Thursday, December 31, 2020

New Year’s Hallelujahs!

Despite this year’s difficulties, myriad as they are, God is still worthy of our praise! Spend some time finding the good in 2020, the unexpected revenue of 2020 (and I am not talking about money!). Seek the fragrance of Christ in this year; pause when you remember grace, the purpose of His suffering. Instead of only sitting beside the hardships and sacrifices, the losses and isolation, stand up and look around at all the giving hands and serving hearts, recall the gestures of goodness and light that people have been sharing with each other. So much good has happened! Remember the renewed value of time spent together. Remember the random acts of kindness and repeated gifts of generosity. Remember Immanuel, God with us! All good gifts come from God, and His Presence remains with us. Read Psalm 111 (The Message) and name your own 2020 ‘hallelujahs’! What a great way to celebrate the beginning of a NEW YEAR! His Hallelujah lasts forever! dho 

                                                                                                               

Hallelujah!

I give thanks to GOD with everything I've got—

Wherever good people gather, and in the congregation.

GOD's works are so great, worth

A lifetime of study—endless enjoyment!

Splendor and beauty mark his craft;

His generosity never gives out.

His miracles are his memorial—

This GOD of Grace, this GOD of Love.

He gave food to those who fear him,

He remembered to keep his ancient promise.

He proved to his people that he could do what he said:

Hand them the nations on a platter—a gift!

He manufactures truth and justice;

All his products are guaranteed to last—

Never out-of-date, never obsolete, rust-proof.

All that he makes and does is honest and true:

He paid the ransom for his people,

He ordered his Covenant kept forever.

He's so personal and holy, worthy of our respect.

The good life begins in the fear of GOD—

Do that and you'll know the blessing of GOD.

His Hallelujah lasts forever! 

- Psalm 111/The Message

Friday, December 25, 2020

Christmas Greetings 2020

Merry Christmas 2020...



Traditions can change over time, replaced or revised for another time, a new beginning. While it’s often hard to let go of our cherished customs, we must not stop having traditions. These special moments build foundations for our future generations. Even if their celebrations look different, they will remember packing Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, seeing the outside lights flooding the trees, smelling fresh cut Frasier Fir Christmas trees, eating decorated cookies and marinated shrimp, loving Christmas Eve Open House after church, and feeling Christmas morning joy. Over time, we may gather in different places, coming and going as life demands, but we will always unwrap laugher, treasure time together, and celebrate Christ! A Hallmark quote from the Christmas season echoes, “Traditions are the stories that families write together.” We must keep writing those stories because they will remember the joy! - dho

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Fourth Sunday of Advent - Holy Light! Perfect Love!

the 4th Sunday of Advent leads us into Christmas...

“…and they hall call his name Immanuel,” which means 

GOD WITH US!  Matthew 1:23



FrederickBuechner, American writer and theologian writes, “…Bethlehem is not the end of our journey but only the beginning…” The Season of Light captures our attention with its hurried and increased activities. Choirs and candles, decorations and details capture us. Words and wonder fill us to nearly overflowing. The Virgin Mary with Joseph traveling to Bethlehem, angels singing to shepherds, a star and Magi, all coming to celebrate this newborn baby called Immanuel. Advent candles retell the familiar story with hope and peace and joy and love. Buechner continues, “The birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it.



Christmas reminds us of new beginnings. We sing Christ the Savior is born but must remember that Christ is also the Redeemer, bringing salvation to a dying world, establishing a new relationship with us. Immanuel, GOD WITH US, is still with us and holds us with grace and goodness. Jesus came that we might be His Light to others, to help the lost and have compassion on the broken, to feed the hungry and hold the hurting, to tell the Good News of His Grace, to forgive, to listen, to love. We must continue to live a new way after the Christmas celebrations end and the decorations are put away, long after we forget about sheep and shepherds. As we find our old routines, let the greatest Christmas Gift, Jesus, renew our journeys. Let’s find the new beginning and new ways of living for Christ in the coming year! ~ dho 

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Third Sunday of Advent - Shepherds See the Glory

"Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields keeping watch over their flock by night... and the glory of The Lord shone around them... For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ The Lord... You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger..." Luke 2:8-20




The shekinah Glory of God fills the house of The Lord (1Kings 8:11) when the Ark of the Covenant is placed into the Holy of Holies in the temple Solomon built. Centuries later high above a Bethlehem field the Glory of The Lord again appears breaking the silence of the night, revealing to shepherds where to find Christ the Lord! This stands in stark contrast between appearing to the priests in the Temple in the Most Holy Place and common shepherds in an open field. Considered the least in society, shepherds, believed to be unclean, could not even worship in the Temple; yet, God chooses these with simple faith to go and find the baby Jesus. The least, the simple, the willing shepherds.

Some scholars suggest that sheep to be used for sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem were frequently kept in the fields around Bethlehem, and that perhaps the very shepherds the angel appeared to were keeping watch over these sheep. While the shepherds could not even be witnesses in legal situations, perhaps it is irony that they become the first people to bear witness and testify to the birth of Jesus. The New Testament uses the Greek word poimen for 'shepherd' meaning a person who tends to a flock. According to Mounce's Expository Dictionary, the most frequent use of poimen refers to Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. These shepherds who society deems some of its most unworthy receive the first invitation to see the Lamb of God. The unclean, the unworthy, the invited shepherds.

This Advent season reconsider these God-chosen ones. In the Christmas Story, shepherds of simple faith and willing to respond are key figures, but society calls them unworthy and unreliable. The shepherds came with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when [the shepherds] had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. Do we see others through God's eyes or accept society's view? Are we willing to recognize Jesus in the least, the simple, the broken? Aren't we ALL unclean, sinners who are unworthy? Yet, God chooses each of us ~ rich or poor, scholar or laborer, old or young, thriving or hopeless, struggling or defeated! God invites each of us to come and meet Christ The Lord ~Perfect Love, Lamb of God, Amazing Grace!  ~dho

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Second Sunday of Advent - Preparing the Way

 Ad-venta time of waiting; marked by a spirit of anticipation; an arrival of a notable person; appearance



"See, I will send My messenger, who will prepare the way before Me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple, the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the LORD Almighty." Malachi 3:1 NIV

Some say the four candles we light at Advent symbolize the 400 years between the prophecy of Malachi and the proclamation of John the Baptist. During those 400 years, God is silent. Historians record the lives of the people during Persian, Greek and Roman rulers, each group conquering the next. Cyrus of Persia meets defeat, and Alexander the Great claims victory. When Jerusalem comes under Greek control, idol worship desecrates the temple.
During these years the Jews participate in the Maccabean revolt which re-establishes the Jewish temple. It is cleansed and rededicated (Hanukkah celebrates this victory)Ultimately the Romans defeat the Greeks, and by the time John the Baptist spreads the message about Jesus, Herod the Great rules the Roman Empire. Four hundred years of waiting! 

These 400 years mark the completion of the Old Testament writings
 giving the Jews an authoritative canon, comprising the Law, the Prophets, and the Wisdom writings. The Greeks compile the Scriptures of the Old Testament and translate them into Greek calling it the Septuagint. Other writings scholars acknowledge from this period include the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Apocrypha, writings of Philo and Josephus, early rabbinical writings, and religious literature known as the Qumran. The Old Testament we know today includes the 39 canonical books that the Jews accepted during this time. Four hundred years of writing! 

"It is written in Isaiah the prophet:

"I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way - a voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, and make straight paths for him.'" 
And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him...And this was his message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
Mark 1:2-8

In Luke 4:14-21 we can read the account of Jesus going to the synagogue, standing to read from the scroll given Him. "Unrolling it, He found the place where it is written: "The Spirit of the Lord is one Me because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."  Everyone watches Jesus as He returns to sit. Jesus looks at them and says, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." Four hundred years of silence broken!

The Old Testament tells of obedient prophets who share the messages God reveals, but all pass from life without the appearance of the 'Wonderful Counselor'. A faithful remnant living in a world more impressed with power and possessions and waiting for the 'Everlasting Father' to end their struggles pass their hope from generation to generation to generation. Desperate and defeated people longing for the one called 'Mighty God' anticipate His coming. Then the 'Prince of Peace' walks into the synagogue and announces God's promise is fulfilled, but nobody recognizes Him. 

This week contemplate God's promise of the Messiah. Think of the years of faithful waiting. Imagine yourself in the synagogue that day, listening to Jesus read the Holy Scriptures from ancient times. Are you listening? Do you recognize Jesus? Do you hear Him calling? God is calling to you, preparing you for His purposes. Listen! ~ dho