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Reflections

Welcome to the JCPC Daily Reflections Blog. Reflections are daily devotionals authored by JCPC pastors, staff and members and provide insight, guidance and comfort to help you make it through each day. If you’d like to receive Reflections each day via email,  provide your email address.

Thursday, December 24 2020

We pray that you will experience the peace of Christ during this Christmas season.

The office staff will be taking a much needed break, so Reflections and Connections will stop on Tuesday, December 29, 2020, and will resume on Monday, January 4, 2021.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Posted by: AT 03:38 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, December 23 2020

As I mentioned in one of my recent sermons, when my girls (and I) were much younger, I coached their basketball teams. Now when I coached, I could do that in a number of ways: I could draw on a whiteboard and diagram plays for them to run. I could talk to them. I could devise drills for them to practice what I wanted them to learn. In practice, we would take time to scrimmage. We would let them play simulation games so they could try out what they had learned in a game situation.

But one of the ways I tried to teach is that I actually spent some of the time scrimmaging with them. The other coach and I would get in the game on opposite teams and we would work with the girls. When they did this, it allowed them to play in a game situation with someone who knew how to play the game better than they did. So, we would make passes that they couldn't really conceive of on their own. We directed them and I told them where to go to get an open shot. Our presence made them better players by showing them how to play the game. They saw us make a good pass, steal the ball, set a screen, or shoot a lay-up, and they could learn how to do the same thing.

I think that is what God has done in history when Jesus came into our world. Maybe we could think of Jesus as the ultimate "player-coach" - someone who is on the court with us in the game of life, showing us how it is done. So, we read the stories not only of Jesus' birth, but of his life. We read what he said. We see what it means to love God and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This Advent and Christmas, I invite you to give thanks for Jesus - sent by God to show us how to live and love God's way!

 

Prayer for Today

Thank you, God, for sending Jesus into our world. May we follow the example he set for us - showing us how to love God, our neighbor, and even ourselves! Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:35 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, December 22 2020

Water is found in many places in scripture, including in tears. John 11:32-36 reminds us that Jesus experienced weeping, "When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"

As many of you know the holiday season is one that is filled with great joy and great sadness. Joy as we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Joy as we share Christmas celebrations with family and friends. Joy as we see the excitement in a child's eyes on Christmas morning. This season is also one where we experience moments of sadness over those family members who are no longer with us. For many this may be the first holiday without some of them. I was reflecting with joy and sadness yesterday as I thought about my Dad, who we lost after his battle with cancer in June 5 years ago. The joy that moves through me this time of year, is very closely connected with the joy that my Dad exuded each day while he was here and especially during the holiday season.

I would invite you to take a moment to identify some of the parts of your life where there are tears. Tears of joy... Tears of sadness... Listen to them and then place them before God.

"In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." Romans 8:26

 

Prayer for Today

Holy Spirit, thank you for praying for us when we can't. Thank you for praying for us deeply and meaningfully. Hear our prayer... In Jesus' name. Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:31 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, December 21 2020

Am I Enough?
 

Philippians 4:12 (NIV)

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

We are without the familiar rhythms of "doing" our faith - worshiping in the chapel, breaking bread in fellowship, serving on committees, singing in the choir. It is a lean season, one of scarcity, when we can't hug and clutch hands in hard moments or lift a glass in celebration. We are living "in want" in Paul's words. We are not physically hungry, but we're emotionally, psychologically ravenous for the restoration of the way of life we formerly knew.
In this stark moment, Christ asks, "Am I enough?" Without all the beloved church "things" we are privileged to take part in as believers, have we cultivated enough of Him to lean on? When we've traded church pews for the front seat of the car or for the comfy chair in the den to worship online - do we summon gratitude or lament our losses? Can we be content in all things as Paul advises - despite the shipwreck, imprisonment, and poverty he experienced - and cherish our connection to Christ to help us see beyond our present trouble?
When we travel to the starlit stable this Christmas, might we bring our anxieties and worries, our disappointments and hurts, and lay them at the feet of the Christ child? May that demonstrate our full trust in this Christ we say we follow, as we relinquish fretting and anger and blaming and instead, give thanks to God who sent the Savior who promises to provide for every need. 


Philippians 4:4-7 (NIV)
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Posted by: AT 03:29 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, December 18 2020

"The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."
-Isaiah 40: 3, 5

 

Can you feel it? We're almost there! No, I'm not talking about the end of 2020, which we're all looking forward to, I'm sure. I'm talking about Christmas Day! As Christians, we don't start celebrating Christmas until Christmas Day itself, and we keep it going for 12 days until Epiphany. That is our Christmas Season.

Why does this matter? Who cares if we start singing Christmas songs in November, right? What's with all that purple in church during Advent anyway - I wanna see festive red and green! The world around us goes into full "Christmas" mode after Thanksgiving, with glittering lights, hectic shopping, and non-stop Christmas-related tunes. And then, come December 25, after presents have been exchanged and snowflake-shaped cookies have been eaten, it's all over! The world moves on to the next commercial holiday.

But that is not our narrative as Christians. That is not the season we celebrate leading up to Christmastide. Advent isn't just a word we use in church. It's a state of mind and an introspective time for each one of us. It's a time to prepare our hearts for the Infant King and to open a path within ourselves for God to enter in. We wait in eager anticipation. We look to what is coming. We hear prophesies of old that will lead to the humble birth of the Word Incarnate. We prepare not for the presents and Christmas pajamas that the world would have us believe are important, but instead for the Light of the World that will always bring us hope, no matter the depths of darkness we find ourselves in.

Is there a clear path into your heart to welcome the Christ Child? Take a step back this Sunday as we quietly light the fourth Advent candle. Dig into that feeling of anticipation for a brighter future. If we purposefully orient our hearts and minds during the Advent season and prepare a space for our King, we may find something more profound on Christmas Day than any present, card, or family dinner over Zoom could ever offer.

 

Prayer for Today

God of Hope, help us to quiet our minds, prepare our hearts, and clear a path in our lives for you. Focus our attention away from the noise of the world. Guide us once again to Bethlehem so that we may experience the manger from a new angle. Give us hope for a brighter future. Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:27 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, December 17 2020

For God so loved the world, 

that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

-John 3:16

 

We have a morning ritual when we drop our oldest off for school. We ask him to repeat after us, "I am good, I am smart, I am loved..." He was about to step out of the car and he turned... "Dad? Is that a conditional kind of love or a permanent love?" "Permanent," I answered. "Oh thank goodness!" I never got to ask him about what he was thinking in that moment, but I haven't forgotten it. And aren't we all glad it's a permanent love?

This week, we light the candle of Love on the Advent wreath. It's a common enough word and concept, to be sure. But do we have our own moments of doubt and wonder? Are there conditions? Do we deserve it? Is it permanent? The good news is we get to ask our questions and the Scriptures speak beautifully - just like today's reading above and the Christmas story found in Luke and Matthew. All we have to do is ask our questions and the answers are there.

In Advent, we find our yearly ritual. God speaks, we listen. We think and ponder, as Mary and Joseph, as the shepherds did. And then we have questions in our wonder. We turn to God, in anticipation... "Is it a conditional kind of love or a permanent love?" God smiles, "A permanent one."

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, make me eager to head out into the world, confident of your love. Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:26 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, December 16 2020

. . . whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. - Matthew 20:26b-28, NIV

 

This past Sunday, we did something that, on the surface, may have seemed to have very little to do with Advent or Christmas. We elected elders. Many of you nominated a number of very qualified candidates. Your Elder Nominating Committee worked hard to present six individuals (five adults and one youth) who agreed to serve, if elected, in the coming years. You probably remember that elders serve for three years on our Session, while our youth elder serves one year. They provide spiritual leadership and seek to discern the leading of God's Spirit in the decisions they make. We are blessed to have elected a fine group of nominees. They are Joseph Cunningham (youth), Rebecca Eldridge, Bill McLeish, Alice Ann Nilsen, Jaywanth (Jay) Winfred, and Rick Zellmer. They each bring life experience, both inside and outside of the church, which will enrich our Session in the coming years. Thank you to everyone who nominated individuals to serve as elders at JCPC.

I began by saying that electing elders has very little to do with Advent and Christmas, but on further reflection, that may not be the case. Each one of these individuals who is being asked to serve as an elder is doing this not because they are seeking elected office. They are not doing it because they have some inordinate need to exercise power in a church organization. They are doing it because God came two thousand years ago in the form of a child whose birth we celebrate this season of the year. They are doing it in response to the call of God upon their lives to be servant leaders of this church, so that we can spread the good news of God's love in Jesus the Christ. So maybe what we did this past Sunday in electing elders really does have a lot to do with Advent and Christmas!

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, we thank you for sending Jesus into our world, who showed us what it means to be a servant leader. Help us to serve one another the way Jesus served others. We ask this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:23 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, December 15 2020

When you picture the story of Jesus' birth, how do you imagine it? If you were there as a character in the story, what do you think you would see? What would you smell? What would you hear? What would it be like for Mary to give birth in that place? What do you suppose Joseph is thinking/doing? What is the baby feeling or doing?

Read Luke 2:1-20.

Think about the ways that Jesus would have been like any other child. Jesus was unique but also, he was a regular kid. Often, we think of Jesus as this perfect guy, with a halo around his head, walking on water. Why do you think it might be helpful for us to remember that he was a person just like us as well -- that he cried when he got his baby teeth, that he got hungry, that he played as a child, that he had to go through all the growing pains of the teenage years? What other regular human challenges do you think Jesus faced as he grew up? How might his life as a teenager have been like yours?

Jesus changed the world. How is a baby born as a peasant into a violent culture able to change the world? In what ways, do you think the world is different because Jesus was born? In what ways is your life different?

Take a moment today to name and pray for "children" of all ages both near and far in need of the good news of God's love that Jesus shared with his life and ministry.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, whose light shines in the darkness, have mercy upon us. Christ, whose birth gives hope to all creation, have mercy upon us. Lord, whose advent brings us joy and love, grant us peace. Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:21 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, December 14 2020

The Route to Bethlehem

Confession: I don't get along so well with the GPS lady. She gets irritated with me when I miss a turn or decide to go another way. I can hear the frustration in her voice when she must come up with a third or fourth option for me to take to stay on course for my chosen destination. What she doesn't know about me is that I was born feet first (actually, the first thing out was just one foot), and I've been turned around ever since. Just ask my husband.

 

We were on our way up north recently and decided that our evening stopping place would be Bethlehem, PA, partly because we wanted to get that far north by day's end and partly because that's where Bill and I lived as newlyweds way back in 1973. My husband entered the information into the GPS gizmo, and as he turned the corner out of our subdivision, I heard the GPS lady's voice announce, "The route to Bethlehem."

Wow! Hearing those words stated so clearly and confidently got me to thinking about Mary and Joseph and their trip to Bethlehem. How did it go for them? We had 800 miles to go that day for a 12.5 hour trip in our comfortable vehicle, protected from wind, weather and dark of night. They had a 90 mile journey ahead of them when they set out at a time in antiquity when one averaged about 20 miles per day at best. However, with Mary very pregnant and the terrain having both hills and valleys, Biblical archaeologist James Strong* estimates they averaged about 10 miles per day. At that time of the year, the daytime desert temperature would have been in the 30s with frequent rain; the nights even colder and more brutal. And, as if bandits and robbers weren't challenging enough, there were also bears, lions and wild boars to look out for. Our 800 mile trek was looking more like a walk in the park.

Oh, and the food! We knew there would be all kinds of rest stops, gas stations, restaurants, and hotel options to meet our needs along the way. Mr. Strong tells us that Mary and Joseph would have carried all their provisions: water in wineskins, and bread along with herbs and oils. For days. For a pregnant woman. My mind goes back to the yummy ice cream sandwich I picked up at a quick refueling stop on my way to Bethlehem. My biggest dilemmas were sticky fingers and, at times, poor radio reception.

As our trip progressed, we exited the highway now and then for various reasons. Each time, my husband refreshed the GPS app, and each time I heard, in turn, "the voice" announcing "the route to Bethlehem." Then, when our time in New York was up, we decided to drive back to Pennsylvania and take the time to walk around our old stomping grounds and reminisce a bit. Now leaving from New York, the GPS lady once again confidently announced, "the route to Bethlehem." It struck me that these days, everybody all over the world with a GPS system could find their way to Bethlehem whenever they wanted to do so, even the route to the real Bethlehem.

The question is, do we want to? The manger. The Christ child. The wise men and shepherds. The astonished new parents. God Himself incarnate. How much of that do we earnestly seek? How ready are we to renew our love for our fellow man? Can our hearts and minds get there fully and sincerely and confidently? Can we get there on our own, or do we need the GPS lady?

*Los Angeles Times-12/23/95

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Friday, December 11 2020

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant;

O come ye; O come ye to Bethlehem!

Come, and behold him, born the King of angels!

O come, let us adore him; O come, let us adore him;

O come, let us adore him, Christ, the Lord!

 

This Sunday, we will worship together at our annual Lessons and Carols service!  Lessons and Carols is a service of Christian worship where the story of the fall of humanity, the promise of the Messiah, and the birth of Jesus is told in nine short Bible readings or lessons from Genesis, the prophetic books and the Gospels, interspersed with the singing of Christmas carols, hymns and choir anthems.

Before this service became popularly associated with King's College, Cambridge, it began in Truro Cathedral in Cornwall.  Up to the late 19th century, Christmas carols were usually performed by singers visiting people's homes, singing mostly secular music, which had been excluded from Christian worship.  In the Victorian era, hymns became more popular, and church musicians were encouraged to introduce carols into worship.  The first formal service of nine lessons and carols was held on Christmas Eve of 1880, conducted by Edward White Benson, who became Archbishop of Canterbury three years later.  While the popularity of the service has spread to mostly Anglican churches, numerous Christian denominations have adopted the service as part of their Christmas celebrations.  At JCPC, we have celebrated this service during Advent for several years.

This year is a little different!  Due to COVID-19 concerns, we are not yet indoors.  And we can't have the choir sitting in any kind of choir loft together, singing shoulder to shoulder, as they are accustomed to doing.  Instead, some of our carols are solos and duets, some are congregational hymns (sung from your cars or your living rooms), some are sung by our virtual choir (recorded separately and pieced together digitally), and we will even hear the voices of two of our preschool classes singing a carol!  Lesson readers include pastors and staff members.  We believe that it's very important to maintain this tradition, not just because this is a tough year, but because of our need to remember this story again and again, to be reminded of God's coming down to earth to be Emmanuel (God With Us), and to rescue us.

"Thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."  -1 Corinthians 15:57 NIV

Sing, choirs of angels; sing in exultation;

Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!

Glory to God, all glory in the highest!

O come, let us adore him; O come, let us adore him;

O come, let us adore him, Christ, the Lord!

 

Prayer for Today

Holy God, we lift our hearts and voices to you in praise and thanksgiving now and forevermore!  We thank you for sending your only son.  In his holy name we pray.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:17 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, December 10 2020

Now after [the Magi] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, "Out of Egypt I have called my son."

-Matthew 2:13-15

 

As believers, we prepare for the coming of Christ each Christmas, and in our tradition, four weeks of Advent. I listened to the readings this year in youth group and Bible study, and as we recorded the Lessons and Carols service for this Sunday. Each year, a new portion or facet of the story reveals itself to me. This year, it was a deep resonance with Joseph's story. Last Christmas, we were expecting the imminent birth of a new son. He arrived in February. Barely had we welcomed him when we received word that a pandemic was spreading globally. Those most at-risk were believed to be the elderly and anyone with respiratory problems. Taking home our infant who'd spent his first days in the NICU for his lungs and breathing difficulties, we took seriously the warnings to isolate and quarantine. An official quarantine was announced for everyone a week later.

Like Mary and Joseph, we accepted we would not see our family for an unknown amount of time and resigned to this new world of uncertainty. Like Mary, my wife had happily anticipated frequent visits from her large extended family and her parents, and now, we knew we wouldn't be seeing them. They wouldn't get to hold him and watch him begin to crawl and talk and walk. Like Joseph, I worried about the danger my family was facing and about my ability to provide for them as my work changed radically. And like Jesus, our new baby worried only about his next meal and his own comfort and had no clue the world had changed. But, like Joseph, I imagine, he discovered a new joy in watching his son grow, and taking a greater role in his care within their tiny circle of family.

This week, we light the Joy candle of the Advent wreath. I don't know if you've had trouble identifying joy this year. Many of us have. But I expect, that like the Holy family, we have and will find joy as often in the unexpected as in what we expect or hope for in the year behind and the one ahead. For me, the joy of working primarily from home and holding my boy for countless hours is both a great deal of work and an unexpected joy. I pray for each of us to be open to, witness to, and eager for God's gifts of unexpected joys this year and next.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, make me a witness to the joy you send and joyous in the unexpected gifts you give in this season and all year. Amen.

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Wednesday, December 09 2020

"For God so loved the world, that He gave his only son." 

- John 3:16

 

What makes this season of the year seem like Advent and Christmas? Each Sunday we have been talking about and hearing the songs of Christmas, but I wonder if the primary sense that tells us what time of year it is goes beyond seeing or even hearing to smelling. More than any other time of year, this season smells different.

When we brought our Christmas tree home from the church, the smell of the tree was one of the first things that made it seem a lot like Advent and Christmas. When we put it in the tree stand at home, that smell filled our house. Just think of the smells of all the good foods that we only have this time of year - warm cider, hot chocolate, freshly baked cookies. And what about the logs burning in the fireplace or the smell of candles? Advent and Christmas just smell good!

Psychologists tell us that smells are some of the strongest memories we have buried deep in our brains. Smells activate those memories. Have you ever smelled something and all of the sudden you had a memory of something good that happened to you when you were younger? I guess we could say, "It is beginning to smell a lot like Christmas!"

What might it have smelled like in the place where Jesus was born? Being a stable where animals lived and ate, my guess is that it was not very pleasant. Yet it was into this very humble place that God chose to enter our world as a baby. It reminds us that that God is willing to go to almost any length in order to show God's love for us - even a smelly manger.

Whatever is going on in your life today, whether it is a time of joy and wonder, or a situation in your life that "stinks"-- God is willing to help you find your way out. God loves you that much!

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, you will go to whatever place is necessary to save us -- even the places in our lives that "stink." Thank you for loving us that much! May we reach out to those around us with your love. Help us to be "the light of the world" - reflecting the true Light - Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:12 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, December 08 2020

I know that this time of year can bring joy, excitement, sadness, anxiety, stress, and peace all within a day or week. When I read an article from David Thomas, author and counselor at Daystar Counseling in Nashville, yesterday, I was reminded of the way that gratitude can be a key factor in how a day, week or season can go.

 

"The science behind gratitude - how gratitude stimulates the hypothalamus, a key part of the brain that regulates stress. Similarly, it triggers the "reward circuitry" that produces the sensation of pleasure. When we pull out a device and spend a minute or two looking through photos of people, places and pets, it can temporarily interrupt anxiety and worry, despair and hopelessness, negative or intrusive thoughts."

From his advice, I took a moment yesterday afternoon to pull pictures from my phone into a gratitude folder. As I looked at the people, places and pets in them, it brought a sense of joy and peace to my demeanor. Paul's words in Colossians can help us be reminded of this as well.

"My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you've been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You're deeply rooted in him. You're well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you've been taught. School's out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving." (Colossians 2:6-8 The Message)

Advent is a time of preparing our hearts to receive God's gift to us in Jesus Christ. Pointing my heart towards gratitude is a daily challenge.

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, Help us to experience gratitude and share it with others. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:10 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, December 07 2020

Longings


Advent 2020 finds many Americans longing to attend worship services, but their church doors are closed due to the pandemic. This time last year we couldn't have imagined such a thing. At JCPC we are all grateful for the creative energy our leaders have poured into meeting the practical challenges of the Covid 19 crisis, including providing meaningful on-line and parking lot worship. Yet, we long for our sanctuary. 


We aren't the first to experience this, however. After the French Revolution in 1789, church doors in France were closed, too. Granted it was for political reasons, not a health crisis, but even the midnight mass on Christmas eve and church nativity scenes (crèches) were banned. In an effort to keep their religion and traditions going, people started meeting quietly in their homes and crafting small versions of nativity scenes, particularly in the Provence area in southern France. Soon an industry was born that continues to this day. The artisans who used to make the very large life-sized nativity figures for churches and wealthy chateau owners poured their creative abilities into making "les santons" or "the little saints" of Provence, now in miniature. 

 
As we take our Advent walk to Christmas this year, may we be reminded of the many blessings that surround us daily. May we unpack our nativity scenes and crèches with the same joy we always have, even if our personal gatherings and celebrations might be on a smaller scale. May we be mindful of those families who are dealing with loss this Christmas season and pray for them that they will feel the presence of Christ in their lives, bringing them tidings of comfort and joy. May we all remember that the celebration of the birth of our Savior is about what takes place in our hearts and minds, not our buildings. May we all rejoice!

 

Prayer for Today

 

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here,

Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.
 

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,

And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,

And death's dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

 

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Friday, December 04 2020

"O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear."
-First stanza of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

As we near the second Sunday in Advent and inch closer to Christmas Day, I can't help but feeling like Advent 2020 is the most "Advent-y" of Advents I've ever experienced. We are all waiting for the pandemic to end and waiting for a vaccine. Many of us are waiting for the day when we can see friends and family again that we haven't seen in 8 months. I'm waiting to get back to Japan. I sure wish December 25 marked not only the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus but also the return of normal life.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is such a wonderful hymn. The original melody is found in a 15th century religious manuscript, and the text to this hymn was first documented in a German book in 1710. The pairing of the melody and the text we know today happened in 1851, when it was all the rage to take ancient Christian chant melodies and assign text that fit the "mood" of the chant and liturgical season. The combination of this melody and text is brilliant - the melody is melancholy and evokes a sense of longing and waiting, and the Advent text is full of imagery. Look at some of the other verses.

O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.

O come, Desire of nations, bind all peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife, and discord cease; fill the whole world with heaven's peace.

The best part of this hymn is the "refrain" at the end of every verse: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. As Christians, we are filled with hope as we anxiously await the coming of the Infant King. Let us also have hope that a brighter 2021 is on the way. And I hope that you will join us to sing this hymn this week at Drive-in Worship on this second Sunday of Advent.

 

Prayer for Today

O Emmanuel, as we wait in stillness for you, open our hearts every day to your transformative love. Fill us with hope in our despair and peace in our strife. Open to us the pathway of your peace and help us to truly be peacemakers. Amen.

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Thursday, December 03 2020

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

Remember, Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.
-The Shawshank Redemption

A part of our shared tradition as believers and Presbyterian is Advent. Each week, we light a new candle. This past Sunday was the first Sunday, so we celebrated Hanging of the Greens, including the Advent Wreath and lit the candle of Hope. It's worth visiting this candle, especially in a year like 2020. If ever there was a year that felt hopeless, this has been it. We have suffered the isolation, fear, and division of a pandemic, racial riots, and selfish politicians of all stripes who have demanded our allegiance without suffering with us or leading us to be better. We could be excused for feeling hopeless or ignoring this candle in the darkness or postponing till 2021.

And yet, the scriptures remind us that it is when we walk in darkness that we are sent a light. Arguably, with us as an ally, Israel has never been more powerful in the world, even as a small nation in its region and the world. If asked, most of my teenagers would name Judaism as a major world religion and people group. Over and over, in my confirmation youth name it as a second or third largest faith group. They're always surprised to learn that with roughly 2 billion Christians, and a combined 3.3 billion Buddhist, Muslim, etc. and only 15 million Jews (0.18%), Judaism isn't the great power or group they think. Even the adults I teach are shocked to learn that roughly 90% of the modern state of Israel is secular, rather than religious. So when we say that the Israel we read about in the time of Christ is FAR LESS powerful, ruled by the Roman Empire, and the faith was besieged by infighting that was not eyes open to the Messiah Jesus came to be, it was a darkness we can scarcely imagine. They didn't want hope. They needed it. We don't want hope. We need it.

The America of 2020 is so deeply in need of hope. We are under the power of a world-wide virus, deeply entrenched racism, and deeply partisan culture. The darkness in which we walk is so similar to the darkness of occupied Israel in which innocents were slaughtered by Herod's order to eliminate his Prince of Peace rival. We need the hope that the great physician and healer will send inspiration and wisdom to our healthcare workers. We need the hope that a brown man who spent his formative years as a refugee in a foreign land can teach us to be welcoming and justice-seeking for our downtrodden neighbors whose families were kicked off their land or killed as natives, brought here as slaves, interred during WWII, or used as canon fodder in every war we've fought for over 200 years, and the hope that he teaches us how to welcome those desperate to find shelter here. And we need the hope that a man who sought to be King of our hearts and lives and not political leader of worldly concerns brings by calling us to living as people of light and not part of the darkness in which we live. Our hope is for a future in 2021 and beyond is within our grasp because Christ has called us to do the work of Hope with him. And I believe our hope is in following that two thousand year old call from darkness to life.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, give me hope and call me forward to offer it to others. Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:01 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, December 02 2020

"I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord." - Luke 2:10, NIV

 

This past Sunday, we began the season of Advent with our Hanging of the Greens service. Even in this pandemic, it was a joy to remember the rituals which remind us of the reason for the season of Advent leading up to Christmas. I am finding that rituals are more important than ever during these changing and unpredictable times. They remind us of the things that last even in the challenging times of life.

The season of Advent is about the good news that God has sent Jesus to save us and the whole world. Today, I have some more good news to share with you. Because of your generosity, we have surpassed our pledge goal for 2021! Our church family stepped up in these challenging times and showed their willingness to trust God by making a pledge so that we can do God's work of sharing the good news with our community and our world. This is so much more than just making our budget. Your giving is how we are able to make a difference in the world through worship and music, through discipleship and fellowship, and through service and mission. Your generous gifts of time, treasure, and talents make that happen. Thank you to everyone who made a pledge to make a difference through God's work at JCPC in 2021.

I also want to ask you to keep your eyes open to sign up for invitations to both the upcoming Zoom Congregational Meeting on Sunday, December 13th at noon; as well as for the Drive-In Christmas Eve services at 5:00 PM and 7:00 PM. You will soon have the opportunity to sign up for both. As with our previous Congregational Meeting, we will need a quorum (10% of membership) to attend in order to act on the recommendations for elders and staff.

 

Prayer for Today

Thank you, God, for the good news of Jesus the Christ who came to save us and the whole world. Thank you for the generosity and the way you have worked through our church family so we can share the good news in 2021. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:00 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, December 01 2020

"You're blessed when you're content with just who you are - no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought." Matthew 5:5 (The Message)

 

These wise words come from my desk calendar. In a season that can often get wrapped up in things, this was a meaningful message for me to hear. These words can keep us grounded. I understand what it means to feel content with who I am, but it has taken time to get there. I can also get derailed and caught up in the messages around me. After reading this, the question came to me, how do you teach this to someone?

I'm not sure how to teach it, but I do think it is learned through modeling and experience. At what point in your life, did you truly understand what it means. Was it a particular life experience? Was it something that someone said or did? Was it a series of situations that worked together to bring you to this revelation?

I think we learn more about being content, when we appreciate what we have and do not long for more. We value relationships and experiences over things. I think it also comes when you put the needs of others before yourself. I saw a glimpse of this on Saturday morning when we began our Advent preparations and traveled as a family to the Christmas tree farm. As we rode in the car, we talked about what kinds of ways we will prepare our home and our hearts for this season. We talked about ways that we can give to others. Will also knew that he would visit Santa while we were there. We asked if he had any ideas about what he might say. Without prompting, he said "First I need to tell him that our dog, Belle, needs a new bed and some treats. Then I'll tell him something I want this year." That's exactly what he did, he introduced Santa to our dog, Belle and then shared about her needs first.

I believe one message of this Advent season as we wait for the birth of Christ is about contentment with all the gifts we already have been given, putting the needs of others before ourselves, and then sharing the joy and hope that Christ's life offers with the whole world.

How can you do that today?

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, Thank you for the precious gift of the Advent season and the time we can experience contentment with ourselves. Help us to continue to appreciate all of the gifts that you offer to us each day. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:58 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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