Notes from a First Year Preacher
Listening for God's Christmas Song
I am carrying an image from Guatemala with me this Christmas.
While a group of 20 from our church was in Guatemala three weeks ago, the Guatemalan Habitat for Humanity staff gave a cultural performance for us. We saw traditional dances and costumes, but the most touching for me was a re-enactment of the Christmas story. A young woman and man—not much older than Mary and Joseph would have been—slowly walked around a room, reminding us of the journey to Bethlehem. They knelt down with the baby between them and stayed there in quiet reverence for several minutes.
This was the closest I have felt to the actual event. These two young people are in a similar situation to the holy family. They are poor, suffering the effects of unjust governance, easily lost in the system. But in that moment, the most important thing in the world was the tiny baby they carried.
The miracle of incarnation is hidden in the mess of the world's biggest problems. The invitation of incarnation is to stop and notice, to pay attention to the obscure births all around us, to open ourselves up to the miracle of God's breaking in to our flesh-and-blood realities. The world clamors on, concerning itself with what needs to be done, what must be addressed. Our task is to look beyond all that.
My first Advent season at First Presbyterian Bend has been crazy. I spent the first two weeks in Guatemala, came back to preach a sermon, and promptly got sick. Our family is facing our first Christmas away from a large family and community in California. The reality of this year's transition is settling in as we celebrate this holiday without the usual people and places in them.
Additionally, I am told there are a thousand people showing up for services on Christmas Eve, which feels a bit intimidating as we make last-minute adjustments and get everything in place to welcome them. But in the midst of it all, the pull of the incarnation is to stop and notice, to take a breath and center my soul, to remember that God comes, even in the present craziness, if I will say with Mary, "Let it be."
May you find incarnational moments in the coming days. May quiet and obscure holiness open your soul to sing its song, the song God has given you to sing. May you be blessed with images that capture your imagination, drawing you deeper into the mystery that God is present in our world. And may we, like Mary and Joseph, like these young actors in Guatemala, stop in the middle of all that is swirling around us to worship the vulnerable God who comes in hidden places.
Jenny Warner is the Pastor for Justice, Spirituality, and Community at First Presbyterian Church of Bend, Oregon. She graduated from Biola University with a B.A. in Intercultural Studies and Psychology in 1992, and in 2010, received a Masters of Divinity from San Francisco Theological Seminary. She is a trained spiritual director, certified by Mars Hill Graduate School in Seattle.