During this Advent time of preparation I find myself drawn again and again back to hymns and music, both ancient and contemporary with everything in between, as a way of expressing my faith. Dr. Shubert Ogden’s phrase – “we do theology in order that we might do doxology” – sticks in my mind. Sometimes, often?, I experience it in the reverse. I do doxology (praise), and it leads me to theology. Such is this season of the year.
Recently I came back to an Advent hymn that is not sung that often. It was a favorite at Bethany United Methodist Church in Austin when I served as Senior Pastor there (1997-2001). “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” is Hymn No. 206 in The United Methodist Hymnal. The third verse grasps for the essence of Advent. “I’m looking for the coming of Christ. I want to be with Jesus. When we have run with patience the race, we shall know the joy of Jesus. In Him there is no darkness at all. The night and the day are both alike. The Lamb is the light of the city of God. Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus” (Hymn No. 206, verse 3, The United Methodist Hymnal).
At our best this is our ardent desire. We want to be like Jesus. Amid all the talk of the “spirit of Christmas” there lives a nugget of truth. The true Holy “Spirit” calls us to be like Jesus. The great biblical teachings rise again to the forefront. The commandment to love God and neighbor (the Great Commandment); the admonition to feed, clothe, visit and care for “the least of these my brothers and sisters” (Matthew 25:31-46); the call to “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). All this and more shines in the light.
I am always moved by great acts of generosity and service that spring forth in this season of the year. I even more deeply moved that such actions issue forth year round. There is something great and godly about seeing a church and a people walk as children of the light. Allow me to lift up two straightforward, wonderful examples as emblematic of many such great ministries taking place in our churches.
Consider this one from Poolville UMC, a small country church in the North District. They took the United Methodist Churches Service of Repentance to Native Americans to heart and lifted up the light of Christ in deeds of love:
For 2014 Poolville UMC decided to develop a three-year Covenant relationship with General Board of Global Ministries’ missionary Donna Pewo. Donna Chaat Pewo serves as a Church and Community Worker at the Clinton and El Reno Church and Community Ministry of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference (OIMC). The Clinton/El Reno ministry primarily serves children of the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes in a rural area west of Oklahoma City.
On April 4th and 5th Poolville UMC took about 35 people on a mission trip to the Clinton Oklahoma United Methodist Indian Community Center. Nearly half who went were members of other community churches, and many of those were youth. Projects included making repairs on playground equipment, building new benches around the playground, some painting, exterior repairs, plumbing, interior carpentry and purchasing & installing five 8×6 foot metal shelves.
On September 13th through September 15th, fifteen members of the Poolville United Methodist church ventured out on their second mission trip to Oklahoma this year, this time to the El Reno Indian United Methodist Church. Some of the projects included cutting weeds and mowing the grass, repairing the front porch, new signage, installing three new AC and heating units, repairing the water heater, painting the entire interior of the fellowship hall and installing fourteen 8 foot light fixtures in the fellowship hall and one light fixture in the children’s room.
Child of the light indeed!
Or take this example from Bartlett UMC in the South District, a small town near Temple:
Food for Friends is a ministry begun by Bartlett UMC. It is one way this congregation seeks to make a difference in its community. Each Friday this ministry feeds 125 homebound and elderly personas a warm, home-cooked meal. Since 2010, the ministry has served 30,000 meals!
It is so simple, practical and basic. It is a reflection of the light and way of the Christ-child who started life himself as a homeless refugee.
At our annual Cabinet Christmas Party, the members of the Cabinet (Bishop, Lay Leader, Center Executives, District Superintendents) and spouses traditionally give our “white envelope” gifts. Instead of gifts for each other, each couple offers a special financial gift in the honor of the rest of the Cabinet to some ministry that reaches out with the love of Christ in word and deed. The list is impressive and exceptionally varied. Some gifts are in our towns and communities (Food For Friends was one such gift this year). Others stretch across the globe (at least two were for Maua Methodist Hospital, an Advance Special of the United Methodist Church and the ministry locus of our Conference Mission Trip to Kenya last September).
This kind of holy activity goes on all over the church in myriad of ways as reflections of the light of Christ. Together we head eastward to Bethlehem Stable. We’re looking for the coming of Christ. We want to be with Jesus.