In The Unsettling Season by Donald Shelby, he writes from the perspective of having experienced Advent before. As such, he suggests that in our goings this year we meet Christ in his coming so that “we would see what we have never seen before, accept what we have refused to think, and hear what we need to understand.” Even though we have gone this way before, we have not absorbed all that Christ has to teach us, all that Christ has to show us, all that Christ has called us to embrace and own. Shelby knows us very well! Too often Christians treat the faith as a smorgasbord, from which we can pick and choose what we want, leaving what we do not want for someone else, or for no one at all. We believe it is our choice to embrace what we desire and call that “following Jesus.”
This holiday walk is not simply a care-free waltz to the tune of “Jingle Bells,” it is a rainy, arduous, plodding donkey ride, made by a pregnant Mary about to become a mother. It is a trip in which much of it causes us to feel uncomfortable and anxious, knowing that something is going to happen, but not knowing precisely when, where, or how. It is Joseph trying to smooth the way for the one he loves, still befuddled by what is unfolding, realizing he cannot control the events unfolding before him, having to settle for attempting to manage the events as best he can. It is realizing all of this will be unfolding for the expectant family without a health care safety net, with no emergency room nearby. As with all birthing processes, it will be messy, noisy, and filled with both chaos and wonder.
Recently Ralph Reinford and I had an opportunity to travel just such an unpredictable road. We (along with Robin Miller from Lee Heights Community Church) met with an emerging Vietnamese fellowship that is interested in connecting with the Mennonites. Currently meeting in a house in Middleburg Heights, they are exploring what it might look like to begin a Mennonite Church for the many Vietnamese households in the greater Cleveland area. Pastor Nguyen Quoc Cuong has recently come to the United States from Vietnam to help get a congregation started in this area. He was ordained in the Vietnamese Mennonite Church and is a second generation pastor.
With the help of Luke Martin, a retired Eastern Mennonite Mission worker who spent many years in Vietnam, as our translator, Ralph and I met with the emerging key leaders of this group (see photo) to talk about what it might mean for Ohio Conference to partner with this group of believers. Pastor Cuong has no income, a six-month visitor’s visa, and a strong passion for serving the Lord. He has a passion for the Vietnamese brothers and sisters who are living in the greater Cleveland area.
What might this “birthing” process look like? How long is the gestation period? I had a keen sense of feeling like Joseph in this meeting. We are traveling toward our own Bethlehem, wondering, “What will we find?” This Advent journey is an unfamiliar one for Ralph and me. Yet in our goings, we will seek to be attentive to Christ’s coming. May there be joy in what we discover on this journey!
That is my prayer for you as well during this Advent season! Peace on earth to you who are people of good will!