After the Holidays

By Scott N. Field

By all accounts from the signals in our broader culture, I’m a voice crying in the wilderness on this issue: the “holiday mashup” was in full swing these past few months. Disorientation was a high probability for many of us.

For example, a week before Thanksgiving, I noticed at a local big box retailer that the Thanksgiving décor was already pushed to a small section of “clearance” items while the Amazing and Expansive ToyLand was full to overflowing.

After the holidays, how about a bit of theological untangling as we launch the new year and move forward in our ongoing, church by church, conference by conference, disaffiliation conflict that is overshadowing our Methodist family? 

I want to step away from the denominational drama for a moment to bring your attention to three post-seasonal observances that are of particular importance to Christians, yes, but are deeply connected to three timeless dynamics of God’s relentless redemptive action in our world here and now.

Thanksgiving: The Holy Spirit is Always at Work in Everyone Everywhere. “Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name. Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me” (Psalm 103:1-2 NLT).

We live in a time of simmering unrest, conflicts that threaten individuals, families, and social order, and, for many, rising apprehensions about the future. And that is just a description of the world within Methodism. If we consider the wider world, it is no wonder that many of us were running a little low on gratitude as we gathered “together to ask the Lord’s blessing” over the holidays.   

Looking at our current situations through the lens of Scripture can change our perspective dramatically, however. God’s unwavering purpose is the redemption of the world. “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” (2 Peter 3:9 NLT).

Jesus said that the continuing work of the Holy Spirit involves convicting the world of its sin, convincing the world of God’s righteousness, and inviting the world to redemption rather than certain judgment (John 16:5-11). Anyone anywhere at any time who responds to this convicting, convincing, and inviting through faith in and devotion to Jesus Christ are adopted into God’s family.

We not only read about adoption into the family of God in the Scripture, but we know it unmistakably by the personal witness of the Holy Spirit within us (Romans 8:15-17). God’s redemptive initiative promised to and through Abraham now, by the presence and empowering of the Holy Spirit, comes to and through us to others (Galatians 3:5-6, 4:6-7).

In his book Simply Christian (Harper Collins), N.T. Wright observes what he calls “echoes of a voice” woven throughout our world: the longing for justice, the quest for spirituality, the hunger for relationships, and the delight in beauty. Each of these echoes points beyond itself. From my perspective these echoes are related to the existential questions whispering in the soul of every person: Who am I? What am I here for? What gives meaning to my life? What is my destiny?

Beginning to explore any or all of those questions opens the door to the unexpected and wondrous gospel of the Lord Jesus. In Christ we know who we are, why we are here, to whom we belong, and where we are headed in life and in life after life.

This is part of what Wesleyan Christians mean when we speak of “prevenient grace.” It is the grace of God all around and within us that draws us to faith in Christ.

The Thanksgiving observance months ago had its roots in a recognition that, as the old and familiar hymn puts it:

This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget/ That though the wrong seems oft so strong,/ God is the ruler yet./ This is my Father’s world: why should my heart be sad?/ The Lord is King; let the heavens ring!/ God reigns; let the earth be glad! (UMH # 144 / OGRP # 19).

As we begin a new year, let’s begin by giving thanks that, in the providence and the prevenient grace of God, throughout the world’s events and within each person’s soul the Holy Spirit is always engaged in the compassionate work of redemption. Always. Everywhere. In all situations. Even in times of denominational disaffiliation.

Advent: We Live Between the Cradle and the Coming Again. The commercial juggernaut of a Commercial Christmas makes a joke out of waiting. But waiting is where we find ourselves almost all of the time. Advent lifts up the gift of waiting in active faith for God’s promises to be fulfilled. We live between the coming of the Messiah Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; who descended to the dead, rose again on the third day, ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and is coming again to judge the living and the dead. Throughout the year, we are reminded that we live between the cradle and coming again, between his cross and the consummation of the New Heaven and New Earth.

In the brokenness of the world, even while we are waiting, we are sent together, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, for the healing of the world in Jesus’ name.

During the Christmas season – this included concerts, movies, parties, parades, sales, and celebrations – we may have had a hard time keeping ourselves steady between the cradle and the coming again. And since many of us have been fully engaged in denominational disaffiliation conflicts, we may have been anxiously focused on our local church strategies for separation success or, alternatively, deeply disillusioned with a failed vote.

It’s tempting, isn’t it, to prefer our plans to God’s promises?

As we close out the holiday season, take some time to stay close to the person and the promises of Christ. Ponder the Advent Scripture readings. Worship. Join or launch a small group gathering. Use your money to reflect your devotion to Christ and the mission he has entrusted to us. Hold all of the discord of disaffiliation with open hands, waiting and wanting the wisdom, guidance, and restoration of the Holy Spirit.

During Advent we were invited to be pointed in the appropriate direction:

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus/ Born to set Thy people free;/ From our fears and sins release us,/ Let us find our rest in Thee./ Israel’s strength and consolation,/ Hope of all the earth Thou art;/ Dear desire of every nation,/ Joy of every longing heart. (UMH # 196/ OGRP # 163)

Indeed, may the desire of every nation also be the joy of our hearts, too.

Christmas: Messiah Jesus is the Center – Always. Of all the distractions in the holiday mashup, none seemed more common than the hijacking of Christmas. It gets hijacked, of course, by commoditizing Christian devotion, generosity, compassion, and love. Those options are recognizable for most of us, though. The ones that so easily creep in, however, are things like worry, anxiety, disappointment, and anger.

I bring up these dynamics within us because, well, it seems we can easily rationalize them in our current disaffiliation conflict. Some of us might have resented Thanksgiving-Advent-Christmas as an interruption in our path to congregational disaffiliation. We’re still a bit miffed that this time of recognizing God’s providence, of living between Jesus’ cradle and his coming again, and the joyful celebration of his birth, with all of those “Holiday Special Worshipers” – those ChrEasters! – showing up to light a candle and sing, “Silent Night” on Christmas Eve… I mean, don’t they know we have the serious business of disaffiliation to attend to?

Friends, let’s turn it down a couple of clicks.

During this time – in season and postseason – someone you know is trying to respond to the echo of God’s voice in their soul. Perhaps somebody near you recognizes the world is hopelessly broken and is wondering if there is any word of hope. Or maybe when they attended a Christmas Eve worship they wondered if Jesus is still worthy of their devotion … and whether they might add their voice to the Christmas carols, too. Invite them to Jesus. Put off the temptation to recruit them to your team in a church fight.

Jesus knows all about our troubling and worrisome concerns. His directive is clear: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:33 NLT).

If that “seeking the Kingdom of God” got a bit foggy, now would be a good time to read again the entirety of Matthew 5-7, what we call Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The Lord teaches us there what it means to live a Kingdom-devoted life. And it will help us remove the hijackers from our hearts so that we can be among those genuinely faithful who come to worship “joyful and triumphant,” no matter the worry, anxiety, disappointment, and anger that might lie so close by.

May we, like Simeon, recognize Messiah Jesus as the center of it all: “I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people.  He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people  Israel!” (Luke 2:30-32).

This disaffiliation drama and its outcomes is for a season. God’s relentless desire, beyond our immediate situation, is that all would repent and come to faith in and devotion to Messiah Jesus.

Sursum corda, friends. “Lift up your hearts.” It is a right and good and joyful thing always and everywhere to give thanks to the Lord our God. We are sent, together, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, for the healing of the world in Jesus’ name. Don’t settle for anything less.

Scott N. Field is the President of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. Dr. Field is a retired United Methodist clergyperson who has worked for renewal for decades through his work with the Good News Board of Directors and the Northern Illinois chapter of the Wesleyan Covenant Association.


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