By Pratt Davis
Advent is beginning and I resolve to do more this year to focus on the “Real” meaning of Christmas. But I resolved the same thing last year and the year before that; and I didn’t do much differently. What exactly am I supposed to squeeze into a full plate of activities? Should I decorate the house a little less, buy fewer presents for my family, stay home instead of attending the Christmas parties? Or maybe I could skip some of the cooking, and what about not sending any Christmas cards this year?
Actually, I love all these preparations for Christmas. When I was growing up, Christmas preparations revolved around my father’s jewelry store. The display window was decorated just so; my mother always placed a nativity set in the window of the store when she decorated it for Christmas. A Christmas parade early in the shopping season brought out our customers. Extra merchandise was purchased and my mother added the Christmas wrapping paper and ribbon to the worktable. There were no shopping centers or malls, so main street was decorated and the whole town turned into a sort of winter wonderland. The local radio station played non-stop Christmas carols and every store up and down the street tuned in. Shoppers could follow the songs all along their shopping routes.
I loved all the shoppers, the decorations, the Christmas music, and the presents. Our entire little town hummed with the spirit of Christmas. My Dad used to say how nice it would be if everybody was as happy and kind the rest of the year as they are at Christmas. As a youngster, I didn’t give much thought to Advent except as it was presented in the lights and sounds and smells of the holiday. We often had a candle-light service at our church, and much of the excitement and joy of the season seemed to slow down and concentrate into that service.
It is just at this point of writing, while I am pondering what to say about the “Real” meaning of Christmas, that fourteen people are killed by the violent acts of two people in San Bernardino, California. People everywhere pray for Peace, “Give us Peace that violence might end.” And I think about the fact that we call Jesus the Prince of Peace. Why doesn’t God give us Peace?
Thinking about Peace, I find myself drawn to the nativity scene, to the manger and the child in the manger. Those images remind me that I need to start at the center point of the nativity, the manger, if I want to find the Peace that eludes me. This nativity image has something to teach me, both about God and about myself. The manger is in the center of the stable where the animals are fed. Forking the hay or other grain into the manger is a key part of the farmer’s day. The manger serves as a gathering place for the animals. Here there is the warmth of their bodies; and we see that each animal has its own personality. We can’t hang around the manger and not feel a connection to the animals, the earth, and to the rhythm of life on the farm. This image of the manger shows us a God who is at home in humble surroundings and is found where life is lived on its most basic terms. This is a God not separate from life, but present at the heart of life.
The nativity scene also has something to teach me about myself. I look at the manger and am surprised - here is a baby. This unexpected image catches my attention. When I look closely at this baby in the manger, I see that he contains within himself everything he needs to live a meaningful life with peace and joy. This baby brings a gift to us. He shows us that the same divine source resides within each human being. The manger containing the Christ child is right here in every one of us. We don’t have to go to Bethlehem, we can look inside our own hearts and find the Christ child within.
As the Child in the manger contains everything he needs to live in peace and joy, so too are those same energies given to us. When we tune-in to our divine source, we can find the same elements of meaning, peace, and joy within ourselves. These energies that are already within us may be compared to seeds. They are waiting for us to feed and water them. The peace, love, and joy we seek are not Things given to us, nor are they found outside of ourselves. I cannot bring out this Peace or live in it unless I choose to tend it and care for it as I would care for an infant. I can’t grow Peace for anyone else, only for myself. If I feel no peace, I haven’t tended the energy of Peace within myself.
The practice of watering these seeds is a lifelong practice, one that starts in silence, that is grounded in centering prayer. It is the silence of centering prayer that creates a space for these seeds to sprout and to grow. Without space, peace will be uneasy, love will be conditional, and joy will be dependent on what is happening to me.
I also need practices to strengthen the energies of peace, joy, and love. Practicing Not Judging
, Letting Go
, and Deep Listening
, I nurture Peace growing within me. Structuring my daily activities so that I have time for centering prayer, study, community, and rest helps me create peaceful surroundings to live in.
As I hold the image of the manger in front of me, I think about what I seek here. What I seek is the deepest desire of my heart. Is it peace? Is it love? Is it joy? Whatever I seek is not going to come from outside, I must find it within and bring it into my life by nurturing and strengthening it every day. Only then will I be able to say that I am celebrating the “Real” meaning of Christmas. Only then will I find the Peace, Joy, and Love that I pray for.
My Christmas wish for you is that you may tend the Blessing of the Christ Child so that the seeds of Peace, Joy, and Love grow stronger in you every day.
Pratt Davis is a member of Sparta UMC and an avid UM Woman. Pratt practices Insight Meditation, is a student of night-time dreams, and writes articles for her church’s monthly newsletter.
Resources for Vital Congregations
Lewis Center for Church Leadership
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Books
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Serve Your Neighbor
GBHEM Leadership Resources
Living Faithfully: Human Sexuality and the United Methodist Church
Englewood Book Review
Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations
Ted Talks: The Golden Circle
Ted Talks: The Power of Vulnerability
Ted Talks: The Price of Invulnerability
Meditations on the Ministry of All Christians
Be A Disciple
A Disciple’s Path; A Guide for United Methodist
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Adult Christian Studies from the Wesley Ministry Network
Traveling Together: A Guide for Disciple Forming Congregations
Living As United Methodist Christians
Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials
Reclaiming our Wesleyan Tradition: John Wesley’s Sermons for Today
John Wesley Sermons: Anthology
Get Their Name
Evangelism & Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit
Canoeing the Mountains
Fresh Expressions: Dinner Church
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Reach New Disciples
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: 50 Ways to Reach People
Community: The Structure of Belonging
RESOURCES TO CONNECT WITH THE COMMUNITY:
Institute for Emerging Issues
Congregations 4 Children
The Royce and Jane Reynolds Ministry Fund Grants
The Duke Endowment
The Appalachian District Church Vitality Team has been prayerfully seeking ways to help support you and the ministries of your local congregation during this COVID-19 pandemic. Together they have diligently researched and connected with others throughout the conference and our denomination to identify resources and offer them to you. We hope they will be helpful to you and bless you greatly in leading your churches and communities through this unprecedented time. We are very grateful to the District Vitality Team and other contributors for their great work on this resource.
This faithful team has created three documents, two of which you are receiving today. They include:
- Family Home Worship – designed to help families establish a regular worship space within their homes as well as a time where they can worship together.
- Tech Strategies – to help guide you in selecting effective tools and resources within your budget to best communicate in the digital world.
We believe these resources will be of great benefit to you. Also know that the District Vitality Team is available to answer any questions you might have in regards to the documents attached. If you have questions, you may email Rev. Howard Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org.