to reach more people, not make them feel awkward about not being there the rest of the year. We don’t want to take the comparison of the church to a business too far, but in terms of having a goal and a potential customer base, John Wesley did it and made it clear when he said “You have one business on earth – to save souls.” 
    
Even though you’ll be getting this magazine in the mail right around the beginning of Advent, you won’t find much Advent or Christmas in it. That’s not because I’m being scroogey – it’s just timing. This magazine went to press week before Thanksgiving. Most of the great things going on in the Missouri Conference relating to Christmas and Advent will occur after the January issue goes to press. 
    
That doesn’t mean we can’t share those stories. In the August 2018 issue of The Missouri Methodists, we had a feature on planning for Advent. Maybe we can do that again in 2019. If we do it two years in a row, it will be a tradition. If your church is taking a creative approach to Advent or Christmas and you think other churches could benefit from knowing more about it, send me a email at fkoenig@moumethodist.org and let me know what you have going on. 
    
It’s a challenging push-pull, and I pray for every person who preaches a sermon and is involved in planning worship this time of year. Tradition is important, it is holy, and it drives people to the door at least once or twice a year. But there is also the desire and need to keep things fresh, engaging and relevant to the issues we face every day. It sounds rather impossible, yet it will be happening at several hundred United Methodist churches across Missouri this Advent, just like it does every year. That is a Christmas miracle for which we can all give thanks.