On the Advent Path

COMMAnts from Conference Minister Rev. Shari Prestemon

She handed it to me in a plain manila folder marked with my name. Inside it was a treasure trove of memory.

It was a file folder kept by the late Rev. Henry Heinbuch, my pastor for the first 20 years of my life at Zion UCC in Waukon, Iowa. He and his wife, Norma, were my earliest mentors in the faith, tirelessly encouraging me, constantly inviting me to new discoveries of faith and leadership. It was Norma who handed me the mysterious folder during a recent lunch together in her home.

There were letters of reference written for me in pursuit of scholarships and seminary admission. The commissioning service before I’d left for 15 months as a mission intern in the Philippines. The “charge” the two of them had written for my ordination. Letters I’d sent them and early sermons I’d delivered.

Ruffling through all those pages my pastor had carefully filed over the years was like re-tracing the first stumbling steps on my journey of faith, with all its unexpected detours and defining moments. It reminded me of the occasional disappointments, surprising bursts of courage, and unending blessings that had marked the winding path.

In Advent we trace the journeys of others. We watch as John the Baptist foretells another who would come after him. We witness the first glimpses of an unexpected story with unlikely characters, as a very young woman and a simple carpenter are asked to play extraordinary roles in events that would change history. We travel with Mary and Joseph on that uncomfortable journey to Bethlehem, to be “counted” by an oppressive regime. And then finally we see the miracle of a wailing child born in simple circumstances, sought out by magi and feared by mighty rulers.

We travel our own journey in Advent, too, moving from hope to peace, joy to love with each lighting of a candle. We wait in expectation for the intangible gifts of this sacred season to ignite something new in us, to stir our tired souls to fresh possibility. We dare to believe that if God could so bravely choose to be born among us then, revealing so magnificently such depths of wondrous love, that surely God is powerfully present with us still today.

This Advent our lives may be weighed down by bitter losses, anxious uncertainty, and nagging fears. We may be feeling too weary for the journey, as if exclamations of “joy to the world” are far too distant and doubtful. And yet here’s what we know as people of faith, what I was reminded of by that file folder stuffed full with memory: even when we can’t imagine how, God’s carving a path straight to our sides. There’s nothing about our lives or this world that can stop God from walking the journey with us.

May your Advent path be blessed by the hope, peace, joy, and love that are the steadfast promises of the season.

Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

© Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ | 2023