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Maybe you remember the first time you cooked a full turkey. Maybe it was for Thanksgiving or Christmas. I remember the smells of the bird cooking in the oven as I waited for Thanksgiving dinner to arrive on the table. Those are smells that remind me of holidays in my family, and I suspect in many of yours as well.
A friend of mine who will never be confused with a chef tried cooking his first turkey a few years ago. Maybe the oven temperature was too high, or it was cooked too long, but the smells coming out of his kitchen did not remind me wonderful holidays, but mostly of fire drills at school. Smoke was everywhere, turkey was blackened – and not in the Cajun sense of the word. I wondered aloud what had happened. He told me that he was trying to overcome the fact that he hadn’t had time to defrost the turkey properly, and upped the oven temp 50 degrees and cooked it longer, thus the smoked and charred bird for Thanksgiving. All I can say is I was glad I had other family to visit that holiday, or I might have gotten very hungry.
Just as you need time to defrost the turkey before you cook it, we need time to prepare ourselves for Christmas, the celebration of Christ’s coming. “I know that,” you may be thinking, “I need time to get and wrap presents, put up a tree, hang lights, write Christmas cards, and do all that other stuff.” But to defrost a turkey, what do you have to do? You have to take it out of the freezer, put it in the refrigerator, and then let it sit there for days on end.
The Gospel of Luke tells us that in response to the angel Gabriel’s announcement that she was going to have God’s son Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
During Advent we have a chance to say to God, “Here am I. I am here, I am ready, I am waiting for your command, Lord. I want to live out your will. Help me to see what that is for me.” This requires waiting and listening more than doing or running. In this process of waiting, we also say as Mary did, “Let it be with me according to your word.” Let it be. We are called to let God be in our lives and to recognize that all the running around we do cannot bring us closer to God, but only farther away.
Prepare, wait, listen, and be. Let God be the source of light in your life. My prayer is that even in the midst of busy Advent season here at church we slow down and let ourselves get ready for Christ’s coming. And then on Christmas day we can rejoice fully in the good news God has for us.
For the past couple of months as I have started my time here at Laurel I’ve had the opportunity to visit with many of the members and talk about where they are at in their spiritual lives and where they believe we are at in our life together. I’m listening mostly for the stories of people’s lives, the places where they have seen God at work in themselves and in others. For some this is easy to communicate while for others it is a struggle to talk about their faith.
One thing is clear after doing these visits: everyone has a story. One had an illness that led to a miraculous recovery. Another found work through what can only be described as divine providence. Still another saw God in the hospitality given by the poor while another sees God while giving to the needy. Everyone has a story, a time when God became visibly real through actions or circumstance.
In Luke’s gospel Jesus sends out the twelve to the surrounding villages and countryside to preach the gospel and cure people of diseases. Think of it as a short-term mission trip for the 12 apostles. They go to a new place with new people and spend a limited amount of time with those in need and return to their home base. Luke gives the apostles a total of three verses away from Jesus before they return, but who knows how long they were gone?
However, in Luke 10:10 the apostles return. And they share their stories with each other and with Jesus. Imagine that campfire, with Peter and Andrew and James and John and all the rest sharing where they had seen God at work in them. Did they cast out demons? Cure the sick? Heal the lame? Bring hundreds of followers to Jesus?
Did they receive gracious hospitality? Were they ministered to even as they ministered?
Right after this, after this time of sharing, comes the feeding of the five thousand. Right after sharing their stories, the apostles become a part of another miracle – that of taking five loaves and two fish and turning them in meals for at least 5,000. And my guess is the apostles shared that story too because it was so exciting to see Jesus, God With Us, at work.
The life of the church is this constant cycle of seeing Christ at work and then sharing our stories. From this cycle we receive the vitality of the Holy Spirit, gain new perspective on life, and renew our hope for the future.
Yet for many of us we have not shared our stories in a long time, or worse we don’t think we have one to share. But from what I have seen and heard I know that everyone has a story. Everyone has seen God, even if they didn’t recognize it at first. And this is because we are all a part of God’s story that is still unfolding even now. Let’s share with one another as God shares with us.
Eric Hoey, the Director for Evangelism and Church Growth for the Presbyterian Church (USA), recently wrote a blog post about a conference he attended for pastors of large churches. He notes the theme presented by a speaker and synthesized by him.
“Starting new churches is like having a baby, if you count the cost before it starts, it is dead in the water.”… I believe that birthing new things has a certain amount excitement, passion, and a simple trust that this is what God wants.
Really? I see the point, that sometimes we just have to stop the analysis and get on with the doing. The metaphor here is of someone who is getting ready to have a child. If we knew all the costs associated with having a child before we had one, would we indeed have children? He argues no. (As an aside, this is definitely a first-world perspective, where having children is generally considered a cost rather than a benefit. In the two-thirds world it is the opposite; children are seen as assets to the family.)
My question is however: should we ignore counting costs altogether before we start new ventures? Consider Luke 14:26-30:
Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’
This is Jesus speaking. So do we count the costs of new ventures before we try them or not?