Monday, December 29, 2008

The Days of Christmas Week

Last week was a whirlwind of activity--lots of people, lots of food, lots of commotion. It was enough to make a body weary in the best of circumstances. Since Marty and her family were coming and since we hadn't all been together to open gifts together in a long time, we decided to wait until they were here before sharing gifts among children and grandchildren. They drove all day on Saturday, arrived about 9:30 p.m., Tommy and I both preached on Sunday morning so we gathered late in the afternoon for dinner and to see what had been left under the tree. It was fun to watch the cousins interact and to enjoy being together.

Now we are immersed in college bowl games, often not knowing much about the teams we are watching. Since Kevin is connected to the University of North Carolina, we were sorry to see them lose the other night and since he and Marty live in Raleigh, we were pulling for NC State this afternoon when they lost to Rutgers. Years of living in California had us rooting for Cal against Miami the other night. Tonight we are taping the Missouri game for an octogenarian friend who played football in his days there. We'll get real serious with our watching and choice of teams when the SEC games get in full swing. Already, I'm keeping up with Mississippi State basketball online and wishing we could go to games like we did in our younger, healthier days.

I mentioned that Tommy and I both preached on Sunday. We both went to the lectionary readings for sermon texts and did touch base off and on during the week to see where each of us was headed, but our sermons were not alike. He followed the Old Testament passage and the passage from one of Paul's letters. I chose to use Psalm 148 for a call to worship and the gospel reading in Luke, concluding with the passage in Galatians 4. Tommy's title was "That Was Then; This is Now;" mine was "Beyond the Manger." I will always be amazed at the way God opens His word to those of us privileged to share it and gives us different insights.

We have a couple more days of being with family before we get back to the business of treating cancer. Tom and I go to Corinth Friday for an appointment with the oncologist and the next chemo treatment. I have always believed that if you take your medicine, follow the doctor's orders, and rest when the body dictates, you should feel fine and be able to go on with everyday activities. Now I'm finding that age and the multiple chemotherapy treatments I've had are taking its toll. It's been more than three weeks since my last infusion and I stay tired. The drug itself is affecting my feet and hands, making them most uncomfortable and mouth sores make it hard to eat at times. I say this to say that I usually say when asked how I am, that I am fine and I'm tired of not being entirely truthful. Let me be quick to add, however, that though my body isn't in the best shape, my spirit is strong because it is God's Spirit that keeps me going. In our trek through the wilderness called life, we are to trust and give God the glory. I covet your prayers for the journey.

Pastor Margaret

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Advent - Day 26

Celebration – Luke 2:8-20
Thursday, December 25

Merry Christmas! Today is the day of celebration. It is the day we celebrate Jesus’ birth. We have prepared the way for the Lord. He has come into your hearts and into mine. Glory to God in the highest!

Emotions run high today. We are glad to be with family, excited to watch the children open their gifts, touched by the thoughtfulness of others. We are also hurried and concerned to get the whole dinner ready and on the table all at once. By mid-afternoon or early evening a wave of fatigue washes over us and maybe the thought, “I’m glad today is over,” enters our tired brains. The day is over, but the truth of what we celebrate lives forever. May we never forget!

Food for thought: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever
Psalm 107:1).

Tom and I wish you the most joyous of Christmases! As we have gotten older and our activities during the season have decreased, we find we have more and more time to count our blessings and to really focus on the birth of our Lord. Try as we might, the "Reason for the season" sometimes has gotten pushed into the background, but now, in retirement, we celebrate more than ever. That, in itself, blesses us.

I posted this final Advent devotional early today because we have dinner at our house tonight with Tommy, Liz and children and Liz's parents who are here this week from Natchez. After I'm finished with the last dish, I'll be ready for bed! We have been busy in the kitchen most of the day doing things ahead of time so we're both taking a brief rest. Fortunately, Tom has felt like assisting which not only makes things easier for me, but more enjoyable as well. He has kept the dishes washed and made umpteen trips to the freezer!

We have heard from many of you and want you to know that we treasure each and every communication just as we treasure each and every one of you! God bless you as you celebrate this most holy of days.

Pastor Margaret

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Advent - Day 25

Excitement – Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Wednesday, December 24

It is Christmas Eve. We are busy, but we are excited. Last minute shopping, wrapping, and food preparation needs to be done. The excitement is energizing. I remember the years we spent hurrying through the day to get to handbell or choir practice before the five o’clock church service, rushing to get to a big family dinner and then dashing home to get the children to bed before getting everything just right for Christmas morning. I get tired just thinking of those years, but wouldn’t change a thing. Being with friends in worship, seeing the church decorated with pine and magnolia garlands, gathering for communion in the warm glow of candlelight added to the excitement of the day.

Excitement is an emotion to share. We can sense it in someone’s actions, their attitude and in their words. What exciting words were shared with the Israelites by the prophet Isaiah! He even writes that he cannot keep silent as he tells of the change that will take place when the Messiah comes. Just as he said, we are called by a new name—Christ’s ones; we are priceless in God’s hand and God takes delight in us.

Questions to consider: Are you excited today? Why/why not? Will you share the excitement of being a Christian with someone else?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Advent - Day 24

Impatience – Psalm 130
Tuesday, December 23

Here it is two days before Christmas and the children are impatient. They keep asking, How much longer? When can we open presents? They have made their lists; they see mysterious packages under the tree; they grow tired of waiting.

Psalm 130 expresses the somewhat controlled impatience of the Israelites as they wait for the Lord’s deliverance. In John Rutter’s Requiem there is a musical interpretation of this psalm. The music begins with low, slow, haunting bass notes that portray a feeling of doom and despair, but as it continues, the mood quickens and brightens when the words, I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. In a few measures the message changes moods from impatience to excitement. Waiting was hard for the Israelites. It is hard for us, but in Him, there is hope.

Questions to consider: Is there something for which you wait before the Lord? Do you grow weary, impatient with waiting? Can you sing with the psalmist of your trust in God’s unconditional love for you personally?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Advent - Day 23

Loneliness – Psalm 27
Monday, December 22

Maybe you are wondering about “loneliness,” the word for today and its placement following “love.” For some, “loneliness” may seem out of place, but others know that the Christmas holidays can be the loneliest days of the year. Loved ones distanced by war; families split apart by disagreements or divorce; those experiencing the holidays for the first time since the passing of a spouse, a parent, a child or friend all have something in common. There is an empty, lonely place in their hearts. These may be the obvious lonely ones, but there may be others: the self-confident, well dressed person who shares the pew with you in church; the life of the party who laughs the loudest; some you least expect are especially lonely this time of year.

You may be the lonely one. If so, take comfort in Psalm 27, written by David as a prayer asking God to deliver him from those who sought to harm him. It expresses David’s faith in an ever present, loving God, one who is ready and able to fill our lives with good things.

Questions to consider: Have you ever felt alone during the holidays? Have you been lonely in the midst of a crowd? How do you cope? Could you help with someone’s loneliness today?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Advent - Day 22

Love – I Corinthians 13; John 3:16
Sunday, December 21

Love came down at Christmas, a sentiment expressed on greeting cards, both religious and secular. What exactly is the message? For Christians, the answer comes quickly: “Christmas is the time when we celebrate the birth of Jesus.” Non-Christians might reply: “Christmas is a family time, a time of giving, a time to share with those who are close to us.” My initial response to such a saying is: “Love does not just come at Christmas, it never stops.” Maybe your answer might include something from all three answers.

Love is definitely in the air. As we begin this final week in the Advent Season we might experience a sense of urgency, coupled with a feeling of well being—a strange combination. Activity is either winding down or increasing with intensity. We have been through most of the services and programs at the church except for Christmas Eve. Traffic is a nightmare, the mall is wall to wall people and the grocery store is a forbidden planet, yet love is in the air.

Questions to Consider: What is love? Does love define God? Or, does God define love? Can you substitute your name for “the world” in John 3:16?

Saturday was quite a day! I headed out to get a pedicure, only to be stopped at the nearest corner and told I had a flat tire. I had wondered what was knocking. The man who stopped me said the tire was pretty flat and that I should go to the nearest service station. Where is he from? Mars? What service station has someone to help with tires and such? I got to the next street, out of the traffic and called Tommy who came within three or four minutes and after a problem or two with the compressor, he put air in my tire and sent me to the tire store. I'm glad I postponed my pedicure because the tire store was getting ready to close within the next thirty minutes. Both my toes and the tire needed "nail attention." The toes will have to wait.

Jacob, Sarah and Drew spent a couple of hours with us this afternoon putting together a gingerbread house kit. It turned out pretty good, but Jake reminded me that we are really just amateur architects. About the time we finished, Liz came to take Tom shopping. Meredith stayed and played while they were gone. If only I could bottle some of the energy they have!

Tonight was the best night to decorate our tree if we wanted it done before Christmas so we decided on Chinese take out instead of anyone having to cook. Tom and I put on the hooks and the children did the decorating--even Meredith who is big enough this year. She will be three on the 21st. I love holding the ornaments, one by one, and remembering when each first graced our tree . Sometimes they have a story to the pottery angel I received at the big family tree the first year I was married; the red teardrop shaped ornaments that are replicas of those Dad and I put on the tree we sent Tom when he was in Vietnam; and the ones with pictures of our children on them. Christmas trees often reveal some of the history of the family and ours is no exception.

It was quite a day! It was busy, eventful, and lots of fun! We'll all sleep well tonight.

Pastor Margaret

Friday, December 19, 2008

Advent - Day 21

Grace – Titus 3:3-7
Saturday, December 20

A dreaded card to draw when playing Monopoly is the one that bears the instruction: Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. You are condemned, left there, until a lucky break occurs or you can buy your freedom. We have such a dreaded card in life. It’s called “sin.” That card condemns us and binds our wills until grace floods our hearts.

Grace, unmerited favor, is God’s “get out jail free” card. Today’s Scripture reading is a short, to the point lesson on the doctrine of grace. Because of God’s unconditional love we receive God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

Questions to consider: What other “Advent words” do you find in the Titus passage? Is grace truly amazing to you?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Advent - Day 20

Hope – Isaiah 40:28-31
Friday, December 19

Memories of the covenant are sure to bring us hope, just as there was hope in the hearts of the children of Israel. They expected God’s promise of a Messiah to come to fruition. More than that, they trusted God and they looked forward to the coming of Christ. Today, during Advent, we celebrate the first coming of Christ and look forward to the second coming. Herein is our hope!

There is also hope for everyday circumstances. During captivity the Israelites struggled to keep hope alive. Far from home, they were an oppressed people, but God speaks to them through Isaiah, the prophet, in today’s Scripture passage, reminding them who He is and what He will do for them. There are no better words of the assurance of God’s strong presence than these!

Questions to consider: When you are tired and weary, to whom do you turn? Do you hope in the Lord to renew your strength? How has God helped you in times of crisis?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Advent - Day 19

Joy – Isaiah 9:2-7
Thursday, December 18

Imagine for a moment that you and I are engaged in a word association exercise. You say “joy,” and I name occasions of joy that come to mind. Immediately I think of my wedding day; today, the anniversary of our son and his wife; getting a phone call from my husband saying he was on his way home from Vietnam; holding each of our children for the first time; every time a grandchild says, I love you. Happiness may be fleeting, but occasions such as these brought, and continue to bring, the deep, exhilarating, satisfying, lasting emotion of joy.

Joy is definitely a word associated with Christmas. Joy to the world, the Lord is come.
The angel told the shepherds not to be afraid for, I bring you news of great joy that will be for all people. Christ’s coming was an occasion of joy.

But, don’t confuse happiness with joy. Both might be described as feelings of elation, but happiness depends on circumstances and joy may be felt in spite of circumstances. Hope brings joy and is a direct result of a heart that trusts in God and God’s unfailing love.

Food for thought: The emotion of Isaiah 9:2-7 is one of joy. Reread it. This time read it aloud and with great joy.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Advent - Day 18

Memories – Jeremiah 31:31-34
Wednesday, December 17

Much of what has been written thus far has involved memories. We remember Christmases past, favorite foods, special gifts, our parents, our children—all so much a part of Christmas. When two people marry, they merge their memories and those memories become the foundations for how they establish and continue to celebrate the Christmas season. At dinner tables around the world people share their “remember whens.”

That first Christmas was also a time of memories, a time of “remember when.” I can hear it now: Do you remember when God made the covenant with Abraham? You do know, don’t you, that our ancestors were called ‘children of the Covenant?’ Do you remember when Yahjeh delivered His people from the bondage of slavery in Egypt? Best of all, I remember God’s promise: I will be your God and you will be my people.

Of all our Christmas memories, the best is that of God’s promise to send a Saviour that would assure our place in the family of God.

Questions to consider: What is your favorite Christmas memory? How do your memories of God’s covenant promise affect your celebration of Christmas?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Advent - Day 17

Pageants – Matthew 1:18-25
Tuesday, December 16

When our children were younger they participated in the usual choir and pageant programs at church. They looked so angelic in their slightly tilted halos, their choir robes and their shepherd look alike costumes. Sound familiar? During their teenage years, the pantomimed pageant gave way to the Living Christmas Drama, two shows a night for three nights running. We will never forget the polo pony that got away and had to be chased down the street or the gallons of hot chocolate served between shows. We will never forget the story acted out time and time again.

We remember the story, but do we also remember time and time again the miracle that took place that first Christmas night? The story itself is the fulfillment of God’s promise and the actions of Mary and Joseph exhibited their deep trust in and commitment to God.

Questions to consider: What does the fulfillment of God’s promise mean to you? Is there someone with whom you need to share God’s promise? Do you share Mary and Joseph’s trust in and commitment to God?

In the mid-fifties the church where Tom grew up began a live nativity scene, with real people, real animals, but they didn't move or have a script as the drama Tommy produced or the one he and Marty participated in as teenagers. Tom's parents were actively involved in the scene and arranged to get animals from the Jackson Zoo. After the first night they noticed that the donkey didn't seem exactly up to par, so they took him upstairs to the Fellowship Hall where Mom and Dad and the DCE (the lady who arranged our first date) nursed him into the night until he died. They were reluctant to call the zoo keeper, also a member of the the church, but he made them feel a bit better when they were told that the donkey was already sick.

Fast forward thirty or so years and find Tommy involved with the animals at the Living Nativity at Covenant Presbyterian, our church in Jackson, MS. A familiy in the church had polo ponies and they offered one as the centurion's horse for the performance. The horse got away and had to be chased down a busy street before he was caught. We never talk about the years of the performances that we don't ask, "Do you remember when the polo pony escaped?"

Well, the performance at 1st Presbyterian, Jackson, TN was delayed almost an hour the first night this year because the animals were involved in a wreck in route to the church. Someone hit the trailer carrying the animals. Fortunately, none were hurt and they arrived in good shape to add to the performance.

In years to come, our family will be remembering our history with nativity scenes at the churches where we have worshiped and we will laugh at the memories of the animals. Quietly we might reflect on the places of sheep and donkeys. They were lowly animals then; they are lowly now. Yet, God used them in the greatest of all Bible stories, the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. God can, and does, take the most insignificant creatures and use them for His glory. For that, I am most grateful!

Pastor Margaret

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Advent - Day 16

Music – Psalm 96
Monday, December 15

Our mom loved Christmas music more than anyone else I know. Every year on the day after Thanksgiving, she would assemble all of her Christmas records and from then until the tree came down on New Year’s Day she played them from the time she awoke until she went to bed. She didn’t discriminate among carols, classics or secular songs. She loved them all and I loved walking in the back door and hearing music.

The book of Psalms was the hymnbook for the children of Israel and for many years these were the only songs sung in worship. Different writers expressed their deepest emotions and proclaimed their love and devotion to God. Psalm 96 was written as a “new song” for the whole earth to sing in its adoration of God and it told of God’s wonderful works. Its timeless words remind us of our God who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Questions to consider: What is your favorite Christmas song? Why is it your favorite? Could you write a “new song” to celebrate Christ’s birth?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Advent - Day 15

Church – Acts 2:42-47
Sunday, December 14

“Church” means different things to different people. It is a building, a place of worship, an address. It can be used to indicate not only where we are going, but what we will do when we get there. If I say, “I’m going to church,” you will have some understanding of what happens there. There is both a visible church and an invisible Church. Visibly it is the building and/or the group of people who belong there and is spelled with a lower case “c”. The invisible Church is the Body of Christ—all of those around the world who profess Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, always spelled using the upper case “C”. There are different ways to worship, different architectural styles, different musical preferences, different denominations within the Christian faith, but always a common denominator: belief in the Lord Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Saviour.

Those who were a part of the early church in Jerusalem would not have defined “church” as we do today. It was not a place because there was no common building and to say in public “I’m going to church,” could have been dangerous. Yet, that early church provided a pattern for all the churches which have followed. Simply put, they paid attention to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer, always sharing their possessions with others.

Questions to consider: Compare your “church experience” with that of the early Christians. How does it compare? Is there something that needs improving?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Advent - Day 14

Nativity – Luke 2:1-7
Saturday, December 13

The pocket dictionary I often consult defines “nativity” as: birth, especially with regard to the time, place, or circumstances surrounding it and it goes on to define the Nativity as 1) the birth of Christ. You probably already knew that—but not everyone does.

A couple of months ago I went to a popular toy store in search of a nativity scene play set for a grandchild. A young woman saw me scanning the shelves and asked if she could help me. I told her what I was looking for and she gave me a blank stare as she said, “a what?”

I gave a few clues: “You know, the stable and manger with people and animals a child can move around.”

“Oh, you mean the play farm.”

“No, I’m looking for something that is a play scene of the birth of Jesus.” Only then did she get it. Here I am in the Bible Belt and a person did not know what a nativity set is.

Believe it or not, there are people we know or other people we encounter daily who do not know of the birth of Jesus or why He came. What better time than now to share the good news of Jesus Christ with family, friends and neighbors!

Questions to consider: Do you know someone who needs to hear the Christmas story? How can you use the nativity scenes in your home to tell what Jesus means to you? Is there someone you could invite to the Living Nativity Scene tonight?

Tonight is the second and final night of the Living Nativity Drama at 1st Presbyterian, Jackson, TN. There is beautiful scenery, fresh greenery, live animals, a star and, of course, the Star, the one whose birth is portrayed. In the supporting cast will be Jacob, as Joseph; Sarah, as an angel; and Drew, as the boy Jesus. I can't wait to see them! If you are reading this blog and are in the area, please come to either the six o'clock or the seven thirty performances. Our son, Tommy, is the producer, set builder and director. He learned well at the feet of his friend and youth director, Bill Ballou, when he was a teenager.

Wednesday night we enjoyed the children's musical program. Jacob was a reader, Sarah was an angel and Drew, a wise man. We almost missed Drew. His crown was twice as big as his head and only when we saw a little boy, peering out from under his crown did we recognize Drew. I think his glasses were the only thing keeping the crown from completely engulfing his head. Neither he nor Sarah missed a word in all the songs.

How fortunate we are to see our grandchildren as they grow!

Pastor Margaret

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Advent - Day 13

Friends – John 15:12-17
Friday, December 12

A sure sign of friendship during preschool years is if one is invited to another’s birthday party. I can still hear two oft repeated sentences: “I’ll be your best friend if . . .” and “I’ll invite you to my birthday if . . .” In other words, act like I want you to act and I’ll consider you my friend. Often that’s the way lifelong friendships begin, but as we grow, our friendships grow. Some of us are fortunate to maintain friendships with people we have known since preschool; others have friends that have come into our lives later and have stuck “closer than a brother.” During the holiday season we look forward to spending time with friends, receiving cards and letters, worshiping together. Special times are made even more special with special friends.

Jesus told his disciples that they were his friends. I wonder what they thought and how they responded to these particular words. It seems that they saw their relationship with Jesus more as a master to servant. We know that they did not fully comprehend who Jesus was and what his purpose on earth was. Now, here is Jesus calling them “friends,” expressing his confidence in them and his closeness to them. The Master is our friend and what a friend we have in him!

Questions to consider: What are the things you look for in a friend? Can you think of Jesus as your friend as well as your Saviour and Lord? In what ways does being Jesus’ friend affect your relationship?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Advent - Day 12 (Sorry for mixing up the days yesterday)

Parents – Exodus 20:12; Isaiah 66:13
Thursday, December 11

Thoughts of parents are a large part of our Christmas memories. They were the ones responsible for planning everything, from when and how we decorated the tree to what we would have for dinner. Many of us remember the sacrifices our parents made and the extra effort they made to make the holidays special. As I remember, I praise God for those memories of my mother, my aunt and uncle who gave me a home and my mother and father in law. I honor them as I have been taught in the Ten Commandments.

At the same time, I marvel at the unconditional love received from parents and the presence of the unconditional love we feel for our children. Even more amazing than that is the realization that God loves us unconditionally! Once, during our children’s teenage years, I was praying for them as I drove to work. I declared my love for them in my petitions for them and suddenly I was overwhelmed with the knowledge of that God loved them infinitely more than I ever could. God’s love for us far surpasses anything we can imagine.

Questions to consider: In what ways have you felt God’s unconditional love? When have you specifically been aware of God comforting you as a mother comforts her child?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Advent - Day 12

Children – Galatians 3:29; 4:7
Wednesday, December 10

It is often said that Christmas is for children. On the one hand such a statement makes me shudder as I think that whoever makes the statement does not understand the true meaning of Christmas. On the other hand, I agree. Christmas is for children: God’s children. We are heirs of God.

Sometimes the demeanor of children changes this time of year. In some cases more attention is paid to chores, manners improve, conversation and interaction with siblings is downright pleasant. Of course! There is a lot at stake! “Santa Claus is coming to town” and “you’d better be good for goodness sake.” We learn early to expect to be rewarded for our good deeds.

But as heirs, children of God, we have a place at God’s table in God’s house. We do not earn the reward; it is ours to inherit. We are heirs according to the promise, designated as sons and daughters. Jesus made this possible.

Questions to consider: Does thinking of yourself as a “child of God” add to your relationship with God? What does it mean to you to be an “heir according to the promise?”

Monday, December 08, 2008

Advent - Day 11

Light(s) – John 1:1-12; 9:5
Tuesday, December 9

Christmas lights have come a long way since the seventeenth century when small candles were glued onto branches with melted wax or attached with pins to light the trees. Originally they were used to illuminate ornaments on the tree. By 1890 candleholders were commonly used and replaced in the early 1900s with small lanterns and glass balls. The use of adding candles to light trees was first attributed to Martin Luther—a beautiful old custom, but one that would cause great concern for today’s fire marshals. From the early candles to the strings of twinkling waterproof lights of today we love the beauty and the symbolism.

Light is an important word of Christmas. John, in his gospel, emphasizes the difference in light and dark. He says that not only did Christ come to bring light into the dark world of sin, but that Christ is Light. The lights of Christmas are a wonderful reminder of the illumination that Christ brought not only to the world, but to us as individuals.

Questions to consider: In what way has Christ brought light into your life? Are there areas today that need the illumination of Christ? Do you reflect the light of Christ in your life?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Advent - Day 9

Getting or Giving – Luke 12:15; Psalm 100
Monday, December 8

A common question this time of year is “What are you getting for Christmas?” Running a close second is “What would you like (to get) for Christmas?” In our family we were always asked for lists of some things we would like and that habit continues. At times I wonder if asking those questions or asking for a list sends the wrong message.

Luke cautioned us to be on our guard against all greed, but even more to the point are his words that say our lives are not measured by our possessions. We are not defined by our material possessions—at any age.

Maybe a more appropriate question to ask is “What are you giving?” Following the admonition of Psalm 100 is a good place to start. When our hearts are centered on giving God thanks and praise, we become more alive to what we can give rather than what we will get.

Words to consider: What can I give Him, Poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a wise man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give Him: Give my heart. (taken from In the Bleak Midwinter, words by Christina Rossetti)

The hymn from which I took the "words to consider" is very special, not only because it's a favorite Christmas hymn, but it is one I asked our daughter Marty to sing at my ordination. She arranged it for piano and voice and I heard it for the first time after I was given the charge in the ordination service. I'll never forget these words, the haunting melody or her beautiful, clear voice. All God wants from any of us is for us to give Him our hearts--simple, and yet sometimes so difficult.

The routine scans I had scheduled for last Monday turned out to be anything but routine. The short story is that a vein was blown during the process, dye leakend into my arm and I have had a time with blisters every since. Originally it was thought the entire process would have to be repeated, but fortunately the pictures were clear enought to be usable. The oncologist on Friday told us that some of the signs of disease had disappeared and some were smaller so we know the chemo is working. As I reported to some, I was ready to break out in a loud rendition of the Doxology. And, one friend responded that it sounded more like the Hallelujah Chorus was in order. I do not know why God continues to pour out His favor on me, one who is so undeserving. Yet, I do know. It's all because of who God is: compassionate and full of grace and mercy. I don't ask for more life anymore; I just thank God for each day!

The shoe was on the other foot tonight. Carolers from the church came by, stood on our front porch in the cold, and sang to us. The first voice I heard was Drew, saying, "Hi, Maw Maw." Then when we opened the outer door, we got hugs from both Drew and Sarah. The experience was special, but especially so to see two of our angels right on the front row. All the years I took others caroling, I wondered if people really cared if we came or not. I know I cared tonight!

I trust your Christmas preparations are going well--both spiritually and physically. We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of extended family and anticipating our time with each and every one.

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Advent - Day 8

Gifts – Romans 6:23; II Corinthians 9:15
Sunday, December 7

Unless you are an early shopper and are all finished except to put the packages under the tree, you may still be thinking about buying the perfect gift. What do you give someone who “has everything?” What is the gift that “keeps on giving?” A sign in front of a church on Wallace Drive proclaims that “Jesus is the Greatest Gift of All.” The sign never changes and while one driving past might wonder why the sign is not updated from time to time, the truth of the matter is: the message never changes. Jesus, indeed, is the greatest gift of all.

The familiar words in Romans 6:23 clearly tell us that because we are sinners we deserve death. Don’t you love the way Paul makes use of the conjunction, “but?” He writes: For the wages of sin are death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord. God’s perfect gift to us is God’s son, truly an indescribable gift!

Questions to consider: Have you received the perfect gift? Has that gift continued to direct and impact your life? Is your gratitude indescribable?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Advent - Day 7

Aroma – Ephesians 5:1-2 (see also Gen. 8:21; Ex. 29; Lev. 1)
Saturday, December 6

We asked our children once to name one of their favorite things about Christmas and our son, without pausing, said that he liked the way the house smelled. He loved coming home and being drawn into the kitchen by the aroma of freshly baked cookies and stollen.
A live Christmas tree and cedar branches from the yard added to fragrance in the house. Pleasing aromas to be sure and a reminder to those coming home that someone cared enough about them to fill the house with pleasing aromas.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he exhorts his readers to imitate God and to live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (See Old Testament references in Gen. 8:21; Ex. 29:18, 25, 41; Lev. 1:9, 13, 17 and the text notes.) The “pleasing aroma” of burnt offerings was a way that God took delight in the worship of Him. Through their sacrifices God’s children offered themselves and atoned for their sins. The Christ of Christmas became the sacrifice and is that fragrant offering for both the Ephesians to whom Paul wrote and for us today.

Food for thought: When the pleasing aromas of the season fill your house, be reminded of Christ’s love for you and the sacrifice He made.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Advent - Day 6

Home – Proverbs 24:3-4
Friday, December 5

Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays, words from a familiar Christmas song bring feelings of nostalgia. Three places come to mind when I think of home and being home for the holidays: my aunt and uncle’s home in Southeast Georgia, home with my mother and father in law and the home where our children grew up. It’s not necessarily the places I remember, though I have vivid memories of them. The people who were there made them home.

When we were packing up our lives and moving across country from the house that had been home for over twenty years, our daughter ran across a letter received the first week we lived there. She was five at the time. The writer stated that he hoped she would like her new house and that he knew she would because it was where her family lived. He went on to say that houses are built of wood and bricks, but homes are made by the people who lived in them. Words we needed to read then and words I still carry in my heart.

The writer of Proverbs shared his blueprint for a home in chapter 24. His essential building materials are wisdom, understanding and knowledge. Thinking today of those places I call “home,” I know it is because they were safe, they provided shelter and I was loved and accepted there. There was shared wisdom, an abundance of understanding and a ready supply of knowledge. Home, there is no place like it!

Questions to consider: Where do you call home? Why? Is your home built with the Proverbs blueprint? Is there need for remodeling?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Advent - Day 5

Colors – Genesis 1:1; Exodus 35:20-35
Thursday, December 4

To me, the primary colors of Christmas are red and green, though I do enjoy arrangements or displays featuring gold or silver or blue. My all time favorite Christmas tree had a “blue section.” Our then five year old grandson was learning how to sort by color in kindergarten so he very carefully separated all the blue ornaments in the storage box from the others. He claimed the area of the tree he could best reach and hung only blue ornaments in that area. It was a beautiful sight!

In the beginning God created . . . colors of all hues, ranging from the deepest blues to the brightest yellows. God created colors, made them beautiful and pronounced them good. The Exodus passage for today’s reading is the account of God’s instructions of how the tabernacle was to be decorated. Attention is paid to color and detail. The most skilled craftsmen and artisans were assigned to the project.

The colors in nature amaze me. I am struck by beautiful designs; intricate needlework draws me like a magnet. See today the colors that surround you. Consider the beautiful design of your place of worship. Marvel at the paintings and the needlework in your home.

Questions to consider: When is the last time you have thanked God for His creation? Do you look upon artistic pieces and think of the creator or the Creator?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Advent - Day 4

Decorations – Psalm 93
Wednesday, December 3

Featured in the news the end of September were stories of a well known retailer’s plans to lower its prices on several toys to get people into the Christmas spirit earlier than usual. Christmas decorations took priority over fall pumpkins and Thanksgiving turkeys. Others followed suit and though we hadn’t even put away our summer clothes, stores were decorated for Christmas. I love the decorations, but suspect they could become a bit tiresome when left up for three months. Fresh greenery would have to be replaced, not once, but several times; the angel choir would collect lots of dust; the garland on the mantle would sag.

The way we decorate our homes reveals a lot about us. Our personalities, our roots are on display. In Psalm 93 the psalmist reveals something about God when he writes that the Lord is robed in majesty. In other words God is adorned with splendor and dignity. Such is the God we serve. Further, the psalmist writes: holiness adorns your house. God’s “house” is decorated, so to speak, with holiness.

We may tire of the early decorations, they may fade before the season ends, but the majesty of our God is endless and the holiness that adorns God’s house never changes.

Questions to consider: What does your home reveal about you? What would it mean to adorn your house with holiness? Could this be a part of your holiday decorating that would endure?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Advent - Day 3

Anticipation – Mark 1:1-8
Tuesday, December 2

Children anticipate Christmas with a great deal of excitement. They are excited because they expect to find that extra special something under the tree—that same something they put on the top of their lists and have been promised. They look forward to Christmas Day like no other!

Usually children of all ages have an air of excitement about them when they anticipate that which is promised. The promise of a new hunting rifle excites some, while another might anticipate a beautiful piece of jewelry or the latest electronic gadget. Promise and anticipation go hand in hand.

John the Baptist appears in today’s Scripture as the voice crying in the wilderness, echoing Isaiah’s message to prepare the way for the Lord. The people wondered if this could be the one for whom they had been waiting. Is he the anticipated, the expected one? And John simply told them that one greater than he was coming and that one would baptize with the Holy Spirit. They must wait a little longer.

Imagine that you are living in the days prior to Jesus’ birth.

Questions to consider: Would you look forward to his coming with childlike anticipation? Would you have believed God’s promise? How would, how do you welcome Jesus into your life?

God bless you as you anticipate His coming!
Pastor Margaret