Years ago, in my former parish in Columbia, South Carolina, the manner in which a particular family joined our congregation caught my attention. The family, which included two young girls, had been attending a church in another denomination and decided to try the Episcopal Church. After worshipping with us for a few weeks, the family sat down with each other to see how things were working out. When asked if they wanted to join St. Mary’s or stay in their old church, both little girls were very enthusiastic about switching. When asked why, one of them replied that going to the Episcopal Church was like eating in the dining room.
For that little girl the dining room was a special place. When the family ate a meal there it signified to her that a celebration was taking place. She liked using the good china and the good silver. She liked the attention to detail that was involved. She liked the extra preparations that were required to serve a meal in the dining room. For her, the dining room meant excitement. And our church represented that to her.
St. Mary’s at the time did not have an especially beautiful worship space but, in typical Episcopal fashion, the liturgy was intentional. It wasn’t “high” church or “low” church. But there was always a procession, the acolytes and choir took their jobs seriously, the liturgy was precise, and always there was Holy Communion. We set the table, gathered around it together, and were sent out into the world refreshed by a sense of the holy in our midst. Compared to many churches (especially the modern video-centered worship), the Episcopal Church is the dining room of worship approaches. We take great care with all the little liturgical details.
It’s Advent. The celebration of the Incarnation of the Lord quickly approaches. And we are encouraged to take stock of our lives, our faithfulness, our attentiveness to the details of our daily living. Is your heart, at this point in your life, more like a dining room or a tv tray? Are you feasting on the abundant blessings all around you? Or are you rushing through life unaware of how fortunate you are? Are you making space for God each day? Or are you trying to squeeze God in here and there when you have a spare moment? Are you looking for the rich joy in life? Or have you allowed yourself to become a victim of the oppressive forces in your world?
The truth of the Incarnation is that God comes to us in this life no matter where we are. God does not create the earth and then vacate to another realm. God is constantly involved, constantly revealing himself, constantly being born anew in the experiences of this early existence. God is here and now. That’s the basic message of the Incarnation.
The more we look for God’s presence, the more we invite God’s presence, the more we do the daily work of preparing for God’s presence, the more evidence we see of God’s presence. We don’t conjure up the presence. But neither do we just sit idly by and wait for a magical being to swoop in and rescue us from all our woes. We participate in grace as God so richly dispenses it.
Or at least we are invited to participate. As you read this, probably you have taken special care to decorate your home for Christmas. You have prepared your home for others to see and enter. What about your heart? Are you making preparations for the coming of the Lord? Are you taking time each day to sit quietly and remember that you are a lovable, honorable child of God? Are you approaching others in the world as similarly loved children of God? Are you seeking growth in God’s kingdom? Are you asking for the Christ to be with you in your circumstances? Is your heart inviting all that is good?
Come, Lord Jesus, come. Touch our hearts with your grace. Allow us to become all that you desire for us. Make our hearts dwelling places for your holy presence.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.