December 2009


Luke 2:22-40

            When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

             Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.  It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 

            Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

            “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
                        according to your word;
             for my eyes have seen your salvation,
                        which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
            a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

 

             And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.  Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary,

            “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel,
                         and to be a sign that will be opposed
             so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—
                        and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

 

             There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.  She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four.  She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.  At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

             When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.  The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

            From the encounter of the Holy Family with these aged characters, whose lives centered around the worship of God and proclamation of God’s word to the people, comes a unique insight for each of us who have received the light of Christ into our world this Christmas:  The day of God is beginning to break upon us, and we—like Jesus—have some growing up to do.  As the new year encroaches upon this old one, no matter our age, we are challenged by the startling news of the Christ’s appearing to take on the life-long labor of growing in wisdom through the grace of the One who made us.

            What we have seen, what we have heard, what we have come to believe is going to shape us to meet each new day’s adventure.  Every promise fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah has prepared the way for us to set right that which is upside-down in our lives and in our world.  There is hope for those who are yearning for a glimmer of it; there is peace for those who have waited to taste its sweet comfort; there is a future for those who have journeyed in confusion and fear.  The light has come.  Let our growing and our living into God’s new day glorify the One who gives it to us!

Bless the birthing of this new year, O God of grace,

Maker of all our days,

for you have prepared the way in us to live them graciously and fully

in the light of Jesus our Christ and our Redeemer.

 

Rev. David T. Chafin

Deputy Regional Minister

Christian Church in West Virginia

John 1:1-14

In the beginning was the Word,
            and the Word was with God,
                        and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him,
            and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life,
            and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
            and the darkness did not overcome it.

 

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.  He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.  The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world,
            and the world came into being through him;
                        yet the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
            and his own people did not accept him.
 
But to all who received him, who believed in his name,
            he gave power to become children of God,
                         who were born, not of blood
                        or of the will of the flesh
                        or of the will of man,
                        but of God.
 
And the Word became flesh
            and lived among us,
            and we have seen his glory,
                        the glory as of a father’s only son,
                        full of grace and truth.

           

And we are loved so much, that God chose to live among us.

 

            In the midst of our mess and confusion, God lives with us ever still.  And let there be no doubt:  In the truth of the Incarnation (our Lord putting on flesh – taking up humanity) God “gets us,” as my youngest wisely says.  This is the Good News and this is Christmas. 

On this holy day, we celebrate with great thanksgiving that Christ – fully human and divine – has marked the world and all of creation.  This includes us.  On this sacred day we affirm again, and we announce to all who have ears to hear, that we are God’s children.  Through the power of God made known in Jesus, we have become the children of God. 

This sacred text also reminds us beautifully that light has arrived on the scene!  Dark places and scary scenarios beware:  In Jesus we are free to live without the darkness.  Indeed, we are a people who live in light.  The light of Christ illumines our way and warms us on the journey of life.

On Christmas we celebrate the Incarnation of our Lord.  We are not alone.  God is with us.

Gracious and loving God,

with thankful hearts we offer praise for the Word made Flesh

and for your very real presence among us. 

We love you, and we know that you love us

more than we can ever ask or imagine. 

Give us courage to receive the light of Christ,

and strong voices to announce its presence. 

Live within us, today and always,

and may we live with you now and forever.  Amen.

 

Rev. Thaddaeus B. Allen

Regional Minister

Christian Church in West Virginia

Luke 2:1-20

             In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.  This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.  All went to their own towns to be registered.

             Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.  He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 

            While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

             In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 

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.  This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

             And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,  “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

             When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”  So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 

            When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.  But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

            The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

            This could be the best known and most beloved passage of scripture in the Christian canon.  It inspires us over the centuries.  The journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, no room in the inn, the manger crib, the shepherds and angels, all speak to us of vital truths about ourselves and our God. 

            God is active and involved in the most mundane and inconvenient events of life – like tax collection, hard journeys, bureaucratic nuisances and the birth of babies.  Into these events come powerful encounters with God with the assurance, “Do not be afraid; for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people…” In this is the invitation to participate in saying and living: “Glory to God in the   highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

            We stand at a powerful moment and in the presence of a powerful God, in our own lives, in the life of the church, and in the history of the world.  Let us “not be afraid,” and let us give “glory to God.”

O God, you cast out fear and inspire praise

in the coming of your Son Jesus Christ.

Now make of us fearless, praise-filled people

as we receive him once again into our world.

 

Rev. Dr. William B. Allen

 West Virginia Regional Minister Emeritus

Regional Minister – Christian Church in Pennsylvania

Titus 2:11-14

             For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

            Advent helps us develop an ear for hearing God.  We see evidence in the gospel of Joseph’s heavenly ear.  Finding out that Mary was pregnant, he decided to break off their engagement.  Then, in a dream, God revealed that Mary was innocent of wrong.  Because his ear

was attuned to God, he recognized his dream as a message from God and believed it, despite all of the scientific evidence to the contrary.  However, Joseph went one more important step:  He acted on what God revealed in the face of the certain disapproval of his neighbors. 

            As we experience Advent, may we develop our ear for God’s voice.  When we hear, may our devotion be strong enough to cause us to follow that heavenly message, no matter how difficult or unpopular that may be. 

Open our ears to hear you, O God,

and our hearts to the possibility of living out your word.

 

Rev. Darrell Pierce

Retired Minister

Clarksburg, WV

Matthew 1:18-25

             Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.  But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

            All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
                         “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
                        and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”

            When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

            Joseph, the man who would be the earthly father of the Holy Child, must have been a very special person – a very kind, loving, and understanding man.  The registration of citizens described in Luke meant that he and his betrothed would make a difficult journey.

            If we look closely, we can envision the couple, with Joseph making Mary as comfortable as he can, as he leads the donkey gently toward their destination.  How did he have the stamina to keep going?  Nazareth to Galilee is a lot of walking.  The circumstances under which he was laboring must have been emotionally overpowering.

            Finally, reaching Bethlehem with no “reservations” for lodging, Joseph still inquires, but is offered only the stable with the farm animals.  Just think:  An ill-smelling barn is where the Holy Child of God will be born, with no doctor to help in the birthing.  There is no cradle, just a feeding trough as a manger crib.  Joseph did his best, and stayed at Mary’s side to do whatever he could.

            Yet the most wonderful gift was given to the world that night – Jesus – Mary’s firstborn, who was slated to bring to the world the Good News for all mankind.  Here is a son for Mary and Joseph – the Son of God.  When we think about it, we can see that God not only chose Mary, but also chose Joseph – a kind, loving, wise earthly father.  What a wonderful example of family for us.  Our God is an awesome God.

As we give thanks for your servant Joseph,

help us, O God, to be ready and willing

to move at your Spirit’s calling.

 

Rev. Norma Jean McClung

Retired Chaplain

Parkersburg – First Christian Church

Isaiah 9:2-7

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
             those who lived in a land of deep darkness– on them light has shined.
 
You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders,
             the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood
            shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
 
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
             authority rests upon his shoulders;
            and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
                        Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace
            for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness
            from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

 

            For fans of science fiction, the cold, dispassionate character is a familiar one.  From robots to Vulcans to androids, we are fascinated by what it would be like to lack emotions.  I suspect this fascination is rooted in our desire to avoid emotions that are painful or uncomfortable. Yet, made in the image of God, we all have emotions.

            Negative emotions, which might sometimes cause us to withdraw from others, can also lead to positives, when fueled by the One who is hope.  Guilt can help us to avoid doing that which hurts others.  Regret can push us to seek reconciliation with a loved one.  Loss can result in walking through doors we might not have otherwise noticed.

Hopeful One, open our ears and hearts to your will for our lives. 

Fuel our emotions with Hope in the One who came as a baby,

lived among us, suffered, died, and was resurrected.

 

Mr. Timothy Graves

Seminarian in Residence

Parkersburg – First Christian Church

Luke 1:46-55

And Mary said,
            “My soul magnifies the Lord,
                         and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
                         for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
            Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
                         for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
                        and holy is his name.
             His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
                        He has shown strength with his arm;
                        he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
                        He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
                                    and lifted up the lowly;
                        he has filled the hungry with good things,
                                    and sent the rich away empty.
                        He 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.”

 

            I’ve always loved Mary’s Song, these great words of praise and celebration and faith.  But I think I have a different perspective on them now, as a woman, as a mother, as a grandmother.  Given the laws of the day when Mary found herself pregnant and alone, uncertain at what her future would hold, uncertain of Joseph’s reaction or the rest of her family, I have come to marvel at her great faith to be able to sing to God, “God has done great things for me and holy is God’s name.”

            Let’s face it: bearing children is not always an easy job.  Sometimes you feel sick, you watch your body stretching in ways you never thought it could, and yet – yes, and yet – “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”  Too often, we think we carry our burdens or even our bundles of joy alone.  Perhaps we should take a hint from Mary and know that God is with us, even through the hard times of ridicule and pain, and even in our joys.

Loving God, in this Holy Season,

may we open ourselves to sing with Mary,

may our souls proclaim your greatness,

and may we truly know

the great things you have done for us. 

 

Rev. Jayne Chafin

New Martinsville – First Christian Church

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