Advent began for me in September with an Excel spreadsheet left in my in-box by our worship committee moderator. Looking at the grid of tasks, staff person assigned, and estimated timetable sucked whatever joy and wonder I was beginning to muster for the season.
Last year I was blissfully ignorant of such logistics. I had the privilege of experiencing Advent as it unfolded. As with any large church, the organ and choir were grand, the liturgy thoughtful, and the build-up to Christmas Eve exhilarating. December 24 came and I was giddy, excited to pull a marathon day that began at 9:00 am and wouldn’t end until 12:30 am. All nine pastors were out in force, expected to lead at all four services. Although I only had a line in each service, the experience of leading worship in a packed sanctuary was intoxicating. Once we sang a candle-lit Silent Night at midnight, I was one happy clergywoman.
The spreadsheet has demystified my Advent experience. I now know where the paraments are kept, which team of florists and laity makes the greens magically appear, and the layers of process that craft and produce our fifty-page glossy-print Christmas Eve program.
Yet, in spite of my new knowledge of the inner workings of the season, Advent crept up on me. Walking over to the sanctuary at 9:10am on Advent 1, the head usher whizzed past me asking if I knew where the Advent candles were. That was one detail I did not know. The Advent wreath was completely missing from the sanctuary. While the Facilities Director was trouble-shooting on his cell phone, I grabbed a table and simple cloth from the chapel, and tool the large pillar candle we used at 8:00 am worship. We set it up, the candle was lit, and no one noticed the difference.
For a church that does well with process and advance planning, this major detail might have been cause for minor crisis. But, since last Advent we have been a church in conflict and now we are a church in transition. It seems fitting that in spite checks and balances and detailed spreadsheets, we would forget about the Advent wreath. As my congregation leans into an interim phase, she is learning that keeping busy with details will only temporarily cover up the pain. While Bryn Mawr’s past accomplishments have placed her in a beloved place, she no longer has the option to focus only on the logistics that kept her an oiled machine. My congregation is learning that being a big steeple congregation need not lead to the idolatry of leadership or the perfect program, but could lead to learning how to be the Body of Christ anew. In the midst of the pain, we are waiting while something new is birthing in this place, but at this point it’s murky and dark, the Christmas light yet to break forth.
As we fumble for the Advent candles, I’m sensing anew God’s call to travel through the wilderness and lean into the darkness. I have a feeling this Christmas won’t be bright and shiny, but dull and a little bit blue. The words of Isaiah 42:16 keep me going: “I will lead the blind by a road they do not know, by paths they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I will do, and I will not forsake them.”