Pastor John Barnette
When I was younger, my mom’s extended family always had a family reunion Christmas party. My grandmother had four siblings and all of them, plus their children and grandchildren, came together to eat and swap small gifts. Until the family grew too big, the party was held at someone’s house. Even though I was small, I can vaguely remember the party being held at the house of one of my great-uncles. As my mom and grandmother love to recall, it was at one of these family reunions that I fell in love with a small mechanical Santa toy that my great-uncle had in his living room. The toy had a plastic face with rosy cheeks and a snow-white beard. He wore a simple red suit made from inexpensive fleece and held a silver bell in his right hand. Once turned on, he would walk across the floor, stopping every so often to ring the bell. At five or six years old, that small toy was amazing. Apparently, I spent most of the party playing with it, even after receiving other gifts.
Shortly after that night, my great-uncle stopped by my grandmother’s house. He had with him a small gift that he wanted to give me. After seeing how much I enjoyed playing with that mechanical Santa, he had decided to head out and find one he could give me. At least, that is what he told us. My mom, however, isn’t so sure that’s the truth. To this day, she still wonders if the small Santa toy that my great-uncle gave me was the very one from his living room.
Even though we no longer have the family reunions and my great-uncle has passed away, I still have that Santa. He barely runs, and his beard is not as white as it once was. But every Christmas, I bring Santa out of the box that keeps him safe and put him on display. He helps to remind me of the true meaning of Christmas.
You see, that small Santa was a gift of love. I had not asked for it, nor had I expected to get it. Yet, it brought a smile to my face, so, in love, my great-uncle gave it to me. There was no sense of obligation on my great-uncle’s part, nor was there an expectation of something in return. He simply gave – and gave gladly! – without a second thought to the cost.
That’s what Christmas is about. It’s about a gift given out of unconditional love. It’s about a God who loves humankind so much that he gave of himself, despite the cost. It’s about the gift of a baby boy, born into a broken world to bring healing, joy, and fulfillment to God’s beloveds.
We can get so caught up in the busyness of the season, buying gifts, decorating our homes, planning get-togethers, and attending special services that we miss the opportunity to share the love that was born to us in that lowly stable so many years ago.
One of my favorite Christmas movies is “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (the original cartoon). At the end of the movie, after he had tried to steal Christmas only to witness the Whos in Whoville joyfully celebrating Christmas, despite being robbed, the Grinch said to himself, “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more.”
It means so much more.
It embodies unconditional love. Love born to save, restore, and bring joy. May the gift we give to each other this year be love – the unconditional love that God has freely given to us. Amen.
Pastor Ken Ewing
We are fast approaching the Season of Lent. Lent is the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. It is a time of reflection and preparation in the anticipation of celebrating Easter. It also a time of remembering Jesus in the wilderness: a time of withdrawal and sacrifice in preparing to do God’s will.
Last week, Joe asked me, as I entered the Sanctuary, “what are you going to do for Lent?” In past years, when asked that question, my response would have been what I had planned to give up during Lent. In asking the question, “what are you going to do for Lent?”, my response was different. I told Joe and in a few moments later the congregation that I had been struggling with that question. My response was to say that I would Do something that would help me respond to God’s call to love and care for others rather than sacrifice something that did not really matter or lead me to make appropriate preparations to celebrate Easter.
In my response to making preparations, I was reminded of “failed” attempts in the past. My dad, a Baptist minister, said he was going to give up cooked carrots for Lent. Big deal, he did not like cooked carrots in the first place. Another “big deal” that fell flat was the time my colleague and I decided to give up caffeine for Lent. We were hard to live with for at least three days negating our intentions to make good preparations for Easter.
This Lenten Season I will not give up something, but rather Do something that would not only help me reflect on God’s will, but would also impart God’s love on others.
At the heart of the Christian faith is the call to love and serve others thus serving God, in other words it is TO DO. I am not saying making sacrifices is not important, rather I am advocating for making an intentional response in loving, kindness maybe a good way of making preparations and reflecting on the importance of Easter.
For me this Lenten Season will be one of doing, reflecting on God’s call to loving service. In preparing to celebrate God’s grace at Easter, I choose to Do something for others. Even during a pandemic there are ways of showing God’s love. I can write thank you notes to family and friends, including important “thank you”s to folks that serve us. I can contribute to funds for those that serve us at South Port Square, pay for the person behind me in the fast food lane, keep in touch with folks on Zoom. I will continue to share my sense of humor with others, hopefully making their day a little brighter.
These are just few suggestions you may consider, or come up with some of your own. Doing good deeds to gain reward or a word of gratitude, is not what I will be about, rather to serve God. Such will be my time of reflecting on how I should respond to God grace, and make preparations to celebrate Easter. Amen.
One day, while driving home, I found myself behind a red truck. At the bottom center of his tailgate was a bumper sticker that caught my eye. All it said was “I *love* haters.” (Instead of the word “love” there was a giant red heart.) Of course, we all know that a “hater” is one who is jealous of you, hostile towards you, or doesn’t want to see you succeed.
Words. Words. Words. We are surrounded by words. They come to us from all directions. We hear them coming from our televisions, and radios; we read them in books and newspapers; and we hear people talking to us. We need words.
In 1939 one of the most famous movies ever made was released. The movie was “The Wizard of Oz.” Based on L. Frank Baum’s novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, the movie followed a young girl from Kansas named Dorothy as she traveled through the strange land of Oz to find the wizard, who would hopefully help her return home.
How do you react when you hear the word “change”? If you’re like most people, that word probably makes you feel a bit uncomfortable. Few people like the idea of change, even when it’s necessary and beneficial. Change brings many unknowns; because of this, it often triggers some anxiety. We know what to expect when things remain static, but change forces us to step back and formulate a new game plan. We might even have to develop a new set of skills, in order to respond to new
“I trust you.” Three little words that have quite the impact. Three little words that most people are careful to use. For the most part, one must earn trust.
The Hebrew word “Shalom” is most often translated into the English word “peace.” That is an adequate translation; however, it does not go to the deeper understanding of Shalom as the Jewish people understand it.
Recently I was reflecting on the tremendous hype of Halloween. The fascination of dressing up as someone you’re not. The fixation on death and being scared out of you wits. The delight in trick-or-treating to get a great amount of candy.
Everyone experiences a loss of some kind during their life. Each one of us deal with our loss in different ways and manners. Some folks find constructive ways of responding to loss. While others seem inconsolable. I have done a number of memorial
Everyone experiences a loss of some kind during their life. Each one of us deal with our loss in different ways and manners. Some folks find constructive ways of responding to loss. While others seem inconsolable. I have done a number of memorial services over the years, I have observed the mourners react differently depending upon their faith
We read in the thirteenth chapter of the John about Jesus’ teachable moment at the Last Supper. He and his disciples were in an upper room preparing to celebrate the Passover Meal. Jesus was aware it was near the end of his days on earth. He used the moment to teach his disciples a valuable lesson of how they should relate to others.