FOOTSTEPS TO FOLLOW
In Jerusalem, during the reign of the Roman Empire, before the birth of Christ, there was turmoil and restlessness in the land among the Jewish people. The heavy hand of the Roman government was making life almost unbearable for the people of Judah. There was little work, and the ordinary family lived in poverty in very meager conditions. And yet, the king was increasing taxation on the Jewish people, and so there was constant conflict, confusion and pressure in the society of that day. There seemed to be hopelessness among God’s people, and life was very depressing.
But in the darkest hour in that time, the angels announced to the shepherds, “Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord.” First John tells us that this was more than just a baby, that it was God becoming a human being. This was not a man becoming God; this was God becoming a man. The very one who had created the heavens and the earth now became a man so that He could pay the price for our sins and redeem us back to God. Yes, finally there was a hope in this dark hour for God’s people.
Many people throughout the Bible and history have experienced hopelessness and desperation in their lives. Peter was kept in prison awaiting execution the next day, but God intervened. In the Book of Daniel, three young Hebrew men were thrown into a fiery furnace because they would not bow and worship an idol, but God stepped in and delivered them. In the Old Testament there was a widow whose son was going to be sold into slavery because she could not pay the debt of her deceased husband, but God multiplied the little oil that she had in such a miraculous way that she was able to sell the oil and pay the debt and save her son from slavery.
Even today in the United States of America, there seems to be hopelessness in the lives of many people. There are children who have no father, and there is an emptiness and loneliness in their lives. There are people who are not earning enough money to pay their bills. There are families that are divided and will not speak to each other.
There seems to be an increase in violence and anger as people are at odds among themselves. There are also many people who are imprisoned and bound by drugs, alcohol and habits which have enslaved them, and there seems to be no help for them. Taxes, expenses and the cost of living seem to be going up, but our wages seem to be getting less. Our once-great nation seems to be faltering and we wonder, “Where will it ever end?” Will we ever see the good old days again, and will our nation survive, or will terrorism, anarchy and division tear our once-great nation apart? Is there hope today? I believe that there is a hope for today, just as there was at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ.
That very one, whose birth was prophesied by the prophets of old and announced by the angels on that first Christmas morning, is still our hope. He is the hope for you personally, for our hurting families, for our divided nation and for this world. His name is Jesus Christ. He is the Prince of Peace and the hope for us today!
– Lauver is the pastor at New Life Church in Pennsdale.
FOOTSTEPS TO FOLLOW
As you are reading this article, there is one Sunday before Christmas. Christians celebrate Christmas as the day Jesus Christ was born. Jesus is the example for Christians. He was born to very humble beginnings.
Jesus gave up living with God in heaven as a prince to experience life on earth so that each of us could experience Emmanuel. The word Emmanuel is a Hebrew word meaning “God with us.” Emmanuel, God with us, is the gift we are given on Christmas and everyday by God.
Christmas, the birth of our Lord and Savior, is the Christian celebrating the greatest gift one ever could want: having your creator desiring a relationship so much that your creator comes to you. Personally, I cannot image anything more valuable. This gift means that we never are really alone. God always is there with us, calling us into relationship.
This is in direct contradiction to the world in which we live. During the holiday season many of us will feel very alone. Feeling alone happens for many of us even though we will spend time with family and friends. This often is a result of the holidays not measuring up to some ideal that is portrayed in the commercials and movies that are so prevalent this time of year. The commercials show us people getting together having the perfect meal and giving the perfect presents. We all realize that this rarely happens in real life. Despite the fact that we know the holiday season most likely will disappoint us and leave us feeling sad and alone, we strive to make the miracle and magic occur, and when it does not happen, we feel sad and alone. The story does not end here.
I encourage you to allow the story to begin this Christmas with the hope and joy of Emmanuel, our God and creator coming to dwell with us as a tiny little baby in a manger.
Christmas and New Year are a time for new beginnings. If you are one of those people whose holiday season leaves you feeling sad or alone, please remember and celebrate the fact that your creator cared enough about you to come and become part of your world in order to have a relationship with you. Having a relationship with your creator means that you are part of the mystical body of Christ and never will be alone. You always will have the wonder and awe of the creche in your heart and mind as well as the knowledge of Emmanuel: God dwelling in you.
– Kerr is the pastor at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Church of the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church and Church of Our Savior Episcopal Church.
FOOTSTEPS TO FOLLOW
“O come, let us adore Him.” “Come and worship; worship Christ the newborn King.” “And heaven and nature sing.” “Gloria, in excelsis Deo.” “Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we.” Words of praise from Christmas carols of worship. Some of them have been around for centuries. Most of them are familiar to our ears. And we’ve even managed to memorize a verse or two over the years.
There is a challenge for us in having these songs be so familiar. We can become unaware of what we are actually saying as we sing them, especially as we sing the later verses that aren’t quite as familiar. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), carols and hymns tell a whole story; one stanza leads into the next, creating a unified theme.
Suppose we sang only the first verse of “At the Cross:” “Alas! And did my Savior bleed? And did my Sovereign die? Would He devote that sacred head for sinners such as I?” I suspect we all might go away feeling uneasy not knowing if indeed the Savior would “devote that sacred head.” Fortunately, the rest of the hymn gives us that assurance. And it is with that assurance we are then able to bring our worship to our promise-fulfilling God.
We of the Christian ilk are in the midst of a renewed celebration called Advent. We patiently await the arrival of the Christ-child amidst the hustle and bustle of a national census-taking long ago in a distant city called Bethlehem. It is the start of the new liturgical church year which will encompass the birth, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement of Christ culminating in Christ the King Sunday.
So, with the fullness of the biblical story in mind, our acts of worship will include not only singing all of the verses (even when there are six or seven of them!) but also being deeply aware of what we are singing. We worship a God who has given us the entire story behind His plan for the world. That plan included a baby “away in a manger,” and a Savior who, alas, did bleed and die. And it also included a Savior who “up from the grave arose,” and who now “reigns where’er the sun does its successive journeys run.”
Yes, I realize that I have given you the lyrics of some “old-fashioned” carols and hymns, and, indeed, there are a number of contemporary songs which effectively convey the gospel message. However, I do encourage you to spend some time in those old hymnals. In some of our churches, we still break them open on Sunday mornings, while in others the overhead projector has taken their place in the sanctuary. Nonetheless, the words and especially the message are timeless.
– Woods-Henderson is the pastor at Northway Presbyterian Church in Loyalsock Township.
FOOTSTEPS TO FOLLOW
The Irish teacher and poet John O’Donahue writes in his poetic blessing “For Light” of different types of light: neon light, morning light, twilight, moonlight, fugitive light and candlelight. This time of year in nature we’re especially sensitive to light (or its absence). Christians think of light in the season before Christmas called Advent (beginning Dec. 1 this year), which long has had light as a major theme. The faithful remember a saying of John the Baptist, whose traditional birthdate is around the summer solstice, comparing himself to Jesus, the light of the world, whose birth date has been celebrated near the winter solstice. John said of Jesus (John 3:30), He must increase, but I must decrease.
I suggest that candlelight is that type of light, perhaps, that is the most useful type of light on which to focus (though, please, be safe when using fire) during these early days of December. Candlelight is something different than the cold blue florescent light shining down the corridors of consumerism, or strobes alternating red and green holiday beams from porches or often raucously festooned streets. Candlelight can direct us towards the presence of the holy in our midst. It can turn our minds and hearts towards those aspects of the holiday to come that are most important. It can speak quiet assurance and offer warmth for those experiencing bleaker times, when celebration is not appropriate to life experiences or memories don’t allow for easy cheer.
Where might we find candles this season to focus upon, flickering the assurances of support and meaning of the things of the Spirit? We might find them:
When we engage in spiritual direction. A candle may light the space between you and a person who can converse with you about your “spiritual journey.” Check out the web site www.sdiworld.org to locate a certified director near you.
At worship. The candles on the altar and sometimes on Advent wreaths will surely be lit as you find time to make that church visit you’ve been planning. My church will have tens of votive candles flickering as we sing a simple service of prayer December Wednesdays until Christmas at 7 PM.
In your own devotional moments. Set an intentional time to read from scripture, or from written reflections. Slow down these weeks to create that time and space for prayer.
In the light brought into the darkness of disasters. When we watch news clips of weather calamities or tragedies due to war and other causes, we will focus on the caregivers, the relief workers, the aid that has been kindled, and consider the flame in our hearts.
A day of love, joy and peace is on the way, to be sure, these candles teach. They burn in the meantime, as we sing the simple tune whose first verse is Lost in the night do the people yet languish, longing for morning, the darkness to vanquish, plaintively sighing with hearts full of anguish, Will not day come soon? Will not day come soon?
– Aurand is the pastor at St. Luke Lutheran Church in Williamsport.