We’re back! After a few weeks off for Christmas and New Years, we are officially back in the swing of things. Lindsay R. and Erin have already returned to the house and Lauren and Kristen should be back by the end of the week. I loved every minute (well, almost every minute, there was an inordinate amount of bulletins to prepare) of my Christmas season with Blackburn’s and it reminded me of something I once heard about doing the work of the gospel.
When I was in seminary, I visited a lot of community-centered churches in my hometown of Chicago. I was fortunate enough to be able to sit down and have a conversation with Mary Nelson, (find out more about her and her amazing work here: http://www.faithandleadership.com/multimedia/mary-nelson-embracing-gods-vision-for-community). She told me that the work of living out the gospel, in her case, living and ministering in an under-resourced neighborhood, is “Big work.” “It comes with Big Pain and Big Joy,” she told me. I couldn’t get the idea of “Big Joy” out of my head this Christmas season.
During the Christmas season, Joy is a command: “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say Rejoice.” For this reason, I’m so indebted to Martha Enzmann and her work at the Elkland Art Center; a nonprofit literally a stone’s throw away from the church (check it out here: http://www.elklandartcenter.org/). She provided a space, through creativity, for Big Joy in our church this season.
Martha asked me a few months ago if she could do a nativity procession for our church with puppets. For those of you who don’t know, Martha is my unofficial artist-in-residence and in a church that is so open to creativity, artwork and the movement of the Holy Spirit, when one of our artists asks to try something, we give a hearty yes. So Martha, her staff at Elkland, Lindsay R. and Kristen worked on these puppets for weeks (there are pictures on a previous blog post by Kristen). While Blackburn’s is so open to the expression of gifts (in Martha’s case, puppeteering), I have to confess I was slightly curious how a puppet procession would be perceived by a congregation that rarely has children present.
On Christmas Eve, as I was running around getting things ready, I ran head-first, unexpectedly into Big Joy. My poor family had to deal with me all day on Christmas Eve while I put things together, fixed things, worried over things out of my control and about things in other people’s capable hands and in the midst of my stressed out running around I ran down into the church basement to grab some water before the service.
In the basement, my well-established, well-spoken, grown up congregation was standing around wearing cardboard crowns, holding puppets and grinning like kids. I couldn’t help myself. I stopped in my tracks and began to giggle as the thing I had been preaching about all advent, anticipation of the Joy of Christmas, welled up inside of me.
“Pastor Long…are you laughing at us?” Asked one of my congregants, good naturedly. “No,” I said truthfully, “I’m just so excited.”
Big Joy comes to us on Christmas morning and surprises us by sweeping us up inside of it. These moments of joy, Big Joy, sweep us into the gospel narrative where we can’t help but yearn to participate in that work. Where we can’t help but say, “Rejoice in the Lord Always, and again I will Rejoice.” We have to train ourselves to notice to these moments of Big Joy or the Big Pain and Big Frustration of attempting to live out the gospel in this world can overwhelm us and make us forget what we know to be true:
“Alleluia, Christ is born, Alleluia.”