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
The 12th chapter of John relates a story in which some Greeks approach Andrew, one of the disciples of Jesus and make a request of him: "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." They wanted to learn more and know more about Jesus. Some saw Jesus as a teacher, some a healer, and some a prophet, some as a miracle worker, some as a warrior, and some as a political leader. People were drawn to Jesus.
So it has always been. Century after century, in every part of the globe, people have made the same request, and I pray it is an everyday prayer in our lives even now; ”We wish to see Jesus.”
There will be ample opportunities to try and see and worship Jesus as we move through the Advent and Christmas seasons together. Advent is that four week period of preparation for, and anticipation of, the coming of the Christ child into our hearts and lives. As part of our preparation this year, our theme is “We Wish to See Jesus,” a theme that we believe will speak to the spiritual hunger within so many hearts and lives today.
Each Sunday in Advent we will be lighting the candle of hope, peace, joy, or love, on our Advent wreath. Let there be light! And, there is something new added to our traditions, as we share in our first ever “Hanging of the Greens” worship celebration. We invite you to join us on December 5, for a Christmas dinner at 6:00 pm, followed by the “Hanging of the Greens” worship at 7:00 pm. It will be a very meaningful night as we read God’s Word, pray, listen to the music of our children, light our Chrismon tree, and prepare our sanctuary and our hearts for the coming of our Lord.
There are yet more opportunities to see Jesus. On December 9th we will participate in a Multicultural Christmas concert at 3 pm at the First Baptist Church of Silver Spring. On December 16th Our Sanctuary Choir will be presenting the Cantata “Christmas Presence” during the worship hour. Again this year we will be caroling at Holy Cross Hospital on December 18, at 7:00 pm. And as usual we will celebrating Christ’s birth at our Christmas Eve Candlelight Service on December 24, at 7:30 pm.
I believe we will also see Him, as we share his love with others. We will be packaging another 10,000 meals for the hungry, participating in the Angel Tree and Glad Tidings ministries, and will receive the World Mission Offering, which supports missions and ministries the world over.
Christmas may be “the hap, hap, happiest time of the year”, but if we fail to see Jesus, and reflect on his coming among us, it is just another event on the calendar. So this year, let us open our eyes, our ears, and our hearts to the living God. Come and worship. Come and serve. Come and see Jesus. I pray for each of us and all of us, a joy-full and meaning-full Christmas.
In Christ, Pastor Joel
The most used word in this time of year we call the Christmas Season is the word "gift." Most of us will spend a great deal of time in coming weeks frantically searching for gifts, trying to find the right gift for the right person at the right price. God gave the first and best Christmas gift, the gift of his son Jesus.
The days leading up to Christmas are some of the most beautiful, exciting, and meaningful days of the year. A fair amount of anxiety and worry is also produced, I’m afraid. The Advent season has long been seen as a time of preparation and anticipation, but Advent too, has fallen prey to cluttered schedules, distractions, “to-do” lists, obligations, and many of us find that we miss out on the very sacred opportunities that are available to us.
During this season of Advent 2017, even as our thoughts turn to gifts, shopping lists, and our own wish lists, we as a community of faith, will be exploring the gifts God gives us in the coming of the Christ child. Reflecting on passages from Isaiah together each Sunday, we will consider what it means to receive and
open those gifts as we unpack the theme, “Christmas Gifts to Open.”
I ran across a story of a man who received a Christmas gift 49 years ago, and still hadn’t opened it. Imagine that! How would you feel if you gave someone a gift to express your love and you found out later that they had not even bothered to open it? I suspect that this is what much of the world does with God’s Christmas gifts. So often, God’s Christmas gifts will remain unopened and un-received. A gift is not a gift until it is opened.
I look forward to opening the gifts of vision, peace, song, and presence with you each Sunday during Advent worship. Christmas is not about the gifts and the gift-swapping. It is about THE gift, God’s Christmas gift to us all. I invite us all to open our hearts and minds to receive God’s greatest gift this year, to allow Jesus to be born anew into our life. I pray for each member and friend of MHBC, a very joy-filled, and meaning-full Christmas!
Grace and Peace, Joel
Rev. Dr. Doris Barron-Shell