Declare

This Weekend’s Scripture ~ Luke 2:15-20.

A couple years ago I had the privilege to attend the Trans-Siberian Orchestra Concert with Andrew and six very dear friends. What an experience! Lights – sounds – huge screen projections – incredible musicianship – and indoor pyrotechnics. Incredible!

Their show began with their story called The Ghosts of Christmas Eve. It tells the tale of a young girl that finds sanctuary on Christmas Eve in an old theater. The ghosts draw her into their past experiences as their way of meeting her where she is, offering her comfort, and preparing to send her on her way home for Christmas.

(And then later on a dragon appeared…)

The Ghosts of Christmas Eve included suspenseful and delightful moments. Through an amazing cacophony of sound – and so much sensory engagement one could easily slip into overload – clear voices sang through with hope.

Hope for reunification. Hope for forgiveness. Hope for coming home.

Songs of hope that began with these words so long ago…”Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors” (Lk 2:14)!

Christ’s nativity was suspenseful and delightful. Christ’s nativity is our gateway to reunification, forgiveness, and coming home – with God and neighbor.

That is my wish for you this Christmas. Admire and enjoy the spectacle, but do not miss the true meaning and purpose of Christmas in the sights and sounds. God meets us in the world – in the flesh – and offers us sanctuary. Christ came into a world that did not want him and equally ached for him. That environment of 2000 years ago describes us still today.

We need this Jesus. We need our Christ to forgive and to teach us to forgive. Jesus brings us together. Jesus journeys with us home to God.

This Sunday our choir will lead us in worship as they declare our Savior’s birth as they offer Jesus! The Advent of the Messiah at our 11am Worship Service. Join us for this special time of worship and song.

Prayer: “Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere; go, tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born. Down in a lowly manger the humble Christ was born, and God sent us salvation that blessed Christmas morn. Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere; go, tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.”* Amen.

*“Go, Tell It on the Mountain,” The United Methodist Hymnal 251.

 

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Dimiss

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 1:18-25

This week while watching coverage celebrating the life and service of George H. W. Bush I heard him say in an earlier interview, “I have banned the use of the ‘L’ word.” What word was that? Legacy. He banned the use of the word legacy.

The 41st President continued, “I would like someone else to define the legacy…I think history will…point out the things I got wrong, and perhaps some of the things we did right.”

Your words ring true, Mr. President. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Our Scripture text for this week is the defining moment in Joseph’s legacy. Will he pursue betrothal to Mary to marriage or will he dismiss her quietly? Although the text does not lift the veil, we can sense the psychological turmoil Joseph endures. On the line are his reputation, his place in the community, his chances for another relationship, and his faith. The same things are on the line for Mary…add “her life” also to that list.

We do not hear from Joseph again much after Jesus’ nativity. He decides to enter marriage with Mary. He welcomes and names Jesus. He witnesses as the magi worship the Christ Child and then shepherds his family to Egypt seeking refuge from Herod. Joseph’s legacy is that of a caregiver and provider. He stood at the fork in the road between being right and being kind – and he chose kindness.

History points out that Joseph got this one right. When we find ourselves at the same fork in the road, may we also choose as Joseph did.

Prayer: “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given; so God imparts to human hearts the blessings 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.

Direct

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:76-80.

“The wand chooses the wizard, Mr. Potter.”

The same can be said of conducting batons.

As a sacred music major Andrew took Conducting as a graduation requirement. He and his classmates received their batons and – ahhhhh – it was time to make music. Or at least direct it.

Conducting students rotated through the concert chorale, orchestra, and wind ensemble to practice their skills. Some displayed great confidence. Others were like musical deer under stage headlights. I do not blame them – some of those wind ensemble scores have upwards of twenty notated instrument parts to read and lead at once!

It is the conductor’s responsibility to direct every part. But the full weight of responsibility is not on the conductor. It is the musician’s responsibility to pay attention.

There were many a rehearsal that conductors throughout my life – orchestra, choir, handbells – asked, reminded, sometimes pleaded that the musicians would look up! “I will help you, I will bring you in, I will give you each note, each moment of movement. Just look up!”

How true that is for the life of faith as well. If we look up – or more specifically if we look to the people and teachings God places in our lives for help and guidance – we will find God ready and eager to help us. God will bring us in, alongside, and through; God will give us each moment of movement.

We do not have to go it alone. That is the gift of Emmanuel. God is with us – always.

I trust God in each entrance. I trust God in each exit. And I trust God in strengthening my commitment to pay attention.

Join us in worship on Sunday for the First Sunday of Advent. We will light the Advent Candle Wreath and begin singing carols of the season as we prepare our hearts for our Savior’s birth. See you Sunday!

Prayer: “O come, thou Wisdom from on high, and order all things far and nigh; to us the path of knowledge show and cause us in her ways to go. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”* Amen.

*”O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” The United Methodist Hymnal 211.

 

 

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.

Hone For The Holidays

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:39-45

The Nativity Story is a story of movement. In reading scenes of the story in Matthew’s gospel or Luke’s gospel, we observe that the characters are always on the go. Mary travels to visit Elizabeth, as we read in our text this week. Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem for the census. The shepherds leave their fields to worship at the manger of the Christ child. The Magi from the East trek westward towards the star that hangs over where the child lays. The Holy Family seeks refuge in Egypt until the sign is given that it is safe for them to return to their homeland.

Somewhere to be. Something to do.

Sound familiar?

For many of us during the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years we are on the go. We travel to eat with family, to visit friends, to shop, to attend parties, to catch concerts, to see Christmas lights. We go and we do because we do not want to miss out and we do not want to disappoint.

I shared Thanksgiving Day with almost 40 family and extended family members across two meals. It was fantastic to see them and to catch up, to break bread and to hope no one would break buttons off of their pants! My heart was full and my belly satisfied by the fellowship and food that was shared. I treasure that time with my family.

And I also treasure the time Andrew and I spent driving to these gatherings. I confess that most of our travel time was in silence; there had been plenty of sound in other moments of the day! In silence we “pondered in our hearts” all that had happened with our families and held the moments dear (Lk 2:19, 51). In silence we shared gratitude for the family that we – the two of us – are together. In the silence, though we were moving, at times, swiftly down the interstate, we were able to slow down. We were able to reflect, to be present, and to process. Intermittently we would break the silence to share a thought or crack a joke. And then we would return to the silence – to think, to be still, and to be grateful.

I encourage you in this season of Advent and activity – in this season of personal and Scriptural movement – where there does not seem to be enough time and the world will not slow down to find and/or create moments of silence. Slow down. Share gratitude and quiet prayer. Listen for expected and unexpected words from God. Ponder these moments in your heart. Share what you observe and learn with a loved one. Crack a joke with a friend. Then return to the silence once more.

I am grateful I did. I am sure you will be, too.

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. King of kings, yet born of Mary, as of old on earth he stood, Lord or lords, in human vesture, in the body and the blood; he will give to all the faithful his own self for heavenly food.”* Amen.

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

An Unusual Gift

Scripture ~ Luke 2:1-20

Merry Christmas One and All! This week we celebrate the gift of our Savior to the world. Christ is the greatest gift to ever be received.

As I prepare the gifts I will give this year during Christmastide, I am aware of an unusual gift I will also give. Shortly after Christmas I will donate my hair to Beautiful Lengths, which is a partnership program between Pantene and the American Cancer Society.  The goal of Beautiful Lengths is to “help women grow long, strong beautiful hair and to provide the funds to turn this hair into free, real-hair wigs for women with cancer.”

I have donated my hair several times throughout my life. I remember my donation cut in 2012.  At that time my hairdresser shared space with a colleague and she was doing a trial wedding hairdo for her client that day. Wesley brushed my hair, gathered it in a rubber band, and raised the scissors to my about-to-be-cut ponytail and Wesley’s colleague’s client screamed, “NO!!!!!!!” So I had to opportunity to share with her why my hair would be 14 inches shorter than when I arrived.

Another joy of donating hair is mailing it at the post office. The postal worker asks the standard question – are you shipping anything fragile or hazardous – and replying that I am shipping human hair always draws a smile or two…

This donation to Beautiful Lengths is especially dear to me this year as several of my dear friends are bravely walking the path to recovery from breast cancer. These women and their families have faced this disease head on with strength and grace and spirits that will not be burdened by this disease. I dedicate my gift of hair in honor of Bena, Shelly, and Jennifer. You ladies are inspirations to me and I thank God daily for your continued health and healing.

In this season of gift giving God teaches us that in giving we receive. God also teaches us to be surprised by gifts – those we receive and those we give. God may be calling you to give in usual ways, but do not limit God if God calls you to give unusually. In my experience the unusual reveals the extraordinary.  Christ’s incarnation in a humble stable was quite unusual and that was just the beginning of a extraordinary life that would gift and save us one and all.

Following the example of our God, may we give unusually.  May we give extraordinarily.  May we give.

Prayer: “What can I give him, poor as I am?  If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; yet what I can I give him: give my heart.”* Amen.

*”In the Bleak Midwinter,” The United Methodist Hymnal 221.

Prepare for Salvation

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:46-55

This week I welcome Rev. Dora Thomas, Associate Pastor serving First UMC Ovideo as the guest preacher with the Tuskawilla Community. Dora and I both attended seminary at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, though we attended different years. She graduated in May 2014 and when she was appointed in July to First Ovideo a mutual friend of ours connected the two of us saying we were two gals cut from the same bolt of cloth – how right our friend is! Thank you, Dora, for sharing your gifts at Tuskawilla this Sunday!

Dora’s text for this week is Mary’s Song – known as the Magnificat. Magnificat is a Latin word that means my soul magnifies. Mary’s Song captures the world-changing aspects of the impending Savior’s birth. The powerful will be humbled. The hungry will be filled. The Savior’s mercy will benefit Israel as in accordance to the promise made to Abraham. The Savior will bring blessing from generation to generation. God is about to do an incredible thing that will alter history from this point forward…and God chooses to involve humanity in it.

God invites Mary, meek and mild, to be part of this incarnation. Mary shares the excitement and anticipation of the incarnation with her cousin, Elizabeth. The advent of the incarnation connects the women together in a deeper way than even their shared bloodline and fosters community between them.

Reflecting on the Magnificat and Mary’s visit to Elizabeth that precedes her song Pastor Michael Bennett says, “God gives Mary and Elizabeth two things they each lacked: community and connection. God removes their isolation and helps them to understand themselves more fully as part of something larger than their individual destinies.” Hope is birthed in each of the women as they carry God-given children. Over time hope grows alongside the children and anticipation builds for what will be. And when the children are born the celebration and welcome is not just for these two nuclear families, but for the family of God, which spans the globe.

As members of God’s family we are all involved in something larger than ourselves. What happens to one member of God’s family happens to all of us. As the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it” (I Cor 12:26). We are active participants in the Incarnation and Salvation stories that our God continues to write.

Often I hear people say that they want to be involved in something that matters. Our faith, our faith heritage, living our faith all matters. And it does not just matter because it affects our personal lives. It matters because it affects our lives and the lives of our neighbors – those who know the old old story and those who are hearing this story for the first time. Perhaps God is calling you to be a herald of good tidings for someone this year. Invite them to worship on Sunday. Invite them to one of our Christmas Eve Services (5pm and 7pm). Invite them to dinner. Invite them to coffee. Invite them to hear and receive the story of how God has changed and will continue changing the world through the incarnation of Jesus. Connect with someone. Create community. Tell the story, and in so doing, magnify the Lord.

Prayer: “Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord! Unnumbered blessings give my spirit voice; tender to me the promise of God’s word; in God my Savior shall my heart rejoice. Tell out, my soul, the greatness of God’s name! Make known God’s might, who wondrous deeds has done; God’s mercy sure, from age to age the same; God’s holy name, the Lord, the mighty One. Tell out, my soul, the greatness of God’s might! Powers and dominions lay their glory by; proud hearts and stubborn wills are put to flight, the hungry fed, the humble lifted high. Tell out, my soul, the glories of God’s word! Firm is the promise and God’s mercy sure. Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord to children’s children forevermore!”* Amen.

*”Tell Out, My Soul,” The United Methodist Hymnal 200.