What excitement this season brings! Certainly, you’ve done it many times before; the rituals may be set in stone, the expectations ripe, and the patterns already unrolling. But there is something about the season of Advent that brings forth the kid in us, and we all lean into the hope. So, let the excitement grow; let the buzz be felt.
As adults, however, we know that there is work to be done before the season can really get underway. We are emphasizing community in this Advent worship series – Company Is Coming! We are emphasizing hospitality and inclusion. Our questions are: “How will you welcome the Christ who comes? But also, how will you welcome your neighbors and family you don’t know yet into your midst?”
We all know that even for those whose religious impulse might be minimal, there is something about this time of year that brings them out. This is our chance to make connections, to go all out in welcoming neighbors and strangers alike. So, throughout this series, we’ll be asking the worship team to pay attention not just to what happens in the sanctuary, but to what happens at the front doors and the fellowship areas. Here is an opportunity for us to remember that worship is not just an hour set aside, but it is a way of life for the community of faith.
So, if we are welcoming company, where do we start? By taking an honest look at our own space! What have we become used to, but would look like a community that doesn’t care about its space to a new person? This year, as you haul out the seasonal decorations, don’t let them cover up or hide the mess. Get rid of the mess before you make the space ready to receive your guests.
This isn’t necessarily a call to a makeover of the sanctuary, though maybe it’s time! But it is a call to ask questions about the space. It could also be a time for adding some interpretation to the traditional symbols that fill the worship space. Do a little research and ask why you have greenery and trees. What do the lights and wreath represent? Use the bulletin, if you’re back to handing those out by now; or let signs do some of the explaining for you. Let people know that the decorations aren’t used just because they are beautiful (although they certainly are), but because they have meaning; the decorations proclaim the faith as assuredly as the sermon or the hymns. So, let them speak.
Look at the worship order before this season begins. What is in there that might need some explanation for someone who doesn’t regularly worship with you? What do you do that even you have forgotten why you do it? Maybe you need to stop that activity, or maybe you need a fresh interpretation of what you are doing. Take some time in reflection; try to see what you do through the eyes of an outsider. Perhaps recruit someone who has no connection to your church to look at the space and the order of worship and tell you what he/she sees or experiences. Be prepared; the responses might be sobering, or surprising, even shocking. We’ve learned to look beyond our mess.
Advent is also a penitential season, which means that we aren’t just preparing our external space to receive the Guest and our guests. We are also preparing our internal space for that reception. Worship, therefore, needs to include both times of reflection and acts of repentance. Spoken and sung prayers of confession can be accompanied by times of prayer at the altar rail, or in the pews, that give space for and invitation to new commitments. We begin the season of Advent by acknowledging our need to clean house, because “Company’s Coming”.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.