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Friday, December 3, 2021

Watching and Waiting

This scripture is a good reminder of what Advent is all about – watching and waiting with anticipation!

“I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (Psalm 130:5-8)

I also recall “watching and waiting,” in the gospel hymn, “Blessed Assurance.”

“…perfect submission, all is at rest!

I in my Savior am happy and blessed

Watching and waiting, looking above

Filled with His goodness, lost in His love…”

These words bring a memory of mine back in my college days at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. It was at the end of the Fall Semester, 1970, when most of my fellow classmates were going home for Christmas. Had it not been for a gracious invitation of some friends in Fort Yukon, Alaska, I would have been stuck in the dorms!

On early morning of Christmas Day, I got on a flight to Ft. Yukon and met my friends at the airfield. The next day was Sunday when we attended the local Episcopal Church. That was when my adventure would really begin!

I met a mission team who were going to Arctic Village, Alaska the next morning. They invited me to come along!  So, I got up very early on that Monday, and went to the airfield to meet the mission team.  We flew 120 miles further north!  Now, Fort Yukon is on the Arctic Circle! I was going 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle!

We landed at the airfield in Arctic Village and were met with dog sleds and snow mobiles which took us into town!  That night was a “Potlatch” – a great feast followed by a vespers service at the local Episcopal Chapel – literally a log cabin!  We had a service of thanksgiving and prayer. Following that service, everyone gathered back at the community center for native dancing and music! 

The daily routine would be visiting the people’s homes mid-morning until 2 PM when it was already dark! We would go to the chapel for vespers and then the Community Center for dancing and singing, then bedtime! 

I was anticipating that I would stay about 3 or 4 days, but it extended to more than a week! The plane that would come was grounded because the temperature had fallen to -70*! I was bundled up and able to move around, but the evening was most challenging.  We had an oil drum as a furnace that would heat the building in which we were sleeping. We would stoke the furnace and it would be toasty most of the night until morning which was barely freezing!

But, morning came, we would have breakfast, and continue our daily routine of calling, attending vespers and then dancing at the community center! All that while it was -70*!

Still, I was advised to pack my bag and be ready should the temperature break.  Well, finally the temperature did break to a balmy 5*, but warm enough for the plane to come the next morning!  That night at the vespers service and at the community center was really joyful anticipation that the plane was coming!  I even learned a few dance steps and could pretend to dance! Oh how embarrassing it was, but the people didn’t mind!  I was having fun with great anticipation of the plane coming the next morning!

And the plane did come! I was picked up by a snow mobile pulling a sled and rode to the air strip.  Two other people and myself got on board and flew back to Fort Yukon and from there I returned to Fairbanks, just in time for the Spring Semester to begin!

This story is a bit lengthy!  But it gets to the experience of anticipation in packing every day to be ready should the plane come!  Meanwhile, live the moment of anticipation – visiting the homes and sharing in worship and dancing at the community center!  It was another way of watching and waiting for what was to come – in this case the plane!

May Advent be a time to be ready, anticipate, but continue to be in fellowship, in worship, and in fun with God’s people. For the plane is coming – or more exactly, the Son of God is coming and we are eagerly awaiting His arrival! 

Prayer: O God of anticipation and hope, be with us in our daily routine of Advent that we can be ready, watch, and be constant in the joy of worship and fellowship with the kindred of faith in Jesus Christ, whose coming we eagerly await. Amen

Rev. Dr. John J. Duling

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Connections

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. Psalm 95:6

Thanksgiving week we watched the documentary “The Last Blockbuster” on Netflix. If you remember the excitement of going to pick out a movie, or are old enough to remember renting a VCR this might make you feel warm and fuzzy. The premise of the documentary is the demise of the chain, some bad business decisions and the reasons people think Blockbuster went under. There is certainly coverage about the business side, but the secondary story is one of community and emotion.

The documentary creator/director reminds people of the experience of going to the video store, negotiating and compromising with a date, families getting something for everyone, children taking turns. The underlying message is about getting to know employees at the video store, knowing what people like to watch, asking for advice. This seems funny to a new generation with Netflix, that uses artificial intelligence and data metrics to recommend things for us that are consistent with what we regularly watch on the electronic platform.    

As we watched the documentary, I couldn’t help but think of the similarities with church since COVID. We don’t have to get dressed up, we can do other things during the service, we get a message from the minister, we might be lucky enough to get some music. The entire service is sometimes crafted together and recorded ahead of the actual day of worship. This is the Netflix version.

But I like the Blockbuster version. Getting to church early to see a friend or drop something off for VBS, or towels from the last funeral, or to pick up the next book for Bible study. The tactile things about church are not only communion, and music, and smiles, but they are also the feeling of community. In a time when we have succeeded in leaning on technology as a means to remain connected, I miss the in-person church meeting, the act of stopping during church office hours to drop off or pick up and the “high touch” of bumping into someone after a service who shares with me a bit of their journey…

Prayer: God who taught us to love, help us to remember the joys of worship, the bond of community and the assurance that there are others with our values, desires, and fears. Thank you for giving us ways to stay connected in times of a great pandemic, and for helping us to return to a more familiar time. Amen.

Christi Moock      

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

In the Pause comes Peace

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Isaiah 26:3 (NIV)

Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and your minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)

Trying to keep my focus on the One who's the “reason for the season” is difficult -He often gets shoved aside by the demands of a daunting to-do list.  How can I possibly pause to reflect on the birth of Jesus, when there's SO much to do...and so little time to do it?! Besides, I can just wait until the Advent services, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to do all my reflecting...right? Wrong. This is the very reason the Christmas season has always been so stressful for me. To find the peace I so badly need, reflecting on - and conversing with - Jesus needs to happen daily!

In her devotion, “The Treasure of Thrown-Away Food”, Lysa TerKeurst says we can find “a powerful peace centered in the awareness of God's presence.” She suggests we start by “noticing something for which to be thankful - no matter the circumstance.” If we remember to keep our eyes open, we can always find something. Also, she says we must “pause to acknowledge this something as a reminder of God's presence”. (Yes, pause! The to-do list can wait.) In this pause, we then “choose to focus on God's presence until his powerful peace is unleashed.” Notice that the outcome of proclaiming thanksgiving is peace - just as the scripture from Philippians (above) reminds us.

I believe when we “choose to focus on God's presence”, we willingly give Him our complete attention, patiently keep our eyes and ears open, and trust him with all our hearts. If we are “those whose minds are steadfast” (Isaiah 26:3), it's then that, in the midst of all the chaos and to-do lists, we can find His “perfect peace”.  A powerful peace that “exceeds anything we can understand”. A peace that will “guard our hearts and minds” this Christmas season.

Prayer: Prince of Peace, forgive us for being too busy and distracted to keep our focus on you. Help us to remember each and every day to pause and approach you with thankful hearts and steadfast minds. And thank you so much for the “powerful peace you unleash” in our hearts when we do. Amen.

Sharon Irvin (reprinted from 2016)

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Peace Came

The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.  Psalm 29:11

He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace. Micah 5:4-5

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

Every birth is a miracle, and every child is a gift from God. But nearly 20 centuries ago, there was the miracle of miracles. A baby was born, but he was the Son of God. The Gospels tell of this birth but Dr. Luke provides most of the details surrounding this awesome occasion. With divine Father and human mother, Jesus entered history - God in the flesh. The angel appeared to Mary. And Mary would conceive by the Holy Spirit and bear Jesus, the Son of God.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sigh to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."  Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."  Luke 2:8-14 

Peace - and we can have and accept this peace. It can be ours, and it is our choice. What a blessing for us. 

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the peace you brought to us. Let us accept it and live in your peace.  Amen

Marilyn (Jones) Albin (reprinted from 2016)

Monday, November 29, 2021

The Doxology

Praise the Lord! How good it is to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and song of praise is fitting. Psalm 147:1    

O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples. For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods. Psalm 96: 1-4   

Recently I have been reminded several times in different ways about the importance of praising God at all times. This helps us to be closer to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. It gives purpose and joy to our lives.

The word doxology means a usually liturgical expression of praise to God. Some definitions say that it usually contains praise for the Trinity. The Doxology that we sing each Sunday in church meets this criteria. Bishop Thomas Ken was born in London in 1637. He was teaching in a boys' school and wrote 3 hymns to comfort the boys there including the Doxology. There were no English hymns prior to that time. Only the psalms from the Bible were sung as hymns in the Anglican Church of England. The psalms were the “pure” songs to be sung. The Doxology became very popular among the Christians, and in order to sing it during church, after the Lord's Prayer was spoken, the Doxology was sung—not as a hymn, but as a response to the prayer. Bishop Ken served in two of the King of England’s courts—but would not lower his morals to support the King's sexual affairs and other sinful practices. For this he was put in prison in the tower of London for many years. As you read through the Doxology, note what a wonderful way it is to praise God.

                Praise God from whom all blessings flow

                Praise him all creatures here below

                Praise him above thee heavenly hosts

                Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

There are many songs in our hymnals which praise God, but the Doxology in its simple way is easy to sing, not just in church, but anytime when God is to be praised.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for inspiring music and songs to be part of our praise for you. Help us to remember all your blessings, that you are our creator, that there is no one above you, and celebrate the Trinity—God is three in one.

Nancy Hall

Friday, November 26, 2021

A Thankful Heart


Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 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 4:4-7

This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24  

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Colossians 3:15-17

"Now therefore, our God, we thank You and praise Your glorious name." 1 Chronicles 29:13  

… but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your hearts to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to our God and Father. Ephesians 5:18-20  

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom He has redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. Psalm 107:1-3  

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise — the fruit of lips that openly profess His name. Hebrews 13:15

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving

 

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name. Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all His benefits — who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion. Psalm 103:1-4

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7