We now enter the “home stretch” in our race to Christmas. We would like to think it is not a race of our own making. It certainly feels like we are being rushed along by forces—marketing forces, family forces, cultural forces—that are greater than ourselves. But we still have a measure of choice over how the season goes. Plus, there are always those Christmas miracles waiting along the way.
The whole point of the season—at least from a Christian perspective—is to celebrate that God is in fact with us. The God who made us has imbued us with a divine spark that burns even in the darkest night. You would think that, during the Christmas Season, this is worthy of a nod or two in the direction of thankfulness.
But we so fill up the season with all the traditions and obligations long associated with this great feast that our actual experience of the living God can get pushed out to the edges. We can forget the “reason for the season”. We can feel it is something being done to us rather than by us.
So let our prayer for the season be that, in moments both small and grand, we stop to hear again the message of the angels, a message of great joy: that into our midst is born a saviour, God’s Chosen One. This is to be for us a sign: that even in the midst of our busyness God is with us.
Children are among the great blessings of our lives. Whether children of our own, or children of those we love, or children who appear to us in a crowd of strangers, they have the capacity to melt our hearts and remind us of the child hidden away inside of each one of us. They are a precious gift; but they are also a great responsibility.
In baptism we promise to support the newly baptized in their life in Christ. This highlights our need for committed teachers and program leaders for the children in our midst. As we have been inordinately blessed in recent years with children of all ages here at St. Stephen’s, we are now being asked to consider our role in providing a safe and engaging environment for their spiritual nurture.
We have already mentioned that Lynda Greuel, who has coordinated our Excellent Adventure program for the past five years, is stepping down. We are delighted to announce that Kathleen Howes, a well-known member of our parish (and singer in our choir) has stepped forward to pick up where Lynda left off—difficult shoes to fill, but a challenge for which Kathleen, a teacher by profession, is ready.
We have also reported that our Nursery Coordinator Allison O’Neill has had to leave us to spend more time at home. But sadly we cannot report that anyone has offered to coordinate the nursery in her stead. Is this a calling for you? Pray about it, and let us know.
December 1st was World AIDS Day, which we are observing this Sunday, December 5th. Begun in 1988 by members of the Global Program on AIDS, part of the World Health Organization, World AIDS Day is now observed annually around the world, drawing attention to the millions who continue to suffer the devastating effects of the HIV-AIDS pandemic.
From a package of worship resources we are using for this Sunday’s service we read this description of the day: “… it is a day set aside to raise up our concerns for all infected and affected by the global HIV-AIDS pandemic. It is a day to give thanks for those who care for those living with HIV and AIDS, for those involved in seeking funding for treatment and prevention, and for those researchers who seek improved medical interventions.”
One particularly effective organization raising awareness here in our midst is the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign launched by the Stephen Lewis Foundation in 2006. This campaign focuses on the plight of grandmothers in sub-Saharan Africa who care for the countless children orphaned by AIDS. We may have only limited understanding of the ravages of this disease, but we can all appreciate the burden of ageing family members left to care for the sick, the dying, and the orphaned.
You can find out more information about the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign online: www.grandmotherscampaign.org and atwww.stephenlewisfoundation.org. Or speak to Dariel B. or Brigid S., both active in the campaign and “Grandmothers” in their own right.
Church life, like that of a tree, is a matter of roots and reach. ‘Roots’ refers to nurturing the needs of our own members. ‘Reach’ is our work in the community and beyond. The weeks leading up to Christmas require a delicate balancing of the two.
Last year we hosted two CBC concerts, A Cowboy Christmas, which we produced ourselves, and Tom Jackson’s annual Singing For Supper. It was good publicity having our name mentioned on the radio, but the extra work load was enormous and our calendar got so full it crowded out our own annual carol service.
We are trying to reset the balance. So this year we will not be doing the CBC Christmas programs. But we will be bringing back our carol service (Sunday, December 12th, at 7:30). We will also be working again with the Centre for Inspired Living to create a seasonal event for those who don’t celebrate Christmas, Soul Food for the Winter Solstice. Last year this event attracted almost 200 people, compared with less than a hundred for A Cowboy Christmas!
As well, we are partnering with St. Laurence Anglican Church to offer Hard to be Merry, a seasonal worship service for those who will be missing loved ones over the Christmas season (December 15th at 6 p.m. at St. Laurence).
The lost publicity is regrettable. But the actual ‘people in the pews’ is welcome. In the end it’s about both roots and reach, and a balance that works for everyone.
Duty may produce results. But love produces joy. That’s why it’s so important not only to do what we must, but also to do what we love … joy sometimes being in short supply in the world.
Our recent Midtown Mosaic is a great example. Borne of church member Ginny Binder’s love of art, last week’s art show and sale celebrated five years of joyful witness to the community. Everyone loved it. The artists loved the warmth of the environment and the liveliness of the space. The patrons loved the high quality of the art and the good energy of the music. The shoppers loved the downstairs deals in fresh baking and old books. And everyone loved the classy deli lunch served by the Girl Guides.
When we do what we love it is infectious. Radio Nights would tell the same story. But so would Sunday morning worship. So would Inn From the Cold. So would any number of activities we pursue in and around the parish … just because we love doing it.
There was a time when going to church was considered a chore, a duty that was carried out to fulfil one’s social obligation. No more. Without social pressure pushing and prodding us off to church we are free to go to church for one reason only: because we want to! And who wouldn’t want to, when church is a lively place that calls us to bring joy to the world … by doing what we love.