“Do you have the Christmas spirit yet?”
As Christmas drew near, this is the question we asked one another as children. The “Christmas spirit” was something tangible and unmistakable: we knew if we had it or if we didn’t. Mounting excitement at the immanent arrival of Santa Claus and his sack of toys? Okay, yes, perhaps. But there was more to it. We were happy because on some intuitive level we knew that the birth of Jesus – the birth that filled the sky with singing choirs of ecstatic angels – gave meaning to it all, to all the things we loved. Christ’s birth is the light of new life that shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. The new life of grace, the divine life, was born in our midst on Christmas day. It is born again today, brightly visible in the hearts and on the faces of joyful believers.
But birth is just the beginning. God the Father desires this new life to grow and thrive and bear fruit that will last. Jesus explains the growth of the Kingdom of God in Matthew 13 with the parable of the sower and the seeds. It’s a complicated picture. Seeds don’t just grow because they’re sown somewhere. He talks about all kinds of obstacles, like birds and thorns and the hot sun. And he talks about what the seeds need to take root: deep, rich soil. For a seed to grow into a plant that produces fruit, “a hundred or sixty or thirty fold,” it needs lots of help.
In the new year, we will be plunging ahead into our Be Missionary Disciples Planning Process. Inspired by the new life of Christ, the “light brightly visible,” we will take on the challenge outlined in our “six mission priorities.” These priorities are not arbitrary: they capture what is essential for gospel seeds to be planted, take root, grow, thrive, and bear lasting fruit. Let us keep in mind this vision of the living whole as we begin our planning process in the months ahead.
- Vibrant Liturgy: The Eucharist – our sacramental prayer and worship and thanksgiving – is the source and the summit of this new life that sustains it with the life-giving waters of the Holy Spirit.
- Welcome: This is the rich and deep soil of a faith community built on radical hospitality in which all can find their spiritual home and truly belong, allowing their hearts to open up to the Lord’s grace and mercy and healing.
- Encounter: This is the sowing of the seed of God’s Word in that rich and deep soil and allowing it to take root, protected from the birds and thorns and hot sun in the shelter of a prayerful, caring, and supportive community.
- Accompany: This is the growth of the vine, from small fragile seedling into strong lush plant whose roots run broad and deep and whose growth continues to depend on the same rich, deep soil and sacramental food and water of the Spirit.
- Send: This is the bearing of lasting fruit, the going forth to every place and periphery to share the gospel, to witness, to love and to serve. This is the fulfillment of Christ’s command to his disciples: “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” (John 15:8)
- Mission Support: This is the trellis of the vine, the structures without which the vine could not grow at all. It is all of those things from finances and facilities to team and technology whose purpose is fulfilled in the mission to make disciples.
May we never lose sight of the true nature of pastoral planning: we are not about making plans to save an earthly institution, no matter how beloved it may be. We are about cooperating with the Holy Spirit to allow the new life of Christ, the divine life of Emmanuel, “God with us,” to thrive in and through us, to multiply and overflow in lasting fruit and to spread the Kingdom of God throughout our communities, an eternal Kingdom of peace, mercy, and unconquerable hope.
Do you have the Christmas spirit yet?