Advent Devotion – November 30 – Sheridan Henson

Scripture: Psalm 137:1-6

There is a popular farewell in Jewish circles that is shared with a hopeful spirit by friends parting company: “Next year in Jerusalem.” Despite the founding of the state of Israel in May of 1948 and the ease of modern-day travel, multitudes of Jews living in the Diaspora remain beyond the seas that separate them from their spiritual capital. For most, a one-time pilgrimage to the Western Wall, the “Wailing Wall,” and other parts of the Holy City is the limit to their physical connection to this spiritual epicenter. Most return to their distant homes, careers, families, and lives, and many more never make the journey, choosing to remain at home repeating the same promise as they part company, “Next year in Jerusalem.”

This longsuffering nostalgia for home prevalent in the Diaspora is similar to the longing we find in poor old George Webber, the protagonist of Wolfe’s “You Can’t Go Home Again,” where we find an author clinging to the fond memories of a hometown that in reality is far from the recollections of Webber’s written tribute. We too might find ourselves walking the halls of our old high school, college campus, or dusty attic searching for those golden moments inscribed on trophies, smiling in class composites, and buried in cardboard boxes. In our minds, we try to unpack those beautiful, perfect, and happy memories while avoiding the faults, missteps, sorrows, and losses sprinkled in each passing year. Instead, we are reminded that we remain in a world with the flaws and brokenness of Babylon. Our neighbors chant “Make America Great Again,” assuming that we too have selectively remembered this American Promised Land as singularly “Great,” and ignored the centuries of sins mixed with blessings. It is enough to make a psalmist hang his harp upon the willows, isn’t it?

But we do not despair, and we will not forget beautiful Zion. We accept that our world is broken, and we refuse to ignore the pain caused by the past. We find strength and hope in the redemptive power of God’s love, so we chant “Make America Whole,” lift up our harps, and sing because we do not choose to rebuild the temple of our forefathers. Rather, we elect to build a new kingdom far beyond the banks of the Euphrates, and until our work is finished, may we never cease to part in hope and God’s love, saying, “Next year in Jerusalem.”

Core Idea: Even in suffering, we remember the steadfast love of God.

Advent Devotion – November 29 – Michael Schulte

“How Lowly sits the city / that was once full of people!”

 

Scripture: Lamentations 1:1-8

In late September, my grandma was hospitalized and underwent emergency, life-saving heart surgery. Before, during, and after her surgery she sat in her hospital bed alone. Because of COVID, no one could visit.

I cannot imagine how hard it must have been to sit in that hospital bed without my grandpa, my mother, and my aunt by her side. I cannot imagine how scary it must have been to undergo emergency heart surgery without being able to say “I love you” or “goodbye” to the people you love. I cannot imagine how God could allow such lonely despair.

I felt powerless. I could not provide the care and support my grandma deserved in her time of need.

* * *

In the Old Testament, the Israelites (God’s people) experienced prolonged exile at the hands of the Babylonians. They were captured, deported, and coerced into servitude. They wondered if God had abandoned them.

While COVID looks to disrupt our lives for several years, the Israelites were held captive for generations. Grown adults did not know a life outside of subjugation and bondage. Jerusalem, their capital city, “[became] a vassal” (Lam. 1:1). Their servitude negated their human agency. They were powerless in the face of a domineering empire who sought to destroy their identity in God, and there was “no one to comfort [them]” (Lam. 1:2).

Yet, the Israelites persisted. They knew the same God who led their ancestors out of slavery in Egypt would one day grant them liberation from exile. In their powerlessness, they cried out to God in lament, urging God to take away this unbearable punishment.

Our community finds itself in its own prolonged period of exile and disruption. COVID-19 has robbed us of human connection and belonging. It has forced parents to become teachers. It has blurred the lines between work and home. It has caused families to go months without seeing the people they love.

In this space of grief, God calls us to lament. God calls us to cathartically cry out for mercy and grace.

The season of Advent reminds us of the Creator’s response to our prayers–Jesus.

I hope you will join me this Advent season in crying out, “Come thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free.” God, liberate us from the pain of this life and help us to one day experience beloved community in heaven.

Michael Schulte

Core Idea: God hears our cries for mercy and responds by sending Jesus to save the world.

 

Survey Says…

Dear Friends,

I want to thank the many of you who responded to the survey about our Christmas Eve Worship. The results are about what I expected—a third of you are understandably concerned about attending a gathering such as a Christmas Eve Worship Service; a third of you plan to attend (“in a hazmat suit if necessary”); and a third are undecided.

Christmas Eve, however, is not for another five weeks and a lot may happen between now and then especially if the COVID case rates in Wilson County continue to rise as they have done over the past two weeks. My greatest concern is for the safety and well-being of each of you and for our neighbors. There have only been a couple of cases of COVID within our congregation, and I would like to keep it that way. One local pastor I spoke with this week told me that he had lost three congregants to COVID and had been very ill himself.

On Thursday afternoon, I attended an online meeting between local pastors and Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital. The message of the doctors was to stress to the pastors the need to encourage their parishioners (and everyone) to observe the COVID protocols of masks and distancing. The local hospital is not full now, but they are worried that it could be soon. They are especially concerned about what will happen after Thanksgiving if too many people choose to gather together next week and become infected.

What the hospital doesn’t want to happen is for its beds to become so over-run with COVID patients that people requiring normal medical care are unable to obtain it. They are worried about a shortage of staff. They are worried about a shortage of supplies.

These worse-case scenarios are mostly avoidable if people take the simple precautions of masks and distancing and not congregating. It is certainly no fun, but it is what we need to do right now.

The good news is that two promising vaccines have been announced. From what I have read, the doctors and scientists consider the data from these vaccines to be solid. The original goal was to develop a vaccine with an efficacy rate of 60%. Each of these vaccines promise an efficacy rate over 90%.

This good news should not make us complacent. It will be months before the vaccines are available to the general public. We need to fight our fatigue, make short-term sacrifices, and continue our COVID practices.

This virus is real. This week, our nation marked 250,000 deaths from COVID. That is a quarter-of-a-million lives that were ended too soon. It is callous to justify these losses by saying, “They would have died anyway.” That is unacceptable. Every moment of life is precious. This virus has robbed us of thousands of years of life.

In the meantime, I will continue to monitor the situation in Middle Tennessee. Right now, it would be irresponsible of me to guarantee that we will hold an in-person Christmas Eve Service. That is our plan, but as with everything, we have learned to be flexible.

Blessings,

Sherard

COVID new cases