The Kaleidoscope of Grace

Jeremiah 31:7-14, Ephesians 1:3-14 and John 1:1-18

For a year known more by shadows and dark, grey and cloudy days of anxiety and challenges, there sure have been lots of end of the year photos of beautiful sunsets and sunrises! December has been filled with posts of pictures of the glory of the skies! The beauty of the earth. Even snow in its blanket of white appeared to us in Tennessee during Christmas week. A “star” brightened our Christmas season. The wonders of Creation were on display for those who have eyes to see!

Our scriptures for our first Sunday in 2021 are full of images of God at work in the created order, in unfolding times and places. And in that revealing work, God’s purposes of and promises of a heaven-in-earth are proclaimed and demonstrated in nature and people we see! God works with what is given from the Beginning and what is intended in the End.

So, Jeremiah glories in the God who does not forsake sinful Israel, the Apostle John directs our attention to the Word becoming flesh (!) in Jesus, and Paul exalts in what both Jew and Gentile have inherited in Christ Jesus. It is a veritable “kaleidoscope” of dazzling gifts and events and promises kept. The dark and shadowy existence of ill and woe is overcome time and time again in God’s ongoing restoration and fulfillment of life as originally intended. Original blessing triumphs over original sin!

Admittedly, a year like 2020 seems to fly in the face of that blessing but one year is NOT the whole story, the big picture! When we do turn around and see and hear of the beauty of all that is, especially in Jesus Christ, we are renewed and strengthened for another “go at life.” The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Israel’s consolation is before us. And Paul declares we are God’s family, we will not be abandoned nor forsaken!

Let’s all look into the kaleidoscope of scripture and Creation and see the dazzling colors of Grace play out before our very eyes! In that we have both present, abundant life and a hope for the future!

Blessings as we enter 2021 and beyond!

Pastor Barry

What Simeon and Anna Got For Christmas

Psalm 148, Galatians 4:4-7 and Luke 2:22-40

For the most part, the Gospels describe the birth of Jesus as attended to by pretty common folk. Celebrities don’t make the list. No governors, magistrates, nor well known public figures. The so called Three Kings are astrologer types and from a distant land at that! No one local knew them! The main “lineup” seems to have been shepherds, a mix of farm animals, those strangers from afar, and relatively low key angels! Again, no celebrities nor media coverage.

There is not much difference when Mary and Joseph bring the infant Jesus to the Temple for Mary’s ritual purification. The two people that Luke mentions are never heard from again in scripture! Simeon is simply devout and righteous. And Anna is an aged widow and a little known prophet. Yet, these fairly regular people are the ones who recognize the Messiah, the Savior! There is no mention of a priest or scribe recognizing this son of a Nazareth couple as the long expected One!

Perhaps Luke wants to convey the reality that this Holy Child can be known by any and all who are “alert and watching” for the acts of God in both the more routine as well as the rare glorious moments in life. Simeon and Anna seem more like, well…!! The famous and the celebrity types are certainly not excluded from God’s revealing but perhaps they are often preoccupied with other things other than watching and waiting and celebrating what God is “all about” in Jesus.

Let us be eager to be like Simeon and Anna in all our doing and being! We might be more likely to see something happening around us that reveals God’s purpose and glory!

Blessings on this Christmas Sunday and the approach of a New Year!

Pastor Barry

Tent, Temple, Person: Mystery Revealed

2 Samuel 7:1-11, Romans 16:25-27 and Luke 1:26-38.

We arrive as a worshipping community at the last Sunday of Advent. Christmas is soon to be celebrated!

The whole history of our faith is like a constant reminder of Advent and Christmas only going by different names! The history of God’s working with Israel and indirectly with the Gentiles is before us in all our texts for today’s worship. God is present with people in mysterious often hidden ways: in a tent in the wilderness, in a Temple in a city, but ultimately within the very soul of a person e.g., Mary. By any other Biblical names, e.g. Covenant, Revelation, we are still talking about “Preparation” and “Arrival.” Advent and Christmas!

It’s helpful to be reminded each year of Christmas past, present, and future. Who doesn’t have keepsake ornaments, decorations, memorabilia from years past? And likely something new this year to be kept for future holidays and celebrations.

The story of our faith and each one’s personal journey is very much a reminder of God’s dwelling with us in wilderness (tent), in settlement (Temple), and in person (like in Mary and in all of us!).

As the song goes and as our Scripture reminds us, “Don’t worry….be happy!” ‘Tis the Season!” We are being reminded by all the sights and sounds that God is with us!

Pastor Barry

Mary and Alvin C York: Companions For Advent

Isaiah 61:1-4, Psalm 126 and Luke 1:46-55

Mary’s proclamation in Luke 1:46-55 gets our attention as we see how she sees herself in service to God. And that service takes the form of motherhood and discipleship to her son and her Savior. She is an example of expectancy in God’s promises to Israel and through Israel to the whole world. We honor her on this Third Sunday of Advent through the reading of her Magnificat, (where she quotes and paraphrases from Isaiah to the Psalms), and by lighting the pink candle in our Advent Wreath.

But how does a Tennessee hero of WWI get included in our sermon this Sunday?? Sgt. Alvin C. York from Fentress County was born on December 13th (our Sunday date) and is a notable Christian of the 20th Century even if made most famous by his wartime heroics. He was active in his local church and Cumberland Plateau community.

Here is the ongoing challenge: finding brothers and sisters in the faith to learn from, emulate, and then find our own unique witness after coming under the influence of thousands of other Christians, Christ followers in all walks of life in every age.

Mary is our biblical witness this Sunday as Alvin C. York reminds us of the vast life situations that are given to work out our faith in whatever time and place we are given!

Praise be to God who knows us all by name and knows each one’s unique potential for living the Christian life!

Come to worship with expectation to glorify God in the life you have now!

Pastor Barry

John the Baptist and St. Nicolas Preparing the Way!

Isaiah 10:1-11, 2 Peter 3:8-15a and Mark 1:1-8

Sometime in the next 3-4 weeks you are likely to have “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” in your head or even belting out of your mouth in song! The sounds of the season are full of a Christian/Christmas cast of characters from the sacred to the secular. And some have blended together. There really was a Saint Nicolas in the Fourth Century who has become Santa Claus.

One doesn’t always think of Santa Claus and John the Baptist in the same story but they merge in our cultural practices during Advent. Our story is truly big enough to include all types of personalities and expressions of the faith.

Our Mark text highlights the coming of the wild looking, loud prophet John. Sunday is also the day many churches remember and honor St. Nicolas of Myra a very kind and generous Bishop especially to children.

It takes all kinds is a true enough statement even if overused. True enough for all to see in any church, denomination, or nation. It takes forthright loud prophets as much as it does quiet, caring Bishops! They all in their unique ways herald the coming of one greater than ANY in church, denomination, or nation!

This is the One we are reminded each December came first to all of us as a Child. It takes all kinds to remind us that God is determined to work with and through people. God comes to us through “the human touch” with a cast of thousands (well actually billions when you consider all humans ever created!).

And in turn, we learn the faith from others by word and deed. Who has not at times brought the Word as John the Baptist? Who has not brought the Deed as St Nicolas?? When have you found both of these two different Christ followers in your own thoughts, words, and deeds?

An Advent question to ask ourselves as we celebrate the Second Sunday in Advent!

Pastor Barry