CHRISTMAS GREETING FROM PASTOR J R

I know that most of us will be busy this holiday weekend. Email and other social media will not be a big priority for most of us. So, I’m sending my Christmas Greetings a few days before Christmas.

While I wish you a very Merry and Safe Christmas, let me also share these Christmas reminders I ran across.

  • May the Christmas GIFTS remind us of God’s greatest gift, God’s only Son.
  • May the Christmas CANDLES remind us of The One who is the “Light of the world.”
  • May the Christmas TREES remind us of another tree where He demonstrated His love.
  • May the Christmas CHEER remind us of The One who said, “Be of good cheer.”
  • May the Christmas FEAST remind us of The One who is “the Bread of Life.”
  • May the Christmas BELLS remind us of the glorious proclamation of Jesus’ birth.
  • May the Christmas CAROLS remind us of The One the angels sang, “Glory to God in the Highest!”
  • May the Christmas SEASON remind us of Jesus, the Reason for the Season!
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NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR DECEMBER 24, 2017 THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS EVE.

I realize this Note from Pastor J R is longer than most, but because of the season I wanted to share this wonderful story. I hope you will be moved by it as much as I was when I read it.

Harriet Richie, a writer from Anderson, South Carolina, wrote a story about something that happened to her and her family late one night. They had been to a Christmas Eve service that ended at midnight. After worship, her husband announced that he was hungry and wanted breakfast. Of course, it was almost 1 a.m. on Christmas morning, so none of the usual places they might have gone were open. They made their way to the interstate where an all-night truck stop was still open.

A few big diesels rumbled outside. Inside a few truckers sat at the counter. A jukebox played country music. On the front window was a string of colored blinking lights. The place smelled like bacon grease and stale coffee. A one-armed man behind the counter nodded the family toward a booth.

Soon a waitress named Rita sauntered over, handed them their menus and asked what they wanted to drink. Harriet looked around. She felt a little bit like a snob and out of place. Her family had just come from a beautiful Christmas Eve service. And soon they would be heading to their lovely home for the night. She thought one day they would look back with a laugh and say to each other, “Remember that Christmas we ate breakfast at that truck stop? That awful music and those tacky lights?”

She was staring out the window when an old Volkswagen van drove up. A young man with a beard and baggy jeans got out, walked around and opened the door for a young woman holding a baby. They hurried inside and took a booth near the back.

After Rita, the waitress, took their order, the baby began to cry, and neither of the young parents could quiet him. Finally, Rita set down her coffee pot and held out her arms for the baby. “Hon, just sit there and drink your coffee. Let me see what I can do.”

It was evident that Rita had done this before. She began walking around the place showing the baby to first one of the truckers and then another. One began whistling a Christmas tune and make silly faces. Quickly the baby stopped crying and began cooing. Rita showed the baby the blinking lights on the jukebox. She brought the baby over to Harriet’s table. “Just look at this little darlin’,” she said. “Mine are so big and grown they don’t need me no more.”

The one-armed fellow behind the counter brought a fresh pot of coffee, and, as he refilled their mugs, Harriet felt tears in her eyes. Her husband wanted to know what was wrong. “Nothing,” she said, “just Christmas.” Reaching in her purse for a Kleenex and a quarter, she said to her own kids, “Go see if you can find a Christmas song on the jukebox.”

When they were gone, Harriet quietly said almost to herself, “He would have come here, wouldn’t he?” “Who?” her husband asked. “Jesus. If Jesus were born here tonight and the choices were our neighborhood, the church or this truck stop, it would be right here, wouldn’t it?”

Her husband didn’t answer right away, but looked around the place, at the people there. Finally he said, “I suppose either here or a homeless shelter.”

“That’s what bothers me,” Harriet said. “When we first got here I felt sorry for these people because they probably aren’t going home to nice neighborhoods where the houses have candles in the windows and wreaths on the doors. And listening to that awful music, I thought, I’ll bet nobody here has even heard of Handel. Now I think that more than any place I know, this is where Christmas is. But I’m not sure I belong.”

If you strip the story down to what really happened that night so long ago, you discover that God’s value system and economy are very different from ours. Bringing the Savior into the world in a poor country town, to an illiterate, unwed, teenage mother, and proclaiming the birth to lowly shepherds would not have been the auspicious rollout modern marketers would have designed, but it is precisely what God would do.

Maybe it’s only in recognizing our own poverty and need that we can really be open to the change Christmas can still bring to the world, our world.

As Harriett walked with her family to the car, her husband leaned over and said, “You know I heard something earlier at church. They said what the angels sang that first Christmas was, ‘Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.’ Maybe they meant us, too.”

I invite you to join us for two opportunities on this Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve, when we will be bringing “good tidings of great joy.” The first one is at 10 AM, for our regular Sunday morning worship; and the second is at 5 PM for our Christmas Eve “Lights & Lessons: Carols and Communion” Services.

We hope to see you! But if not, please know that we at Covenant Community Church wish you a happy, blessed, safe and Merry Christmas!

NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR DECEMBER 17, 2017 THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT

This week we observe the Third Sunday of Advent. It’s one of two Sundays when the liturgical color is rose … okay pink. We will light the third Advent (Pink) candle which symbolizes joy; the joy we feel to welcome Jesus in Christmas.

The assigned Gospel text is “The Magnificat,” Mary’s prayer/poem/hymn of praise found in Luke 1:46-55. “Magnificat” simply means magnify, exalt, or glorify. So, these scriptures are a poem of praise to God, praising God for God’s blessing to Mary and faithfulness to her people.

One of the most popular Christmas songs of the last 30 years is “Mary, Did You Know” written in 1991 by Christian comedian and singer Mark Lowry. The song is a series of questions he’d like to ask of Mary, like these from the opening lines:

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?

This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you?

Mary’s response to being told that she, a teenage engaged virgin would conceive a child fathered by God, was “The Magnificat.” It begins with these words, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” This tells me that while Mary may not have known all the details of how things will come to be; she knew the answers to Lowry’s questions.

It also tells us that for a peasant teenage girl to be rejoicing at this news means she knew “The Secret to Joy,” a joy she had deep within her that could not be overcome by her desperate circumstances. And we can too!

Join us at Covenant this week for Pink Sunday. We will light the third Advent candle for Joy. I will be preaching on “The Secret to Joy.” The scriptural texts are Isaiah 61:1-4 and Luke 1:46-55.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR DECEMBER 10, 2017 THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT

Todd Deatherage writes “We are each image-bearers of God in a beautiful but broken world.” One hymn of the season, “beckons” Emmanuel to rescue us with this haunting plea. “O Come, Desire of Nations, bind – In one the hearts of all mankind; Bid Thou our sad division cease. And be Thyself our Prince of Peace.”

I thought of these words on Thursday, when in the land where the Prince of Peace was born, the news cycle was of the tensions between Palestinians and Israelis resorting once again to violence in their decades-old conflict. This time in response to the declaration of US plans to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

It makes one wonder if peace is possible? Maybe not; but we certainly should not contribute to the lack of it. As followers of Jesus who said “Blessed are the peacemakers,” we each have a role in seeking peace for ourselves and others. Peace and peacemaking in our world today comes to us most powerfully on this Second Sunday of Advent, knowing that the very Prince of Peace has come to us in that place between what theologians call the “now, but not yet.” Where is that? It’s the place where we each must decide to be about the business of helping to bring peace in the broken places of our lives and our world.

A prayer request to Covenant this week was comfort for a young man who was not permitted to attend his own mother’s funeral. I can’t help but wonder what restoration could have occurred in that family had one person decided to bring peace in that broken situation. We are to contribute to the efforts of peace in whatever situation we can, while living in hopeful expectation that one day all things will be made right when the Prince of Peace returns.

Join us at Covenant this Sunday as we light the Second Advent candle representing peace. My sermon will be “Preparing the Way for Peace” based on Isaiah 40:1-5 and Mark 1:1-9

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT DECEMBER 3, 2017

The Season of Advent begins this Sunday. The theme is Hope. Christmas and the New Year of 2018 are just around the corner. Come, see Covenant beautifully decorated as we also light the first Advent Candle for Hope.

Advent is a season of waiting. It’s a time to be marked by urgent anticipation, longing for the fulfillment of what has been promised. Since Jesus was born 2000 years ago, the promise we are now waiting for is the return of Christ as described in the assigned scriptures for the First Sunday of Advent; referencing the second coming of Christ, instead of the birth of Jesus.

That’s all well and good except, too often, people don’t really spend enough thought on what we do while we wait. While the scriptures encourage us to look for Christ’ return, they also tell us to make the most of the present. Someone once put it this way: “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you do no earthly good.” John Wesley said it even better with these words: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can”. That’s making the most of the present.

In preparing for Advent, Christmas, the unknowable future of 2018 and beyond, let’s make sure we don’t ignore our most precious resource that allows us to make the most of the present. That is “The Shining Light of Hope,” of God’s presence in our lives. Let’s trust in God and seize the day.

Again, join us for worship this First Sunday of Advent as we continue our look for Christ’s return while making the most of the present. My sermon will be “The Shining Light of Hope” based on Psalm 80:7, 17-19 and Mark 13:24-27, 32-37

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 2017

Hyperbole is speaking in an exaggerated manner to make or emphasize a point. It is often used in the writing of scripture. Of the gospel writers, Matthew uses hyperbole the most often in the telling of Jesus’ parables. Failure to recognize the hyperbole being used, people often read into the parable things that were not intended.

In the Parable of the Talents assigned for this Sunday, Matthew has an extreme way of saying God has given each of us talents in service to the realm of God, so “Use It or Lose It.” Failure to recognize this use of hyperbole can make it a struggle to properly understand the point of the parable being made. This parable ends with these words in reference to the servant that did nothing with talent entrusted to him. “Now take the worthless servant and throw him outside into the darkness.’ “People, there will be weeping and grinding their teeth.” Seems awful harsh in light of what we know about our God of love and new beginnings, don’t you think?

I invite you to look past the hyperbole Matthew uses to see the message Jesus was conveying with the parable. It might help if you think of talents in a light of this parable. Talents are like the muscles in your arm. If you never use your arm so that it gets the exercise needed to maintain strength in the muscles, your arm atrophies. It declines in effectiveness or vigor due to underuse or neglect. The result is you’ll lose the use of that arm. So “Use It or Lose It!” This same principle applies to the talents and spiritual gifts God has given us. If we do not use them; we lose them.

Join us this Sunday at Covenant. We will consecrate 3 new deacons who have chosen to use their gifts in service to God at Covenant. My sermon will be “Talents: Use It or Lose It” based on Matthew 25:14-30.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2017

Years ago, I saw a rather corny bumper stick; but it stuck in my memory. It said, “Christians are not perfect, we are just forgiven.” I really liked the bumper sticker and it made a positive impact on me at the time. However, over the years since first seeing it, I’ve come to realize that like many clichés pressed into a few words, the message on the bumpers was only a partial truth on forgiveness. The total truth of forgiveness takes more than seven words to explain or to understand.

I think the first lesson we need to learn in understanding God’s forgiveness is to know what it does for our own dignity and self-esteem. The explanation of forgiveness by the late gay Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld, won’t fit on a bumper sticker; but it does explain forgiveness in a way that is very understandable and easy to comprehend. He said, “Forgiveness is the answer to the child’s dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is made clean again.” We all have felt broken at times in our lives and this describes what God’s forgiveness and unconditional love does to make us whole again.

Understanding this forgiveness as making us whole again helps us to accept this reality the Apostle Paul shares in II Corinthians 5:17, “So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!” I can only imagine how incredibly different our lives might be if we believed in, acted on, and lived as if we are new creations and whole in Christ.

Join us in worship at Covenant this Sunday. Deacon Jeanette Horne will share her story and I’ll share some insights in my sermon, “We Are Not Perfect. We are Just Forgiven.” These insights are on how essential forgiveness is knowing God’s unconditional love as new creations in Christ, based on II Corinthians 5:17-21.