Joy to the World: Who Has Kept Us

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 66:8-15.

The legend of the poinsettia comes from Mexico. It tells of a girl named Maria and her little brother Pablo. They were very poor but always looked forward to the Christmas festival. Each year a large manger scene was set up on the village church, and the days before Christmas were filled with parades and parties. The two children loved Christmas but were always saddened because they had no money to buy presents. They especially wished that they could give something to the church for the Baby Jesus. But they had nothing. On Christmas Eve, Maria and Pablo set out for church to attend the service. On their way the picked some weeds growing along the roadside and decided to take them as their gift to the Baby Jesus in the manger scene. Of course other children teased them when they arrived with their gift, but they said nothing for they knew they had given what they could. Maria and Pablo began placing the green plants around the manger and miraculously, the green top leaves turned into bright red petals, and soon the manger was surrounded by beautiful star-like flowers and so we see them today.

Most Christmas greenery reflects European traditions. But one colorful plant, which looks like a flaming star, the poinsettia, is a native to the American continent. It was named after Dr. Joel Robert Poinset, an ambassador to Mexico who first introduced it to the United States in 1828. The people of Mexico and Central America call the brilliant tropical plant the “Flower of the Holy Night.” The poinsettia is a many-pointed star that has become a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem.

This week poinsettias that were given in celebration, honor, and/or memory of loved ones will be placed in the Sanctuary. We look forward to how they will enhance our worship this coming Sunday and on Christmas Eve. We invite patrons of the poinsettias to take home their poinsettias following Christmas Eve Worship.

It is my hope that as the poinsettias depart the South Shore campus and move to individual homes that these flowers will become conversation starters to continue telling the Christmas story – that these flowers would be opportunities to share the legend of the poinsettia and engage our family and guests at Christmas in exploring what offering we made, are making, or could make to the Christ Child.

Friends, every gift is important. Every gift is worthy. Every giver is important and worthy! Telling this truth is one of the greatest gifts we can share during the Advent and Christmas seasons.

Prayer: “O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thy justice here; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”* Amen.

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

Joy to the World: Christmas Cantata

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Micah 5:2-5a.

Advent is a time of expectation, and this is symbolized, not only for the four-week period of preparation, but also by the lighting of an Advent Candle on each Sunday of the season. The flame of each new candle reminds us, the worshippers, that something is happening, and something more is still to come.

The candles are arranged in a circle to remind us of the continuous power of God, which knows neither beginning nor ending. The large white candle in the center is the Christ candle and points to Jesus as the Christ, the Light of the world.

A progression is noted in the lighting of the candles of the Advent wreath each Sunday. Each candle symbolizes various aspects of our waiting experience. For us this year we are focusing on four ideas of the Christmas event: Hope, Purity of Heart, Love, and Joy. The culmination of the season comes as we light the Christ Candle on Christmas Eve, and from the Christ candle, sharing the light throughout the congregation, which represents sharing the light of Christ to all the nations.

As I concluded my annual “Christmas Candle Lighting Instructions” with a congregation – if your candle is lit, it remains upright and unlit candles move towards the flame – I walked towards the Christ Candle with taper in hand. A five-generation family – all of the relations present – were happily nestled in the front three pews nearest the Advent wreath. In silence I extended my taper towards the Christ Candle and it ignited to the excited chorus of two-year-old Adella, “Ooooooo!” “That’s right, Adella!,” I said. “That’s right!”

May we all have that kind of wonder – Adella-Wonder! – as we are caught up in the light of Christ, and especially, as we share the light of Christ with others.

This week both services will receive the gift of a Christmas Cantata presented by South Shore’s Sanctuary Choir. I am grateful for the choir’s preparation and for the leadership of Drew Golding and Nancy Jackson – all of which makes this Cantata possible. This will be a wonderful opportunity for you to invite family, friends, and neighbors to worship this week as the choir sings us ever nearer to the nativity of our Lord.

Prayer: “O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home. The captives from their prison free, and conquer death’s deep misery. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”* Amen.

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

Joy to the World: Come and See

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 66:5-7.

One of my greatest joys in leadership of the church is setting the altar table – to drape the paraments, to arrange the candles, to place the cross. I love to learn the stories behind these elements of worship. They are not happenstance and they did not just come to be. They was and continues to be great intention in their selection and their use.

Connie told me a story about how her husband, Warren, so loved to worship God with his church family. He was a religiously frugal man, and yet he gave freely to honor and enhance the worship of God through helping fund a brass cross for the altar.

Marty is the beloved wife of her sweetheart, Chuck. It was my privilege to lead his celebration of life many years ago. Memorial gifts were given in his honor and Marty applied them towards the purchase of new oil candles in the Sanctuary. “That way, Sarah, Chuck and I will continue to worship together every Sunday. He will be the one bearing the light of Christ in the sanctuary.”

Yvonne was (and is!) one of the most dedicated altar guild matrons I know. Cane in one hand and parament in the other, the way she held those clothes and laid them on the altar, it was as if she was swaddling Jesus into the manger. She moved with such care. She showed such respect.

These items on the altar – to these women and more – were not just things. They were and are memories and testaments to loved ones. They were and are memories and testaments to the faithfulness of our God.

Art has always been an important way to communicate the Christian faith. The use of music has helped the believers understand their Godly hope. Other art works have been used from the beginning to help express various aspects of Christian doctrine and life. Colors, alter paraments or coverings, and banners are some of the most important visual ways Christians have used to express their faith in worship.

The objective in covering the Communion Table with cloths of various colors was to help focus the attention of worshippers on the special nature of Christ as the Perfect Sacrifice. In the early days of Christian worship, Advent and Christmas were seen as a somber time, much like Lent is today. Purple table coverings were used to speak of Christ’s Kingship, but the mood was somber.

As Christians began to share their celebrations with their non-Christian neighbors they began to focus on the joy of the Christmas event. As the emphasis of Christmas began to change to one of joyful celebration the color used also changed to express Christ the King in that more happy way. While purple is still used in some churches and at certain times, many Christian churches now use blue to speak of the Kingship of Christ when the occasion is joyful. At Advent we wait with anticipation and celebration for our coming Christ.

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.

Joy to the World: Sing the Glory

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 66:1-4.

I adore the sights of the season in Advent and Christmas. There is something truly transcendent about twinkling lights, heirloom ornaments, and yes, even a yard inflatable that makes you smile.

We spent five wonderful years living next door to two great boys – Owen and Wyatt. Like Joshua – they love dragons! So leave it to Owen and Wyatt to finagle a dragon inflatable in their front yard from October 1st through New Years!

(With each passing month, they changed the dragon’s accessories to match the season. Brilliant boys! … I also wouldn’t put it past them to wangle a Spring Dragon arrival!)

Each week in December I will share the significance of popular sights of the season. Learning (or being reminded of!) their significance will help deepen our understanding of these sights and our faith as we celebrate the season.

I thank my dear friend and shoe commentator, Rev. Jennie Andone, for sharing research with me for these forthcoming posts.

The most striking and the most universal feature of Christmas is the use of evergreens in churches and homes. Among ancient Romans, evergreens were an emblem of peace, joy and victory. The early Christians placed them in their windows to indicate that Christ had entered the home. Holly and ivy, along with pine and fir are called evergreens because they never change color. They are ever-green, ever-alive, even in the midst of winter. They symbolize the unchanging nature of our God, and they remind us of the everlasting life that is ours through Christ Jesus.

Today, the Christmas tree is the center of our festivities. Glittering with lights and ornaments is a part of the beauty and meaning of Christmas. There are several legends and stories about the Christmas tree.

The first use of the Christmas tree was in the medieval German Paradise Plays, held outdoors and portraying the celebration of humankind. The Tree of Life was a fir tree decorated with apples. Later other ornaments were hung upon them, such as paper flowers and gilded nuts. In England branches or whole trees were forced to bloom indoors for Christmas. From these beginnings the use of a tree at Christmas was established. Martin Luther was perhaps the first to use a lighted tree.

The story is told that on one Christmas Eve Martin Luther wandered outdoors and became enraptured with the beauty of the starry sky. Its brilliance and loveliness led him to reflect on the glory of the first Christmas Eve as seen in Bethlehem’s radiant skies. Wishing to share with his wife and children the enchantment he had felt, he cut from the forest an evergreen, glistening with snow, and took it home. He placed upon it candles to represent the glorious heavens he had seen. The use of a candle-lighted tree spread to all Europe, then America came to regard it as the central ornament of Christmas.

O Christmas tree, indeed!

Join us for worship this Sunday – 8:30am Traditional and 11:00am Contemporary – as we begin our December Sermon Series – Joy to the World! We will explore the well-loved carol, which this Christmas, celebrates its 300th year, through the lens of Psalm 66. I look forward to worshipping with you.

Prayer: “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”* Amen.

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

Dawn

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:26-38.

I am not really an early bird and I am definitely not a night owl. In fact, I recently learned that I wear a certain facial expression in the mornings when I am ready to interact with people! Before then, I am told my gaze is rather intense…

So not an early bird…and not a night owl…I am solidly a “progressively tired pigeon.” Yes. That is me to a T.

That being said, Joshua has encouraged my being a morning person. In our early months together he considered “sleeping in” to be 4:27am. Thankfully he is a much better sleeper these days; now I get up early in order to get work done when it is quiet and to organize myself for the day ahead.

Whether I am sitting on the couch or at our breakfast table I have the opportunity to watch light flood the landscape as dawn breaks.

I have watched dawn break in some remarkable places:

  • across the waters of Lake Griffin at the Warren Willis Camp
  • across the Atlantic at Cape Canavral Shores
  • across the Pacific in Wahiawa, Hawaii
  • across the Galilee in Tiberius, Israel
  • across the Himalayas in Pokhara, Nepal

In each context the pattern holds:

  • there is darkness
  • the color begins to shift and shadows begin to recede
  • rays reaching out from the sun extend to embrace me where I stand
  • the light makes visible what was once obscured or hidden
  • the light brings hope, reveals potential, and welcomes the promise of the new day

A couple years ago Bob and Debbie Spitzer gifted Andrew and me a beautiful Thomas Kinkade painting that captures dawn breaking in the mountains. They hoped it would remind us of our adventures in Nepal. It does. It also remind us of God’s promise found in Lamentations 3, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (vv. 22-23).

Christ’s Dawn awaits us as we celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve in the coming week. The gift of the incarnation is the greatest expression of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness we will ever know. May the light of Christ’s Dawn shine in your life, affirming God’s love for you and your place in God’s Kingdom.

I look forward to worshipping with you

Sunday, December 23 at 8:30am Morningsong or 11am Traditional Worship with Christmas Brass.

Christmas Eve Monday, December 24 at 6:30pm – Carols, Candlelight, and Communion

Prayer: “Send, O God, into the darkness of this troubled world, the light of your Son. Let the star of your hope touch the minds of all people with the bright beams of mercy and truth; and so direct our steps that we may ever walk in the way revealed to us, as the shepherds of Bethlehem walked with joy to the manger where he dwelled, who now and ever reigns in our hearts, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”*

*The United Methodist Book of Worship 278.

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.

 

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.