Some places become a part of who you are. They become like second homes; places that when you walk through their doors, you feel that breath that you didn’t realize you were holding release, your shoulders relax, the stresses of your day, your week, month, or even year, dissipate and the burden of them lessen. Sometimes they are grand places, and sometimes humble and simple. Sometimes they have deep history, and sometimes they shiny and new. But they are places where your heart feels rest and your spirit is renewed.
This space, these pews, walking through these doors, this is one of those spaces for me. In a rush between responsibilities on Sunday morning, I caught a glimpse of the sun hitting the pews and it stopped me in my tracks, as it often does. Oh, the ways that the sun and those old stained-glass windows merge to create the loveliest of visions of colour and light, in and out of days, moving and changing with the seasons!
Stained-glass windows have for centuries told the story of the faith, they have told the stories that weren’t always accessible through the written word. Today, they continue to inspire as only art can, though we rely on them less to weave the story of who we are, and where we have come from.
And even though the scene is moving to me, even though it has been a place of solace and inspiration, it isn’t the stained glass, or the aesthetics of this place that make it home. When these pews are filled, it is the people in them that make this home. So many stories, so many relationships, so many deep journeys. Even though none of us are perfect, and at times we stretch, challenge, irritate, and upset one another, the very act of growing together and learning to soften our hearts towards one another, in love and in grace, is what makes this ground so sacred. And not because of the work that we do on our own, but rather because of the work that God does in us. Because without the way that he works on and in our hearts, we wouldn’t still be here. We wouldn’t be able to grow, to forgive, and to love one another, to share in both the joys and the sorrows.
Here we are, stepping into the Advent season, and some truths never change. Emmanuel, God with Us. He remains the glue that holds us together. The essence of a people bound to disappoint one another but blessed deeply by a grace that helps us work through our disagreements, our differences, and our hardships. And the difficult parts of the journey of community and in community are also the very things that make the joys we get to share all that much sweeter. When you’ve been through the trenches with someone, when you’ve helped carry their sorrows and their grief, when you’ve worked through misunderstandings, and differences, the joys become more sacred and carry great meaning.
But community is hard. It is hard work. Everything is easier and more picture-perfect until the pews start filling up. But we too are so much like those stained-glass windows; like broken pieces of glass, molded and fit together into a mosaic that through the changing of the seasons, in the morning and in the evening light, paints beautiful visions of colour dancing across the walls of our joint history. Without each of those unique pieces, those odd shapes, those different colours, the final assembly wouldn’t be the same and our stories wouldn’t be nearly as rich. And yet, a stained-glass window needs one key element to serve its purpose fully … it needs light.
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:4-5
It is the light of Christ shining through us that fulfills the story of our lives knit and molded together. Some seasons feel darker than others. Advent reminds us of the waiting, the waiting for the light. But the joy that we have on this side of the cross, is that the light is what binds us both individually and collectively. And the light shining through us reflects both to us and to the world the glory of him who is in us. It is he who changes and molds our hearts, it is his love and his grace that when flowing through us gives us the strength, the patience, and the endurance to grow together as one body.
After all, “in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Romans 12:5.
This first week of Advent we light the candle of hope. A hope for the future and a hope for the goodness that is to come. When we invite the Christ light to shine through us and to shape us, I am confident that the future is bright. Bright not because of all that we can work to accomplish, though there is much work to be done, but bright because of the grace and mercy of a loving God who knows how to take amazing groups of “misfits” and do beautiful things through them. Bound in the light, and with his help, a vision of hope for others who have yet to feel the warmth of that deep and abiding love.
Oh, and you … you, looking over at all us of dressed in our Sunday best, walking through these doors, or other similar doors, wondering how you could ever fit in here, thinking that the people entering this space couldn’t possibly make room for you or understand you .. you’re just the piece we need, perfectly loved and wanted. We are all still stumbling along trying to make sense of this life and the hardships that find their ways into all our lives, no matter what our outsides look like. But in his light, and in community with one another, the burden of it all is so much lighter. In fact, we need each other because in the sharing of these mysteries together “our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1: 4)