We are sporadic church attenders, at best, but we revive this practice each year at advent. Yesterday I was asked to give the advent testimony, to talk about what waiting for Jesus means to me. This seems like as good a way to revive this blog as anything else I am likely to come up with, so here is what I said. No funny names, for once.
Good morning! I am Sarah Wiliarty and these are my kids, Patrick and Geneva. We pop up here at First Church pretty much every year on the first Sunday in Advent and we hang on to coming Sunday morning for as long as we can until life gets too busy and sweeps us away again. When David and Julia asked me if I wanted to give the advent testimony, I knew pretty quickly I would talk about what drew us to First Church the first time around, several years ago. Geneva wasn’t born yet and Patrick was pretty little. We were decorating our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving like we always do and Patrick had a question: Why did we have stars to hang on the Christmas tree?
I explained, probably with a catch in my voice because this always makes me tear up, that the star lit the way to Jesus when he was born so people could find him. But also that Christmas comes at the darkest time of the year and the star symbolizes light in the darkness. And that lots of people, not just Christians, wait for light in the darkness and the turning of the new year. But I also think questions like that are best answered in church, where you might hear multiple people’s thoughts so two days later we arrived at First Church. We had been to Joe and Susanne’s wedding here and I was raised in a Congregationalist church so I knew I would feel comfortable. I didn’t know we would walk into the Advent wreath making workshop and get to make our very first Advent wreath. The wreath has become an important tradition for us and a way to connect home and church so we are pretty much here on the first Sunday in advent, regardless of how long we have been away.
A couple of years ago Patrick asked another question: Why do we stop coming to church? I hemmed and hawed a bit about life getting busy and he said: I think it’s because you run. Oof, Out of the mouths of babes, right? That’s not the entire reason the Wiliarty clan tends to fade away in the spring, but it’s certainly a part of it. I run marathons and Sunday is my long run day, which often keeps us away. But in thinking about the question “What does waiting for Jesus mean to me?” I couldn’t help but think of the connection between Advent and running. A marathon is 26.2 miles long and generally things get pretty dark around mile 19. This isn’t the famous “wall” that you can avoid with taking in enough calories while you run. This is a mental darkness that I think might be unavoidable. I’ve run 5 marathons and sometimes I’ve had to ask a volunteer where I was on the course at mile 19. There’s a stretch of bleakness there where you doubt the entire enterprise. It’s just like late pre-Christmas December when you think the sun will never come again.
There is nothing to be done at that rather black moment other than keep going. In a marathon, you keep running because you will never get to the finish line otherwise. In life, we keep living and waiting. We try to keep having faith that the star is coming if we can only be patient and get through the darkness. In thinking about this waiting I realized something else that running a marathon has in common with getting through advent. We can do these things alone, but they are much easier to do in the company of others. I have the enormous good fortune to have a collection of wonderful friends to run with. They are the main reason I run long on Sunday instead of Saturday. I’ve run two marathons with a good friend by my side and it is so much easier that way. Just like waiting for Jesus is so much easier done in church in the company of others. So I might say that we come to church so my kids can learn something about why we put stars on the Christmas tree. But I think we might actually be here because of my own desire for company as we wait in darkness for the light to return.