I have been serving as a Transition Pastor in Ft. McMurray, Alberta for the last couple of months and expect to continue at least until the end of February. Preparation for Christmas has been a little different this year because I have not been at home for about twelve days and I am trying to find my bearings in a new community. The experience has given me a small glimpse into the nature of the incarnation of Jesus who left heaven (home) to become one with us here in little planet earth. But unlike Jesus’ reception in Israel at the time of his coming, I have had a relatively warm welcome. The weather has been cold and the darkness each night has been longer than I’m accustomed to experience but many people have been quite hospitable. Yet some have been more apprehensive about who I am and what I am doing here — which makes me think a little of what it must have been like for Jesus.
During my time here I have been speaking in the church on Sundays, visiting with members of the church during the week, sharing in some of the ministry groups, and meeting with the Board every Saturday morning. I have also been getting to know the community through observation and some interaction. Ft. McMurray is home to the internationally known oil-sands mining operation which generates almost one million barrels of oil per day and a large amount of revenue for the oil and gas corporations, for Canada, and for the people who work here. Ft. McMurray has grown very quickly in the last decade to about 120,000 people, many of whom have only been here a short time, who travel frequently back to their homes or move on after a short stay. People are coming and going constantly. As a result, building relationships is difficult and the entire money-focused environment contributes to a sense of disconnection. Yet those who seek them find very meaningful relationships.
On this Christmas Sunday morning, the burden of the message that God placed upon my heart was that God’s intention for those who come to believe in Jesus might have the privilege of making the message of the angels known just as they and the shepherds did on that first Christmas night. It is unsettling to think how easy it is for us to become distracted and side-tracked from this all-consuming calling and privilege so clearly given to us by our Lord. Today I tried to remind myself and the people of the congregation here that God has given us the privilege and opportunity to embrace the challenge of making this Great Message known to the large number of people in this city who know little or nothing about it.
It is sad to think that many of us have tended to make the Christmas season a time to simply indulge ourselves in the blessings we have received through Christmas. Our tendency is to celebrate Christmas within the fort instead of using it as a launching pad for new initiatives on making this best news of all time known as the angels and shepherds did. While it is true that the challenge of how to do this successfully in our day is huge, and there are many variables to consider, we would do well to dig deeper than ever in soul-searching and study to do whatever it takes to be more intentional about being faithful witnesses to the Great Incarnation Story.