Mary

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I pushed my wool-clad feet smoothly into the warm boots I had left sitting on the radiator. It was a familiar feeling, this trudging out to the barn in the dark, one I’d had many times before. As I slipped in through the part-way open barn door I could see the shadow of my dad, “Morning, Mary,” at work with Daisy. I walked over and gave her a quick nuzzle on her soft nose. Then Patsy reminded me with her whining moo that I was needed at her side. Pulling my stool up next to her round tummy I began my daily routine. As the warm milk hit the cold pail, steam rose up to my chilly hands and Patsy turned her head around to give me a nod and once more a deep moo, this time in thanks. I rested my head into her furry side and began to think about another Mary. Another Mary, in another time and place.

She, also, was in a barn, although not a familiar one. She had never imagined herself here, never in all of her 14 years would she have seen herself here, with Joseph. The trip had been a long one. Joseph had taken care of her the whole way. How could she ever have doubted him? But now, tonight, now of all nights, this baby had decided to come.

The angel had told her what would happen, but still, all of this was so new. Talking to Elizabeth had helped. Even with the difference in their ages they had a lot to ask each other, a lot to tell each other. The angel had apparently come to see Elizabeth also, because when Mary had first arrived Elizabeth had hugged her with a knowing…that Mary was carrying the Savior.

And now, here she was, lying in the hay, with the cows close by giving off their sweet warm breath and she, Mary, giving birth to the long-awaited for Lord. In the midst of the pain, her soul was at once peaceful… and honored… and humbled that God would choose her to bring mercy to His People. And yet He had.

Pam Mckee

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Thanksgiving at Christmas

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From them will come songs of thanksgiving and the sound of rejoicing. I will add to their numbers, and they will not be decreased; I will bring them honor, and they will not be disdained. – Jeremiah 30:19

Every year, millions in the U.S. gather around tables with friends and family for the Thanksgiving holiday. For some, it’s a sweet time they look forward to each year, for others it’s a holiday they dread. Maybe it’s because the holiday reminds them of the loss of a loved one, maybe it’s because being with family draws them back into the dysfunction they spend the rest of the year avoiding or maybe it reinforces a sense of loneliness and isolation. But no matter what camp you place yourself in, the essence of the holiday is all about gratitude.

But why just at Thanksgiving? Living a life of gratitude shouldn’t be the essence of Thanksgiving; it really should be the essence of our life as believers. Thanksgiving for many is the inauguration of the next big holiday, Christmas. Christmas is about giving – and it’s centered on God’s greatest gift to us, his son. But as we all know, the message of ‘giving’ quickly turns into a message of ‘getting’. The ads on TV, the displays in the stores or at the Mall, the Christmas lists our kids write become centered on ‘What do I want?’ ‘What do I need?’ I find my own heart longing for nicer cars, bigger televisions, nicer cameras, new clothes, new gadgets and new toys. What happened to Thanksgiving?

A few years ago I helped serve breakfast at a homeless soup kitchen at Christmastime. Before the meal, there was a time of sharing and testimony. Person after person stood up and gave praise and thanks to God for what they had. “Thank you Lord for waking me up this morning.” “Thank you Lord for the breath in my lungs.” “Thank you Lord for a meal to eat.” These were men and women with nothing. Yet thankful.

Take a moment, stop and think about all that you have that you can be grateful for. Don’t compare it with what others have, that’s a losing game, but meditate on what you have been given: A roof over your head? Clothes on your back? Friends? Food to eat? etc.

This video, produced by Forest Hill Church,  captures the essence of what I’m talking about…

This year, let Christmas be a true Thanksgiving as we meditate and remember all that we have, and especially that the greatest giver of all gave freely of himself through the gift of his son, the baby in the manger who was the God of this Universe, sent for us.

Steve Dallwig

 

A Light in the Dark

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“For the people walking in darkness have seen a great light”

(Isaiah 9:2, Matthew 4:16)

There is no doubt that many people are struggling with one form of personal darkness or another in their lives, and sometimes this struggle seems greater during the holiday season. There may be expectations of joy, happiness, being merry! When oftentimes in our own hearts we feel anything but that. We see the lights, hear the music, we paste on a smile, we frantically try to feel something that looks like Christmas Joy…but instead we are faced with a darkness of the soul. I know I have had some years when I went through the season with a pasted smile, particularly right after my husband had died. There seemed to be no light within my heart, even though I showed to my children and others that Yes! Let’s be joyful, it’s Christmastime!! I felt mired in grief and disappointment, and felt this would be my reality for a long time. I had temporarily forgotten how pervasive light can be; stealing through the dark cracks in my broken heart, doing away with the shadows, pursuing me steadily, lovingly.

Let us not forget in the very first chapter of the Bible, in Genesis 1:3, when darkness was “over the deep” – God said, “Let there be light.” Our Almighty Creator was not content to let darkness remain on the earth, and He is not content to let darkness remain in our hearts. Instead, He comes down to walk WITH us through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4); Jesus comes down to BE the light, declaring “I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”(John 8:12) He is the “Word made flesh”, who made His dwelling with us (John 1:14). The book of John also stated, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

My Friends, as we prepare our hearts to welcome our King, Jesus the Almighty God, let us remember that He did not remain that baby in a manger – He entered into our humanity in order to enter into our darkness; to take it upon Himself, to eradicate the black suffering and evil and to bring us into His marvelous light – may His light shine on you this Christmas season!

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (I Peter 2:9)

 

~ Heidi Bertaux

X-mas… Is Christ still in Christmas?

Santa-Claus-and-presentsHe’s making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out whose naughty and nice… Rocking around the Christmas tree, have a happy holiday… I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus …okay okay, maybe we’ll throw in Silent Night for the religious folks.

WAIT!!!…this is our holy holiday, our sacred celebration. Yes, us—the CHRISTians—CHRISTmas is about Christ.

What child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping?

I know…it’s Charlie Brown. No wait, maybe Tiny Tim…or Macaulay Culkin?

CHARLIE BROWN AND LINUS DISCUSS THE FORLORN LITTLE CHRISTMAS TREESorry to be the “Grinch who stole Christmas”…well, Christmas as the world knows it today. As I reflect on all that Christmas has become, it so easy to get caught up in the commercialism of this season. Christmas wish lists, letters to Santa, ugly Christmas sweater-themed parties… While all of these things are fun, they miss the real meaning of the season. When we dig deeper, the noble themes of giving and charitable acts also tend to mask the true essence of what it is that we are celebrating. In that sense, we become distracted and quickly forget about the magnitude of the miracle that took place some 2,000 years ago: God in human form entered the womb of a human vessel to accomplish the redemptive plan of reconciliation between God and man. That alone is heavy for me; God…God entered the womb of a human vessel!

In the midst of decorating the tree, exchanging gifts with loved ones, and donating to our favorite charities, let us remember that

 This, this is Christ the King, 

Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;

Haste, haste to bring him laud,

The babe, the Son of Mary…

The King of kings salvation brings,

Let loving hearts enthrone Him. 

     ~William Chatterton Dix

Maame Yaa Manu

I Ain’t As Good As I Once Was

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As I read through the Christmas story in Luke 1 & 2 again on Monday. The story of Zechariah the high priest caught my attention. He was an old man. Both he and Elizabeth were well beyond their childbearing years. Gabriel, the Angel of the Lord, appeared to him as he burned incense the temple. He announced to Zechariah that his wife would give birth to a son, whom we know would grow up to be John the Baptist, the last prophet and forerunner of Jesus.

Although Zechariah was known as a righteous man, he was filled with unbelief when he heard this news and stated it honestly: “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

These words reminded me of a line I love in a Toby Keith song, “I ain’t as good as I once was.” It’s a lament that resonates with me more with each passing year and I have all the typical aches and pains associated with aging to prove it. Even as I type I’m literally, painfully, aware that my hands don’t work as good as they once did.

Zechariah’s unbelief didn’t disqualify him from serving God’s purpose, but it did silence him until the moment Elizabeth gave birth. God took away his voice for a season so that he’d have no choice other than to be still and listen. Gabriel’s news was really good news for Zechariah and Zechariah’s story is good news for me. No matter how old we get we are never beyond God’s reach to use us, often in ways we never expected. And I need to be reminded that faith sometimes looks like being quiet and listening.

Jim Mckee – Pastor 

Waiting for my Delivery

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Just one more gift. That’s all I’m waiting for. I ordered it so that it would arrive by Christmas, but its not here yet. The confirmation email says it will arrive by 12/24, but every day that passes I begin to doubt.  I keep clicking on the tracking number hoping that I will see those three little words “out for delivery”. I pause at the sound of every passing truck, hoping that my awaited package will arrive. It’s December 23 – Only 2 days left for it to arrive. Waiting is hard.

In Luke 2, we meet Simeon. A devout and righteous man who was told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he saw the promised Messiah. We don’t know how long he waited, but it appears it was a long time. But one day when led to the Temple by the Spirit, Simeon met a young couple who had brought with them their new born son. Simeon knew this was the one. The one he had waited for.

Simeon faithfully believed that that which was promised would come. A Messiah, promised deliverance and salvation. He rejoiced and blessed the child saying:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

What have you been waiting for this year?

A restored relationship?

Physical or emotional healing?

A new job?

Getting out of debt?

finishing school?

pregnancy?

As you wait, rest in the promise of God’s salvation. Rest knowing that our Emmanuel, (God with us) is here. Rest in the truth that our Prince of Peace sustains us. Rest knowing that the end of the story has been written. God’s timing isn’t always our timing, but His timing is always perfect.

Wait is that a UPS truck I hear?

Steve Dallwig

God’s Time and Place

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It would be hard to overemphasize the importance of Christmas to Christian theology. While the death of Jesus on a cross has become the global symbol of Christianity, his arrival in Bethlehem is no less important.  The stories of Jesus’s birth in the gospels give shape to much of our understanding of who God is, who we are, and even how we do theology. The apostle Paul writes in Philippians 2:6 that the incarnation (that’s the fancy word to describe God taking on flesh and becoming a man) demonstrates that God is, by nature, a being who gives himself in love for his creation. In Jesus’s birth and life, we see the kind of life humanity was made to have – one of dependence and submission to God that leads to fullness of life.

The arrival of God in a specific town, at a specific time and place, shows that God does not exist in a vacuum. Place and time and culture matter. Context matters when we do theology. So today, as you think about what Christmas means, take a few minutes to enjoy a tour of modern-day Bethlehem with one of my favorite video tour guides.  It isn’t the same town it once was, and that matters.

There’s no going back – and that’s ok. Because the incarnation of Jesus paved the way for God to come to you today, in your place and your context…even if the world has changed in the 2000 years since his first coming.

Dan Passerelli

The Story of ‘O Holy Night’

Take a few minutes to be blessed by the story and history of one our most beloved and favorite Christmas Carols.

 

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
O’er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friends.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

O Holy Night” (French: Cantique de Noël) is a well-known Christmas carol composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to the French poem “Minuit, chrétiens” (Midnight, Christians) by a wine merchant and poet, Placide Cappeau (1808–1877) Translated into English by John Sullivan Dwight (1855)

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O Come

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O come, O come, Emmanuel,

and ransom captive Israel

that mourns in lonely exile here

until the Son of God appear. 

Can you feel the ache, the longing, the sadness, the darkness? 400 years of silence between the books of Malachi and Matthew, Israel mourning in lonely exile…wondering when it’ll ever change, wondering when God will speak once more.

O come and be with us; we can only mourn until You come.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free

Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;

from depths of hell Thy people save,

and give them victory over the grave.

 It’s a little more intense now. Free us from Satan’s tyranny, from oppression and cruelty, from false thoughts and beliefs that rule over us, from the very depths of hell.

O come and free us from evil and death, save us.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer

our spirits by Thine advent here;

disperse the gloomy clouds of night

and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

 Dayspring means the beginning of; dawn; the beginning of a new era or order of things. Dispersing clouds, shadows swallowed by light. Oh heart, be encouraged by what’s coming – by Who’s coming – and bringing a new order of things.

O come, Desire of nations, bind

In one the hearts of all mankind;

Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,

And be Thyself our King of Peace

Note the pairing of the words, “sad divisions.” So many things divide us – age, race, money, politics, status… For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility.

O come, bind us all together and bind us to You. Be our Peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Lauren McWilliams

Waiting

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I’ve been staring at that tree since Thanksgiving.

It was decorated the day before, in between the careful simmering of the cranberry sauce and cutting butter into flour for apple pie crust. Seven and half feet tall, white lights, silver and gold glittering ball ornaments with red and silver beaded strands running through its branches. A beautiful angel with open arms and a flowing dress barely fits between the top of that tree and the ceiling. A hand-stitched nativity set is carefully arranged at the bottom.

I’ve sat in front of it every night since it went up. I did my Black Friday shopping on my computer in the chair next to it. I shared tea with friend by it. I watched the Gilmore Girls revival (and cried big tears) in front of it.

I’ve been staring at it for over a week and nothing’s different. I keep thinking that something will change, that I’ll feel the Christmas joy and light and cheer come all at once like it usually does if I just wait here long enough.

I think this is how I’ve been treating Jesus recently. Like I’m staring at the nativity waiting for something to happen, ready to scream “DO SOMETHING!” to the tiny baby Jesus in the manger. In the end I’m left wanting to feel different, better, more connected, more loved, hopeful. And nothing’s happening.

That happens sometimes, doesn’t it? We stare at our faith, waiting for something momentous to come and it feels like it never does. I imagine that’s how the Israelites felt after years of wandering, waiting for something to happen. Or how Sarah and Elizabeth felt after years of being barren, waiting for a child. Or how Joseph felt, wrongly imprisoned and waiting for freedom.

And then Jesus came. He came because no amount of Christmas decorations can cure what ails us. He came because peace can’t come from a Christmas tree. He came because life isn’t found in the idolatry of the perfect Christmas season.

But in his coming, he did do something. In his coming he does make all the difference in the world, bringing the connection and love and hope we yearn for. In his coming, we finally know what joy we’ve been waiting for.

So I’m still staring at this tree, waiting. If the past is any gauge, something will happen. Jesus will move in my heart like he always does, just on his time, not mine. And when he does, oh what joy is mine.

Jessica Bates