“But those who wait [actively] for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31
If you had told me back in March that we would still be wrestling with Coronavirus for yet another holiday season, I would not have believed it! Yet, especially since we cannot observe Advent and Christmas in the traditional manner this year, especially since we cannot gather and blast out Christmas carols at the top of our lungs, or share special Christmas sweets together, let’s make this season meaningful in a new way.
There are two major themes that permeate Advent. The first is waiting (for the Christ child or promised Messiah), something that we have done a lot of in 2020. Many scheduled activities have been postponed, delayed, or cancelled. We’ve waited for updates on the course of the Coronavirus pandemic. We’ve waited for a vaccine. We’ve waited longer for appointments at the doctor’s or dentist’s office. We’ve waited in extended lines at the grocery store, pharmacy, and at election polling places. We’ve waited for election results to become clear. We’ve waited to travel again and gather with our families. Most of all, we’ve waited for this pandemic to end!
The waiting has been both passive and active. Passively, and somewhat helplessly, we’ve waited for relief from Covid-19 concerns, sometimes with great frustration. Unlike this waiting, Advent calls for an active waiting – the kind of waiting that new parents do in getting ready for the birth of a child. Expectant parents prepare for the new arrival. They actively wait the required nine months by setting up a home nursery, child proofing their house, learning about the care of a newborn, etc. They wait with preparation and anticipation.
That leads us to the second major theme of Advent – being alert and prepared for the coming of Christ anew. Because we’ve already done so much waiting this year, perhaps preparation and readiness could be our focus this Advent season. Specifically, let’s prepare for the end of this pandemic. Though we do not know when that will be (just as we don’t know when the second coming of Christ will come), let’s use this season of preparation to get ready for that happy day. For our churches, such preparation might include getting ourselves and others ready to return to worship in our sanctuaries full-time after Covid-19 while nurturing and expanding our commitment to grow the community of faith.
What if we were to use this season to prepare for a new church community when Covid-19 is over? What if we were to work toward coming back stronger instead of worrying about limping back weakly? While our on-line community is expanded, isn’t it possible to also expand our church family? Who can we gladly add to our community when we return to worship in our buildings? How can we use these weeks to invite people into our on-line worship and prepare them to step through the door and attend in-sanctuary worship? Who do you know who could be nurtured from a distance and who could be drawn nearer when Covid-19 vanishes?
Yes, this is bold, scary stepping out in faith. It is daring to invite someone who could respond with apathy or offense. It is the difficult discipleship of building up the community of the church through personal outreach, invitation, and diligent, intentional nurturing of relationship. It prepares for better days with an intensity that requires much more than passive waiting. It’s about not just enduring until Covid-19 is over. It’s about using this time to grow our churches into a new day. Won’t you reach out in love to just one new person and prepare them to join worship regularly, as a new habit, both on-line now and when the pandemic is behind us?
We hope for better days in 2021. We wait and prepare for the Lord to appear in new and powerful ways. We pray for our church’s health as the pandemic continues to rage. Let’s prepare now for an unforgettable comeback!
-Rev. Anita Bernhardt – Pastor of Emmanuel Presbyterian Church, Erie