2020.11.21/22

From the Pastor’s Desk: Rev. Jason Cheung

Dear Brothers and Sisters in RCAC,

We missed Easter.  We missed graduations.  We missed weddings.  We missed funerals.

We missed birthdays and births.

And the sad reality is – with the way things are – we’ll likely keep missing these things until…something.

One thing I’ve learned is that no one is unaffected.  Every person is in some way, somehow upended in relationships, in school/work, in dreams, in families.  Our big plans have more or less come to a halt.  And in its place – Plan B, Plan C, Plan D and early drafts of Plan E to Z.

While many have adapted, most people, I sense, are extremely tired, fatigued mentally, and emotionally on the edge of flat-lining.  The pre-COVID challenge used to be that we all juggled too many responsibilities at once.   Right now, it feels like we’re still juggling but with two sledgehammers thrown in, all the while learning to ride a unicycle…in the middle of an earth-sized tornado.

I find myself tired from just the work of trying to make sense of all this.

Which is why, even though we’ve all re-jigged, re-shuffled and re-everything our lives to keep one another safe, we sigh still, deflated, at the prospect of missing or altering yet another event we have always enjoyed: Advent.  Advent is about to begin.  And one danger is we might minimize its importance just to protect ourselves from missing it more.  Let’s not do this.  Let’s step into Advent, rather, full-hearted with a renewed expectation for the Messiah’s arrival and return.

Advent in this time of COVID can be immensely meaningful.  Consider the first stanza of the hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appear.

The third line leaps out – we are mourning in lonely exile here.  If we’ve not realized it yet, we do well to acknowledge it now: In COVID our grief is compounded by loneliness.  The loss of events and milestones is actually the loss of being together to celebrate and remember these moments with others.  So the loss is relational, not merely a ritual.  But there is hope: the last line of this stanza, gently lifts the downcast heart upward.

In fact, the experience of the Babylonian exile for Israel, resonates with our experience today in interesting ways:

  • We do not know how long this exile will last,
  • Though we are surviving we are surely suffering, and
  • We are waiting, however long it takes, for real and effective help.

And there is one other similarity.  The virus has bound us all – province-wide and world-wide – with one main problem.  And this isn’t just a common fact, it’s an opportunity to consider.

If Advent stirs the languishing heart toward hopeful lament, then, as the people of God, we must recognize the unique song we have to sing in and through this pandemic.  If Advent is about learning to wait eagerly, to anticipate patiently and so to love purposefully – then we have ahead of us a time to sow our cries and sufferings into a resounding, hope-filled refrain:

Rejoice!  Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to you,

O Israel.

Nine months of waiting for a vaccine has cultivated a common yearning for a singular rescue plan.  It should not be lost on us, as God’s sent church, that this Advent season is a full-term opportunity to declare aloud our deep longing, our restless waiting in the dark, and our hopeful cry for rescue.

Imagine our world that God so loves, hearing afresh the song of a people whose hope is for a vaccine, sure, but also for something much, much more.   Our ultimate hope is Jesus.

Hear me out!  This isn’t encouragement simply to belt your favourite Christmas hymns louder (though you can surely do this!).  This is rather a call to all the faithful saints to look upward again to the sure hope of Christ and to live sideways in sacrificial service to our neighbours.  Sing!  Of course!  But let your song resonate in every way outward.

This is my prayer for you, for our church.

I can’t shake this: I am sad still.  I will miss the festive fellowship, the joyful sound of our congregation singing.  I will miss seeing and hearing children play in the aisles of our sanctuary.   I will miss being together with you.

But this is also true, and to which I hold fast to:  God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).

 If you are downcast, I invite you to stand amidst the singing of the church – only virtually now, of course.  Come, place yourself within the song of the church – and just listen.  If you cannot sing, do not worry.  Simply listen to the Spirit who knows you fully.  Seek and rest in the comfort of the Heavenly Father.  And remember Jesus Christ shall surely come to you.

He will surely come.

Your Servant in Christ

Rev. Jason Cheung