On Sunday morning, just after shaking hands and kissing cheeks in the narthex following the service, I walked back down the center aisle of the sanctuary toward the pulpit to gather my things. As I did, I passed one group of three, standing in a circle and talking about this or that, and another group of four, likewise engaged. There were singletons, too, and couplets, lingering, retrieving their stuff, smiling, the most of them. Casually, I glanced down into the pews and saw that on the cushions here and there were bulletins, hymnals, attendance slips and a candy-wrapper or two. Someone had left an umbrella.
I looked up again and saw in the sanctuary all the colors and signs of the Advent season: greens and reds, blues and violets. There was the beautiful tree and the more beautiful chrismons; there was the Advent wreath, hanging from the ceiling; there was a slight aroma of oil—and suddenly in my mind the vivid recollection of a young family of three (about to be four!) reading ancient scriptures of God’s promises and, then, kindling a new flame of our abiding hopes and expectations—God’s Word enfleshed before our very eyes.
I had mentioned in my sermon that as a season Advent is, as it were, two-eyed. There are mixed messages here: hope and fear, praise and lament, testimony and confession. God does his best work in a barn, where amidst fodder and ordure the sweet Savior is born.
Our church itself proclaims the mystery of the season! Look up, and you will see how beautifully decorated our church is season by season. Look down, and you will see plenty of evidence as to how thoroughly used our church is week by week. Our facility offers us (and the community) both beauty and utility, both majesty and mess, both loveliness and life. That, my friends, is precisely as it should be.
I am so very thankful that our church gives evidence of traffic, of use, of busyness and activity. I am just as thankful that our church is lovely, worshipful, and awe-inspiring. All that to say, I hope we never feel the need to choose, either in this building or the next, for one characteristic over against the other, for a building both beautiful and used is blessing to all who enter it.