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Sunday, December 28, 2014

What Christmas Is All About

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, December 28, 2014.  The Bible verses used are Luke 2:8-20.

Today we come to the end of our Christmas sermon series, “Angels Among Us”, looking at the role angels played in the Christmas story.  We talked about how the angel Gabriel gave a message to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, and to Mary, the mother of Jesus.  We talked about how an unnamed angel--might’ve been Gabriel, might not--gave a message to Joseph.  Now, we come to the last appearance of an angel in the Christmas story, the story of the shepherds.
            This is one of the stranger things about the Christmas story, that God would have the birth of the Savior be announced to a bunch of shepherds.  See, “shepherd” was not an occupation that was very well thought of.  In fact, shepherd was kind of down at the bottom of the list as far as honorable professions were concerned.  Nobody wanted to hear their son say, “Dad, when I grow up, I want to be a shepherd.”  Now don’t get me wrong.  It was honest work and it was important and necessary work.  But it was hard work, it was low pay, and it was not a job that very many people wanted to have.
            One of the reasons for that is that somebody had to watch the sheep twenty-four/seven.  Even in the middle of the night, you still had to watch them.  In fact, that may have been the time you had to watch them the most, because night, of course, would be when animals would be on the prowl to try to kill the sheep.  So it was natural that, in the familiar Bible phrase, shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks by night.
            As far as the shepherds were concerned, of course, this was going to be a night like any other night.  They were out there, keeping a lookout.  They were probably a little tired.  They were probably kind of grimy, too, because you know, there was probably no good way for them to keep themselves clean even if they wanted to.  Then, as we read, “an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified”.
            We’ve talked about how everyone in the Christmas story other than Joseph, was scared to death when they saw an angel.  But I think it’s more understandable for the shepherds.  After all, they not only saw an angel, but we’re told “the glory of the Lord shone around them”.
            This is the first time in the Christmas story we’ve heard about the glory of the Lord shining around someone.  But there are other places in the Bible that reference the glory of the Lord shining.  We hear about it in Exodus when Moses talks to God.  We hear about it again at the transfiguration, when Jesus meets with Moses and Elijah.  We also hear about it in Revelation, when John gives a description of heaven.  It’s described as this brilliant, dazzling, unearthly sort of light, brighter than anything we can imagine.
            Maybe it sounds like it’d be kind of cool to see that, but the people who actually did see it did not think it was cool at all.  They were scared to death.  And I think there’s a good reason why.  After all, think about this.  Think about actually seeing the glory of the Lord.  It’d be awesome, but you know what it would do?  It would make us realize who we really are.
            Most of us like to think we’re pretty good.  I don’t mean that in an arrogant way, necessarily.  But most of us like to think we’re doing okay.  We know we’re not perfect, we know we have flaws, but we don’t like to think about them too much.  We know we have things to work on, but by and large, we like to think we’re more or less all right.
            And that’s not all bad.  In fact, there’s an extent to which it’s good.  I’m not saying we should go around miserable and depressed and beating ourselves up for our flaws all the time.  That’d be a pretty lousy way to live.  
But that’s why seeing the glory of the Lord is so frightening.  Because when we see the glory of the Lord, we realize how holy and awesome and perfect God actually is.  And when we see how holy and awesome and perfect God is, we then see how unholy and wretched and imperfect we are.  All those sins and flaws and imperfections, all those things we’ve tried so hard to ignore, all of a sudden those come forward in our minds as big as life, if not bigger.  The difference between us and God, that vast gulf between who we are and who God is, comes to the forefront in such a way that we have to deal with it.  And it makes us miserable.
So take that, and then think about being a shepherd.  Think about not having a very high opinion of yourself anyway, because society tells you all the time how low you are.  And then think about seeing the glory of the Lord, and seeing that huge gulf between who you are and who God is.  It’s no wonder the shepherds felt the way they did.
And then, the angel says those words.  “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”  All of the people.  Including you.  You, as low as you are, are going to get good news of great joy from an angel.  “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you:  You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
And while you’re still trying to take all that in, all of a sudden “a great company of the heavenly host” appears.  More angels than you can even begin to count are all around you.  And they’re praising God, and they’re saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
And then they leave.  And you and the other shepherds just kind of look at each other.  “Did you see that?”  “Uh--maybe.”  “What do you mean, ‘maybe’?”  “Well, what did you see?”  “Well, I’m not sure, but it looked kind of like an angel of the Lord.”  “Yeah, I thought that, too.  And did you see the glory of the Lord shining?”  “I think so.  And what about that other thing?  Did you see that?”  “You mean that thing that looked like a heavenly host?  Yeah, I saw that!”  “Yeah!  Me, too!”
And the more you talk about it, the more excited you get.  Because you realize that this was not just a dream.  This was not just your imagination playing tricks on you.  It really happened.  God really sent angels to give an incredible message to you.  You, the lowest of the low.  You, who have no business even thinking you could be anywhere near the presence of God.  God has sent a Savior to the world.  To all of the world.  Including you.  And God specifically wanted you to know that.
And as Linus says in the Charlie Brown Christmas special, that’s what Christmas is all about.  The Savior of the world coming into the world for you.  Not just for the rich.  Not just for the powerful.  Not just for the popular.  For you.  And for me.  As low and flawed and unworthy as we all are.  God has sent the Savior into the world for us.  And God specifically wants us to know that.
It really is incredible.  You and I have no business being in God’s presence.  And yet, we’re allowed by God to come into God’s presence.  Not only are we allowed in, we’re invited in.  God wants us to come into God’s presence.  God is eager to have us come into God’s presence.  There is nothing that makes God happier than when we come into God’s presence.
Why?  Because God loves us.  It’s a love that we don’t deserve.  It’s a love that we can never earn.  But then, that’s what love is.  Love, real love, is never something we earn.  Love is never something we deserve.  Real love is always a gift, a complete and total gift, given with no expectation of anything in return.
God loves us so much that, as unworthy as we are, God sent the Savior into the world to save us.  And then, God sent angels to make sure we all knew about it.
           “For God so loved the world that world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Wednesday, December 24, 2014.  The Bible verses used are Luke 2:1-20.
Well, here we are again.  Once again, it’s time to hear the Christmas story.
We do this every year.  An you know, no matter how much we try to change things up, no matter how many variations we try to do, the Christmas Eve service still pretty much comes down to singing the Christmas songs and telling the Christmas story.  That’s just the way it is.
And you know, that’s okay.  In fact, it’s good.  After all, the Christmas story is one of the most popular stories in the Bible, maybe the most popular story in the Bible.  And when you think about it, it’s easy to see why.  It’s got everything.  It’s got love.  It’s got adventure.  It’s got family.  It has good guys and bad guys.  It has kings and commoners.  It even has angels.  And, of course, it has the birth of a baby, who was the Son of God.
Did you ever wonder why God had the story go this way?  I mean, you read lots of things about why it was important for the Son to come to earth, and why it was important that he come by a virgin birth.  You also read a lot about why it was important that he was born to Mary and Joseph, to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah being a descendant of King David.  But I don’t know that I’ve ever read anything about why God would’ve had the divine Son come to earth in this precise way, why God would’ve chosen to have the divine Son be born to two ordinary people, people who were a long way from home and could find no place to stay, so that the divine Son of God wound up being born in a barn with no one around but a bunch of animals.
I sometimes think we’ve heard the Christmas story so many times that we kind of take it for granted.  But you know, God could’ve done this in lots of other ways.  God could’ve had Jesus come to earth with lots of advance publicity.  God could’ve had angels appearing everywhere on earth, blowing trumpets and announcing that here was the divine Son of God.  Or, God could’ve had Jesus born to a powerful family with lots of wealth and privilege.  That’s what lots of people expected would happen.  Or, God could’ve had Jesus born with a huge crowd of people around, so the story would be spread far and wide.  Or, God could’ve had Jesus born anonymously, so that there’d be no record of Jesus’ birth whatsoever.  In fact, there was no real reason that Jesus had to be “born” at all.  He could’ve simply appeared, fully formed, ready to begin his ministry immediately.  God had all kinds of choices for how the divine Son would come to earth.  Why would God choose this particular way?
It seems like there must be some reason, maybe lots of reasons.  I don’t think God does anything just at random, and I certainly don’t think any of the details of something as important as the coming of the divine Son to earth would be left to chance.  But what would the reason be?  Why would God have Jesus be born with such high drama like this?
Well, I’m certainly not going to stand here tonight and tell you that I can read the mind of God.  But it seems to me that at least one of the reasons God chose to do it this way might be that God wanted the coming of the Savior to the earth to be a very memorable story.  God wanted the story of the birth of Jesus to be told over and over again.  God wanted it to be a compelling story, one that people would remember.
I think one of the things God wanted was us to know is that Jesus was both fully divine and fully human.  If the story of Jesus’ birth was not known, or if Jesus had simply come to earth fully formed—in other words, if all we knew about Jesus was his teaching and his miracles and his rising from the dead--it would be easy for the human side of Jesus to be lost.  It would be easy for us to see Jesus only as a powerful, divine figure.  If we only saw Jesus that way, we would still know he was great and important, but that’s all.  We would not know that Jesus knows exactly what it’s like to be human.  We would not know that Jesus knows exactly what we go through on earth, because he went through it himself.  Even Jesus’ resurrection would be suspect—we could not really say that Jesus had died, because we would not know that he had ever lived, the way we humans define living, in the first place.
It’s only because Jesus was physically born, and because we know the story of how Jesus was born— that he was born in the same way that all humans are born— it’s only because of that, that we can say that Jesus really was fully human, as well as fully divine.  And it’s only because we know of Jesus’ humanity that we can know that Jesus understands how we feel, how we think, how we are.  It’s only because we know of Jesus’ humanity that we can truly say that Jesus died so that our sins would be forgiven.
It used to be that the story of Jesus birth was the only Christmas story there was.  But now, these days, we have lots of Christmas stories.  We have Rudolph and Frosty.  We have the Grinch.  We have any number of stories about Santa Claus.  We have all kinds of Christmas-themed movies on the Hallmark Channel that Wanda loves to watch.  We have all kinds of TV specials and all sorts of other stories that talk about Christmas.  And there’s nothing inherently wrong or bad about any of those stories.  It’s just that, because there are so many other Christmas stories, the real Christmas story, the story of Jesus’ birth, could easily have been crowded out.  If that had happened, the fact of Jesus’ humanity could have been lost.
By having Jesus born in such an unusual and dramatic way, God saw to it that the story of Jesus’ birth, the real Christmas story, would not be crowded out.  The story of Jesus’ birth is so compelling that no matter how many other stories are told about Christmas, that first Christmas story, the real Christmas story, is never going to be forgotten.  It has existed for over two thousand years.  Some of us have heard it more times than we can count.  And yet, we still tell it and listen to it and read it all over again every year.  The story of Jesus’ birth is a constant reminder to us that not only did Jesus live as one of us, Jesus was one of us.  Jesus lived, and Jesus died.  Then, Jesus was resurrected, through the great glory of God.  And because of that, we know our sins are forgiven.
God wanted to make sure we knew that.  God wanted to make sure we remembered it.  That’s one of the reasons the Christmas story happened in the way that it did.

           Because of the way Jesus was born, the Christmas story will be told every year.  It will never go away, and it will never grow old.  It will be told every year, in churches all over the world, until that day when an even greater story comes along:  the story of when Jesus comes again.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Our Christmas Letter

If anyone's interested, here is our family Christmas letter for 2014.


We’re so glad to be in the Gettysburg, Onida and Agar area.  We love living here and hope we get to stay a long time.  We are very blessed to have such wonderful people to live with and to serve God with.

We are building an addition to the Gettysburg church.  We have had fundraisers such as concerts, silient auctions, dinners, pie auctions etc. It wouldn’t be possible without the wonderful donations of the fundraisers and people from the church.  The community helped with a couple of the fundraisers, too.  We still have a ways to go, but we’re confident that we’ll get there.

Youth programs are going good in Onida and Gettysburg.  We’ve been praying for God to help us reach the unchurched children of the parish, and it’s working!  We have around 15 to 21 kids in both churches.  We have church school after school on Wednesday afternoon in Gettysburg.  They call themselves the Faith Builders.  Jeff helps with the music.  The Onida church school still meets on Sunday mornings.  We also have eight kids in confirmation class and ten or so in the senior high youth group.

Jeff has been doing the public address announcing for football and cross country.  He loves it.  He is also in bowling on Monday afternoons.  Wanda still love ceramics on Monday afternoons, visitations and activities within the church.  We do shut in notes, inspiration notes etc. Circles and bible studies keep us busy too.  Jeff is working this evening as we were gone a few days to a wedding in November then stayed an extra day.  

Jeff loves sport activities and a lot of kids from his conformation and Faith Builders are in them.

Both Sully Buttes (Onida-Agar-Blunt) and Potter County (Gettysburg-Hoven) did well in sports this fall.  Each of them made the football playoffs, playing each other in the first round.  Potter County won, but then lost in the second round.  Each of them won their district in volleyball, so they again played each other in the regional tournament.  This time Sully Buttes won, going on to the state tournament where they finished fourth. etc this year.  Marileen Tilberg from the Onida church made us purple and red shirts (purple for Sully Buttes, red for Potter County) with half of each team’s nickname on them.  We love wearing those shirts when the two play against each other.

We visit both sides of the family in Blunt and Armour as often as we can.  It is always fun to do that.  We don’t get to see either our parents or the rest of our family nearly as much as we’d like to, but it is always wonderful to see them when we can.

Jeff is in Rotary in Gettysburg and the Wheatland Lions in Onida, and Wanda goes to the senior center once a week to eat and then play pick two with friends.

We celebrated our twenty-fifth anniversary this year.  It sure doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, but the calendar doesn’t lie.  On the actual day, we went out to Oahe Manor to celebrate with our friends there.  That was about all we did that day (in fact, Jeff had a football game to announce that night), but we took an extra day or two over Thanksgiving to spend in Sioux Falls, and we also had a weekend in Pierre earlier in the year, so we considered those our twenty-fifth anniversary celebration.

Wanda has been busy making calendars for shut ins, friends, our Gettysburg, Onida and Agar congregations, and others.  This is just one of the many craft projects she works on throughout the year.  She loves to make things and give them away to people.  She also loves to write poems, especially for people who’ve lost loved ones.  With all the visits she does and all the things she gives to people, Jeff says it’s like she’s his associate pastor.

We feel incredibly blessed to have the life we do, and we are even more blessed to have wonderful people to share that life with.  We have friends in Pierre, in Wessington Springs, in North Sioux City, in Agar, in Onida, and in Gettysburg.  And of course, people we’ve gotten to know in other places along the way.  Our lives have truly been an incredible journey so far, and we know God has more blessings to come for us.  We are very glad you are a part of our lives, and we hope you will be for many, many years to come.

Have a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year.  Best wishes always.

Wanda & Jeff Adel

Sunday, December 21, 2014

God Knows

This is the message given in the United Methodist Churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, December 21, 2014.  The Bible verses used are Matthew 1:18-25; 2:13-14, 18-23

            We’re in the third week of our sermon series “Angels Among Us”, looking at the role angels played in the Christmas story.  We’ve talked about how the angel Gabriel spoke with Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, and then six months later spoke to Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Today, we look at the conversations an angel had with Joseph.
            We don’t know whether this angel was Gabriel or not.  Matthew does not tell us the angel’s name.  He just says, each time, “an angel of the Lord”.  It could’ve been Gabriel, but it might not have been.  It might not even have been the same angel each time.  We don’t know.
            Joseph hears from an angel three times.  We read all three today.  Each time, it follows pretty much the same pattern.  First, the angel appears to Joseph in a dream.  That’s different from the times Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and Mary.  We did not hear anything about a dream in those stories.  Zechariah and Mary, as far as we know, were wide awake.  But for Joseph, the angel shows up in his sleep.
            Each time, of course, the angel gives Joseph a message.  And listen to what happens next.  The first time, we’re told, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him.”  The second time, we’re told, “So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt”, which of course is what the angel had told him to do.  And the third time, we’re told, “So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel,” which again was what the angel told him.
            Remember, when Gabriel talked to Zechariah and Mary, they were given the chance to have a conversation.  They got to ask questions.  But not Joseph.  The way the story is told, the angel appears to Joseph in a dream, the angel tells him to do something, and Joseph wakes up and immediately does it.  No hesitation.  No questions asked.  He just does what the angel of the Lord told him to do.
            I wonder why that was.  Why did the angel not give Joseph the chance to ask questions?  Why did Joseph not get to voice any doubts or objections?  It was like what Joseph thought or felt did not matter.  He just gets his orders and does as he’s told.
            Did you ever think what would’ve happened if Joseph had not done that?  What if Joseph had said no?  I assume he could have.  What if Joseph had said, you know, I just cannot do this.  It’s too hard.  It’s too much.  I’m sorry, angel, but tell God you need to find somebody else.  I cannot do it.
            But you know, maybe that’s why Joseph was chosen.  Because God knew Joseph would not say no.  Because God knew Joseph had a faith that was strong enough to not ask questions.  Joseph had a faith that was strong enough to not raise any objections.  Did you notice, Joseph does not appear to have been afraid of the angel, the way Zechariah was and Mary was and most people are.  If an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and told Joseph to do something, well, that was good enough for him.  He went ahead and did it.  Period.
            There’s one more thing that shows up in the description of all these angelic appearances.  Some of you probably caught it.  The first time, we’re told, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet.”  The second time, it’s, “And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet.”  And the third time, “So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets.”
            We wondered last week about whether the angels knew what was going to happen when they were sent out to give these messages.  We don’t know, but there’s one thing we do know.  God knew what was going to happen.
            God knew exactly how this was all going to play out.  God had told the prophets about it centuries before.  God did not give them all the details, but he gave them enough so that, when these things happened, people would recognize what was going on.  People would know that Jesus was the Savior.  Some people, like the Pharisees, refused to admit it or acknowledge it, but that always happens, right?  We all tend to see what we want to see.  The Pharisees did not want to see that Jesus was the Savior, and so they did not.  But people who had their minds open and their eyes open did see it.  And they saw it because of what the prophets had said all those centuries ago.
            I have to think that God chose the key players in the Christmas story with great care.  God did not just choose Mary and Joseph, or even Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, at random.  God chose them because they were people of great faith.  God chose them because they were people who would trust God.  They trusted God enough that they would agree to do things that seemed impossible.  They trusted God enough to do things they did not want to do.  They trusted God enough to do the things that were necessary for the things the prophets said to come true.
            And they did that deliberately.  After all, they knew about these Old Testament prophecies, too.  Everybody knew about them.  Mary and Joseph knew they were following a plan that had been laid out centuries before.  They did not know the details of the plan, but they knew God was behind it.  They knew that, whatever was going to happen, God was in control of it and that it would happen the way God wanted it to happen.
            We’ve talked in this sermon series about how God has messages for all of us, and those messages are designed to shake us up.  We’ve also talked about how God asks us to start on a path without knowing exactly where that path will lead.  And we’ve talked about how hard that is for us to do, because we’re fairly comfortable with our lives as they are and we don’t want to change things when we don’t know where that change might take us.  It takes a lot of faith, a lot of trust in God to be willing to do that.  It’s not easy for us to have that much faith.
            Maybe it will be easier for us if we remember how all these things the angel told Joseph were to fulfill Old Testament prophecies, how God had planned all this stuff out centuries before.  Because that’s proof to us that God knows what’s going to happen in the future.  And God does not just know the future in broad strokes, either.  God knows the details.  God knew the details involved in Jesus’ story.  And God knows the details of your story and my story, too.
            Now, we still have free will.  Joseph had free will.  Joseph could’ve said no.  Joseph could’ve gone ahead and divorced Mary like he planned to.  Joseph was chosen not because he could not refuse to do what God wanted, but because God knew he would not refuse.  God knew that Joseph had enough faith that he would willingly do what God wanted.
            But the point is that God knows our stories.  God has been planning them for a long time.  God has brought us to this point in time.  And now, God is giving each of us a message to take us to the next point in time.  God is asking us to take a step.  That’s all we get to see, that next step.  But God sees the whole path.  God knows exactly where it’s going to take us.  Just like God knew exactly what would happen with Zechariah and Elizabeth, with Joseph and Mary, and with Jesus, God knows exactly what will happen for each of us when we trust God enough to take that next step on the path God has laid out for us.
            But because we have free will, the choice is up to us.  We can be like Joseph.  We can hear God’s message, and get up, and do what God has told us to do.  We can trust God and follow that path.  Or, we can say no.  We can say, you know, I just cannot do this.  It’s too hard.  It’s too much.  I’m sorry, God, but you need to find somebody else.  I cannot do it.  
            God has a plan for each one of us.  God has a plan for you, and God has a plan for me.  God sees the whole path that’s ahead of us.  We don’t, but God does.  God knows our story, and God knows how the story will end.
            Joseph listened to God’s message.  Joseph followed God’s plan.  And the story came out just the way God had planned it.  If we listen to God’s message and follow God’s plan, our story will come out the way God has planned it, too.
            But it’s our choice.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Defending Christmas

This blog post is a tradition, having appeared every year at about this time since 2009 at my prior blog.

            We are just a week away from Christmas Day.  Among other things, that means it’s the time of year for pastors to complain about the secularization of Christmas.

            There are secular aspects to Christmas, of course.  There always have been. Some of them are fine.  There’s nothing particularly wrong with giving and receiving presents, as long as you don’t go overboard about it.  There’s nothing wrong with decorating trees and putting up Christmas lights.  In fact, I enjoy looking at them.   

The reason we celebrate Christmas on December 25 is not because Jesus was actually born on that date.  We don’t know the actual day on which Jesus was born, although there are various theories.  Many sources say the reason we celebrate Christmas on December 25 is that it was a time when there were already secular celebrations going on, centering on the winter solstice.  It might be more accurate, then, to say that followers of Jesus have been trying to Christianize a secular holiday rather than the other way around.

            Therefore, I really don’t think that, as Christians, we need to feel like we’re have to defend Jesus in some sort of war on Christmas.  In fact, the idea of Christians fighting a war over the birth of the Prince of Peace seems like a contradiction in terms.  All we need to do, as Christians, is make clear what it is that we are celebrating, regardless of what anyone else is doing.

            Let others wish us a “happy holiday”; we can still wish them a merry Christmas.  If some don’t want a nativity scene at the courthouse, we can still put one in our front yard.  More than three-fourths of Americans claim to be Christians.  If three-fourths of the houses in this country had nativity scenes in their yards, there’d be no need for one on public property.  In fact, we’d probably make more of an impact that way.

            We don’t need to get mad at people who want to secularize Christmas.  What we need to do is calmly, persistently, and lovingly make sure people know that, as Christians, we are celebrating the birth of Christ.  Then, in that same way, we need to make sure people know who Jesus is, why we worship him, and why others should worship him, too.  If we do that, our Lord and Savior will do the rest.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

It's the Most Hectic Time of the Year

This article first appeared in the December, 2014 issue of the Wheatland Parish newsletter.

            It’s December.  That, of course, means that Christmas is coming up.  That, in turn, means that we’re headed into one of the busiest times of the year.

            There will be school concerts.  There will be Christmas parties.  There will be basketball games and wrestling tournaments.  There will be family gatherings.  There will be Christmas shopping and taking the kids to see Santa Claus.  And, of course, there will be church Christmas programs and Christmas Eve services.  It seems like the Christmas season is one of the most hectic times of the year.

            That’s okay.  There’s nothing wrong with any of those things.  They add to the joy of the Christmas season--up to a point.

            Where that point is will be different for each of us.  Some of us are fine with having stuff going on every night of the week.  Some of us even thrive on it.  Others, though, get stressed out over it.  It seems like every year, I hear people say, “I just can’t wait for Christmas to be over!”

            That’s kind of sad.  It’s sad because Christmas is not supposed to be a stressful time.  It’s supposed to be a joyous time.  If we can’t wait for Christmas to be over, it means we’ve let all these other things, all the running around and doing things, distract us from feeling the joy that comes from what we’re meant to be celebrating--the human birth of the divine Son of God, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

            So, if Christmas leaves you feeling stressed rather than blessed, what can you do about it?  Well, one of my beliefs is that when we’re faced with a situation, we have two choices.  We can either change the situation, or we can embrace the situation.

            What that means is that if the hectic pace of Christmas has you feeling stressed, take a look at the list of things you have to do.  Then think, “Do I really have to do these things?  Or am I choosing to do these things?”  The chances are there at least some of the things on our lists that we are choosing to do.  What that means is that we can choose not to do them, too.  Maybe that’s what we need to do to reduce our stress.  Or, maybe just recognizing that we are choosing to do these things, rather than required to do them, will remind us of why you started doing them in the first place and will help us regain the feeling of joy that we felt when we started doing them.

            If there is nothing on our list of things to do that we can remove, then let’s embrace that.  Let’s find joy in having a busy, hectic month.  Let’s feel the joy of going to the concerts and the parties and the games.  Let’s feel the joy of seeing family and taking the kids to see Santa.  And I certainly hope we can all feel the joy of going to the church Christmas program and to our Christmas Eve services.

            December is going to be busy for a lot of us.  But that busy-ness does not have to lead to stress.  If there’s something we can change that will reduce our stress, let’s change it.  If there’s not, then let’s embrace the season for what it is.  And either way, let’s not forget what we are celebrating--the human birth of our Savior, the divine Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Path

This is the message given in the United Methodist Churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, December 14, 2014.  The Bible verses used are Luke 1:26-38.

            This is the second week of our sermon series “Angels Among Us”, looking at the role angels played in the Christmas story.  Last week, we look at the angel Gabriel and his conversation with Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.  Today, it’s six months later, and we hear from Gabriel again.  This time, Gabriel talks to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
            Many of us know the story, but even so, I don’t think we ever get tired of hearing it.  Mary is a virgin.  She’s engaged to a man named Joseph.  We’re not told how old Mary was, but many scholars believe she might have been fairly young, maybe a teenager.  She’s minding her own business, doing whatever it is she did, and all of a sudden Gabriel shows up.  Gabriel says, “Greetings, you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you.”
            We’re told that Mary “was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.”  That’s all we’re told, but I suspect there was a lot more going on in Mary’s mind than that.  Like, what’s going on here?  Who is this?  Is this really an angel?  Why does an angel want to talk to me?  Did I do something wrong?  Is God out to get me?  I mean, if that was me, I’d probably be so freaked out by what was going on that I would not even hear the first words the angel said.  My head would be spinning.
            And maybe Mary was a little freaked out.  Because again, just like we talked about last week with Zechariah, the angel tells Mary not to be afraid.  It must’ve gotten a little discouraging for Gabriel, you know?  Gabriel must have wondered “Why is no one ever pleased to see me?”  Because every time Gabriel appears to someone, they’re scared to death.
            But Gabriel goes on to tell Mary what’s going to happen.  She’s going to give birth to a son.  The son’s name is supposed to be Jesus.  He’ll be great.  He’ll be called the Son of the Most High.  God will give him the throne of David.  His kingdom will never end.
            Mary asks one question, or at least one question that we know about.  She asks how this all will be.  That always strikes me as kind of remarkable, that this is the only question we’re told that Mary asked.  Again, I’d think she’d have a lot more questions.  Like, why me?  How am I supposed to do this?  I’m not much more than a child myself, and now I’m supposed to raise one?  And not just raise any kid, but a child who’s the Son of the Most High?  And how am I going to explain this to anyone?  How am I going to explain it to my family?  How am I going to explain it to Joseph?  What am I going to do if they don’t believe me?  How am I going to raise the Son of the Most High if I’m left on my own?
            There’d probably be a lot more questions Mary could’ve asked.  But she did not.  She did not ask any of those questions.  Mary simply asks, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
            And Gabriel really does not give her much of an answer.  All Gabriel says is that the Holy Spirit will come to her and that no word from God ever fails.  And Mary agrees.  She says, “May it be done to me according to your word.”  And Gabriel leaves.  Mission accomplished, at least from Gabriel’s perspective.
            I wonder, if Mary had asked any of those other questions, whether Gabriel could’ve answered them.  We said last week that one of the things angels do is give people messages from God.  But how much did Gabriel actually know?  Did Gabriel know how this was all going to play out?  Did God tell Gabriel or any of the other angels what was going to happen?  Or did God just send Gabriel out to give Mary the message, giving Gabriel only the information Gabriel needed and no more?
            There’s no way to know.  But sometimes I imagine Gabriel getting this assignment and wondering about it, you know?  Because it is a pretty strange deal, when you think about it.  Gabriel may not have said anything, but I can imagine Gabriel thinking, “Okay, let me make sure I have this straight.  I’m supposed to go this young, unmarried girl, who’s a virgin, and I’m supposed to tell her that she’s going to have a baby.  And the baby’s not going to come about the normal way.  She’s still going to be a virgin when he’s born.  And the only thing I can tell her about how all this is going to happen is that it will be by the power of the Holy Spirit.  But I’m also supposed to tell her that this baby is going to be the Son of the Most High and will have a never-ending kingdom.  
“And--that’s it?  That’s all I can tell her?  Okay, then.  But what’s God up to?  What’s going to happen?  What’s the plan here?  What’s this all about?”  You know, when you think about it, Gabriel may have had just as many questions about all this as Mary did.  Maybe more.
We talked last week about how God has a message for each one of us.  Those messages come in all kinds of ways.  It could be that we get a direct message, in words, from God or from an angel, but there are lots of other ways.  Sometimes God sends us messages through prayer and meditation.  Sometimes God gives us messages through other people.  Sometimes God gives us messages through things that happen to us.  Sometimes, we don’t even realize that we’ve gotten a message from God.  Sometimes we just have a feeling that we should do something, or say something, and we do, and we’re not even aware that God was involved in it.
We also talked last week about how, when God gives us a message, it shakes our lives up, either in big ways or in small ways.  One of the reasons that shake-up happens is that, while God may tell us everything we need to know, God does not tell us anywhere near everything we’d like to know.  We have all kinds of questions, just like Mary probably had and like Gabriel may have had.  We wonder, “Why me?”  We wonder, “How am I supposed to do this?”  We wonder, “How am I going to explain this to people?”  And “What am I going to do if no one listens to me?”  Or maybe we get confused by it.  Maybe we wonder, “What’s God up to?  What’s going to happen?  What’s the plan here?  What’s this all about?”
Gabriel may have had no idea how things were going to go.  Mary certainly did not.  And yet, Mary went ahead and agreed to it anyway.  Even though Mary had no idea what was going to happen next or how this could possibly all work out, Mary was still able to say, “I am the Lord’s servant.  May it be to me according to your word.”
It takes a lot of faith to be able to do that.  Mary started out on a path not having any idea where it was going to lead.  Gabriel convinced her it was what God wanted, and she was willing to do it, but still.  Most of us, when we start out on a road, want to know where the road is going.  We want to have an idea of what direction we’re headed and what’s going to happen along the way.  Mary did not know any of that.  She was willing to start down a road when she had no idea where that road was going or where it would ultimately take her.
That’s a lot of faith.  And yet, that’s the faith that you and I are asked to have.  Because when God gives us one of those messages, God will not tell us everything we’d like to know.  God asks us to start out on a path without having any idea where it’s going to lead.  That path may be a physical path, a certain place we’re supposed to go, or it may be a metaphorical path, a thing we’re supposed to do.  But either way, God is asking us to start out on it without knowing where it’s going to lead.  And the questions is whether we have enough faith to start out down that path.
And what that comes down to is a matter of trust.  Do we trust God?  Do we trust God enough to start out down a path that could lead anywhere?  A path that could take us to the last place in the world we’d go on our own?  A path that could lead us to do something we’d never dream of doing on our own?
Gabriel gave Mary a message that perhaps Gabriel himself did not understand.  It was one that Mary almost certainly did not understand, at least in detail.  And yet, Mary agreed to it anyway.  Mary agreed to start out down that path, not having any idea where it was going to lead.  Mary trusted God enough to believe that if God wanted her to start down that path, then it must be the right path.  Mary trusted God enough to believe that if God wanted her to start down that path, then God would take care of her along the path and would take her where she was supposed to go.
That was the faith and trust that Mary had.  The question is, when God gives us a message, will you and I have that kind of faith?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

No One Alone

This article appeared in the December, 2014 issue of the Wheatland Parish newsletter.

            This month we’re going to start a new prayer emphasis within the church.

            Before I get into it, I want to make clear that we are not stopping our prayer emphasis on the unchurched children of the parish.  That needs to continue and it will continue.  We have seen some success--we are reaching many more children than we were a year ago, or even six months ago.  But there are many more unchurched children out there, children who are not going to church or Sunday school anywhere.  They need to know the love of God, and they need to know the salvation that is available to them through belief in Jesus Christ as their Savior.  We need to continue to pray that God will help us reach those children.

            We’re not stopping that prayer emphasis.  However, our parish must be and is capable of doing more than one thing at a time.  Therefore, we’re starting a new prayer emphasis on people who are alone.  And before we go any farther, let me explain what I mean by that.

            Often, when we talk about people who are alone, our thoughts go immediately to shut-ins or single people.  That’s not what we’re talking about here.  Our prayer emphasis may include those people, but it is not limited to them.  It’s entirely possible to be married and have kids and still feel alone.  We can be surrounded by people all day and still feel alone.  We can know everyone in town by name and talk to them all when we see them and still feel alone.

            You see, being alone has nothing to do with how many people are around us.  It has to do with feeling that no one knows what’s going on in our lives and no one cares.  It’s feeling that I’ve got this burden I’ve got to deal with and there’s no one to share that burden with me.  It’s feeling that I’ve got this battle I’ve got to fight and there’s no one fighting it with me.  It’s feeling that I’ve got all kinds of things going on in my life and I have to deal with them all by myself, because there’s no one I can even talk to about them.

            You may have heard the saying,”Be kind, for everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”  It’s true, but simply being kind is not enough.  We need to be there for people.  We need to let people know that they are not alone.  We need to let people know that there is someone who cares, that there is someone who’s willing to share their burden.  That’s one of the reasons God created the church.  God knows that life is too hard for us to deal with by ourselves.  God knows that we need others to share our burdens and help us fight our battles.

            As I’ve talked with some people about this prayer emphasis, the question has sometimes come up, in one form or another, “What do you want us to do?”  I want to apologize to the people who’ve asked that question, because I don’t think I gave you very good answers.   I tried to answer you by suggesting some things we could do.  The things I suggested were not bad things, but they missed the point of what this is all about.

            The point of this is not to start a program or create an event in the church.  It is exactly what it’s called:  a prayer emphasis.  What I’m asking you to do--and what I’m going to do, too--is pray.  I’m asking us all to pray for the people who feel alone.  I’m asking us to pray with open, honest, sincere hearts.  I’m asking us to pray for God to help us, as individuals or as a parish, to find ways to be there for those people.

            I don’t know what those ways need to be.  But God does.  And God will answer our prayers.  I’ve said this before, but I have never known a time when I prayed for chances to serve God that God did not answer my prayer.  If we mean it when we pray, and if we keep our eyes open and our ears open and our hearts open, God will give us chances to be with people who are alone, and God will show us how to do it.

            Sometimes we think, “But what can I do?  I can’t solve anybody’s problems.”  And that may be true.  Often, there may be nothing we can do to solve anyone’s problems.  But often, people who are alone don’t want us to solve their problems.  They know we cannot do that.  They just need to know someone cares.  They just need to know someone is willing to be there for them.  They just need to know that they don’t have to fight life’s battles alone.

            So that’s what I’m asking us all to do.  Pray for people who feel alone.  Pray that God will help us find ways to be there for them.  Pray that we come together as churches and communities so that there is no one who feels that nobody cares about the battles they are fighting.  If we do that, we will be a lot closer to being the people and the parish that God wants us to be.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Shake It Up!

This is the message given in the United Methodist Churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, December 7, 2014.  The Bible verses are Luke 1:2-25, 57-66.

            This is the second Sunday of Advent, but since I was not here last week we waited until today to start our next sermon series.  It’s called “Angels Among Us”, and it looks at the role angels played in the Christmas story.
            We don’t know everything that angels do--in fact, we really don’t know just a whole lot about angels at all--but we know that one of the things angels do is give people messages from God.  That’s mostly what they do in the Christmas story.  And in the story we’re looking at today, they have a message for a man named Zechariah.
            As you heard, Zechariah was a Jewish priest at the time, and he was chosen by lot to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.  We kind of lose the significance of that now, but that was a high honor that Zechariah had been given.  There were only certain people who were allowed to go into the temple of the Lord, and they were only allowed in at certain times.  And given the number of priests they were, it was a rare thing for a priest to be chosen to do this.  It might happen once in your career that you’d be the one chosen to go into the temple and burn incense.  It might not happen at all. 
And the fact that Zechariah was chosen by lot did not make it less of an honor.  In fact, it made it more of an honor.  The thought was that when someone was chosen by lot, it meant that the Lord had taken a hand and chosen that person.
            So, Zechariah goes into the temple.  We’re told all the assembled worshipers were outside.  Zechariah was probably kind of nervous.  After all, here he was, going into this high holy place, probably the only shot he’ll ever get at doing this.  He wants to be sure he gets it right, because, after all, the temple of the Lord was where the Lord was considered to actually be.  He goes in there, and he looks toward the altar.  And there’s the angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar.
            Now, we don’t know much about angels.  We really don’t even know what angels actually look like.  I don’t think they probably look like the characters in Touched by an Angel.  In fact, they must look kind of scary, because almost every time someone sees one, they’re scared to death.
Zechariah certainly was.  We’re told that he was “startled and gripped with fear”.  And who can blame him?  I mean, try to imagine this.  We’re going to be taking communion in a little while, right?  So suppose I go through the communion liturgy, and I turn around to go and get the bread and the juice, and there’s an angel standing there next to the altar.  And there’s no doubt that it’s an angel.  We’re not saying “who is this” or something.  We all know it’s an angel.  How would we react?  I think we’d probably all be scared to death.
But the angel tells him “Do not be afraid”.  The angel knows that Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth don’t have any children, and that they’ve been praying for one.  So the angel tells Zechariah that his prayers have been answered.  He’ll have a son.  
The angel tells him to name the son John.  And then the angel goes on to tell Zechariah who his son will be.  The angel tells him the easy stuff first.  The angel first says John will be a joy and a delight to them.  That sounds okay--in fact, Zechariah probably thought, well, of course he will.  The angel says many will rejoice because of his birth.  Well, okay, yeah, lots of people know how much Zechariah and Elizabeth wanted a child, so there’ll be people who are happy for them.
But then the angel says, “He will be great in the sight of the Lord.  He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.  Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God.  He will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous--to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
And Zechariah says “Ho-lee Cow!”
Well, the Bible does not tell us Zechariah said that.  But what would you say?  Think about being told that your son, who is not even born yet, is going to do all these awesome, incredible things.  That’s got to be a lot of pressure, right?  And here Zechariah is, an old man who’s never had children.  This is going to shake up his whole life.  And when he expresses just the slightest doubt, saying, “How can I be sure of this?”, the angel, who we find out is named Gabriel, takes away his ability to speak.  Zechariah cannot even tell anyone about what’s happened.  It’s not until after his son is born, and he agrees that the son’s name is to be John, that he is able to talk again and can tell people all about the things that happened that day in the temple.
As I said, we don’t know much about angels.  But I imagine Gabriel enjoying this assignment.  Think of it this way.  Have you ever planned a big surprise for someone, something you knew was going to make them incredibly happy?  That’s what Gabriel was doing here.  I mean, Gabriel did not cause Zechariah and his wife to have a child--God did that--but Gabriel got to be the one to tell him about it.
I picture Gabriel standing there by the altar ahead of time, just waiting for Zechariah to show up, imagining what Zechariah’s reaction is going to be.  Then, seeing the look of Zechariah’s face when he tells Zechariah how great his son is going to be, picturing that mixture of pride and astonishment.  And then, as the time goes on after this, I wonder if Gabriel was checking in on Zechariah and Elizabeth every once in a while, just to see how they were doing.  And then, seeing the happiness when John was born, and hearing Zechariah praise God and tell everyone about how great his son John was going to be.  I have to think this was one of the best assignments Gabriel has ever had.
And of course, the other thing about this is that Gabriel knew this was only the beginning.  We’ll talk more about that next week, when we look at Gabriel’s conversation with Mary.  But Gabriel knew that, as cool as this assignment was, there was an even better one coming.
Now, most of us have probably never seen an angel.  Maybe some of us have, and if you have I’m not questioning that or doubting you.  But most of us probably have not.
But even if we’ve never seen an angel, God still has messages for us.  There are things God wants to tell us.  That thought can be scary to us, just like seeing Gabriel was scary to Zechariah.  After all, most of us are fairly comfortable in the lives we have.  We have problems, and sometimes they’re serious, but still, we’ve gotten used to being where we are and doing what we do.  And when we get a message from God, it shakes us up.  It takes us out of our comfortable life.  And we get scared, just like Zechariah did.
But I think God enjoys that, in a way.  Not that God wants us to be scared--Gabriel did not want Zechariah to be scared--but God knows that sometimes the only way God can give us what we really want is to shake our lives up.  Zechariah and Elizabeth may have wanted a child, but getting one really shook their lives up.
And what God enjoys, I suspect, is shaking our lives up so that God can give us what we really want.  I think that’s one of God’s favorite things to do.  God loves to plan surprises for us.  God pictures our reaction to whatever it is God is planning for us.  Then, God does it, and sees our astonishment.  And then, things work out and God sees how happy we are when we finally see where all this is going.  I suspect God really enjoys that.
God has a message for you.  God has a message for each one of us.  And that message is designed to shake us up.  It may shake us up in small ways, or it may shake us up in bigger ways.  But God has a message for us, and that message is designed to shake up our lives.
And if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that.  We’ve felt it.  It’s that nagging feeling that, while things are going okay, there’s something missing.  There’s something that’s not quite right.  It’s that nagging feeling that there’s something more we’re supposed to do.  We try to ignore that feeling, because it scares us.  I know I do.  I did it for years before I became a pastor, and I still do it now.
We can be really good at ignoring that feeling.  In fact, if we can ignore it all our lives, if we choose to.  But it never goes away.  God’s message for us, that message that’s designed to shake up our lives, that surprise God has planned for us, is still there.  We can push it to the back of our minds, we can pretend it’s not there, but it never goes away.
           Let’s stop pretending.  Let’s listen to the message God has for each one of us.  Let’s trust God enough to accept the surprise God has planned for us.  Look at it as God’s Christmas present to us, if you like.  It may be a little scary.  It may shake up our lives.  But if we trust God enough to accept it, we’ll find out that accepting God’s surprise was the only way we could get what we really wanted.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Guest Speaker!

The message is the United Methodist Churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, November 30 was given by Gerri Carpenter.  Thank you, Gerri!

           Christmas is Coming!! Advent is HERE!! We are in a time of focusing on the coming celebration of Christ's birth---CHRISTMAS.

           This is the first Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Expectation and HOPE. This Sunday marks the beginning of the most exciting time of the year. Today we start the countdown to Christmas. It certainly is one of my favorite times of the year.

           There is so much written about the shallowness of our pre-Christmas thoughts, words and deeds. So much emphasis is put on our shopping and baking and presents and parties, and that sure can cause some of us so much chaos and stress. Without an Advent season of reflection, "getting ready for Christmas" is tinsel and shopping. With an Advent of reflection--SELF reflection, we can think about what Jesus is asking for our "getting ready for Christmas" to be like.

           One of the things I love about Christmas is our nativity sets. Yes, I said setS. Bruce knows that if I had my way (and we had the room) I would have dozens of nativity sets. I love the symbolism of them. I love the different materials they are made from: some from ceramics, some from wood, some from glass, some from fabric and just about any other material known to man. I also enjoy that some are white, some are brown, some are of many colors. To me, they represent the differences in all of us...but still send us to that baby in the manger, our reason for hope. The untouchable ones are beautiful to look at and are so precious, but my favorites are the ones that are meant for the kids (OK, ME) to play with. I love that they are meant to be touched, to move around and to get to know each of the different characters that are a part of the Christmas story. I'm mostly a kid, so hence why we have more hands-on Nativity Sets then look at only Nativity Sets at our house.

           Another of my joys this time of the year is the Advent Wreath. The Advent Wreath is a popular symbol of the beginning of the Church year. It is a circular wreath with 5 candles, four around the wreath and one in the center. Each candle has a meaning in our Advent season. Today we are going to talk about the candle we lit today, the first candle.

           The first candle in the Advent wreath is the Hope Candle. It symbolizes our faith that God is keeping his promises to humanity. During this week of Advent, Christians reflect on the love of God and his work throughout human history. At each time during history there have been times of despair. 

           Hope is the opposite of despair. Despair is the sense that things won't change for the better and nothing that we do will make any difference. Despair is real to anyone living in a fallen world. Certainly there are varying degrees of despair. I'm sure some of the people in Ferguson, MO are feeling despair, as are many people in Africa and other areas of the world. I am also pretty certain there are people right here in good ol Sully County that are feeling despair. 

           Sometimes, the "Holidays" are not an easy time for people. Maybe they have lost a loved one around this time of the year and the only thing the holidays mean for them is a hard memory of a funeral. Perhaps that family down the street doesn't have enough resources to make it that magical time of the year we hear so much about on TV, and I speak from experience when I say that if you can't provide that very magical experience for your children (much less feed them everyday and give them the clothes that will help them be accepted at school) it can give a person a very big feeling of despair, of failure. Maybe that someone sitting next to you is surrounded by people each and every day but is still feeling alone and in despair.

           On a human level there is power in 'positive thinking.' Convincing yourself mentally that things will be better tomorrow may make you feel better today. And, honestly, I do believe we should live with that possibility that with hard work and God's grace the evils, injustices, and disappointments of life may change for the better. 
At the same time, positive thinking might be delusional. Some things may never change for the better on this side of eternity. Yet, sometimes if we can just find something to be thankful for, our despair turns into hope.

           Biblical hope, such as in Isaiah, which says "He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." and "He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples." goes beyond positive thinking because, biblical hope accepts the reality of God's providence and goodness in human suffering. Suffering brings about perseverance; perseverance brings about proven character; and proven character brings about hope.

           A faith that is tested and proven is one that is strong in hope. It is difficult to know the reality and genuineness of your faith and commitment to Christ unless it is tested. As you continue to look to Christ in suffering — honoring him and not denying him, you persevere. As you persevere, your character — i.e. your true nature — is proven. Out of the experience of God's grace that sustains you in suffering and causes you to persevere, your hope is made alive.

           I want to read you a poem that is based on "Twas the Night Before Christmas". This version was written by Todd Jenkins and is entitled "Twas the Beginning of Advent".
           Twas the beginning of Advent and all through the Church
           Our hope was all dying-- we'd given up on the search.
           It wasn't so much that Christ wasn't invited,
           But after 2,000 plus years we were no longer excited. 
          Oh, we knew what was coming-- no doubt about that. 
          And that was the trouble-- it was all "old hat." 
          November brought the first of an unending series of pains 
          With carefully orchestrated advertising campaigns. 

          There were gadgets and dolls and all sorts of toys. 
          Enough to seduce even the most devout girls and boys. 
          Unfortunately, it seemed, no one was completely exempt 
          From this seasonal virus that did all of us tempt. 

          The priests and prophets and certainly the kings 
          Were all so consumed with the desire for "things!" 
          It was rare, if at all, that you'd hear of the reason 
          For the origin of this whole holy-day season. 

          A baby, it seems, once had been born 
          In the mid-east somewhere on that first holy-day morn. 
          But what does that mean for folks like us, 
          Who've lost ourselves in the hoopla and fuss? 

          Can we re-learn the art of wondering and waiting, 
          Of hoping and praying, and anticipating? 
          Can we let go of all the things and the stuff? 
          Can we open our hands and our hearts long enough? 

          Can we open our eyes and open our ears? 
          Can we find him again after all of these years? 
          Will this year be different from all the rest? 
          Will we be able to offer him all of our best? 

          So many questions, unanswered thus far, 
          As wise men seeking the home of the star. 
          Where do we begin-- how do we start 
          To make for the child a place in our heart? 

          Perhaps we begin by letting go 
          Of our limits on hope, and of the stuff that we know. 
          Let go of the shopping, of the chaos and fuss, 
          Let go of the searching, let Christmas find us. 

          We open our hearts, our hands and our eyes, 
          To see the king coming in our own neighbours' cries. 
          We look without seeking what we think we've earned, 
          But rather we're looking for relationships spurned. 

          With him he brings wholeness and newness of life 
          For brother and sister, for husband and wife. 
          The Christ-child comes not by our skill, 
          But rather he comes by his own Father's will. 

          We can't make him come with parties and bright trees, 
          But only by getting down on our knees. 
          He'll come if we wait amidst our affliction, 
          Coming in spite of, not by our restriction. 

          His coming will happen-- of this there's no doubt. 
          The question is whether we'll be in or out. 
          "Behold, I stand at the door and knock." 
          Do you have the courage to peer through the lock? 

          A basket on your porch, a child in your reach. 
          A baby to love, to feed and to teach. 
          He'll grow in wisdom as God's only Son. 
          How far will we follow this radical one? 

          He'll lead us to challenge the way that things are. 
          He'll lead us to follow a single bright star. 
          But that will come later if we're still around. 
          The question for now: Is the child to be found? 

          Can we block out commercials, the hype and the malls? 
          Can we find solitude in our holy halls? 
          Can we keep alert, keep hope, stay awake? 
          Can we receive the child for ours and God's sake? 

          From on high with the caroling host as he sees us, 
          He yearns to read on our lips the prayer: Come Lord Jesus! 
          As Advent begins all these questions make plea. 
          The only true answer: We will see, we will see. 

           And this first Sunday of Advent is to remind us of the HOPE in our belief that Christ is returning. As it says in our bible verses in Matthew, we know not the time of His coming, but we do know He is coming. There in lies the hope to replace the despair of our community, of our country and of our world.