-Rev Melissa Fain-
25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On the earth, there will be dismay among nations in their confusion over the roaring of the sea and surging waves. 26 The planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken, causing people to faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world. 27 Then they will see the Human One coming on a cloud with power and great splendor. 28 Now when these things begin to happen, stand up straight and raise your heads, because your redemption is near.
Luke 21:25-28 CEB
As I've been saying, picking an ornament for our tree has become our family tradition. I love being able to look at the twinkling lights, and see our history in tiny ornament form. With that in mind, there are two ornaments that are not on our tree. One never existed, and one broke soon after moving into our current home. More about them in a minute. First, let me explain the ornament pictured above.
I've volunteered in churches my whole life. I've been paid staff in churches or some form of religious programming since 1999. I was ordained into a denomination as a minister on Valentines day, 2010. I remember it was a packed house. Friends I hadn't seen in years showed up. Choosing Valentine's Day perfect. It expressed how vital my relationship with the church had been. In the brokenness of my childhood, the church was there to pick up the pieces. Everyone sitting in the pews that ordination day already knew where I was going, and they wanted to see it come to fruition.
When I accepted a call as a full time minister in a small rural Kentucky church, everyone celebrated with me. Getting out of the Georgia region was going to be good for me. As Rev. Kathy McDowell aptly put it, "There's a reason Prophets don't prophecy in their home towns."
As my husband and I talked about our yearly ornament I just knew it had to be church related. Not only was it the realization of my hard work, it was symbolic for my hope for the future of the church.
Now let me tell you something about me. If I could sum up my "call" in any field it would be this: "Taking jobs where the system is not working in a natural way." Years ago, I wanted to start my professional Christian journey as a Camp Staff at Christmount. I emailed just in time to discover all the positions for that summer had been filled, but they needed Kitchen Staff, It was a simple answer. They needed it, so I did it. Time and time again, my church calls have not been to healthy churches or easy/fun positions. I'm drawn to things that need fixing.. Even as a sub, I'm more drawn to subbing knowing there is a need for reform. I've told teachers that I don't want to be certified, in part, because I see what they have to deal with, and I don't want to deal with it. If I can be even more honest, that's not the major reason. I see they are doing a great job, and I don't see a need for me to be part of a great collection of people. I purposefully enter broken systems to fix the systems.
My first full time ministerial job, conversely, was supposed to be a healthy system so I could get a feel for helping future broken churches. That was the hope when we got this ornament.
Flash forward two years later. It wasn't a healthy church, it was a broken church hiding their wounds. My hope was crushed into fine powder. What ornament do we put on the tree when that's the moment of the year? I knew. I wanted to craft a church on fire. There would be flames licking the steeple, and fire shooting through the windows. "Goodness, Melissa! A bit dark, isn't it?" my husband remarked. I responded, "Tell me a better option, and I'll listen." He remained silent, because we all knew that was the best ornament for that year.
I never made it. It still exists in my mind, invisibly hanging from our tree. It can't help but mentally exist. It was the ornament for that year. Some day, when I'm ready, I'll go downstairs and craft it. It will exist as a sardonically humorous reminder of a different time.
The other ornament I mentioned was purchased for the following year. It's a set of luggage. We moved three times in one year. This was the result of being thrown back into Georgia, with nowhere to call home. Everything was chaos, including our living arrangements. When the ornament broke, I searched for it's copy, but never found it. It too remains invisible on our tree.
There are very big thinkers that would tell me and you hope is pointless. The destruction and loss was the truth, and the hope was a lie. They would tell us to not hope, because hope keeps people from dealing with the hard truths of life. Hope keeps us from reality.
There can be nothing further from the truth. The stained glass ornament remains on our tree because without hope we are left with no anchor. Hope remains even when you know your hope can leave you lost and alone. Hope remains even when everything tells you it is foolishness. Hope remains because even in failure, the potential is still out there, within our grasp. Hope is out there to throw our failure on the ground and use it as a stepping stone towards a better future. Do not give up on hope because you know some hope will be unfulfilled. Give into hope because the potential will always exist, and somewhere it will be found.
Let us pray:
Dear Lord, help us find that hope in the midst of hopelessness. Help us trust you, as you lead us. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
14 The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people of Israel and Judah. 15 In those days and at that time, I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line, who will do what is just and right in the land. 16 In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is what he will be called: The Lord Is Our Righteousness.
Jeremiah 33:14-16 CEB
Right after having my first child I could be caught saying, "Choosing to be a parent is one of the most selfish decisions a person could make, and choosing to raise the child is one of the most selfless."
I still stand by that statement. You simply cannot wrap your mind around what it means to be a parent until you are neck deep in dirty diapers, baby in one arm, cold bottle in another, while you attempt to find the bottle warmer. Maybe not that exact same scenario, but you get the point. Almost all parents will tell you they had no idea what they were getting into. People can explain it to you all day long, but until you are in those trenches, you can't possibly know.
Hope is like your first unborn child. It's all potential. That child could be anything. You, as a parent could rock it or blow it all up. An entire life put into your hands whether you are ready or not. (Hint for those who are not parents, no one is truly ready.)
We don't hope for things we have solid answers to. Hope is similar to another word: Anticipation. We perceive the possibility for how things could be. Our imagination roots itself in our hope, and sets the sights on where we are going. Leading without hope, whether it's your child or a church, is a dangerous journey into darkness. We must hope, for hope sets our sights on the best possible outcome. We hope our child or church will grow up to be healthy and productive. If we do not hope, then when our child or church fails we don't attempt to course correct to put things on the correct path again.
We hope for Christmas, because hope shows us the path to peace. Peace brings us those moments of joy where hope is fulfilled. A joyful fulfillment of hope, takes us to love. Love is something we can't understand until we are weeping over lost opportunities, and rejoicing over expectations being exceeded. Hope must happen first before we can ever understand true love.
Let us pray:
God of all that is seen and unseen,
Let us hope with with excited anticipation!
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Every year, during this time, I try to take the perspective of an outsider. Churches tend to make too many assumptions about language and attitude. We don't consider if someone would know why we are standing, or what the words we use mean. When it comes to Advent, aside from being attached to the word "Calendar," it's not used in modern speech.
Unless we were raised in the tradition, most of us assume Advent probably begins Dec 1 and ends Dec 24. (You know, based on those calendars with the boxes filled with candy.) In actuality, Advent is a little more fluid. It's the four Sundays prior to Christmas. Advent can start on December 1 (when Christmas falls on a Wednesday), but it always begins the four Sundays before Christmas.
Four Sundays are vital, for each Sunday, one is supposed to remember a word, and take it like an instruction on a road map. Advent centers our hearts and minds on a baby in a manger, and helps us journey to that destination. Those four words are: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. It must be in that order. It must follow this path. Those four words are transformative. They are lights in the growing darkness of shorter days, and longer nights. They sit on a wreath of new life, as so many things grow dormant. It comes at just the right time, when things begin to look bleak.
As I continue this ornament based Christmas, follow along. Learn something about the themes as I tell you a little about myself. If you would like to know specifics about this time, check out this previous meditation:
The Liturgical Calendar
Tomorrow we begin the journey with Hope. If you wish, read some of the previous meditations on Hope:
Beginning Again: Hope
Advent: Unfulfilled Hope
Modern Nativity: Hope