In about 20 hours, our mission team meets at the DFW Airport. We meet at 3:25am to give plenty of time to divide up team supplies and get checked in. We fly to Miami first, the Port Au Prince.
Between now and then, my to do list is long:
Pack my own luggage
Pack team supplies
Make sure Lucas gets to wave at the garbage men (it’s Thursday and he’s 3)
Remember to take anti-malarial medicine
Pick up about 8 things from a store – tarps, clothesline, markers, hand sanitizer, a big bag of candy (“bon bons”) to pass out to the kids in Mellier…
Fill out trip insurance information
Check in for flight
Send team email with gate information and remind them to remember their passports
Go to bank to get cash to pay our Haitian team
Work up a plan to complete our fundraising
Greet kids when they get home from school
Hopefully have a family dinner
Spend time with Dennis
Spend time wondering what I may have forgot (might as well add this to list since I’m doing it anyway)
It’s a lot. I’m excited and a little daunted.
So, in the quiet of my home this morning, I start with the most important task I have to do today, I pray (feel free to join in from wherever you are):
Holy and gracious God, we thank you and praise you for this opportunity to travel to Haiti. We know that you are already there. We ask for your safety as we travel, we ask to be made aware of your presence. As we rush to get all of the details completed, calm our spirits and remind us that you have got this all in your hands. We commend this trip to you, we ask for your blessing. May we as your servants share your love with others, and may we receive your love through the hospitality of strangers. In Christ’s name we pray, amen.
39 Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands. 40 She entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry. 43 Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”
Oh, how I love A Charlie Brown Christmas! You know this scene from the classic Peanuts “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The now 53-year-old television special tells the story of a depressed Charlie Brown trying to find holiday cheer during an over commercialized season. His best efforts are mocked by the other children when the movie plot is coming to a climax, and Charlie Brown shouts out in exasperation: “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!” Have you ever felt that way? It’s funny how little things have changed.
What is Christmas all about?
It’s a question we still pursue today in this busy season as we wade through the familiar waters of shopping trips and busy calendars, Christmas parties and holiday traffic. We rush from one thing to the next, rushing as fast as traffic will let us anyway, all the while we long in our souls to catch even just a glimpse of what it’s all really about anyway.
I don’t think I’m alone here. For me, there is always this tension about what we’re supposed to do at Christmastime. On one hand, we have the church part – special worship services, service projects, and celebrating the story of Jesus’ humble beginnings in Bethlehem. On the other hand, we have mile long to-do lists of packages to ship, photos to take, gift exchanges to participate in, teacher gifts, baking and all sorts of Pinterest-inspired ideas. It’s easy to miss the answer to Charlie Brown’s question in the holiday madness, isn’t it?
Why is that? Why do we often miss the real meaning of Christmas?
My friend Kevin put it this way – it’s like we are celebrating two holidays. There’s one holiday that’s all about shopping, presents and the latest toys. It’s a holiday full of stockings and elves – ugly sweaters and never-ending doorbuster specials.
There’s another holiday about Jesus, the Emmanuel, God With Us, being born in Bethlehem. That’s the holiday with the manger and the sweet baby.
Then my friend Kevin adds: The confusing thing is both of these holidays are celebrated on December 25th and we call them both “Christmas.” No wonder we’re confused! (His theory has really helped me to have some patience and understanding when the some of the young people in my life have sent me long wish lists!)
I have come to peace with the commercialized version of Christmas – I Wish Everyday Could Be Like Christmas – because of all of the jingle bells, reindeer, Christmas lights and excitement, eventually people will ask Charlie Brown’s big question – What is Christmas all about?
This morning, with Kevin’s theory in mind, we are going to focus on the second of the two “Christmases,” starting with today’s passage from the Gospel of Luke.
Our passage today tells of a short encounter between two relatives, Elizabeth and Mary. In the midst of the bigger Christmas story, we might miss this key story’s significance.
To set the scene: In the verses right before today’s reading, Mary had just had a conversation with an angel of the Lord. The angel announced that Mary was going to conceive and give birth to a son called Jesus, the Son of the Most High. Awestruck, young Mary agrees to her role, saying, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” She sings a song to the Lord we call the Magnificat, the band sang a version a few minutes ago.
It’s right after this angel encounter that Mary travels to a city in the highlands and enters Zechariah’s house. Zechariah’s wife, a very pregnant and older Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, greets Mary. A little background on Elizabeth – she is miraculously pregnant in her old age with the child we later know as John the Baptist. But more significant than her being John the Baptist’s mom is the fact that here, in this short little passage, she is the first to publicly declare that Jesus is Lord. Filled with the Holy Spirit, she says, “Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
Elizabeth is the first one to announce Jesus’ role to the world – he will be Lord. (pause)
Charlie Brown: Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?
Elizabeth knows. Christmas is about the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we honor his birth.
To declare that Jesus is Lord (Greek: kyrios lesous (KEY ree ohs LEE soos)) means a few things – “Lord” at the time meant your ultimate ruler – it was a title reserved for kings and emperors. To declare Jesus as Lord meant causing political and social upheaval. Jesus is Lord – It’s a bold statement of faith that today remains one of the first and shortest Christian creeds, it honors our belief that Jesus was both fully man and fully God.
What is Christmas all about? For the Christmas we are talking about here, it means we celebrate and declare that Jesus is Lord of our lives, that God lives and reigns among us. With the Christ as our leader, we are called to live full of reckless love for our neighbors. With God among us, we are called to live differently, called to live not out of fear but from a place of hope, peace, joy and love. Fear Not – that’s what Christmas is all about.
This brings us back to our symbols of Christmas and their deeper meanings.
The star leads us to this place. With the candle, we remember that we need to prepare our hearts and homes, we need to do our own “nesting” to prepare for the arrival. We need to make room. The candle also reminds us we have a light unto our path.
In the Christmas story, Mary and Elizabeth are preparing the way for Christ’s arrival. Even the little town of Bethlehem with its humble manger are “nesting,” getting everything ready for the arrival.
Which brings us to today’s symbol of the wreath at the door. There are two kinds of wreaths we could talk about. We have over here (point) an Advent Wreath – usually it’s on a table or horizontal, filled with candles to mark the countdown to Christmas. (We’re getting close!)
We also have Christmas wreaths (point) – traditionally hung on doors vertically.
Either way, the wreath is in the shape of a circle, reminding us that in God there is no beginning, there is no ending.
The wreath is a circle, and with Jesus, Scripture comes full circle. God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 that “all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you” comes full circle with Jesus.
The prophetic declarations come full circle in Christ. Isaiah 7:14 declares “Therefore the Lord will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel,” and the Gospel of Luke fulfills this with an angel speaking to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35) Micah places the birth in Bethlehem; the predictions of Daniel, Zechariah, Jonah, Malachi and others come full circle in Jesus.
The wreath is traditionally made from an evergreen – significantly symbolizing strength and the everlasting life we find with Jesus Christ as Lord.
Finally, the Christmas wreath today is a symbol of welcome and hospitality. We are being greeted this morning at Christmas’s doorstep. As we’ve traveled along on this Advent journey together, starting far away with the star, moving in with the candle, we are here prepared for company to arrive. Are you ready for company? Do you have room?
This is where the tension between the two Christmases seems to peak. As we feel the pressure to rush around, buying, wrapping and even more rushing, it gets so difficult to make room for the holy to arrive. How can we intentionally make the space in our lives?
The wreath is an everlasting symbol of God’s grace and hospitality greeting us. In our Scripture today, we can visualize the greeting between relatives Elizabeth and Mary. Elizabeth, further along in her pregnancy, is so excited to see Mary. The baby within her leaps for joy. Who are you in this story? Are you Mary who is being welcomed in by family? Are you the child within Elizabeth’s womb, leaping for joy, excited to be in the presence of Christ?
It’s comforting to be reminded when we see the wreath that God offers hospitality and grace to all of us. Even if we feel unworthy, if we feel like there is no way God could accept us, we can remember that God’s grace is available to all people. God wants to be in relationship with humanity – so much so that God dwelt on earth among us. God wants us to be in relationships with one another – especially acknowledging that there are people around us who are hurting and mourning this time of year. God cares deeply for the poor and the marginalized, and God cares deeply for those of us who feel marginalized because we are so busy rushing around.
In the same way, may we remember as Advent and Christmas people that we are challenged to extend God’s grace and hospitality to all who come to our own doorsteps. We are called to live differently, to make room for our neighbors, and, like Elizabeth, to forever acknowledge that Jesus is Lord.
Let us pray:
In all the excitement and anticipation that comes with this season, remind us of the real meaning of Christmas. Forgive us when we get sidetracked by all that glitters and jingles. Remind us that we are people who declare that Jesus is Lord because we want to live differently, we long to be people who share God’s gift of grace and love to all of our neighbors. We thank you for the ultimate Christmas gift, the gift of our savior Jesus Christ. It is in his name that we pray, Amen.
As we close our message this morning, I want to return to the message of Charlie Brown’s Christmas.
Times have not changed all that much since this television special was created. We still live within this tension between the pressures to buy just the right presents for our loved ones, to decorate and celebrate just right, and to sit in stillness and worship as we watch for our Savior’s arrival. May our hearts be transformed this Christmas as we remember what Christmas is all about. Let’s revisit the clip:
(Video clip through “And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown”)
“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?
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.
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.
3 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, 2 during the high
priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah
in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around
the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 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. 5 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; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
The word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
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?
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
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
(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
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
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
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.
During Advent this year (Dec. 2-25) we are having an Advent Photo Challenge! You are invited to participate for any of the topics. Each day I will also send out an accompanying short devotional on the day’s topic. Feel free to share it. Be blessed, Erin
4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
6Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. –Philippians 4:4-9
The painting featured with this post is one I made while serving as a mentor for Texas Youth Academy a few years ago. To be honest, I didn’t love the art project. The instructions were to paint the realistic looking heart as a starting point, and then we went our own direction from there. The canvas itself was still useful, so I am pretty sure I’ve painted over this image and created something new.
That is one of the beautiful things about a life of faith. No matter our starting point, God is not finished with us yet. We have the opportunity to forever be made new, always growing and transforming. Your heart can be transformed.
May you have the peace of God today knowing that you are a work of art in the hands of the ultimate Creator God. Be made new today.
Thank you for being a God who constantly makes me anew. May I dwell on all the things that are lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy today, trusting that you are faithful to give me a clean heart. Amen.
During Advent this year (Dec. 2-25) we are having an Advent Photo Challenge! You are invited to participate for any of the topics. Each day I will also send out an accompanying short devotional on the day’s topic. Feel free to share it. Be blessed, Erin
This little art piece by my favorite artist, Kelly Rae Roberts, sits on a shelf in my office. It serves as a great little reminder that sometimes we just have to wait.
“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
– Isaiah 40:31 ESV
Do you believe in the power of prayers to change things? I do…but I have learned that I don’t always get to expect prayers to change things the way I want them to be changed.
That’s one of the tricky things about prayers. Sometimes we pray and God’s answer seems to be a clear “Yes” or “No.” But, way more often it seems the answer seems to be “maybe” or “not yet.”
It’s hard to wait. Like an expression I’ve heard, the problem seems to be “the same as it always is – I’m in a hurry and God’s not.”
Sometimes we wait a long time. Even when the answer to our deepest prayer seems to be silence, we can still trust.
I take comfort in knowing that while we wait, our strength can be renewed.
While we wait, may we be blessed with people who come into our lives offering comfort and peace. While we wait, may we grow in wisdom and faith. While we wait, may we continue to trust.
This sweet little jingle bell started as a preschool craft project for one of my big three kids. It was delightful to have our littlest one put it on the tree this year!
The jingling of bells reminds me of this passage from the book of Psalms:
Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! 2 Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness!
3 Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! 4 Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! 5 Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! 6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!
Advent, the Christian season that leads up to Christmas, begins on Sunday, December 2 this year. (It also marks the beginning of the Christian liturgical year, so Happy New Year!)
It’s easy in all of the hustle and bustle of commercialized Christmas to get caught up in being stressed out, rushing from one thing to the next.
This season, I invite you to join me in participating in an Advent photo challenge.
How it works:
Each day has a topic/keyword assigned to it. As you go through your day, try to find something that captures the essence of the keyword for you. (Example – the first word is “bells” – this could mean jingle bells, doorbells, bell curves, alarms. Be creative!)
Then post the picture on social media, with or without any explanation, using the hashtag #NWUMCAdvent. By sharing with the hashtag, we can all look up each other’s pictures and share in the challenge together!
I hope you’ll find this to be an exercise that helps you to reflect on the real meaning of Christmas this season.