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There’s a reason Blue Christmas and Longest Night services have become popular in recent years. They recognize that amid all the shopping and get-togethers, the holidays need tidings of both comfort and joy. Comfort, because loneliness, grief and pain can be especially potent this time of year. Joy, because we need the hope of the gospel.
The turkey sandwiches were made, and hot chocolate filled our thermoses. We piled into the car and drove off for a family tradition: our day-after-Thanksgiving trek into the woods.
The refrain of Advent is Come, Lord Jesus. And so, during the season, we stand in the place of those who awaited the advent of the Lord for centuries before the birth of Christ. We cry out for the Lord to come. But just as importantly, we also stand looking forward to Christ’s second advent, when we, who see through a glass darkly, will see our Savior face to face.
I was talking to my friend from the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma one time about how squirrels can signal to us what kind of winter we could look forward to. He said that when the squirrels dig holes in the ground to bury their harvest, we can expect a mild winter. If squirrels carry their harvest to their nests, then a heavy snow would be expected, as snow would be more difficult for the animals to work through to get to the food.
It’s November. The air is full of politics across the United States, and the world will be watching to see whether the face of our country will change or will be one more edition of the same old, same old.
Presbyterian Mandy Manning, in Spokane, Washington, admits she’s “a little tired” of the attention she’s received this year as National Teacher of the Year, but it’s also been a welcome opportunity for her to share her students’ stories. Manning was awarded the title in April by the Council of Chief School State Officers. The honor was first awarded in 1952 and continues as the oldest, most prestigious national honor that focuses public attention on excellence in teaching.
The children practiced long and hard to sing their song on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. When the big day came, they clambered to the front of the sanctuary, listened to the first few plinks on the piano and watched for the nod to begin from their Sunday school teacher.
Fresh out of seminary, a pastor listens intently as the chair of the nominating committee drives around the countryside, narrating the history of a rural community that has seen better days. As she listens, she takes note of the sagging porches with faded and torn upholstered furniture. They pass sheep grazing behind a dilapidated barn, and the pastor silently reminds God that this was not what she had in mind when she said “yes” to tending the flock.
The holidays have been difficult for Christine Caton ever since her mother died — three days after Christmas. As an only child, with her father already gone, Caton experienced profound grief in losing her mom. The Christmas season only accentuated that grief.
The first church conflict I remember as a kid was over “bi-part” offering envelopes — a single envelope with two separate and distinct pockets, one labeled “current expenses” and the other “benevolences.” My father railed against them, arguing that they presented church members with a false choice. He called it “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”