Monday, November 28, 2016

Faith Works 12-3-16

Faith Works 12-3-16

Jeff Gill


Advent emphases and priorities



Christian churches in many places last Sunday began a four week journey towards Christmas, called Advent.


Marked even in non-liturgical congregations, Advent is a way of preparing for and shaping our experience of Christ coming into the world.


Advent looks back, and forward: back to the birth in Bethlehem of Jesus, and ahead to his adult promise to return and finish the transformation of all creation into God's intended fulfillment.


So we look ahead to a historic commemoration, as we do each year on Dec. 25, done with manger scenes and living nativities outdoors and children's pageants; we also anticipate the divine "unveiling" of reality as it is meant to be . . . the book of Revelation is called "The Apocalypse of St. John" in many translations, since the original Greek is "apocalypsis" or "an unveiling," the uncovering of the true nature of things.


Advent is, if you look at it from the right angle, a big deal. It's not a countdown of shopping days, but a very serious season of preparation just as Lent is intended to be for Easter. Incarnation at Christmas, Resurrection at Easter – Christians are celebrating in these two feasts the core understandings we carry into the world about who God is and how God intends to relate to creation. To believe that the Creator intends to enter into what is made, and to take what we have made of it and lead us on to a more perfect resolution – it takes some prayer and reflection and preparation to really come to grips with what all that might mean, and that's why we have Advent.


But yes, it is a countdown. Which is how we can lose sight of Advent just as much as we lose our grip on Christmas itself for all of the wrapping and receipts and rigamarole of the big, big day.


Some worship leaders try to reclaim Advent with pushing back against "too much Christmas" before the big day. There's a case to be made for that. I don't see us going back to not putting up the Christmas tree until Christmas Eve, which in the early days of the tradition was the one logical approach (the lights being candles, the decorations being popcorn and cranberries, and the rest paper that was just itching to get lit up by those candles). Trees are pre-lit and artificial, decorations and lights and laser shows go up the Friday after Thanksgiving, and we're front-loading all the Christmas cheer at home and often at church.


One way I like to push back is to, at the very least, remind the congregation for the next two Sundays after Dec. 25 that it is now, indeed, the season of Christmastide; those "twelve days of Christmas" famed in song and story, and we can and should carry on the celebration in a new and different way until Jan. 6 (Epiphany, which is another story some other day).


But this year, there's a unique challenge, or at least it seems like one in some quarters. Christmas Eve, when many of us are having our biggest worship program of the year, is on a Saturday.


And yes, that necessarily means that Christmas Day, Dec. 25, is a Sunday.


I understand that for some churches, having a worship service on Christmas Day itself is just the way it always is. I tip my hat to y'all, but suffice it to say that it isn't that many of us, even in the heart of observant Christendom, think of going to church on Christmas itself. Christmas Eve has become the focal point, to the degree that I have heard a number of churches are considering not having any service at all on the next day.


Which is Sunday, and the day Christians gather on what the ancients called "the first day of the week" which commemorates the discovery of Christ's resurrection. In acknowledgment of the profound truth that both Christmas and Easter bear witness to, I can't imagine not having a worship service on a Sunday. So we will turn around, at our church, and come back – maybe not all, probably not even many, and God bless all who don't – and worship again after the gigundus service we held the evening before for Christmas Eve.


We'll just have one service, not two, and attendance may be light, but we will be there. As a witness to why Christmas and Easter and Advent and Lent are on our calendars in the first place!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your plans for a joyful Christmas at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Notes From My Knapsack 12-1-16

Notes From My Knapsack 12-1-16

Jeff Gill


Some birthdays are more special than others



If you or I were to turn 185, there would probably be a bit of a fuss made. For a person, that's old.


For a building or an institution, it's a significant number of years, but the number does make a difference in how much attention is given.


The Alexandrian Society building on Broadway, aka the Granville Historical Society museum is 200, and that's worth some celebration. We've seen a few 150th anniversaries with the last few years' worth of Civil War commemorations, too; St. John's UCC over in Newark just concluded a year of 175th anniversary celebrations.


But 185 just doesn't grab people the same way. I guess the assumption is "let's see if they make it to 200, then make a fuss."


December 13, 1831 is when the Granville Literary and Theological Institution held classes for the first time, Tony Lisska tells us, with John Pratt gathering a dozen or so students at 2:00 pm that day in the Baptist meetinghouse which would then have been on the northeast corner of Cherry Street and West Broadway – just west of today's home of the president of the G.L.T. & I., where Adam Weinberg is probably happy they changed the name in 1856 to Denison University.


(Thank you to Dr. Lisska's Spring 2007 article in "The Historical Times" of the G.H.S. for details.)


Granville College it was briefly, from 1845 to the donation from William S. Denison which gave rise to today's label, and Denison is very much why Granville is known as a college town.  Our village is 211 years old, and the county 209, neither of which are reminders to conjure with, but 185 . . .


I do hope to be around for 2031, God willing and good tailwinds, and there's a bicentennial or two in the next few years I hope to help celebrate, but it just felt right to ring a bell, even if a small one, to mark a modest beginning which continues to grow and develop in wonderful ways.


Denison University is not working on growing in size or student count these days, but the development and advancement of the nearly 2,200 students and some 235 faculty is a process that continues to enhance the village, this county, our region.


I like to imagine, from time to time as I know Tony does, those first students: yes, all male, all white, all Baptist . . . also all cold, all curious as to what this Pratt fellow would talk about. All wearing their coats and maybe a cloak or two, sitting on hard benches in a drafty space meant for an austere worship experience on Sundays, and on this Tuesday it was no less chilly and could not have been better designed to at least help the new student body to focus on the soft-spoken gentle scholar standing before them.


They ranged in age from their early teens into their 30s, a marked difference from today's Denison students; they also looked forward to a curriculum focused on subjects like Latin and Greek – not unknown to current scholars atop College Hill, but far from a majority experience.


Women would arrive across the street at a Young Ladies Institute, and ethnic diversity would arrive within a few decades, even though the numbers of students of color wouldn't begin to approximate percentages of the nation until well into the late 1900s. The campus would move that first full year south across Raccoon Creek, then back into the village atop what was then Prospect Hill in 1854.


Denison's history is not quite Granville's history, but it is well-nigh impossible to tell the one story without the other. John Pratt, when it was considered to move the young Baptist educational institution elsewhere in the Midwest, is said to have spoken of "the value of the college to Granville and of Granville to the college."


If his first lecture was as true as that statement, he was a good professor. And some true stories deserve retelling, in every decade.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about anniversaries worth celebrating at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.