There is nothing like Christmas week to struggle with what it means to care.
As Christians, we don’t count down to Christmas. We count up to Christ’s coming and what it means for our lives—Emmanuel, God with us! He is coming. Love doesn’t come in presents under a tree, but in changed hearts and lives of service.
On that first Christmas, God didn’t come in flowing robes and splendor to form a perfect government to rival Rome. He came as a baby in a dirty manger in a small town in an occupied land to the humblest of parents. He came to change hearts and lives in simple and powerful ways.
In a small town, in a small church, this Christmas brings a special gift to my church family. After nearly forty years, Westlake Lutheran Church has been blessed with a home. Like the Israelites of old, we may not be crossing the Jordan, but we’re moving four miles south to our “Promised Land,” Agoura Hills, the site of our new church home.
It’s more than a journey of miles. We’re looking at who we are and what will define us in this new place. One church is closing; another is moving in. But in God’s family, it’s still as much theirs as it is ours. As one member said, “New name, same management!” It’s God’s church. We aren’t to possess it but to live out His mission as a welcoming faith community called to shine Christ’s light and share God’s love.
Churches are best defined by their impact beyond their walls. There are seventeen recovery groups who currently use our church and three groups and Mommy and Me classes that already use the new facility. Is there still room in our inn for Christ’s mission of service?
What do we call ourselves? You can’t be Westlake Lutheran in Agoura Hills. Do you pick a formal Christian name or one that invites people to feel at home? Do you highlight location or find words that capture your mission?
Our church is struggling with the economic downturn like everyone else, but it’s an adventure in God’s love that has captured us this Christmas. Like Mary and Joseph, we’ll find our way. God is with us.
Our small journey to live out our dream speaks to America’s unique history. People came to the new world to get away from government control and onerous taxes. They came to be free to dream dreams, worship in freedom and form true community. America should never be defined by what happens in Washington; it’s what happens in our homes, businesses and places of worship that defines us.
In Europe, volunteering, giving and philanthropy play a much smaller role. Taxes are so high that people let government do the caring. They trade personal compassion for government programs and higher taxes. Do we want that in America?
My father lived through the depression on the farms in Kirkland, Illinois. The Christmas he remembered most was when his father told the children, “This year you won’t be getting a present. Someone poor has moved into town and the church is taking up a collection to help.”
This Christmas, may Americans recapture the gift that comes in a heart of service and a loving community.