Happy Saint Nicholas Day! This is the day we remember the 4th century bishop of Myra, Turkey, whose devotion to Jesus led him to secretly gave his riches away to the poor. Saint Nicholas set a pattern for secret gift-giving in December that we continue to this day. How might we give to others without recognition or fanfare in this season? Consider giving to our Advent offering for L'Arche Bethlehem, or a $25 gift card for Target or Harris Teeter for families facing food insecurity at Drew and Randolph Elementaries, or giving your time or resources in some other area of need.
(Saint Nicholas was also a defender of Christ's divinity at the Council of Nicaea, and legend has it that he punched the heretic Arius there. That's almost certainly false, but it does offer us the best Nicholas memes!)
It was wonderful to have Bishop Chris visit us this past weekend. He was SUCH a good sport in helping us celebrate Saint Nicholas Day! Dressed in cope and miter (similar to what Nicholas would have worn), amidst spilled hot chocolate and soggy grass and fingers sticky from Turkish delight, he told the story of Saint Nicholas for the kids of the Greenbrier neighborhood and of our church. And then he did it all again on Sunday morning! I was delighted that several neighbors came to Saturday's event and lingered to chat afterward over the fire.
In the early days of the church, bishops were the chief missionaries. They were always out at the pioneering edges of the faith, always carrying the presence of Jesus beyond the bounds of the church into places where he wasn't yet known, always finding creative ways to translate the gospel into meaningful words and actions in new contexts. I caught a glimpse of that in our own bishop on Saturday, and I was grateful and inspired. It was invigorating to witness Bishop Chris' willingness to help us hold an outreach event, his joy in praying for neighbors that he (and we) had never met, and the ease with which he wove the story of Jesus into the story of Saint Nicholas.
In the aftermath of the events and conversations of Bishop Chris' visit, I'm freshly inspired to think and pray about our relationship to neighbors and place. I'd love for you to join me in prayer too.
As a bit of background, Incarnation was planted with a particular geographic place in mind: Columbia Pike in South Arlington. We began our life worshiping at Greenbrier Baptist in the heart of the Pike, whose neighbors represent the diversity, gifts, and challenges of this rapidly changing neighborhood. Since then, we've moved a whopping 7 times, but we still hold office space at Greenbrier, and we have increasing opportunity to use the grounds and sanctuary for neighborhood events.
Saturday was our fourth outward-facing event on the Greenbrier lawn this year: the bilingual Stations of the Cross during Holy Week; the Saint Francis Day animal blessing in October; the Halloween marshmallow and hot dog roast; and now Saint Nicholas Day. We've learned a lot about the neighborhood through each event, and a lot about ourselves and our particular way of embodying Jesus' kingdom in this place. We're still learning.
And there are new questions to discern as we focus our neighborhood outreach in one place (Greenbrier), our Sunday worship in another (Drew), and our daily lives in still another (neighborhoods all over the DMV). The geographic range of our congregation has grown a lot over the past few years. People now come to Incarnation from all over Virginia, DC, and Maryland. You are all building meaningful relationships with your neighbors where you already live, which is a very good and Jesusy thing.
In light of all that, I find myself often asking God: how does Incarnation think about its place and its neighbors now? How do we best steward our place, time, and resources to love our neighbors? How do we think about the geographic gap between our Sunday worship location and our Monday-Saturday daily lives? How do we think about the Greenbrier neighborhood? How do we steward the relationships we've already cultivated there over the past 5 years? How should we think about the Greenbrier building and grounds that are becoming more open to our partnership and presence?
And finally, in a broader sense, how do we communicate the good news of Jesus' kingdom to our neighbors? What does that look like in our particular cultural moment, our increasingly post-Christian society, and in a deconstructed and reconstructing faith?
On this last point, I think our congregation has unique strengths. Your stories, your vulnerability, your honesty, your doubts, your disillusionment with cheap answers and churchy jargon and theologies that ignore human pain — these are gifts the church desperately needs as it learns how to communicate Jesus' life anew. (David's testimony from Sunday is a perfect example!) It's such a gift to be your pastor. I am looking forward to continuing to learn together how to love our neighbors around Drew, around Greenbrier, and around each of the neighborhoods where we live.
So this Advent, let's pray with fresh eyes for Jesus' kingdom to come to our place and our neighbors. And let's ask God to help us discern exactly where and who that is!