What Do You Guys Do for Each Other for Christmas?

by Merianna Harrelson

As we were talking through the preparation for our Christmas Celebration at Leaphart Place, a resident apartment complex for adults with special needs who have aged out of government assistance, one of the residents who attends our church asked:

But what do you guys do for each other for Christmas?

We all looked at each other and started laughing. We certainly celebrate with a Christmas Anniversary Dinner every year, but really we are hoping with that celebration to see people who have been a part of our community and have moved on or to welcome in new members to our community and our traditions.

Finally, when we finally got ourselves together, we were able to answer:

Well, we believe that church isn’t about us. It’s about serving others. We have been richly blessed by God, and we want to share that with others.

Food Spread

Which is why we packed up presents and appetizers and sweets and headed over to Leaphart Place last night to celebrate with a group of young adults who might not have family to celebrate with and for whom Christmas might just be another Wednesday.

Tree

What a wonderful time to share love, joy, peace, and hope with these young people and continue to develop relationships with them!

The Symbols of Advent

by Randy Rankin

The images we see around us during Advent, the four weeks of spiritual preparation leading up to Christmas day, are rich with meaning and traditions. Everything from the tree we put up to the images on Christmas cards have a special meaning and purpose during the season.

Much of the symbolism of Advent is associated with the Advent wreath, typically a circular wreath made of evergreen branches with five candles–three purple, one pink, and one white. The circular shape is a symbol of eternity. The evergreens of the wreath symbolize hope and renewal.

The five candles together on the Advent wreath symbolize Jesus being born as the light of the world. The first purple candle is the prophets’ candle and symbolizes hope. The second purple candle is the Bethlehem candle; it represents Christ’s manger and symbolizes love. The third candle is pink and is called the shepherd’s candle; it symbolizes joy. The fourth candle is purple and is the angel’s candle; it symbolizes peace. The final candle is white is lit on Christmas Eve. The white candle symbolizes Christ who has come into the world to save it from its sins.

The traditional colors of Advent are purple, pink, and white. Each of these colors is represented in the candles of the Advent wreath. Purple is a color associated with repentance as a reminder to prepare internally for the coming holiday. It is also associated with royalty, in anticipation of the birth of the coming king. Pink is used during the third Sunday of advent and represents joy. It marks a shift in the season away from repentance towards rejoicing. White is associated with purity. The white candle in the center of the advent wreath represents the sinlessness and perfection of Jesus.

The bells associated with Christmas represent worship They are a reminder of the angel’s announcement of the birth of Christ followed by a joyous song. The dove also often is seen in Christmas decorations and is a symbol of peace.

The evergreen trees used for Christmas trees are a symbol of life, hope, and renewal. The evergreen tree is an exceptionally apt symbol in the winter since it has retained its greenery when all other trees have lost their leaves. The round ball-shaped hung on Christmas trees are a symbol of eternity and endlessness. They are also a symbol of the world Christ came to save. The star at the top of the tree represents Jesus, called the “bright and morning star” in Revelation. The star also symbolizes Epiphany, the day the three wise men visited Jesus, a reminder that all wise men follow the star.

Gaining Strength in This Holiday Season

by Chaplain Christina Pittman

“National strength lies only in the hearts and spirits of men.”  General George C. Marshall

I remember reading the quote above from General Marshall in the manual the Chaplain Corps uses for Spiritual Resiliency and Relationships Course. As I reflected on the words and meaning I realized the wisdom embodied in this phrase. How true is the correlation between strength of a person and his/her heart and spirit? As an emotional and spiritual caregiver I find this relationship to be real and reflective of a person’s resiliency. If this is the case then how does an Airman achieve heart and spiritual resiliency to be ready for the mission?

The quote from General Marshall appears in the curriculum section, “Developing Emotional Strength Through Your Spirituality.” Many who attend the course have a spiritual belief system which guides his/her life. Others are just being introduced to the idea he/she is a spiritual person with a soul and heart full of emotions. Personalities are different in emotional expressions and soul connections; giving attention and time to the heart of who a person is as a spiritual and emotional being is important.

How does one give this much needed attention to his/her heart? I would like to look to an array of events and reflections which strengthen the spirit. As the holiday season approaches reflect on the symbols of your faith and memories from past family gatherings that brought you joy and gladness in your heart. Do you think about a loved one you shared a meal with or a service you attended with uplifting music? Maybe your memory is of a trip or taking part in lighting candles or decorating a tree? If these traditions are absent from your current life I encourage you to included them again. Find a way to have a special meal with a friend or family member even if your loved one is no longer with you.

When care is given to the passions of the heart strength in spirit is discovered. What are your passions which make you resilient? If time is greater than your ability to recall what ignites your passion talk about it with someone. There may be a certain grief from death of a loved one to a failed relationship which has robbed you of joy. Work through it with a person you trust whether personal or professional and watch how new positive memories replace old painful ones.

No matter the situation you have a choice, stay where you are or make decisions toward change. Remember, find someone with listening ears to help bring wholeness and strengthen to your heart and spirit through this holiday season. Then as General Marshal so poignantly stated the strength of our nation will go on in our hearts and spirits to face each day as a new fresh beginning with presents of hope and joy along the way.

11 Years Strong

 Serve-the-Lord

by Merianna Harrelson

In baptist congregations, you often find a tradition called Homecoming. A Sunday in the year in which the church congregation gathers to catch up with members who have moved on and moved away. In our congregation, we have many members who still “head home” when the homecomings come around in the fall.

This past Sunday we celebrated 11 years as a church and our anniversary celebration has become quite the Homecoming. It is one of my favorite times to be a part of the church because we get to see people who come on back to the church who we haven’t seen in awhile.

Homecoming

For me, it will always be a special part because it coincides with my ordination to the gospel ministry. These celebrations fit liturgically into Advent because it is the start of a new year for the church, just as Advent begins the new liturgical year. For me, it will always mark a new phase of my life as a minister in a welcoming and affirming congregation. My gratitude to Emmanuel who affirmed that call will always be a part of my Advent celebration.

At Emmanuel, this year in particular means even more because we have started a new phase of who we are. We are no longer a declining church, but a growing church. We’ve added two new Sunday School classes this year and eight new members. At times, this is hard for us to believe because we had identified so long as a declining church, but as we sat around the table yesterday afternoon, we couldn’t help but acknowledge God’s work.

11th Anniversary

Table fellowship, especially as we have experienced God through Emmanuel’s Table, has come to be a time of thanksgiving and wonderment at the way God is working in and through us. Gathering around a delicious meal we had all worked to prepare was a perfect way to celebrate this new year and new decade of Emmanuel. As we lingered over coffee and dessert, we began to dream and wonder about what God has in store for God’s people in the coming year.

Emmanuel, God with us and God through us.

Finding Common Ground

As I was writing this Sunday night I also was surfing my favorite Internet sites and found this: To the Far Right Christian Hater…You Can Be a Good Speller or a Hater, But You Can’t Be Both.

It’s a book by Bonnie Weinstein about coercion in the military by individuals and groups trying to convert people in the service to conservative, fundamental Christianity. Her two sons encountered it at the Air Force Academy. As a result of this book her family has been the victim of hate-filled snail mails, emails, and vandalism. As I read the comments associated with the book review on dailykos, I was struck by the reports of children spewing hate and misunderstanding about Christianity, generally.

Even the atheists commenting agreed on the validity of living justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God. If only we all had emphasized the teaching of Jesus, we might be able to find common ground and work towards peace and reconciliation rather than spewing hate at each other.

Ps. If anyone can explain that title to me, please do.

“Making the House Ready for the Lord”

by Lisa Brownlee

In light of the Revolutionary Love from Merianna’s sermon last Sunday, I invite you to reflect on this poem by Mary Oliver:
Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice — it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances — but it is the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And still I believe you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.

 

Hidden Treasures of Advent

Wyatt's Nutcracker
by Christina Pittman
Christmas break two years ago I was cleaning out Wyatt’s backpack and found some holiday art work.  Tri-folded was this Nutcracker picture he drew and colored with pastels.  I marveled over this little treasure I nearly discarded had I not taken the time to unfold it and look inside.  I pulled it out this Christmas, placed it in a frame, and hung it on my dining room wall.  To me, it reflects my son’s special talent though it seemed lost and ordinary in a shuffle of graded school papers and holiday arts and crafts. I thought again how I nearly missed it forever, especially, during Christmas when it is easy to rush and toss things aside in the trash.  What do you over look this time of year because of the rush of the season?
So many treasures in our day get lost along life’s journey, especially people we breeze by at the check out and push past at the mall.  If we stop and take time to open them up in conversation will we find a vibrant colorful life waiting to be discovered and cherished like my nutcracker drawing?  I often look at the people serving me as I shop and wonder what their story is.  Are they hurting this Christmas from pain and loneliness?  Is this their second or third job they hold trying to make ends meet or is this the first Christmas without their loved one?
In Psalm 147:3 it says, “He [God] heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.” (NIV)  We are called to the same ministry of healing the broken lives.  In the Ballet, “The Nutcracker,” Clara mends her broken nutcracker together in her arms and helps him become whole.  Through her love and care the Nutcracker is healed as a human prince and saves Clara from the Mouse King.  Maybe there is someone we meet who also needs a caring touch or a kind word this Christmas season.  May we all be challenged to push the rush of our own agendas aside and be an instrument of healing as we take time to listen and care for those treasures God brings in our path.

 

Embracing Advent

by Annis Rankin

The time I have spent in church has been in Baptist churches, most notably the First Baptist Church of Orangeburg. From Cradle Roll, Sunbeams, GAs, and BTU to Wednesday services, Sunday School and Sunday morning and evening services, I was there. Christmas season was, of course, celebrated without the incorporation of Advent. We had no banners to hang, no Advent wreath with candles to light, no tree to hang with no special ornaments. I was always a little envious of my Methodist, Presbyterian, and Catholic friends who  knew and participated in Advent, especially the fun part of opening each window of an Advent calendar.

So, the last ten years of my spiritual journey has been a period of immeasurable growth, which has included the embracing of Advent, both in spirit and practice. As I learn more how to slow down, to wait, to be more aware of the needs of people around me, both friends and strangers, I am feeling an inward peace. I anticipate the time of lighting each candle and celebrating the meaning of love, joy, peace, and hope.

For the 2nd time, this year, I have been asked to paint a picture during service that represents some part of the season. I will paint a rendering of the Advent symbol of Peace. It has been an opportunity to be able to share my small God-given talent with the members or our spiritual community, and I know my inspiration will also be God-given.

We dream God’s dream, of world at peace,

Where enemies are reconciled, and children play safely

Where the poor and powerless find justice.

We remember God’s promise of a ruler of Peace,

Filled with the Spirit of God, of wisdom and understanding,

Of counsel and might, of justice and faithfulness.

We light this Advent candle, and we pray:

Come Lord Jesus!

Open our lives to the Peace which you bring: 

Let us turn to you and get ready!

written by Rev. Susan A. Blain inspired by Isaiah 11:1-10 and Matthew 3:2

Christmas Eve at the Frankes

By Bonnie Franke

Christmas Eve was always a special time at our house. All of us kids were filled with excitement. Part of the excitement was waiting for Santa, but the biggest excitement was waiting for my Dad to come home. It seemed like he would never get there, so we would start our family’s Christmas tradition. Dad was a manager for a downtown store in Frankfurt, KY, and form the last of November or the first of December because the store was opened longer for holiday hours. It seemed like Daddy would never get home and dinner would be over so we could open one precious gift that was already under the tree. We were all excited to open that one gift. After we did, we waited for Santa to come and fell asleep waiting.

I am sure many other families had much more exciting Christmas Eves than we did, but as I have grown up I have learned that my Dad taught us how to give when the phone would ring on Christmas Eve and he would have to go back to the store because someone forgot their lay away. He always went back to meet them, so that their family could have Christmas. I also learned that it really didn’t matter how many gifts there were under that tree. The greatest gift was having Daddy all to ourselves after he worked so many hours to make other people’s Christmases merry.