Child – An Advent Devotional (guest post!)

Today’s devotional is written by special guest contributor, Rev. Gena Anderson. Be blessed today!stock photo child

 

 “And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
Luke 1:14-17

 

The word of the day is child. When I think of the word child I think of wonder. The best way of seeing the joy of Advent and Christmas is through the eyes of a child, which ideally should be our own. We should see the time of expectation, which is Advent, through eyes which are pregnant with wonder. If, however, as is sometimes the case, our own child-like eyes have become dimmed with age or skepticism, the next best way of seeing these two joy-filled seasons is through the eyes of another child; perhaps, if we’ve been so blessed, through the eyes of our own children.

I have been blessed to be able to see the Advent season through the eyes of a child.  Actually two children, my girls Julia and Georgia. The way that they receive the birth of the Christ child is with hope, expectation, and wonder.

This Advent season, may you also experience Christ with the same kind of wonder.

 

Prayer:

God of signs and wonders, heaven touching earth and the divine entering into human flesh, be the peace among us, the hope within us, and that we might become your people filled with wonder so that we can share the gospel of Jesus Christ with all that we encounter along the way. Amen.

Pastor Gena

Heaven – An original by Kate Baird

Today’s Advent devotional was written by a special guest contributor and New World church member, Kate Baird.




Images of heaven, as we can only imagine, are everywhere:

·        White shores, and beyond a far green country under a swift sunrise. 
Gandalf to Pippin in  J.R.R. Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings”

·        “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. … And that is why…the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven, :and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” 
C.S. Lewis

·        A large banquet table with a place set for every individual. 
The Gospels

·        For me personally, it is a piano where my Aunt is sitting at the keys, her sister is sitting next to her turning the pages, and all my aunts and uncles, great aunts and uncles and cousins are singing whatever the next page is in the hymnal…after a hearty dinner at the banquet table and naps in the hammocks that hang between the clouds.
 
I need to pause throughout my busy days and busy life and reflect on heaven periodically.  I could spend an hour on C.S. Lewis’s quote alone with its mysteries that resonate as truth. Just considering Heaven for this blog has raised my HOPE, increased the LIGHTness of my heart, soothed my anxiousness with PEACE, while I WAIT for that day.  I’m not in a hurry, but I’m not afraid at all.  How sweet it will be to walk with the one who loves me more than anyone – and I am very well-loved now!  You are well-loved now too!  That’s how I know heaven will be amazing.  My limited abilities can’t register the fullness of it. 
 
Think of it:
Suffering replaced with wholeness and joy. 
Sorrow replaced with dancing and smiles. 
Fear replaced with perfect love for others because we can’t mess up anymore!
 
What is the advantage of not accepting Heaven as a possibility?  If you believe you can impact others with the weather you take with you into a room, into a meeting, into a restaurant, into a hospital, into our social media posts, onto an airplane.  Wouldn’t it be best to take the weather influenced by a heavenly hope and light?  Imagine the positive storm system we could create.  Heaven on earth.
 
 
 

Joy – A thought for today

This series of Advent devotionals has themes based on a Photo-A-Day challenge for New World UMC. Anyone can participate and jump in at any time. For the details: check out this link.

To give an appropriate answer is a joy; how good is a word
at the right time! Proverbs 15:23 CEB

Have you ever had someone say just the right thing to you at just the time you needed it? Perhaps you are having a bad day and someone brings a smile to your face, or you are looking for an answer and someone just says it for you. It’s a joy to hear the right word at the time you need it most.

Some folks might chalk this up to coincidence when this happens, but I believe that God is at work through the Holy Spirit when it happens. Sometimes it means we have to be open to hearing what God might want us to say. Not necessarily literally hearing God with your ears, mind you, but open to what God might be putting on your heart to say to another person.

In the last few months, I had the name of a specific person come up in conversations in several different places. So many people asked me, “have you talked to so-and-so” or recommended I seek out this specific person that I felt like, in order to be faithful, I needed to do my part to make it happen. I set up an appointment.

In our meeting, I was open and curious about what God might be up to. We had an uplifting conversation, and before I left I felt like I needed to share a specific ministry idea with him.

It was delightful when he said, “Oh! We were just trying to make a decision about that!” I was able to encourage him in that particular ministry idea.

I know others might say it must be coincidence (we can disagree), but I am grateful I was able to pass on the word & it will be fun to see what God does with that. It’s a journey of joy.

I would love to hear your stories about when God has been at work in your life, giving you just the word you need at the right time. ESJ

Open – A thought from the “cutting room floor”

Last Sunday I preached a sermon called “The Candle” that included a sermon illustration about getting ready for when company is coming. John the Baptist is preparing the way for Jesus ministry in Luke 3:1-6, we too can use Advent to prepare our hearts and minds for an arrival. There’s only so much a person can fit in a sermon. (Well, I imagine I could make my sermons longer and fit in as much as I can, but nobody wants that!) Today’s Advent devotional is from my “cutting room floor,” a part of the sermon that I didn’t quite get to fit in last Sunday’s message.

Today’s Advent word is “Open” as part of our Advent Photo Challenge. I am interpreting the word as an Open Door, a place of welcome.

As people filed out the sanctuary door last Sunday, shaking my hands as they do, at least one person said, “now I feel like I need to get home and clean the house!” Giving folks stress wasn’t the sermon goal.

I want to share today about my “messy house friends.”

See, my sermon was about getting the house clean, and I mentioned that if I know you’re coming, my house will be clean for you. But my closest and dearest friends fall into a special category – they’re my “messy house friends.”

By that I mean that we’ve agreed we’re going to love each other no matter the condition of our homes. We are going to have the kind of friendship that values relationship over a sparkling clean house (think of the story of Mary and Martha with Jesus in Luke 10:38-42 to get the idea.)

In the same way, Jesus loves us no matter where or how we are. Jesus can be like a messy house friend, full of grace for you and accepting you with all of your imperfection. The door is always open.

Even better, Jesus is not only a messy house friend, Jesus will not leave you drowning and suffering in the mess. You are accepted, loved and welcome how you are and you are loved enough that you’ve got company who’ll help you and love you through the messiness of life. That is grace.

Prayer:

God, help me to get past the temptation to get caught up in making my life seem perfect. Instead, God, help me to open my door and my heart to offer hospitality and love to all God’s children. Thank you for the grace you offer me. Amen.

Warmth – Thought to get you through the Day

“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Luke 2:12

I come from a family of quilters. Not that I quilt, I don’t. But my grandma, mom, aunts, cousins and countless other relatives love to make quilts.

There is a really sweet ministry in our church called the Stitchers that makes quilts. They are passed on to people in the hospital, people who are grieving, kids who graduate from school. Each quilt is put together with knots of yarn, little ties to show the prayers that have been uttered over the quilt. It’s a ministry of sharing comfort, love and prayer. We also have a ministry of knitters who make prayer shawls for the same purpose. 

Extra quilts are folded neatly over the back rows in our sanctuary, available to provide warmth and comfort to anyone in need.

There really are few things as comforting as the warmth that comes from a blanket or shawl handcrafted with deep love and prayer. There is warmth to be found in the love and kindnesses of others. I am so thankful that people are using their gifts and talents in ministry of love to others.

What are the gifts you have that you can offer to others in ministry? May today be a day that you find ways to use your gifts in ministry. Whether it is through handmaking something or a warm smile, may God’s love shine through you and warm the hearts of others. Amen.

Tree – Thought to get you through the day

“The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.” Acts 5:30 (Common English Bible) 

A wise church member shared this thought with me on Sunday:

“It’s not all the gifts under the tree that matter, it’s the Gift that came on a tree.”

In case you haven’t heard, there are only 12 shopping days left between now and Christmas. Yep, the “doorbuster specials” are long gone and we’re in the “last minute shopping” territory! 

It is so easy to get caught up in the frenzy of last minute shopping, isn’t it? Companies who sell us stuff are counting on this.

But I hope you’ll find time to remember the real reason for the season, the gift that came on a tree, Jesus Christ. It’s not about all the stuff.

Today I challenge you to take a moment to just look, really look, at a tree…or consider the birds of the air. Remember that God is the kind of God who is faithful to provide for all of our needs. We don’t need to be harried,  and rushed. We have all the Gift we need.

Stillness – An Advent Devotional

Stillness.

“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken.”
Psalm 62:5-6


On Sunday mornings starting about an hour before the first worship service, the sanctuary space is already busy with preparations. There are candles to be lit, fonts to fill, bread and juice to set up. Sound checks, lighting checks and slide reviews. Furniture moved into place. People busily preparing for the congregation to arrive. Throughout the morning the space resonates with people greeting one another, songs are sung, words spoken, prayers uttered aloud. Children play, wiggling and chattering as their adults try to hush and still them. It’s beautiful and it is holy.

The stillness of a quiet sanctuary is not something that everyone gets to see or experience. 

After the crowds leave, or on just about any day during the week, the space sits in stillness. It’s a place of refuge, a place of quiet. Ideal for prayer and thought. It’s still open then, perhaps it’s a place you will come visit during that time.

During this season of Advent, I pray that you will find a space for stillness. Be still and know that you are loved by God. Sit quietly and listen for the Spirit to prompt you. May you be blessed with moments of stillness.

Amen.

Shine – An Advent Devotional


“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.” Isaiah 60:1

The picture above is from one of the paraments that decorates our church during Advent. “Parament” is a fancy church word that refers to the decorations we put in our church, usually on places like the altar or pulpit, to signify the different times of the church year. Blue and purple paraments are used during Advent.

I love the shiny glow of this manger on our parament – the glory of the Lord is shining. What a beautiful reminder of the most important thing to shine during a season full of all that glitters and twinkles.

What are the qualities in you that are shining this season? Is your love for God shining through your thoughts and actions? How can people see the light of Christ shining in you today?

Prayer:

God of all light, remind us this season of what is most important. Keep our hearts centered on the love of Jesus Christ, and help us to share that love with others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Peace – An Advent Devotional

John 14:272Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Yesterday the word for the Advent candle lighting was “Peace.” In a world that seems so full of everything that is decidedly not peaceful – busyness, frenzy, rushing, hurriedness, violence, division, and so much noise – peace is wild and countercultural.

So today, be wild and countercultural. Be an instrument of peace. Dare to catch your breath. Dare to breathe in deeply. Dare to rest. Dare to be quiet.

Model the deep love and peace of the Prince of Peace. Refuse to follow a culture that models everything else.

Holy God, this is our deepest prayer.

Shalom.

The Candle – A sermon on Luke 3:1-6

Luke 3:1-6 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Proclamation of John the Baptist

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was rulerof Galilee, and his brother Philip rulerof the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias rulerof Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as 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.’”

The word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.

Video:

https://www.ignitermedia.com/products/8569-out-of-the-darkness(

Sermon: The Candle

Key Point: Advent is a time to get ready for an arrival.

Advent is a time to get ready for an arrival. Do you have company coming in the next few weeks? Or are you the company that other people will be hosting? The holidays are upon us, and for many people, this means getting ready for the arrival of company.

And what do we do when we know that company is coming? (pause)

We clean the house! On top of all of the other things we try to accomplish between now and Christmas, if we have company coming, it’s time to get the house ready. Now, I know some of you may have a house that is sparkling clean all of the time…If you’ve come to visit, and my house was sparkling clean, you can safely guess that was only because I knew were coming and I made sure the house was clean before you got there.

From time to time, I get a question that usually goes something like, “With both parents working full time and having four kids, especially with three involved in sports, how do you do it? How do you keep up with everything?” And so I debated about putting this extra secret information out here. But, here’s the answer to the question I get asked all of the time,

In spite of the image I try to put out there, the answer isn’t that I put on my superhero cape and whisk through it all without breaking a sweat…I don’t do it alone, we sometimes hire help. A couple times a month we have a cleaning crew come in and help us get everything really clean.

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t grow up with having this kind of pampering, so I feel a little self-conscious sharing about it. Because I didn’t grow up with this, there was something I didn’t know about having a cleaning service. My kids can probably tell you because they are heavily involved in this part.

When Irene and the rest of the cleaning crew is coming, the day before it’s all hands on deck to have everything picked up so that the crew can do their jobs of scrubbing and cleaning.

We clean up the house just to prepare the way for the cleaning crew. I never expected I’d ever use this as a sermon illustration!

(Slide Change: Picture of John the Baptist circa 1600)

You see, strangely enough, this brings us to our scripture for the day about another person getting ready for company, although not in the same way we were thinking.

John the Baptist, sometimes called John the Baptizer – now he’s quite a character, isn’t he?

The various gospels describe him as a man who is shouting out in the wilderness, he lives alone. I like this painting because he’s pointing to Jesus – that’s a big part of John’s role. He is found wearing clothes made of camel’s hair, eating locusts and honey – he’s wild and eccentric.

He’s a relative of Jesus, possibly a cousin, and I imagine him like a pretty out there hippie cousin. Maybe you have a relative like this too.

(Slide Change: Jen Norton John the Baptist -used with permission from artist)

I imagine him with crazy hair, a bit of an oddball who maybe smells like the wild and nature. You can smell him coming. “A smellative” Do you have one of those? Know what I’m talking about? You don’t – is it you? J

He’s a prophet, not afraid to say what needs to be said. Maybe you have relatives like him who apparently are unafraid to speak passionately about whatever is on their mind? No? Maybe you’re that relative? (Smile)

So in this story, John is preparing the way for Jesus to start his ministry. We tell this story at Christmas time because Advent is a time to get ready for an arrival. It’s like he’s getting the house ready so Jesus can come in and do the real, deep spiritual work.

So let’s set the scene: In this story, God’s people have become pretty comfortable and complacent…If we kept reading in today’s chapter, we’d see that John calls the crowds “children of snakes,” and warns them to repent, be baptized and have their lives changed. It seems he is a bit of a wet blanket.

Now I imagine few people ever want a sermon on repentance – it’s like being scolded for all the bad things you’ve been doing and being told to knock it off.

(SLIDE CHANGE- Repent & be baptized meme)

John’s message to “Repent & Be Baptized” includes two parts – a “no,” and a “yes.”

Repentance is the “no.” Repentance isn’t a word we use in everyday language, so I’ll explain it. To repent is to turn the other way. We all make mistakes and have regrets, when we repent we turn from sin and move toward making things right. You can think of repentance as a big “U-Turn” sign on your life.

It’s worth pointing out that the people in the crowd John was talking to weren’t caught up in big sins, causing trouble. Their biggest problem was that they were beginning to be settled in their faith, just resting on the fact that they were “born” into the faith & just going through the motions of faith. For me, this description hits a little too close to home. It’s tempting to sometimes claim the identity of “Christian” and then not think much about it.

The problem is that being a Christian isn’t always supposed to be comfortable, feel-good stuff. We are not called to a comfortable, lukewarm, safe faith.

John knows that when Jesus starts his ministry, people will have to have a deep faith. Jesus is going to start a new world order. So John’s call here to repent is designed to make us uncomfortable when we want comfort. We need to turn from ways that keep us from God.

We talked last week about how Advent is the in-between time – it’s a time for reflection on things that have already happened, and preparation for things yet to come. Advent is a time to get ready for an arrival. It’s a time for cleaning up our spiritual house, so to speak. We can use this time to consider the condition of the world, even consider our own wrongdoing and regrets. We can reflect on what we’ve said and done (or perhaps what we have not said, not done) to make the world a better place. John the Baptist makes the way for Jesus’ ministry – this morning we will consider how we can prepare the way for Jesus’ arrival too.

Repentance means asking ourselves tough questions like “How deep is my faith? (pause) Are my actions in line with my beliefs? (pause) Is my faith expectant, alert, growing, and serving? (pause) Or is my faith small, tired and lukewarm? (pause)

John is preparing the house, getting ready for company. When Jesus arrives, we can’t have legos and dirty socks on the floor – we need to be ready.

But we’re not left in the dark feeling sorry for ourselves –there is a second part to John’s message that’s really important.

The Be Baptized part – the life as a follower of Jesus – it’s a “Yes!” It’s not that John is trying to bring us down by telling people to repent, he’s trying to direct us to a new life that is richer, fuller and more meaningful.

To have a life of richer faith, it begins with discerning what actions you need to take.

What gifts/resources do you have? What is on your heart to do for God? Do you know you are forgiven? What are you passionate about? Inlight of your gifts and resources, what is your mission?

Once you have come up with answers to these questions, you are preparing the way for a life of following Christ.

Advent is more than just a time to make sure all of the toys and presents are bought and delivered on time – it’s so much deeper than that! Advent, as the beginning of the Christian new year, is a perfect time to make a fresh start and prepare for what God has in store.

Advent is a time to get ready for an arrival. Advent reminds us – we have an adventure ahead. We need a light to our path on this adventure.

(Slide Change: luminarias)

Which brings us back to the symbol of the Candle at Christmastime.  

It’s important that we turn to the right sources of light as we go on this faith journey. When we light a match in a dark room, it provides a temporary light. If we try to be the match for too long, our fingers get burnt. We also don’t want to turn to the wrong sources of light – if we put our trust in the wrong things, they will eventually disappoint us.

The candle is a symbol that reminds us of Christ.

Christ is a light that will overcome any darkness.

The candle can also symbolize God’s word found in the Bible, is “a light unto the path,” a guide that helps us to see on the journey of faith. It’s not a candle in the wind about to get extinguished.

When I was a small kid living in San Antonio atChristmastime, I remember seeing much of the city sidewalks, especially around churches, lined with luminarias –simple brown paper bags, each filled with a little sand and a small candle.

Paths lined with candlelight, a tradition started in the AmericanSouthwest, is a beautiful practice reminding us of the fabled journey of Joseph, a very pregnant Mary, and a simple donkey taken long ago. The light of the luminaria shows us the prepared path.The decoration is simple in the face of all that glitters, flashes, inflates and twinkles to music today, just as the simplicity of their journey toBethlehem is a stark contrast to the decadent and powerful Rome that ruled the day.

As we prepare the way for company, as we prepare the way for the coming Jesus Christ, we can take heart in knowing that

John 1:4 “Life itself was in him, and this life gives light to everyone. The light shines through the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it.”

Let us pray –


God of Light,

Thank you for being a God who is faithful to show us the way of life. As we prepare for the arrival of Jesus Christ in our hearts and in our lives, be a light unto our paths this Advent. Help us to share the light of the love of Jesus Christ with people who need it. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.