In the gospel of John we have the story of Jesus first miracle. It occurs not in a hospital, not a cemetery, but at a wedding celebration. The wine had run dry. And when the wine was gone, the party was over. At the encouragement of his mother, Jesus tells the attendants to fill the empty wine jars with water. Instantly the water is turned to wine and the party continues.
The story reminds us that joy comes when God has broken into the routine experiences of our daily existence. If the wine had ran out, the party would have been over. Jesus keeps the party going. He keeps the dance floor moving. He keeps the DJ mixing music. Invite Jesus to your party and he will keep it going into the long hours of eternity.
I admit it seems odd that Jesus would use a wedding scene for his first miracle. While the poor are on the streets and the sick are laying in hospitals, Jesus goes to a wedding and uses his miraculous powers to turn water to wine in order to keep the party going.
The challenge is similar to one we have when we are told to be joyful during Christmas. How can we possibly have joy when we think about standing in long lines, shuttling kids from one set of grandparents to another, and hearing cries over toys that don’t work they way they were intended? How can we be asked to have joy when the presents under the tree will be slim this year because we lost our job or there will be an empty space occupying the dinner table that once was held by a family member or friend? How can we put on joy when our world is clothed in rags of fear, despair, and death? Why is Jesus wasting his time at wedding parties when my life is falling apart?
In the book of Revelation the writer describes the return of Christ as a bridegroom returning for his bride. The End Time event is described as a wedding feast when the church, the bride, will be united with her bridegroom, Jesus. It will be a wedding party that surpasses all wedding parties. All of our tears will be wiped away; there will be no more mourning and no more death. The angels will provide special music and all creation will be invited to celebrate. Could it be by demonstrating who he was at a wedding party, Jesus was announcing to the world, “Let’s get this party started?” Jesus teaches us that the wedding party that takes place in God’s kingdom has already begun.
Of course, the announcement was made long before Jesus ever showed up to the wedding. Shepherds keeping watch over their flock received the first announcement from angels. When you read the story you get the sense that the angels could barely contain the joy. They were bursting to tell the good news. It is like they said, “Okay, Jim Bob make the announcement while the rest of us hide behind this cloud and wait.” So they hide. Jim Bob tells the news to the shepherds and before he could say the last line, “you will find a child lying in a manger,” the group of angels burst out from behind the cloud, no longer able to hold their excitement, and proclaim, “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”
The angels knew that the whole Christmas story rested with parent’s who were poor, a woman in labor with no where to give birth. They knew they were announcing the message to lonely shepherds in a field. When the story seems to fall apart before it even begins, they announce the message with great joy. The angels know something about joy that we have missed. The only condition for joy is the presence of God. Joy happens when God is present and the people know it. Joy is always linked to hope. Joy is the response we give when we enjoy being part of God’s divine plan. Joy is what resides in our heart when we have the confidence to know that God has the last word. Joyful is our outlook on life when we know Jesus has already come to get the party started.
The American dream may be the pursuit of happiness but the gift of God is eternal joy. Happiness is created. We work at a happy home, a happy marriage, a happy relationship with our friends. We strive for these things and if we are lucky we can achieve them. Happiness shows up when you expect it.
Joy comes when we don’t expect it. It sneaks up on us. Joy cannot be forced. It is a gift. Joy resides in the heart of God. Joy comes when we make our home with God. We cannot take credit for our moments of joy. We know they are not created. When we look around and the walls are crashing down all around us and yet our strength is found in joy. When we see the ship going down and yet it is joy that is keeping us a float. It is in those moments we are reminded that joy is a gift.
In the stillness of a dark night, the angels show up to some lonely shepherds on a hillside and announce, “Do not be afraid. We have some good news.” If you will let it, the birth of Jesus can be good news in the midst of your fear as well.
In the mid-fifth century B.C., a Persian king took an orphan Hebrew girl as his wife. The king’s advisor, who disliked the Hebrews, came up with a way to trick the king into signing a decree issuing the elimination of the Hebrew people. An uncle of the new queen heard about the evil plot and went to his niece, the queen, and encouraged her to speak up on behalf of her people. The queen was afraid to raise her voice. Her uncle challenged her, “Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.” And with that challenge she confronts the king and rescues her people.
Hi! My name is Jamey Prickett. I am the pastor of Liberty Hill United Methodist Church in Canton, GA. Our community is invested in engaging people in the life and mission of Jesus. One of the ways we do that is through the partnership with SERV International. I recently returned form a trip to Kenya and the House of Hope.
It was on that trip that I met Consolata. Early on in our time at the orphanage she was stand-offish and reserved. But after speaking one morning at the local church where the orphans attended, she came up to me and began to ask me questions about the bible and faith. She walked up and with a tap on my shoulder she asked, “What was the name of Moses’ sister?” For the next forty-five minutes I thought I was on Jeff Foxworthy’s Bible Challenge Kenya edition.
As soon as we arrived the next morning, she was standing to greet me as I stepped out of the Land Rover. I spent the morning with her retelling bible story after bible story. It was obvious to me that Consolata had a gift of remembering the stories of God and re-telling them with passion. It wasn’t so much that those were stories in a book. Those were her stories. She had allowed her life to be wrapped up in those stories.
So, like Mordecai to his niece the queen, I told Consolata that God had a call on her life. God had a purpose for her. Her life had been captured by the grace of God and now God was going to use her to tell His great story to the world. And with the confidence of a queen on a mission, she looked at me and said, “I know!”
An estimated 101 million children lack access to basic education. Sixty percent of those children are girls. When a girl is educated amazing things happen. They marry later. They have healthier families. They raise educated children. They are given a voice. Girls like Consolata need people like you to motivate them, equip them, resource them to reach their potential. They need people like us with resources to share to let them know that they have a purpose and that purpose could be to change their world. The Esther’s of our world need the Mordecai’s who will give them their voice. Our support to SERV International tells the orphans of Kenya and the world that we believe in them and that they have a voice to change their world. “Who knows, maybe YOU are here tonight for such a time as this!” Thanks!
For more information or to find out how you can get involved visit www.servone.org.
I remember being thirteen. It is those awkward years when everything begins to change. You wake up and like your voice changes and like you start speaking like a different language. Instead of SpongeBob bubble soap you are asking your parents for facial cleanser. At thirteen you are trying to be cool. You would do anything to fit in and be liked by others. At thirteen you display overzealous amount of self-confidence but on the inside you are afraid of making an idiot of yourself.
Imagine being thirteen, sitting on your bed texting your friend, “Did you notice the new boy at school today? OMG. LOL” and an angel appears and says, “Hey, young lady, God has noticed you.” An angel shows up and your childhood is gone. This one brush with heaven and your life is forever changed. OMG.
The angel Gabriel appears to Mary, and we are told she is “confused and disturbed.” Now all the angel has said to her at this point is “Hi! What’s up? God has noticed you” and she is afraid and confused. She has not even been told what she must do. She is confused over the Gabriel’s simple greeting. Of course, it is not everyday that angels want to have a conversation. When heaven does come down it usually means something is going to be different. Like when Abraham and Sarah are told in their old age they would have a baby. The voice of heaven is no laughing matter.
The text says it wasn’t so much the appearance of this heavenly being that startled Mary. It was the words that he spoke. “She was confused by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this could be” (1:29). The angel called her favored. A thirteen year old, favored. A thirteen year old engaged to a carpenter, favored. A young, teenager from a nowhere town is favored. A girl from the wrong side of the tracks is favored. She has been noticed. God has looked her way. Heaven has focused on her. Insignificant, and yet, favored. Unimportant, and yet, favored. “Greetings, favored one!” “Who me? Who you talking to? Who am I? Why am I favored?” Peasant girl to prophet. Mary to mother of God. It is one thing to believe in God it is quiet another to live knowing God believes in you.
Mary, a poor teenager who lives at the end of the dirt road, does God know what God is doing? She is not the stuff of legends. She will never wear a crown. She will never sleep on a bed of roses. She will never have her own line of clothing or thousands of twitter followers. God’s hope of redemption rests on a teenager from Bethlehem. This is like picking Auburn University to win the National Championship over the University of Alabama. What seems to be a plan B becomes God’s number one plan.
Why? Why Mary? That is the question isn’t it. God says, “You are favored.” Why? Grace. Mary’s story is a story of grace. It is a reminder that because of grace we have all found favor with God. It is not because we got talents, good looks, or have been wonderfully successful that God has taken notice. It is because of grace. I don’t earn it. I don’t deserve it. The good news is not in what we believe about God but in what God believes about us. “For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son,” replace “world” with your name and you get the idea of God’s grace. Mary believed the angel’s message that nothing was impossible with God because she first heard and believed the word that she was favored with God. The real miracle of Christmas is hearing and accepting that God believes in us.
A story is told of a priest who was baptizing babies during Sunday Mass. He asked the name of the first child being presented for baptism. The parents responded, “Mercedes.” The priest went on and asked the parents of the second child the name of their child. “Toyota,” they replied. The priest looked over at his assistance and said, “We need to replace the holy water with gasoline.”
According to a recent USA Today article, parents are less likely to follow celebrity trends when choosing names for their children. From a recent poll of given names, it appears that parents are more interested in choosing names with meaning than simply for the sake of trend. Instead of merely being unique, parents want names that connect their newborn to the family.
In the bible names served a variety of functions. Moses was given his name because his mother drew him out of a river. His name literally means “to draw out.” Abraham’s name, “father of multitudes,” represents the promise from God that he would be the father of a nation. Isaac means “laughter” which refers to the response his mother gave to the angel who told her she would have a child in her old age. The prophet Isaiah gave his first born son the name “Shear-Jashub” which means a “remnant shall return.” This was Isaiah’s message to the people that a remnant would eventually return to the Promised Land. The names served the purpose of expressing the significance of the birth and/or the future of the person.
In the Christmas story, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and says, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20, 21). The name Jesus is taken from the Hebrew name Joshua and means “he saves.” Jesus’ name tells the purpose of his birth. He came for redemption. His name is the source of salvation. The Apostle Peter says, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). His name is the gateway to eternal life. His name can lift the greatest burdens. We are told that God has given “him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil 2:9-11). His name is worth knowing, because it speaks to the One worth loving.
We have entered the season of Advent. Advent is a season of four weeks before the celebration of Christmas. The season proclaims the coming of Christ – whose birth we prepare to celebrate once again, who comes continually in Word and Spirit, and whose return in final victory we anticipate. Advent is a season of preparation. I appreciate Advent because I need that time to prepare for the celebration of Christmas. For me, without the Advent season, Christmas would just pass by without much notice. It is the season of making sure I have things in order. Advent is about getting back to the basics. It is a period to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.
Advent gives me time to consider what Christmas is all about. For most Christmas is about shopping malls, buying the biggest and most expensive gifts, sitting in traffic, rushing from one Christmas party to the next, and storing up things. The Christmas to which Advent points is about a star, shepherds, angels, good news, a babe lying in a manger, and God with us.
We live lives of clutter. We have substituted living with a cluttered existence. We live in a time when everyone is obsessed with lack of time, lack of space, with saving time, conquering space. Thomas Merton, Catholic Monk, said, “We are numbered in billions, and massed together, marshaled, numbered, marched here and there, taxed, drilled, armed, worked to the point of insensibility, dazed by information, drugged by entertainment, surfeited with everything, nauseated with the human race and with ourselves, nauseated with life. There is no room for quiet. There is no room for solitude. There is no room for thought. There is no room for us to live.”
Advent gives us the time needed to de-clutter before we can celebrate the birth of the Christ child. Christ cannot be heard in the midst of all the clutter of life. We read the phrase “no room in the inn” as a negative statement but could it be that having no room in the inn is a good thing? Someone asked, “Is it possible that if Christ was to be born in the inn among the mass of people that he would have gotten lost in the chaos?” He was born exactly where he could be heard. He was born in a place where the message could be heard by one’s who were ready to hear it – “the shepherds keeping their watch by night.” We need the stillness of life to hear the voice of Christ.
In Psalm 46:10 God says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” It is hard to remember that God is God when we are running around acting like the world depends on us. Another way of saying it could be, “Be still, and know that you are not God.”
My challenge for you this Advent season is to spend time de-cluttering. Among all the clutter of shopping malls, Christmas parties, and traffic jams, set aside time and space to prepare for the message of Christmas. Each week, for the next four weeks, let the Spirit of Christ speak words of hope, peace, joy, and love into your life.
“In him was life, and the life was the light of all people” John 1:4.
On Sunday, November 24th volunteers from Liberty Hill United Methodist Church, Canton, Georgia gave out two hundred food boxes full of canned goods and fresh fruit and vegetables. The effort was part of their Love Thy Neighbor event which is held each week-long school break. Through partnerships with the local elementary school and preschool, the church serves families that are in need of a weekly meal. Along with the food boxes, each family was given a sack lunch. The one hundred and twenty volunteers were coordinated by Pam Beach and Andy Slanina.
Liberty Hill United Methodist has joined forces with Action Ministries in providing a hands-on approach to caring for our community’s most vulnerable. The food boxes valued at $30.00 are purchased through Action Ministries Feed the Hungry program for a $5.00 donation. The endeavor can be supported the month of November by shopping at your local Publix Super Markets and donating toward the Publix Food for Sharing Program.
The food boxes are supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables purchased at the Atlanta Farmers Market through donations received by Liberty Hill Church. On the day of the event, volunteers welcome and assist their neighbors in gathering up each food box.
For the members of Liberty Hill Church, loving their neighbors is the overflow of their worship of God. Serving others and worshipping the Lord is joined together in their purpose of engaging people in the life and mission of Jesus.
In the movie, Lion King, Pumba, the warthog, and Timon, the meerkat, try to convince young Simba that a life of no worries is a carefree life. They roam about their days carefree with no responsibilities and/or commitments. Simba, the young lion destined to be king, later discovers that there is a difference between a carefree life and a worry free life. It could even be argued that a carefree life is really just an attempt to escape life. A hakuna matata, no worry, kind of life is possible but not the way that Timon and Pumba propose.
In Matthew 6:27 Jesus asks, “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” Then he challenges the listeners to reflect on the birds of the air and the lilies of the fields and notice how God provide for them. If the things that are here today and gone tomorrow are taken care of by the Creator, then how much more will God provide for us who are created in God’s image? At this point, Jesus says, “Strive for the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
We all have the tendency to worry. We worry about our careers. We are concerned over our children. We worry about past mistakes coming back to haunt us. We worry about bills, health, and the future. Another word for worry is “anxious.” It comes from the idea of being distracted.
Worry distracts us from the responsibility of living in the moment. It takes away mental energy needed for the moment and leaves us exhausted over things out of our control. The more time we spend worrying the less time we spend doing what needs to be done. Worrying about tomorrow leaves unfilled the tasks of today.
The answer Jesus gives is to seek the kingdom of God. He is challenging us to give our entire attention to what God is doing right now. Trust that God can handle anything that is thrown our way. Take each day as it comes and rejoice in the gift of this moment. Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker’s Movement, once said, “I have learned to live each day as it comes, and not to borrow trouble by dreading tomorrow. It is the dark menace of the future that makes cowards of us.”
As we move toward a week of giving thanks, I pray that all of us will worry less and say thanks for life’s blessings. Let’s focus on what we have more than what we do not have. Let’s be grateful for our blessings and discover a life of hakuna matata, no worries, because the One who clothes the lilies of the field is the One by whom we are loved.
Earlier this week Jaye Watson of 11Alive news tweeted something that caught my attention. She wrote a letter to her son as a part of Leave Nothing Unsaid challenge. The program was started when Jody Noland left the corporate world and became CEO (Chief Encouragement Officer) of Leave Nothing Unsaid. The passion for starting a movement of inspiring others toward encouragement began when her friend, facing surgery for a brain tumor, wrote inspirational letters to his children. Jody’s mission has become showing the world how to share love and hope through an encouraging word.
Author Mercedes Lackey once said, “‘If only.’ Those must be the saddest words in the world.” How many of us regret being silent in a situation where an encouraging word could have made all the difference? Leave Nothing Unsaid is a movement that challenges each of us to speak life into the people we love. The mission is to have us write letters to the people in our lives about the hope they bring and what our dreams are for their lives. My letter is to my two boys – Jaden who is eleven years old and Cohen who is eight years old.
You have taught me that having the right to call myself “Dad” is one that is earned. You have your mom’s red hair and fiery drive toward perfection. I admire your attention to detail. When we are driving back from Tae Kwon Do practice and you notice the radiant glow of the sunset and say, “Wow! Dad isn’t that awesome?”-it moves me more than you know. Thank you for those reminders.
I am confident that you will grow up to be the man of God that your Creator has purposed for you to become. If success is marked not with how much we win or lose but how we played the game; then you are going to be great at what ever you do because you play the game of life with passion. Thank you for letting me be called “Dad.”
If I could create a comedy club and let you be the star every night without getting arrested for violating child labor laws, we would make a fortune. Cohen, your humor and quirkiness lights up my universe. Thank you for being you! You remind me everyday that we are all made unique and it is our distinctiveness that makes the world beautiful.
Because I know you and already know that when that time comes you are going to try hard to be some girls first kiss but let me encourage you that it is not the first kiss but the last love that counts. So, keep smiling, little charmer, because the world needs your smile.
Death, sickness, pain, and suffering exist all around us. Our world needs encouragement. Showing gratitude requires being intentional. Take a moment and go tohttp://www.11alive.com/news/article/313335/40/Write-a-Letter—Leave-Nothing-Unsaid and write a letter to someone today. Let’s create a movement of encouragement. For more information on Leave Nothing Unsaid go to Jody Noland’s website athttp://www.leavenothingunsaid.com.
When we are in crisis mode we develop tunnel-vision. We convince ourselves that there is only one solution to the problem. Our mind in crisis mode does not allow us to consider the possibility of other solutions. This is why a lot of times when the pressure is on we simply run in circles instead of finding a path out of the situation.
Our fast paced everything is critical world we live in has turned every problem into a crisis. Our internet is out, we have a crisis. The boy did not text back the girl, the world is going to end. The grocery store is out of my favorite peanut butter, I am going to starve. We have turned every problem, dilemma, challenge into a crisis. This translates into living constantly in a high-stress state of mind.
A problem is anything that is not a crisis. A crisis is a real life immediate threat that forces us to kick into our fight or flight mode. We are faced with day-to-day problems but have few crisis’ in our lifetime. A crisis is a problem that has escalated to a threat on my well-being or potentially risk of life. It is important to know the difference. A crisis demands an immediate reaction. A problem gives us the breathing room to step back and think critically on possible solutions.
In the Gospel of Matthew we have a story of the disciples turning a problem into a crisis. They find themselves alone with Jesus and five thousand of their closest friends. It is a deserted place and as evening begins to set in they know these folks are going to start getting hungry. They interrupt Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry and ask if they need to start sending the people away before it gets dark and they realize they have no food. Jesus replies that they don’t need to be sent away and then says, “You give them something to eat”(14:16). They respond, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish”(14:17).
Other words, what we have here is a crisis. We have five thousand men not counting the women and children and we only have enough fish and chips for a few people. Jesus takes the five loaves of bread and two fish, blesses them, breaks the loaves, and gives them to his disciples to distribute to the people. They all ate until they were filled. They even had twelve baskets of leftovers for the disciples to munch on for a midnight snack.
If the disciples could have taken their eyes off of the problem before letting it turn into a crisis they would have noticed that the solution stood before them. Jesus is the bread of life and through him all the world can be filled.
When Jesus is lord a crisis can be turned into a problem and a problem can have a solution. Do not be so focused on the crisis at hand that you let fear paralyze you. Remember that the one who conquered death with life stands before you and no situation is beyond his control.
What situation, circumstance, problem, crisis do you need to turn over to him right now?
“Today, and it breaks my heart to say it, finding a homeless person who has died of cold, is not news. Today, the news is scandals, that is news, but the many children who don’t have food – that’s not news. This is grave. We can’t rest easy while things are this way.”
For more photos go to http://www.facebook.com/jamey.prickett