Archive for advent calendar

Friday, December 25, 2020 . . . Christmas Day

“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

Thursday, December 24, 2020 . . . An Advent of Love

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. ~~~Luke 2:6-7

The Manger Scene (pictured above) has been a part of my Christmas experience for my entire life. It was given to my mother from her boss at that time (Rear Admiral Edward Hutchinson) shortly after the birth of my older sister in 1944. An important part of ‘Decking the Halls’ each year for my family was setting up the Manger Scene. My sister and I would carefully position each of the manger pieces in what we considered the proper spots. Of course, we continued to reposition them throughout the Christmas season – sometimes using them to re-enact the various parts of the Christmas story. The figures were much loved by the we two little girls. Needless to say – all this love took a toll on the pieces which my Dad with great patience and love glued and re-glued various parts of the pieces (the lambs’ legs especially!) throughout the years. My mother gave the Manager Scene to me several years after I moved to California because she knew how much it meant to me.

Each year as I set up the Manger Scene I remember the story of the birth of Jesus, reflecting on how much God loves us, sending us Jesus to spread the message of love. A special Christmas song always comes to mind as I arrange the pieces in the stable:

Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love divine;
Love was born at Christmas; star and angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead, Love incarnate, Love divine;
Worship we our Jesus, but wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token, love be yours and love be mine;
Love to God and neighbors, love for plea and gift and sign.

It’s all about Love! Amen.

Trish N., United Methodist Church of Santa Cruz

 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020 . . . An Advent of Love

“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

Tuesday, December 22, 2020 . . . An Advent of Love


“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

IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER – WINTER SOLSTICE, DECEMBER 21, 2020

“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

Sunday, December 20, 2020 . . . An Advent of Love

[A]s it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” ~~~Luke 3:4-6

Inner Peace. How many people think getting ready for Christmas simply means buying gifts that you may or may not be able to afford, and then going crazy running around doing a bunch of activities? Or maybe it’s preparing for the holiday by telling bad Christmas jokes. Did you hear the one about the family who owned an English pointer and an Irish setter? The dogs get together at Christmas time and have point-setters. Ha!

I can tell you what we should be getting ready for around here. Believers like us are looking for a spiritual and wonderful something called inner peace, especially in this chaotic, scary year. We want to prepare the way of the Lord, that is, invite the mystery and wonder of Jesus’ birth into our lives. I believe all of us seek God’s peace. The only problem is, how do we find it?

Here’s one writer’s take on it. Advent was here, so the mom and her husband thought they’d see what their children remembered from their family devotions the year before. “Who can tell me what the four candles in the Advent wreath represent?” the mom asked. Her son jumped in with seven-year-old wisdom and exuberance. “There’s love, joy, peace, and . . . and . . .” “I know!” his six-year-old sister interrupted to finish her brother’s sentence: “Peace and quiet!”

We could use some peace and quiet this week—across our nation and the world! But perhaps peace should start right here—within each one of us. What would it take to dedicate ourselves to peace?

Prayer for Advent Love (based on Joyce Rupp, O.S.M.): I pray that I will let go of my desire to see too far beyond this season of love, so that my path of life may be filled with peace and quiet! Amen.

Robin M-J., Watsonville First United Methodist Church

 

Saturday, December 19, 2020 . . . An Advent of Joy

Hannah prayed, “My heart rejoices in my Creator; my strength is exalted in God. God raises up the poor from dust; lifts the needy from the garbage pile. God sits the rejected ones of society with the elect, giving them the seat of honor!”
~~~ I Samuel 2:1, 8

Hannah was without a child of her own. She prayed to God…and promised to give her child into God’s service. Hannah conceived and gave birth to Samuel (which means I Have Asked For Him), and brought Samuel to the Temple to be instructed by Eli. Samuel would eventually become the Spiritual Leader of Israel … the Prophet and Judge of Israel’s first two Kings, Saul and David.

I focus on Hannah this day because she prays with her whole being…so passionate in prayer at the Temple that Eli thought she was drunk. Hannah’s prayer ends up rejoicing in God … and as we come to the end of this week of Advent Joy … we can see how the light of God glows with the promise of redemption for the world. We anticipate this gift of redeeming grace in the birth of Jesus.

Joy truly comes with the dawn; the light of the new day that brightens the world with possibilities. The pink candle we have lit this week glows differently from the colors of purple … hope and peace are bright … but the pink of joy glows with the warmth of rich possibilities. Joy comes in the morning. Joy is our light of possibilities. Joy was Hannah’s answer to the misery that others had thrust upon her; yet she never gave up the hope…she prayed for the possibility of peace…and she was rewarded in the joy…not just of a son…but God’s Light!

Our Shelter Guests prayed for a Christmas Tree . . . this is their tree of Great Joy!

The Joy of this weeks brings us closer to the presence of God’s Grace made visible in our lives at Christmas. Where is you joy this week…even as we live with the new reality of the Purple Tier of Covid-19. . . .

Prayer for Advent (adapted from Joyce Rupp, O.S.M.): As we pray in God’s Joy, help us to trust that our efforts of kindness are bringing hope…peace…joy
to the world’s discouragement. Amen.

Jay P., United Methodist Church of Santa Cruz

Friday, December 18, 2020 . . . An Advent of Joy

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

Thursday, December 17, 2020 . . . An Advent of Joy

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2020 . . . An Advent of Joy

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward (all the earth).” ~~~ Luke 2:13-14

I always loved the angels in our church tableau every Christmas Eve. My brother was the angel Gabriel and he looked so handsome up there on the highest step, for all to see. The angels seemed so beautiful and majestic, a precursor to the birth of the baby Jesus. What a glorious message and witnessed by the most humble of men, so that we could believe it was for all of us.

As a little girl, I felt this was the grandest story, a special night to hear a story of love and glory, the birth of a king, who would bring peace on earth. We forget the message, when we have commercialized the Christmas season, but I remember the awesome feeling of magic and spirit of that night. It is still the most beautiful message and I feel the angels around us think so, too!

Prayer for Advent Joy (adapted from Joyce Rupp, O.S.M.): God of the season, help me to slow down enough to listen for the way Emmanuel is revealed in my life. Amen.

Sarah Lampland, United Methodist Church of Santa Cruz