Today’s Readings: AM Psalm 38; PM Psalm 119:25-48; Amos 8:1-14; Rev. 1:17-2:7; Matt. 23:1-12
A Reflection from Julie Simonton, Diocesan Staff Officer for Congregational Development
I wonder … I wonder what folks attending holiday parties and sitting in church pews this Advent consider the “places of honor … and the best seats” (Mt 23:6). My hunch is that the best spots in 2013 are different from the places of honor the scribes and the Pharisees craved as Jesus looked on. How many of us this holiday season will strategically plan to just make an appearance at celebrations, aiming for the “best seat” closest to the exit door? Or how many of us will habitually continue to choose the pews near the back of the church … and then sit at the edge so no one else may join us?
By no means do I consider folks attending churches during Advent – or any time for that matter – equivalent to scribes or a Pharisees! But Jesus has a point here, and one that I take personally. Where does each of us consider the best seat in church … and why? For the first two years after I returned to church, I sat in the balcony. I liked it for many reasons, especially because I could feel the organ pulse through my spiritually-weary heart. But mostly I liked the balcony because I could run up the stairs as the bells rang, not speak to anyone, then dash down the stairs as the bell rang at the end of the service, and not … speak … to … anyone.
I eventually came out of the balcony, got to know a few folks, and put my feet on the ground and my hand to work. But I needed my “best seat” to be in solitude with God for those two years. Many of us do.
This photo is one that I took of our oldest daughter last year during this second week of Advent. Our family was on a short-notice trip to Hawaii to finalize our youngest daughter’s adoption – and my husband and I felt weary before we ever arrived. We wished that we could finalize the decree by FedEx and Skype, that just one of us could make the trip to Mia’s hometown rather than the whole family, that we had a place for our children to sleep on the all-night flight, that I wasn’t in the middle of planning all-things-Advent-and-Christmas in a lively parish. And that we weren’t in the final decline of my father’s battle with cancer.
The first morning our girls woke at 5 a.m. and we went straight to a beach in Waimānalo to try and shake off some exhaustion. As we inhaled the surf and waited for the sun, I turned to my left and saw our daughter in her new “best seat,” having a balcony moment. I’d never seen her sit like this before and never have since. The new experience was transforming for her … and for me.
During Advent this year, take moments to wonder about your “best seats” – and consider how changing them could transform you and those around you. Move toward the choir and hear the members draw breath before singing, move toward the altar and watch the young acolytes grin and fidget, slide to the center of the pew and see who joins you, move into the food pantry and share a smile with our neighbors in need, move into the pew of a different church to experience the excitement of worshiping through the unexpected. Sit next to a child, breathe deeply, and watch her wonder. Amen.