Advent this year was to be about displacement.
Mary and Joseph, forced from their homes for a census, giving birth in a barn without friends or family to help.
Elizabeth and Zechariah, old and barren, shamed by being childless.
Shepherds, the disgraced of society, spoken to by angels.
Wise Men, travelling a foreign land in search of something, whatever it was that the star meant.
Alone, outcast, seemingly abandoned.
And yet all tightly held in the palm of the Almighty.
This has been our story at Immanuel this year.
The fire drove us into the parking lot, into our community, destroying our plans for a huge celebration of 25 years of Living Pictures.
The smoke smell and soot has engulfed us, leaving our eyes burning and our hearts as heavy.
As parts of our sacred space have been ripped from the floors and the walls, as we have declared things long a part of our story a "loss," we have had to part with pieces of our identity.
But in the midst, we have known whose we are. We have known that God is in this place, even among the ashes. We have been a part of the larger Christmas story this year, finding our own feelings in the words and stories of the gospels.
We have been out there "on our own," it would seem - worshipping in a high school, working daily in the dirt, offering our Christmas gift from another sanctuary, the center of media attention for days. It has been exhausting.
But it has been good. We are a family and we are together. As Mary goes to Elizabeth to share in their unusual situation together - one woman old and pregnant, the other caught in the scandal of an unwed pregnancy - we have found solace in our journey through the embrace of one another.
It will be a long time before worship is "like it used to be." In fact, I hope it will never be like it used to be. I hope this time will shed new light on what it means to be Immanuel. I hope that we will find new compassion for those who are displaced. I hope we will discover what it takes to begin again. I hope we will accept what it means to be a true family of faith.
Advent is anticipation.
It seems our Advent season will be long, as we wait for the time when we will come back into our own building.
May we discover all that we have to learn.
May we seek to be people proclaiming that God is with us:
in the fire,
in the soot,
and in every step of this journey.
Immanuel Baptist Church
following Jesus wherever He leads,
even into the cold of displacement.