Prayer and Peace

The egg drop is a science experiment.  Each team gets an egg and can use all kinds of materials, from foam to bubble wrap to straws to build a capsule to protect the egg when it is dropped.  The teams cannot change the egg in any way but they can get creative how to protect the egg from the impact of the fall.  The fragile eggs often crack upon impact of the fall, but a good team can safely surround the egg to protect it from high falls.

Prayer is one way that we can protect ourselves from the impact of the world.  We become surrounded and guarded with the peace of Christ when we enter into REGULAR and ONGOING prayer.  I believe simple and individual prayers work but those who dedicate their lives to disciplined prayer time and connection to God find the peace deeper and stronger than those who only pray at times of great need or convenience.

This Advent season, drop to a knee and pray!

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  – Philippians 4:6-7

Daily Devotions – Peace, Be Still.

“Peace, be still.”  With these simple words, Jesus calmed the storm.  The reality of storms’ disasters seems very real to us.  Fires in California, hurricanes on the east coast, drought in Africa and so much more.  We know, however, that there is a power that is even greater.  Christ wasn’t offering us a life free of trouble, instead we are given the gift of peace in the midst of danger and trials.  He has overcome the world and with that we might tap into that power.  We can face death, chaos, disorder and fear with calm assurance and rest in the knowledge of the power of Christ to bring order and peace.  Take heart this Advent season, Jesus is coming!

I have told you these things, so that you in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  – John 16:33

Advent – Peace

My father was a United Methodist Pastor for many years and really still is in his retirement.  I followed in his footsteps.  It seems like many of us end up being like our parents.  The gift that our parents possess often is passed down from generation to generation.  My sister often credits my mother for her creativity and teaching skills.  While we still have to work at our abilities, we are all naturally gifted with certains skills.  In our Christian life, we are also gifted with the fruits of the Spirit.  As we live in this Advent season, search your heart for these gifts and nuture them.  The closer we live in relationship with God, the more these gifts will be developed and shared in our lives.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” -Gal. 5:22-23

What are the gifts that you have received from your family?

How will you nurture the gifts of the Spirit in your life this Advent season?

Peace to You and to Yours

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” – Luke 2:13-14

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” – John 14:27

Spend one minute in silence, listening to the peace of Christ.  You might offer this prayer:

“Lord, in your mercy, give me peace.

Lord, in your mercy give my family peace.

Lord, in your mercy give my neighbors peace.

Lord, in your mercy give my country peace.

Lord, in your mercy, give the world peace.

Lord, in your mercy, give me peace.”

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.  The Lord be with all of you.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:16

Who are the Baptizers?

On Sunday, I preached on John the Baptist and the beginning chapter of Mark.  Here is a follow-up from Luther Seminary’s Advent devotionals.

Mark 1:1-8

John the Baptist will be forever marked by his diet and

wardrobe: locusts, honey and a camel-hair shirt. In

the starkness of his lifestyle, we could easily forget

that he says one of the most important things in the

New Testament. Speaking of Jesus, he proclaims, “He

will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Even before

Jesus begins his ministry, John the Baptist knows that

Jesus’ work will extend far beyond his brief life here on

earth. John knows that Jesus’ works involve the whole

Trinitarian being of God. People like John the Baptist

sometimes live on the margins. They sometimes don’t

quite manage to learn all the right social cues. They just

sort of appear in our neighborhoods. Would you have let

yourself be baptized by him? Yet, people on the margins

are often the ones who understand Jesus’ power the best.

They often see the Spirit in ways the rest of us cannot.

 

God, who are the baptizers in my neighborhood? Help us

to see those who continually prepare the way for Christ to

come into our lives and our hearts. Amen.

These are Just Fun Facts

Luke 2:8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 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!”

While I would love to think that we can see Jesus in everything we do during the Christmas season, sometimes we just do things for fun.  Here are a couple of Christmas traditions that are interesting and I share them with you.  Maybe they help bring you some joy and that is indeed something that Christ brings!  These come from Mentalfloss.com:

Really?   Ugly sweaters???
To celebrate this joyous season, many people gleefully don hideous knitwear adorned with ribbons, sequins, bows, and lights. In the past, the trend was embraced solely by grandmas, teachers, and fashion-challenged parents, but in the last decade or so, the ugly sweater has gone mainstream. We may have Canada to blame for that: According to the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book, the ugly sweater party trend can be traced to a 2001 gathering in Vancouver.

 

 

Why do we put out cookies and milk for Santa??

When we plunk a few Oreos or chocolate chip cookies on a plate for St. Nick, accompanied by a cold glass of milk, we’re actually participating in a tradition that some scholars date back to ancient Norse mythology. According to legend, Odin had an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir. Kids would leave treats for Sleipnir, hoping that Odin would favor them with gifts in return. The practice became popular again in the U.S. during the Great Depression, when parents tried to impress upon kids the importance of being grateful for anything they were lucky enough to receive for Christmas.

EGG NOG….YUCK

 

It’s hard to imagine why anyone would be inspired to chug a raw egg-based drink, but historians agree that ‘nog was probably inspired by a medieval drink called “posset,” a milky drink made with eggs, milk, and sometimes figs or sherry. These were all pricey ingredients, so the wealthy often used it to toast with.

Eggnog became a holiday drink when colonists brought it over from England, but they found a way to make it on the cheap, nixing the figs and substituting rum for sherry. And how about that weird “nog” name? No one knows for sure, but historians theorize that “nog” was short for “noggin,” which was slang for a wooden cup, or a play on the Norfolk variety of beer also called nog (which itself may be named after the cup).

Do you have your cards out yet?

 

J.C. Horsley’s first Christmas card. Getty

Exchanging holiday greetings via mail is a surprisingly recent tradition, with the first formal card hitting shelves in 1843. Designed by an Englishman named J.C. Horsley, the cardboard greeting showed a happy group of people participating in a toast, along with the printed sentiment, “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.” A thousand of them were printed that first year, and because it cost just a penny to mail a holiday hello to friends and family (the card itself was a shilling, or 12 times as much), the cards sold like hotcakes and a new custom was born. Today, Americans send around 2 billion cards every year.

May this season bring you great joy.

CHRISTMAS BANNED

There is a battle in my family. My daughter loves to start listening to and singing Christmas carols in November. I refuse to do so until Advent begins. Stores begin to put up Christmas displays months before the season. We adorn our houses with flashing lights and blow-up creations. Many of us put up crèche scenes in our homes and on our yards. We place luminaries on our roads and the cities decorate the light fixtures with greenery and wreaths. The Christmas holiday is popular and it is wide-spread.

But, did you know that at one time in the history of our country Christmas celebrations were banned? In New England, puritan leaders banned any celebrations of Christmas. They cited that there was nothing Scriptural commanding Christians to do so and the fact that it was pushed to December 25 was enough to not only have them discourage it but to make it illegal. They thought that it would make a mockery of the birth of Christ. Moreover, they cited that the actual birth of Jesus would have not been in December and because the date was chosen as a response to an existing pagan holiday, Christians should not participate. By 1680, however, the laws against Christmas were removed and the rise of the holiday began more earnestly.

In fact, by 1867 it was healthy enough that Macy’s in New York City kept its doors open until midnight on Christmas Eve. I guess late night black Friday-type shopping isn’t a new invention.

As Christians, however, we might listen a bit to our Puritan brothers and sisters of old. Maybe the pendulum has swung from one extreme to another. What should be a holy and contemplative season of darkness, light, salvation and a gift of life has often become for many a holiday of greed, emoji pillows or songs about Santa being run over by his own reindeer. Now, before you say BAH HUMBUG to me, I am not saying we remove all semblances of the fun we all enjoy, but maybe a response we should all consider this year is how much of our celebrations celebrate the Christ child? Does Christmas make a difference in your journey of faith or is it just another stressful holiday?

I pray you are able to find the Christ in Christmas!

Today is St. Nicks Day

We continue our understandings of Christmas traditions.  Everyone loves Santa, the jolly man who brings toys to children far and wide.  Many of you know that Santa is based on a saint, Saint Nicholas.  What follows is long but a really good read.  It comes from the St. Nicholas Center.

Saint Nicholas by Susan Seals

St. Nicholas
Artist: Susan Seals
All rights reserved
Exclusive print in our shop

The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.

Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals—murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, where a unique relic, called manna, formed in his grave. This liquid substance, said to have healing powers, fostered the growth of devotion to Nicholas. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day, December 6th (December 19 on the Julian Calendar).

Through the centuries many stories and legends have been told of St. Nicholas’ life and deeds. These accounts help us understand his extraordinary character and why he is so beloved and revered as protector and helper of those in need.

St Nicholas giving gold to father
St. Nicholas giving dowry gold
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky
St Nicholas in prison
St. Nicholas in prison
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky

One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman’s father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man’s daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. And so St. Nicholas is a gift-giver.

One of the oldest stories showing St. Nicholas as a protector of children takes place long after his death. The townspeople of Myra were celebrating the good saint on the eve of his feast day when a band of pirates from Crete came into the district. They stole treasures from the Church of Saint Nicholas to take away as booty. As they were leaving town, they snatched a young boy, Basilios, to make into a slave. The emir, or ruler, selected Basilios to be his personal cupbearer, as not knowing the language, Basilios would not understand what the king said to those around him. So, for the next year Basilios waited on the king, bringing his wine in a beautiful golden cup. For Basilios’ parents, devastated at the loss of their only child, the year passed slowly, filled with grief. As the next St. Nicholas’ feast day approached, Basilios’ mother would not join in the festivity, as it was now a day of tragedy. However, she was persuaded to have a simple observance at home—with quiet prayers for Basilios’ safekeeping. Meanwhile, as Basilios was fulfilling his tasks serving the emir, he was suddenly whisked up and away. St. Nicholas appeared to the terrified boy, blessed him, and set him down at his home back in Myra. Imagine the joy and wonderment when Basilios amazingly appeared before his parents, still holding the king’s golden cup. This is the first story told of St. Nicholas protecting children—which became his primary role in the West.

St Nicholas rescuing boys
St. Nicholas rescuing murdered children
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky
St Nicholas saving ship
St. Nicholas’ prayer calming seas
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky

Another story tells of three theological students, traveling on their way to study in Athens. A wicked innkeeper robbed and murdered them, hiding their remains in a large pickling tub. It so happened that Bishop Nicholas, traveling along the same route, stopped at this very inn. In the night he dreamed of the crime, got up, and summoned the innkeeper. As Nicholas prayed earnestly to God the three boys were restored to life and wholeness. In France the story is told of three small children, wandering in their play until lost, lured, and captured by an evil butcher. St. Nicholas appears and appeals to God to return them to life and to their families. And so St. Nicholas is the patron and protector of children.

St Nicholas famine relief
St. Nicholas providing food during famine
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky
St Nicholas stopping execution
St. Nicholas saving innocents
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky

Several stories tell of Nicholas and the sea. When he was young, Nicholas sought the holy by making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. There as he walked where Jesus walked, he sought to more deeply experience Jesus’ life, passion, and resurrection. Returning by sea, a mighty storm threatened to wreck the ship. Nicholas calmly prayed. The terrified sailors were amazed when the wind and waves suddenly calmed, sparing them all. And so St. Nicholas is the patron of sailors and voyagers.

Other stories tell of Nicholas saving his people from famine, sparing the lives of those innocently accused, and much more. He did many kind and generous deeds in secret, expecting nothing in return. Within a century of his death he was celebrated as a saint. Today he is venerated in the East as wonder, or miracle worker and in the West as patron of a great variety of persons-children, mariners, bankers, pawn-brokers, scholars, orphans, laborers, travelers, merchants, judges, paupers, marriageable maidens, students, children, sailors, victims of judicial mistakes, captives, perfumers, even thieves and murderers! He is known as the friend and protector of all in trouble or need (see list).

St Nicholas blessing ships
St. Nicholas blessing ships
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky
Saint Nicholas statue in niche
Saint Nicholas
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky

Sailors, claiming St. Nicholas as patron, carried stories of his favor and protection far and wide. St. Nicholas chapels were built in many seaports. As his popularity spread during the Middle Ages, he became the patron saint of Apulia (Italy), Sicily, Greece, and Lorraine (France), and many cities in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Russia, Belgium, and the Netherlands (see list). Following his baptism, Grand Prince Vladimir I brought St. Nicholas’ stories and devotion to St. Nicholas to his homeland where Nicholas became the most beloved saint. Nicholas was so widely revered that thousands of churches were named for him, including three hundred in Belgium, thirty-four in Rome, twenty-three in the Netherlands and more than four hundred in England.

St Nicholas with the angels
St. Nicholas’ death
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky
St Nicholas bringing gifts
St. Nicholas bringing gifts
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky

Nicholas’ tomb in Myra became a popular place of pilgrimage. Because of the many wars and attacks in the region, some Christians were concerned that access to the tomb might become difficult. For both the religious and commercial advantages of a major pilgrimage site, the Italian cities of Venice and Bari vied to get the Nicholas relics. In the spring of 1087, sailors from Bari succeeded in spiriting away the bones, bringing them to Bari, a seaport on the southeast coast of Italy. An impressive church was built over St. Nicholas’ crypt and many faithful journeyed to honor the saint who had rescued children, prisoners, sailors, famine victims, and many others through his compassion, generosity, and the countless miracles attributed to his intercession. The Nicholas shrine in Bari was one of medieval Europe’s great pilgrimage centers and Nicholas became known as “Saint in Bari.” To this day pilgrims and tourists visit Bari’s great Basilica di San Nicola.

Through the centuries St. Nicholas has continued to be venerated by Catholics and Orthodox and honored by Protestants. By his example of generosity to those in need, especially children, St. Nicholas continues to be a model for the compassionate life.

Children with St. Nicholas cookies
Celebrating St. Nicholas
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky
Children with St. Nicholas cookies
Celebrating St. Nicholas
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky

Widely celebrated in Europe, St. Nicholas’ feast day, December 6th, kept alive the stories of his goodness and generosity. In Germany and Poland, boys dressed as bishops begged alms for the poor—and sometimes for themselves! In the Netherlands and Belgium, St. Nicholas arrived on a steamship from Spain to ride a white horse on his gift-giving rounds. December 6th is still the main day for gift giving and merrymaking in much of Europe. For example, in the Netherlands St. Nicholas is celebrated on the 5th, the eve of the day, by sharing candies (thrown in the door), chocolate initial letters, small gifts, and riddles. Dutch children leave carrots and hay in their shoes for the saint’s horse, hoping St. Nicholas will exchange them for small gifts. Simple gift-giving in early Advent helps preserve a Christmas Day focus on the Christ Child.

To discover how this saint turned into the roly-poly red-suited Santa, check out this link.  http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/origin-of-santa/

Daily Devotions – Meaning of Christmas Presents

Like many of our traditions at Christmas it is difficult to know exactly how or where they began.  However we often have glimpses that give us some interesting clues as to the origins of many of our current Christmas practices.  The question for Christians is less about the origins of the practices but how do they help us to know more fully the God we worship?  How do we utilize the traditions to convey what my magnet on my car says:  “The reason for the Season is Jesus” or the popular “Keep CHRIST in CHRISTmas.”

Today I share some insight into gift giving.  For Christians, gift giving reminds of the great gift of love in the life and grace of Jesus Christ.  Every gift given and received should remind us of John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that God gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him might have everlasting life.”

It also reminds us of the gifts of the magi as they sought out the Christ child.

-Frankincense was perfume used in worship.

-God was associated with Kings and royalty.

-Myrrh was a perfume that was used in embalming.  It was expensive but also reminds us of why Jesus came.

Finally, we are reminded that we as Christians need to be generous.  One of the best examples of this comes from a few of our larger United Methodist churches who ask their congregations to donate as much to a mission they are involved in as they spend on their own gifts.  Over the years Ginghamsburg UMC and Church of the Resurrection have raised millions to fight hunger and dig clean wells for families around the world.  People in these churches often share how much more meaningful that gift is then anything they received or gave that was material in nature.

Gift giving in our Christmas traditions have not always been about the religious significance.  Gift giving was an old tradition in many cultures outside of the Christian experience.  Some show signs how giving has been associated with Saturnalia, a raucous Roman festival honoring the god of agriculture, Saturn.  Gifts given to one another, the poor and to the gods are a part of many religions.

The modern gift giving with the presents in stockings, shoes or under trees really took off in the 1800s.  Many also credit the Charles Dickens novel and Saint Nicholas in the rise of gift-giving popularity.

Daily Devotions – Advent Meaning

Today I will begin a week-long set of devotions centered on the various meanings of advent symbols that many of us use in our homes.  The more we understand the meanings and history behind the various decorations and symbols in our homes, the more impactful our Advent Journey will be.

ADVENT:  (From UMC.org)

The season of Advent, which comes from the Latin word adventus meaning “coming” or “visit,” begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year for Christians. [Liturgical — from liturgy, which means the forms and functions of public worship.]

During Advent, we prepare for, and anticipate, the coming of Christ. We remember the longing of Jews for a Messiah and our own longing for, and need of, forgiveness, salvation and a new beginning. Even as we look back and celebrate the birth of Jesus in a humble stable in Bethlehem, we also look forward anticipating the second coming of Christ as the fulfillment of all that was promised by his first coming.

ADVENT CANDLE:  (from http://www.salvemariaregina.info/Prayers/Advent.html and umc.org) Originating in Germany several hundred years ago, it has become a cherished custom for many families throughout America. Christians preparing for their feast of light found this wreath an appropriate means of doing so. Adding one light for each of the four Sundays in Advent, they think about the darkness without God after the Fall, and the growing hope for salvation, and nourished through the ages by the prophets the coming of the Son on Christmas morning.

The wreath without beginning and end stands for eternity; the evergreens for life and growth; the four candles, represent the ages “sitting in darkness and the shadow of death”, each candle adding more light until Christmas, when the light from the wreath sets off, as it were, the blaze of light on the “tree of life”, the Christmas tree-for the time is fulfilled.

As the Advent of Christ, or “coming,” draws nearer another candle is lit, with each candle dispelling the darkness a little more. Thus, the Advent wreath helps us to spiritually contemplate the great drama of salvation history that surrounds the birth of God Incarnate who comes to redeem the human race.

Violet is a liturgical color that is used to signify a time of prayer, penance, and sacrifice and is used during Advent and Lent.  Advent, also called “little Lent,” is the season where we spiritually wait in our “darkness” with hopeful expectation for our promised redemption, just as the whole world did before Christ’s birth, and just as the whole world does now as we eagerly await his promised return.

Isaiah 52:7-9New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
    who announces salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
    together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
    the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
    you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.