I hope and pray that all is well with you and your family. While we normally think of this time of year as being a time of joy, many people find Christmas and New Year's Eve to be a draining and depressing time. Please take time to check in with your loved ones and let them know that they are loved and valued.
As you already know, Christmas Eve is this coming Saturday. Grey Eagle United Methodist Church and Peace United Church will hold their candle lighting services at 4:00 PM. We conclude our sermon series "God Bless Us Everyone: The Redemption of Scrooge" based on Charles Dickens' serialized novel "The Christmas Carol". This Sunday the focus is on "Keeping Christmas Well". Bob Kutter will be leading worship at Grey Eagle UMC and I will be at Peace United. We hope to see you there.
For those who desire to worship on Sunday, December 25, otherwise known as Christmas Day, I will be at both church at our regular worship times: 9:00 am at GEUMC and 10:30 am at PUC. These will be very informal. We will read the Christmas stories, sing a bunch of Christmas carols, and talk about what Christmas means to us.
For the sermon series our lessons will be:
Luke 1:26-38 - The angel Gabriel visits the young girl Mary, who was engaged to the man Joseph, to tell her that she has been chosen by God to be the mother of God's Son, Jesus. "How can that happen since I am still a virgin?" she asked. "By the power of the Holy Spirit which will also make the child holy," said Gabriel, "for nothing is impossible for God." Put yourself in the place of Mary. How would you respond? Could Mary have responded differently?
Luke 2:1-20 - The emperor wants to count people and everyone has to go to their ancestral home for that count. Joseph traces his roots to Jesse and David so he packs up and takes pregnant Mary to Bethlehem. The town is crowded because of the census and the family that takes them in does not have a guest room (the same Greek word for the room Jesus had his last meal in with his disciples, see https://goo.gl/RIu1hf) for them. When it comes time to give birth, Mary is surrounded by the women of the house to give her privacy. The baby is then laid in the manger. Angels visit shepherd who are tending their sheep outside of Bethlehem to tell them about the birth of this child. They go into town, find the child, and they tell everyone what the angels said. Mary "pondered" in her heart all that happened.
Matthew 2:1-14 - This is the story of the visit of the wizards-magicians-astrologers to see the recently born King of the Jews. They first stop at Jerusalem because kings are usually born in the capital city. King Herod was frightened by their story; tells them no he is not here; then sends them to Bethlehem on the advice of the scholars. They find the boy; worship him as king; and gives the family three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. That night they are warned in their dreams to not go back to Herod so they return home without a stop in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Joseph is warned in a dream that Herod wants to kill the boy Jesus. He packs up Mary and Jesus and they went to Egypt.
For Christmas Eve, the Lectionary assigns these verses:
Isaiah 9:2-7 - The prophet says that there is hope for the future for the people of Israel. Joy will be increased and their burdens will be lifted. For a son will be born who will be a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. His kingdom will be established and there will be endless peace.
Psalm 96 - The psalmist call all the earth to sing a new song to the Lord. We are to declare God's glory to the nations and the people of all the nations for God is King and he will judge the nations with equity. This is good news so that the earth rejoices, the heavens are glad, the seas roar, the fields exult, and all the trees will sing for joy.
Titus 2:11-14 - God has appeared to bring salvation so that we may renounce impiety and worldly passions and live lives that are "self-controlled, upright, and godly". In the meantime we wait for the next appearance of Jesus. It is Jesus who gave himself so that we might be redeemed and become "zealous for good deeds."
Luke 2:1-20 - See above.
For Christmas Day, the readings are:
Isaiah 52:7-10 - The messenger brings the announcement of salvation because God reigns upon the earth and all shall see God's return. The Lord's return will bring comfort and redemption to the people of Jerusalem and Judah. All will see God's salvation.
Psalm 98 - Similar to Psalm 96 above, the psalmist calls on all creation to sing praises to the Lord. The Lord has made known his victory and remembers his "steadfast love" and "faithfulness". Let all of creation rejoice and sing.
Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12) - In the past God spoke to the people through prophets. In the days of the writer of Hebrews, God spoke through a Son (Jesus). We believe that Jesus is fully God and fully human. We believe the first part because of verse 3. Christ is God, the exact imprint of God's very being, and Christ sustains all things by his powerful word (this may be a reference to the power of the Holy Spirit). Verses 4 through 12 are about humanity being superior to angels.
John 1:1-14 - This is the grand opening to the Gospel According to John. Jesus is the Word of God. This Word has existed from the beginning. The Word was with God and the Word is in fact God who created and creates all things. This Word became human (flesh). Yet the world did not see or recognize this human Word. But those who receive this Word become Children of God. This Word became flesh and we have seen it, "full of grace and truth."
Have a glorious, joyful, and fruitful week before Christmas. Share God's Word with all you meet by greeting them with "Merry Christ mas!" No, that is not a typo.
Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor