Out with “something old.” In with “something new.”
The Jews have it made. They get to say good-bye to the old year and hello to the new about three months earlier than the Gregorian calendar directs. Then again, with Advent, we Christians get to say Happy New Year a month ahead of the regular calendar, and this year, I’m so ready for the Christian new year to begin.
It has been a rough year for us Presbyterians.
Two major cases of the sexual exploitation of minors by ministers have made headlines here in the Outlook.
The pace of church departures in 2012 has slowed in 2013 (only half as many gone so far), but the losses still mount. Several of those recently departed churches are led by pastor-members of covenant groups of which this editor has been a part. In spite of prior assurances, they’ve already pulled away in substantial ways. My spirit is grieved and my soul feels impoverished.
The efforts of many presbyteries to implement gracious separation policies for those wishing to leave are getting pressed to the breaking point — with harsh results — including the renewal of the New Wineskins/Layman strategy of simply suing for the property in secular courts (see “A Guide to Church Property Law” by Lloyd Lunceford, the Layman’s vice-chair). At the same time, some presbyteries are taking harsher measures, telling disaffected members to take a hike.
We could use a fresh start.
Enter the First Sunday of Advent. We Christians wax eloquent about the resurrection hope introduced near the end of Jesus’ sojourn in Palestine, but his story begins with a virginal conception, which, when told and retold again, impregnates believers with fresh hopes for a whole new divine inbreaking. Accordingly, that Sunday constitutes the beginning of the church calendar.
It’s no small thing to look for a divine intervention. It wasn’t long ago that the dominant influence of modernist empiricism weaved the a simple logic: Given that, in the act of creation, the sovereign God determined the laws of nature, any intervention of that God — a “miracle” — would be contrary to God’s own being and character. In recent decades, post-modernism has dethroned empiricism from its privileged seat of control over all other sources of knowledge. In the process, the world has begun to recapture a wondrous sense of mystery and the possibility of God actually making all things new.
It only stands to reason, so to speak, that God can make such a difference in people’s lives. Jesus’ life and ministry becomes pretty dull if the miracles get erased from the gospel accounts. What’s more, the expectations of believers upon believers through 20 centuries have been met time and again by the same God who broke into Mary’s world in such a stunning way. Her song still sings true today:
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
As Jim Brashler reminds us in the Uniform Lesson Study for Dec. 8, the news of the pregnancy overflowed for her into overwhelming joy.
Accordingly, Matthew Rich lifts up the Advent season as a time to rediscover joy. Why? Not just because of incoming toy trains and or outgoing trips to visit relatives. But because of the inbreaking of God our Savior — Jesus the Christ.
For us who live in a church that has suffered losses, setbacks, and seasons of unrelenting stress, it’s time for an eschatological inbreaking of the Lord, time for a celebration of hope, time for belief so bold as to speak, as Mary did, of Christ’s promises as if they’ve already been fulfilled, time to lay hold of a church-in-mission, no longer a church-in-divorce-court or, for that matter, in criminal court. It’s time to push out “something old” and to welcome “something new.”
It’s time to say — and I’ll happily be the first to say it — Happy New Year.