Joy to the World: Come and Hear

Christmas Eve Scripture ~ Psalm 66 and Luke 2.

 One of the most heart-warming expressions of Christmas is the Nativity. It speaks of the mystery of God’s wisdom. Why God chose to send his son into our world as a baby of humble birth, born in common surroundings, we do not know. What we do know is that God reached out to all people including the poor and wealthy, the simple and the wise, the powerless and the powerful. All who found him knelt in humility before him. Knowing God is possible because he came to us, at our level. Whenever we see a Nativity we find ourselves with all of the figures bowing before the manger, overwhelmed by God’s expression of love in coming to us.

St. Francis of Assisi is often credited with the first manger scene about 800 years ago. For a people who could not read it was an effective visual aid in telling the story of the birth of Jesus.

Nativities populate my house during Advent and Christmas seasons. My brother, Charlie, gifted me my most cherished nativity scene from The Holy Land. He was stationed with the USArmy in Egypt and had the opportunity to make his way to Israel. And he thought of me and brought me home an olive wood nativity from Nazareth. In turn, when I see this nativity, I think of the kindness of my big brother.

The nativity animals that surround the olive wood manger have such expressive faces. The shepherd is weather-worn. The magi are stately. And the Holy Parents – they are serene. Mary gazes adoringly at her son. And Joseph holds a lantern – shining a light, helping draw people in towards the Light of the World.

Come shepherds, come kings. Come family and friend and foe. Come one and all! O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him, O Come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord!

Join us for Christmas Eve Worship at South Shore UMC

3pm – SSFamily Worship

5pm – Traditional Worship

7pm – Contemporary Worship

And then on Sunday, December 29, join the South Shore Family for ONE Service at 9:30am. Regular worship services will resume – 8:30am Traditional and 11:00am Contemporary – on January 5, 2020.

Prayer: “O come, Desire of nations bind all peoples in one heart and mind. From dust thou brought us forth to life; deliver us from earthly strife. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”* Amen.

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

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.