The Christmas and New Year season is one when we naturally experience many turning points. For countless generations humanity has felt the shifts this time of year brings. The days are slowly lengthening as nature stretches toward spring, even though winter is barely upon us. We celebrate the birth of the Christ child, even though he is only a baby and will take many years to grow into adulthood. We replace our 2015 calendars with 2016 versions, turning the page on time itself as we prepare for the year to come.
The turning points this season brings for me and for our congregation are greater than any in recent memory. Amid such tremendous shifts and changes it seems appropriate to pause and prayerfully consider the roads we have trod and the journeys that lie ahead.
These past 7 1/2 years in ministry together have been filled with beauty and blessings, struggle and loss, faithfulness and joy. We’ve said hello to and built relationships with many new people and we’ve said goodbye to even more. Of course we never hoped that we would find ourselves in such a long season of sending folks out from our congregation to all corners of the world, near and far, without also adding new folks to our community. But that is part of the ministry God has called us to. Think for just a moment of the many families, communities, and cities that are now influenced by people who have at one time journeyed with our church.
When I reflect on this aspect of our life together I envision a stone thrown into a pond, ripples radiating outward far beyond the point of origin. Or perhaps a tree, growing and changing throughout its life cycle. These past years have been ones of seeding and sending, but this next season will surely be different as the church finds itself in a new context, a different reality. It doesn’t mean the ripples aren’t significant, or that the seeds spread far and wide are meaningless. Instead, those seeds are now growing and bearing their own fruit of the Spirit. Fruit that is surely shaped by the way we have continued the work of Jesus in this church.
Looking back, it’s easy to be overcome with nostalgia. I’ve been going through a lot of old files and records as part of my transition out of my work as your pastor. Old worship outlines, old sermons, old musings and letters have all stirred powerful memories. Possibilities both realized and not. Through it all I can see the fingerprints of the Holy, leading, nudging, guiding, loving us to where we are today.
Looking forward, it’s easy to be overcome with fear and uncertainty. Change is hard, even when we know it’s necessary. As people of faith we trust that God will be no less present in the future than in the past, whatever the future brings. Though our realities are changing, the God-filled moments of clarity, direction, hope, and beauty will continue. Yes, they’ll look different. They will involve different people in different places. But this season around Christmas, more than any other, reminds us that God is with us. Emmanuel!
The new life of spring seems a long way off now, but we know the Light has come. Even in the clouds and snow of winter, we know it’s there, growing stronger each day, until in God’s time new buds arise and burst forth into bloom. We don’t yet know what shape those blooms will be, what they will look like or where they will come from. Neither for you as a congregation or for me as I look toward my next season of life and leadership.
But it is the promise of God and of time itself that spring will follow winter. Death leads to new life. A new year begins just as soon as the old one ends. Light shines in the darkness and darkness has not, will not overcome it.
The Light of Love is alive and at work in the world. Love-Light in the shape of Jesus. Love-Light in the relationships we share and the community we create. Holy, crazy, divine, boundary-breaking, earth-shaking, transforming love, alive in you and in me. In our past, our present, and our futures, wherever our journeys may lead.
Grace and Peace to you all. Keep looking toward the glimmering light of God upon the horizon.
These are not my final musings. I’m reserving those for the end of January as my time with the Richmond CoB reaches its final conclusion.
Photo credit: “Ripples” by Richard Freeman