Monday, November 30, 2015

Devotional 11-30-15

noun, the arrival of a notable person, thing or event.

As I write this, it’s October, and 78 degrees outside.  It’s that confusing time when the stores aren’t sure what they should be promoting: Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are simultaneously bombarded at us.  Like stores, the JM Music Department has been working on Christmas for weeks.

Okay, honestly - do you ever find Christmas exhausting?  Maybe not exhausting, but overwhelming? Or just plain stressful? I remember my Mom, church organist for 50 years, needing to hibernate on Christmas afternoon.

Have you ever fantasized about going to a far-away island and ignoring the entire season? Ignoring the crowds, shopping parties, overspending, baking, cleaning, final exams, wrapping, relatives, rehearsals, performances, fruitcake, clutter of life, stress-of-too-many-expectations? Away from it all? No stress, no worry.  But wait a second! Those things aren’t supposed to be important, right?  My favorite Dr. Seuss paragraph:
And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.  And he puzzled and puzzled ‘till his puzzler was sore.  Then the Grinch thougtht of something he hadn’t before.  What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.  Theodor Seuss Geisel
You know what? The season always come sand goes. No matter if the choir is prepared for Lessons & Carols. No matter that I’ve given up on gift wrapping and just toss the gifts into Kroger bags. No matter that my Christmas cards are mailed on January 9th.

Every Advent, I usually find 3 hours of peace: in the stillness and calm after our Christmas Eve service, I watch the beautiful services broadcast from England This year, I won’t allow those pesky “Ghosts of Christmas Present” to steal the peace, comfort, joy, and love of this Holy Season.

Bruce Rous

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Devotional 11-29-15

Advent Begins

The stores have been well into Christmas with sales—decorations, music, toys, gifts of all types, and before we know it, Santa will be at the mall waiting to check the lists of children coming to see him. These preparations started well before Thanksgiving, and explosively erupted on Black Friday, giving shoppers ample time to complete their shopping —until the kids change their minds and toys already purchased are either  exchanged or new toy requests are simply added to their list—easier, more expensive, but—hey, it’s Christmas!

So what is this scripture—one of several readings designated for the first Sunday in Advent—all about?

Luke 21:25-28
25There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Christmas time is a result of our changing culture, created by us, lasting from November  through December 25th.  Advent, on the other hand, starts on the first Sunday of Advent, or even earlier on some church calendars, and goes through Epiphany, on January 6th.

Every year, the two compete for our attention. Advent season is meant to be the season in which we practice self-examination, we meditate, and we focus on preparation for Christ’s return to us. It’s the time we should remember the second coming, the new creation, and the fulfillment of all things good. The church year starts with Advent, so it should naturally be the time we “…begin with the end in mind.” (Taylor Burton-Edwards, Disciple Ministries of the UMC).

I don’t believe for a minute that we are expected to give up the joys of the season—the feelings of comfort in celebrating the birth of the baby Jesus, the excitement of giving and receiving, the traditions of families gathering, and trimming the Christmas tree. But we should not in any way let it consume us to the point that we lose the true meaning of the Advent season,  a time specifically meant for reflection and preparation, attention to Scripture and the understanding that Advent’s purpose is to focus on Christ’s return and our redemption.

Let us all do that with prayer and intention, as we welcome the arrival of the First Sunday of Advent.

Luke21:36  Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.

Diane Feaganes

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Devotional 12-25-14

In a noisy cave
in the heat of the night
amid worry and grime,
crowds and farm animals,
Hope was born into the world.

After accusations of unfaithfulness,
Following the threat of death by stoning,
At the end of a long journey
forced by a foreign government
Hope was born into the world.

To parents who did not expect
that their lives would be turned upside down.
To a world that ached with readiness
but was completely unprepared,
Hope was born into the world.

Shepherds, shunned by the world,
an unchosen people,
were illuminated by heaven’s light
as angels announced that
Hope was born into the world.

Creation opened its weary arms,
The earth groaned in relief,
and a few recognized the joy that
Hope was born into the world.

Into the sweltering night,
under the light of a star,
God worked to do
what couldn’t have been imagined.
Hope was born in to the world.

And our world has never been the same.

Kim Matthews

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Devotional 12-24-14

Isaiah 9:2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.

Have you ever heard the expression “the darkest hour is just before the dawn”?  For those who are struggling and fighting with darkness, seemingly wandering aimlessly, the dawn of a new day brings with it a sense of complete utter relief.  Darkness is used in film and in literature to represent the unknown, the dangerous, the terrible.

In our own lives, we tend to avoid darkness.  When the electricity goes out, we look for flashlights and candles.  Darkness deprives us of one of our most prominent senses, the ability to see what is around us.

Isaiah shared this image of the people who walked in darkness seeing a great light, I picture an even greater relief!  Those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.  As uncomfortable as we are with darkness, we have faith that SOMONE has light.  But here, we see that the nation, the people, the land, was in deep darkness.

But light came to them.  Like the dawn, first a glimmer of light - the stories told by angels, then the stories that spread across the land, and then the light himself, Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God With Us, who was the light, spread his presence into that land of deep darkness, chasing our the shadows.

Even more importantly, you and I were given the responsibility of carrying that light with us, always and everywhere.  At the close of the 9:00 a.m. worship service, we sing “go light your world.”  Each of us has been given a lamp, a candle, a flashlight, in the gifts we posses.  Just as Christ came to bring the light, he has told us to go and take that light with us.  May this Christmas be a reminder that the best gift we have received, and the best gift we can give, is the light of love, hope, peace and joy.

Rev. Alan Williams

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Devotional 12-23-14

Pray without Ceasing

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstance; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.   (Thessalonians 5:16- 18)

Earlier this fall one of the weekly devotionals focused on the question of what does it mean to “pray without ceasing.”  The idea expressed was that all aspects of our life can be offered to God through prayer, and there are many different ways to pray in addition to our intentional, quiet time of prayer. This meaningful devotional also reminded me of an illustration of the latter, intentional prayer.  

For many years there was a ministry at the church known as the Tuesday Morning Prayer Group. The associate pastor who began this ministry in the 1980’s , Rev. Dr. Charles Echols, is still remembered by many for his spirit filled life and teachings.  On one occasion during a meeting of the Prayer Group he encouraged those present to think beyond family, friends and immediate contacts, to choose a person for whom they had never prayed and do so each day “without ceasing” for one year.  My mother was among those who accepted this invitation.

Sometime after that year and the peaceful conclusion to the Cold War, we learned that the person for whom she had prayed was Mikhail Gorbachev.  When asked why she had chosen him, she mentioned several factors.  First, she and my father had been on a trip to the Scandinavian countries which also included several days in St. Petersburg, Russia.  They had seen the oppression of the people, Bibles banished under the Soviet regime, churches used as museums and even government offices.  They had also witnessed the courage of a lovely tour guide who said:  “Please enter the next room quietly; it remains a sacred place.”  Secondly, she had read that Mr. Gorbachev’s mother had been a Christian and that he was been baptized as a young child.  If accurate, and she believed it to be, this provided assurance that he had been claimed as a child of God years before, whether he knew it or not.  Thus she began a prayer journey that his heart and mind might warm to the needs of his people and that he might become receptive to God’s spirit at work in his life.   While many factors contributed to the peaceful end of the Cold War, these include, at least in my mind, the work of the Holy Spirit.  

God loves us, cares about each of us and covets the prayers of His people.  For whom might we “pray without ceasing” in the coming year?  The possibilities are endless in a time of crisis around the world, problems facing our nation, needs in our community and yes, needs in our church. What measures might we continue to take to identify, encourage and welcome children into our fellowship that they may be baptized, hear the stories of Jesus and experience the love of God?

“Every time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart, I will pray.  Yes, every time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart, I will pray.”  Nudge us, oh God, to feel Thy spirit at work in us as we pray in Jesus name.  Amen.

Sue Darlington Woods

Monday, December 22, 2014

Devotional 12-22-14

A few moments of quiet contemplation

Today, please take the time to read the following passages in preparation for Christmas:

John 1:1-18
Luke 2:1-20
Matthew 1:18-25

Creating and sustaining God, who has never left us, never abandoned us, and will surround us through eternity, grant us the ability to understand, for just a moment, the immensity of what is written in these words, and increase our faith so that we will follow you.  We pray in the name of the son who came into the world to make you known, Amen.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Devotional 12-21-14

Nothing is Impossible with God (and support from friends)
Luke 1:26-38

It is during the birth and death stories about Jesus in the Gospels that women are mentioned the most often. In this short passage, we hear about two women, Mary and Elizabeth. Mary has received some unsettling news. She is going to have a baby even though she has never been with a man. I cannot imagine being told this in the first place, much less receiving this news from an angel. Mary must have been shaken up and frightened on so many levels. I wonder if maybe this conversation took place over a few days, rather than all at once, so Mary would have time to think about it and digest it before she finally agreed. She probably wondered what her parents and her fiancĂ© would say. The Bible clearly says she was troubled. In order to reassure her, the angel tells Mary that her relative Elizabeth, who has been barren for years, is six months pregnant. The angel concludes, “Nothing is impossible with God!”

So we have two women both of whom are going to be giving birth soon. Mary was young, afraid and unprepared at this time for what was happening to her. Elizabeth had given up hope of ever becoming a mother. She must have been very happy about what was happening to her. They each had their own challenges, but were reassured in their unique ways that God would be with them.

I wonder about the nature of their relationship. Why did Mary go see Elizabeth? Was it to see for herself if the angel’s words were true? Did Elizabeth know what was happening to Mary? Apparently, she did, if we read down a few more verses. We don’t know what kind of contact these women may have had through the years as their sons aged and matured to become the truly special human beings God created them to be.  It is probable that Elizabeth was quite a bit older than Mary, so maybe she didn’t live to see her son John grown and baptizing people in the Jordan River years later. We don’t know.

I preach on this passage every year and I always see something new. This year, this traditional Advent passage reminds me of how important Godly friendships are. The Bible implies that Mary stays with Elizabeth for several weeks, even up until the birth of John. Imagine all of the things they would have found to talk about and to do together. Did they discuss their dreams for their boys? Did they make baby clothes? Did they laugh and cry together? Pray together? As the years went by and conflict around their sons broke these mothers’ hearts, did they remember the words of the angel that they used to encourage one another, “Nothing is impossible with God.”?

I invite you to think about your Christian friendships this Advent. Who are those people for you? Are you a special friend to someone? The gift of a strong friendship based on mutual understanding and unconditional love is a precious Christmas gift to give and to receive. I hope you give, and get, that beautiful gift this year!

Rev. Dorcas Linger Conrad
Weirton, WV


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