by Rev. Rebekah Nolt, Pastoral Resident – Mt. Auburn P.C.
I have always loved the season of Advent. The smells of fresh greenery, dried oranges, baked goods, and steady hopefulness mark the season as we light candles slowly but surely, one after the other. After the losses of last Advent season, the missed opportunities to sing together, the absence of many candle-lit services and shared cookie platters, I was optimistic this Advent season would bring an abundance of hope, peace, love and joy to so many weary bodies and souls. After all, we’ve been waiting long enough for this never-ending pandemic to wane, for children to be safe as they head to school, and for justice for all people, not just the privileged few. Yet, here we are at the beginning of another liturgical year, still waiting, with seemingly few signs of our Emmanuel, for whom we wait; as news reports roll in of new mutations of Covid-19, another school shooting, another contentious fight for human rights. Another, another, another. And after another year of waiting, of working, of doing our best as pastors, as ministry leaders, as congregations, as people of faith, it can be weary trying to muster the energy to begin again. To light one candle and then another. To continue to live into our calls as people of faith, serving in a variety of ways in our congregations and communities.
Advent, a season of hopeful expectation for the arrival of the Christ Child, is also a season of preparation, where we as people and communities of faith take inventory of our lives and make sure we indeed have room for the in-breaking of God in our world in the most unlikely of forms. We say we are ready and eager to welcome our Emmanuel into this weary world, but are we prepared to welcome God with Us, who does not arrive with power and might, but rather as someone we might deem “other.” This first season of the liturgical year offers us time to prepare our hearts and our lives for the One we anticipate.
While, of course, Advent offers time for reflection and meditation as we prepare, it is also a time we go about a lot of the very practical and tactile prep work for the coming year. Advent often follows the year’s stewardship campaigns and church finance committees are working hard to finalize budgets for the coming year. What is God calling us to do with the resources we have? What are we hoping for? Nominating committees are often scrambling to fill slates for the upcoming class of elders and deacons, and finding that “yes” I feel called to serve in that capacity among a sea of “not this times” can prove daunting. Honestly after the last almost two years, it might make sense that calls are not always as enthusiastic or clear. Or perhaps you are questioning your own, after another, another, another…
Here is the thing, friends, whether you are a new elder or deacon in your church, a committee chair, a faithful attendee who helps in any way you can, a brand new pastor or a seasoned one with years of service under your belt, you will be asked over and over again about your call: why you say “yes” at the beginning of another year even when the establishment of God’s justice and the return of the Prince of Peace might seem further off than before.
You might feel discouraged or inadequate or perhaps not right for the work if you do not have any burning bush moments or booming voice from the sky encounters that make it abundantly clear that you’re called to this work, at this time, in this place. There seems to be a lot of pressure to have a very clear call story that can be easily put into words. Yet, a call is not just a moment when you know for sure, but an embodied way of being in the world even when it doesn’t make sense, even when there is so much work yet to be done and even we’ve been waiting for so, so, so long.
Which brings me to some of my favorite Advent/Christmas time treats: meringues.
If you have ever made meringues, you know they are a deceptively challenging soft chewy treat to make. For something with so few ingredients, it takes a lot of attention, preparation, and some faithful hope to make these fluffy morsels work. A lot can go wrong and to be honest sometimes you have to start over. There is a lot of doubt when making meringues, even for a seasoned pro that those soft peaks will ever form, even if you know the recipe by heart. If your egg whites aren’t just the right temperature or one drop of moisture is in the bowl it can ruin the meringues.
To be honest it can often feel like you are beating those egg whites in vain and nothing will ever come from the hard work. It takes time to whip those egg whites into glossy stiff mountains, often more time than you’d expect. But one thing I’ve learned making meringues over the years is not to throw the whisk down when things don’t happen in my time, those white peaks are coming. I guess I’ve learned the same in ministry over the years too, don’t throw in the towel just because things are not happening in my time frame because Christmas is indeed coming. Christmas is still coming even if it still feels so far off and the work is messy and hard and uncertain. If we stay the course something good will eventually emerge, this is the promise of our faith. A call continues to hold onto the whisk, even when it doesn’t make sense, even when it just seems sticky, trusting that in time, God will make something good from this mess we embrace.
This time of year I find myself making meringues, waiting for Christmas, hopeful, in spite of all the weariness of the world and the seemingly slow progress we witness, trusting that God’s timing is not my timing, and goodness, peace and joy are on the way.
God, you know the uncertainties and doubts that make us want to throw in the towel, to hang up our stoles or say no. Yet, you call us anyway. Help us to trust your timing and your promised future even when things feel out of control. May we hold tight to our whisks as we continue to work and prepare for your arrival soon. Amen.
Consider how God is calling you for this coming year. What questions or concerns arise? How does knowing God is calling you feel in your body? Look up a meringue cookie recipe and practice leaning into those questions and doubts. Know that God is with you anyway.