Saturday, December 5, 2009

Advent 4,5,6,and 7: Too Many Fires to Put Out?

Be still and know that I am God.
Psalm 46:10

I have always found Advent one of the richest times for spiritual growth. So much of the season has signs and symbols which beg us to stop and ponder. Unfortunately, this week I had a hard time responding to the begging and didn’t do much stopping, and even less pondering.

I have learned from experience that NOT stopping and pondering can be disastrous. In 1992, I was invited to take an appointment in a local church. The appointment came at a surprise. As much as I love parish ministry, I had moved into campus ministry in 1985, and assumed that my local parish phase of ministry was over. Imagine my surprise when a district superintendent of the Cal-Nevada Annual Conference asked me to take Bethany UMC, in San Francisco!

I was worried that I had forgotten how to “do” parish ministry and pushed myself very hard those first few months of the appointment. So hard, in fact, that I wound up skimming on my spiritual disciplines in order to “do” more ministry.

Advent came and I thought I would take up the spiritual practice of lighting the Advent wreath every morning and have a short devotional before diving headlong into my day. Even before the first week was barely over, I began to grow distracted with the practice, finding more and more things that begged my attention as I prepared to head to church.

One day, I cut too many corners trying to pack everything in I needed to get done. I flew out the door to do an early bit of grocery shopping before heading to church. When I returned, I opened the garage door and thought I smelled smoke. I immediately thought of my 92 year old neighbor whose house was connected to mine, and worried that she had left something burning on her stove. As I went up the steps, I saw smoke—her place must be on fire! I grabbed a phone and dialed 911. I was put on hold (!) and as I waited I heard crackling. I turned into my dining room and saw that the table was in flames. The fire was in MY house! And there, at the very center of the table, was the culprit: my Advent wreath, now with all the candles melted down into the table…

God is so funny. Just the week before I had bought fire extinguishers for the parsonage, so knew exactly where it was and quickly put out the flames (five minutes later the phone rang. It was the fire department asking why I had called).
I learned a lesson that day. When God puts a sign or symbol before you, you had better stop and ponder, before it becomes a burning bush/dining room table!

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