Tag Archives: traditions

Advent fills hearts with hope; Open your heart to be filled

Today the window above my desk is filled with beautiful snowflakes drifting down with a cedar tree in the background.  The visuals match the traditional images on so many Christmas cards.  

Yes, Advent is here and Christians begin the journey to the manger—all sounds familiar to those who have been raised in the church and celebrate the holiday focusing on the story shared in the gospels and prophesied for thousands of years.  

But what about Advent season for those who are unfamiliar with the Christian tradition of Advent and Christmas?  Are they excited about a season or just about what the secular world has decided is a holiday tradition?  Are their hearts filled with hope?

Admittedly this is a simple line of thought from one who has lived a lifetime wrapped in the Christian tradition; yet, I am wondering why I have discovered how much more exciting Christmas is for me this year versus all the other years.  I think it may be from discovering the true secret to Christmas: hope, love, joy, and peace.

This is the first Advent in over a decade that I have not focused on creating a series of worship services that lead a congregation to Christmas day.  I thought I would really miss the process and the excitement that the work has entailed over the past 10 years.

But as I sit here watching the snowflakes swirling ever so gently around the house, I must admit that I am not missing the work that Advent has meant for these past years. Instead, I am experiencing Advent a bit differently.  I am sensing hope.  

Let’s consider what hope really is:

NOUN mass noun

A feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen.

  • 1.1count noun A person or thing that may help or save someone.
  • 1.2 Grounds for believing that something good may happen.

2  archaic A feeling of trust.

VERB

Want something to happen or be the case.

  • 1.1with infinitive Intend if possible to do something.

This definition comes from the Oxford dictionary on-line that is my go to dictionary because it also offers the origin of the word, too:

Late Old English hopa (noun), hopian (verb), of Germanic origin; related to Dutch hoop (noun), hopen (verb), and German hoffen (verb).

Looking closely at the various entries for hope, I see the value of opening Advent with the emphasis on hope.  For four weeks, we create an atmosphere of expecting something huge to happen.  

For Christians, that big thing is the birth of Jesus Christ.  At least that is the design of the traditional Christian season.  Sadly, the secular world has invaded the spiritual world and the hope appears to be more for a day of gift giving.

If one can lessen the emphasis on gift giving as the “big thing” of Christmas, the desire or hope shifts from fancy packages under a Christmas tree to the givingof love from one person to another.

I was saddened to notice the second definition of hopeis listed as archaic:  a feeling of trust.  Advent should still focus on that definition.  

For thousands of years, the Israelites had waited, trusted, that God would provide a messiah to “fix” the mess they were in.  They had hope.  

Do we, in the 21stcentury still have hope?  

Advent is a time to re-evaluate that idea.  At times we all experience feeling lost, depressed, alone, guilty, stranded, and the list continues.  At those times, we lose hope.  Turn hope into the verb, not the noun.

The verb places each one of us in an active state:  we want something to happen or something to be.  The Israelites continued to hope.  As bad as things got, they trusted God to provide an answer to their demise. 

Do we, in the 21stcentury hope—actively hope?

Maybe I am not in a pulpit right now, but I am discovering hope again in a new light.  I am making subtle changes in how I celebrate the entire season and finding hopealive in surprising ways.

For instance, I was reading the lectionary reading for this week and discovered an emphasis on trust.  Psalms 25 opens

O Lord, I give my life to you.

     I trust in you, my God!  . . .

No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced,

     But disgrace comes to those who try to deceive              others.

Living in a society filled with all kinds of distressing concerns—personal, health, financial, governmental, global—we need to trust in God.  We need hope that God is with us, that he hears us, that he wants what is best for us.  

The traditions that have developed around our secular celebrations during Advent and on Christmas Day may be well-intentioned, but is in God?

Evaluating the secular traditions through the filter of my Christian faith forces me to redefine the traditions.  My hopeis that the “reason for the season” is more important in my life than the hope that I find packages under the tree just for me.

This Advent, I want to emphasize how trusting in God provides me a hope that extends beyond the worldly scope of my life.  

My hope is the traditions that demonstrate love for one another creates a joy that expands beyond a package wrapped under a tree.

Read the scriptures for Advent’s first week and see if your heart opens, too, finding how those who trust in God have hope that leads to joy:

Lectionary readings for the week of December 2:

  • Jeremiah 33:14-16
  • Psalm 25:1-10
  • I Thessalonians 3:9-13
  • Luke 21:25-36

Dear God,

Give me the strength

     to trust in the ancient words of scripture.

Give me the determination 

     to keep Advent a time of expectation.

Open my heart to be filled with hope.

Guide me in celebrating the birth of your son

     with traditions to reflect your love.

Guide me in sharing the story of Jesus’ birth

     with words and actions to share your love.

Open my heart to be filled with trust.

Thank you for the words of the ancient faithful

     that help us open our hearts to trust.

Thank you for the work of the faithful

     who open our hearts in hope of Jesus’ birth.

In the name of you, the Father, 

In the name of your son, Jesus Christ,

In the name of the Holy Spirit, amen.

P.S. Friends, the snow is still falling outside my window.  What a joy it is as I experience the excitement of the season!  I hope your days are full of the joy we feel as Christmas Day nears.

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Happy Thanksgiving: Thoughts, tasks & thanks

Only two more days until Thanksgiving Day and my thoughts are a jumbled up mess.  Why?

Well, I could just start a list and it would get terribly long and complicated, but maybe I can give you a picture of what is flooding my brain.

First, I missed last week’s posting because I was focused on the annual weekend with my college friends. Therefore, last weekend my time was filled with all the planning and packing that it takes for such a weekend.

But, the tasks are part of the weekend and I am so thankful that I have such close friends who fill my life with joy and tears, with support and honesty, and with love.  The unconditional love that God gives each of us to experience, but also to provide for one another.  

Yet, returning from the weekend leads to more tasks—especially the laundry.  I could not believe how high the loads had piled up when everything was unpacked and added to what kept growing while I was gone. 

Laundry, you know, is one task that just does not seem manageable in any other way.  You still have to sort it, wash it, dry it, fold or hang it, and put it away.  And in the meantime, you are still wearing clothes that will soon continue the cycle.

Thank goodness I am equipped to do the task.

The laundry task is just one that faced me upon returning home.  While gone, I stopped at one of my favorite markets to restock my cooking supplies.  When I unloaded them, I realized I was facing another task—cleaning out the cabinet.

Thank goodness I am blessed to have a home with kitchen and cabinets, so I started.  I ended up having to clean out two cabinets in order to reorganize, clean and store all that I had purchased.  

As I do this, I cannot help but think how fortunate I am to be able to do this.  In doing the task, I found time to think about how thankful I am for my own home but also how difficult it must be not having all that I have.  Thanksgiving is easy for me, but what about those who struggle to have even the most basic needs of food, clothing and shelter.

Obviously one task leads to another and my thoughts just keep leap frogging from one thought to the next.  The chores I had to do after being gone for the long weekend continue, but now a shift from cleaning to planning ahead.  

Thanksgiving is a time filled with traditions—at least in our world.  There is the menu:  turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, and gravy accompanied by all the special dishes family members bring in.  The tasks turn to cooking.

Yet the task of preparing a Thanksgiving meal is a time for reflection and prayer.  Each dish seems to come with a face that loves it.  So the time on task turns into prayer time for the face (individual).

The jumbled thoughts that accompany daily life tasks sometimes quiet down, but at other times it leads to screaming.  No one else hears it, but I do.  What screams? 

Naturally some screams are from the actual work that has to be done, but what about the screams from the past.  

I can’t help but think how the Psalms are filled with the trials and tribulations that frustrate even the ancients.  Yet, in the midst of daily tasks, God is with us.  The Psalms are also filled with words of thanksgiving and praise.  I turn to Psalm 100:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
    Serve the Lord with gladness!
    Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, he is God!
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
    and his courts with praise!
    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever,
    and his faithfulness to all generations.

How easy it is for our thoughts to become so jumbled as we do the daily tasks.  The work is necessary, and the thoughts that ramble through our minds in the midst of it can distract us.  But today, as Thanksgiving Day nears, I find the jumbled, leap-frogging thoughts tend to turn to words of thanksgiving—serving the Lord with gladness.

May your holiday thoughts and tasks find a way to lead your thoughts to words of thanksgiving.  God knows we struggle, but we need to take time to talk with him.  As we think of all we have for which we are thankful, we need to make sure we tell him thanks.

And, as we realize how much we have, let us all share words of supplication to God for those without even the basics of food, clothing and shelter.  He is with them, too, and we can do all we can for them including wrapping them in prayers.

Dear Gracious God,

In the midst of the mental fog, the myriad of tasks, and the traditions of a holiday, we thank you.

In the madness of travels and the joys of family reunions, we thank you for our kin.

At the table filled with turkey, dressing, and more, we feel blessed to have food, clothing and shelter for which we say thanks.

Yet we know many who have mental fog of addictions, of hunger, of pain, of loss, and more. 

so we lift them in our prayers.

We are aware that you call us to serve

one another in love today and everyday,

so we ask you to guide us is doing all that we can.

This week we echo the psalmist’s word

knowing that we are God’s children

and your love endures forever

and you are faithful to all generations.

We are blessed and we give thanks to you.

In the name of you the Father,

the son Jesus Christ,

and the Holy Spirit.  Amen

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Thanking God for God’s Giving

Sermon for Sunday, November 20, 2016.  (No sermon was published for last week as it was a vacation Sunday.)

Opening scripture: Philippians 4:1, NLT

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters,[a] stay true to the Lord. I love you and long to see you, dear friends, for you are my joy and the crown I receive for my work.

Scripture connection: Philippians 4:2-7, NLT

     2 Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. And I ask you, my true partner,[b] to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the Book of Life.

     4 Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.[c]

     6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

*Closing scripture: Philippians 4:8-9, NLT

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

 

Reflection: Thanking God for God’s Giving

 

“Thanks for giving” is the commercial’s message. Young children sharing that simple thank you has captured my heart yet I cannot even tell you what the business is that runs the commercial. “Thanks for giving” is part of the Christian lifestyle.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians is filled with guidelines for living the God-centered lifestyle. He challenged the members to put aside their differences and to work on maintaining Christ-like relationships in order to remain thankful for all the blessings God provides.

These reminders are as appropriate today as they were when the Philippian church struggled to establish itself and to maintain the very values that Jesus Christ modeled and Paul taught. We must ask ourselves to consider the very same problem: Are we allowing problems with personal relationships to interfere with the work Jesus commissioned us?

This week is filled with traditions, and filled with thanks for all the blessings we have received. The holiday traditions bring families together, provide opportunities to renew memories, and of course, fill our tummies with all those carefully prepared meals that families have cooked for generations. Thanksgiving is designed to thank God for all that has been given to us.

Yet in the midst of all the holiday business, do we offer thanks for the giving? Do we follow Paul’s advice to put aside disagreements, to resolve relationship issues, and to refocus on the joy of God’s giving to us? Are we thanking God for all we have been given?

Paul had heard of the problems between two women who were devoted workers for the church, and he admonished them and the others in the church to resolve the problems in order to keep the church centered on its responsibility to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s words are as applicable today as it was 2,000 years ago. The internal relationships within the church can interfere with the work of the church. Thanksgiving in our church should be a time to thank each other for the blessings that they provide through service to our community—locally and globally. Thanksgiving is part of our Christian lifestyle:

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.

 

Right now, right here, we must ask ourselves if we are maintaining the very Christ-like relationships that Paul tells the Philippians to do in order to be the Christians God asks us to be. Are we serving as God’s agents? Are we willing to accept one another with grace as God accepts us? Are we able to do whatever we can to serve one another in love? Are we sharing the good news with others?

Part of the Thanksgiving tradition is acknowledging the blessings that we experience. For some, the meal begins with a blessing that thanks God for all that he has provided. The families do give thanks for giving. In some homes, the thanks for God’s blessing are silent.

The commercial’s message, “Thanks for giving,” is a reminder that we are called to share God’s grace with others. Paul even goes on to remind the Philippian church to pray:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

 

This Thanksgiving we are called to thank God for the blessings given us. This Thanksgiving we need to pray that the unity of our own church is healed and the work God asks of us is renewed.

Tuesday will mark the 53rd anniversary since the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Every Thanksgiving reminds us of how this country handles challenges, and JFK’s words are ones to guide us as Americans, but also as Christians:

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

 

Paul’s words continue to teach us how to live lives that model Jesus Christ. The words “Love one another” is how we give thanks for all the blessings we receive. There is no reason to close minds or doors to one another. Closing minds and doors results in hardening hearts.

Return to Paul’s words to remember how to experience the joy of giving blessings to others. Pray. Pray for the church. Pray for the community, the country, and the world. Pray that we can do all we can in our community to see that God’s love blesses all, not just a select few. Pray that Advent will bring a sense of joy and renewal as we share the good news of Jesus Christ.

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to review our blessings, and it is the perfect time to review just what each one of us does:   sharing the story of how God blessed us with the birth of Jesus Christ so that we may do all that we can do to bless others with God’s grace.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving and giving God,

Thank you for loving us so much that you sent Jesus Christ

who showed us how to love one another

who had to suffer ridicule, harassment, and death

so we may might receive the ultimate gift of life everlasting.

 

Thank you for your grace granted without expectations.

Thank you for the gift of forgiveness when we ask.

Thank you for the freedom that comes with loving one another.

 

This holiday weekend, open our hearts and minds

to how we can provide blessings of your love

to others so they can experience the joy of Christian living.

 

Thank you for the community that we call home.

Thank you for the families that join us at the table.

Thank you for the blessings we experience daily.

 

We pray for the healing of relationships.

We pray for the healing of bodies broken with illness.

We pray for the healing of communities worldwide.

 

Thank you, God, for giving

us your Son, Jesus Christ,

and the Holy Spirit.

May we serve one another in love

as thanks for your gifts. –Amen

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