We have entered a second Advent season under the stress, strain, and limitations of the COVID pandemic, and, believe me, pastors and staff are anxious. When Advent begins in November—allowing very little transition between Thanksgiving and the first Sunday of Advent—church leaders feel pushed. A big question this year (as every year, really) is how can we best experience Advent? Do we lean into tradition and familiar rituals as a way to soothe ourselves during disrupted days, or do we engage in new and different patterns to prepare for the One who is coming? People long for connection and tradition and understand the craving for “normal” at this time. More than anything else, though, we need the Advent reminder Emmanuel is always and in all circumstances with us and for us.

I trust CBF congregations will find meaningful ways this season to celebrate Advent and Christmas in-person and/or online. Some churches will seek to help worshippers feel grounded and secure by practicing tried-and-true traditions. Other congregations will encourage congregants to try something new and different like lighting candles on Advent wreaths and reading daily devotions. Excellent devotional materials abound – I’m using McAfee School of Theology’s online devotions this year, and Joan and I are reading Advent Devotions from The Cottage with Diana Butler Bass.

How will we deepen our time of waiting this Advent season? How will we celebrate the birth of baby Jesus and simultaneously accept the call to reflect the adult Jesus who offers hope, peace, and love to hurting humanity in trying, tumultuous times? How will we make room for the Christ in our busy, consumer-crazed lives? Most importantly, will we choose to view ourselves and others with the loving, compassionate eyes of God the Son?

I spent time this past year with a team of CBF folks tasked with creating a new resource (to be released in 2022) for teaching believers how to embrace and develop a Jesus worldview. Our churches can no longer be content to espouse a purely “biblical” worldview. Better, we suggest, is to lift up the life, teachings, and ministry of our guide Jesus.

In my study and preparation to contribute to the work of the design team, I came across a phrase that captured my imagination. As the devastating impact of the coronavirus continues, C.S. Lewis’s words “a good infection” in his book Mere Christianity hit home. Lewis describes two kinds of life: one is self-centered and self-seeking and refuses to be accountable or to change; the other is Christ-centered and focused on becoming like Jesus, that is, submitting to a shaping and forming process we call transformation. Followers of the Way don’t just want to “punch a ticket” to heaven; authentic disciples are infected with Jesus and become super-spreaders of that “good infection.” Jesus did what we can’t do for ourselves – apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5). Ours is to accept God’s grace gift then be willing to be re-shaped in Christ, no longer wearing masks (hiding) but growing into full humanness as Jesus was human, reflecting the image and becoming a tangible representation of God.

This has been a hard year for individuals and communities…churches were no exception. In-person attendance is still down; church leaders recognize many are walking away from organized religion. Why? Responses vary but a frequent observation is that faith communities are unwilling to evolve and/or engage in conversation about important, painful justice issues. We don’t seem to be able to lovingly disagree. Jesus ministered to people and their needs not to their ideology or even their theology. Aggressive even hateful, violent behavior rampant in the culture is bubbling up at church. Love and other fruits of the spirit are being overshadowed by cultural expectations and unhealthy patterns. Signs of a bad infection abound even at church. These attitudes and behaviors must change if local congregations hope to be healthy and vibrant into the future.

The antidote to the bad infection coursing through the veins of local congregations is a good antibiotic! We need something powerful enough to kill off what is sickening our congregations and distracting us from following the Way of Jesus. During Advent, a helpful antidote is to eagerly anticipate Christ’s birth and know why we celebrate it. Allow transformation and wellness to take hold by practicing healthy spiritual patterns (disciplines) and invite good infection, aka Christ-like behavior, to take over. Create an environment for an infection worth spreading. Super-spread the tangible, palpable Love you know came down at Christmas!

May this Advent Season of waiting, preparing, and reflecting lead us all – you, me, our churches, the world – to a healthier, more whole and vibrant knowledge and understanding of God’s Love for all people.