As life happens, the day I sat down to prepare this month’s submission on behalf of Social Justice Huron, was the same day a video arrived in my email. The video included a selection of young people from one of my congregations who had prepared the first of what would be their weekly contributions to our Advent journey.
In this ‘episode’, Mary, Joseph and a donkey arrived at an ‘inn’ and were offered the opportunity to stay ‘out back’. With a couple of horses (real horses that is) behind them and sitting on bales of hay, Mary, Joseph and the donkey took turns speaking, sharing their thoughts on the journey and adding at the end what their gift to the baby Jesus was.
It is this last point which serves as the theme for this Sunday School Advent series. Each week, different characters will be introduced using multiple mediums as a way to explore what it is that each character brings to the manger and hint at how each is transformed.
It is interesting that, amidst the many ways in which we participate in the secular version of Christmas, which began even before we could light the first candle on our Advent wreaths, we, as Christians, seek to focus ourselves on the heart of the story. We wait. We anticipate. We remind ourselves that we are on a journey that will bring us to an unlikely place, a stable, where God will enter into the world as a human being, carried and cared for by human parents.
The story is familiar and profound, illustrating deeply how God so loves this world. To embrace this journey in its fullness challenges us to look beyond the secular aspects of Christmas traditions to the heart of what it means to love. In our own ways, we walk through Advent to Christmas using this story. With music and readings, we journey to seek the newborn king. We go watching for a star and angels and shepherds and magi. We go knowing that there is no room in the inns. We go accepting that the child will be born in an unholy place, made holy by his presence. We go wanting to hear the story once again because every year it brings us light and love.
Like the characters in this year’s Advent Series, however, I hope we also walk this journey to reveal a bit about ourselves. What gift have we brought for baby Jesus? How do we honour his coming into the world yesterday, today and forever? In what ways is our celebration of Christmas one that focuses on the greatest gift of all – Emmanuel, God with us? To what extent will this journey transform us in ways that we will seek to embody as we move into a new year?
The marks of mission provide a foundation on which we can explore who we are as Christians based on how we live our lives. As we reflect on our Christmas experience, I wonder if we can ask ourselves how we have used our gifts in ways that have proclaimed the Good News; sought to teach, nurture and baptise believers; responded to human need with loving service; sought to transform unjust structures of society; and sought to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
What ways can we name in which our actions this season have served Christ beyond our participation in worship? To what extent can these actions now become an inspiration for our new year’s resolutions?
Our journey as Christians does not end once the candles have been extinguished Christmas Eve. The story continues as does our commitment to serve the One who came to bring us life and love. As we reflect on the time that has past and ponder what a new year will bring, may this year’s journey include a transformation that will increase our longing to serve God as disciples of Jesus Christ, opening our hearts to the wonders of the world in wanderers and wise ones, shepherds and angels, animals and mangers.
Rev. Chris Brouillard-Coyle is the Social Justice Huron chair.