Monthly Archives: December 2019

Women of Advent: Bathsheba

How did we get to the fourth Sunday of Advent?!? I know, I know, there are four Sundays every year, but this year is a bit more compact. For the church I serve, First United Methodist Church, the last few days are filled with special and moving events.

Last night we held our Blue Christmas service. The last three years Leslie Coates who preaches at our evening service off site and works with our outside “art” connections has done an amazing job of creating a meaningful service. Along with the lighting of the four candles, he finds poems that speak to different kinds of loss and uses actors to memorize them.

We have a gospel group that sings powerful music, with a short sermon, then a variety of rituals: lighting of candles, holy communion and anointed prayer. Every year, I think it can’t get any better, but it does. The poems if interested were: “Ending With a Line from Lear” by Marvin Bell, “To My Future Caregiver” by C.W. Buckley, “To the Young Who want to Die”, by Gwendolyn Brooks, then Isaiah 40: 1-5, 28-31.

Today we celebrated the fourth Sunday of Advent and the candle of Love. Bathsheba’s story is in many ways harder than the others. In 2 Samuel, she is silent, passive almost. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth actively were part of their story even when they crossed all kinds of boundaries. Bathsheba is used and probably would have discarded had she not become pregnant. She ends up being the mother of a king, and honored and blessed.

In Matthew’s gospel, however, she is the only one not named by her name, but by the name of her first husband. David’s sin and abuse and outrageous behavior is noted and remembered. I paired that with Joseph’s story. I am grateful for Emmanuel “God with us” in this messy world. The full service or the sermon alone can be found here.

This Sunday was the last Sunday that Brett Valliant our director of music and organist would be with us. He is moving to Arizona to be one of the principal organists at Organ Stop Pizza. Brett is truly one of the most amazing musicians I have ever worked with. I have been so honored to work with him the last three and a half years. His videos show his great range. He is known all over the world. I am grateful for his music and am so happy for him.

Tomorrow night is Brett’s 20th annual Christmas concert. He started the concerts to pay off the debt on our great Schantz organ and has continued his concerts to build a maintenance fund for its upkeep. the concert will be live streamed.

And of course, Tuesday is Christmas Eve with two services.

Thes last few days of Advent have all the “feels.” Joy, sadness, gratitude, wonder, hope, love, and peace. Preparing for Emmanuel, for the birth of the Christ always seems like surprise. Like the first Christmas, I am never quite ready, never know quite what to expect.

What I do know, is that God comes whether I am ready or not. God enters the world, this world, messy, painful, exciting and joy filled when we are not looking. I know that Christ comes again and will bring light in our darkness and hope into our despair and love into the most hateful places. I lean into that faith and trust that Emmanuel is here and will bless us again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Women of Advent: Ruth

It was a chilly damp Third Sunday of Advent. The roads were fine, there was a light dusting of snow on the ground and a mist in the air. We lit the pink candle, the candle of joy.

Traditionally, when Advent was a season of penitence, the third Sunday was a break from the fasting and the somberness of the season. The pink candle and vestments if pastors or priests have them are a break from the dark purples and blues. Called “Gaudete” (Rejoice!) Sunday, the song of Mary is often read or sung.

On this Sunday we came to the third woman in the genealogy of Jesus, Ruth. One of two books named after women, the story of Ruth is beautiful. Ruth’s story is also one of redemption that is greater than just a quick read of the four chapters of the book would suggest.

After all my research, I still got part of the story wrong. Ruth is Moabite. Moabites according to Deuteronomy 23:3 are banned from the assembly of Israel to the tenth generation. I said that this people came from Noah and his eldest daughter. WRONG!! A parishioner came and let me know it was Lot. And I said, “are you sure? I researched it!” She said, “yes I am sure.” And she was right! I came right back to my research and it was Lot and his eldest daughter. I have no idea where I got Noah!

Any way, the story is still ugly and awful. After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s daughter’s had no prospects for husbands. So they took matters into their own hands and got their father drunk so they could have children. The eldest daughter’s son was Moab. Deuteronomy states that the Moabites did not give water or food to the people Israel when they were in the wilderness. There is a long history of bad blood between the Moabites and the Israelites.

The point is, that Moabites were hated and considered unworthy to be part of the Israel. Along comes Ruth, committed, faithful and willing to do what it took to care for her mother-in-law Naomi. A Moabite! It is a beautiful story, but also one of great depth and from Ruth and Boaz comes Obed, who is the father of Jesse who is the father of David.

The deep power of Mary’s song and Ruth’s story bring meaning to the pink candle of joy. Out of grief, out of uncertainty, God brings joy and comes to us as we are. God does not shrink from our human predicaments or prejudices but comes among us with grace and love.

The worship service or the sermon itself can be found at this link.

 

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A Charlie Brown Christmas

On December 9, 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas was aired for the first time. I do not remember whether or not we watched that year as a family, but my hunch is that we probably did. I remember watching every year, along with How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

While I have a love of almost all things Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas has always  had a special place in my heart. The music, the ice skating, Snoopy’s decorations and the sad little tree make me smile every year. And every time I watch it, I wait for Linus to share the Christmas story from Luke, the second chapter.

Several years ago, my associate Rev. Christopher Eshelman pointed out that as Linus shared that story, something amazing happened. When Linus recited the lines, “And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not,'” Linus drops his blanket. Linus, who is mocked by his sister Lucy for his clinging to his blanket, drops it when he proclaims the angels message.

Now, I am not sure how Christopher found this insight, but it was long before the many blogs I have seen about that moment since then. The point is, that in this simple children’s cartoon program there are some amazing moments, not the least of which is Linus’ ability to drop his security blanket.

I suspect all of us have a bit of these characters in us: Lucy’s superiority and snobbiness; Pig-Pen’s ability to attract dirt;  Charlie Brown’s feeling of being a loser and always on the outside and of course, Linus’ insecurity and need for a blanket. We may not live out these characteristics every day, but I suspect they show up at different moments in our lives and often when we least expect them.

“Fear not!” the angel proclaims. Linus proclaims it to Charlie Brown in the confusion as to why Christmas is important and what it means. Everyone of those characters needs the promise and the hope of “Fear not!”

Fear not Lucy, you don’t need to be better than any one to be loved. You are loved and you don’t need to put anyone down in order to receive that love. Fear not Pig-Pen! Yes life is sometimes messy and downright dirty, but you are loved and you don’t have to clean up your act to be loved.

Fear not Charlie Brown! You don’t have to figure everything out to be loved, your don’t have to be perfect or have it all together. You are loved. Fear not Linus! Yes the world is scary place sometimes, and it is okay to need blanket now and then. You are loved!

Fear not! Behold I bring tidings of great joy! Christmas is the good news of God among us. God comes into our messy, anxious, uncertain lives and says “you are loved!” We do not need to fear, God is not overwhelmed by our bumbling, crazy ways of trying to feel better. Instead, in Jesus, God puts on this fragile human body, and reaches out with grace and hope and proclaims, “you are loved. you are accepted. Fear not!”

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Women of Advent: Rahab

While all the four women named in Matthew’s gospels as ancestors of Jesus are noteworthy because of some scandalous behavior in their stories, none can top Rahab. Tamar was scandalous in order to fulfill the law, Ruth who is the next in the genealogy is scandalous because of her heritage and the last woman is not named, except by her first husband.

Rahab, however, unlike Tamar, doesn’t play the prostitute, she is one. She is also a liar, deceiving the king of Jericho’s men about the Israelite spies in her home. That also make her a traitor to her king and country, but makes her faithful to the God of Israel.

The book of Joshua is a tough read for all its violence and blood shed in the Israel’s conquering of Canaan. Nonetheless, this immoral woman is called righteous in more than place in the Bible. Perhaps her faith as an outsider in a God who delivers the  chosen ones out of slavery and brings them through the wilderness to a place of promise is a witness not to be ignored. She chooses this people and their God on the basic of few stories she must have overheard.

She bargained for herself and her whole family: not two or three people: but her parents and her siblings and all who were connected to them. While Matthew could have skipped over her story by just naming Salmon who was the father of Boaz, the author adds, “whose mother was Rahab.”

Why? Perhaps Matthew continues to remind us our sensibilities are not important to God. God sees past ethnic backgrounds, labels and names and into the hearts and spirits of all people.

Today in worship, the bell choir was wonderful as was the choir. You can watch the whole service or just the sermon here.

 

 

 

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Advent: Prepare

The season of Advent is a time of preparation for the birth of Christ. In non-liturgical traditions there isn’t much waiting anymore. The twelve days of Christmas end up being a gimmick to see more stuff and even some churches quit using Christmas carols after the twenty fifth of December.

And yet….most of us find ways to prepare for Christmas: maybe it is putting up a tree, baking a special cookie, planning on a trip to see family or friends. looks forward to a party, or attending special concerts or plays or worship services. Sometimes grief weighs upon us and we don’t prepare at all, instead we find ways to avoid those days and events that bring our grief closer to the surface. A few years ago, I wrote on preparing and remembering

Advent remains important to me. I still like to decorate, although it seems to take a little longer each year. The lights, the trees, the garlands, warm the house with a brightness that is often lacking in the darkness of winter. On one of my trees, I call it my “antique” tree, many of the ornaments are of sentimental value and bring back many memories. The garland is non tarnishing sterling silver. It came from my mother-in-laws things and I have never seen anything like it.

Several of the ornaments were hers, but some come from my family. There are burned out light bulbs from my grandparents tree.

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And an inexpensive plastic tree, and three plastic angels and a ceramic angel.

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The plastic ornaments were some my mother bought inexpensively, because there was little money for Christmas ornaments. Two of the three have had at least one wing glued back on because they have broken off. I considered throwing them away, but decided I would rather see them year after year hanging in all their tacky glory and remember.

None of those ornaments are “worth” anything except the memories they evoke. No one else may ever want them, they may end up somewhere in a dumpster someday, but for the time being, they belong on my tree, in my home with all the memories that they bring.

Advent encourages waiting and preparing. All around me the world rushes toward Christmas. Preparations are frantic and chaotic. I want to purposefully prepare and wait. I long to savor the moments. I do so as I decorate each tree. While not every ornament on every tree has a memory, many do. I remember people, events, congregations and moments. I can give thanks for each.

The antique tree looks like this:

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At night, it is absolutely lovely.

So, today, I am grateful for burned out bulbs, plastic angels and memories. No matter how crazy the season gets, I am finding ways to savor every moment and every memory. Advent invites me to anticipate the light in the darkness, the coming of the Christ who is Emmanuel, God with us.

 

 

 

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First Sunday in Advent: Hope

Happy New Year! We begin the Christian New Year with the season of Advent. Today we celebrated the first Sunday of Advent and lit the candle of Hope.

The new sermon series is based on the genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew 1. In this new cycle of the lectionary, Matthew is primarily the gospel from which the readings are based. The Lectionary begins with the story of Joseph in the 18th verses of the first chapter. Which makes sense because reading genealogies if they are not yours usually are boring.

We read in worship the first six verses of Matthew 1, which name the four women of Advent: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and the wife of Uriah, Bathsheba. Each week we will immerse ourselves in their stories and end with the fifth woman of Advent Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Three of these four women were outsiders: Gentiles, two were Canaanites and one was Moabite. Every one of these stories are “spicy’ or R-rated in some way. What I find most interesting in our sacred books these women are remembered in the lineage of Jesus, not Sarah or Rachel or Rebecca or Leah. Matthew seems to pointing to something deeper: that Jesus comes to us, not from some pure royal lineage, but from the whole of our human experience. His origins include people outside of the Covenant people and yet those very outsiders are faithful.

Tamar’s story is disturbing, uncomfortable and sad in many ways. She is blamed and used and put aside. Tamar takes her fate in her own hands and changes her fate and is remembered as a great-great-great- great (lots of greats) grandmother of Jesus. Tamar is a person of faith and hope. She trusted that God someone would take her actions and use them for what was right. Tamar invites us to have the same hope and faith.

You can find today’s worship service or just the link for the sermon here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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