Exactly 40 years ago, the Editor of Methodist Message, Mrs Joyce Foster, reminded readers that Christmas is much more than Christmas Day. The calendar for the Christian year begins with Advent Sunday. In the Book of Worship of the Methodist Church, Advent is described as the “Season of Expectancy”. The hymns of Advent remind us of the longing of a people for a deliverer and of the hope which had kept them going through days of darkness.
‘AS ALL THE ANNUAL CONFERENCES of our Methodist Church will be taking place just before or after the beginning of the Advent season, it might be well to ask what we should expect, as plans are made for a new church year. What do we expect of the church? What does the church expect of us? What does Christ expect of His church?
Church members – and non-Christians too – do expect something of the church: that it should stand for high principles of justice, morality, compassion. There is disappointment, disillusionment and cynicism when spokesmen for the church fail to give the lead according to the best traditions in which the church has pioneered for high standards or fail to speak out against evil. The desire is often expressed that the church should be the church – that it should be true to its calling.
But the church does not merely consist of its spokesmen or exist as a body without individual members, so another need is to consider what the church expects of its members. Above all, surely the church expects members to understand and attempt to keep the vows taken or renewed at the time of acceptance into membership: to obediently keep God’s holy will and commandments, to live a Christian life according to the grace given, and to always remain faithful members. Such vows cannot be kept without constant communion with the source of strength and grace nor for long without the fellowship of like-minded people. So the church expects members to attend worship, to enter into its mission, and to give support in money, time and energy so that it can really be the church.
Christ expects of His church that every member should use each ability given to him to build up the body. “All of you, then, are Christ’s body, and each one is a part of it.” (I Cor. 12:27). He expects members of His church to go to people everywhere and make them His disciples. He expects members of His church to love one another so that all will know that they are His disciples. There would be hope for church renewal if we could enter the new year with a sense of expectancy, studying the needs of our world and doing the tasks which we ought to be doing in Christ’s name and for His sake that men may see that in Christ is life, rich, full and free. Various ways are suggested for bringing about the renewal of the church, but basically it is agreed that renewal has to start with individuals who become fully committed to a person: Jesus Christ who came “to give light to those who sit in darkness . . . and to guide our feet into the way of peace”. “Peace in Hebrew”, says Dr William Barclay, “does not mean merely freedom from trouble; it means all that make for a man’s highest good; and through Christ a man is enabled to walk in the ways that lead to everything that means life”’. – MM Nov 1970, p.2.
By Joyce Foster