Sunday, December 25, 2016

Devotional 12-25-16

“Same story, different town.”  This is my first Christmas at Johnson Memorial, but, after more than twenty-five years in ministry, I find myself telling the same stories again and again.  During this season, I have lots of family memories:  there was the time my little cousin cried on Christmas eve because bigger people had “blocked her view” and that was the only reason she couldn’t see Santa’s reindeer in the sky,  the December day when my aunt held a new baby boy and cried her thanks to God, because she was dying and had feared that she would not live to see him born, the time we all went to church and came home to find Barbies and Lincoln Logs piled in front of our tree and the dog running circles, barking for joy….there was that December Sunday morning when my family’s general store burned to the ground,  and the volunteer firefighters were late because they had been in church, but we all held hands and prayed in the ashes.  Light and darkness, joys and tears, all mixed together, overflowing. 

As a pastor, I used to worry about how to tell the ancient stories of our faith in a new way, and especially this story—-the birth of the Christ Child.  After years of Christmas pageants, with wise men and shepherds, angels and animals, children wearing bathrobes and tinsel crowns, don’t we all know this story, maybe a bit too well?  Haven’t we sung it, said it, chanted it, so often, that there’s little room for wonder?  Every year, at this church and thousands of others, we share scriptures about the promised One from God, the longing and the waiting, the evil King in his palace and the baby in the manger, fulfillment at last.  It’s so easy to summarize the story, and then leave it alone, not connecting it to the lives we lead. I majored in history, and also love folklore, so there’s no happier set of words to me than “once upon a time….”  But the Holy Mystery of the Incarnation demands more of me, more of us:  “And the Word became flesh and lived among us….” John’s gospel proclaims.  This is a stunning pronouncement, with consequences all the way through time and history.  Human life becomes the vessel for Holy life, and our story and God’s story entwine in amazing and beautiful ways, not just as history but as present reality. When we tell our stories, we are telling a part of God’s story, too.  Suddenly, the light and darkness, laughing and crying, winning and losing, every single part of life from the smallest to the vast, is touched by the numinous power of God.  And it all matters—-Thanks be to God, it all matters!

I wish you joy this holy day, and I leave you with another favorite scripture about the connect between body and spirit:
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’  “  (Isaiah 52:7)  You’ve got beautiful feet, and a beautiful, God-touched life.  Joy to the World.

Rev. Terry Deane

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Devotional 12-24-16

Psalm 98 (From The Message)

1  Sing to God a brand-new song.  He’s made a world of wonders!  He rolled up his sleeves,  He set things right.  2 God made history with salvation, He showed the world what he could do.  3 He remembered to love us, a bonus to his dear family, Israel—indefatigable love.  The whole earth comes to attention. Look—God’s work of salvation!  4 Shout your praises to God, everybody!  Let loose and sing! Strike up the band!  5 Round up an orchestra to play for God, Add on a hundred-voice choir.  6 Feature trumpets and big trombones, Fill the air with praises to King God.  7 Let the sea and its fish give a round of applause, with everything living on earth joining in.  Let ocean breakers call out, “Encore!”  And mountains harmonize the finale—  9 A tribute to God when he comes, when he comes to set the earth right.  He’ll straighten out the whole world, He’ll put the world right, and everyone in it.

One of my favorite forms of worship has been through music.  Music is one way that we all communicate with God, and with each other.  There are times when an artist finds words when set to music remind us to thank God for providing for our lives.

There are times when these words reminds us to care for our neighbors, using acts of kindness to praise God for the blessings in our lives.  Some artists simply use melodies and harmonies to pull our emotions and feelings to the surface and make us understand that we are not alone in this world.

Looking back, I was encouraged to participate in activities involving music.  Each of the different activities exposed me to different forms of music.  Children’s choir taught stories of God and Jesus.  The music wasn’t always perfect, but it was most definitely a Joyful Noise.  In school, joining the band, I learned to play the trombone and was taught many different forms of music, classical, popular, and jazz.  Each of these types of music would stir different emotions for me while playing, and would cause similar and many times other emotions to be stirred by the audience.

The psalm calls for us to sing a New song.  Singing a new song to thank God for his salvation, and a new song to help others know the love and salvation of Christ! As much as I enjoy singing and playing an instrument, it is difficult to convey a message to a large group on my own.  But, if we come together as an orchestra or choir to sing for God we are given the chance to reach out to our congregation and to our neighbors as well.  Some of these neighbors may know God, but others may not, and the music we provide can help them experience the love, strength and salvation of Christ!

Dear God, Thank you for your love and salvation!  We are grateful for your strength and love.  As we sing through song and voice help us to reach out to those that need your love.  Use our music to share your story, let us sing from the mountains so that all may share in your glory!  Amen

Hulse Budd

Friday, December 23, 2016

Devotional 12-23-16

When Don and I were twenty-one years old, we decided to marry. I had just received my teaching degree, and he was working for Malcolm Hinshaw, a local builder/contractor. We didn’t have any money saved - I suppose we thought we were going to live on love. I mean wasn’t that what we were told in every movie in the ‘70s?

What’s really funny is that we never STOPPED living on love because he didn’t work as much in the winter, and I didn’t work as much in the summer. But we didn’t do easy. We worked hard, kept to ourselves, and raised a family.

When Don passed away this past November, I realized that we had been living on love and a whole lot more. Our lives were intertwined with hopes, dreams, fear, anticipation, and hard work. We had moved into a house that he had wired, plumbed, and partially dry walled. We were on a two-year plan, and we were right on track when life took a detour.

Today is Friday, December 23, 2016. While the world prepares for the coming of the Christ Child, I am also preparing for a Christmas Day without the love of my life. I do have a constant thought that keeps me from knocking over the Christmas tree and poking holes in beautifully wrapped packages. I know for a fact that God loves me.

How do I know? He has shown me in every wonderful person he put next to Don and me during Don’s battle with cancer. God was in every kind word and gesture that came from the nurses and doctors at St. Mary’s and HIMG. God was in the room when Don and I held each other and cried. God was in every card, message, text, and email that we received from family and friends. He was also the one who convinced my Koinonia Sunday School Class that food was not what we needed. So what did they do? They sent money to be used to pay co-payments and hospital bills. I could also feel God’s hand in the way church family and high school friends would show up in the hospital, at HIMG, at the pharmacy, or in the corner where I had gone to have a meltdown. God was also in the room when we faced the fact that I would be going on alone.

But I’m not alone. God loves me. God loves you. God loves Don, and for that reason, I know that He didn’t take Don’s soul, but was smiling as he received his soul and welcomed him into His Kingdom.

There is a beautiful hymn in the United Methodist Hymnal called “When Love Is Found” (p.643). It says what I’m not able to express. I love that the lyrics were written by Brian Wren in 1978. That was about the time we were thinking about starting a family. I’m pretty sure God was around then, too.

“When Love is Found” ( Sung to the tune of “The River is Wide”)

When love is found and hope comes home,
sing and be glad that two are one.
When love explodes and fills the sky,
praise God and share our Maker’s joy.
When love has flowered in trust and care,
build both each day, that love may dare
to reach beyond home’s warmth and light,
to serve and strive for truth and right.


Praise God for love, praise God for life,
in age or youth, in husband, wife.
Lift up your hearts, let love be fed
through death and life in broken bread.

Amen

Becky Warren

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Devotional 12-22-16

A man leaves a party fearing danger.
A man enters a celebration knowing the danger.

A man in the wrong place at the wrong time.
A man in the only place in His time.

Bang Bang Bang - shots fired.
Bang Bang Bang - the yet unheard echo of nails pounded.

A gavel falls - a man goes free.
No gavel present - a man condemned.

Justice mocked.

A mother weeps.
A mother weeps.

Friends despair. No faith in the law.
Friends despair. No faith in forever.

Loved ones arise to carry on.
THE loved one arises to carry all.

While sounding much like Easter – it’s about Christmas. It’s a about a gift. Easter gives us our forever. The gift at Christmas gives us what we hold dear our entire lives; compassion, service, love of others, tolerance, caring, parables to help understanding, prayers to sustain, sacrifice. Pause - think - cherish.

A roof overhead. Clothes on our backs. Food on our table. All gifts.

We have so much in this world and yet there is an extreme focus on what isn’t there. What others have that we don’t.
Family is a gift. Friends are a gift. Children are a gift. Life is too quickly gone. Sometimes an illness - a blurred glimpse down a dark road foretells of the future. Sometimes it is unforeseen and in the blink of an eye and ring of a phone > everything changes. What couldn’t possibly happen has just happened and now NOTHING will ever be same.

Part of the scripture reference for this date on the devotional schedule is the birth narrative in Luke. The last Sunday of the Christian/Liturgical calendar (Christ the King Sunday) is the Sunday before Thanksgiving, leading into the First Sunday of Advent and the scripture reading is again from Luke > but is from chapter 23...part of the crucifixion story. It’s all ONE story - woven into the very fabric of our Christian lives - beginning with a gift.

Let us, this year, re-gift our Christmas present and spread the love that was given all those years ago.

Pause – think – cherish. Merry Christmas.

Steve Matthews

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Devotional 12-21-16

Luke 21:25-29”
“There 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. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Today’s scripture seems a far cry from what we might expect as we begin the Advent season. Isn’t it all about the birth of Christ, in a stable, with angels, and the Wise Men, and the shepherds with their sheep—Mary holding the Christ Child, and Joseph contemplating all that has occurred since his visit from the Angel?

The Advent season, of course includes this beautiful celebration. But we’re reminded again by this scripture to think about the greatest gift God could have given us—His Son, for our salvation—and that Advent is a time of reflection. How is our relationship with God coming along? Are we doing our best as we claim our discipleship with Christ?  It can be so hard to focus on and reflect about our journey with Christ when we find ourselves in the midst of the hustle and bustle of shoppers, the endless commercials telling us Christmas will be here before we know it, and….It sometimes seems the world has forgotten the “reason for the season.”

Just hang in there! Make time for prayer and meditation; help those in our community who have so little; take advantage of those opportunities Christ puts before us to help someone in need. Worhip with our church community to experience the true meaning of Christmas. Celebrate with great joy the birth of our Savior. We’ll enjoy our family and friends, share memories of Christmases past, but we should also remember the promise that Christ will come again.

Prayer:  Loving God, today we start the journey toward Bethlehem, a stable, and remembering the day your Son came into the world to save us from our sins. As we await his return to redeem the world for eternity, open our hearts so that as we move through this Advent season, the joy of knowing the love of God through Jesus Christ overshadows everything else we experience. Amen

Reverend Doctor LaGretta Bjorn

Pastor of the United Methodist Church of Spring Valley, New York

Diane Feaganes

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Devotional 12-20-16

Please read Psalm 96

What is new for you this Advent season?

I’m experiencing a new Advent this year because I am retired. Even though I still work with my husband Tim at St. Matthew, it’s only about 10 hours a week, and I have no huge responsibilities (some might say headaches) like most pastors have. We have bought a house here in Weston, which is where we grew up, and hope to be in it by Thanksgiving. (I’m writing this on Halloween.) These are new things that are good.

There are some new things that are not so good.  Tim’s father died in April, so this will be the first holiday season without him. We will miss him terribly.  I continue to struggle with both thyroid and breast cancer.  I stopped taking chemo for the thyroid cancer a couple of months ago, because it made me so very sick. I will start a new kind in December.

Change and newness are true for everybody. What we celebrate at Christmastime is that God is with us through all the changes in our lives. God’s presence is eternal. God does not change, but is there for us in every situation in which we find ourselves. He rejoices with us when we rejoice and comforts us when we are troubled. In the worst times, God brings hope.

The reality of God with us in human form is what we celebrate at Christmas. Have a blessed one!

Rev. Dorcas Conrad
St. Matthew United Methodist Church. Weston, WV

Monday, December 19, 2016

Devotional 12-19-16

Let It Shine!

Isaiah, chapter 9 foretells the coming of Jesus. Verse 2 tells of a great light coming into the world. Jesus is the light of the world. Followers of Jesus are called to reflect that light to the world.

As a child I remember singing:
This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine,
 Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!
Hide it under a bushel, No! I’m going to let it shine!
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!
It seemed so easy to let it shine as I sang those words! But, like so many things it doesn’t seem quite so easy as an adult. I have known people who speak easily of their faith. Their faces seem to radiate a light that permeates their whole being. Does my face do that? Speaking easily is not a talent I have been given. How can I reflect God’s love? It doesn’t take a special talent to be more aware of the people around me. A kind word, a smile, a pat on the back, or just listening can go a long way for someone who is having a bad day. All it takes is remembering that everyone I meet is a child of God and deserves my love, respect, and attention.

Isn’t that a wonderful way to reflect God’s love? Caring enough about God’s children to really see them--isn’t that the perfect gift to give the Christ child?

Let your light shine!

Margaret Williams
 

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