ADVENT IN WEST TENNESSEE?
Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent 2014. I worshiped with Hillcrest Baptist Church in Jackson. This was the church I served during my final days at Union University and where I finally surrendered to fulltime vocational ministry almost forty years ago. It was the church my brother Ricky served as well, while he was a student at Union. One of the young boys in the youth group and youth choir during those days was the son of then pastor, Jimmy Welch. Now these years later after graduating from Union and Mid-America Seminary, Dr. Jerry Welch serves as pastor of Hillcrest, as he has for more than twenty years.
Like many Southern Baptist churches across Tennessee, the Hillcrest congregation is comprised of a mixture of labor workers, professionals, and members who have retired in the area. Some members are extended families with more than one generation represented in weekly worship. Others are new to the area and have found a church home in the church family atmosphere. There are children and teens, as well as adults and senior adults. All-in-all Hillcrest is a healthy multi-generational church. Marty Phillips has served as bivocational music minister at Hillcrest since 1991. For more then twenty years he has balanced a career as a lawyer in one of Jackson’s largest legal firms with his responsibilities at the church, which he approaches with passionate care as a minister and musician. Marty is representative of music leadership in the majority of Tennessee Baptist churches. Not that most of our worship ministers double as lawyers (some may feel it would not hurt to be able to debate in court), but certainly it is the case that most of our music leaders are bivocational. Many, like Marty, do an outstanding job of planning weekly worship, and serving to provide developmental music opportunities for children, youth, and adults.
I had good reason to be excited about worshiping with Hillcrest Sunday, but to be perfectly I honest, I did not necessarily anticipate observance of Advent. I was very pleasantly surprised, and spiritually inspired to be ever so wrong about that. Marty Phillips led into the observance by calling attention to its celebration in churches of other denominations, yet focusing attention on its central truth noting the first coming of Jesus and the anticipation of His second coming. We sang Advent hymns and then the message from Isaiah 9:6-7 that Jerry preached was entitled “The Advantage of Advent.” In his folksy, yet diginified style, the pastor gave truth filled with rich theological truth that did not shy away from challenging concepts. Three simple, though profound, points framed the message extolling 1. A Jewish tragedy, 2. A Divine Truth, and 3. A Messianic Triumph. The service echoed a triumphant tone, and set the stage for the season beautifully, declaring the power and promise of the Gospel at the same time.
I was struck by the sway of simplicity in the service, and reminded that it does not take a major production, a technological magnum opus, or a liturgical masterpiece to effectively practice the spirituality associated with this season of the Christian year. To the contrary, it is just possible that joining much of Christendom in anticipation of Christmas could help worship ministers, full or part-time, to plan worship over four weeks in December that includes participation by family units, singing of familiar songs that might just engage everyone, and foster a congregational unity centered around the coming of our Lord. How ‘bout it?
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Has come to Thee, O Israel