Dear Incarnation Family,
When the new Vestry met late last year, we identified a spirit of “joyful gentleness” as a unique characteristic of Incarnation’s worship. That spirit was much in evidence during our Christmas Eve worship service — from the candlelit singing of “Silent Night” to the children’s exuberant but reverent reading of Matthew and Luke’s Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus. Even as we worshiped in our third distinct South Arlington location in 2023 — this one smelling vaguely of hay — it seems appropriate that a church bearing the name, Incarnation, should celebrate Jesus’ nativity on the lawn of Greenbrier Baptist Church in a large rent-a-tent.
Of Jesus’ incarnation, John records in his Gospel that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) Translated another way, this passage could read “pitched his tent” or “tabernacled” among us, spotlighting how Jesus, through his coming in flesh and bone, fully fills the shadowy Old Testament image of the tabernacle — the portable, skin-covered frame in which God displayed his glory and dwelt with his people as He led them from Egypt, tracing their footsteps through the wilderness and into the Promised Land.
One way that 2023 will be remembered is the portability of our worship services (and many thanks are due to IAC staff and volunteers who make this portability seem effortless, even though it’s not!). We started the year worshiping at Randolph Elementary School and in June, due to summer roof repairs, we executed a “temporary” move to Charles Drew Elementary School. After several weeks enjoying Drew’s daylight-filled cafeteria and corridors, we voted to remain there.
One additional place where Incarnation left our footprints was on the grounds of Greenbrier Baptist Church, the original home of IAC’s worship and the current site of our office. There, we held eleven worship services, we blessed neighborhood pets on St. Francis Day, we invited our neighbors to warm beside Halloween fire pits, and we shared stories of the true St. Nicholas (ably portrayed by Bishop Chris) with neighborhood and Incarnation families. To close out the year — in order to allow Drew Elementary’s custodians to enjoy a restful holiday free from work — we pitched tents, a modern version of the Old Testament tabernacle where God met his people, on the GBC lawn for the Sundays at Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
The Apostle Paul also invokes the image of tabernacles to remind us that, as followers of Jesus, we possess an eternal resiliency from God, despite our apparent fragility (2 Corinthians 5). Although 2023 held much potential for instability as a result of Incarnation's multiple locations and relocations, we are grateful for the consistency that comes from being in a community and rooted in Christ.
We believe that one of the primary ways to experience and foster such rootedness comes from our small groups, which offer yet another place where God meets and welcomes his people through the ritual of a shared meal and evening prayer (Compline). Speaking firsthand, we have known the Spirit’s presence this year in the communal breaking of bread and in the sometimes joyous, sometimes anguished prayers we’ve raised together.
As our congregation continues to expand, we encourage you — in fact, we urge and welcome you — to join a small group, if you haven’t already, or, if you have, to continue to invest in the discipline of this sort of gathering. Through small groups, we, as individuals and as a community, practice what it means to be tabernacles — apparently fragile, yet with eternal foundations — through which we dwell with Christ, display his glory, and grow in our love for God and our neighbors. If, as projected, 2024 brings yet another divisive political season, we will offer our neighbors a vision of the “tabernacle,” a community that meets with God and, defying external circumstances and appearances, is rooted and secure in the abundant love of our incarnated Christ who came for us, and the hope of his, and our, resurrection.
~ Will Montague and Grant Sung, Wardens