“For a child has been born for us!”

Did you miss last Sunday’s interactive Christmas pageant?

Here are some pics of the special day!

Pageant Pics- Everyone

Angels, We Have Heard on High!

"And Mary gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger."

“And Mary gave birth to her firstborn son, …and laid him in a manger.”

Pageant Pics- More Shepherds

Shepherds traveled to Bethlehem to see this marvelous sight!

Animals gathered around Him too!

Animals gathered around Him too!

Angels sang "Hallelujah!"

Angels sang “Hallelujah!”

Wise Men (and Women!) knelt and worshiped Him!

Wise Men (and Women!) knelt and worshiped Him!

"For unto us a Son is born!, unto us a child is given!"

“For unto us a Son is born!, unto us a child is given!”

To see the whole service go to the link below:

St Thomas Interactive Christmas Pageant

Come, let us worship Him!

 

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When Christmas Is Hard…

Light-Shines

This time of year is supposed to be a “magical,” joyful time of year. It is supposed to be a time of singing carols, of gathering with friends and family, of proclaiming “Peace on Earth, and Goodwill to All!”

But for many, it’s not. Especially this year, with recent world events and all the negative political rhetoric, many feel far from a sense of peace or joy.  This past week alone, I talked with three people who shared their on-going struggle with sadness and depression. Others have lost loved ones or our facing life-altering illness. For others, the thought of shopping, buying one more gift, or dealing with the rush of the season and all its busyness, is just too much.   Indeed, for many (most of us?), this can be a particularly difficult time of year.

So what to do?
What can we do when Christmas is hard?
While there are no easy answers to the struggles we face, allow me to offer some things that have helped me.

1) First, be honest. Be real.
This past week I have been reading a daily devotion from D365.org. It began with these words: “It is the most wonderful time of year… right? But some days, it just doesn’t feel that way. Joy can seem so distant, like it’s buried beneath the surface or hidden within the dark. And on those days, the thought of being joyful just feels fake and inauthentic. But what if, instead of faking it, we pledged to be real this Advent— real with ourselves, with one another, and with God? …Let’s be brave enough to be real together this Advent, completely present to each moment [and to one another] as we wait with expectation for what God is going to do next.”

I believe the first step to healing is to acknowledge our pain and brokenness.  It is in acknowledging our hurts that we find the grace of God.  Can we simply acknowledge that this is a difficult time of year?  Are you willing to share your struggles with someone you trust?  If you are having a difficult time and find yourself in a dark place.  Acknowledge that.  Be real.  Talk to someone.  Know that you are not alone.

2)  Take time for rest and renewal.  Take time to connect with God.

Whenever Jesus faced challenges and struggles in his own life and ministry, he would often retreat to a quiet place.  He would take time to pray and deliberately connect with God.  Jesus relied on a power beyond himself.

This past spring, I attended a Men’s Retreat where we were challenged to begin each day in prayer and meditation.  Since that retreat, I have been trying to begin each day with twenty minutes of mediation, practicing centering prayer.  It is one way that I surrender to God.

One prayer I particularly like is:  Breathing in the Spirit of God on each inhale;  and breathing out worry, anxiety, and fear.  With each inhale, I mentally say, “I breathe in God.”  With each exhale, I say in my mind, “I breathe out all worry, anxiety, and fear.”

It’s amazing how this simple prayer keeps me focused and centered throughout the day.  For me, it helps to keep things in perspective and to remember that no matter what happens, ultimately God is in control (and I’m not!).  It helps me not to get caught up in the worry and anxiety of the world, but to simply rest in the presence of God.

3)  Serve.  Help others in need.

Jesus modeled a life of loving, serving, and helping others.

Last week, our church staff had a chance to visit a friend in a long-term rehab facility.  It was a real joy to visit with a friend, to see his spirits rise, and to share in laughter and conversation together.  We decorated a small Christmas tree and gave him a card. The old adage is true:  the best way to grow in love is to offer love, and to care for someone else.  We received as much from our friend as he did from us.

Do you know someone who’s alone this Christmas or needs a helping hand?  A simple visit or call or even a card can go a long way to raise both their spirit and yours!  Reach out to someone in need!

4)  Be the peace that you long to see.

I know this sounds cliched, but it’s true.  The book of Romans says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all…  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Romans 12:15-21)

As I think about world events recently, I wonder,  what is guiding our response?  What is guiding my response?  Is it fear?  Or, is it love?  Can we stop the hateful, divisive rhetoric, that is dominating so much of the conversation?  Can we instead seek God’s peace?  Can we see others as God’s children too?

Who can you offer God’s peace to today?

Finally, as I write this, I am reminded of John 1:5:  “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

The world can be a dark place, we all know.  But now more than ever, we need to be  beacons of God’s light and love shining in the world.

We invite you to be a part of this conversation!  How do you feel this Christmas?  What are the struggles that you are facing?  What are the joys?  How do you find rest and renewal?

Let us know!  And may you find the grace and peace of God’s love this Christmas season and always!

Unlikely Heralds

In case you missed it…  Here is a portion from Jaime’s sermon on Sunday, talking about John the Baptist:

Our scripture passage today, from the Gospel of Luke (Luke 3:1-6), starts out with a list of the powerful and privileged mighty men who ruled over people and provinces… Tiberius and Pontius Pilate and King Herod, just to name a few. But at the end of the list there is another name— an interesting and peculiar name— one who was not powerful or privileged, one who didn’t rule over people or provinces, one who did not have celebrity status. And his name was… John the Baptist.

John wasn’t a rich or famous celebrity.

He lived in the wilderness.  He ate locusts.  He wore camel’s hair.  Some say he was a wild and crazy man.  He cried out, “Prepare the way of the Lord!”

He was a nobody, born to an old couple thought to be barren.  John ruled over nothing.  He had no position.  No power.  No status.  Think about that for a minute.  Of all the people God could have chosen to prepare the way for God’s own Son to come among us.  This is who God picked. Can you believe it?

What does that tell you about God and the kinds of things God values? You see, God isn’t interested in celebrity gossip.  God isn’t interested in the current fashion trends. God isn’t interested in the latest and greatest inflatable reindeer decorations or rum punch recipes.

No.  Instead, God is interested in you and in me. God is interested in all flesh seeing the salvation of God.  And God sent John the Baptist to get us ready to see it. To get our hearts prepared to receive it.

This advent season, how are you preparing for the coming of the Lord? What rough places in your heart are in need of some smoothing? What crooked places need straightening? Is it a relationship that needs mending. A person that needs forgiving? A grudge that needs let go of? A long held prejudice that has made you bitter?  These are the things we’re meant to ponder and wrestle with as we watch and wait for God to come to us again.

Friends, the salvation of God that John the Baptist speaks of, comes to us in the birth of a baby born to an unwed, teenaged mother in a stable. The salvation of God comes without fanfare; without cameras clicking; without the paparazzi hiding the bushes. The salvation of God comes among barn animals and the smell of hay and the chill of winter air. And it is for All flesh. Every human being. Every living thing.

John the Baptist is an unlikely herald. No one in the ancient Roman world would have picked him to prepare the way for the Messiah, for Jesus. But God picked him. And God keeps picking simple, unassuming people like you and me to be the heralds of peace and salvation. We are the John the Baptists of this time and this place.

In the fifteenth year of the 21st century, when Barack Obama was president of the United States, and Rick Snyder was the governor of Michigan, and the MSU Spartans were football champions of the Big Ten Conference, and Mike Duggan was mayor of Detroit, and Rick Stathakys was supervisor of Shelby Township, the word of the Lord came to St. Thomas Community Presbyterian Church.

Are you prepared to receive it?  You, unlikely herald of God’s good news.  Are you ready to share it with a world that desperately needs to know peace?  Are you ready for Christ to come again to you?

Thanks be to God!  Amen.

The Second Sunday of Advent

2. Advent

Advent is a time of watching and waiting.

As people did long ago, it is a time to prepare, not for Christmas, but for the coming of Christ— the Messiah, God’s anointed.  It is watching and waiting for the coming of God.

Last Sunday in worship, we asked people to share about times in their lives when they have waited for and encountered God. People shared incredible and moving stories of life and faith… Encountering God in the midst of illness and waiting for healing, praying for children as they struggled with different issues and watching them grow and mature, and finding God after the death of loved one.

God comes to us in different ways.

What are you waiting for?  How might you encounter God in this Advent season?