Home For The Holidays

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:68-79

I’ll Be Home For Christmas debuted in 1943 and has been favored tune for this time of year every year since.

This song is sung from the point of view of a soldier stationed overseas during World War II. The soldier’s message to his family is brief and heartfelt, “I will be home for Christmas…prepare the holiday for me.” He requests snow, mistletoe, and presents under the tree.

Yet the song ends on a melancholy note, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams…”

The dream of home can evoke feelings of comfort and discomfort. At the holidays the dream of home can evoke both of those feelings at the same time. Perhaps we anticipate being in a familiar place surrounded by loved ones. Perhaps we breathe heavily and sigh too deep for words as we remember that home is not a familiar place and that the loved ones we want to see  will not be present. Perhaps we experience both feelings within a matter of seconds.

I find myself in an odd place as I continue walking forward to Christmas. I am excited for the holiday, but I will miss being able to gather with all of my family. I am anticipating the great joy of our Savior’s birth, but my heart is heavy knowing so many in my family, in our church family, in our community, and in our world are hurting. Medical prognoses worsen, new concerns are found, relationships strain, loved ones die, there is not enough money, there is not enough time, there is not enough energy, there is not enough.

There is loneliness. There is emptiness. There is darkness.

And there…in the darkness…the light of our Christ burns brightly. Zechariah sings, “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:78-79).

Thanks be to God.

This coming Monday, December 21 at 7pm in the Sanctuary the Tuskawilla Family will celebrate a Service of Longest Night. The seasons of Advent and Christmas are often marked by expressions of joy, excitement, and happiness, but this time of joy and expectation can often overshadow the pain and hurt many experience during this season. The grief and sorrow we feel is real and during this time of worship, we are invited to  draw near to our grief and sorrow and find that our God is bringing healing in the midst of it.

I invite you to join us for this time of prayer, Scripture reading, reflection, and communion. Perhaps this is a threshold you would like to cross or feel you need to cross so that you can settle home for the holidays. You are welcome among us. You are welcome here. As a beloved community we will worship. As a beloved community we will experience God’s healing.

Prayer: O God, “we look for light, but find darkness, for brightness,  but walk in gloom. We grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in twilight. If I say, ‘Let only darkness cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you, the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. Blessed be your name, O God for ever. You reveal deep and mysterious things; you are light and in you is no darkness. Our darkness is passing away and already the true light is shining.”* Amen.

*”Canticle of Light and Darkness,” The United Methodist Hymnal 205.

Hum For The Holidays

Scripture ~ Luke 1:46-55

I have heard this refrain and request from several in the Tuskawilla Family over the past couple of weeks:

Oh Pastor Sarah! I sure hope we get to sing Christmas Carols soon! They are my favorite part of the season!

Rest assured, Tuskawilla Family, we will begin singing Christmas Carols this week as our Sanctuary Choir leads us in our annual cantata entitled Ceremony of Candles. And we will sing a Christmas Carol on the 4th Sunday of Advent. And then we will sing all of the Christmas Carols you can imagine between Christmas Eve, the Sunday between Christmas and New Years, and Epiphany.

(We might even sing a Christmas Carol on Baptism of our Lord Sunday…who knows how festive I will be feeling in 2016!?)

There is a method to the madness (my madness) of waiting to begin singing Christmas Carols.

(1) It is a way for us to build up anticipation, to cultivate appetites, and to look forward to an activity that is long treasured and wholly enjoyed and when we receive it, we savor it.

(2) It is also a way for us to learn and learn from the carols of the Advent season that sing of anticipation, that sing of repentance, that sing of desires for a new world, a new you, and a new me, that is delivered to us as we sing our joy at the birth of the Savior.

Our Scripture passage this week sings Mary’s Song. She sings with gratitude for the ways that God has recognized her lowly state and affirmed “Yes, you are worthy; yes, you are treasured; and yes, you have a valuable place in my future.”

This affirmation for Mary rings true for us, too. In her song may we feel God’s affirmation, “Yes, you are worthy; yes, you are treasured; and yes, you have a valuable place in my future.”

Mary’s chorus of thanks continues as she foreshadows the coming Light that will be the Light of the nations, “He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised” (Lk 1:54-55a). Our God is so faithful. Our God’s promises will not fail. 

This Sunday through song and growing candlelight we will praise our God for all that God has done and is doing in our lives, in our church, and in our world as we move closer to the celebration of Jesus’ birth. I would especially like to thank Tim, the Sanctuary Choir, and the Audio/Visual Team for their diligence and hard work in preparing this Advent worship experience for our congregation. 

(Also, Choir, thanks for inviting me to sing with you! That is such a treat!)

Please join us this Sunday at 11am for Ceremony of Candles. Invite a friend. And be ready to sing a carol or two!

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. O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.”* Amen.

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

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.

Hope For The Holidays

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:26-38

Recently I saw The Martian starring Matt Damon. This film – and book, which has been highly recommended to me and is on my list to read – chronicles the survival of Astronaut/Botanist Mark Watney after he has been left on Mars. A storm threatened the work and lives of the six person Mars crew; so, the crew chose to abandon their work and return to their space station. Mark was blown off course by a piece of debris as he struggled through hurricane force winds on his walk back to their short range spacecraft. His crew assumed he was dead and with heavy hearts executed their launch sequence to flee the storm.

Mark woke up a few days later, half buried in sand, and wholly aware of his singular existence on the Red Planet. He returns to the crew’s work and living station on Mars and completes an inventory of supplies. He records in a video diary that while he has food for now, he will die of starvation without a renewable source of nutrition. His water supply will soon deplete. And what if his facility is damaged or the systems that purify the air so that he can breathe are destroyed?

Mark’s reality washes over him…he hangs his head. And then, resolute – so resolute that he leans into the camera filming his video diary – he affirms, “I am not going to die here.” His resolution fuels his hope. Yes, of course, Mark faces challenges and set backs. Even so, he lives the mantras “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” and “where there is a will, there is a way.”

It was incredibly encouraging for me to witness Mark’s inner strength as well as how he was able to draw upon the strength of others that rallied around him. During this time in our world where the reigning mantra seems to be “every man, woman, and child for him or herself” – perhaps even “every nation for itself” – to see this display of compassion and camaraderie – reminded me of my source of inner strength, who leads me in compassion and camaraderie for others – all others – whom my hope, my Christ, welcomes as neighbors and friends.

We are a people of hope. Hope was knit into our fleshy fabric at the time of  creation. It is a legacy that was affirmed by God to Abraham when God covenanted, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” The judges and the prophets repeated God’s promise. The Psalmist sang God’s promise. And with the coming of Christ, God further invigorates the hope saying, “I will be your God and I will be with my people.”

Mary receives this message of Emmanuel in our text for this week and she looks to the future with – I am sure – a mild dose of concern that is tempered with a great deal of joy. Immediately she is drawn into community with her relative Elizabeth and they share with one another the gifts of compassion and camaraderie. They live as neighbors and friends. They help and comfort each other. They affirm that even in the midst of this most unanticipated, unexpected, unpredictable of circumstances, that neither one of them is alone.

Mark felt quite lonely up on Mars until contact was reestablished with NASA and his fellow crew mates. There are folks right outside our doors, on the street corners, in the cars next to us, on the other side of the fence or cubicle wall that feel like they mights as well be on Mars because their loneliness is so profound. Maybe you are the one attempting to hurdle the obstacle that is loneliness only to fall back down again.

If you feel your hope is waning or gone, stand up, go to the nearest mirror, and look at yourself. Really look at yourself. Look at yourself until you see, you feel, that you are created in God’s image and that God’s hope is indeed within you. Then affirm – out loud – that you will not stay where you are, continuing to feel how you do. Say it. “I will not stay here. I will not continue to feel this way.” And then reach out. Call someone you trust. Call the church office! We are created with innate hope that leads us into unity. Reach out, my friend.

If you feel strong and secure in your hope, ask God to reveal to you someone that needs a helping hand or encouraging word this week. And do not ignore who is revealed to you! That person may not be your first choice, but that person is God’s choice. We are all God’s choice. And we are all in this together.

Hope, my friends, is so powerful. It is the belief in the unexpected and the unanticipated…and it leads us towards the unexpected and the unanticipated. That journey is trying as well as beautiful. It is a journey that God walks with us through thick and thin. It is a journey with Emmanuel. And I hope will you will join the Tuskawilla Family as we journey together this Advent Season.

Happy Thanksgiving! And see you Sunday.

Prayer: “Holy God, the mystery of your eternal Word took flesh among us in Jesus Christ. At the message of an angel, the virgin Mary placed her life at the service of your will. Filled with the light of your Spirit, she became the temple of your Word. Strengthen us by the example of her humility, that we may always be ready to do your will, and welcome into our lives Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”*

*”The Annunciation to Mary,” The United Methodist Book of Worship 256.