Company’s Coming!

What excitement this season brings! Certainly, you’ve done it many times before; the rituals may be set in stone, the expectations ripe, and the patterns already unrolling. But there is something about the season of Advent that brings forth the kid in us, and we all lean into the hope. So, let the excitement grow; let the buzz be felt.

As adults, however, we know that there is work to be done before the season can really get underway. We are emphasizing community in this Advent worship series – Company Is Coming! We are emphasizing hospitality and inclusion. Our questions are: “How will you welcome the Christ who comes? But also, how will you welcome your neighbors and family you don’t know yet into your midst?”

We all know that even for those whose religious impulse might be minimal, there is something about this time of year that brings them out. This is our chance to make connections, to go all out in welcoming neighbors and strangers alike. So, throughout this series, we’ll be asking the worship team to pay attention not just to what happens in the sanctuary, but to what happens at the front doors and the fellowship areas. Here is an opportunity for us to remember that worship is not just an hour set aside, but it is a way of life for the community of faith.

So, if we are welcoming company, where do we start? By taking an honest look at our own space! What have we become used to, but would look like a community that doesn’t care about its space to a new person? This year, as you haul out the seasonal decorations, don’t let them cover up or hide the mess. Get rid of the mess before you make the space ready to receive your guests.

This isn’t necessarily a call to a makeover of the sanctuary, though maybe it’s time! But it is a call to ask questions about the space. It could also be a time for adding some interpretation to the traditional symbols that fill the worship space. Do a little research and ask why you have greenery and trees. What do the lights and wreath represent? Use the bulletin, if you’re back to handing those out by now; or let signs do some of the explaining for you. Let people know that the decorations aren’t used just because they are beautiful (although they certainly are), but because they have meaning; the decorations proclaim the faith as assuredly as the sermon or the hymns. So, let them speak.

Look at the worship order before this season begins. What is in there that might need some explanation for someone who doesn’t regularly worship with you? What do you do that even you have forgotten why you do it? Maybe you need to stop that activity, or maybe you need a fresh interpretation of what you are doing. Take some time in reflection; try to see what you do through the eyes of an outsider. Perhaps recruit someone who has no connection to your church to look at the space and the order of worship and tell you what he/she sees or experiences. Be prepared; the responses might be sobering, or surprising, even shocking. We’ve learned to look beyond our mess.

Advent is also a penitential season, which means that we aren’t just preparing our external space to receive the Guest and our guests. We are also preparing our internal space for that reception. Worship, therefore, needs to include both times of reflection and acts of repentance. Spoken and sung prayers of confession can be accompanied by times of prayer at the altar rail, or in the pews, that give space for and invitation to new commitments. We begin the season of Advent by acknowledging our need to clean house, because “Company’s Coming”.

The Lonely Ember

 Years ago I heard Dr. John MacArthur tell the story of The Lonely Ember.

A member of a certain church, who previously had been attending services regularly, stopped going. After a few weeks, the pastor decided to visit him. It was a chilly evening. The pastor found the man at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire.Guessing the reason for his pastor’s visit, the man welcomed him, led him to a big chair near the fireplace and waited. The pastor made himself comfortable but said nothing. In the grave silence, he contemplated the play of the flames around the burning logs.After some minutes, the pastor took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth all alone. Then he sat back in his chair, still silent. The host watched all this in quiet fascination.As the one lone ember’s flame diminished, there was a momentary glow and then its fire was no more. Soon it was cold and “dead as a doornail.”Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting.Just before the pastor was ready to leave, he picked up the cold, dead ember and placed it back in the middle of the fire. Immediately it began to glow once more with the light and warmth of the burning coals around it.As the pastor reached the door to leave, his host said, “Thank you so much for your visit and especially for the fiery sermon. I shall be back in church next Sunday.”This story reminds me that God longs for friendship with us. God wants to have a relationship with us. God created us for companionship but even God can’t have a friendship alone. When we don’t read the Bible daily we become one lone ember; we become cold and our relationship with God is diminished. If we want to grow the relationship, then reading the Bible every day is absolutely essential. Being a Christian is about being friends with Jesus. It is a real relationship just like the one you have with your best friend. Now in all relationships we talk and we listen to each other. And this is what reading the Bible and praying is all about. When we read the Bible, we are listening to what God has to say to us. In the Bible, God has made sure He has told us everything we need to know in order to be the best of friends with Him. So when we pray and read, we are really having a conversation with God and that is definitely something worth doing every day. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. If we want to live more in line with who God wants us to be, we need to be regularly in His word and as we do that, God can use us to change other’s lives too.