Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas can be stressful times in a pastor's life. I still think it merely ranks #3 on the list of busy/stressful times of the year for a pastor. #1 is Lent/Easter. #2 is September programming kick-off time.
What carries me through the last two months of the year is that November and December carry a unique set of joys--images of light, harvest, new beginnings, abundance, hope, natural beauty, peace and gathering. Sometimes I go into December wondering how I can possibly complete the tasks in front of me. My Thanksgiving service sermon addressed that the path to God's restorative power in both individual and corporate life is through gratitude (at least according to Psalm 126). I've received more feedback on this sermon than any I have preached in three months at First Lutheran Community Church. The blessing of sharing that word was that we had an abundance of gifts gathered at the FLCC sanctuary that night. The people of four congregations (Elim Lutheran, Spirit of Life Lutheran, St. Bede's Episcopal and FLCC) contributed on many levels and came to celebrate the goodness of God. Psalm 126 had something specific to say to each congregation and individual, because in these days of darkness, both literally and figuratively, we all need God's restoration. Each congregation is dealing with their own darkness whether it's related to denominations, polity and theology, or finance and resources. Gratitude is a path to God's restoration.
This morning I had the gift of crossing the Tacoma Narrows with the expansive view of a blue moon, the snowy Olympic Mountains, the sun shimmering on the Salish Sea, the bridge reaching up to the sky as if praising God, and the evergreen trees standing like a welcoming and guiding sentry to those traveling to the Kitsap Peninsula. At that moment I had a concrete application of gratitude: if I ever took for granted the scenery God created for me to view and traverse as a youth, I will never take it for granted again. I think we know that gratitude is enhanced by singing, but it's one thing to know it, and another thing to do it. My three-year-old, Ashling, encourages me to loudly express that gratitude, "Sing, Daddy! Sing!" We've got our own song to express gratitude recently: "Alright" by Darius Rucker. Ashling is great at keeping me connected to restorative music. Psalm 126 reminded me about the power of gratitude, that gratitude is God's method of restoration. Ashling tells me to sing that gratitude--that gratitude is a practice, a discipline, and a joyful practice at that. After an evening church council meeting and a long list of tasks for the day, I don't approach them with dread or live in an aftershock from challenges and anxiety. That restoration gave me the opportunity to proclaim hope in the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the congregation while I met with a group of men from FLCC at their weekly breakfast. We talked about what God is up to--and they shared even more restorative encouragement to me. Thank God I am restored, and I'll be ready to go that well again.