The last few days I have been thinking about my friends for whom the seasons of Advent and Christmas are difficult times of the year. Their presence in my reflections has brought a story to mind.
Several years ago a pastor who was approaching retirement had been assigned to a small country mission. This assignment was meant as a kindness for a job well done and preparation for his coming retirement. The problem was that the congregation was struggling. Their membership was down, the finances were too, and the village in which the parish was situated was losing population to a nearby city. One snowy Sunday morning in Advent, as the pastor drove to his little parish, he was caught in a reflection. In the midst of all the people of that church was facing, they remained committed, and engaged. The soon to be retired minister was amazed at how much this little flock cared. That struck a chord in him because he realized that he was beyond caring at this point of his life. That thought disturbed him. But what was even more disturbing was the realization that he no longer cared that he did not care. When that bell went off in him, something moved.
Life has a way of doing this to all of us. That might be because we have seen too much, or lost too much. Maybe we have been disappointed and hurt too many times. We may have witnessed our best efforts make no difference at all. Or there is the possibility that we are simply too discouraged with ourselves. Doing the wrong thing at the right time almost every time can do that. Life weariness can enshroud our hearts and minds like a fog and the joys of life can become a thing of the past.
Those of us who attend the Episcopal Church will pray the following prayer on the Third Sunday of Advent.
“Stir up thy power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let thy bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be honor and glory, world without end. Amen.” (BCP) The sins in question can be ours, those of others, or the body of failings in the fabric of the world surrounding us.
There are few among us who are able to maintain commitment, enthusiasm, and caring for anything on their own as the decades go by. Some even find a day too long to maintain joy in God’s gift of life. There are forces in this world that drain the blessing of passion from us. For we sometimes are sorely hindered by life. All of us need help. That is why we pray “Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us.”
Back to the story. Once the elderly pastor was shaken by the realization that he was even beyond the desire to want to want to care about the congregation in his charge, he turned his heart to God and prayed, “O Lord, I know I need to at least want to want to care. Please give me this tiny gift this Advent season.” As a friend of mine says about what happened after he prayed a similar prayer, “Suddenly … nothing happened.” But as the days passed and Christmas drew near, the soon to be retired minister began to see the people of that little congregation in a new light. He found himself offering help and counsel where he had not before. Before he knew it he discovered that he had truly cared for his charges all along. That care had simply been hidden.
If any of you find this season of the year difficult; if the lights and music of the season are a burden, know there are others in your place. I pray that you find it somewhere in your heart to pray that God come to you in power and might, and that the feast of the birth of new hope in Christ rekindle the joy of life in your heart. With that gift, life will begin to change. If you cannot pray for yourself, know that I and others are praying for you today.