Today, on the first Sunday of Advent, I worshipped at a mega-church.
I have been with family in Another City for the Thanksgiving Holiday, getting acquainted and re-acquainted with new and old family, eating the familiar feast and giving thanks and having conversations, making sure to talk about some subjects and avoid other subjects. We walked and shopped and ate and watched movies.
This morning we went to church together.
It was my first time at a real mega-church, although I have been at a few large church services in my day, and I even spent a couple of years among the Pentecostals. But still, I am older now, and wiser, and it was the first Sunday of Advent, and I wondered what I would think, and how I would feel, standing in a row with some new family and some old family, and worshipping at a mega-church. I wondered if they would have Advent candles, or if they would acknowledge the season at all, and if so, what difference it would make.
They didn't have candles. They did say the word "Advent," though, as well as the word "Christmas", and they gave out advent calendars at the end of the service. They had flashing lights, and a thumping bass rhythm, and songs that rocked. At the beginning of the service, a piped in choir sang O Come O Come Emmanuel. Then, we were welcomed, and encouraged to sing along as the band began playing a version of Joy to the World. The lights went down. The band played and sang. We sang. I sang.
And I felt a lump in my throat, and, I don't know why, a few tears sat in the corners of my eyes, and trickled down. No one saw. It was dark. No one knew. And I don't know why. Somehow I was incredibly happy, and somehow I was incredibly sad.
There was a part of a verse when the band tried to drop out and encourage us to sing. I sang so loud. We knew the song. And I think that a lot of us were singing our guts out. But it hardly made a dent in the huge building, even though it was full of people. Maybe that's why I felt so incredibly sad. Here we were, all these people worshipping together, and the sound we made felt so small that morning, and it made me think of how much trouble there is, and how small the sound we make can be. I thought back to the day before Thanksgiving, when I had a small prayer service in my church. I encouraged those present to write down what they were thankful for. And during the prayers I read all of the responses.
Someone wrote, "I am glad I live in a peaceful city, and state."
And that broke my heart, just a little, because I knew that this person was saying that they were thankful that they were not in Ferguson, Missouri.
Maybe I was thinking about that, and all the other sadnesses, while I was singing and the tears were trickling down my cheeks. Maybe I was thinking about all of the things that are not right, and how I can sing my heart out and sometimes it feels like no one can hear me.
But then again there were the words, "Joy to the world, the Lord is come." And in that darkness I couldn't help but feel the joy in the words that I was singing. They are advent words, by which I mean they are words not just about the coming of the baby, but about the coming of the King, the coming of the King not just of small hopes, but of large ones, the king who will raise up the lowly and feed the hungry and dry every tear.
We are given that song to sing, and it makes me incredibly happy to sing it, even in the darkness.
It is Advent. The first day.
And I am incredibly happy.
And incredibly sad.