Advent Devotional: Dec. 3, 2019

Look Towards ‘Poor Little Jesus’

by Katie Greenwood
December 3, 2019

Isaiah 8:11-17; 9:1-7
“The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread, and he will be a sanctuary, but for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” Isaiah 8:13-14a

My first deep encounter with the season of Advent came in 2007, when Bryson and I were living at Jubilee Partners as an engaged couple. Jubilee is a Christian community just down the road in Comer, Georgia, on a rural campus of almost 300 acres. For the past 40 years, Jubilee’s primary work has been to receive newly-immigrated refugees and accompany them in the first steps of their transition to permanent resettlement in the United States. Staff at Jubilee commit to (trying to) live, work, and worship together in the spirit of the early Church, and share chores, prayer time, and meals together 5-6 days a week.

During Advent at Jubilee, everyone gathers at 6:15 for a brief pause before community dinner. We sit in the main community building that doubles as cafeteria and worship hall, and form a semicircle around the Advent wreath and crèche. We take turns leading the group in two Advent carols, then read a short excerpt from the Messianic prophecies. At that point, all lights in the room are extinguished and we wait, in the darkness, in silent meditation.

Although only held for a few minutes, this waiting in the dark often stretches a little longer than feels comfortable. The silence is maintained even as curious children begin to stir or visitors file in late. Then the Advent candles are lit, and into the darkness we sing “Come thou long expected Jesus,” to the lilting Celtic melody Hyfrydol, usually with a little guitar or fiddle accompaniment. We close with prayer, which usually includes thanksgivings and petitions both big and small. It’s a simple practice, and manages to encompass many elements of the Advent season: earnestness, impatience, wonder, anxiety, hope, and acceptance.

“Bind up the testimony and seal up the law among my disciples. I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob. I will put my trust in Him.” Isaiah 8:17

The prayer concerns of the prophets, it turns out, overlap greatly with our own—refugee crises, food insecurity, environmental disaster, rising militarism. When I struggle to see, or trust the existence of, the face of God, I am comforted by the knowledge of my kinship with people through the ages who share this longing for the urgent breaking forth of God’s transformative kingdom.

Since I’m not a theologian or a scholar, I wanted to share one of the best resources I do know of for connecting with that kinship. That is the amazing 1960 album “Christmas Spirituals” by Odetta Holmes, known simply as Odetta. This album was recently re-released, complete with a multiracial nativity, world-music-inspired percussion, and a children’s choir. That’s not the one I recommend for this purpose. Take the time to find the original 1960 album, which features a hand-carved Black Madonna cradling baby Jesus against a dark background. It’s still available. Here’s a link to the first song on YouTube (apologies for any ads that may pop up):

Odetta’s Christmas Spirituals challenge every sugar-coated image I ever held of the coming of Christ. One glance at song titles like “Poor Little Jesus” and you realize this is not going to be the usual celebratory, somewhat smug victory march of typical Christmas hymnody. This is the resolute time-keeping of runners determined to finish with dignity a race they do not expect to win.

The opening song, “Virgin Mary Had One Son,” dives steadily down a minor chord toward the bottom of Odetta’s astonishing vocal range. There’s no peppy brass band, just a tinny folk guitar and a lonely, sorrowing bass. The song opens with a plodding groan, then abruptly shifts to an almost frantic rhythm that sounds more likely to accompany a chase or escape scene than a moment of sublime transcendence.

“Mary, whatcha gonna name your pretty little baby?” sings Odetta, in the same tone of affectionate sympathy a kind-hearted but resigned neighbor might extend to any new teen mom. Later in the album, she declares from Mary’s perspective, “Some call him one thing, I think I’ll call him Emmanuel,” with the resolve of a mother defending the value of a child the world considers to be worth-less.

These carols help orient me in the direction I understand Jesus asked us to follow him—that is, toward common purpose with the exiled and the shamed in their modern-day mangers. I don’t mean to reinforce the fantasy that the oppressed receive some supernatural glory by means of their suffering. But I realize that every step I have taken up the ladder of privilege and power—earned or unearned, desired or undesired—has narrowed my comprehension of those whose circumstances are different.

For Christmas to be the observance of Incarnation, I need my attention yanked toward Jesus, who said, “Look. You want to see me? That’s easy. I’ll always be in the places of suffering, whether of mind, body, or spirit. But look: don’t go there out of pity, or even out of a virtuous desire to make restitution. Go because that’s where you know you can find me. Go, and find your kindred by the greatness of their need for me.”

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2

Prayer: O God, in this season of darkness, help us to have faith that even as the darkness is great, it will never overcome your Light. Amen

The Way Forward: Discussion of supporting change in the church for LGBTQ persons

by Carter Vest

On  Wednesday, Sept. 26, Oconee Street’s UMW (United Methodist Women) will meet for a 6:30 supper at 717 with discussion of A Way Forward. All are welcome to come, learn and reflect together.

RSVP to cartervest@gmail.com so we know how much to prepare.

Background for consideration: 
The Way Forward concerns possible changes to language in the United Methodist Book of Discipline concerning “homosexual practices”, ordination of homosexual persons and marriage of non-heterosexual persons within the church. Over recent decades, efforts to change this language at General Conference has led to impasse after impasse. There are many members and churches who do not think thy can be true to their understanding and remain in the church with expanded roles for LGBTQ+ persons. There are many members and churches that cannot abide the use of faith language to deny full participation to all children of God.

General Conference in 2016 approved the Commission on a Way Forward proposed by the Council of Bishops. Methodists representing all jurisdictions and a range of perspectives were appointed to examine and consider revisions to the Book of Discipline provisions regarding human sexuality and to identify options that might maintain unity within the church.
A Special Conference will occur in February to consider their report which proposes three plans: the One-Church Plan which is supported by the Counci of Bishops, the Connectional Conferences Model and the Traditionalist Plan.  You may want to  consider:
– A summary of the Minnesota Annual Conference Summary Way Forward (3 pages) provided by the Minnesota Annual Conference which includes “gains and pains” of each plan.
– An Simple Plan Overview – final that was coauthored by our own Sally Askew who spent many long years serving with the United Methodist Church Judicial Council in addition to her leadership in the Women’s Division and her years as a clergy spouse
– Furthermore, there is another option which was not included in the Way Forward report but may possibly be proposed from the floor of the Conference in Feb. It is supported by the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus and their Simple Plan Overview – final includes their commentary.
I hope many of you will join us next Wednesday for what I hope will be an enlightening and meaningful chance to respectfully share about an issue that is crucially important in our communal faith lives.

New Adult Sunday School Offerings

Four opportunities for Adult Sunday School will begin on Sunday, Sept. 9. Please sign up by Sept. 2 for the following opportunities:

Moms Set Free
Book study, Mom Set Free: Good news for moms who are tired of trying to be good enough.
Seven weeks: Sept. 9 – Oct. 21. Meet at 717. Facilitated by Hope Cook.
Book provided. Sign up by Sept. 2 by emailing hope.cook@gmail.com

Renovare
Renovare Spiritual Formation Groupusing contemplative, holiness, charismatic, social justice, evangelical, and incarnational traditions to enrich spiritual practices you are naturally drawn to and uncover possibilities for growth in new areas.
Nine weeks: Sept. 9 – Nov. 4. Meet at 717. Facilitated by Katie Calkin.
Workbook provided. Sign up by Sept. 2 by emailing katieandviolet@hotmail.com

No sign up is required for the following Adult Sunday School classes. Please drop-in any week …

Adult Sunday School
Explore lectionary readings, faith journeys, and living out the Gospel through social justice work, prayer & meditation, and community.
Every Sunday. Drop-ins welcome. Meet in downstairs conference room. Members take turns facilitating.

Bible Study
Every Sunday beginning Sept. 9. Drop-ins welcome.
Meet at 717. Facilitated by Paul Quick and Darlene Bressler.

All classes begin with fellowship at 9:30 a.m.

Love Undocumented Discussion

80307_tJoin us on Monday, July 16 at 6:30 p.m. for a discussion with author Sarah Quezada, who recounted her and her husband’s experiences navigating the U.S. immigration system as a mixed status couple.

As a young Christian, Sarah Quezada had a heart for social justice. She was also blissfully unaware of the real situations facing today’s immigrants. Until she met someone new. . . who happened to be undocumented.

In Love Undocumented, Quezada takes readers on a journey deep into the world of the U.S. immigration system. Follow her as she walks alongside her new friend, meets with lawyers, stands at the U.S.–Mexico border, and visits immigrants in detention centers. With wisdom from Scripture, research, and these experiences, Quezada explores God’s call to welcome the stranger and invites Christians to consider how to live faithfully in the world of closed doors and high fences.

With Quezada as your guide, discover a subversive Savior who never knew a stranger. Get to know the God of the Bible, whose love and grace cross all borders. Respond to an invitation to turn away from fear and enter a bigger story.

If you plan to attend, please complete the survey so we know how many to expect:

Holy Week Services

(Childcare provided for every worship service, day and night.)

Mid-Day Prayer
12:15-12:45 p.m. each day
A brief song sets the tone for a time of prayer, contemplation, and silence. We will begin and end promptly–mindful of that some may be on their lunch break. Childcare provided for every worship service.

Maundy Thursday
5:30 p.m.
Rebecca and Dave Simpson-Litke will lead us on a Soundwalk starting at 5:30PM. We will take a “listening tour” of the neighborhood with notebooks from the sanctuary in hand and finish with a time of meditation in Dudley Park. The walk will last about 30 minutes.

6:30 p.m.
After returning to the church for a catered meal, we will observe Maundy Thursday in the sanctuary.This day takes its name from the Latin [mandatum novum] for the “new command” which Jesus gave his disciples that they should “love one another.” In this service of candelight we commemorate the supper Jesus shared with his disciples before his crucifixion, and dramatize Christ’s descent into darkness as we hear the Passion story from the gospel of John. The ancient practice of stripping the altar following communion symbolizes the abandonment of the long night in Gethsemane and what followed.

Good Friday
6:30 p.m.
The Seven Last Words of Christ
We will take time to meditate on the Seven Last words of Christ. After each scripture reading, we pause for a prayer, a time of silence, and a song.

Easter Sunday
Sunrise Vigil
6:30 a.m. at Dudley Park
We gather while it is still dark to witness the light and life that comes into the world at each new day. We hear again the promises of God to overcome death from the pages of Scripture, and triumph with all things living in the song of creation. (Dudley Park is about a 4-5 minute walk from our church and a 3 minute walk from the ACC parking lot behind Momma’s Boy—the 20 or so spaces which we will of course want to save for our most senior members. Additional details to follow.)

Breakfast
8 a.m.
Come enjoy casserole, piles ‘o bacon, and other favorites in the Fellowship Hall. Food prepared by the Nurture Committee.

Easter Story
8:45 a.m.
While the eggs are being hidden, Julie Gunby will tell a Godly Play story to the kids.

Egg Hunt
9 a.m.
The kids will gather eggs with courtesy and much consideration. 🙂

Cross Decoration
9:30 a.m.
The kids adorn the cross in the sanctuary with flowers. Bring flowers from home, yard or the store. If they catch you plucking from the roadside, don’t blame me.

Sunday School
9:45 a.m.
All classes as regularly scheduled.

Worship
11 a.m.
Lilies & trumpets chorus good news
broad-brimmed hats and seersucker suits,
goldenrod paraments and paschal light,
resurrection logic
like the grammar of good humor …

-Pastor Joe

Godly Play to be offered at Oconee Street

Oconee Street UMC will soon be offering “Godly Play,” an interactive church experience for children ages 3 to 6.

Godly Play teaches children the art of using Christian language-parable, sacred story, silence and liturgical action, helping them become more fully aware of the mystery of God’s presence in their lives. The program is based on a lifetime of research and practice by theologian, author and educator, The Rev. Dr. Jerome Berryman.

At Oconee Street UMC, Godly Play will be offered at 717 during the 11 a.m. service hour.  There will be information sessions held for parents and anyone interested in learning more about Godly Play, and anyone interested in helping. The sessions will be held:

  • Monday, Sept. 18 at 7 p.m., 717
  • Thursday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m., 717
  • Sunday, Oct. 15 at 9:45 a.m. (during Adult Sunday School), Conference Room

Childcare is available for these sessions. For more information or to RSVP, contact Julie Gunby at j.d.gunby@gmail.com.

Parking For God

The United Methodist Mens (UMM) are once again hosting “Parking for God” this football season.

Because of the church’s close proximity to Sanford Stadium, the church offers ideal parking spaces for fans attending University of Georgia home football games. A group of volunteers direct parking on the property of the church for $25-$30/each, with all funds going towards a local charity. Last year more than $5,000 was raised for U-Lead, an organization that offers undocumented or under-documented students tutoring, mentoring and opportunities for higher education.

This year, Oconee Street UMC volunteers will direct parking on the following Georgia home games:
-Sept. 2 vs. Appalachian State
-Sept. 16 vs. Samford
-Sept. 23 vs. Mississippi State
-Oct. 14 vs. Missouri
-Nov. 4 vs. South Carolina
-Nov. 18 vs. Kentucky

For more information or to volunteer, email Chase Cook at fccook@hotmail.com.

Community Cookout to be held Saturday

IMG_0017Oconee Street UMC invites its neighbors to the church’s annual Community Cookout, held from 5-7 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 19 at 717 Oconee Street.

“This event is a way we can meet our neighbor’s in the surrounding Carr’s Hill Community,” said church member and event organizer Lew Allen.

Hot dogs, burgers (including veggie burgers) and several snacks will be served, while local musicians perform on the porch of 717 Oconee Street — the church’s one-time parsonage, now a meeting place for the church and various community organizations.

In addition to food and music, there will be several games available for children of all ages.

For more information, email Lew Allen.

Memorial Service for The Rev. Albert AsKew

More than 200 people attended a memorial service for the late Rev. Albert AsKew, who died on May 25. A member of Oconee Street UMC, AsKew was a retired pastor who spent 46 years in the ministry. Read his obituary here.

The service, held June 10 at Oconee Street UMC, was officiated by current OSUMC pastor Joe Gunby, retired OSUMC pastor Lisa Caine and retired Athens-Elberton District Superintendent Dr. Gary Whetstone.

The full audio of the service is available below. Video of the service is available on the Oconee Street UMC Facebook page.

Albert AsKew memorial service