This was the message that I presented at Walker Valley UMC on the 1st Sunday after Christmas, 26 December 1999. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Isaiah 61: 10 – 62: 3, Galatians 4: 4 – 7, and Luke 2: 22 – 40.
As I was preparing this sermon, I thought that it might be better entitled “This Time Next Year” because though it speaks of what we got this year, it also speaks about what we will be doing at this time next year.
As I think I have mentioned before, I view the travel through life and time as a journey, one often bumpy and sometimes without a clear-cut destination. But as we come to the end of this year and we begin the next year, I think that we as a church need to at least think about what it is going to bring.
Now, some of the things that I hope will happen have in fact already started or at to start soon. As we have already done this morning, there is a congregational response to the scripture readings. I did this so that you may take a more active, even if it were a minor, part in the service.
Over the coming weeks, you will be contacted about serving as either one of the ushers or as a liturgist. I know that this may sound scary and that your first inclination might be to say no or that you wouldn’t know what to do but remember that almost every prophet that God called to serve had the same inclination. And no matter what the situation was or what each prophet was asked to do, God provided the means and the support that they needed to accomplished their given task.
At the December Administrative Council meeting, the motion was approved that 10% of each Sunday’s offering or $40.00, whichever was the greater, would be set aside to met our apportionments for the year 2000. I truly believe, and I believe that it is a matter of record in the Council minutes, that with this decision and your efforts, we will be begin paying our 2001 apportionments, not in January, but in December of this year. It is possible that we may even begin paying them sooner. The financial challenges facing Walker Valley Church this year are great and after the budget and other financial matters are approved at the Church Conference on January 9th, we will look at what each member must do.
The board to my right has shown the attendance for last Sunday for a number of weeks and I have noticed that the number has crept up. I do not know what the average attendance for 1999 was but I am looking for an average attendance approaching 70. The goals of the church, whatever they may be, are easier to reach when you have people to call on.
As was announced this morning, we are asking Eric Cook to serve as youth representative to the Board of Trustees. While this position is a non-voting position, Eric will have the right to speak at the Trustees and his thoughts will be heard. The Nominations & Personnel Committee, as allowed to do in the Discipline, have also nominated two other youth of this church to serve on the Nominations & Personnel and Pastor-Parish Relations Committees.
The youth of this church are where the future of the church ultimately lies and, by placing these three persons on the committees, we are saying that they have a voice in the affairs of the church. I am also asking today that the committees designated to serve the various age-level, family, and youth ministries as well as the Sunday School develop a regular schedule of activities for the youth.
With a regular schedule of activities, open to all the youth of this area, not just our youth, I hope that the UMYF, the United Methodist Youth Fellowship, can be renewed. I also feel that it would appropriate to consider renewing the United Methodist Women and United Methodist Men as well.
By now, you are probably thinking that my dreams are too big and that I am asking too much. And I know that if it were left solely up to me or to any one individual that nothing that I see or hope for will come to pass. But there are two things present or soon to be present in this church that give me the optimism to set these goals.
First, I am not asking individuals to do these things. Yes, as an individual you come to church and you give your tithes and offerings, but the work of the church is done by all of the church, not select individuals. That is why we have a committee on finance to set the budget, that is why we have a nominations & personnel committee to find the people to serve in leadership positions, that is why we have committees for the various age-level and family groups, the youth, and the Sunday school. It is through the efforts of many, working towards common goals that success is reached.
And I know this as well. I know the goals can be reached, not because any other individual or I say that they can be met or because any one individual does all the work. I know that the goals can be met because we each received a present for Christmas. On Friday night, I spoke of the presents that Christ was given and the present that He gave us. Through Christ we have been given one other present, as rich and bejeweled as the gifts Isaiah described in the Old Testament reading today.
“for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me wit the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
Isaiah also pointed out that everyone would see this gift.
“The nations will see your vindication, and all the kings your glory.”
He is of course speaking of the birth of Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life.
When Jesus and his family came to the temple that day described in the Gospel, both Simeon and Anna saw the presence of the Holy Spirit in Jesus. As Simeon said,
“for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory to your people Israel.”
This is not a singular gift but one given to us all. As Paul wrote the Galatians, “And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts”.
We all received a great number of presents yesterday but the greatest one was perhaps not gaily wrapped or even in a box. It is the one that is in our hearts, it was the gift of the Holy Spirit given to us by Christ through his death on the cross and resurrection. As we celebrate Christmas and the birth of Christ, we also celebrate our own rebirth and the renewal of His spirit in us.
There is a year of hope and promise in front of us. It is a journey that will not be an easy one. If we try to undertake all that is ask by ourselves individually, our efforts will be fruitless, our journey long and lonely. But God said that he would never ask us to do anything that we could not do and He has promised to always be with us. If we allow the Holy Spirit to reside in our hearts and our lives and guide and direct us, this coming year and the journey we make will be a joyous and happy one and we will not be alone.
My friends, I ask you these questions today, “What presents did you get?” and “Where will you be this time next year?”