Dear Friends at St. Catherine's Church,
It is already mid-December. Where has the time gone? It seems the busier I am, the less I'm able to sense the passage of time. Only by looking at the date on the calendar can I discover that Advent is nearly over... and that soon it will be 2010.
Already we have fulfilled two of the big three Advent events: 1] The Bring a Toy Sunday [Dec 6th]... although toys continue to come in....[and Thanks to all who opened their hearts to the joy of giving!] and 2] The Annual Festival of 9 Lessons and Carols. For many years this has proven our most well attended service and was, in the past, a major source of income for the needs of the church. This year was no different in the attendance department, although our improving stewardship situation has given us the freedom to use the Lessons and Carols as an outreach fund-raiser rather than general budget fund-raiser. [Thanks be to God.]
This year we dedicated all the funds collected at the service will be given to the Diocese in Europe's Bishops' Advent Appeal. Over 700 euros will be sent off to a group in Russia and Ukraine which does projects with impoverished and abandoned children. It is such a blessing to be able to enjoy the glory of a church full of music, scripture, and prayer, and at the same time assist those suffering in far-flung corners of the world. After the L&C was ended I had the pleasure of encouraging everyone up to the Parish Centre for a cup of Arja and Peter Faller's famous Glühwein, and to purchase the last of the Bazaar left-overs. From the Glühwein and sales we made an additional 200 euros which bring the total for the Bazaar over 2500 euros. 80% of which goes to outreach projects...
I need to say a special thank you to Gracen Fenimore for bravely singing the solo verse on Once in Royal David's City. She did a great job, especially considering she had to learn the song just for this service. I hope she knows how proud we all are of her!
One additional bit of joy at the Lessons and Carol's service was the participation of the priest from Speyer who will be assisting here at St. Cat's over the next 9 months: the Rev'd. Joachim Feldes. If you didn't get a chance to meet him last Sunday, you'll get your next chance on December 27th, when he will be the guest preacher at the 9 a.m. 1st Sunday of Christmas Eucharist. [More on this later.]
So...all in all, worship, fellowship, and outreach... let's just say the 3rd Sunday of Advent was a great day!
Only one Advent Biggie is yet to be accomplished: The 4th Sunday of Advent's Children's Nativity Play, this coming Sunday at the 11:15 service. I have to admit that this is my favourite of the three Advent events, simply because it is all about the Gospel and the children. The words of the Gospel, read simply by children, with children representing the very things from the Gospel: no gimmicks or added sentimentality. They make it all come alive so that the words seem to jump off the page.
Maybe because I don't have any of my own, I find that ministry with children is very fulfilling. When I arrived in Stuttgart, there were very few children associated with the church, but now we are overflowing, so to speak. Seeing them present the Christmas story fills me with an appreciation of how far we've come. Watching them grow gives me hope for the future of the church. And this year I have been here long enough that I can even watch babies I baptised as newborns three years ago participating for the first time as actors and actresses. It is a real blessing for me, and, I hope, for you.
All children are encouraged to take part, and Anette Kiefer, who is overseeing the play, assured me earlier this morning that although she has all the major roles covered, there is always room for additional angels and lambs. [---There will be a rehearsal Saturday morning for all who can come, but even those who can't rehearse can take part. ]
It is seldom that we can see the Gospel presented in such an active and wonderful way. But this Sunday at 11:15, you can enjoy that very thing: The story of God's Love, ---come down to us in love, ---made flesh of the Virgin Mary to dwell among us, will come alive before our very eyes. I only hope that the children enjoy being in the play half as much as we will enjoy seeing it.
And then comes Christmas!
Finally after all the preparations are complete: The Holy Night! I've been hearing of many exotic and interesting places in which some of our St. Catherine's families will be celebrating the birth of our Lord, but for those of us will be staying in Stuttgart, there will have two chances to celebrate the Holy Eve of Christmas: Dec. 24th at 14:00 for those who cannot come in the evening.... and later that same evening at 19:30 for those who can and prefer a more traditional Candlelight service.
I know the German tradition is to have a big Christmas supper and opening of gifts on the night of the 24th, but many of us come from other traditions where the big meal and the opening of the gifts takes place on the 25th. By having both services, we are trying to accomodate both traditions and allow for maximum participation. If we continue to grow, we may well have to start thinking about adding a Christmas Day service next year,... but for now, 2 must suffice. Both services will have music, carols, sermon, and communion.... but the 1400 service is designed with young children in mind. Following both services, there will be a chance for hospitality, and to offer a birthday toast to Jesus!
For now, let me just say.... Advent is preparing for the Coming of Christ. Christmas is the time when it happened. But... we are the place where Jesus still comes alive for the world to see. There may have been no place in the Inn ...but we will make a place from his birth.... a place in our heart where the blessed Babe can to be born. May He be born in us, daily and forever, that we may enjoy the privilege of bearing Him and His to others. Amen.