Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Joy of Christmas

"I'm grateful you're here today," Pastor Brad said as he welcomed us. He then asked the children if they are excited about Christmas coming, and used that to say we, too, should not lose this sense of excitement as adults. His message would be about experiencing Christmas, and life, like a child.

No Sunday school next week.
Our Christmas Eve candlelight service will be at 4:00 p.m. Wednesday.

Darlene's dramatic medley of classics helped transition us to a time of worship led by the women's chorus after the lighting of the Advent candle by Walt & Gwen.

Callie Johnson played a song while the offering was taken.

A time of prayer and praise .was followed by the women's chorus singing a medley beginning with O Holy Night.

The Joy of Christmas

Brad opened his message by citing two aspects of Christmas that stand out for him. On the one hand there is such a joy about Christmas, the wonder of what God has done for us and the whole Christmas story. On the other hand there is so much brokenness and hatred in many families and that causes untold pain, and it pains him as well to see the things people are going through.

This morning, however, Brad wanted to underscore the importance of re-experiencing Christmas like a child.

In Matthew 19:14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” And then he noted that Jesus said unless we become like little children we shall not see the kingdom of God..

Kids have mastered the art of living in the present, in the now. "Yesterday's history, tomorrow's a mystery, and the present is a gift." God gives us each day as a gift. Unwrap it. "This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it."

Sometimes we don't appreciate our day today because we're thinking about elsewhere. Or we're unhappy with our lives because we wish we had someone else's life.

Today is a gift, and like kids ripping open Christmas presents we can unwrap our days with excitement.

He shared an example of kids in Third World for whom even the smallest gift is received with enthusiasm.

Don't miss the moments in your life. You used to be thrilled by the beauty of a sunrise or sunset. In so many other ways we begin to take the moments for granted that we once appreciated.

Brad cited the manner in which his kids dance while the credits roll at the end of movies. Then he shared the way Mary burst into song when God's favor was bestowed on her.

I want to be like that. I never want to quit singing, because God has given us an incredible gift. And all He longs for is for us to unwrap it.

God's greatest desire is that we would embrace the gift, and grow up to be His children.

Matthew 1:23  "The virgin will be with a child... and they will call Him Emmanuel, God with us."

Brad shared a Chuck Colson story about one occasion when he was delivering gifts to the family of a man who was in prison. He asked the boy what his name was, and he said, "Emmanuel." Chuck told the boy that the meaning of his name was, "God is with us." The boy got so excited and ran to his mom saying, "Mom, God is with us!"

God is with us, and He is the only hope of the world. This hope is ours as a gift, by faith in the risen Christ.

God longs for us to embrace the gift. Maybe today is your day to unwrap it.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Thoughts On Mary

A warm misty morning here in rural Northern Minnesota as we gather to celebrate the third Sunday of Advent. Pastor Brad prepares to welcome us with his usual warmth. "Good morning! I am grateful you're here today. Last week I talked about light. Today I would like to talk about Mary and what the circumstances of her life were like.

4 pm this afternoon is the Christmas program.
No Sunday School next week.
Christmas coffee at Brooke Shannon's on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. All ladies invited.
Wednesday family nights discontinued till January.
Christmas Eve service at 4 p.m.
Cheryl brought up the family we're supporting as a church, the sign-up sheet is in the back.
Wednesday is a work day again, hanging sheetrock.

Darlene ushered us into worship with variations on "What Child Is This?" and "Fairest Lord Jesus."

A reading by Kelly Smith preceded the lighting of the Advent candle by Curt and Melissa Fernandez.

We sang "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "Away in the Manger" to keep us in the spirit of the season. Then we turned to the Lord in prayer on behalf of the needs of the church family and community.

Brad read the story of the birth of Jesus, and invited parents to share their children's birth stories with their children. Celebrate the miracle of your own lives... followed by Ed Newman singing the traditional version of "What Child Is This?"

Thoughts On Mary

Brad began by sharing how he's been thinking about the Nativity scenes and how all the faces seem calm on all seems peaceful. Even the baby doesn't seem colicky. Sometimes our own troubles seem so immense and complicated so that we can hardly relate to these images of peace and sweetness.

Throughout history paintings of Mary show a tranquil face. But these images don't really reflect the hardships the real mother of Jesus endured over the course of a lifetime. Brad wanted us to understand the realities of Mary's life.

In the first chapter of the book of Luke, we meet Mary as she is being singled out by the angel Gabriel. She would soon be carrying a child, God's child, she is told. This is not something she wanted for herself, and it troubled her. Even more troubling was that she would have to tell Joseph that she was pregnant and persuade him that she had not been unfaithful.

Despite all this, her response is significant: "I am the Lord's servant. May it be according to your will."

In other words, she knew that she would have to give up her own agenda for her future. A peaceful life would not be hers because she was going to have an easy life.

Brad  shared a little historical background here. As a result of certain events, Julius Caesar was the first Caesar to be declared "God." His son, Caesar Augustus, was thus the "son of God." Caesar Augustus is the founder of the Pax Romana, which resulted in an international highway system and a reign of peace, which became a means by which the early church was able to spread the Gospel throughout the known world.

A historical sidenote was given to provide context for Luke's story of the birth of Jesus as recounted in Luke 2.

The message proclaimed to Mary, Zachariah and the shepherds was this: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When they bring Jesus to the Temple to dedicate their infant to the Lord, Simeon lifts up this baby, and says, "This is what I have waited my whole life for." He then speaks to Mary, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Mary hid these things in her heart. As she did with other events including the time Jesus and the family visited the Temple at Passover when He was twelve, an especially significant event that signified a change in her relationship with her son.

Brad went on to cite various passages and instances in the Gospel where things are said and done that cause pain to Mary's heart.

The prayer Mary prayed when the story begins is the same prayer that Jesus prays when He is dying on the cross... "Not My will but Thine be done."

At the cross Mary understood what Simeon meant when He said, "A sword will pierce your heart." Even there at the cross Jesus thought not of His own needs but expressed His concern for His mother by instructing John, the beloved disciple, to take care of his mother.

Brad closed by saying, "I don't know your circumstances... but there is no peace that will last except the peace that comes through Jesus."

Mary's dangerous prayer is still changing the world.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

An Image To Reflect On

The sanctuary was lively this morning as we assembled for worship, Communion Sunday. "Good morning. Welcome to the second week of Advent," Pastor Brad said. "One of the images of Advent that is frequently associated with Light. What is the significance of Jesus being the light of the world? Christmas is a celebration of salvation, from our sin toward a purpose. I am genuinely grateful for what He has done.  Jesus said, 'I am the light of the world.'"

Paula showed a beautiful quilt that has been donated, and opportunities are being sold to win this beautiful quilt and pillow. Money raised will go to the Building Fund.
Cheryl shared how our church adopts a family each year and this year we now have a family of six to give to.
Walt stated that Tuesday they would welcome volunteers to help hang drywall. There will be a budget meeting on Tuesday a.m. at 4 p.m.  Friday and Saturday will be work days as well.

Darlene ushered us into worship with a beautiful Christmas piece. Kelly then read a passage in preparation for lighting of the Advent candle. "Let God, not the world, be Lord of your minds."  The Borndal family lit this week's candle, after which the Ladies Chorus led us in a few hymns.

After the offering and a time of prayer, the women's chorale sang a special number.

An Image To Reflect On

Pastor Brad began by reading Isaiah 9:1-2.

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past He humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future He will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.

The image of light and darkness is one of the strongest metaphors in the Bible. From the beginning to the end there are more than 200 references to light and darkness. He asked, "How is Jesus the light in your world? What does it mean?"

We see evidences of the darkness of the world nearly everywhere we look, from ISIS to other horrors in the news. Brad noted that we can't be smug about the darkness that is out there because when we're completely honest we know that there is darkness within us as well. We sometimes get used to this, though we shouldn't. God's aim is to overcome all darkness with light.

In John 3:19 Jesus says, "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil."

This darkness within us is called sin.

But there is power in the light. A ship lost on the high seas finds great comfort when the light of the lighthouse reaches it and directs it to a safe harbor. Lost hikers who survive the darkness of night are given renewed hope by the morning light. The light gives them hope of being rescued.

In John 12:46 Jesus states, "I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness." Jesus did not come into the world to get rich or be a celebrity. He came to bring light.

At Calvary He took the world's darkness upon Himself and in the resurrection overcame it. Jesus proved that he is able to deliver us from the darkness.

Jesus knows us like no other, and loves like no other. "I know all about your darkness and nothing you have done can make Me love you less or more.

You can choose to live in the light. And it is comforting to know that there is a light in the darkness.

* * * *
After the sermon we sang our way through Communion.