Saturday Morning Worship @ Grannie Annie’s Kitchen, Grace UMC (Newburgh, NY)

During the 2012 Advent season, we began a worship service prior to breakfast. As the New Year begins, we are going to continue this worship. If you are interested in participating in the worship service, contact me at TonyMitchellPhD (at) I have included the lectionary readings for the Sundays in January so that you can think about this. Because of the time frame, we ask that you pick one of the lectionary readings and prepare your message on that reading. Looking forward to hearing the many voices of United Methodists during 2013 at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen. Oh, and you get breakfast

Tomorrow, New Year’s Day, Grannie Annie’s Kitchen will be open from 11 to 1 for soup, bread, and other “goodies”. Come and join us in friendship and fellowship at Grace UMC (Newburgh, NY)

Worship from 8 to 8:30; Breakfast from 8:30 to 9:45

January 5th – Epiphany of the Lord – Isaiah 60: 1 – 6; Ephesians 3: 1 – 12; Matthew 2: 1 – 12

January 12th – Baptism of the Lord – Isaiah 43: 1 – 7; Acts 8: 14 – 17; Luke 3: 15 – 17, 21 – 22

January 19th – 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany – Isaiah 62: 1 – 5; 1 Corinthians 12: 1 – 11; John 2: 1 – 11

A New Understanding” – Tony Mitchell, Grace UMC (Newburgh)

January 26th – 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany – Nehemiah 8: 1 – 3, 5 – 6, 8 – 10; 1 Corinthians 12: 12 – 31; Luke 4: 14 – 21

Parts of the Church” – Tony Mitchell, Grace UMC (Newburgh)

“The Presence Under The Tree”

Here is the sermon for the 1st Sunday after Christmas, 30 December 2012. The Scriptures for this Sunday are 1 Samuel 2: 18 – 20, 26; Colossians 3: 12 – 17; and Luke 2: 41 – 52.

At Grace UMC (Newburgh, NY) we are celebrating Laity Sunday this Sunday. This message was presented by Debra Albrecht (who outlined the plans of the church for the coming year in her part of the message), Eric Szulewski (one of the youth of the church who asked the questions that Jesus might have asked the teachers and leaders), and myself.

There is a reason for the title and it becomes evident to the congregation at the end of the message; I put in an explanation but don’t jump to the end of the message to find out what I did.

Service begins at 10 am this Sunday. On Tuesday, January 1st, Grannie Annie’s Kitchen will be open from 11 to 1 to serve soup and bread. All are welcome as we begin the New Year.

The Presence Under The Tree”

So here we have come, to the end of another year, a year of sadness and disappointment, joy and wonder. A year where loved ones were lost; new lives began. And while we look back on the year that was, we also look forward to the year that is to be.

Each year at this time, we have to the opportunity to cast aside the worries and fears that have collected in our minds and throw them out with the beginnings of a new year. Each year also gives us the opportunity to take from the old year in order to make the new year a better one. And, in that regard, the transition from 2012 to 2013 is no different than any other year. Or is it?

In 2012, the United Methodist Church received the Bishop’s Call to Action. In one sense this is one of the most frightening documents ever composed, for it prophesizes that unless something is done and done quickly, the United Methodist Church will cease to exist within the timeframe of the next generation. But as frightening and ominous as that might sound, in the same pages a way to turn things around is suggested and offered.

The church today can no longer pretend or even strive to be what some would like it to be, the imposer of moral authority and judge of what is morally right or wrong. It must show the way to a better world, both on earth and in heaven.

The church today must be what it once was; it must be the place where people, no matter if they are members of the church or not, can find hope and peace, and come to find and know Christ for themselves.

Simply stated, to answer the Bishops’ Call to Action, the church, as a denomination, a conference, a district, or individual congregation, can no longer simply be a church that is present in the community; it must become a presence in the community.

Debra Albrecht

To be a presence in the community requires several things. It requires a commitment to the ongoing operations of the church. In the first reading for today, we read of Samuel’s mother preparing new clothes for Samuel each year, Her commitment to Samuel’s growth wasn’t merely to say that Samuel was God’s; it was also in her seeing that each year he had the proper materials to be the priest. It is a reminder that each one of us has to have an understanding of what is taking place so that we may better practice our faith, better establish the presence of faith and Christ in this community.

We begin the New Year with an understanding that Grace Church will commit to the Action Plan developed and established last year. As we move into the New Year we will educate, communicate, delicate and fully commit to the 5 year plan to make this church a relevant part of this community. We hear in our reading from 1 Samuel the story of Samuel’s mother’s preparations for her son’s new life. We can begin to see how we all need to grow and change and find the wisdom and strength to move forward toward the future.

My daughter Jenny help me to understand the generation of new believers recently. Over the holiday she was sharing with me a little about the religion course she attended this Fall. As I listened she explained that her generation of 20 year olds are defining themselves as spiritual and not religious. What does that mean for us?

We could see that this generation is looking for a community of believers that are open hearted and committed to showing the love of God in whatever they do. When we are less judgmental and more accepting we show how God loves all and a new life can be found in Jesus Christ. Look to your own heart and ask if you are willing to have a church that truly has an open heart and open doors to transform the world.

Our action Plan for the future is a detailed report with set goals for the future. Our main focus will be on creating dynamic worship renewal with emphasis on the following. (I will explain briefly each point)

  1. Embracing, Igniting and Uniting through Worship
  2. Sojourning
  3. Restructuring redesigning relevancy
  4. Embracing and redefining leadership

You, like all the members of this church, will be involved in this plan. Each committee in the church council has a set of goals in the plan, let us all work to achieve this goals. The finance committee is working on their set of plans to help the church be financially strong. The committee is ready to make these plans and set goals. We all need to prepare ourselves and be clothed in the spirit of Jesus Christ, the one who we all are called to serve. Now Eric will share some insights of a new generation of believers.

Eric Szulewski

To understand the church’s presence in the community, it must also offer a vision, not just of God’s Kingdom, but where it sees itself in the coming years. It must be a vision that echoes all the voices of the community, not just a select few.

The Gospel reading for today reminds us that when He was twelve, Jesus engaged the teachers and rabbis in a discussion of the Torah. It may have been that they were amazed at His understanding but then again, how many times had they had such a discussion with the young men and young women that would be the leaders of the community? What are the concerns and thoughts, what are the questions that today’s young people would ask of the elders of the church?

Here are the questions I would ask this morning:

  1. How should I ask my friends to come to church with me?
  2. How can I make my faith a larger part of my life?
  3. What can the Bible tell a teenager about growing up, even in today’s world?
  4. How can I tell my friends about Christ without being pushy?
  5. We hear of all the negative news stories in the media, how do we know God is here with us, even with such horrible things happening so close?


There is no doubt that without some sort of plan, it becomes very difficult for a church or any organization to have a current presence in a community. Without a vision, without an understanding of the future, it becomes almost impossible to venture into the region of tomorrow. But it is equally impossible and impractical for a church to have a presence in the community without the presence of Christ in the lives and practices of each member and each individual associated with the church.

There is no doubt that John Wesley had things in place when he began what would become the Methodist Revival. There is no doubt that he had a vision of the future, a church that was responsive to the needs of the people.

And yet, until that moment that we have come to call Aldersgate, the Methodist movement was wallowing in abject failure. What drove John Wesley to the Aldersgate chapel that May evening in 1738 was a sense of failure, that no matter hard he worked, nothing he had done amounted to anything.

And what many people do not know is that so great was this sense of failure that Charles Wesley was convinced that he was about to die because of it. But when he compared his experiences with his brother John, he would discover that the burden of illness was lifted from him at almost the same time that John felt his heart strangely warmed. In both cases, the presence of the Holy Spirit became a part of their lives and it was that presence that would change the direction and fortune of the Methodist Revival.

A blogging colleague of mine, John Meunier, a local United Methodist Pastor in Indiana, offers the following thoughts:

We United Methodists talk about John Wesley in a lot of odd ways. We quote him, sometimes wildly out of context.

But for good or ill, he is part of what makes us who we are as Christians. A group of English Christians became convinced of some core truths about the real meaning of Christianity and being a Christian. They put those ideas into practice. And 300 years later, here we are.

When someone asks me what makes United Methodism different from another denomination, I nearly always go to Wesleyan theology.

One answer that I came up with a couple years ago and continue to find confirmed in my reading and experience comes down to one word: holiness. Wesley often quoted Hebrews 12: 14b – “without holiness no one will ever see the Lord.” He wrote over and over about the connection between holiness and salvation. Indeed, he saw them as two different words for the same thing.

Holiness is the state in which our heart is filled with love for God and humankind. It is the place in which we follow the laws of God with joy. It is the condition of soul in which we rejoice in God our savior whatever comes our way.

Before any other doctrine or practice that would become hallmarks of Methodism occurred to John Wesley, he was convinced of this doctrine: without holiness, no one will see the Lord. Indeed, this doctrine was a source of great anxiety for Wesley because he knew he was not holy. Aldersgate was such a relief because he discovered something that explained why he had failed so often. (from John Meunier, “Methodists: Holiness is essential”

It is very easy to say that one is a member of a church and that they are a Christian but such words are often hollow if the actions of the individual do not match the words and the thoughts. Paul several times tells the Christians to “clothe themselves” with behaviors and practices indicative of their status as “God’s chosen ones,” not unlike Samuel wearing the ephod and the robe. These practices include compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, and love, “the belt of perfection” (3:12-14). All of these things take time and considerable practice to “put on.” They must be learned and practiced intentionally in communities as dedicated to these things as a priestly community is dedicated to its craft. One might call these the “habit of community.”

It bothers some people when you tell them that they need be wearing the cloak of Christ. They were brought up in believing and expecting that one’s personal belief in Christ is a private, personal statement. They equate the wearing of the cloak of Christ to the preacher, perhaps standing on the street corner and holding his Bible high in the air while exhorting the people to repent of their ways.

And I have met many people who don’t have a clue as to what they are to do when their pastor, perhaps Southern born and Southern bred, closes a particularly moving passage in the sermon with a request for the congregation to shout “AMEN!”

But wearing the cloak of Christ is not about where you were born, how you were raised, what translation of the Bible you read, or what songs you sing. It is about where Christ is in your life. You may go about working to meet the goals of the church but if Christ is not in your life while you are doing it, it will be an almost emotionless, mechanical response. You may believe, as I once did, that all one has to do is work for peace and justice and live a righteous life and all will turn out well in the end.

But, one afternoon in 1969, at one of the darkest points of my life, a point one might consider my Aldersgate moment, it was pointed out to me that nothing I did, no matter how good the job may be, will get me into Heaven. It is by God’s grace and the death of Christ on the cross that I have the access that I think my work here on earth will give me.

It may bother people that works without faith just get one hot, tired, and sweating. They may decide that it is not worth the effort. But we also have to understand that the opposite view, faith without works, does little to build the Kingdom of God.

And if you understand what it truly, truly means to be an United Methodist, then you understand that to walk in the footsteps of Philip Otterbein, Martin Boehm, John & Charles Wesley or to ride the trails that Francis Asbury once rode, you have to put your faith to work.

It is with that understanding that our faith, our lives are always going to fall short of the perfection of Christ but that should not stop us from seeking that perfection. If we are not going to seek the perfection of Christ in our lives, if we are not going to give our best for Christ, then who do we do it for? Sure we are bound to make mistakes but to do nothing so that you don’t make any mistakes is probably worse. If you do nothing with your faith, you neither grow in faith or spirit or help others to do likewise. (Can I have an AMEN!).

The plans of the church, the vision of the future are all meaningless unless you first not only put on the cloak of Christ but you let Christ into your life and let Him, through the Holy Spirit, work through you.

We are given a gift each year and a lot of times I think we leave it unopened under the tree. It is not in a fancy wrapped box, often times, it is not even seen. But it is the real and existing presence of Christ, that began that first Christmas some two thousand years ago and continues to shine each and every day. If one lets it, it will outshine every other light; but even if it just adds an after-glow to the scenery, it cannot be hidden.

At this point, I will be bringing a box from underneath the Christmon Tree next to the pulpit and opening it up. Inside is a large light bulb that will increase in luminosity as I increase the current. Hopefully, it will give the feeling of the Holy Spirit present.

Christ did not have to die on the cross but He choose to do so. Our choice is a far simpler one. We don’t have to do a thing. But the world will remain dark and cold.

Or we can take the presence of Christ from underneath the tree and take it into the world and through our thoughts, our words, our deeds, and our actions help it to grow until it shines throughout the whole world and universe.

“Top Posts for 2012”

Here are the top posts for 2012. Since I really didn’t post much new stuff this year, the list looks a lot like last year’s list (“Top Posts for 2011”).

I am not sure what 2013 will look like from a blogging standpoint. We are continuing the Saturday morning devotionals at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen and if I give the devotional, then it will be posted. (Get in touch with me if you are in the Newburgh area and want to present the devotional some Saturday).

  1. The Chemistry of Bowling – July 26, 2008 (#1 in 2011)
  2. Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch – November 18, 2009 (#3)
  3. What is a part per million? – February 19, 2010 (#8)
  4. Why Do We Celebrate Palm Sunday? – March 13, 2008 (#2)
  5. Who Cuts the Barber’s Hair? – September 15, 2009 (#5)
  6. A Collection of Sayings – January 17, 2008 (#4)
  7. John Wooden – A Review of “A Game Plan for Life – the power of Mentoring” by John Wooden and Don Yager– October 9, 2009 (#7)
  8. What Does Stewardship Mean to Me – November 6, 2005 (#13)
  9. Hearing God Call – January 7, 2009 (#12)
  10. A Brief History of Atomic Theory – April 27, 2011 (#9)
  11. The Dilemma of Modern Christianity – April 18, 2009 (#6)
  12. The Twelve Disciples – Were they management potential? – October 3, 2008 (#14)
  13. A Child’s Book Report on the entire Bible” – November 6, 2005 (not ranked)
  14. What Does It Mean To Be Called? – August 30, 2008 (#16)
  15. The Difference Between Football in the North and South – October 8, 2006 (#10)
  16. A Cake Without Baking Powder” – October 8, 2006 (unranked)
  17. Just What Is The Right Thing To Do?” – June 28, 2008, (unranked)
  18. The Difference Between Republicans and Democrats” – November 27, 2008, (unranked)
  19. Describe Your Pastor” – March 11, 2008, (unranked)
  20. A Scout is Reverent – February 2, 2010 (#19)

My all-time list is

  1. The Chemistry of Bowling (#1 in 2011)
  2. Why Do We Celebrate Palm Sunday? (#2)
  3. Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch – November 18, 2009 (#4)
  4. A Collection of Sayings (#3)
  5. John Wooden – A Review of “A Game Plan for Life – the power of Mentoring” by John Wooden and Don Yager– October 9, 2009 (#5)

“Thoughts for Christmas Day, 2012”

“For unto us a child is born”

A child was born this morning into a world of violence and hatred, into a world of military power and oppression, into a world where peace was proclaimed around the world but it was a peace obtained through might and not love.

It was and is a world where what matters is more a measure of where you came from and not who you are. It is not what is in your heart but what is your bank account that counts the most. It was and is a world that measures success by the amount of stuff that you have and how much stuff you can amass.

It was and is a world where it what you do for me is more important that what I do for you.

This was the world into which Jesus Christ was born but how much different is the world today? Twenty children and six adults at an elementary school are killed with a gun and many people say that we need more guns. How much different is that from the Pax Romana where peace was maintained through oppression?

We send our young off to war in far away lands and when they come home we toss them aside. What did the parents of Roman soldiers say or think when their sons were sent off to Roman outposts in the Galilee or England? Were the wars and police actions of the Roman army any different from our engagement in Afghanistan?

We have turned the birth of a child into a major economic scenario. We are more concerned with the presents we buy than we are with the significance of Jesus’ birth. And I sometimes, quite honestly, think that we don’t want to know much about the birth.

We sing of the shepherds visiting the family, not realizing the social statement that this makes. We forget that shepherds were the outcasts of society in Jesus’ birth and for them to receive the Good News of Jesus’ birth first was a major social statement that the lowest of society would be the first in God’s Kingdom.

The wise men came seeking the Christ Child and yet today wisdom and thought no longer seem to matter. The wise men had to leave the comfort of their home and go beyond normal boundaries to seek new knowledge and yet today we are fearful what lies over the horizon and beyond the boundaries of our lives. I have no doubts that the wise men understood why Herod wanted to know where this young child was; they understood the meaning of the message of the angel that they should return home by another route. Are we as willing to day to discern the difference by the desires of the powerful and greedy and the needs of the people?

We woke this morning to the knowledge that innocent people were killed and we may never know why. We woke this morning with wars and violence all around the world. The world in 2012 is not much different from what it was over two thousand years ago.

But just as we celebrate the birth of a child two thousand years ago, we celebrate the birth of children today here, in our own extended family twins were born yesterday, and elsewhere. If there is to be a future, it will be in the children and how we treat them.

A child was born some two thousands years ago and His Birth determined our future.

We can continue to live in this world of hatred and war and know that there is no future.

Or we can honor Christ’s Birth and continue the mission, the ministry that began two thousand years and know that there will be a future.

How we respond to Christ’s Birth this Christmas day will tell us what our future shall be.

“What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?”

This is the message I gave at Neon (KY) United Methodist Church on 20 December 1998 for the 4th Sunday in Advent (A). The Scriptures for this Sunday were Isaiah 7: 10 – 16, Romans 1: 1 – 7, and Matthew 1: 18 – 25.

Some years ago I bought a book entitled “What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?” (“What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?”, D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe) It is an interesting outline of the impact Christ’s birth had on this planet and on our society. Of the various areas that the authors identified, there were two that were especially interesting to me.

Were it not for Christ and the development of Christianity, the university system that we are familiar with today would probably not exist. Education at all levels flourished because of the need by the common people to be literate so that they could read and understand the Bible. The development of Sunday School is a singularly significant outcome of the early Methodist church. With children as young as 11 or 12 working 60-hour work weeks along side their parents and other adults in the factories and mines of industrial England, Sunday was the only day that they could get any schooling. John Wesley started the first Sunday School so that these children could get some education and to show them that God had not forgotten about them.

And lest we not forget, the first universities in this country were founded to prepare individuals to be preachers. And John Wesley continually encouraged preachers to be literate so that they could study and further understand the Gospels.

Another area where Christ’s presence on earth was felt was in the area of science. It stands to reason that as we become more educated, we become capable of asking more questions. The central point to any research is to answer a specific question but we have to realize that 1) not all questions are answerable within the framework of science and 2) for every question that we do answer, we are likely to discover two more questions. And while science and technology may offer many solutions, they can also create additional problems.

In Genesis 11: 1 – 9 is the story of the Tower of Babel.

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As mean moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” The used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language that have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all over the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel – because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Here the people of the world at that time sought to build a tower that would reach to the heaves; in essence, making them equal to God. The commentary for verse 6 said that if the whole human race remained united and successful in this proud attempt to take its destiny into its own hands, the earthly kingdom of man would replace the heavenly Kingdom of God.

If we begin to think that the solution to all our problems comes from a faith in ourselves, then we will quickly find ourselves failing. For a world seen through a primarily empirical viewpoint is a life devoid of spirituality. And in this world, we quickly find ourselves like Ahaz in the OT reading for today.

Ahaz was too busy to listen to God that day feeling that problems such as a threat to invasion should be taken care of by more practical means. To merely trust in God, as Isaiah suggested, was naive. Ahaz was not the first king of Israel who felt that protection for the kingdom of Israel lie in the material world. And every king that felt this inevitably lost the battles he was preparing for. As the prophecy of Isaiah suggests, the battle that Ahaz was preparing for would also be lost.

Ahaz choose not to listen to God. But it is proof of the grace of God that He continued to try and communicate with this errant king. Many times we are like Ahaz, choosing to following our own paths and ignoring the presence or signs of God’s presence in our life.

God is not real to most of us because of the conditions of our consciousness. He is closer to our minds every moment than our own thoughts. He is nearer to our hearts than our own feelings. He is more intimate with our wills than our most vigorous decisions. If we are not aware of him, it is not because he is not with us. It is, in part, because our consciousness is so under the sway of other interests that it cannot turn to him with the loving attention which might soon discern him.

Did you ever encounter, on the street, a friend whose physical eyes looked at you without seeing you? You walked right into him before the alien look on his face changed into one of recognition. Then he confessed that he had been so absorbed in thought about some other matters that had not been aware of you, until your intentional collision with him. You were there, yet he did not see you. Though actually in your presence, he was nevertheless as unconscious of you as if you did not exist.

That is a persistent failure of the unemancipated consciousness. It can be so preoccupied by lesser realities that it does not sense the presence of the divine Reality surrounding and sustaining it. Something has to happen to end that absorption in other affairs, so that it can turn its attention to God.

Sometimes events will do it. One encounters God in a crisis that, as we say, “brings one to one’s senses.” Death, disaster, sickness, the collapse of friendship, are like the collision on the street. They shatter the tyranny of an idea or a dream, and release consciousness for the awareness of something greater than the idea or the dream – God himself.

It would be a very poor sort of life that was aware of people only when it collided with them, or was brought up standing by some decisive act of theirs. And it is a tragic life that becomes conscious of God only in those events that shatter its habitual thoughts and dreams and compels it to recognize his presence and activity.
What makes life splendid is the constant awareness of God. What transforms the spirit into his likeness is intimate fellowship with him. We are saved – from pettiness and earthiness and selfishness and sin – by conscious communion with his greatness and love and holiness. (From Discipline and Discovery by Albert Edward Day)

Such a collision of thoughts occurred when Saul went to Damascus to persecute the followers of Jesus. But meeting Jesus on that road not only softened Saul’s heart and opened it to the Word, it changed his life and Saul became Paul, not the persecutor of Christians but rather the first missionary to spread the Gospel. As Saul, he was lot like those he wrote to in Romans.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God –the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

The people of the world had heard the prophets, they knew that God was going to keep his promise to send a sign, a young child who would be named Immanuel. But though the people had heard the word, they did not know what it meant because they had strayed from God and would not listen.

Joseph could have easily divorced Mary, either through public humiliation and stoning as was the law of the time. This was the case in John 8 when the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery before Jesus for judgement, though the Pharisees changed the meaning of the law in Deuteronomy to meet their own needs. But Joseph chose not to do that because he was a righteous man. And because he was a righteous man, he heard and understood the words of the Holy Spirit who told him why his betrothed wife was pregnant.

God made us a promise. This week we celebrate that promise. But what if our mind and heart are not open to the message of that promise? By being open to the Holy Spirit, both Joseph and Mary were able to understand all that was to take place at this time so many years ago. No longer should we ask what would have happened if Jesus had not been born, for that is a discussion for the philosophers. What if Jesus is trying to talk you today? In this time of celebration and reflection, are you prepared to hear his voice?

“Completing the Circle”

Here are the thoughts that I presented as the devotional at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen for the 4th Sunday in Advent. The Scriptures were Micah 5: 2 – 6, Hebrews 10: 5 – 10, and Luke 1: 39 – 55. We will be continuing the devotions after Advent is complete.

Four Saturdays ago, we began lighting the Advent Wreath, candle by candle. Today, after lighting the candles of Hope, Peace, and Joy, we will close the circle by lighting the candle of Love. The circle is complete and the wreath will be finished on Monday when we light the Christ Candle in the middle.

There is always something special about circles, the geometric object with no beginning and no end. You can pick a place to start but when you are done you are where you began. If Advent is the season of preparation of the coming of Christ, it means that we have that opportunity to begin again, to start over, refreshed and renewed.

In a world that seems so bent on continuing the old ways, of trying things that haven’t worked in the past, we have the opportunity to try new things. This journey of Advent has been especially trying for many people this year. In a journey that was meant to focus on the birth of a single child, violence and death struggle to take us away from that focus.

But we hear the words of the prophet Micah who speaks of the child that will be born in Bethlehem and whose birth will signal a new time for the people of Israel, for all people. It will be a new time with a safe home. This child will be the Peacemaker.

This child will be a shepherd, protecting the flock. He will not be the mighty warrior many people expected, to lead an army and overthrow the occupiers of the land.

In the Gospel reading for today, Mary speaks of the child that she will bear and how the world will change because of his birth. She speaks of the poor sitting down to a banquet while the rich are left out in the cold, of how the downtrodden and forgotten will be lifted up from the mud. It will be through God’s mercy that the world will change.

In the Book of Hebrews, the writer points out that Jesus offers a new plan, a different way, and not just a continuation of the old. The ways of the Old Testament have been found wanting, of being incomplete. The Coming of Christ offers a new plan, a new way, a way of making life complete.

But will we change because Jesus was born? We have this wonderful opportunity to change our lives, to get away from the old ways, the ways that speak of greed and selfishness, of violence and destruction, of oppression and move towards what this Advent wreath represents, Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

That is why the Advent wreath is a circle and why lighting the candle of Love makes it complete. All that is left is to light the Christ Candle on Christmas Eve and bring Christ into your heart.

So we light the fourth candle this morning, the candle of Love. The journey of Advent is complete; our journey is just beginning.

“In Preparation – 2”

This is the devotion that I presented on Saturday morning for the 2nd Sunday in Advent (8 December 2012) at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen. I used the lectionary readings (Malachi 3: 1 – 4, Philippians 1: 3 – 11, and Luke 3: 1 – 6) as the basis for the devotion. We also tried something this morning with Mo Orozco reading the passage from Luke in both English and Spanish; I want to thank Mo for his help as we seek to build a bi-lingual ministry at Grace.  My notes for the 2nd and 3rd Sunday of Advent will be posted sometime this weekend.

We begin this week by lighting the 1st candle of the Advent Wreath, the candle of hope.

Luke speaks of John the Baptist who went around Israel telling people to repent of their sins and begin anew. Luke wrote of every path being made smooth, of their being no detours on the road to Salvation.

This doesn’t mean that life becomes easier when one follows Christ. In fact, it is probably a harder life. The other day I was speaking with someone about the nature of Christianity today and how many people feel that if they do certain things a certain number of times, they will earn enough “points” to get into Heaven. But that isn’t what gets you into heaven and you cannot “buy” your way into heaven. Good works are nice but not if you are doing them for your own personal gain. If you are not leading a life that reflects the love that Christ had for us, all that you do will have no meaning in the end. Second, when you do something in this manner, it is entirely possible to do it without emotion and in an almost mechanical manner; what kind of life is one where everything is almost robot-like?

When John the Baptizer and Jesus spoke of repentance, they weren’t telling the people to say that they were sorry. Repentance is not an apology to God or others; it is a change in one’s life. It comes with the realization that one is headed in the wrong direction and that you have to stop whatever you are doing and change the direction of your life.

When we first opened Grannie Annie’s Kitchen some two years ago we had to tell everyone to leave their baggage outside the building. Remember, though this place is a kitchen, it is still part of a church and the baggage of the outside world has no place here. Repentance means, to some extend, to drop all of that baggage that is holding you back and leave it behind.

The Baptizer spoke of the one who was to come, who would change lives. The prophet Malachi said that this individual, this Messiah, would be

like white-hot fire from the smelter’s furnace. He’ll be like the strongest lye soap at the laundry. He’ll take his place as a refiner of silver, as a cleanser of dirty clothes. He’ll scrub the Levite priests clean, refine them like gold and silver, until they’re fit for God, fit to present offerings of righteousness. Then, and only then, will Judah and Jerusalem be fit and pleasing to God, as they used to be in the years long ago.

Now some, locked into today’s world view, would say that the Messiah will have a mighty army and will defeat the forces of darkness on some great plain. But we are preparing for a child to be born; how can a child lead a great army? How can one who will be called the Prince of Peace lead a great army?

Repentance requires that we change our way of thinking. To accept Christ is to accept a new life, a life based on hope, love, joy, and peace. It means giving up the ways of the world, of finding solutions through violence and greed; it means doing things because they need to be done, not because you will receive some great reward.

It means working for peace and justice in this world. The second candle of the Advent Wreath is always a different color. On our wreath, it symbolizes peace and it has to stand out in a world that often wants to hide it. We have lit the light of hope; now we light the candle of peace. In a world so often darkened by the worst of mankind, let this light of peace shine so that we can see and prepare for a new life in Christ.

“In Preparation”

This is the devotion I presented this morning (Saturday, December 1, 2012) at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen. I used the lectionary Scriptures (Jeremiah 33: 14 – 16, 1 Thessalonians 3: 9 – 13, and Luke 21: 25 – 36) as the basis for this devotional.

What was it that Simon and Garfunkel sang, “Look around, leaves are brown, it’s a hazy shade of winter.” Clearly when we woke up this morning, every side pointed to the coming of winter.

In the Gospel reading from Luke for this morning, Jesus speaks of the fig tree and how one can see the coming of summer from the changing of the leaves. Our first understanding of time came from our observations of the changing of the seasons, from spring to summer, summer to fall, fall to winter, and winter to spring again. The signs of change are always there for us to see.

There are some, of course, who see the signs that Jesus spoke about, earthquakes, fire, war and destruction, as the signs of the end times. These individuals see in the happenings of the world the destruction of the world by God, not by man. And they cheer and celebrate because they are convinced that they will be the ones to survive and prosper. Never mind that there will be no world for them to inhabit; they will be the ones who win the battle and so they celebrate.

But any celebration that focuses on the now is one without a vision of tomorrow. And if there is no vision for tomorrow, how can there be a promise of hope. And if there is no hope, Christmas loses its meaning.

Somewhere along the line we have forgotten why we have Christmas. It is lost in the commercial hustle and bustle, of the desire to make sure that everyone has a gift that will insure that the gift giver gets something of equal or greater value in return. We fail to remember that the wisemen and shepherds brought gifts to the Baby Jesus but Mary and Joseph did not give them any gifts. And when Christmas is over, the decorations are quickly put away and life returns to normal.

But life after Christmas can never be normal, if we understand what it is about and why we even think about it. And that is why we have Advent, the seaon of preparation. If life after Christmas is supposed to be something different, then we have to prepare for the change. We see the signs; we know that there is a change taking place and we can either ignore the change or prepare for what is to come.

The other day I wondered why God sent Jesus to live with us as a child. Why didn’t he just select someone else? But, God had selected someone else; we call them the prophets and the people have this nasty tendency to dismiss the words and call of a prophet. Besides, the words and call of a prophet are for today, not tomorrow. They may speak of tomorrow but they are speaking to us today. The prophets spoke of the child that would be born and would lead the people.

In a child we see the promise of tomorrow, the promise of hope. In Jesus, the child, we know that there will be a tomorrow, that these are not the end times but the beginning times. Our celebration is not for today but for tomorrow and the tomorrows that will come.

Paul asked the Thessalonians what would be an adequate thanksgiving to offer God for the joy we experience before him because of you. For Paul, it is what the people in Thessalonika are doing that speaks of the world of Christ in this world.

So too is it for us this morning? How can we show the joy and peace found in Christ to the world? Do we speak of the end times and the destruction of the world? I really don’t see how that can ever be.

There is a different story, it is one symbolized by the first candle on the Advent wreath, the light of hope. For if there is hope in this world, there is a tomorrow. For everyone who seeks a way out of the darkness of the world in which they live, a world that perhaps seems headed towards finality and destruction, the light of Christ offers hope.

The story does not end with the coming of Christ; the story begins. And on this 1st Sunday of Advent, we begin to prepare for the coming of Christ and the child who brings hope.