'Tis the season, finally. I know I'm a week late for a traditional Advent sort of feel, but I'm this late on everything this Christmas season. So.
If you've been visiting this space for even the past couple of weeks, you know that I've been thinking a lot about Christian community and about our one anothering, about how we are called to love one another and what that's supposed to mean and what that's supposed to look like.
The New Testament gives us quite a few images for the church, and we've talked about some of those. The church, we know, is the "body of Christ" - made up of all of its many parts, each with its own function and dignity, woven together and interdependent. When one part of the body aches, the rest of the body feels it.
We saw recently, too, that the body isn't the most common image of the church in the New Testament. That distinction belongs to the image of the family - the family of God. Brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles. Crazy cousins, all of us. We are bound together by blood, and blood is a bond that we can't break, no matter how far we travel or how hard we run. It is in our DNA, and that DNA is eternal. We are sons and daughters of God, and that makes us family to one another.
As I've been trying to get into the Christmas season this year, to have some time to settle and slow down and embrace all that it is to know that the Lord Himself is coming to a manger, another image has struck me. Paul didn't write it; he couldn't have fathomed it in his day and time. But I think he would wholeheartedly approve of what I'm about to set forth.
The church - the body of Christ, the family of God, the covenant community - is like a strand of Christmas lights.
Together, we wrap the world in light and become a beacon for joy in a dark world. We dance with color and dazzle with sparkle and signal something very special that is happening, something sacred.
But when one bulb goes out, so does the whole string. When our weakest brother falls, we collectively lose our light.
Sadly, too many of us do not understand this. Too many of us think that when we're sent to the "least of these," that means the beggars and the poor outside of our walls, and we spend the bulk of our ministry reaching out, rather than reaching across.
It is the sad truth that we could reach out from where we are right now and touch someone in our sanctuary right next to us who needs our ministry, who needs our love, who needs us to be Jesus to them, and most of us aren't doing it. Our churches are full of those who are being neglected by the very family they worked so hard to find, that they try so hard to be part of. It's why they are leaving our churches.
At least, they think, if I'm outside the church, I have a reasonable chance that the church might love me.
After all, if you're taking your teens out to rake leaves in a local neighborhood, but not raking leaves for your own elderly members, what are your elderly members to think? If you're cooking a meal for the hungry in your community, but not delivering groceries to a single mother who has fallen on hard times, how is a young woman to think she's most likely to get fed by the church? Not by being inside of it. She knows she has to be outside of it.
So we let our brothers and sisters suffer. We let them struggle. We let them hurt. We let them feel the sting of loneliness, a loneliness that is made all the worse by knowing they are surrounded by others. And then we try to reach out the world and convince them how great Jesus is.
How can He be great if those inside the church are suffering and the church isn't doing everything they can to alleviate that? When the world looks at us and sees how the broken are treated among us, we either have light or we don't. And if we're letting the broken among us stay broken, abandoned, forgotten - even one of them - then our whole light has gone out.
Yes, the church is like a string of Christmas lights. A beacon of joy, a signal of hope, a light in the darkness. But only when we are one.
Let but one light go out among us - let us let but one light go out among us - and we all go dim.