Archive for December, 2017


Week 4 - Christmas LightsSome of my earliest memories of Christmas with my family involve Christmas lights. But not necessarily the hanging of them. I remember getting into the car and just driving around Rockford. My parents seemed to know all the places to go to see the most lights. It was a magical time for me. It was so beautiful to see the ordinary houses, wonderfully transformed by the twinkling lights that adorned the roof lines and windows. There was even a certain weekend every year within the Edgewater neighborhood when they would put out luminaries. Not only did the houses have wonderful colors on the outside of them, but now the sidewalks and driveways were lined with lights.

Now, since we have been talking about traditions over the past few weeks, I needed to research the history of Christmas Lights; where they came from and how they became such an important part of our Christmas celebrations. But as I researched this history, I didn’t hear about a definite connection to our Christian heritage. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a message in there. So, here it comes, that question that we’ve been asking all worship series long. What does the history of the lights mean for us today? How can these lights help us to celebrate the birth of our Savior and Lord?

Two things. There are two things I would like you to take away from this message today. One, they are a representative of the light that shines into the darkness, proclaiming God’s light for this world.

I recently had the opportunity to walk around this community at night while it was snowing. I’m not sure what exactly it is, but the snow seems to make things quiet. Well this night was a peaceful night, quiet and calm. It was almost unnerving because of the stillness. But one thing that I noticed was that during the other times of the year, when the ground is not covered in snow, it is dark, real dark. Not many cars, porch lights, or even streetlights to drive the darkness away. So walking around in the fresh fallen snow with houses lit up with Christmas decorations and lights, gave such a warm feeling to me. It gave me a new perspective on my surroundings, one that darkness used to rule over, now the darkness was dispersed through the light offered through the snow and Christmas lights. This reminds me of a scripture passage. Isaiah. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

I was walking in darkness but yet saw all the lights from the houses around me. The lights were witnessing to me about this season, reminding me of the story we just heard, telling me that we were ever so close to Christmas.

So, let us really let the meaning of this season set in on us. Jesus Christ is born into this world of darkness as light to all living in the shadow of death, walking along paths full of shadows and darkness. Jesus has come to bring light to our world, to guide us, and to illuminate God’s plan for this world. Jesus has come to bring hope to this broken world.

The second point, and maybe the most important one is this. When we decorate our houses with Christmas lights, the lights have an effect on the house. For some strange reason, the little bit of color and light transforms the house. Now, your house may be beautiful, it may be ordinary. Your house may be newer, or it may be getting old and falling apart. But something happens when the lights are put up. I remember a house from my old neighborhood. It was old, decrepit, in desperate need of paint, siding, or maybe even a bulldozer. But once a year, it was changed. The owner would display lights for the season, and the change was nothing short of miraculous.

When we invite Jesus into our lives, his light shines in and through us. The more we trust in him, the more we follow him, and the more we follow the path he has for us, the more his light shines through us. The more his light shines through us, the less people see us and the more they see Jesus. It’s like the houses with lights on. At night we see the lights and the beauty they bring and we see less and less of the house.

That’s what I want. Less of me and more of Christ. Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness. If we choose to follow him, we will no longer walk in darkness, but in his light. So maybe we should leave our lights up all year long, maybe. Or maybe we need to live our lives, making sure Jesus’ light is constantly shining, regardless of what season it is.

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Week 3 - PointsettiasThis is the third week of our Christmas traditions worship series, a time when we look into some of our traditions and find out how they began, where they came from, and what they mean for us today. This week we will look at the poinsettia plant. Now, if you are looking for the origins and how this plant began its use within the Christmas season, you will need to go to our website where you will find the full message from this past Sunday. But here, I would like to focus on one of the care and nurture elements that poinsettia plants require.

I have to admit that I am pretty good at killing plants, many of you share the same trait with me. I just don’t have that great of a green thumb for house plants. So, taking care of them is difficult. But with the poinsettia, things are a bit different. Did you know that you can drown a poinsettia? It’s true. These plants do not need a lot of water, but there is something more. Many places that I researched about these plants will tell you that you need to water them when the top inch of the soil is dry. But they tell you something else as well.

You need to make sure there are enough drainage holes in the bottom of the pot so that water can drain out. Some people will even tell you that you should let the drainage collect on a drip pan outside the pot, and then empty the drip pan. If the water is not removed, if the water is retained in that drip pan, it will keep the roots wet which will eventually rot them out. Keeping water will kill the plant! Now, where have we heard something like this? Where have we heard about holding water in and how detrimental it is to life? How about the Dead Sea? You might know this, but if not here it is.

The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee are both fed by the Jordan river. But there is a stark difference between the two. The Sea of Galilee is full of life. Fish are abundant. There is life all around. But the Dead Sea is known for not having any life in it whatsoever. It is called the Dead Sea for a reason. What’s the difference? Why life and no life?

It’s all about the flow of water in and through these bodies of water. The Sea of Galilee allows the Jordan to flow into it, but it also lets the water exit, providing life for many areas downstream. The Dead Sea however, has no exit for the water. It holds all the water it receives from the Jordan. Life does not exist in those waters.

This is similar to the poinsettia plant. If it is allowed to let the water run through it and not hold it in, it will live. If the plant gives its life-giving water to other things, it will thrive. But, if it holds onto the water that it is given, it will rot and die.

Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given. He has come to give us life, and give it abundantly. We are called to in turn, give this life to others, to show them the Father’s love in our actions and in how we love each other. If we keep this wonderful gift of grace to ourselves, not allowing it to be a testimony for others, then we are no better than a drowning poinsettia plant, no more lively than the Dead Sea.

God has blessed us, to be a blessing. We love, because he first loved us. Just like that all familiar song; “they will know we are Christians by our love.”

Week 2 - Christmas Tree and AngelAs we enter into week 2 of our Christmas traditions worship series, we turn our attention to Christmas trees. Now, I have to tell you that during my research for this week, I found many different ideas and origins for this tree we celebrate during the Christmas season. But even through this, I kept coming back to a simple question; so what? What does all of this mean for us? What can we take away from a long and confusing history?

It means Isaiah is right. If we look at the lectionary reading from Isaiah 40, verses 1-8, I see images of the Christmas tree. This passage talks about John the Baptist, preparing the way for Jesus Christ. But I want to pull out a couple of verses for you.

“Comfort, O comfort my people.” God offers comfort in many things, and for me, around Christmas, sitting in the living room while illuminated by the soft glow of a lit Christmas tree, I find comfort. I find peace. The tree is a reminder to me that God is with us. As a representative of Jesus Christ, this tree represents eternal life among us. That alone should give us the comfort and peace we need in this crazy world.

Verse 5; “Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” How can you not be in awe of a Christmas tree? The lights, the ornaments, the tinsel, and even the aroma of pine are all things that remind me of the glory of God. The beauty which is right in front of me is sometimes too much. Do you ever find yourself looking over the tree while you are sitting by it, reflecting on each ornament? It’s like a life history. You can remember where you picked up that ornament, who was with you, what you were doing, even what else happened that year. It is the glory of the Lord, revealed in his actions in the past.

Then “all people shall see it together,” speaks to me about the placement of our trees. Almost always, the Christmas tree is placed in the front window, so that all who drive or walk by can see it. We even move our living rooms around so we can place the tree in just the right place.

Finally, verse 8, “The grass it withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” As much as we would like them to, our Christmas trees do not last forever. At some point, whether it’s January 1st, Epiphany on the 6th, or sometime in February, we all will need to take down our trees. Always a sad day for me as I love having the tree up giving off its soft glow of light. But it is a reminder that all of this will fade, nothing on this earth is permanent. Grass withers and flowers fade, but something will not fade!

The word of the Lord will not fade. Our God is steadfast and will never leave us. Jesus is that word, “The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us.” That is what we are celebrating during this season, the birth of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, Emmanuel; God with us!

I hope during this Advent season and beyond, as you look at your Christmas tree or those trees in the windows of your neighborhood, that you remember, maybe not the long and confusing history, but the deep meaning that it holds for us. It’s a reminder of when Jesus Christ came to this world in a lowly cattle stall, a feeding trough.

He did this for you. He did this for me. He is the reason for this season, and he is represented in and through this symbol of the Christmas tree.

Week 1 - Advent Wreath and CandlesWhat helps you stay awake? When the mid-day slumber takes over, the morning came too early, or the night-time is too much to bear, what helps you revive and stay awake? For me, it’s coffee, especially in the morning. For others, it could be a Mountain Dew or a 5-hour energy drink. Some of you like to participate in an activity, maybe go running or another form of exercise. Something else that keeps us awake, is anticipation. We have something that we are looking forward to and we are excited for it to happen, to arrive, or just to begin. That always keeps us awake as it gets our blood pumping. The excitement is in the air!

Christmas is always a time of anticipation. When I was a child, I always knew that I needed to behave around this time of year. Sure, I needed to behave all year long, but it was extra important around Christmas. I can think of so many things my parents would do to impress on me and my brothers about behaving nicely, but none as interesting as the whole ‘elf of a shelf’ thing. Another way, was the cardboard calendars that would have windows that we would open each day, revealing something special until we finally reached Christmas day. These things, as well as many others, help kids ‘keep awake’ until Christmas comes.

During Advent, we have something that helps us in the church. We have the Advent wreath. This is one of the traditions that we will be looking at during our Christmas Traditions worship series this season.

So, where did this tradition begin? Actually, it was 16th century Germany. However, it was Johann Hinrich Wichern in 1839 who brought it closer to what we use today. Johann ran a mission school called Rauhes Haus which served youth from the poorest areas in Hamburg.

The kids would always get excited around Christmas time and continually ask Johann how long it was until Christmas day. Well, he came up with this idea of a wooden wreath and candles in a circle form in order to help the kids ‘keep awake’ during the Advent season as they looked forward to Christmas day. Then, around 1930, these wreaths made it to America and were celebrated in family homes until around 1950 when they began showing up in churches all over the country.

The symbolism found within the Advent wreath is far more than just a countdown to Christmas. The circle shape emphasizes God’s infinite love. Because the branches of evergreen trees are always green, always showing life, they are used to decorate the wreath, signifying the eternal life that Jesus Christ offers in his resurrection.

The four or five candles around the circle have meant different things depending on the church that is celebrating them. Candles have been named for prophecy, Bethlehem, shepherds, and angels, while others were Mary & Joseph, angels, shepherds, and the Magi. Different traditions have diverse ways of presenting the candles in worship. We celebrate them with themes that we find in the ministry of Jesus Christ. We celebrate them with the following themes; hope, love, joy, and peace.

The Advent wreath reminds us to keep awake and to watch with anticipation for Jesus’ birth and eventual return. But what does it mean to keep awake? It’s not just to make sure that you are not sleeping when the time comes. It’s not that you stock up on coffee and Mountain Dew, or 5-hour energy drinks. It’s really not at all about waking or sleeping, it’s about our actions, our attitudes, and it’s about our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Jesus tells a brief story about a master who goes away and puts his servants in charge while he is away. They are not to just make sure they are watching the countryside, waiting for the master’s return. They are to continue the work of the master. They need to keep farming, keep planting, keep harvesting, until the master returns.

But they don’t know when the master will return, and neither do we. We don’t know when that day will be. It could be tomorrow, next week, next year, or even the next lifetime. But that doesn’t mean we sit around idly and watch. We are to keep awake, and that means doing the work that Jesus Christ calls each of us to do. Keep watch!

Advent is a season of anticipation and the wreath helps to remind us of all that we are waiting and watching for. But it also reminds us that we are not to just sit and wait. We are called to action. We are called to the spread of the four themes which these candles represent.

So, as we look at this Advent wreath and the history behind it as well as the tradition in which we celebrate it, I hope you can see how this helps to remind us to keep awake. I hope it helps you anticipate this very special day, as it approaches, and I hope it brings you comfort and peace in this season.

Rooted…

Can papyrus grow where there is no marsh? Can reeds flourish where there is no water?  Job 8:11

Job is a fascinating person and story from the Bible. This is a man who seemingly had everything; life, health, family, wealth, and status. But that all gets taken away from him. Now, there are many themes we can pull out of this book in the Old Testament, but as I read through this chapter by chapter, I came across the verse quoted above.

This is said during a conversation that Job had with one of his friends. The friend responds to Job’s plight with a number of different things, but this verse is found in the middle and it just struck me about how we grow and learn in our lives. We can look at any activity or vocation and pick out those who thrive. We know who are the ones who seem to be better or more knowledgeable in their field. The one who succeed far greater than the rest. These are the ones who are all in, who spend a good amount of time focused and present whenever they can. If you want to be good at something, you need to practice, you need to be constantly learning, studying, participating.

I think that is what this verse is saying. We need to be present. We need to be where the learning takes place. We need to be a part of a community. We do this with our jobs, why don’t we in our faith? Papyrus doesn’t grow without a marsh, reed don’t grow without water, and we don’t grow in our faith without time spent with Jesus Christ. Whether that’s in our 15 minutes of alone time, a Sunday worship service, a Bible study, or a small group who holds us accountable, these are things that help us grow as a Christian.

So grow, learn, increase your faith and never stop falling in love with God.