So much of what we experience at Christmas is about remembering and celebrating connections. During this season we remember and celebrate God making a connection with us through His Son, a connection we so desperately need to find our way in the darkness of this world. Through that connection we receive forgiveness and freedom, and thus find hope, real love and the opportunity to enjoy a life of meaning and joy. It’s in that connection, made through faith in the promises and presence of God, that God’s work of restoration and renewal in us happens. It’s an amazing journey – the beginning of which we relive at Christmas.
It’s in this journey of discovery and renewal of connections with God and one another that we sometimes encounter those surprises that make faith and life so wonderful. Earlier this week I had such an encounter.
First, some background… About a month ago I attended a meeting with other church and community leaders who came together to discuss disaster response in the Los Angeles area, and there I met Pastor Martir Vaquez, the new Episcopalian priest of St. George’s church in Hawthorne – located just two or three blocks from Trinity. “We’ll have to get together sometime,” we both agreed. Never happened. But then earlier this week we heard that St. George’s Episcopal Church had suffered a devastating fire which destroyed their fellowship hall, chapel and severely damaged their office area. Now I knew that our promised meeting needed to take place.
I have to confess that I didn’t want to go – I was afraid it would bring back so many dark memories of a church fire I had experienced in Nebraska. But I knew I had to go, and I was right. The sights, the smells, the looks on the faces of the pastor, his wife and the church members – brought it all back for me, and suddenly I was back in Nebraska dealing with all the same emotions myself. It was an amazingly difficult time in my life and ministry, and I didn’t want to make that connection with the pastor and my own darkness.
But something amazing happened. While I wanted to recoil and run away, I found myself hugging this pastor whose situation I knew all too well (and NO, I’m still NOT a hugger!) A new Christmas connection for me had been made, and rather than be overwhelmed by the darkness of the moment, I found light and life and hope. “What can we do to help? I’m meeting with my council tonight and we can talk about it.” I shared with him and his wife some of my experiences dealing with a similar (though actually much worse) event, gave them my card, and let them get on with insurance adjusters and the grim tasks at hand.
Later that day, Pastor Vaquez called – office space, a Sunday school room, and maybe a room to hold occasional meetings – these were the needs that he and his leaders could see. What could we do to help?
I’m so proud to say that when I took the need of this pastor and church to the council, they responded with real joy and without hesitation. Certainly we could find ways to accommodate their needs within the framework of our program. And another Christmas connection was made in the darkness of their need.
And that’s how it often works – one is led into the darkness to offer help and healing, and the connection is made. That’s how Jesus did it. It still works. This Christmas, find ways to make new connections, renew old ones, and maintain the ones you have. Jesus’ Christmas Connection continues in us.
Blessings and peace,