Christmas is upon us, our last Christmas together as pastor and people. I cannot begin to find the words to ex-press my gratitude to you, and my love for you. I believe this will be a very special time in the life of our church as we celebrate Advent and Christmas for the 29th time together. We will wait with hopeful expectation for Jesus to be born among us once more.
I have often quoted Helmut Thielicke’s sermon entitled, “The Message of Redeeming Light,” in which he wrote that “If we take light seriously, we also have to reckon with the fact that there is a night in which it shines….It, (light) is a miracle only if the night is taken seriously.” The context for these words was World War II Nazi Germany. It was night all around our world.
A hymn we often sing proclaims that “morning has broken.” For some this is true. Praise God. But others continue to be victims of violence, abuse, or war. For still others, Christmas is not a time of happiness and good cheer. There are financial worries, family challenges, and health concerns. Some have lost loved ones and that makes this season particularly difficult; signs of our world’s night to be sure.
Just as the first Christmas was enveloped in the darkness of sin and sadness, so too is our Christmas celebration. Thank God for the miracle of light, and for the star that leads to a humble manger and to a child destined to be the light of the world; the child who would suffer and die to redeem the world’s sin and sorrow and death. Thank God for this one who lights our way to God.
Leslie Weatherhead once spoke of Christianity as the “religion of the dawn…we do not pretend that there is no night but we live in faith that however long the night, in world affairs or our own hearts, the night will pass, and the dawn will come.”
I marvel each year at the tenacity the Christmas story has on my mind and heart. But I also wonder about those who have never heard the story or truly experienced Christmas. Jesus once told us that “we are the light of the world.” We are to throw off a radiance that touches the hearts and minds of others. Like our candles on Christmas Eve, every single light can make a difference. Thank you Church, for all the ways you light up our community and world. I challenge you to continue to be intentional in finding new and creative ways to share the light and love of Christ with all.
Longfellow heard the bells on Christmas day and said, “There is no peace on earth, for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.” I prefer the words of Horatio Bonar: “I heard the voice of Jesus say: ”I am this dark world’s light, look unto me, thy morn shall rise, and all the day be bright. And in that light of life I’ll walk, till traveling days are done.” God bless you all! Merry Christmas!
In Christ’s love, Pastor Joel
It is hard to believe that Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Time moves so quickly. Or perhaps we do, but either way, it is almost that time when we enjoy family gatherings, big dinners, football, and perhaps a perfunctory recitation of our blessings. Authentic thanksgiving is more, of course. Real gratitude springs from hearts that recognize who God is and what God does. Two of our very best words are thanks, and giving. The words of a chorus come to mind: “Count your blessings, name them one by one; count your blessings, see what God has done…” I am tempted to do that, for we have been richly blessed in 2019.
During 2019, we have been engaged in a Thanksgiving Food Drive, Samaritan’s Purse, a Christmas Craft Fair, Trunk or Treat, Hanging of the Greens, Rise Against Hunger, Angel Tree Toy Drive, Caroling at Holy Cross Hospital, Glad Tidings, Weller Road Food Ministry, Overland Gardens Ministry, Story Place Children’s Ministry, Black History Month, Ladies’ Retreat, Habitat for Humanity Women Build, Pickleball, Work Days, Vacation Bible School, Men’s Ministry, Back to Church Sunday, and Family Hayride most recently. Add to that, baptisms, Bible studies, dedications, and worship experiences and what we have is a very healthy, outwardly focused Body of Christ. My cup runs over with gratitude when I consider how so many contribute time and gifts to our ministry!
Gazing ahead, I call your attention to our Stewardship emphasis in November. Our theme this year is “Growing Deeper.” At the heart of this theme, is an invitation for each of us and all of us to consider God’s leading as we pray and decide about our level of giving for 2020. I invite you to follow the way of Jesus who would take time away from the business of life to pray and listen to God. I invite you to reflect on giving and generosity during our worship services throughout November, and to prayerfully consider the part you will play. An Estimate of Giving card will be included in this newsletter, and will also be available each of the three Sundays in our emphasis, and you are welcome to respond during any of these three worship experiences.
So, with hearts grateful for what God is doing, and for what God will yet do, let us continue to serve faithfully. The future is bright. A new pastor will be coming. There are always tremendous and exciting opportunities for ministry and growth before us. By the grace and power of God, 2020 will be a great one for Montgomery Hills!
I want to share with you a Thanksgiving prayer I came across: “Great Lord, you are the giver of every good and perfect gift. From the morning sun to the evening stars, our days are measured by your indescribable generosity. We confess that we find it hard, at times, to be thankful. So easily we allow ourselves to be distracted: by greed, by pride, by desire. Teach us that contentment is not the result of what we have, but is, rather, the result of what we believe: that we are your people, and the sheep of your pasture. In the name of Christ, we pray. Amen.”
In Christ’s love, Pastor Joel
I am remembering the story in Mark 12, when Jesus was asked a very honest question by a lawyer with an inquiring mind. What did Jesus think was the most important command in the Law? So often, when people asked Jesus questions, it was in order to trap him. But this scribe seems to be quite genuine in seeking Jesus’ counsel. Jesus answered and when he was through, the scribe could find nothing wrong with his answer. Jesus had reduced 613 commands to just two.
Jesus said we are to love God with all that we are, with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. As Richard Vinson puts it, “The God who made all things commands our absolute and utter devotion and loyalty. Nothing we do will matter as much as whether we can take our ambitions, emotions, commitments, and thoughts and dedicate them to God.” Well said; love in this context is not about warm fuzzy feelings, but about a constant and consistent turning in God’s direction. But it is not easy to do is it? We have a lot to learn about loving God in this way.
Jesus also said that day that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. I suspect Jesus was speaking in this context, about love as something we do for someone who needs it. That is what Jesus was always going about doing. Loving our neighbor, doing love, sounds simple, but we know it is not.
I have always liked the story about a college professor of Christian ethics who handed out an exam that had 20 difficult questions. The instructions said to read the entire exam before beginning to write. Most students, seeing the number of questions, despaired of answering them all in the time allotted. They ignored the instructions and started right in on the first question. A few students wrote nothing at all. They just looked at the paper for a while and stared into space, as though they were trying to remember something. But one student completed the exam in a matter of minutes, submitted the paper, and walked out of the room, smiling.
That student was the only one who passed. That student was the only one who followed the instructions fully, reading through all 20 questions before reaching the final one. The final question went like this: "Congratulations! You have followed the instructions perfectly. There is no need to answer any of the other 19 questions. Just answer this one. This question is very simple, and it is the only one that counts. Write the name of the janitor who cleans this classroom." That question tried to measure how hard the students tried to love their neighbor, the custodian, whom most habitually ignored, as themselves.
Our worship theme in October is, “The Word That Knows No Equal.” That word is love. I pray that you will join us each Sunday morning for Bible Study and worship.
In Christ’s love, Pastor Joel
Pastor Joel Hawthorne