Advent is my favorite time of year. I like the lights, the trees, the robust blooms of red all around (even if they’re fake). I like the pink and purple candles in the Advent wreath (where else do you see pink candles?). The whole place just feels good. And that’s important when bad news is everywhere.
But more than the decorations, I love going to church to see the people, since I am not particularly outgoing, I’m embarrassed to admit. I don’t know most of the people. But I love seeing them anyway. There’s the youngish gentleman in the front row who scares the little kids. He wears a bandana around his head and yells frequent, random nonsensical words. I don’t know if he actually hears what the pastor says, but Sunday after Sunday he comes and sits alone in the front. No one sits next to him.
Then there’s Bill. He sits three rows behind me. I know Bill because his wife was in the same nursing home my father was in two years ago. She had a beautiful head full of white silk hair. After fifty some years of marriage to Bill, she died recently. Bill comes to church faithfully every week. Last Sunday I glanced behind me and saw his bony hands thrust high in the air when we were singing a Christmas carol. Most people in our church don’t do this. He’s shaped like a capital “C” because of scoliosis and when he held his hands up, he lost his balance a bit.
Then there’s the fifty-something couple who sit smack in the middle pew of the center section. They’re always there, too. Six months ago their sixteen year old daughter had a baby and gave him up for adoption. She never comes to church. I think her mom and dad come to pray for her and her son.
Many folks have told me over the years that they won’t go to church because we’re all a bunch of hypocrites. You’ve got that right. We all are. The thing is, I guess we’re trying not to be. When the sexual abuse scandal between priests and young boys broke several years ago, my father told me he wouldn’t go to Mass. He was mad at all of the priests in the Boston archdiocese. I get it. I told him, though, that he should be open to God. I don’t think it’s fair to reject Jesus, I said, just because he has a lot of crazy people following him.
That’s what makes church so special. The fact that young, old, angry, sad and crazy people come to collect in one place in order to try and figure life out makes the lights of the Christmas trees feel that much brighter. When a newly divorced single mom walks in with her small kids crying, she feels good. The place tells us that life can be better. Really.
So if you are feeling like my father used to feel during Advent, I encourage you to look past the funny folks in the pews. Look at the lights. Smell the evergreens and wonder if there is something beyond that you can’t see. Look hard and sing a few songs. You might just find God sitting next to you in church.