Welcome home for Christmas!
You probably think I am nuts for saying that, and you are probably right. But that is beside the point. Today I would like to invite you on a journey home. I would like to invite you on a journey home for Christmas.
Now, some of you are probably asking yourself, “What is he talking about? Welcome home? I have never left! This church has been my home since the day it opened! How can he, a new comer, welcome ME home?”
But even to you, I want to say, “Welcome Home.”
One of the sad things about home is that we can move away from it while never setting foot outside of it. I learned this when I finally did move out of my hometown of Dodge. I couldn’t wait to get out of it! Dodge was small and boring and full of hicks. Nothing of interest happened there. I couldn’t wait to shake the dust of that town off of my feet and go out and really begin to live. Well, as you can guess, now that I am away from Dodge, I have truly come to realize how much it was my home. It wasn’t small and boring, it was really quite beautiful and filled with wonderful people and things. Too bad it took moving away for me to notice it.
What I hope to do during this time of Advent is to help you to see the wonderful home and gift you have from God right here in St. Swithin’s. I hope that you will not have to leave to learn this and I hope that you will find right here in this community the strength and courage to invite others home for Christmas and for the rest of their life!
What I want to use as a guide along the way is an idea I borrowed from Nick, but I am sure he borrowed it from someone else! This is the idea of the Spirit of Christmas Past.
Our past is what makes us what we are. Without a past, we are nothing. Our past is where we learned the joys of life and our past is where we made the mistakes that give us wisdom and insight. Our past is full of wonderful things that make us smile and some not so wonderful things that we forget at our own peril. But no matter what happened in our past, our past is the proper place to start.
Together, we have only had one Christmas. I remember it being warm, bright, and cheerful. I remember the sanctuary full of people, both people from the congregation’s past and people from its present. I also remember snow! I remember it as a time of coming together and feeling the Holy Spirit of Christmas within our midst.
I want to remember this feeling; this feeling that anything is possible. We were capable of all kinds of wonderful things! God had promised us a Savior and we were celebrating that Savior’s birth! We as priest and congregation were still unknown quantities to each other. But we had the belief that God was with us and in that, we were capable of anything!
This is a feeling I want to remember, a feeling I want to trust.
But I am sure we could go back to some other Christmases that were not so good, not so happy. I am sure we could go back to Christmases that seemed happy on the surface, but were anything but happy once we dug a little deeper. I always wondered why Scrooge needed to go to these not so happy Christmases. Why not just stick with the happy ones and be done with it. Why can’t I just remind you of happy Christmases and be done with it? Well, it is in the unhappy memories that we also have learned. We have learned that some things cannot be trusted. Some people will hurt us. I am not saying that the person or people were intentionally trying to hurt us, but in our lives, we will be hurt. And part of our life is to remember the hurt but not get caught up in the hurt.
Probably there have been Christmases that have hurt us. I know I have had my share. But each of these events, I believe, has helped me to be more caring and more loving. I would hope that painful experiences within the congregation could be used as a means of growth and a means of reaching out. We don’t want to get caught up in the past, but we also do not want to give up the lessons that we worked so hard to learn.
This is the lesson we learn from the Holy Spirit of Christmas Past. We see how throughout history, the coming of a Savior had been foretold. It helps us to see that in the midst of all the difficulties we see in life, that God does in fact have a plan and that this plan is unfolding. In the Old Testament reading, Jeremiah tells us that the days are surely coming; that the promised one will arrive.
As a congregation, we have many things to remember and many things to be proud of. We have had Christmases that have shown forth in Christ love and Christmases that were filled with warmth and love. These were given to us as gifts from God. We were given these as gifts to nurture us and to help us grow.
I also know there have been some Christmases that were not so warm and loving. And these are also areas for us to learn and to grow. These are also areas that can make us stronger and areas that can grow our faith.
As we begin Advent, I hope we can fearlessly look at our life together as a congregation. I hope that we can look at what we have done in that past that seemed to have worked and continue doing those things. I also hope we can look at our past and face the troubles with faith and courage. I hope we can learn and grow and create a community of faith that can become a beacon of light to our community. As we begin Advent, I hope we can feel truly welcomed into the community of Christ, and into the church. I also hope we look for ways to extend the welcome to others, others who need to feel the love of Christ.
As we begin Advent, it is my prayer that we wait, not as ones with no hope, but as those who see the journey home as a gift of life and growth.