Beloved People of God,
“You are the light of the world...Let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14, 16
Last week, Governor DeWine held another press conference updating Ohio on the pandemic. The virus continues to climb, and last Thursday, the first ever statewide 21-day curfew began. Franklin County has been elevated to purple and it is expected that Lorain and Lake Counties in Northern Ohio will reach the purple status in the next few days. Summit, Cuyahoga, and Medina counties have issued a stay at home advisories. Many local School districts are in the process of converting to online only learning. And the CDC has recommended no travel for the Thanksgiving holiday. The updated information from Governor DeWine and the CDC gave our congregation council, Pastor Andrew, and me great concern for the members of our worshipping community.
As the pastors, spiritual directors and leaders of the congregation, we are bound by our Call to St. Stephen Martyr Lutheran Church to care for the entire flock. Our Letters of Call state that we are: “to preach and teach the word of God in accordance with the holy scriptures and Lutheran confessions; to administer Holy Baptism and Holy communion; to lead us and worship; and to provide pastoral care to all the congregation.“
Due to the recent and continuing increases in the virus, the Congregation Council voted unanimously to suspend in-person worship at St. Stephen. We feel this is the best way to live into our call to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and soul and love our neighbor as ourselves. To do anything less would make me negligent in fulfilling our call. Effective immediately, we will worship online, at least, until January 17, 2021. We will continue to keep you informed as we move forward. We will continue to monitor the CDC and Governor’s office to determine the appropriate time to return to in-person worship.
The 8 a.m. Celebration service and the 9:30 a.m. Gathering service will be available on Facebook Live and available on the website at www.wherelovelives.org throughout Advent. December 20 will have a special worship offering of the Cantata for the Celebration service and a children’s pageant for the Gathering service. Please note, that services will remain on our Facebook page, so if you miss out on the “Live” viewing, you may view them later.
Christmas Eve services will be available on Facebook at 5 p.m. for the Gathering Christmas Eve Service and 7 p.m. for the Celebration Christmas Eve Service.
I must say, Advent is usually one of my favorite seasons of the church year. The themes of watchfulness, preparation, hope, and light infuse this season. The church both anticipates the celebration of God’s coming in the form of the Christ child and the final coming of Christ in the time to come. This year, with all the turmoil and all the challenges, one may wonder if it even possible to anticipate Christ’s coming at all.
But as I shared last month, God promises something of which we can be sure: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5). Advent is a time where we are reminded that amid the darkness, we have light. In fact, that’s what Advent is: the sure coming of God’s morning. The triumph of light, though it arrives as light through a teeny crack. What’s amazing is that most often, God comes not in dazzling displays, but in the half-light of the ordinary. As the ancient hymn proclaims, “When this old world drew on toward night, you came; but not in splendor bright, not as a monarch, but the child of Mary, blessed mother mild” (ELW 245).
Amid this pandemic, Advent may seem very different. As one colleague shared, “In some ways it feels as if the entire year has been a long “advent” waiting on a vaccine, hoping for coronavirus case counts to decrease, and longing to gather closely in person.” But we continue to pray for our world, for creation, for an end to injustice. We will be worshiping outside the church walls, but we still worship and serve God’s people because we know that God’s promises persist. We know God is near. We pray that our faith be strengthened, that we may be transformed to walk in God’s way. This is the promise of Advent.
Just as God promised that the Messiah would come into the world, this Christmas season, God re-affirms that the Messiah will come again into your world. Christ the child comes again to you. Let us get ready!
In the Light of Christ’s Love,