December 2010

Luke 2:8-20

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:
 11 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.



  From Rev. Thaddaeus B. Allen, Regional Minister:

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  It’s a grand image for a regional church to read on this holy day of Christmas!  At least it is for me as I stand in wonder of the good work that our church has been about in the days of Advent. 

Across the church, shepherds and flock have been working at the things that life calls us to.  We have been seeking to keep life normal and good.  Some have been struggling with the realities of daily life, and some of these struggles are hard and exhausting.  Some lives are marked by the deepest of joy, and yet others are marked by the seemingly endless cup of pain.  And yet in the midst of our work and life, Jesus comes.   In the midst of life “in the field,” the blessing of Christmas comes to us from God.  This gift reminds us of God’s unending love for his people. 

In the Incarnation we are reminded again that God is not done with us!  In fact, today is just the beginning of a life claimed and reclaimed by God in Jesus the Christ.  In the midst of life shepherds and flock are claimed and reclaimed.  In the midst of life we stand in awe of the goodness of God.  In the midst of life, we are given joy and join voices with the whole people of God in proclaiming the good news that has come our way. 

This gift of Christ on this holy day gives us the privilege of proclaiming with great joy God’s good news.  May we do so with great ceremony as we live in the fields where we have been established.  May God bless you on this day.

O Christmas Light, flood our lives
with the new brightness of your presence,
and inspire us afresh to proclaim your great good news with joy!

Luke 2:1-14

 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:
 11 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!”


 From Rev. David T. Chafin, Deputy Regional Minister:

As a family historian and one who is far too easily distracted by such things, it fascinates me that the birth of the Savior came to pass during a census.  If you think the outcries from conspiracy theorists in the U.S. were unusually harsh during the 2010 enumeration, you should try to imagine the grumbling undercurrent that accompanied those journeying to the polls to register in Mary and Joseph’s day.  Rome really did believe that it owned those people and their lands, and with brute force drove many into grinding poverty with taxation and conscription. 

The holy people of God were treated like so much cattle, and in such a time and place was born the Messiah.  Who would care about the human life behind the number on the page of the enumerator?  Where would this son of a carpenter ply his trade or make his mark on this world?   What would be his prospects for success? 

You and I have heard the rest of the story, but tonight we are allowed to set aside its impressive details and simply stare with wide-eyed wonder with the terrified shepherds, and to join the angels singing “Gloria in Excelsis Deo!”  Christ is born!  Simply amazing.

In the midst of our lives’ uncertainties and fears,
you come to us, Lord Jesus, taking on our flesh, living in our questions.
How we wonder at your extreme investment in this risky venture!
How we thrill to join the angels’ song!   Alleluia!

Psalm 96

O sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.
For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.
Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts.
Worship the LORD in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, “The LORD is king!
The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity.”
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the LORD; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.


  From Rev. Kevin Bowers, First Christian Church, Weirton:

      During Advent we “sing unto the Lord” like no other time of year.  You will hear the sounds of the season in homes, stores, cars and sometimes even on the street corners and in places where the sounds of peace, joy and love are seldom heard.   

      Advent is the season when our lives are most like a Broadway musical and we break into song:   “Hark the Herald Angels Sing!” “White Christmas,” “Silent Night,” – songs that mean more than the sum of their parts, songs that bring us joyful memories and a hope for a better tomorrow.

      The Psalms help us understand the importance of music in our tradition of worship and praise.  This Advent season don’t forget to sing.   Do you hear what I hear?  I heard the bells on Christmas Day.   Come, thou long expected Jesus.   Mary, did you know?    O come, O come, Emmanuel.   Joy to the world, the Lord is come.

May our lips and our lives be filled
with songs of hope and expectation, O God.

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.


            Unbridled, savage darkness now is broken.

            Power has new meaning:  Light has come!

            Burdens now are banished – sweet freedom’s song

            echoes from the lips of joyous reapers:

                        He is here!  He is now! 

                        He is given for you!

                                    Take peace.

                                    Take justice.

                                    Take heart.


Give us reason to rejoice once again in your liberating presence,
O Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace!

Luke 1:57-80

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.  Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.  On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father.  But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.”   They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.”  Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him.  He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.”  And all of them were amazed.
Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God.  Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea.  All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.  Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
     “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
      He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,
          as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
          that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
     Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant,
         the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us
         that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear,
         in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
     And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
        to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.
     By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
        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 child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.


 From Rev. Richard Howard, First Christian Church, Morgantown:

Our text, occurring at the time of John’s circumcision, reveals the conflict around the naming process, with Elizabeth standing her ground against an unnamed group of observer-participants, who insist that the boy be named after his father.

Why would Luke bother to include the account of a family argument over the name of a child?  Why was the naming of the child so important, and so emotional?   The naming of a son after his father implied that this child would “walk in the steps of his father,” that he would carry on the father’s name, and thus his work as well.  Had John been named “Little Zach,” would he have been expected to grow up as a priest, just like his father?   Most likely.  To be named by any other name, then, implies just the opposite.  John would not follow in his father’s steps.  He would not learn to do what his father did.  He would not be a priest.  Elizabeth’s insistence that her son be named John, in essence, renounced the family, its work, and its perpetuation through the next generation.

If there is one thing which characterized John it was that he was a man who was set apart by his calling before his birth, by his unusual birth, by his life as a Nazarite, by his name, and by his life spent in the desert, where he lived apart from his “world,” wore distinct clothing, and ate very different food.  Some would argue that it was his separation from his “world” which facilitated his ability to see its sins, to stand firmly against them, and to speak out boldly in condemning them.

In this time of Advent, we are called to stand outside of our normal lives, to examine ourselves for brokenness, and to resolve to move our lives ever closer to the example of the life that the coming Christ Child would lead.  May the gifts of reflection and self-evaluation be yours in this Advent season.

Search me, O God, and know me as I am,
and as you would have me to be in Christ Jesus.

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.

  From Rev. Sarah Webb, Wheeling, WV:

We live with a foot in two worlds.  Our bodies have a definable shape and weight.  They grow, wear down, rebuild, and eventually wear out.  Yet we have an essence, a life within us that is without such shape and weight and wearing out.  In our culture, we are surrounded by greed and violence and cruelty.  Yet in our hearts lives a vision of a just world where even the lamb and lion live in community. 

The letter to Titus and to Christians everywhere reminds us that we are called to live faithfully in one world while we share the hope of another.  While we live among adversity and heartbreak, our hearts kindle the hope and promise of God’s redemption.  And the glow of that hope burns brightly enough to carry us through the darkest of nights.

Lord Jesus, may our lives share the light
that is already growing among us.

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.


  From Rev. Rodney Hubbs, First Christian Church, McMechen:

After reading this scripture countless times in my life, I can’t help but ask some questions.  Did Joseph realize what a great honor he was given?  What a wonderful thought, holding our Lord and Savior in the palm of his hands.  Words cannot express how just the thought of this makes me feel.  Another question that comes to mind is, do we realize what this season is really about?   So many people seem to think this is the time of the year is only about parties and having a good time, exchanging gifts with one another.  We should never forget that this is the season that celebrates the birth of our Savior. 

We serve a wonderful, forgiving God.  Let us not forget that He sent His only son to this world to save our sinful souls.  Brothers and sisters, it is my plea that we set the example to the world that there is more to this season than receiving gifts and having parties.  Come, let us adore Him!

Father in heaven, thank you for sending your son, Jesus,
to save our sinful souls.

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