“Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.
Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.”
When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” Exodus 3:1-6
In the fall of 2016, our former intern Sydney Ota (who is now a college student entering nursing school,) with my support successfully launched Lego Sunday School for the kids at church, many of whom had never been exposed to Scripture. The curriculum is based on Building Faith Brick by Brick, by Emily Given, a dynamic and innovative approach to teaching Bible stories and Christian faith to children from kindergarten through fifth grade. Sydney ordered our needed Lego bricks and other supplies for us, and recruited participants.
The concept is simple; hear a bible story, such as Moses with the burning bush, and then make it out of Lego bricks. And they did!
Fast forward to 2021, and we’re still in the midst of this pandemic. With the vaccines coming, we see the light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel is long. How do we reach our youngsters and teach them our faith in this radically new context? I can tell you! We’re hoping to launch our own Zoom version of Lego Sunday School. The weekly “events” will be short enough (we hope) for young attention spans, and we invite everyone with children this age to sign up.
How can you help?
To experience the full range of creativity, we will need large quantities of Lego pieces. We are looking for hand-me-downs from families, online auction sites, etc. Ask your kids and grandkids if they have a set to give, or donate the funds to purchase them. Lots of extra body parts/people/figures are definitely needed, too. Each child will be given a “baseplate” to build on, and a bowl of Lego bricks with which to build their creations, and once we settle on an agreed upon time, we’ll be ready to go. We pray this effort will help foster an environment that invites a deepening relationship with Jesus by the children as well as the youth helpers we’ll supervise to teach it.
By God’s grace, it sounds like a win-win situation to me!
“A Child is born to us . . . Wonderful Counselor…Mighty God…Eternal Creator…The Long-Expected One of Peace.” ~~~Isaiah 9:6
“Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.” ~~~ Luke 2:19
We have been most fortunate in this “Shelter In Place…Covid 19 Year”, to be able to walk our dogs in our neighborhood three times a day. Each walk grants us an opportunity to experience some kind of ‘newness of life…encouragement of live with health, beauty, and grace…an opportunity of shalom’!
The ‘street art’ has been amazing; yards that have been brought back to life, bear-hugs in the window, signs that remind us to be kind, to thank one another—especially those on the front line of service, a call to respect one another in our diverse land, black lives matter, life is precious, and the amazing chalk drawings that have been created! Hopscotch…untold animal creations…and this Christmas Tree.
In the silence of that oh holy night so long ago … we remember the most amazing life that was born. In the midst of a census…a couple forged untold danger and found respite in a cattle stall. A young mother gave birth to a child who would grow up to be persecuted for his belief. Yet his parents taught him to care for all…not just for some. That night…in the midst of intolerance…love was truly born!
We celebrate that night in the midst of our own tragic circumstances. May we remember that LOVE is the greatest equalizer on earth. Without Love…life is not worth our breathing. Remember that first breath of life that Christmas night … the pain of Mother Mary…the anxiety of Father Joseph…the warmth of the Light of God. May we never forget. May LOVE ALWAYS WIN. May our fractured world find healing.
May you be touched by the light of that Christmas night … and may you reach out to your neighbors far and wide with that warm light of love. Give Thanks … Be Grateful … Let Love Guide Your Every Gesture. And be the Love of Jesus God intended you to be from the very beginning.
Prayer for Christmas (Johann Rist, 1641; translated by Fred Pratt Green, 1986) : Come, dearest child, into our hearts, and leave your crib behind you! Let this be where the new life starts for all who seek and find you. To you the honor, thanks, and praise, for all your gifts this time of grace; come conquer and deliver this world, and us, forever.
Jay P., United Methodist Church of Santa Cruz
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”~~~Mark 1: 2-4,7-8
John the Baptist has always intrigued me. Here’s this guy, alone in the wilderness, living off the land and connected to God in ways we can only dream of. I connected to him immediately because, as a young man, my only two passions were God and the wilderness. I have always felt God’s calling strongest out in the mountains.
I remember one solo trip with my dog, Jazz. We were in the Dinky Lakes Wilderness in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We were off trail, just wandering, focused on God and His creation. There was a stretch of time that God and Jazz and myself were One in Spirit, connected like never before. I was on top the mountain. As I came to look around me afterward, there were crystals everywhere, hundreds of them, laying on the earth around me. Were they there before my “One in Spirit” time? I don’t know. I don’t connect crystals with spirituality necessarily, except for the fact that they are an exceptional part of God’s creation, reminding us of His beauty. I didn’t take a single crystal from that mountain, considering it a sacred place.
The three years before that time were hard years. I had been laid bare and raw. But I feel God used those years to help me “Prepare A Way” for Him to enter into my being in a way that I could never doubt or forget.
John tells us to “Prepare A Way” – that we need to make a way for the Lord in the world, but it has to start inside ourselves first. Preparing a way for God’s peace and joy and love in our own hearts helps us to understand what we have and need to share with others to begin a “preparing of the way” in them. We are called to set ourselves “apart” from the world. That comes just by allowing the Holy Spirit to live in our hearts. Imagine being “apart” from the world as much as John was. Would you eat grasshoppers and fight the bees and bears off for the honey? But people “flocked” to him to be baptized and to hear him speak. He even got to baptize Jesus. Wow! That’s got to be worth a few grasshoppers. John, what a guy!
Prayer for the Advent Day: Help me, O God, to be prepared for your light, and to share your gifts each and every moment. Amen.
Rick Z., United Methodist Church of Santa Cruz
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” ~~~Matthew 1:23 NRSV
God is with us.
Before we even knew God, God was there.
Throughout our past struggles and successes, God was there.
In our current stresses and anxieties, God is there.
As we deal with isolation and loneliness, God is there.
While we take steps forward from this place, God will be there.
Onward into life eternal in the presence of God, God will be there.
“Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”
God is with us.
Prayer for Advent (adapted from Joyce Rupp, O.S.M.): God of Loving Light, guide me into giving the gift of your light this season…and in the seasons to come! Amen.
Gabe H., Aptos United Methodist Church
“Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could into the hill country to a town in Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now it happened that as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? Look, the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.” ~~~Luke 1:39-45
One of my favorite Christmas carols is the old English carol “In the Bleak Midwinter.” It is a poem by the English poet Christina Rossetti, commonly performed as a Christmas carol. The poem was published, under the title “A Christmas Carol”, in the January 1872 issue of Scribner’s Monthly. In 1906 Gustav Holst set it to music under the title “Cranham” and this remains a popular version today. However, an anthem setting by Harold Darke composed in 1909 is also widely performed by choirs, and in 2008 was named “the best Christmas carol” in a poll of some of the world’s leading choirmasters and choral experts.
I like both settings because I love the poem itself, which tells in a few short verses the whole of the Christmas story. The winter solstice is also one of my favorite times of year. While it is indeed the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, it marks the dawning of coming of Spring, and the promise of New Life. The days grow longer bit by bit. As a child I often could be found out flying a kite in the snow.
Perhaps because this has been such a dark year for most of us here in California, with the pandemic and the terrible fires this summer, I am very much looking forward to this particular annual passage through the darkness into the Light which this year falls on December 21st: also known as Midwinter.
It is also worth noting that in very early Christian tradition, March 25th is the day on which Mary received the news that she would bear a child. Nine months later is December 25th, thus giving us one reason why the year 336 is the first year in which Christmas is celebrated on that day (during the reign of Emperor Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor). It is with eager anticipation that we await the coming of the Light into the world “in the bleak midwinter.”
Prayer on the Solstice: “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.”
Fr. Joseph Jacobs, TOCCUSA, United Methodist Church of Santa Cruz, California
Luke 4:18 reminds us of the prophetic words of Isaiah who spoke these familiar words; words Jesus choose to speak for his first sermon in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth: The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and comfort all who mourn. ~~~Isaiah 61:1
Isaiah spoke a word of hope; and he was calling the Hebrew people to live life in a desperate time in their history, during the 8th century BC, when facing captivity and exile by the Babylonian Empire; and in those desperate times, he called them to live by a different standard. Isaiah went on to say in Chapter 61:1-4: Provide for those who mourn give them a garland instead of ashes, give them the oil of joy instead of mourning, and they shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, from the devastations of many generations.
To read Isaiah is like reading the front page of Newspapers today. Things are bad, yet this prophet speaks to us, even today, in our desperate times and says: I bring Good news! Good news for the oppressed, good news for the brokenhearted, good news to captives and prisoners, good news to those who mourn. And Isaiah tells us to give people garlands to decorate, oil to anoint themselves with joy, and festive clothes to dress up in. Seriously?! Decorations are nice and all, but they hardly serve to make things better. And by doing that can it be counted on to change the world? Isaiah is saying Yes!—he is saying decorate any way!
Because when we decorate our homes and our churches, we are not saying that we are unaware of difficulties, we are not saying that we are oblivious to bad news. Rather we are saying that we choose to live; we choose to live the good news; we choose to live by HOPE and not despair; we choose to live by LOVE and not by hate; we choose to live with JOY in our hearts, and not by division, fear, and lies; and we choose to live the PEACE of Christ with ourselves and one another. The Angels said it on that first Christmas: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth Peace among those whom God favors!” ~Luke 2:14 NRSV. This is the Good News!
Prayer for Advent (adapted from Joyce Rupp, O.S.M.): God of Emmanuel, I will risk saying a kind word or doing a good deed for the sake of your love. Amen.
Patrick D., Morgan Hill United Methodist Church
When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. ~~~Matthew 2:10-11
2018 Gilroy UMC Christmas Toy Gift Project!
When I was a little boy, Christmas was the day to receive gifts that I wanted. I received a lot of toys; robots, cars, Legos, etc.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, Christmas became the day to give gifts, too. As time goes on, I am able to give more gifts than the gifts I receive. Especially, it is a great joy for the church to give gifts together through the Christmas Toy Gift Project, like the wise men did at the first Christmas.
This year, I have a kind of “Christmas-ful thinking”, even if some people might regard it as a “wishful thinking”. What if we can give a gift of a day-off to all first responders on Christmas? Then, they can have a Merry Christmas with their loved ones. What if we can give the gifts of Vaccine and treatment to all who are sick because of COVID-19? What if we can give the gifts of homes and jobs for the homeless? What if we can give the gift of Peace on the divided Korean Peninsula? Then, it might be a wonderful joy to all of us!
While waiting for the Christmas of 2020, I am thinking of giving even the gifts that I cannot purchase or that I cannot give by myself. How about you?
Prayer for Advent Joy (adapted from Joyce Rupp, O.S.M.): God of this Advent Season, I offer thanks for my ability to be a spiritual example of faith for others. By your grace, I pray! Amen.
Hwapyoung K., Gilroy United Methodist Church
O satisfy us in the morning with thy loving kindness
That we may rejoice and be glad in all our days.
Make us glad according to the days wherein we have been afflicted
And the years we have seen evil. ~~~(a version of Psalm 93)
I read this verse daily. I learned this ritual at a friend’s memorial service and remember his practicing to be a more spiritual person. During Advent these words remind me to be hopeful and to be in service, bringing my gifts to share to offer light and hope, knowing that all of us together can change the world.
This can be a time of reflection and contemplation concerning my beliefs about service and whether or not I follow them in my daily life.
My Swedish Dala horse reminds me of the Swedish tradition of Santa Lucia Day; the bringing light to the world and remembering the Saint who shared her beliefs and her service to the Swedish people, helping to bring them food in a time of need.
I was one of the girls who performed this ritual at the Swedish Lodge.
We wore white dresses, and the older girl wore a crown of greenery and lighted candles.
We sang a Swedish song about Santa Lucia and served cookies to the people.
Prayer for Advent Joy (adapted from Joyce Rupp, O.S.M.): In this season, O God, help me to refill the oil in my inner lamp by seeking to trust more deeply in you. Amen.
Diane C., United Methodist Church, Santa Cruz