A Christmas Message from Rev. Joanne Anquist
This year, our congregation is using a resource from Sanctified Art called How Does a Weary World Rejoice. Over the weeks of Advent, right up to the Baptism of Jesus, we are considering ways to bring joy into life through things like finding joy in connection, allowing ourselves to be amazed, singing the stories of hope and making room, among others. On the First Sunday of Advent, we were invited to acknowledge our weariness – to sit in the space we find ourselves, personally, socially and spiritually. Lament is an important part of any religious tradition – a view of the world that is unflinching while moving towards a world made new. It is essential to a faith that is not naïve but still imbued with hope.
But still, our ministry team was unprepared for the visceral response to the theme “acknowledge our weariness.” Many folks thought it was too dark or depressing. They didn’t like the blue banners and the discussion about the struggles in life and the world. More than one person shared that they get enough bad news in their personal lives and on the news during the week; on Sunday they hope to be inspired and uplifted. On the other hand, some were so grateful that we had acknowledged that the Advent and Christmas seasons are difficult. All the Merry Christmas wishes cannot erase the pressing struggles of their lives and the grief they hold.
Either way, we have rarely received such strong reactions to an Advent service (except when you don’t sing enough Christmas Carols!) In our weekly ministry debrief, we talked about the feelings that were expressed and how to respond. The most important was to communicate that we didn’t have to sit in our weariness the whole season – just acknowledge its presence. We agreed the church needs to make space for honest lament that isn’t just at special services like The Longest Night or Good Friday. But mostly, we marvelled at how the Table of God is set for everyone and everything.
We bring to the Table our joys and concerns, our triumphs and challenges, our heartbreak and our ecstasy. Our stories of Jesus’ birth and life carry all the weight and triumph of human existence – parents unprepared, falling through the cracks of an unforgiving society, finding room where it is not expected, angels unaware, songs for peace on earth, the joy of new birth – pondering all these things in our hearts. There is room for all these things in our Christmas wanderings. We don’t have to give in to the seasonal pressure to pretend that everything is sweetness and light and plaster a smile on our face. Yet we can live into knowing that even in the darkness, Christ is still born for us. Hope abides. Peace is possible. Joy runs deep. Love still wins.
Our Chinook Winds Region is full of stories of hope, peace, joy and love – but also of weariness. In all these things, may you experience the peace of Christ. Wherever you’re at this Christmas season, acknowledge your weariness, but know it is not the end. A weary world will rejoice. We can hold all this in our hearts as we give thanks for the gift of Jesus and the life he brings.
Joanne Anquist is Presiding Officer, for Chinook Winds Region, and also minister at McDougall United Church, Calgary.