“Birth Prep (1 of 3) I Don’t Like Change!”
Romans 13: 11-14 & Matthew 24: 36-44 ~ Northwood UC ~ November 27, 2022
I am going to go waaaay out on a limb and suggest that we share the quality of NOT liking change, not embracing change, not welcoming change. I don’t like change! …Do you?
If your answer resonates with my opening thought, we might begin by chalking it up to our design and blaming our brains. Scientists tell us that we have this protective mechanism in our brain located in the amygdala that interprets any change as a threat. And we are designed to avoid threats. When we are presented with big changes, our brain interprets them as threats and begins releasing protective hormones causing us to be fearful, and go into the fight or flight response. And it is this avoidance to change which has helped us humans to evolve and survive amidst the many predators that threatened.
Even today, we ‘evolved’ humans continue to resist change. In a recent Harvard Business Review article on ‘Change Management’, the authors cite a number of reasons for our continued resistance to change. We don’t like to lose control. Whether it is in the realm of the workplace or our homelife, change signifies a coming loss of control. Loss of control, of course, leads to increasing levels of uncertainty. And, we generally prefer “the devil we know, rather than the one we don’t.” We like to be perceived as competent. Any change thrown upon us becomes a threat to our well-proven abilities. It is much easier to say “no” to changes that challenge, rather than to say “yes” and embrace them. Surprises…changes…mean new work, more work, challenging work is ahead…and the status quo is ALWAYS the tried and true pattern that we (deep down) prefer! So, I don’t like change…You don’t like change…we are people that ~ generally ~ prefer to keep things as they are.
And here’s the reality in our faith story…a baby changes everything. Every parent and grandparent is nodding. A baby changes everything! 23 years ago, I learned the truth of that statement. My partner and I were trying…hoping that one day we would become parents. And what did we know about babies bringing change? I recall the day I was confronted with the reality of change when I was sorting laundry and I found a hockey jersey that was tiny enough to fit a new born baby. Amidst the laundry I was folding, I was finding these new baby clothes! Normally, sorting laundry was quite mundane: There were jeans, and t-shirts, socks and underwear…you know…the regular stuff we sort week in and week out. And then I came across this tiny little garment that would neither fit me nor my partner. And as I was standing there, in my confusion, she came into the room with a big smile…telling me the good news – news that would change our family. It was news that would change our lives: our daughter’s life had begun! And we would meet Mikayla three trimesters later. We would be embraced by the reality of change…challenged by change…tested by change. As sleep is disrupted; as routines are thrown off; as life in general would never be the same. A baby changes everything.
That is the trajectory of the narrative that we move towards in Advent: a baby changes everything! And, as we begin the first steps of the journey, we confess that (deep down) we don’t much like it. I think, that is one of the reasons that the Christian tradition has God’s revelation occur with the advent of a newborn baby. God’s humble revelation in a baby; God’s vulnerable revelation in a baby. It changed the course of time. It ALSO challenges us to the very core today…that core that does not like change. If truth be told, we like the humility of a God who arrives as a baby; we like the vulnerability of a God who arrives in a baby; however, we much DON’T like the change that he brings!
Paul’s letter to the Romans is as fitting now, as it was back then. Paul boldly writes to them as a parent waking a child from sleep: You know what time it is…This is the time to wake up from sleep! It is time to wake from your slumber and put on your clothing for a new day. The clothing for a new day Paul describes is the clothing of light. Put aside the clothing of darkness you had worn in the past, and don the clothing of Christ’s coming…of hope…of peace…of joy…of love. Put on the clothing of Christ! No more, Paul promises, will they be under the power and control of Rome; the one they worship will bring peace ~ not by sword and speak. The one whom they worship will bring peace by bending sword into a ploughshare; and reshaping spears into pruning hooks; the one they follow will teach us to wear the clothing of forgiveness, of love, of community…as we are communally gathered at one table.
And so, we put on the clothing of Christmas. We adorn our bodies with Christmas sweaters, and ties, and broaches. We dress our homes and sanctuary with the reminders that Christ is coming. We put on the clothing for the new day…and we begin our preparations today. Friday’s decoration party was a joy to gather for. Last year was our first full gathering with a meal since the pandemic. This year, we found a bit more ‘normalcy’ as we assembled over a pot luck for the decoration party. And we are reminded, in the coming weeks, as we get closer and closer to the birth, as more and more candles are lit…how God’s revelation ~ the light of God ~ is coming in Christ. And so, we prepare for the CHANGES that are coming ~ and this is HARD as change is not our nature. We embrace the new things that God is birthing ~ even though change threatens us, birth scares us…for it promises to turn our world upside down. Upside down – for the better!
I think this is the beautiful / scary challenge that we are facing as a congregation right now. We have come to a place where our leadership have identified that our current direction is not sustainable. We are not addressing the vision and mission that we have agreed upon. We are occupying a building that needs a number of areas addressed. Yet, the ‘new life’ that can be birthed through the Property Development proposal allows for the next era of our church to proceed. This, of course, represents change: changing the configuration of our property; changing our building; changing our ministries. And, change is scary. I wonder if this Advent season is truly the season that our church will be in, as we ponder the faithful course of moving ahead? What if we were to look at the present task of discernment as an opportunity to see God birthing something truly new… ‘a new Northwood…into our midst! Scary (like a newborn bady)…yes! But also complete with new life and possibility that allows our family to grow into the next generation!
You have likely noticed the stickies that are inside your bulletin. The Property Development Team NEED to hear from you. Write you hopes, dreams and visions on the stickies. Place them on the board as we imagine how God is rebirthing this church. Consider how this Advent season is preparing us to birth the church anew as we think of the next chapters ahead.
This is the Sunday the church names as ‘hope’. Perhaps embedded in the meaning of hope is the tension between our human aversion away from change and God’s assurance that ‘all will be well’. Hope is never something that arrives when things are certain and the course is clear, is it? Hope is found when things are uncertain, when things are changing, when things feel out of control. That is where God’s hope is born. Hope’s greatest gift is God’s continual birthing, among those moments of chaotic change, birthing the gift of hope. Hope thrives in the powerful knowledge that God is with us. As we sang with our opening hymn this season: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” Emmanuel is that wonderful promise that “God is with us” / Emmanuel. God is being born…here. Hope is coming…coming in a new birth, and being found by all of us who have the faith to wrap this newborn gift of hope.
My friends in faith, this is the time to open our hearts to what God will birth. Where do you need hope? Open your heart and prepare room for it to be born. Where does this church need hope? May we open our hearts and prepare room for it to be born. Where does this world need hope? May the world open its heart and prepare room for it to be born.