On the other side of Christmas, during the season of Epiphany, a New Year begins. The stars are still brightly shining and in that luminescent sky, so the story goes, one star shines so brightly that it guided the Magi to the manger and opened their eyes to see the newborn babe as God’s gift of the Messiah.
An epiphany is a moment in which we suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way. Do we not long for that newness and clarity as this new year begins? In too many ways, it feels like we could be headed into more of the same-old-same-old which we aren’t liking much at all, right?
Fortunately for us, the Season of Epiphany opens anyway, teasing our hearts and spirits into newness and clear vision, ready or not. So even if you don’t feel like it, even if you are skeptical or just plain weary of it all, set that aside for a moment and look up. Look within. Look around. The everlasting light is shining. Jesus, the Light of the World is born!
Resolve to do something each day to open a place for the light to get in—in your own heart, in a relationship, on your block, for a hungry or homeless person you don’t even know.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out. (The Message)
The days of Advent draw us, step by step, closer to the stable and the manger where new life will be born at Christmas. Overhead, the stars are brightly shining, lighting the rich deep blue of the night sky with luminescent joy.
The earth turns, the stars appear, the moon waxes and wanes. God is in the heavens. The angels hover overhead. The Magi make their adventuresome way following the light of that one special star. Mary and Joseph find themselves on the road as the time for the birth draws near.
The Christmas story never fails to astonish us with its holy mystery and equally astonishing ordinariness. A baby is born. The animals offer refuge and warmth. Things might appear to be normal, but we know, we believe with all our heart, that new life comes for all. For us. For the world. For the whole of creation.
My Christmas prayer for each of you is that God’s light will shine brightly in your hearts, and that you will experience a renewed sense of God’s love and healing presence in your life. For the light shining in the darkness, shining persistently and magnificently, heralds the dawn of a new day. In the Christ Child is born the fullness of life, joy, and peace for all.
November—what a rich and meaningful month in the life of the church. All Saints Sunday to give thanks for our beloved ones who now go on ahead, our annual Giving Campaign to reset our priorities and ramp up our generosity, Charge Conference with our District Superintendent to celebrate the incredible ministries and mission of First UMC…all opportunities to remember, reflect, and give thanks. A season to grow in awareness, gratitude, generosity, and love.
“Faith for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow” is our theme for this year’s Giving Campaign. We give thanks to God for accompanying us through these past many months of challenge and for opening to us new doors into worship, study, fellowship and service, lavishly, if sometimes unexpectedly, gifting us with faith for the living of these days and bright hope for tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
We give thanks to God for all the possibilities and promise in what lies ahead. We give thanks for all the ways we support one another as we journey along, offering fellowship and prayer.
We give thanks for all the possibilities for children, youth, families and students made possible through our generosity. We give thanks for the possibilities of new life made tangible in backpacks for students, and meals on the table through the Hunger Walk.
May God’s blessings pour out on you, your family, friends, and neighbors in this season. And may our hearts be stretched deep and wide to embrace all that lies ahead in the spirit of abiding and abundant hope.
Several weeks ago I realized that a local drugstore had already put out Halloween decorations, costumes, candies, and cards—about two months early. I had to stop and remember that it really was only August and I wasn’t behind in getting prepared. Two explanations came to mind, in addition to sales. I wondered if either people are so spooked by COVID and its variations that “real” ghosts and goblins seemed preferable, or if we’re all looking for a fun celebration of any sort and eager for it to come.
I don’t know. And I don’t know that kids will be out trick-or-treating this year. But I do know for certain that we have some real fun things in store at First UMC in October including the annual Blessing of the Animals, World Communion Sunday, our First UMC Anniversary, the Westside Food Bank Hunger Walk, Larry Young’s new Zoom Bible Study, the Wednesday Mid-Week Recital, Children’s Sabbath and giving out Bibles to our 4th Graders.
Wear your costume if you’d like, but don’t miss any of it. And if you want to bring some Halloween treats to share, I don’t think anyone would mind.
I look forward to worshipping, studying, celebrating and serving with all of you!
I know the plans I have for you, says our God, plans for welfare and not for harm, to give you a future and a hope.
— Jeremiah 29:11
A future and a hope. What an amazing gift to receive from God’s creating Spirit as we move together into the month of September. We still have a lot of work ahead of us—to keep one another safe and healthy, to lean into becoming a church that is more and more both in-person and online, to give generously wherever people are in need, especially now through our partnership with the church in Haiti.
We have a lot of work to do, and it’s going to take our best thinking, extravagant generosity, and compassion towards one another, especially when we differ. It’s going to require of us flexibility and resilience. This work of creating a new church together and of repairing the brokenness of the world will ask of us creativity and perseverance.
The good news is that God “has our back,” as the expression goes. God is the ground under our feet and the expanse of the heavens. God is the bread of our bodies and spirits. God is the breath of life and the wind of change.
God has plans for us—plans for welfare and not for harm, giving us a future and a hope. In this season let’s inhabit those holy plans, giving thanks always to God, caring always for one another, staying open always to God’s vision, power and peace.