The session meeting grew longer and more contentious by the minute. The discussion, though, wasn’t about finances or major building repairs — items that tend to prolong meetings and agitate elders. The pressing business at hand was how to hang the holiday greens with so few abled bodies to help. When the suggestion to scale back the sanctuary Christmas decorations was made, one elder grew red in the face and huffed that that was not an option.
As pastor at a new church, I sat there trying hard to find the right way to say how our energy shouldn’t be spent on church decorating matters. I wanted to remind the elders to focus on what I always thought to be Isaiah’s Christmas gift list: bring good news to the oppressed, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives.
Distractions — they happen to the best of us. We see that in Luke’s gospel where Jesus is asked a question about marriage: specifically, if a woman is married more than once, who is her legal husband in the afterlife? The Sadducees in the text are referring to a law in which a man was obliged to marry his brother’s widow to provide a legal heir for the man’s property and keep the family name going. But they wanted to know what happens after death.
I have always been challenged by this text, but after that session meeting I am not that challenged by it anymore. If anything, I am comforted by the reminder I read between the lines. Like the Sadducees, we can easily find ourselves caught up in endless discussions on things in the church that are minor: holiday decorating, the new paint color for the fellowship hall, the Christmas carols to be sung during Advent and the list goes on.
It is true that many of the things we spend so much time on are the very things that do not give glory to God. And as the Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us, isn’t our chief end in life to glorify God? If we are to light candles of joy this Advent, then we need to stop being distracted. Perhaps we can begin by heeding the words of Howard Thurman, by taking “our little lives, our big problems” and placing them “upon Thy altar.”
God, who calls me by name, help me see more clearly what I can do this Advent season to reach out to those in need of help. Remove the distractions that keep me from glorifying your name. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
Today, take a picture of where you find joy breaking through the world’s sadness. Is it as simple as a plate of Christmas cookies left on your porch by a neighbor who knew you were down? Is it a heart-shaped cloud in the sky that made you smile? Is it a peaceful message of hope on someone’s lawn? Capture the image and share the joy by sending it to firstname.lastname@example.org