Starting and Re-starting: The Beauty of Church

On Saturday, we began the renovations a new place for us as a church. It’s interesting that the lectionary passage for the week that started this new journey for us as church was Genesis 1:1-5:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

3Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Renovations

We have a new understanding of formless void as the walls of a former hair salon and soon-to-church were knocked down. The kitchen and cabinets were also removed in addition to the old tile.

Emmanuel's Table

As we sat to eat lunch together, sharing table fellowship, we realized we were recreating a space. We were creating something new out of something old. And isn’t that what Creator God invites us to do as God’s people? Yes, in the beginning God created, but each time there is night and there is day, we are invited to join in the creation process transforming what is old into what is new. We are invited to start and restart everyday as God’s people who are trying to bring the kingdom of God here on earth. We are invited to create light in a dark world or in a dark building in which all the lights have been removed in order to be replaced.

LightsWe can’t wait for the new lights to be in place, for the new walls to be built, for the new kitchen to be installed, but even more we can’t wait to be the light of Creator God as we restart as God’s people on our journey to transform the world.

Stepping Out in Faith

Our call at Emmanuel Baptist Fellowship has caused us to step into the unknown a lot in 2014. We have hosted visiting youth groups to partner with them in missions. We have sought partnerships to ensure our Snack Pack program could offer food to all the children who have requested food. We have been up and down 378 asking our corporate neighbors to help us feed our neighbors in need. We have put on our first Fall Festival, our first coat drive, and our first Craft Fair. We have built two Little Free Libraries.

You can see all of this in our Video Reflection of this past year.

Even as we worked, we knew there was more we wanted to do and were called to do, but we couldn’t because of the space were in. This week we have signed a lease on a new building, which will allow us to do more of what are called to do. Moving is never easy, especially when the place is full of moments of revelation and inspiration. But as we step into this new phase of our life as a church and as we follow God’s calling, we know we are stepping out in faith, believing that when we follow God we are helping transform the world one person at a time.

The Arrival of A New Season

by Merianna Harrelson

Advent marks the beginning of the new liturgical season in the church year, so even though advent is over, a new year is just beginning. It’s another chance for us all to take what we have learned and reflected upon during the last four weeks and carrying them with us not just until we are in worship again, but in each day we live.

It’s not an easy task to remember what we have learned because some of the lessons we learn are hard and uncomfortable. We would rather move past those tough lessons to the happier, easier lessons. It’s in the challenging experience that we discover what we truly believe rather than what we just say we believe.

May this new season be the advent of a new chance. May this new season be the advent of the Christ Child each and every day.

Christmas Eve Service

What we have been waiting for and anticipating is finally here!

Many times we get confused and think what we have been waiting for is time with family or presents, but this Christ Child changes everything. This is not the birth just anyone. This is the birth of a person who changes the whole way we look at the world and live in the world. This is the Prince of Peace. The hope.

Wise Men Still Seek Him?

by Sam Harrelson

Matthew Chapter 2

Adoration_of_the_Magi_Tapestry_detail

A nativity scene is never complete without the three wise men. In every Christmas play I’ve seen, there are always actors portraying these wise men who saw a star in the night sky over Bethlehem and sought out the great king that was to be born and so traveled to Judea. Even as a young person, I prided myself on memorizing their names (Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar). Now as an adult I often see bumper stickers on automobiles with a depiction of stylized “oriental” kings on camel back with the phrase “Wise Men Still Seek Him.”

However, the wise men were anything but wise. A better analogy would be to the three stooges. So why do they hold such a privileged place in this season as we celebrate the birth of the messiah?

Let’s start with the name “wise men.” Although many of our New Testament translations use this term for the nativity guests in Matthew chapter 2, a better phrase would be the Greek word magi (from which we get the term “magicians”). Magi were not unique to this story and the original hearers of Matthew’s gospel would have thought of the many magi that were in practice during the first and second centuries in Palestine and Mesopotamia, as well as ancient and well-known examples such as Balaam in the Old Testament book of Numbers. Magi were often presented in literature as comedic characters. That’s true for Balaam as well (after all, his donkey is smarter than he is and does all the talking for God). Even later in the New Testament, we get the account of Simon Magus in the book of Acts. Simon is a “magician” or one of the magi who seeks to pay the apostles to learn their abilities. It’s clear that the first hearers of Matthew would have picked up on the comedic implications of introducing magi to the nativity story of Jesus after the very deliberate genealogy that opens the gospel as it was a cultural norm.

Why do we call these three characters “The Three Wise Men” then? The earliest known reference we have to using that term for this group of magi comes from a sermon in the early 700’s A.D. by a monk known as the Venerable Bede who calls them “wise men” because they sought out the redemption that Jesus was offering and were able to display their faith in his abilities by bringing gifts. There’s no New Testament reference to the term, and Matthew’s audience wouldn’t have understood it had it been written as most of our translations hold today.

Let’s go further and explore why we say there are three magi. Simply put, there are three gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. No doubt, these were expensive and highly sought after precious metals, balms, and incense (primarily used in funerals, interestingly enough). However, there is no mention of there only being three wise men or magi. Or there is no depiction of these visitors to the newborn king even being men. Perhaps there were women in the group (women magi, while rare, were not unheard of in the ancient near east). Perhaps this group numbered much higher than three. We simply don’t know. We just know that this group brought three gifts to Jesus and his family.

Further, let’s confirm that these were typecasted characters employed by Matthew to bring in a comedic element to his narrative and display his skills at using rhetoric to prove a point about the nature of Jesus’ birth. I grew up in a small rural town and had access to many dark nights away from city lights. As a result, I fell in love with astronomy and purchased my first telescope at an early age. I loved looking up at the night sky and realizing both the magnificence of the universe as well as trying to comprehend our place within its expansiveness. While we might try to make our ancient ancestors into imbeciles who have no grasp of topics like astronomy, that’s simply not true. The ancients in Mesopotamia were very keen on astronomical observation and the early hearers of Matthew’s gospel would not have been anymore ready to believe that a literal star hung down over a small city in Palestine as a guide for faraway travelers as we would today. They might have smirked that these magi followed the heavens to reach the place where the young king had been resting (interestingly, they visit a house, not a manger, in Matthew indicating that some time has passed since Jesus’ birth as would be logical).

Even more comedic, the magi go to Jerusalem first, rather than Bethlehem where they would have gone had they been following this magical star, and inquire of the notoriously paranoid King Herod (who used the title “King of the Jews” in his formal name), “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,* and have come to pay him homage.” Clearly, these were not wise men to inquire such things of a king who was well known to kill family members, and even his children, who challenged his rule (the hearers of Matthew would have certainly known this). Herod treats these magi as servants and sends them on a task rather than treating them as equals or even as diplomats indicating their less-than-royal status, as magi were often known to be a part of a monarch’s court in the ancient world (again, see Balaam for a biblical example).

In our efforts to add solemnity to the New Testament, we often miss moments of implied and charged comedic episodes, whether at the birth of Jesus or during his ministry. Certainly, these magi who visited Jesus and his family add an extra element to the nativity stories in our Bible. Yet, we should allow ourselves to puzzle, smile, and even laugh with our ancient Christian ancestors who would have first heard these stories and perhaps  thought “oh great, here come the crazy magi!” much as we do when we see one of our favorite comedic actors come into a movie scene today. It’s often in laughter that we discover more about the everlasting truths of the gospels and the stories of Jesus.

So, let’s embrace our “wise men” and let’s have a good smile at the wayward magi of the holiday season as we celebrate the birth of the messiah. Let’s journey with this group of possibly male and female, young and old magi as they discover where their star is leading. Let’s not forget that while we ourselves are on a journey to discover more about the birth of this miraculous baby, we should also embrace our humanity and our humor in the solemnity of the season. Let us share with those who helped define our faith a sense of wonder as we approach Bethlehem. For while we celebrate the birth of our king with gold now, we are well aware of the death that is to come at the Easter event when his body will be anointed with myrrh and frankenscience burned in his tomb.

Peace on Earth Goodwill to Men

by Ruthi Neely

The story behind the carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is one of hope and peace. Amid tragic and seemingly hopeless circumstances and a period of deep despair, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned the words to capture the joy of Christmas.

As Longfellow came to the sixth stanza, he was stopped by the thought of the condition of his beloved country. The Battle of Gettysburg was not long past. Days looked dark, and he probably asked himself the question, “How can I write about peace on earth, goodwill to men in this war-torn country, where brother fights against brother and father against son?” But he kept writing and what did he write?

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
That could be said of our day as well.

But then, catching an eternal perspective and the real message of Christmas and Christ Himself, he wrote:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Longfellow had endured the death of his wife and his son’s being severely wounded during a horrific war.  He searched for years to rediscover the joy of Christmas. Through his struggle, he gave us this beautiful carol of hope and joy.  Listen and be encouraged.