There were quite a few announcements, the most relevant being these:
1) Pam reminded us to bring food and gifts next week for the family we've "adopted" for Christmas this year through the Salvation Army.
2) The weekly Woman's Bible Study will be taking up a new theme beginning January, studying the Book of James.
3) This Friday at Mitchell Auditorium there will be a special Teen Challenge Christmas Concert.
4) There will be a Christmas Program practice this Saturday from 9:30-11:30.
5) There is also a need for 12 volunteers to bring two dozen cookies each for the Christmas program next week. A few helping hands for setup and cleanup are always welcome. The Christmas Program will be at 4:00 p.m.
After the offering, the second Advent candle was lit in conjunction with a reading. A time of prayer concluded with the beginning of today's message.
Peace On Earth
Brad opened by stating that our Christian faith is rooted in history. The people of the Bible were real people who inhabited real places. He then showed slides of various places he hopes to see one day, significant places in the Holy Land: the Jordan River were Jesus was baptized, the Sea of Galilee where Jesus calmed the storm, Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
In the photo of Jerusalem the Dome of the Rock is prominent beyond the wall, and a church with crosses stands prominent in the lower left. It is clearly a crossroads. Three religions have roots here, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Nazareth, a small town of 600 in the days of Mary and Joseph, was 85 miles to the north. This was a simple town, not comprised of the country club set, but rather a blue collar time of ordinary people, poor, scratching out a life, living hand-to-mouth. An unlikely place for God to enter humanity.
They travelled the 85 miles to Bethlehem for the census, no easy hike at any time, but especially riding a mule when nine months pregnant as Mary was. Our familiarity with the story makes us forget the realities. Upon arrival they could find no room and slept instead with the animals. Mary was soon in labor.
The shepherds were equally unlikely people to be the first notified of the new birth, by angels no less. The shepherds of that day were the bottom of the barrel in terms of social class, living with their animals, smelling like animals. But to these common ones, the angel of God appeared, his first words being, "Do not be afraid. I bring you Good News..." And then a great company of angels appeared, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.”
Isaiah spoke of such a one who would given to Israel who would be called Prince of Peace. Yet today in the Middle East we see everywhere tension and conflict. The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is where Muslims believe Abraham offered up Ishmael and is the place where Mohamed received the Koran.
The world is not filled with political tensions alone. There are also tensions in our homes and families, often amplified by the holiday season as it approaches. Emotional stress from fractured relationships is real and painful. Brad said that if he could give us anything for Christmas it would be restoration in our relationships.
The shepherds sought out the baby that was announced, saw and believed, telling Mary and Joseph all they had seen and heard. From there they went into the crowd city and told everyone what had happened. People were astonished when they heard.
Brad asked what Jesus would do to bring peace today? And what is our responsibility? An eye for an eye never brings healing. Someone must die to self for healing to begin.
If more of us would live as peace makers... Isn't it about time we bury our hatchets? The Christmas story reveals a God who does miracles. Have we lost faith that God can still do miracles?
In John's gospel Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27)
Gwen Cresman then came forward and sang a song from her heart to usher us into Communion, first reading the following two passages.
You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you.
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Our traditional Christmas Communion followed.