Hello Blue Mound Church Family!

We’ve made it to Thanksgiving, the start of the holiday season. We didn’t get to have the kind of Thanksgiving we want last year because of Covid. So, this year it seemed especially good to get together with family and friends again. It was my first Thanksgiving with my new Blue Mound church family, and I’ve got to tell you, if you weren’t there for our Thanksgiving meal after church you missed a wonderful one! We had everything from turkey to dressing (or stuffing, I still don’t know the difference) to potatoes to all sorts of vegetables to cranberries, to hot rolls with butter … oh and then the pies and banana pudding and … well I could go on and on. It was a feast fit for a king. I know it brought joy to Christ to see us all together. It certainly was joyful for me and Janet!

I want to invite any of you who haven’t rejoined us yet to come back to church in person. Don’t feel awkward about coming back. We just want you to be present with us in fellowship again. The fellowship is warm, the music is inspiring, and every once in a while, your preacher says something good too. (Plus, he doesn’t preach too long!) Here’s some of what we’ve learned recently:

October 24th – Don’t Give Up Look Up (Luke 18:1-8)

  • The power of persistent prayer.
  • The story of the persistent widow is a contrast between God and the unsympathetic judge.
  • God is eager to answer your prayers.
  • Why keep on praying when there’s no answer?
  • Persistent praying helps me focus on God.
  • Persistent praying helps me clarify my request.
  • Persistent praying prepares me for the answer.
  • Persistent praying strengthens my faith.

October 31st – Don’t Let Your Doubts Defeat You! (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

  • Causes of doubt and biblical examples of how to deal with and overcome them.
  • Three things that cause us to doubt God.
  • Critics, Conscience, Circumstances.
  • How to deal with your doubts.
  • Admit your doubts.
  • Doubt your doubts.
  • Begin with the faith you have.

November 7th – It’s Never Too Late to Start Over (Job 17:11)

  • Causes of failure and getting a fresh start in life.
  • Possible causes for failure (From Proverbs).
  • We fail when we don’t plan ahead.
  • We fail when we think we’ve arrived.
  • We fail when we are afraid to take risks.
  • We fail when we give up too soon.
  • We fail when we don’t listen to God.
  • How to get a fresh start in life.
  • Accept responsibility for my failure.
  • Stop regretting and start repenting.
  • Forget the former and focus on the future.
  • Trust God to work it all out.

November 14th – What to Do When You Feel Like Giving Up (Nehemiah 4:6-14)

  • Causes of discouragement and how to overcome them.
  • Causes of discouragement.
  • Fatigue, Frustration, Failure, Fear
  • Cures for discouragement.
  • Rest your body.
  • Reorganize your life.
  • Remember the Lord.
    • God’s goodness in the past.
    • God’s closeness in the present.
    • God’s power for the future.
  • Resist the discouragement.

November 21st – How to Pass Life’s Greatest Tests (Hebrews 11:8-19)

  • The life of Abraham teaches us how to pass life’s tests.
  • A first challenge we may face is a major change – the “Where” question.
  • A believer will follow God’s leading without knowing where.
  • A second challenge we may face is a delayed promise – the “When” question.
  • A believer will wait for God’s timing without knowing when.
  • A third challenge we may face is an impossible problem – the “How” question.
  • A believer will expect a miracle with knowing how.
  • A fourth challenge we may face is a senseless tragedy – the “Why” question..
  • A believer will trust God’s purpose without knowing why.

I have one more message to give in this series, where we’ll see how Moses teaches us “How to Deal with Disappointment.” Then for the holiday season, I’m shifting my preaching from a teaching style to sermons following the lectionary.

We’re beginning the new Christian year on Sunday, November 28th, the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is a wonderful time of the year, a season ripe with anticipation. We’re waiting for the big day to come – a day full of joy and peace.

Of course, that big day is Christmas Day! But Advent only kind of partially has anything to do with Christmas.

Advent is a time of heavy anticipation. It focuses on waiting for a big occurrence. But the anticipated occurrence of event is not actually fully realized on Christmas. During Advent we’re anticipating the full realization of something that began at the first Christmas (when Jesus was born) but isn’t yet fully realized. Technically Christmas begins on December 25. Everything leading up to that day is Advent. And it’s important to note the distinction so we can be fully mindful of the hope that faith speaks into our human experience.

The word “advent” comes from the Latin “adventus”, meaning “coming.” During its earliest observances, Advent was 40 days of repentance, fasting and prayer as new believers prepared for their baptisms. Often, these baptisms took place on the day of Epiphany – which is a day remembering the Magi’s visit to baby Jesus; it was a celebration of Jesus’ incarnation on Earth.

Later Christians began tying Advent not just to Christ’s incarnation, but to an anticipated second coming of Christ. Advent became a period for renewing the anticipation and longing for Jesus’ return.

Today, Advent is a period of preparing for both “advents” – or arrivals – of Jesus. Lester Ruth, a professor at Duke Divinity School and a historian of Christian worship, offers this distinction for Advent: “The simplest way I have to distinguish between Advent and Christmas is that advent uses the word “come” as a longing petition, expressed in anticipation, whereas Christmas is a commemorative reflection on how the Lord has come in Christ’s birth and thus the trigger for a new redemptive order has begun.”

In our culture, the close ties to Christmas seem to outweigh the anticipation of another “advent” of Jesus. We combine the Christmas celebration and the anticipation of Advent. But when we ignore the part about the “second coming” it removes some of the urgency of our Christian call to enact God’s love and justice on Earth.

What do we mean by the “Second Coming”?

Most Christian creeds of faith contain something like the following statement:

“Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead.”

In The United Methodist Church, we affirm that Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead as a prelude to the revealing of the new creation. So, when Christ returns a new creation comes, too. The new creation will have a unity of God and us that was meant to be from the beginning as seen in the creation stories of Genesis. In the New Testament, this new creation is marked with freedom from death, sin, and decay. So, the new creation will be a time where death is no more, and we no longer tear ourselves apart from one another and from God.

There’s a lot of hope inspired by believing that such a world is possible. Advent is a season for reflecting on and renewing that hope.

What do we do for Advent?

It seems our Advent observances could benefit from a greater emphasis on the advent that is yet to come, and a diminished emphasis on the advent remembered in our Christmas celebrations (there’s time for that when Christmas actually arrives on December 25). So how can we re-orient ourselves towards longing this Advent?

One of the ways we reflect on Advent in worship is by using an Advent wreath – a simple wreath surrounding four exterior candles and one central candle. The four exterior candles represent the hallmarks of a new creation: joy, hope, peace, and love. The central candle represents the presence of Christ. Each Sunday, one more of the exterior candles is lit. Finally, the Christ candle is lit as a reminder of Christ’s ongoing presence. We, of course, can bring this practice home, creating our own Advent wreaths and contemplating our own longings for more joy, hope, peace, and love.

We also utilize music for reflection. Many songs communicate our Advent longings.

So, this is the season we will be sharing in together over these next weeks as we move through Advent, to Christmas, to Epiphany. For those of you who have yet to come back to worshipping with us in person, I hope you’ll come back and rejoin us. Let me personally invite you to return to the fellowship of your church family. I encourage all of you to join us this coming Sunday.

You were created to be in fellowship with other believers. Covid caused us to separate ourselves from one another and we lost something very precious when that happened. What we lost is how we build one another up when we’re worshipping together in person. We all need the support and encouragement of our church family, especially during life’s challenges. So, come to church. It will warm my heart to see you, and it will warm your heart too!

Peace be with you,