On the second Sunday of Advent, most of us heard sermons based off Mark 1:1-8 in which John prepares the way for Jesus. He beckons the Israelites to repent of their sins and receive a baptism by water, symbolically cleansing their spirits. Jesus would follow John and baptize with the Holy Spirit. Just as John prepared the way for Jesus, I’m reflecting on what God has been preparing me for in 2020.
In the last few years, He’s done a lot of work in me. Though I grew up in church, I don’t think I had my own faith, which is normal for a kid. Throughout my early college years–surrounded by different influences from those of my comparatively-sheltered adolescence–I grew lukewarm. That changed when I took an English course in which we studied the Bible. In that time, I read more scripture than I ever had, which sent me on a new trajectory of rejuvenation and rediscovery. Over the following years and up to now, I devoutly read the Word and prayed fervently. For the first time, I actually pursued God. And it changed my heart and life.
The pandemic has transformed the way we conduct our church services. I had taught one Sunday School class beforehand (for approx. 2 years) with 5-10 attendees each week, and we always did book studies. Now, since we meet outside, it’s more practical for everyone to be in one SS class together. Also, so we don’t have to sanitize books and so no one feels behind if they miss a week, I am conducting SS straight from the Bible. Each week, I study the upcoming sermon passage then find another passage (from the Gospels, unless the sermon will be from the Gospels) to compare , contrast, and discuss. Between my college training as an English major (analyzing themes, symbols, etc. is my jam), my God-given spiritual gift of teaching, and His guidance, we’ve had enriching lessons and conversation each week. I love that by connecting and finding the parallels between different parts of the Word, we are deepening our understanding of the ethics, will, and heart of God.
Since corporal singing is risky with regard to spreading germs, my mom and another lady named Cindy at church perform a handful of songs during the worship service. They study the sermon passage together to coordinate music that aligns well and reiterates the scripture’s themes. Like me, their biblical interpretation abilities are being pushed and tested. Since my mom and I play huge roles on Sunday mornings, we now spend time each week discussing the sermon passage, SS passage, and potential song choices. This new habit has been beneficial for my mom and me’s relationship; the times we passionately discuss and dig into scripture are when we synergize best. In the last few months, she’s become a spiritual confidant to me. I’m grateful for this new facet to our friendship.
Other spiritual relationships are strengthening, too. Before my mom and Cindy select and practice their songs, they spend an hour or more grappling with the scripture before deciding on the most fitting ones. I talk with my pastor for about half an hour each week once I solidify my SS lesson; I run the gist of it by her, and she tells me what she plans to focus on in the sermon. She bolsters me with encouragement, and we help each other by sharing ideas and interpretations that hadn’t occured to each other.
2020 has been an extremely difficult year for many people. I found out around Thanksgiving that my sweet Aunt El in Arkansas (my dad’s home state) contracted COVID in a nursing home and passed away. I count my blessings every day that I or a close loved one haven’t contracted it yet, and due to my privileges and blessings, I have not faced the turmoil of financial strain, homeschooling children, relapsed alcoholism, and countless other issues. Let us always be cognizant and compassionate to the suffering of our neighbors!
This year has challenged me to grow in discipleship and leadership. The last few years have all led to this point, today, as I type these words. Here I am now, nursing the strongest spiritual bonds of my life and leading about 20 people each week in the cutting, dissecting, and consuming of the Living Word. The Lord is refining me, and some of those around me, like silver (Zech 13:8-9). What does it all mean? What does the future for me, our church, our community, America, and the world hold?
Who knows. But it will all be used to further the kingdom of God, which brings good news to the oppressed, binds up the brokenhearted, and proclaims liberty to the captives (part of Isaiah 61:1).
The OT prophets cried out to the Israelites to turn back to God–“so He could give them mercy” (part of Isaiah 55:7). John does the same, urging them to repent of their sins; he would baptize with water, but Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. And salvation–the hope, peace, strength, grace, joy, conviction, and sanctification offered by and through Jesus–would be opened not just to the Hebrews but to the whole world. We who lean into our calls to discipleship are preparing the way for His second coming and, in the mean time, doing the work to bring hurting, imperfect people (all people) to the really, really GOOD news of Jesus.
Thanks for reading!