For eager children waiting for Christmas morning, they may tell you December 24th has to be the longest night. However; the calendar puts the longest night as December 21st. That is because it is the shortest day of the year, making it darker just a little while longer. Many churches have started doing a "Blue Christmas" Service on or around that date. You may have heard the famous Elvis Presley version of "Blue Christmas" blasted through the radio at some point during this season. While the Service is not named after the Elvis song, it does help express that Christmas can be a lonely time. For some, Christmas has come as a reminder that our lives are not as picturesque as that new Hallmark film, or Thomas Kincade greeting card. You may miss a dear loved one who has recently passed, have broken relationships, struggle with health problems or be financially overwhelmed. If you read that and say "That's me!" know that you are not alone. We all are going through something.
"I heard the Bells on Christmas Day" was originally a poem written by William Wadsworth. Wadsworth wrote the poem on Christmas morning after losing his beloved wife and nursing his wounded soldier son back to health. He was prompted to write what he was truly feeling at the time when the world was at war, and his own life falling apart.
"And in despair I bowed my head;
There is no peace on earth," I said:
For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
We remember the longest night as a way to say yes, we all have darkness in our lives. But we also have hope. We will soon rejoice in the coming of Jesus. He was born of the flesh and understands our pain. A savior who will free us from sadness and worry. As Isaiah 9: 2,6 says "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light. And they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and his name shall be called wonderful, counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."
Like the carol, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" the poem ends with,
"Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Wadsworth wrote this ending after realizing God watches over us and peace will come again. Just as it will for us in our lives.
If you're feeling down this Christmas or just overwhelmed, I encourage you to attend our Blue Christmas service this Thursday, December 19th at 6:30 pm as Pastor Nathan gives us a message of hope.
"Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life'". John 8:12
On the first Sunday of Advent, there were more than the normal activities happening during the Traditional Service here at JFUMC. Prior to the Service starting, everyone was given Chrismon ornaments to be placed on the Chrismon tree. The first candle was lit on the Advent wreath, we had a baptism, and we celebrated communion. Those additional activities on their own could have filled an hour of our time.
During Children's Time, Pastor Nathan had the children gather near the Chrismon tree. After explaining Hanging of the Green and presenting a short message, the lights on the Chrismon tree were illuminated. All of the children were very excited and looking in wonder at the lights. One child in particular, Walker Hejny, turned around assumably looking at this family. The look on his face was epic. He gasped, his mouth was open wide and his eyes were the size of saucers. He was truly awestruck and amazed at the lights and ornaments on the tree.
You see, Walker was excited and awestruck even though we had so much going on that Sunday. The innocence of a child didn't realize we would be sitting in the pews a bit longer than normal. There was much more to go.
The reason I tell this story is to emphasize the importance of remembering the Light of our Lord and Savior, especially during this season. We are in a season of expectant waiting and preparation for both the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas and the return of Jesus at the second coming. We will all be busy during this season meeting family and friends and work obligations, as well as supporting our Church.
During this time of celebration, I pray that each of us can view this time just as Walker Hejny viewed the Chrismon tree; one of innocence and wonder, remaining focused on the reason for the season: The Light of the world, the Light of life.
"I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time... as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time... the only time... when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers...."
- Fred, Ebenezer Scrooge's Nephew in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol
Gifts, gifts, and more gifts. Yesterday I received a call from a family member asking what we wanted for Christmas. It's the same phone call we get each year. A family member isn't sure what to get and thus calls. Then we spend the next week trying to figure out if there is anything we need. Frankly, I don't need anything. I have literally all I need. I, unlike many in our world, don't have to worry about where I might sleep, where my next meal will come from, or who loves me. Each of these are taken care of, or offered to me. In fact, too often I take them for granted. Usually, Christmas, in terms of gift giving, is more about what I want rather than what I need. I often become more distracted by what I receive than by what is taking place around me.
Often there are gifts being given of which I take little notice. The gift of time shared, the gift of care and concern with family we haven't seen, the gift of joy and laughter, even at times, the gift of mourning and consoling, all in this season. The consumer side of Christmas often drowns out the gifts that are not material. And when I look upon past Christmas' celebrated with family and friends, these were the true gifts I needed.
Fred's speech certainly hits home with me. Christmas when celebrated properly, helps us see the true gifts of Christmas, like the gift of one another and our common humanity. These gifts certainly come from God. The story of Jesus' birth is about meeting a need we didn't know we had. And if we pay attention, those gifts of God frequently show up during this season. As people filled with generosity and charity abound, we see more poignantly God's handiwork all around us. This year, what would it look like to focus less on the gifts we expect but on the gifts we often overlook? Moreover, what if we began to imagine how we might supply gifts of need to others which are often downplayed? Rather than simple material gifts, we might offer time, space, and love to a friend or someone who would least expect it. Imagine the impact of such a gift. As we move toward Christmas, may we see God's gifts around us, and may we offer a different kind of gift this year!
Pastor Nathan Kilbourne
For this reason I remind you to kindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:6-7
Adopted shortly after the merger of The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church, the symbol of the cross and flame relates the United Methodist Church to God through Christ (cross) and the Holy Spirit (flame). The flame is a reminder of Pentecost when witnesses were unified by the power of the Holy Spirit and saw "tongues, as of fire" (Acts 2:3). The two tongues of a single flame may also be understood to represent the union of two denominations. The two separate flames represent the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church coming together to form the United Methodist Church.
Thinking back to when our daughters were little, they loved camping. They were Girl Scout, and even I was a registered Girl Scout. Although there are aspects of camping that can be extremely annoying, being out in God's creation was a faith builder.
One of the aspects of camping that everyone enjoyed was the bonfire. As the sun set and the darkness engulfed the campsite all the children gathered around the fire giggling, heating their marshmallows, and consuming those delicious smores. The fire would draw everyone in at the campsite and there were stories and times of great fellowship.
However, as timed passed, the flames tend to die down and a layer of ash covered the embers. There was always someone who would stir the coals and add more firewood and once again the fire is blazing - radiating its heat and light throughout the campsite.
Our Christian lives are like that bonfire. We are on fire for God shining light to everyone around us. In time the fire will die down and needs to be rekindled. Those embers we can't see need to be stirred and another log needs to be thrown into the pit.
Our desire to serve wanes, our desire to follow God can falter because other things become our priority and before you know it we lose our way.
Just as Paul was encouraging Timothy to rekindle the spiritual fire within, the Bible reminds us that we all have spiritual gifts. Timothy's was preaching, what is yours?
At the beginning of my article I gave an explanation of the Cross and Flames, the symbol of the United Methodist Church. The flames are ablaze and living. I hope we all consider rekindling the fire within to keep the passion for God alive. By rekindling your fire may you help others rekindle their fire. Let's fan into flame God's gift, what ever it is, so that we can serve God with passion and fervor.
UMCOR is the humanitarian relief and development arm of the United Methodist Church and is run through the General Board of Global Ministries. It exists “to assist individuals and churches become involved globally in direct ministry to persons in need through programs of relief, rehabilitation, and service…” Every year since 2008, our church has sent a team of volunteers to be a part of this effort.
Located in Baldwin, Louisiana, The Sager Brown UMCOR Depot is a huge warehouse, packed floor to ceiling with supplies that are packaged and shipped to those in need. Our own “Sew and Sew” group has constructed thousands of school bags and knitted hundreds of baby sweaters that have been delivered around the world by UMCOR. When I was at a Methodist school in rural Zimbabwe in 2010, every child had a school bag filled with supplies. I saw, first hand, that these ministries make a difference!
In recent years, UMCOR has changed their approach to missions. They no longer ship supplies internationally. Instead, they are directly funding foreign relief which stimulates local economies and empowers those closest to the need. The Sager Brown Depot now focuses on relief within the United States and creates health kits, “flood” buckets, and school bags for domestic distribution. There are also opportunities for volunteers to serve in various ministries out in the Baldwin community.
A mission trip provides a chance to retreat from the business of life and spend time with like-minded Christians. It is a time of fellowship, camaraderie, personal reflection, worship, and service. It is also a great time to build friendships with other church members.
For those who have not been before, I encourage you to consider visiting Sager Brown April 26th through May 1st. We are assembling a group of 12 and would love for YOU to be a part of the team!
In Grace and Peace,
Cindy Kyser Buck