"For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death." 1st Corithians 7:10, NRSV
As I write this, we are in the days of transition between the hectic and lovely Christmas season, and the contemplation of a coming “new year.” The church year actually begins with Advent, but our own calendars say that the year begins with January 1st. It seems almost obligatory to speak of “New Year’s resolutions,” though most of us who’ve launched lofty plans in the past have found that resolutions made because of the new year don’t usually last past the first few weeks.
It’s certainly a worthy pursuit to think about goals for the coming year, both our own personal goals and those we might hope to see accomplished in our work places or in our church congregation. God created our spirits to be dynamic, rather than static. As our best selves, we are always seeking to understand how God is moving and working around us and among us, and to step into that work and movement. Our hitch in this process is our human frailty, and one way that exhibits itself is in our tendency to focus on regret.
Do you have things in your life that you regret? Many of us do. It might be something “big,” such as the loss of valuable things or choices made that have changed the trajectories of our lives or the lives of others in undesirable ways. Other regrets can be small things that dog us, like the tendency to be impatient with people, or to be unkind or judgmental. If we’re self-aware enough to realize when we’ve exhibited such tendencies, then we’ll experience regret over these things. I have known people who have been held hostage to their regrets, whether large or small, and who’ve been unable to move forward in life or relationships because of their focus on regrets of the past, rather than on the promises of their future. Their lives have literally been “arrested” by their regrets, and they are “in prison” to things of the past that they cannot change.
I am convinced from the testimony of Scripture and of the Holy Spirit that God wants us to move beyond our regrets. Certainly, God calls us to repentance, and to restitution where possible, but to be held hostage to regrets about our past is a tool of evil and not of good. Even people who are incarcerated for crimes find ways to accept forgiveness and move forward with their lives in the best possible way, to bring good out of the circumstances in which they find themselves. Can you and I do as much?
The verse quoted above comes from a chapter of 2nd Corinthians that reflects the complicated relationship between the apostle, Paul, and the Christian community at Corinth. As with any of Paul’s letters, we have just half the conversation. But we can see how much Paul loved this community, and we can infer from this verse that he understood that regret in the life of a Christian should produce something different than what might be expected by the world. Being able to give God our regrets and let God redeem them and bring about something good from them, is what allows us to move forward.
With prayers for your journey, and for your New Year,
How about that snow, yesterday?! It was beautiful, wasn’t it? I watched from my office window as those big snow flakes fell on the church grounds, and it was indeed a lovely sight. Even more perfect was the fact that it didn’t stick around very long and that our travel on the roads was not impeded! It was just a preview of things to come in these winter months, a reminder that our view of the world can change from day to day, and even from hour to hour. Sometimes it’s our physical surroundings that actually change, and other times it’s simply our view of the world based on our thoughts and feelings at the time. Have you ever had the experience of suddenly noticing how beautiful the world is, or how beautiful people are, when your attitude or your thought process has been adjusted?
Seasons like Advent are meant to adjust our attitudes and our outlook on life. It’s unfortunate that in our culture, the weeks the Church calls “Advent” can be one of the most stress-filled times of the year. Rather than being a time of reflection and devotion as we wait to celebrate the coming of the Christ child, these weeks can be filled with worry about getting everything done and having enough money to do it. So many of the things we try to get done at Christmas are “good things” – expressions of love and fellowship through gift-giving, card-sending and gatherings with family and friends. But too many “good things” can crowd out the better, or the excellent things.
Years ago, a book was published called Unplug the Christmas Machine, by Jo Robinson and Jean Staeheli. I think it’s out of print, but you can find a used copy here or there, or order one via Amazon. I have the 1991 paperback edition, which I encountered when my children were small. It contains a suggested “Christmas Pledge” which includes: “Examine my holiday activities in light of my deepest values.” I believe that’s one of the purposes we as Christians can claim for the season of Advent. More than any others who are putting up a tree or filling a shopping bag this time of year, those of us who are celebrating once again the inbreaking of God’s kingdom in Jesus Christ at Bethlehem, ought to be able to look the Christmas season straight in the eye and ask the question, “What really matters right now?” Are the “good things” I’m trying to do just crowding out the more excellent things that I as a Christian am called to, during Advent?
Easier said than done, right? I’m right there with you. I’m frequently in need of an “attitude adjustment” during the Christmas season. Some of the greatest blessings can be things that force us to slow down or stop, as we’re careening through this busy season. Like snow, maybe. Or an unexpected change in plans that gives us a little extra time on our hands. Or, like gathering for worship on Sunday mornings with others who also want to remember what this season is really all about.
I hope that as our celebration of the Nativity of Christ approaches, you can find ways to make room for the excellent things this season has to offer; such as reflection on who you are as a child of God, and on what really matters in your life, and on the boundless blessings and promise offered to us in the birth of a tiny baby so long ago.
The sermon text this Sunday, December 9th, is Luke 1:5-25. The sermon title is “A People Prepared.” On Sunday evening at 5 o’clock, we’ll have our annual tree-lighting service. We’ll gather for a brief time of worship in the sanctuary, then head outside for the lighting of our big “Christmas tree” outdoors. All are invited to attend, and to head to Holman Hall after the tree-lighting to enjoy refreshments.
NOTE: We are aware of the possibility for inclement weather on Sunday afternoon and staff will be watching the forecast closely in case any changes should be needed in our plans for the tree-lighting service this Sunday at 5 o’clock.
On Sunday, Dec. 16th, you’ll have an opportunity to join your friends at Hebron for some community Christmas caroling! Gathering time at the church is 5 o’clock.
Christmas Eve is a special time at Hebron Church. On Monday, Dec. 24th, we’ll gather for worship at 5 o’clock, and enjoy celebrating once again the coming of God in Jesus Christ at Bethlehem. This service of “lessons” (Scripture readings) and carols is appropriate for the whole family. It’s a great way to spend part of your Christmas Eve!
As the Advent season continues, remember that you can access free online devotional resources by going to our church website and clicking on the link that’s provided under “News & Events.” Our thanks to Lori Alford for locating and suggesting this Advent resource from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Here’s the link to the page on our church website: .
On Sunday, December 30th, we’ll be worshipping in Holman Hall with a light, continental breakfast provided and a time of fellowship prior to worship. If you would like to bring a breakfast item to share that morning, you are welcome to do so, but we want this to be a stress-free time of fellowship and worship at the end of what is so often a stress-filled season.
See you Sunday!
"Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.' And he laid his hands on them and went on his way." Matthew 19:13-15, NRSV
As we are entering the season of Advent, this is the passage that has been on my mind. This story of Jesus’ response to an encounter between his disciples and those who’d brought children to be blessed is recorded in all three of our Synoptic gospels; you’ll find it elsewhere in Mark 10:13-16 and Luke 18:15-17. Mark’s version quotes Jesus as saying, Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it. I remember hearing this story as a child and wondering what that meant. My teacher explained that it had to do with trusting in God. I wondered about this story even more as I got older; what does it really mean to receive the kingdom of God as a little child?
There’s a footnote in my Bible for Mark 10:15 that says: To receive the kingdom as a child is to depend in trustful simplicity on what God offers. What is it, then, that God offers to us as “residents” of the kingdom that we believe was ushered in by the birth of Christ? What are the promises of Jesus in Scripture? The first thing that comes to my mind is Jesus’ promise that we can trust in God for the things that we truly need. This teaching is found in Matthew’s gospel, 6:25-33. Jesus tells his hearers that they are of more value to God than the birds of the air, whom the Father feeds; and of more value than the lilies of the field, which God clothes in beauty. Therefore, do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you, as well.
There are many other things that God offers to us, which are testified in Scripture. We are offered the promise of God’s steadfast love, and the promise of God’s peace, which passes all understanding. We are promised rest from our heavy burdens, and rest for our wandering souls. Most importantly, we are promised the opportunity of a relationship with the Creator of the universe through trust in Jesus Christ, who came to us as Emmanuel, “God with us.” The words of Jesus in Luke 11:9-13 remind us that we serve a God who knows how to give good gifts, through the presence and power of God’s Spirit. What do you need to ask of the Lord, today?
During this season of Advent, I’m going to be first looking at the foretelling of the Messiah in the Old Testament, and then preaching from Luke’s gospel as we remember once again the story of the coming of God into our world in the person of Jesus Christ. Here are my planned texts from Luke, in case you want to read ahead: Dec. 9th, Luke 1:5-25; Dec. 16th, Luke 1:26-38; and Dec. 23rd, Luke 1:39-56. At our Christmas Eve service on Dec. 24th, we’ll hear the story of Christ’s birth from Luke 2, and then for our Dec. 30th worship in Holman Hall, I plan to look at the story of the boy Jesus at the Temple from Luke 2:41-52.
These passages we’ll examine during Advent are the beginning of the New Testament story of the promises of God. Will you receive the promises? Will you trust in God for love and sustenance and peace? Will you trust in God for rest, for your body and your soul? Will you trust in the promise of relationship that God offers to you in Jesus Christ? May it be so.
With prayers for your journey,
Connie Weaver, Pastor
Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:16-17
A couple of weeks ago, one of our elders and I attended the fall stated meeting of the Presbytery of the James, which was held at Richmond’s Lord Jesus Korean Church. It was a good meeting, but it was especially thought-provoking as we sat in that worship space belonging to Korean immigrants and their children and grand-children. As pastor Hyun Bae welcomed us, and as we listened to the church’s choir sing, I was reminded of a story my father told me about his time in Korea.
My dad didn’t talk much to my sister and me about his time in the U.S. Army. Much of what we knew was related to us by our mother. Like so many others, my dad was drafted, and by the time he completed basic training and landed in Korea, the conflict was over and he was there as part of the U.S. military presence immediately following the war. My mother said that for several years after his return, it was hard for him to enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners with the family because of the starvation he’d witnessed in the aftermath of the war.
There is one story my dad did tell us when we were younger, a story I’ve never forgotten. Here was a very young man, who’d never traveled more than a few hours from home, now on the other side of the world in a strange and war-torn country. There were land mines to be avoided, and devastation all around, and “my job was to lie on my belly on the cold, wet ground with a rifle in my hands,” as he described it. Looking back on that story now, I can understand how much of an alien my dad must have felt like in that environment. There was nothing there to remind him of home.
But then one day, my dad heard some singing. It was coming from a small church. He couldn’t understand the words, but he recognized the melody. It was “Amazing Grace.” As we say now, my dad “had a moment.” Suddenly, in the midst of all the strangeness, my dad experienced something that connected him with home. He experienced what we describe as “the Church in every time and place.”
I think about the people who were in that small church, that day. I can’t imagine what their lives were like, or what they believed their prospects were for the future. In a place turned upside down by war, where so many didn’t even have enough to eat, they gathered in that little church to do what they always did; to sing, to pray, to hear the Word, to praise God and to encourage one another. By simply doing what they always did, even in the midst of adversity, they lifted not only themselves, but also a homesick soldier who was seven-thousand miles from the people he loved.
As I was pondering these things while sitting at Lord Jesus Korean Church, I wondered how many times we as the Church unknowingly bless others by simply doing what we do. Especially in this loud and fast-paced culture in which we live, we can feel a sense of urgency about doing something that seems big or grand, so that we feel good about ourselves. But by being faithful to God’s call to us, to gather to sing, to pray, to hear the Word, to praise God and to encourage one another, we continue to lift up the “melody” of our Lord. We live into God’s miraculous power to touch others near and far through our simple acts of obedience. Who knows who may hear us?
With prayers for your journey,