This weekend is not only Thanksgiving weekend, but it is the beginning of both the season of Advent and a new church year. So I want to talk a little about why we celebrate Advent, how we will be doing it this year, and the particular opportunities this Sunday.

Advent, as you may already know, is the Christian season before Christmas. Pastor JC AustinThe main theme of Advent can be summed up as “active waiting.” But Advent is not, as it is sometimes thought, really about waiting for Christmas to come. Advent is much more about waiting for what is often called the “Second Coming” of Christ rather than the “First Coming,” which would be Christmas. Advent directs our attention forward towards the celebration of Christmas, but also well beyond it to the full and final establishment of Christ’s reign over the earth, a reign of unobstructed grace, love, justice, mercy, and peace.

The Christian year, therefore, begins at the end in a sense: reminding us that the world as we experience it is not the world as God intends it, and God will not stop until the world has been made right. When we get to Christmas, then, we are celebrating the first major event in that overarching story of redemption through Christ’s reign by celebrating Christ’s incarnation and birth.

This year, our Advent theme here at First Pres will be “Close to Home.”  Advent reminds us that the “Home” that God promises for us in Christ’s reign is not yet here on earth, and so in a sense we are not fully at home here as Christians. But at the same time, Advent reminds us that God has promised a home of love and peace for us that Christ is already building in the world, and thus it is not something that is imaginary or even impossibly far away from us, but something that we can experience in part here and now and actually help in building; that’s the “active” part of actively waiting for the full reign of Christ.

So each week of Advent, you will encounter a different facet of that theme reflected in the Scriptures, prayers, sermons, and music of the worship services. All of that begins this Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, which is also traditionally associated with the theme of Hope. And so the service and the sermon, entitled “Longing for Home,” will be exploring those intersections.

To help focus our attention on Advent, the Session has called for a single combined service of worship this Sunday at 10 a.m. in the Kirk Center. In part, that is to bring us all together for worship, but it is also so that we can all come together for what happens after worship. The Congregational Life Committee, in collaboration with other volunteers and staff, has been hard at work planning an Advent Festival in Fellowship Hall for us to begin the season.

At the Advent Festival there will be different craft activities for people of all ages to engage in that will help you in your own celebration of both Advent and Christmas. In addition, you can join in decorating the church itself for Advent and Christmas, which will be both fun and helpful in getting us ready for the season.

We are also taking a new step in terms of how we gather during the pandemic. As you know, we have not been serving group meals or gathering for Hospitality Hour indoors during the pandemic, because those activities bring too many people too close together for too much time without masks on. However, the Building Reopening Task Force feels that, with some appropriate precautions, we can serve refreshments at something like the Advent Festival, and so we will have pastries, coffee and tea, and other beverages available to fuel the fun at the Advent Festival.

However, it will be very important for everyone to follow the guidelines that allow us to safely do so. Those guidelines are fairly simple. Except for when you are actively eating/drinking, we will continue to wear masks over our mouths and noses at all times. When you decide you do want to have some refreshments, though, you can go to one of the refreshment stations, where you will be served. You can then take that to one of the designated seating areas for refreshment with anyone in your “pod” (which we’re defining as anyone in your household or with whom you have regular contact).

Once you are seated, you can remove your mask and consume your refreshments. When you are done, you can replace your mask and get up again to socialize or do an activity. Essentially, this allows us to serve food and drink in a manner not unlike restaurants: masking in common areas, and only removing your mask when you are seated with your own pod to eat and drink. You will not be permitted to take your food or drink and wander around Fellowship Hall while consuming it and talking with others, as we traditionally do for Hospitality Hour. It is important that everyone understand and follow these practices so that we can safely gather together for this celebration, and do so without going hungry!

I hope all of you have had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and I look forward to being with you in worship and at the festival on Sunday!

Grace and Peace,