This evening, we gather in the midst of darkness.
It wasn’t that long ago that the sun set over the horizon of the community. That moment called an end to a festive day of preparations and celebrations, while extinguishing the light that had allowed us to see where we were going and move about freely. As the sun went down, a familiar darkness consumed the sky and reminded us of the evening’s chill.
We gather in the midst of a darkness that is not just about the realities of the night’s sky. We gather in the midst of a darkness that is as much about the metaphorical realities we face than about the physical realities. In the midst of that darkness, we have gathered, looking for hope. Continue reading “Light in the Darkness”
Today, we will conclude our sermon series looking at the characters that make up the Nativity of Jesus Christ. Throughout Advent, we’ve focused on how each of these characters help us to prepare our hearts for Christmas. We’ve saved the most beloved and important of the characters, outside of Jesus, for last. Her name is Mary.
Mary’s role is central to the entire Christmas story. We do not give her, in the Protestant tradition, enough attention and respect. She deserves more of our time and reflection, because she is theotokos. This is what the early church called her. Theotokos is a Greek word that means “God bearer.” There is no better word to describe Mary. That is her contribution to the Christmas story. She was the one who gave birth to the incarnate Son of God. She was the one chosen by God to give life to the One who offers true life and hope into the world.
But, who is she? Why did God choose her? What are we to make of her life and her connection to Christ? These are all questions that, perhaps, we’ve wrestled with before and are ones important for us to consider as we think about Mary, her life, and how she enables us to encounter the peace, hope, joy, and love found in the Christ child. Continue reading “The Nativity: Mary”
One of my favorite communion moments came last year.
I was blessing the elements in a barn as the sky was slowly turning towards its dusky hues. There was a large gathering of people, larger than some had expected, and we were sitting on bales of hay and folding chairs, bundled in our warmest jackets. We had sung songs, lit candles, and celebrated how Jesus came to bring hope into the world.
It was Christmas Eve, and it was beautiful and holy.
Throughout my ministry, nothing has given me more joy as a pastor than to lead the congregation in the celebration of communion on Christmas Eve. It is a holy and sacred meal that connects us to the full ministry and life of Christ, and how we are to be transformed by his life at work in us. Is it appropriate, however, for Christmas Eve worship?
That is a conversation that is a relevant question for many in the church pews A lot of this deals with both the practical side of communion, as well as the lack of theological understanding of why communion is important in discipleship. While we read passages where regular celebration of communion is important to faith (1 Corinthians 11:23-25), we are still comfortable with an infrequent and, at times, haphazard celebration of this sacrament due to historical practices.
In the past, I’ve written on the importance of communion and how we should take it more frequently than we do. While I won’t repeat a lot of those arguments here, what this essay will focus on is the importance of communion on Christmas Eve. Continue reading “Importance of Communion at Christmas”
On my desk there is a stack of invite cards for our upcoming special worship services. The cards are decked out in a beautiful array of seasonal colors with a wreath on one side. The words on the card strike me as a word of welcome. It says, “A place for you this Christmas.”
A place for you this Christmas. I love that phrase. At its core, the card offers a word of invitation and welcome and hospitality that gets to the heart of what it means to share God’s love. In response to our faith and in celebration of the birth of Jesus, we are called to make room for people so they may experience the hope of the Christ child.
It’s easier to say there is “a place for you this Christmas” in our places of worship. It is another thing, and much difficult, to live it out. To live out that there is “a place for you this Christmas” requires reflection upon what it means to welcome people and to understand that it will mean making our welcome more than just words we place on a card or screen. To truly have “a place for you this Christmas” means making a conscious choice to make room in our hearts for all to experience the hope of Christ.
So, what might that look like? Even more, I wonder what groups of people in our community need to know that there is “a place for you this Christmas.” Continue reading “A Place for You this Christmas”
Perhaps like many of you, we took time over the Thanksgiving weekend to decorate our home for the Christmas season. It began with my usual decorating the outside walkways with candy canes. It continued with putting up my beloved Christmas village. We put up our tree with ornaments we’ve collected over the years, and we put up our Nativity set.
We have several Nativity sets in our home and in my office. My favorite is actually the one that is not the most appealing. It is one that currently sits in my office. It is a small painted set that I got at a White Elephant Christmas party years ago. When it came to me and my turn to trade it or keep it, I actually went against the custom of trading and kept the set. Why? Because at the time I didn’t have a Nativity set of my own and it was quirky enough that I felt it and I would be a good match.
Nativity sets, no matter what they are or look like, are treasured decorations each Advent and Christmas season. They combine all the elements of the Christmas story from Matthew and Luke to give us an artistic rendering of the scene. The descriptions we have from Scripture do not take place with all the characters – Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, shepherds, angels, and the Magi –being there together at the same time. So, there is artistic liberty taking place in many of our sets, and we can appreciate how they invite us to see things that are present within the stories that lead up to Jesus’ birth.
Throughout the Advent season, we are going to take a look at some of the characters that appear in our Nativity sets. We’ll share about their lives, how they came to be part of the story, and how they shape our understanding of Jesus’ birth and what it means for us today. Our journey beginswith the least known of the characters involved with Jesus’ birth – Joseph. Continue reading “The Nativity: Joseph”