Advent Devotional: Dec. 9, 2019

Stop and Smell the Cocoa

Anette & Jackie Wright
December 9, 2019

Matthew 6:30-34 (NKJV)
Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

The holiday season brings so much to stress about. I wonder how I can possibly pick a gift that my godmother will want and that she hasn’t already gotten for herself. Won’t she already have it if she wants it? What do I need to know to be ready for the chemistry midterm next week? Should I sacrifice the rare family harmony to correct my uncle’s wild political incorrectness? There are meals to plan, gifts to buy and wrap, and gatherings with family and friends. We have all of these things, and more, to stress about this season. It feels like there’s so much to do and not nearly enough time to do it.

But every Christmas, we can be thankful for so much. We reflect on the season and feel blessed by all of the good times and regret the times we spent stressing when we should have just handed the stress over to God. The scripture says, “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.” Instead of worrying about what the next day will bring, we should take the time to show love to our friends and family. We should take the time to feel the intense love of God. And we should allow God’s love to carry us through each day, and this season.

This season, we should stop to ask ourselves, “Where am I in this moment?” Am I stressing about the future, regretting the past, or am I really living in the present? Am I really hearing the Christmas carols, feeling the cold wind on my nose and cheeks, and enjoying the hot cocoa as it warms me? God is trying to make us smile with these little gifts, but are we even taking the time to notice them? The kingdom of God is all around us, we only have to live in the moment to experience it.

During Advent, we can remember to be in the moments that God has given us, and enjoy the blessings of the season. When the stress takes over and we forget to appreciate God’s little, and not so little, gifts to us, we can meditate on this prayer:

A Prayer to Savor the Moment
by Rachel Wojo
Dear God,
Thank you for this exact point in time.
Sometimes I struggle to enjoy the gift of the present.
I push forward before your timing is perfect
And then feel the pain of rushing.
My spirit longs to savor the moment
While my mind scrambles to snatch the next minute.
Will you slow my heart to beat your rhythm?
Will you sync my step to mirror your tempo?
May my spirit fail to chase after the next beautiful experience
Until I’ve unwrapped the gift of right now-
The present.
Amen.

Advent Devotional: Dec. 5, 2019

Waiting or Running?

by David Stanley
December 5, 2019

Read Hebrews 11:1-2 and 12:1

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.
Hebrews 12:1

This is not really an Advent passage. It was read at my wedding … which was in the spring … it is my father’s favorite, who celebrates his birthday today, December 5 … so we are at least closer to Advent there. But what do these words mean for us in a season where our church is “waiting with purpose?”

When my father’s father was a young boy, his older brother was drafted into the Second World War. Bob left for training in November 1943; the family faced the bleak prospect of Christmas without him. On Christmas Day, they opened a record instead. Like many troops, Bob recorded a holiday greeting for family. Just as his voice began to play through the speaker, Bob himself walked in the door, having received last-minute leave and traveled through an ice storm to make it home.

Still reading? You are farther in the story than Grandaddy ever got. He always started crying well before the end; Daddy, too. I cried writing it, even though my brief telling doesn’t really do it justice. I never knew Bob, but I know that story. Understanding its importance to my family means I’ve known “Uncle Bob” is part of my great cloud of witnesses for quite some time.

This Advent, we prepare to hear another story: a miracle of our faith, the story of our greatest witness, the story about a son showing up unexpectedly. In the context of that familiar tale, we find that the ordinary stories we hear everywhere remind us of the miracle. The best part? Everyone can tell the story. We are called to be witnesses to those we do not even know—like shepherds, angels, and wise men.

This is my family’s first Christmas without Grandaddy. I’d like to hear him tell that story again. Of course, I don’t have a record and he won’t walk through the door. But, as it turns out, I’ve spent the last year finding Grandaddy everywhere, and realizing that my great cloud of witnesses—our great cloud of witnesses—really is a miracle.

Maybe it is an Advent verse after all. “Running with perseverance” seems a lot like “waiting with purpose” to me.

Prayer: Dear God, when we feel bleak, help us be active: running with perseverance and waiting with purpose. Fill our clouds, reveal everyday miracles, and make us faithful witnesses.

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

Advent Devotional: Dec. 1, 2019

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel”

by Rob Yongue
Dec. 1, 2019

Read Isaiah 11

Isaiah 7:14“Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.”

The text for “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” comes from a seven verse Latin poem that dates back to the 8th century. It was used in a call and response fashion during the vespers, or evening service.

The poem came to the attention of Anglican priest and hymn writer John Mason Neale in the mid 1800s. Neale was prevented from serving in a parish due to lung disease, but he devoted much of his life to social ministry. He founded a nursing order of Anglican nuns and helped organizations that cared for orphans and young women. In his “spare time”, he translated early and medieval Greek and Latin hymns for his fellow Anglicans.

Like the original poem, Neale’s translation from 1851 contained seven stanzas; today many modern hymnals contain only four or five. Various names for the Messiah are used in each stanza to express the fulfillment of prophecy that Jesus brings. English choirmaster Thomas Helmore was the first person to pair Neale’s text with the tune Veni Emmanuel. He also is said to have added the familiar refrain “Rejoice, rejoice, Immanuel shall come to you, O Israel.”

British hymnologist J.R. Watson provides a context for the antiphons included on the second page after the hymn in our United Methodist Hymnal: “The antiphons, sometimes called the ‘O antiphons’ or ‘The Great O’s’, were designated to concentrate the mind on the coming Christmas, enriching the meaning of the Incarnation with a complex series of references from the Old and New Testaments.”

Each antiphon begins as follows:

  • Sapentia (Wisdom)
  • Adonai (Hebrew word for God)
  • Radix Jesse (stem or root of Jesse)
  • Clavis David (key of David)
  • Oriens (dayspring)
  • Rex genitium (King of the Gentiles)
  • Emmanuel

Put together, the first letter of the second word of each antiphon spells SARCORE. If read backwards, the letters form a two-word acrostic, “Ero cras,” meaning “I will be present tomorrow.” Jesus is God with us. He has not only come in history, but he is coming again. What a reason to rejoice!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we wait in joyful hope for you. Send us your grace this Advent season so that we can prepare for your coming. Touch our hearts with longing so that we can better love and serve you and each other. Fill us with the hope that we can be transformed by your Spirit and so help transform the world. We ask these things in the name of Jesus whose kingdom we seek. Amen.

Sermon: Mary’s radical vision

When Mary trusted God to bear Jesus, she was taking a major risk. Mary was defying family, community, religious and government standards, but had faith in God that she is doing what is right.

Mary initiated a radical new vision of what her life and our life could be — God in flesh among us. Her whole life prepared her to say “Yes” when God asked her to do something important. Mary teaches me to wonder, “What is holding me back from bearing God into the world?”

God invites each of us in each moment, relationship, and heartbreak in the world as it is, to participate in the world as it should be — transformed in God’s word. We cannot stop it.

Sermon

“Mary’s radical vision”
Sermon by The Rev. Bonnie Osei-Frimpong
Luke 1:46-55
Dec. 16, 2018 • Third Sunday of Advent

Sermon: “In the end, light will win”

jesus-light-1-jpgc200Does it look like light is overcoming darkness? It seems like darkness is winning every time you turn on the news. But John tells us that light wins.  The light that comes into the world is not a momentary light. It is a powerful light that brings life into the world, generating goodness, kindness and genuine love.

God asks you to be people of the world this holiday season. And despite what we see on the news, we can be happy today. We must trust that God’s light, God’s peace will reign. Christmas is a time when we can be cheerful, because we know that in the end, light will win.

Sermon

“In the End, the Light Will Win”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
John 1:1-5
Dec. 24, 2016 • Christmas Eve

Sermon: We need to be a little more like Joe …

joseph-father-of-jesus-2While Mary gets a lot of attention for her role in the life of Jesus, Joseph often gets overlooked. However, Joseph is a model of “spiritual attentiveness.”

A righteous man who followed the law, Joseph was willing to change paths and adapt to God’s will. He knew that there was more than life than following a bunch of religious rules — he lived in the spirit . There is no rulebook that will completely cover your life.

God is calling us to be open, like Joseph, and to be attentive and listen to the change in the world. God is calling us to be open, to be attentive, to listen to the change in the world. In the new year, consider what habits and practices you’d like to cultivate to be open to God.

Sermon

“My Real Daddy”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Matthew 1:18-25
Dec. 18, 2016 • Fourth Sunday in Advent

VIDEO: “The Work of Christmas”

The Oconee Street UMC Chancel Choir performed “The Work of Christmas” to more than 150 audience members on Dec. 6, 2016 in the sanctuary. The choir performance, directed by Amanda Martin, featured 11 instrumentalists, six actors and a narrator. Click here to see photos from the event.

PHOTO GALLERY: “The Work of Christmas”

The Oconee Street UMC Chancel Choir performed “The Work of Christmas” to more than 150 audience members on Dec. 6, 2016 in the sanctuary. The choir performance, directed by Amanda Martin, featured 11 instrumentalists, six actors and a narrator. Click here to watch the performance.

All photos by Jaydon Dennis