Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’ Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. (2 Samuel 7:7, 11b)
I join with many of you lamenting the fact that we will not be able to gather together in our church buildings for Christmas Eve and Christmas services this year. I have so many wonderful and happy memories of candlelight services, services of lessons and carols, children’s programs, family services, all so special at Christmastime. I feel deep sorrow in my heart because place and people are so important. We so want to be together for Christmas worship.
So, I, myself need to hear the words from Samuel, especially now. I need the reminder that church isn’t simply a building or a specific room. True church is not constructed of walls and windows, naves and narthexes, pews and chairs and altars and candles. These are all tools and symbols that make our worship easier and meaningful, but they are secondary to the true and abiding vision of God: we are the house of prayer and faith and light and life.
This year, when we cannot go to a sanctuary, let us be a sanctuary. This year when we cannot listen to our choirs and congregations sing together, let us remember in our hearts the wondrous songs of praise and announcement. While we cannot pass the Christ-light of the candle as we sing Silent Night or another carol, let us feel the light of Christ burning brightly in our hearts. As we feel our own personal loss at not being able to attend church, let us celebrate that we are God’s church together, especially as we take all the steps necessary to protect each other and keep one another as safe and healthy as possible.
The day will come, and I believe it will be very soon, when we can gather safely and enjoy the in-person fellowship we so desperately miss and anxiously long for. That will be a time of special rejoicing, but for now it is helpful to remember that church is who we are, and worship is one of the things we do. We can worship God in many wonderful ways, but we are called to be church not just for ourselves, but with each other, for one another, and for the entire world.
May you feel God dwelling within you as Advent ushers in the birth of the Prince of Peace, and may you experience great joy and jubilation in the sanctuary of your hearts this Christmastime.
Prayer: Loving God, you know how much we miss being together and sharing together in gathered worship. Grant us patience and help us to be satisfied that we are offering faithful Christian service by our caution and kindness to others. Protect us all, and fill us with your Holy Spirit, that we might feel your presence and the presence of our church family and friends as we await the birth of the Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
May this devotion provide you with a moment of faithful reflection and care. You are involved in ministries of justice and witness, in ministries of standing up and standing with people working to create better systems and communities, in ministries of learning and searching and researching to become more aware and awakened, more technologically savvy and proficient, more virtually and personally present in your churches and communities and world. Each of us who serve as members of your Wisconsin Cabinet write these devotions in grateful prayer for you – for sustenance and buoyancy, for strength and courage, for safety and just actions, and for faith and love to be full and fulfilled in your daily lives. God’s grace and blessings, God’s challenge and healthy discomfort, God’s Spirit and energy be with you, in the hope Christ offers us all.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).