As we enter into Advent and the Christmas season, no doubt many will begin playing their favorite Christmas music. (Also no doubt, some have already started!) Just a reminder, Grace Covenant’s Tim Seaman has recorded three excellent instrumental Christmas albums:
A day of Thanksgiving immediately followed by a season of grateful remembrance and expectant anticipation. Maybe that is why some call these next few weeks “the most wonderful time of the year”. At least, it should be. And, it can be, with our attention focused appropriately.
Thursday is Thanksgiving – a day to remember the blessings of our lives, and to give thanks to God for them. As Bryan Simpers reminded us in his prayer this past Sunday, we are living in one of the few places on earth where the governments sets aside a day to be devoted to such thankfulness toward God. For many of us it might feel a bit of a bummer that we cannot be with some of our family members, due to coronavirus, but no doubt there is still much for us to thank God for.
Sunday begins Advent, a season of the traditional church calendar, which consists of the four Sunday before Christmas, ending on Christmas Eve. Advent is a season of thankful tension. It is a season that reminds us that we live during “in-between” times. It is a season to be thankful that, beyond all odds, God has fulfilled all his prophecies to send us the Messiah; and yet, it is a season of waiting, for though Messiah has come, in the person of Jesus, not all of God’s promises have come to their completion. Advent is a season when we look back, thankful for how God has fulfilled all his promises in Christ, and how he has provided for us practically, tangibly, and abundantly; and yet a time anticipating the day still to come when Christ reigns completely throughout the whole world; the day when, in the words of Sam Gangee (Lord of the Rings) “Everything sad comes untrue.”
Like most churches throughout the world, Grace Covenant will participate in the celebration of the Advent season in a variety of ways.
First, we will decorate for the season. While traditional and not necessarily Biblical, we will festively transform our building and grounds. Origanally plans were to put up the decorations this past Monday evening, but a power outage around the church caused us to shift to this coming Saturday, November 28. Folks will be gathering at the church to decorate at 2pm. Anyone who enjoys decorating for the holidays is welcome to join in. If you have questions, of if you want to let someone know you plan to come, please contact Diane Britton. A big part of our decoration for this season is the incorporation of Poinsettia’s. Each year we invite folks to honor someone special in their lives, or to remember a beloved one who has gone to be with the Lord, or to just express a general “Thank You” to God, by donating a Christmas Poinsettia ($5 donation requested). If you would like to donate a poinsettia, or if you have questions about how we recognize those honored/remembered, or what we do with them after Christmas, please contact Kathy Buhl in the church office.
Second, during this Advent season we will take a break from our study series surveying the Book of Romans, and focus our attention instead on the characteristics traditionally associated with the Advent Season. We’ve covered a lot these past several weeks in Romans 9-11, digging deep into doctrinal truths that are foundational for a vibrant faith. In January, we expect to pick up again in Romans 12, which is the beginning of the final section of Romans, where Paul begins to show us how these deep – and sometimes difficult – truths apply to our lives. Our plan will be to look at these applications each week in more bite-sized sections than what we chewed on in the Fall. But in the meantime, during Advent, we will shift from our regular teaching to more mediation on the characteristics of Advent: Love, Joy, Peace, and Hope.
Finally, some have wondered how the recently renewed COVID-19 restrictions will effect our traditional Christmas Eve service. The good news is that we will have our service, on December 24, as always. That said, in order for us to practice the social distance protocols to which we have committed, there will be limited seating. To accommodate the maximum number we are able, we will have sign ups for seat reservations this year – AND we will both LiveStream and record the service for viewing, for those unable to join us in person. The sign-ups will be first-come-first basis. Kathy will send out information and a link to the sign up early next week. If you have any questions about our Christmas Eve service, please speak with me, or contact Camper.
As always, I am looking forward to these next few weeks. I have much for which to be thankful. Among the things I continually thank God for is you – the Grace Covenant family. I am thankful for you graciousness, your generosity, your encouragements, and your faith and faithfulness.
Borrowing the Apostle’s greeting to the Galatians: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
We mourn this week over the sudden passing of beloved church member Jan Pohl, who crossed into the Promised Land last Sunday evening. Jan’s gain is our loss. (Philippians 1.21) So, while rejoicing for Jan, we pray for Ron, and for their family – we pray for God to grant the comfort that is embedded in the hope of the promise of God that belongs to all who are in Christ Jesus. A memorial service will be held for Jan at a time in the hopefully not-too-distant future, after the pandemic has subsided.
As for the pandemic, it continues to wreak havoc in various places throughout the world, and across the country. While our area is in a better state than some others, as many of you are aware, Governor Northam issued a new executive order Friday afternoon as a precautionary measure. This new order is essentially a reiteration Executive Order 63, which was initially implemented earlier this year. The effect of this order will reduce public and social gatherings – inside or outside – from a maximum of 250 people back down to a max of 25 people. Two things important for all to know, as it pertains to church, are: 1) This order does not go into effect until midnight Sunday (going into Monday), 2) This order does not pertain to church worship services. So not only does this order have NO EFFECT on our gathering tomorrow (November 15); in it’s present manifestation, this order has ZERO impact restricting our freedom and ability to gather for worship in the weeks to come. The only thing that applies to worship services is the requirement to wear masks and maintain social distance – both of which we have already been requiring at Grace Covenant. I want to be clear about this, because I had serious concerns, and I know a lot of others, many who contacted me yesterday, shared my concerns and questions. (If you want to read up on this for yourself, click: 11/13/20 Executive Order, and Northam Adds New Rules Statewide (AP).)
Please know that the Session (Council of Elders) will be meeting Tuesday evening, and will discuss any implications these new restrictions may have on other aspects of our church life (such as small groups, youth groups, etc.). If any adjustments are required Session, in consultation with our Deacons where required or where wisdom dictates, will make the necessary decisions, and we will communicate them with you through multiple media and means.
Such events as we have been experiencing in recent months, and again yesterday, have served to remind me of reasons I am thankful to be part of a Presbyterian church. It is not that there is any inherent superior spirituality among Presbyterians, nor that there is necessarily anything lacking in other denominations and spiritual tribes. But I have good reason, I think, for such thankfulness. The word “presbyterian” means “governed by elders”. Major decisions, such as those about worship, or if we should suspend gatherings, are not mine alone to make as pastor, but are made “jointly and severally” (as our Book of Church Order puts it). In other words, our church benefits from the wisdom that comes through the “counsel of many” godly minds. I’ll confess, when I learned that the governor had issued this new executive order yesterday, months of frustration began to arise within me – frustrations due to the shut-downs, lockdowns, etc., Fortunately my frustration was an over-reaction, and moot, since little to nothing will change for the worse in our church gatherings. But, in the midst of feeling frustration, while trying to gather the facts, I was comforted by the knowledge that any major decisions were not left to me alone; there are others whose wisdom is brought to the table; and decisions are made from the collective wisdom. Sure, we can still get things wrong sometimes. But, the chances of error are significantly reduced for, as Proverbs 15.22 reminds us, there is a benefit to many counselors. All this to encourage you to appreciate Grace Covenant’s Elders and Deacons. These men do quite a bit for our church, and for you, often behind the scenes, unnoticed. At times, it can be taxing on them. Like all of us, they have day-to-day responsibilities and challenges. But on top of life’s normal demands, they also look after your spiritual benefit. Hebrews 12.17 tells us that they will have to “give account” to God, not just for their own lives, but how they have cared for yours as well. So, if you have opportunity, thank them. And pray for them. The old cliché is so often true, “as go the leaders, so goes the church.”
Finally, a little more on the fun side, we were notified of a virtual performance of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce that will take place tomorrow, Sunday afternoon, November 15. For details, and to register for this FREE event, click the link above. I hope many of you will enjoy it!