On the importance of knowing how “to throw a party”

Saturday night, our congregation got together and had a party. It has been the same liturgy now for four years, since the beginning of the church. On Friday night, we get together, turn on the boombox with Christmas music, pull out the decorations including the decrepid old fake Christmas tree, we hang up lights, set up tables, set up the dance floor squares we made two years ago, eat pizza, take breaks and talk. It is a marvelous night for me. Then on Saturday night, the whole church gathers to have the mother of all potluck dinners. Everyone brings their favorite dish (Rae Ann (my wife) has brought her now famous meatloaf for 4 straight years – I can’t even get a piece of it by the time I get to the food tables). We “share the peace” of Christmas, we pray “thanks to God for His Coming.” We eat, talk, have some good conversations, share some toasts (which is what the baptists used to call “testimonies”), then we have a program of about 7 entertaining, joyous performances from the talented ones in our midst. The children did some musical numbers, we had some hilarious comedy (Tim Phlug did his Napolean Dynamite immitation with a Santa hat on), we have the annual Life on the Vine Christmas Poem, we had some serious Christmas musical performances (way to go Michele!). Then we sang carols and prayed for God to Come again into our Midst this Advent, this year. THEN WE DANCED! It is the grandest, biggest potluck of the year. It sets the tone for potluck celebrations all year.

Can I suggest that we evangelicals who seek to manifest God in Christ before the world might have to learn how to “party.” We need to learn how to celebrate in the midst of the narcissism and despair of our culture culture. We celebrate not to escape but to truly revel in God’s working, His Coming to us in acts of wonder this past year. In this way the Mennonite potluck dinner is truly a liturgy that forms us and shapes us yet invites the stranger in to see what marvelous life we have been given in the coming of Christ, his death and resurrection. It shapes us to see God at work both in the past and the present and in the future. And so as Mark Thieseen-Nation reminds us, the potluck truly is a powerful experience producing liturgy. It is also exactly the kind of evangelical practice I have emphasized in The Great Giveaway.

I know Advent season is supposed to be a little more somber, contemplative, waiting and longing. We are not supposed to party really until Christmas, I think? But given the cultural habits we all have to deal with where people desert the churches and travel on Christmas, we have had to put this grand time on the Saturday night before Second Sunday Advent. Will Bob Webber give us a break on this one? For us, it has seemed to make sense to do it on this night. Anyways, can I encourage all of us evangelicals, especially emerging ones, to learn the skill of “party” so that we can truly be formed into joy and share that joy with strangers to the gospel through hospitality. Is there an “amen” out there on this one?

Peace and Blessings to all in this great Season of Advent

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