What a beautiful Christ the King Sunday! Thanks for all the ways you made a lowly tent into holy ground. There's a prayer I love that addresses God: "Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly." Those paradoxes were on display as our children led us in worship, as we laid our nature crowns before the altar, as we bundled around the heaters at the Peace and the rain began falling during the Eucharist. The King of Creation chooses to tabernacle with his people in the person of Jesus in the lowliest of places, and we caught a glimpse of this on Sunday. (We also learned a LOT and will be tweaking the tent size, setup, beautification, livestream, logistics and more before we do it all again on Christmas Eve!)
This Sunday kicks off Advent, the season of waiting for our coming King (the word "advent" simply means "coming"). You can read about our offerings this season on the Advent page of our website. I hope to see many of you at the Saint Nicholas outreach event at Greenbrier this Saturday . . . and at the Advent retreat that afternoon . . . and again for church on Sunday, when we'll have the bishop visit, confirmations, and a Bethlehem-themed Advent potluck!
Our theme this Advent is "Imagining the Kingdom." How can we stir our imaginations for the coming kingdom of God in this season? One way is through what we see, read, and hear. I love Art & Theology's offerings each Advent. This past Saturday I spent a few restful hours reading through her curated collection of 25 Poems for Christmas; they were beautiful and stirring (as were last year's). I also always enjoy her Advent playlist and her daily Advent emails. And many of you have told me how much you appreciate Biola's annual Advent project, a daily devotional with art, music, and a short scripture reflection. And I highly recommend perusing this Alternative Advent, which places the promised incarnation in the midst of our modern-day and broken humanity.
But maybe you feel like your senses are already inundated in this season; like the last thing you need is another screen to look at, more words to read, more songs in your head. A different, more concrete way to help us imagine God's kingdom is to actively participate in it with our finances. Jesus told us that the way we handle our money reflects the state of our hearts. And so giving generously to those in need (the "least of these" from last Sunday's gospel reading), and especially doing so secretly and without fanfare, is another way we direct our hearts and imaginations toward the upside-down kingdom.
Each year at Advent and Lent, we collect a special offering for a ministry beyond our regular outreach partnerships. This offering is over and above the 10-15% of our income we give away each year; it's an act of generosity in response to the extravagant generosity of God, who gave us himself in the incarnation of Jesus. (David Griffin wrote a brilliant little piece about why we give in this way during Lent last year; you can read it here.)
This year's Advent offering recipient is L’Arche Bethlehem, a community of Israeli and Palestinian people with and without disabilities who share in hospitality, daily life, and meaningful work. Though they are in the West Bank, the violence in Gaza has significantly impacted their life together, and their current security situation is volatile. People with disabilities are always among the most vulnerable to the effects of war, insecurity, and displacement. You can give to this Advent offering directly here; it is also linked on the Give page of our website, or you can text a dollar amount plus the word "advent" to 843-21.
We also have an opportunity to give winter coats and grocery gift cards to our local elementary school partners, Randolph Elementary and Drew Elementary. We've been so grateful to worship in both of these schools over the past two years, and we now have an opportunity to support students in need this winter. Both schools have requested $25 gift cards to Target and Harris Teeter to distribute to families experiencing food insecurity during the winter school break. We will collect these gift cards over the next 2 Sundays, December 3 and 10, and then distribute the collection to the school social workers.
Drew Elementary has also asked for help with their Winter Wear Wishlist on Amazon to purchase warm gear for students in need. Anything you purchase from the list goes directly to the school (make sure you choose Drew Elementary as the address). I'd encourage you to give early, if you plan to give, as the weather is already cold!
Finally, we are also planning a trip to the Texas-Mexico border next spring: April 24-26, 2024. Our friends and outreach partners at Abara will lead us on a border encounter pilgrimage, an opportunity to listen and learn from the stories of migrants, security officers, and service providers at our southern border and to pray together there. I participated in one of these trips last year and was deeply impacted by what I learned. You can read more about this trip here, and if you are interested in learning more, please plan to linger after the service on Sunday, Dec 10 for a brief information meeting. Though this trip will happen long after Advent ends, I encourage you to begin praying about it now. As we imagine the coming kingdom in this season, we remember that our King himself was once a migrant fleeing Herod's violence and seeking asylum in Egypt.
I'm so looking forward to this Advent together and all the ways we will imagine the kingdom through our eyes, ears, hands, feet, finances, and hearts. I'm also aware that this season can stir up a lot of grief; please reach out to me or Katie if there is anything you'd like to talk or pray about.