Archive for Advent

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

 

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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

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

Monday, December 14, 2020 . . . An Advent of Joy

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
~~~ John 14:27

(selections from Praying Through Advent
Reverends Delaney Schlake-Kruse and Kelsey Beebe)

When Jesus offers peace to his friends, he is well aware that the world they live in is anything but peaceful. Jesus is headed to his death at this point in the story, and he is offering comfort to his disciples before his arrest.

“Peace” in John 14 is all about the abiding presence of God with people in times of trouble. Jesus’ peace does not guarantee that all will be well, or even that we will not experience anxiety or chaos. Rather, Jesus is offering the assurance that God will be with us, offering the gift of God’s consistent presence and peace even in the face of great fear and upheaval.

A little something: Make a list of all the areas of chaos or anxiety that touch your life and your community today. Now, write “Peace” next to each entry, and write about what it feels like to be moored in God’s peace in the midst of the storms of life.

Prayer for Advent Joy (adapted from Joyce Rupp, O.S.M.): Gracious God, help us to be aware of how we are God-Bearers, no matter how ordinary our lives might seem! Amen.

Michael, Sally, Elise and Sean from Florissant, MO

 

Sunday, December 13, 2020 . . . An Advent of Joy

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
~~~ Matthew 5: 14-16.

This has been a challenging year. We are trying to deal with tangible problems like wildfires, evacuation, displacement and rebuilding. We are trying to deal with political unrest, and a country that is divided in many ways. And we are dealing with the virus–an invisible and ever-present threat.

As followers of Christ, we are the light of the world. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, an angel appeared to the shepherds and the glory of the Lord shone upon them; the Magi followed the light of the star above Bethlehem all those years ago, leading them to the baby Jesus.

Jesus no longer walks on this earth. But he has called on us to be the light of the world. As Christians, we are to have an internal light that shines before others, to give glory to God. As we address contemporary challenges, let us be intentional about being the place where others find kindness, patience, acceptance, mercy, a helping hand, and a place of refuge. We can be the light in a world filled with darkness.

Prayer for Advent Joy (adapted from Joyce Rupp, O.S.M.): Gracious God, may I be inspired to ask, and follow, your guidance today! Amen.

Gina J., Boulder Creek United Methodist Church

 

Saturday, December 12, 2020 . . . An Advent of Peace

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” ~~~John 8:12

Maybe it’s the kid in me, but I have always delighted in the many lights of Christmas. The twinkly, white lights on the tree, the warm glow of candlelight, the ambience of firelight, the sparkle of glass globe ornaments, and the glisten of dewdrops on the last of my blooming roses. How fitting that we celebrate the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ during this, the darkest time of the year and during these very dark pandemic times.

But as we prepare our hearts for Jesus during this Advent season amidst the bright illumination of all kinds of lights, we are reminded that Jesus’ love glows brightest of all. He continues to light the difficult paths we walk and is a beacon at the end of the long, dark tunnel that has been 2020. He alone puts a happy song in our hearts and a smile of joyful anticipation on our faces! We know we will get through these tough times because He is with us. His rod and his staff, they comfort us as His light shines upon our faces. May we rejoice in the gift that is Jesus with every twinkle, glow, shimmer, and sparkle we see this Advent. And I, for one, plan on keeping my house aglow well into the New Year!

Father in heaven, what joy the lights of Christmas bring to our weary hearts, for they remind us of your promises to illuminate our paths forward until we walk towards the final glow of the crown of life! May we rejoice in the beauty of Christmas and the love that Jesus brings to our dark world! And may we share our light with those who are enveloped in the heaviness of these current trials. With radiant hearts, we say Amen!

Debra U., Morgan Hill United Methodist Church

 

Friday, December 11, 2020 . . . An Advent of Peace

“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for”. Jeremiah 29:11

This is my family in 2018, yes, my entire immediate family.  Could have taken the exact same picture in 2019.  But this Christmas we have grown, in July my first Grandchild was born, Isabella.  Then last week my son got engaged to a beautiful woman with an equally beautiful daughter, Jasmine and Olivia.  So, I have gained a daughter-in-law and two granddaughters.

If you had told the me in the picture (center back row) that within the next two years all of this love would be added to our small little family I wouldn’t have believed you.  But that has been my journey with God.  Things seem to be falling apart, the falling apart where all you can do is fall to your knees to pray, sometimes the only prayer you can get out is “please …”.  Then when things look to be the bleakest a path out opens, or really, a step opens up.  When I look back at these times, I can see God’s hand at work, God has not abandoned me and with grandchildren, well that is the future I had hoped for.  My prayers today are also simple, ‘thank you, God, thank you.”

Prayer for Advent Peace (Joyce Rupp, O.S.M., from A Heart Prayer):  O God, we seek you with all our heart. The longing for you is planted deep within our hearts. Hear our cry for you. Help us to welcome you in all of life.  Amen.

Trish C., Morgan Hill United Methodist Church

 

 

Thursday, December 10, 2020 . . . An Advent of Peace

~~~ Isaiah 40:1–11; 31

As we live through this pandemic, and continue through Advent, I am reminded by the words of Isaiah that God is bigger and stronger than anything we may face in our lifetime.  Add to that the knowledge of God’s desire for us to be comforted, and we find the importance and need to look for the all-embracing love of God in new and unexpected ways.   

We’re about to complete a difficult year while facing another uncertain one.  Twelve months ago, life was what we used to call “normal.”  We moved about as we wished; we prepared for Christmas; we went to movies; attended concerts; kids went to school; we went out to restaurants; we visited friends; gathered in groups larger than 10; even went to church; to work and received paychecks; we did all these things … all without a second thought.

2020 has been a year to remember … or maybe a year to forget.  But as we draw near to Christmas and the end of the year, we know in God we find comfort and love.  Isaiah spoke to a people with little comfort also facing a bleak past and an uncertain future.  The Prophet’s same words come to us; facing a challenge in ways we did not even imagine a year ago.  Yet God is with us now; at work in our lives even in the midst of our suffering.   I find comfort in that God does not run away from us, but chooses to run to us, and more importantly stays and dwells with us, even in a pandemic.   God Bless You.

Prayer for Advent Peace (based on Joyce Rupp, O.S.M.): As I pray today, I will turn my heart toward someone who has hurt me.  Amen.

 Patrick D., Morgan Hill United Methodist Church