After many technical difficulties, a special gift is here for you on this New Year’s Eve. Yes, I invite you to spend it with me here in Vermont for a Hogmanay celebration — a true Scottish experience complete with haggis! A blessed New Year to you!
Our Scripture to reflect on as we welcome in the New Year is Isaiah 43:18-19: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing;now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
Welcome to worship on this Sunday in Christmastide. Yes, the 12 days of Christmas have begun and we spend our time at the farm with two unsung heroes of the birth narrative: Simeon and Anna. Two people who waited patiently, and with faith, to see God’s promise to the world — Jesus. Simeon and Anna also got me thinking about how we spend this season of Christmas and how it can be the perfect time for us to charge our spirits in order to move forward in faith.
Blessings, Pastor Donna
Scripture to Ponder: Luke 2:22-38
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant[e] in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
I feel so blessed to be spending Christmas Eve with you from my little snowy home in Vermont. May this time together be one of great joy, reflection and humble adoration to what God has done and is doing in our lives.
Remember, have a candle ready to light so that we can join together in the singing of “Silent Night.” Pass this on to friends and family. Consider having a watch party together. Or perhaps just curl up in a comfy chair with a cozy blanket and a cup of hot coco and worship the new born babe.
Scripture to Reflect On
Luke 2:1-20 (NRSV)
2 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
The Shepherds and the Angels
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,[a] the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,[b] praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”[c] 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Well, here we are on the fourth Sunday of Advent. Christmas will be upon us in just a few days. As we light the last candle on the Advent wreath — the candle of love — we pause and remember what this celebration is all about: “For God so loved the world that he gave us his Son.”
And God chose to give us this gift in an unprecedented way. He chose a young girl from a humble family living in an insignificant village (can anything good come from Nazareth?) to be the Christ bearer.
Mary learns of her role in this story of salvation through Gabriel, the angel who just loves to disrupt lives by announcing God’s plans for those lives. “Greetings, favored one” Gabriel starts with, and from there Mary’s world is turned upside down.
Today, at the farm I invite you to ponder the power of that greeting, and imagine what your life would be like when you realize God whispers to you everyday those same words, “Greetings, favored one.” For God has a role for us to play in this story of salvation. God has great big God plans for each of us.
May these days leading up to Christmas be filled with Gabriel disruptions, God whispers and Mary yeses.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Today was an unexpected snow day here in Vermont, which got me thinking about how magical snow days were when I was a child and how important it is to keep the magic going. In a time when technology means we can meet whenever, wherever — well, what does that do to our souls? Isn’t a snow day God’s gift to us, an invitation to be still, to play and do something that gives our soul’s joy? And so, I did just that today. I accepted the snow’s invitation to slow down and be still before God. Blessings!
I can’t believe it is the third Sunday of Advent already, but here we are and it really is beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
Today at the farm, I invite you come and set up the Christmas tree with me. As we do we will talk about the tradition of trees and how it points up to Christ in the world.
God is good at using signs to point us to Christ. But how good are we noticing them? I will also share with you a God moment I had recently when thinking about Christmas trees, and what I came to realize when it came not just to the tree, but my life.
Our Scriptures this morning to reflect on are:
6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman[a]is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.[b]
12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,[a] praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”[b] 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”
I am so excited to share with you an early Christmas gift — my replica of an 18th century lap desk. These desks were the Colonial version of today’s laptops, providing those on the go with all the things they needed to write letters — parchment, a feather quill, powder ink, wax to seal the documents. It is said that much of the Revolutionary War documents were written on lap desks: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton all had one. Even literary giants such as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens had “laptops.”
My 18th century writing box got me thinking about the art of handwriting a letter. It’s not like an email or a text. Handwriting means you have to really take the time to compose your thoughts, that time taken in itself can show another person how much you care. And without autocorrect or an online thesaurus, handwriting means you have to think more deeply about the words you use. Handwriting can bring out the poets in us.
The more I thought about the time and care it takes to handwrite a letter, the more I thought about God’s letters to us — especially God’s Christmas love letters and how these notes were delivered by messengers, such as John the Baptizer, who comes to us in Scripture today.
Yes, John’s message of “repent” is indeed a love letter, for without repentance — which means basically “turn back to God” —how will we ever fully prepare to receive Christ into our hearts? Repent is a loving invitation to stop doing the things that hurt ourselves and others and open our lives to God. We will see in Mark’s Gospel that before those coming to have John baptize them, they had to confess their sins first.
A fresh start with God cannot happen until we confess. We see this with the prophet Isaiah who, in his vision of being in the presence of God, cries out, “Woe is me. I am not worthy.” It is then God takes a piece of coal and blots Isaiah’s lips. Isaiah, after confessing, is made clean by God. He is ready to serve God and God’s children.
This Advent, as we prepare for the coming of Christmas, let us keep in our minds God’s love letters. Letters that tell us to turn back to God, to not fear, to rejoice…and then I invite you to take time this week to write your own Christmas love letter — to God, letting God know how much His presence means to you.
Advent blessings to you!
The beginning of the good news[a] of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,[d] who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” John the baptizer appeared[e] in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with[f] water; but he will baptize you with[g] the Holy Spirit.”