Messiah: Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Zechariah 9:9-10.

Happy New Year! This Sunday we hit the ground running in the Church/Liturgical Calendar  by celebrating Epiphany – the arrival of the Magi from the East to present gifts to the Christ Child.

Many folks take time before the New Year to set resolutions. I have not had much success with resolutions – I resolved to learn how to operate a curling iron a few years ago and that still has not happened. However, in the spirit of running into the church/liturgical calendar, I set 17 goals that I would like to hit the ground running with and accomplish in 2017:

  1. Begin each day with intentional prayer and devotional time with God.
  2. Complete 2017 sun salutations – that is six each day.
  3. Ride 2017 miles on my bike.
  4. Take (a minimum) of three yoga classes each week.
  5. Read 2017 pages for pleasure and 2017 pages for professional development.
  6. Cook 17 new recipes with Andrew.
  7. Drink 64oz of water daily.
  8. Live simply so that I can give more.
  9. Keep my weekly commitments to self-care, Sabbath, and date days.
  10. Put my phone away one hour before going to sleep.
  11. Keep a daily gratitude journal, recording three actions/experiences/learnings for which I am grateful each day.
  12. Make the first move in connecting with family and friends.
  13. Be bold in asking for help.
  14. Talk less; listen more.
  15. Stay current with the news.
  16. Make my donation cut to Beautiful Lengths.
  17. In all things – situations, people, responsibilities – seek hope.

Three hundred and sixty five days sounds like an abundance of time…but lived…it seems to fly. I look forward to the joy I will experience and the lessons I will learn about myself and others as I pursue these goals in 2017. The pursuit and the accomplishing of these goals will be and is complete gift – a gift from God to me to be my best self to the glory of God on earth.

I am excited to worship with the Tuskawilla Family to begin 2017 on New Year’s Day. We will gather for Morningsong at 8:30am and our regular 11am service will again be at 10am this week. As you prepare for worship and the coming new year, perhaps consider any resolutions or goals that you would like to make. Together let’s hit the ground running and run the race that God has placed before us. Let us run with purpose and with excellence.

Prayer: “Creative God, you make all things new in heaven and on earth. We come to you in a new year with new desires and old fears, new decisions and old controversies, new dreams and old weaknesses. Because you are a God of hope, we know that you create all the possibilities of the future. Because you are a God of love, we know that you accept all the mistakes of the past. Because you are the God of our faith, we enter your gates with thanksgiving and praise, we come into your presence with gladness and a joyful noise, and we serve and bless you. Amen.”*

*”Prayer for New Year’s Eve or Day,” The United Methodist Book of Worship 294.

 

Messiah: For Unto Us A Child Is Born

This Weekend’s Scripture ~ Luke 2:1-20.

Today – December 23 – Andrew and I celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary, the 12 year celebration of our engagement, and 15 1/2 years of togetherness.

My heart is so warm.

People often ask why our anniversary is so close to Christmas. Andrew proposed under the Japanese archway in Epcot on December 23, 2004 and said he wanted that day to be our anniversary – and so it is!

It is a bit overwhelming at times for a clergy couple to celebrate our anniversary so close to our leading celebrations of Christ’s Incarnation, but we would not trade it. In celebrating our anniversary we remember that the church brought us together – our first kiss as a couple and as spouses was at an altar!…a story for another time – and the church was brought together by and because of Christ.

I give thanks for the Child that is born unto us. I give thanks for my husband and for the opportunity to share the life we have together in service of this Child. I give thanks for the Merry Christmas and Happy New Year that awaits us all.

Join us for Christmas Eve Worship at 6pm on Saturday featuring Carols, Communion and Candlelight.

Join us Christmas Day for Morningsong at 8:30 featuring Prayers and Communion and at 10am for Carols and Blessing of the Toys.

Prayer: “Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare him room. And heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and heaven and nature sing!”*

*”Joy to the World,” The United Methodist Hymnal 246.

Messiah: O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings To Zion

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 40:9 and 60:1.

The older I become, the more of an early riser God invites me to be. I used to fight it, but now I am in the acceptance phase.

I used to think if I woke up early, I could go back to sleep – eek out a few more minutes – and then I would wake fully rested.

Wrong.

That method actually makes me (makes everyone?) more groggy. So no more fighting – and no more alarm clock setting. I wake up – I get up. No matter the time – no hitting the snooze.

I arise.

I spend intentional time in the morning greeting God for the day ahead. This usually involves scrolling through headlines and checking messages received overnight. Then I turn to my calendar to see where – and in who – I will meet God that day. Some days are planned to the minute while others are wide open and ready to surprise. And in the quiet of the morning – knowing a little or a lot of what has happened over night or what will happen in the hours before me – I am thankful. For God. For my relationship with God. For God’s good news that I have received. And for the opportunity to share God’s good news in the new day.

Each time I have heard Rev. Adam Hamilton speak he shares (reminds) his listeners that he begins each day praying a version of John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer that reads

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside by thee.
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.*

In the early hours of each day Hamilton once again offers his life to God in response to God offering that day to him. What a gift! And it is the same gift that God gives to each of us.

I have heard it said, Each day is a gift- that is why we call it the present. So then, what will you do with the gift of today? Tomorrow and the next?

How do you greet each day – are you eager to meet it or begrudgingly asking for five more minutes?

When do you acknowledge God in your day? What do you say? How do you act?

Consider these questions as you consider what offering you will make when you arise the remainder of this week.

With each new day God draws us further into his light and promise of salvation. What a gift! Arise each day – receive its gifting anew – and share it once more.

Prayer: Spend a few moments in silence and then offer Wesley’s Covenant Prayer.

*”A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition,” The United Methodist Hymnal 607.

Christmas Cantata: Once Upon A Night

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:76-79. 

This Sunday Tuskawilla UMC’s Sanctuary Choir will share their Christmas Cantata Once Upon A Night. Thank you, Tim, Linda, and choir members for your hours of preparation and spirits of dedication to share this offering of song with us. 

(Thanks for inviting me to sing with you, too!)

My “once upon a night” Christmas Eve story is not nearly as picturesque as that first Christmas night. It was December 24, 2006. Andrew and I arrived to the cabin in the North Georgia Mountains where we would spend our honeymoon just as the sun was setting. We checked in at the lodge to receive our key and to eat dinner…only to get the key and be told that the lodge was closed for the next three days even though we called multiple times to ensure we would be able to eat there over Christmas. 

We had no food with us…save the few remaining cheddar biscuits from Red Lobster in the back seat of the car. And so began our pursuit – on Christmas Eve at 5pm – for a grocery store still open in rural North Georgia. 

Lord have mercy. 

We eventually navigated our way to a Walmart 45 minutes away. Andrew pleaded with the security guard at the front door behind the already closed security gate to let us in to buy some food for the next few days. 

Our Christmas wish was answered; “You have 10 minutes” was all he said. 

Andrew and I split up – I got in line at a register and he took off for frozen foods. When I saw him next he had waffles, frozen pizza, frozen chicken wings, and orange juice. 

Can you guess what we eat every Christmas Eve once we get home from worship!?

It was not glamorous, but it was our first Christmas Eve together. We laugh about it now, but I was so troubled in the moment. I start thinking about what I will eat next while I am currently eating; so, the thought of no access to food for a day or two caused me a great deal of distress. 

I am sure the Holy Family experienced a great deal of distress as they travelled to Bethlehem – Mary, great with child and Joseph, great with lingering concern about his betrothed and her child. And in the dark of night they found sanctuary in a stable-cave. In the dark of night they watched the Light of the world enter this world – our world – and through his life Jesus ushered them – ushers us – out of darkness into marvelous light. 

All once upon a night. 

I hope you will join us as the choir sings the nativity story in a fresh and wonderful light on Sunday morning at our 11am service. Morningsong will gather at 8:30am for prayer, Scripture reading, a meditation, and Holy Communion. Looking forward to worshipping with you on the Third Sunday of Advent. 

Prayer: “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given; so God imparts to human hearts the blessing of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.”* Amen. 

*”O Little Town of Bethlehem,” The United Methodist Hymnal 230.

Messiah: And He Shall Purify

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Malachi 3:1-3.

It is said that Martin Luther would offer a doctoral robe from the University of Wittenberg to anyone who could successfully reconcile the Apostle Paul’s salvation by faith alone with faith without works is dead from the Apostle James. From my studies of John Wesley I believe he deserves this robe! While he constantly preached salvation by faith alone, Wesley equally advised the need for works that signify an individual pursuing and maturing in the Christian lifestyle.

Wesley learned from a young age that works were needed alongside faith. His mother, Susanna, wrote about the faith development of John and his siblings in a letter she sent to her son:

The children of this family were taught, as soon as they could speak, the Lord’s Prayer…as they grew bigger, were added a short prayer for their parents, and some Collects; a short Catechism, and some portion of Scripture, as their memories could bear.*

Wesley continued his practice of Scripture study, prayer, and faithful conversation in small group and the assembly throughout his adult life. His devotive work – personal and communal – led him to regularly visiting prisons and hospitals and establishing literacy programs. Later Wesley impressed this lifestyle of faith – the combination of private devotion and active participation – upon the Early Methodists involved in classes and bands. Wesley defines these groups as communities “having the form and seeking the power of godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation.”** We receive salvation from God and we work out our salvation with God. Wesley understood this to be the nature of salvation and how the people called Methodists mature in our faith.

The season of Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of our Lord and one way to prepare for Christ’s coming is to consider our place at the intersection of faith and works. How are you engaging in private devotion? How are you engaging in active participation? What do you receive from these works? How have these works matured your faith? Recalculating to the course of this intersection and/or continuing through this intersection leads us in the ways of holy living – in the ways of holiness. In working out the salvation we have received, we are made well; we are forgiven of our sins and purified in this life.

How will you prepare for Christ’s coming through your faith and works this week? How will you meet, love, and grow with your Savior at your intersection of faith and works?

Prayer: “Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand; ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand, Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand. Rank on rank the host of heaven spread its vanguard on the way, as the Light of light descendeth from the realms of endless day, that the powers of hell may vanish as the darkness clears away.”*** Amen.

*Letter from Susanna Wesley to John Wesley, July 24, 1732.

**Albert Outler, John Wesley 178.

***”Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” The United Methodist Church 626.