It’s hard, well, no actually it’s impossible, to grasp the immensity of God. To stand outside at night in a place where the sky is truly dark and see the immense number of stars and galaxies above you can be emotionally overwhelming. To try to think of the span of all time and how we truly cannot grasp the sense of all time and what is before our sense and measure of time and what could possibly be beyond time can simply make your brain hurt. And in these things, and anything else you may be able to imagine or cook up in your imagination, God is larger, bigger, more immense. To think something like the child’s questions, “Can God make a rock so large God can’t move it?” or, “Who made God?” is to display the limits of what we can imagine about God.
The ancient words of the Nicene Creed say, “For us… he came down from heaven.” This sort of intimacy, when you consider the immensity of God, can be almost unbearable. Yes, for us, but how? Why? This, the Gospel suggests, is what the word ‘love’ means. St John suggests that if we are willing, if we allow it, it can transform us. We, too, can be for more than ourselves. We can be for others, too.
We began this journey together on November 29 with the words of the prophet, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down." We said, “We are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” [Isaiah 64:1, 8] We began this journey in this season hoping for something new in these days, hoping we would see God act in these crazy times. Today, St John says God has acted, acted in every crazy time. And the action is named Jesus. For us. And St John said God did one more thing. Jesus has made us children of God, to be present with him in this world, in these crazy days.
May your life be blessed on this holy day. May you know, really know, that it is blessed. And may your life be a blessing to everyone you know.
Peace and a blessed Christmas Day to you.
Pastor Gary Erdos
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see⎯I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
On this Christmas Eve, many of us aren’t spending time with our families in person. Neither are we gathering with our church family for in-person worship, an annual tradition that we all deeply cherish and miss. The chilly months ahead will likely mean even more isolation, as the weather makes it increasingly difficult to socialize outside.
Our fear of contracting the coronavirus ourselves and of spreading it to others has impacted every sphere of our daily lives, a reality that we feel particularly keenly this Christmas Eve when so many of our traditions have been upended.
And yet, even as we mourn this loss of community and togetherness, we also acknowledge that we are right to be afraid. Too many of us know firsthand the coronavirus’ devastating impact, and those of us lucky enough to avoid firsthand encounters have heard a multitude of tragic stories on the news, in our social media feeds, and through conversations with friends and family on the phone.
“Do not be afraid.”
On this Christmas Eve when there is so much to fear, when there is a very real threat to our own lives and the lives of those we love, what does it truly mean to heed the angel’s words? Perhaps “do not be afraid” isn’t a free pass to disregard our fear and do whatever we please, but rather an invitation to the deep and abiding freedom in Christ that comes with the angel’s good news of great joy for all the people.
Dear friends, our waiting is finally over! Jesus Christ, our Messiah and Lord, is born to us this day in the city of David. Even as we are unable to gather together, Jesus Christ is very much among us, born in a manger, wrapped in swaddling cloth. Nothing⎯not even the coronavirus⎯can separate us from Emmanuel, “God with us.” And so, we are freed to follow Christ’s example without fear, to be profoundly with and for one another, to intertwine our lives⎯even if that means that we must choose to love and protect one another by being separated in body for a little while longer.
As we celebrate today and as we navigate the season ahead, do not be afraid. We are not alone, for God is with us. Thanks be to God! And Merry Christmas!
The past 7 months have been difficult for all of us due to the constraints Covid19 has placed on our lives. I believe that we are, unfortunately, facing more months of difficult times. I am a believer in listening to science and the medical community who are knowledgeable in infectious diseases. As difficult as it is, I am willing to defer my desires to live freely (mask free, free to go where I want, free to have open interactions in public) for 6 more months or so in an effort to return to a virus free world. However, I know that not everyone agrees with this.
I believe the reading supports this perspective. The words humble and merciful come to the forefront of these verses for me. Luke quotes Mary saying that the Lord is mindful of the humble state of his servant.
We are definitely in a humble state regarding the virus. I feel a spirit of submission to do what is recommended; submission to actions that are suggested as best for us to get through these tough times such as wearing a mask and limiting face to face interactions. Submission to the Christian action of caring for my neighbor even when it is not my first choice.
My prayers are that we can accept the actions that we need to take. That we can humble ourselves and do what is necessary to keep our loved ones, neighbors and friends healthy and safe and that we are merciful in how we live. In addition, that God will show His mercy to us.
When a tiny magnetic Mary statue came into my possession this fall, I started to wonder about Mary a bit more than ever before. For about a month she’s been sitting on the shelf above my computer and I often find myself glancing up at her.
There are a handful of things the scriptures tell us about Mary and another handful we can deduct from what is known about the culture and customs of the time. This year I find myself not pondering the things we know about Mary, but rather the things we don’t. I wonder why she believed the angel. What had been her religious experience up to the point of an angel appearing to her?
I feel we take this part of the story for granted because we’ve heard it so many times. An angel appeared to her, told her she was pregnant and she responded with, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Let that sink in for a minute. An Angel appeared to her. I wonder if she was a deeply religious woman – familiar with the prophecies of the coming Messiah? Did this make the news easier to accept? Or was she a woman who practiced the customs of the time unsure of what she believed, but was so moved by the encounter with the angel she excepted it outright? Not only did she accept it but she later sings an entire song praising God for his act of justice. Mary’s song is not a song of meekness. It is a bold praise of a God who brings justice to the oppressed.
These ideas leave me with more questions about Mary than answers, but it starts to unravel the vision of a scared unwed teenager and the meek subservient mother of Jesus into a woman who possesses a great deal of strength and courage.
Maybe that is why my little magnetic Mary is stomping on the serpent.
Coordinator of Children’s Ministry
Today is the shortest day, the day with the least amount of daylight in the year. It is the day of the longest night. Night is particularly hard for those with no place to call home. Night is particularly hard for those who are lonely and isolated. Night is particularly hard for those who grieve. For some, these past months have felt like a lot of night, particularly those who have lost livelihoods or lost loved ones or who have stood at the front lines of this season of pandemic. Night can be hard, and there is more of it today than any other day of the year.
But today is also the day when we make the turn toward longer days and less night. Today, we’re closer to the celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord, the celebration of the light that comes into the world and scatters the night. In these few days before Christmas Mary, the mother of Jesus offers us tangible images of what sort of night Jesus comes to beat back. His work will fill up the hungry and lift up the lowly and undo the powerful. In other words, if you are lost or empty or alone or frightened of the future, he’s your guy.
If you feel like you’ve been on a long, long journey, a journey that feels like it might not end, Mary’s words to us are hold fast. Hold fast because longer days and shorter nights are ahead. Hold fast because the light of the world is coming.
Pastor Gary Erdos
[God] has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever. (Luke 1:54-55)
Normally, I don’t even think about decorating for Christmas until after Thanksgiving. So, you can imagine my surprise as I found myself searching for a Christmas tree in Target the week after Halloween! In this season when so much has been uncertain and out of my control, I’ve found myself craving moments of routine, oases of tradition.
I suspect that I’m not the only one leaning into the comfort of tradition these days. Every year during this season of Advent, we wait together for the coming of Christ. We light our Advent wreaths and sing Advent carols; we bake our cookies and put up our trees; we hear from the Prophet Isaiah and encounter anew the Gospel accounts of John the Baptist.
But I think my favorite Advent tradition of all is reading this week’s Scripture passage: Mary’s song of praise, often called the “Magnificat.” Her poetic and powerful words of justice are perhaps the finest articulation of the topsy-turvy gospel in all of Scripture. “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly,” she sings. “God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.”
And yet, even as she proclaims this very good – and very challenging! – news, Mary reminds us that God’s topsy-turvy work in the world isn’t new, that we are heirs of a great tradition. “God has helped his servant Israel,” she sings, “in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
This Advent, we anticipate the birth of Jesus and eagerly await his return to usher in God’s kingdom of justice and peace. But in this year when the world seems to be more broken than ever, we wait for so many other things, too: an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, the official start of another presidential term, admissions decisions, test results and diagnoses, the births of new family members. And Mary’s Magnificat reminds us that, even in the midst of all these uncertainties, we are loved and held by a tradition so much larger than all these things. We are loved and held by a God who loves God’s people, who always and everywhere keeps God’s promises.
Vicar Hannah Hawkinson
Pastoral Care Ministries
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Do not fear, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty one who gives victory;
The Lord will rejoice over you with gladness,
and will renew you in love;
The Lord will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.
St Luke 1: 76-79
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 through the tender mercy of our God,
when the day shall dawn upon[a] us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.” The words of Zechariah at the birth of his son John [the Baptist], giving thanks for God’s intervention in unexpected ways.
In chapter 61 Isaiah’s call to serve empowers us to accompany one another during these trying times. We hear the commission to share words of hope with those who need to hear and believe in that ability to overcome, or sometimes just to cope. Might “binding up the brokenhearted,” be our collective mission during times such as these?
To be brokenhearted is to experience grief or disappointment. Who among us has not experienced it? As we seek to find healing in our disappointment and grief, perhaps we can even in small increments practice gratitude to repair the effects of prolonged worry, fear, sadness, and fatigue. Giving thanks does much to improve our physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Can “binding up” in this 2020 Advent season include the discipline of identifying blessings of the moment? Perhaps that awareness of God’s provision for our needs is part of the key that releases us from feeling overwhelmed by darkness.
Isaiah beautifully contrasts ways for us to find peace as we abide with others who are struggling. Together we can look for the “crown” of divine beauty in nature’s artistry and experience the protection of God’s hand as we are anointed with the “oil of joy” and praise. Such preparation allows us to more fully appreciate and use God’s gifts in the sacred sending that follows. As “oaks of righteousness” we are reminded to see God’s love as a canopy of relief, a pillar of strength, a tower of hope rooted in the rich soil of mercy and forgiveness. Just as feeling grateful can restore mind, body and spirit, journeying side-by-side with God’s people can afford us the benefits of remembering God’s unfailing grace, which brings true comfort and healing in the promise of Jesus.
Janet Jordan Altmeyer
Director of City Ministry
We all need a good pep talk every now and then. Sports teams rely on coaches and captains to fire them up after a disappointing defeat. Music ensembles turn to their directors for inspiration when efforts to create beautiful music don’t seem to be bearing any fruit. Students lean on teachers, parents, and adult role models for encouragement and guidance when note taking and completion of homework result in lower than anticipated test scores. Adults appreciate counsel and affirmation from supervisors and co-workers when efforts in the place of employment appear to come up short.
The people to whom Isaiah was speaking in this passage were no different. Relieved to have returned to their homeland from exile, they were still confronted with suffering and discouragement. So, with the Spirit of the Lord empowering and emboldening him, the prophet gave them a good pep talk. To them Isaiah spoke (and still speaks to us!) of good news for the poor, healing for the brokenhearted, freedom for the captives, comfort for those who mourn.
The season of Advent is one of hope: a reflection of hope for the baby born long ago into the world, a hope for Christ to enter our hearts and minds as we live out these days, and a forward thinking hope for the second coming of Christ, when all things shall be made new.
Are you discouraged? Look for an Isaiah around you to help put life’s challenges and struggles in perspective. It’s amazing how God will place such people before us if we dare to look. Are you feeling that you are sitting in a good place at this moment in your life? Then be an Isaiah to those around you who are looking for encouragement. Together, may we use this season of hope to trade out the world’s ashes for God’s beauty. May we turn in our spirit of despair for a garment of praise. With chins up, may we change our course from those things that darken our lives in order to follow in the path of the world’s one true Light – Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.
Director of Music