"O Lord how shall I meet thee, how welcome thee aright?" the old Advent hymn asks. During these four weeks before Christmas, the Church focuses on preparation. The world around us focuses on preparation, too, but secular preparation is mostly buying things, decorating, planning and fixing meals, and hosting parties. In the Church we ponder how to prepare ourselves for God's coming to earth. We take stock of how we are living and recommit ourselves to loving our neighbors as ourselves. We examine our hearts hoping to root out selfishness, pride, greed, envy, anger and embody God's kindness and graciousness instead. Each year this is our Advent project, making ourselves ready for the arrival of Jesus.
This year at Shepherd King the season of Advent includes a special event: our 50th Anniversary as a congregation. On Sunday, December 12, we will rejoice in 50 years of worship, learning, and service. The bishop of our local synod will be preaching, we will have a baptism, and after worship there will be a catered dinner followed by a program. The program will include a slide show of memories from years past, recollections from previous pastors, and hymns to sing. Shepherd King has been planning this observance for several years and soon the day will finally be here.
Along with our Advent preparations, then, we have been preparing for our 50th anniversary celebration. Last year we completely renovated the kitchen; last week we purchased new chairs for the fellowship hall. A committee has organized a "cross wall" on which crosses donated by members will hang. Others have spent hours going through pictures, transferring them to computer and adding appropriate music. New banners have been created to express our joy in God's goodness. With "company" coming this Sunday, members have come out to clean and decorate. New flowers were bought and planted in the front garden; floors and surfaces were scrubbed and cleaned; the sanctuary and fellowship hall were decorated for Christmas. We have been busy, busy, busy getting ready for the big day.
In some ways the preparations for our Anniversary mirror our preparations for Jesus' arrival. There is an aspect of thoroughness in each, of making ourselves spotless and beautiful for the grand occasion. There is humility in each - scrubbing bathroom floors on our knees and searching within for our own failings. Both are full of excitement and anticipation as the time approaches. And in each case we prepare with hope - hope for another 50 years of involvement in the ministry of Jesus, hope for genuine peace and wellbeing with Jesus' arrival. Indeed, our daily lives with their various occupations and responsibilities are intertwined with the story of God coming to earth as a little child. Jesus comes here, where we live, in the middle of our busy distractions, bringing us new life and everlasting love.
"O come, O come, Emmanuel," we sing during Advent, "and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear." The time is near, the time to "rejoice, rejoice." The holy child is coming; let us prepare to receive our friend and savior.