Christmas Day – December 25

The Word

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-14

Reflect

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Raphael, The Alba Madonna, c. 1510, oil on panel transferred to canvas, Andrew W. Mellon Collection.

As a child, I had a hard time grasping the concept of eternity. I was raised in an evangelical home where there were lots of discussions about how wonderful it will be for all of us to go to heaven and be with God forever. But the thought of being in a place that is so formless, endless and vast, with no beginning or end, frightened and overwhelmed me. I remember looking up at the stars one night and wondering if I could ever understand and accept God’s eternity.

Like many people, I left church and religious discussions behind as a young adult and didn’t think much about eternity. So, I was surprised at the comfort these words of John brought me when I encountered them as an adult. I’m so thankful that God – outside the limits of time and space and in the formless cosmic preexistence – had a plan to bring the Word and the knowledge of God’s presence to us humans. Before the creation of our world, in the vastness of the cosmos, God established an eternal relationship with us and from the beginning has been present to sustain us.

Through Jesus Christ, God provided light and life to the world, “the true light which enlightens everyone.” What a wonderful gift from our God! Through these words in John, God also promises us that the darkness will not overcome the light, that even when we don’t understand God’s plan, even when we are in danger or in darkness and are afraid, God and Christ are with us and support us.

So how should we prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ? From these verses we learn that John was sent from God and came ahead of Jesus to testify to the light. During this busy season as we have awaited Jesus’s coming, take a few minutes to think about who or what in our lives is sent by God to help prepare us. Are we listening? I believe that God sends each of us people, ideas, readings, friends, family members and communities who remind us of the coming of Jesus in grace and truth and remind us of God’s love and support.

We may never fully understand the concept of eternity, but God and Jesus Christ have a plan for each of us, and our task is to discern and follow it. I hope that all of us use this Advent season to deepen our own understanding of our relationship with God and Christ and their plan for us.

Listen

Joy to the World, the Lord Is Come!

Pray

Our Prayer for You

May God bless you and keep you.
May you know the deep, unending love that God has for you,
And may the light of Christ shine within and through you,
Today and always!

Serve

Photo Oct 20, 10 15 35 AM

Warmer. Safer. Drier.

In the last half-century, more than 410,000 volunteers have worked in central Appalachia to make over 18,000 families warmer, safer, and drier — one nail at a time, one shingle at a time, one floor board at a time. At Westminster, that has included both youth and adult members who have gone out to repair and rebuild homes, build wheelchair ramps, replace roofs and floors, and even build housing for people whose livelihoods have vanished, or are too old or too sick to work.

Both in the summer and year-round, volunteer Appalachia Service Project (ASP) work crews head into Kentucky, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia to make repairs and improvements to homes at no cost to the homeowners. The program offers structured mission trips for middle and high school students, immersive learning experiences for college students year-round, and highly adaptable mission trips for adults for both repairs and new construction projects. ASP volunteers helped rebuild homes in the town of Rainelle, WV, after flooding destroyed over 90% of the homes there. But you can’t swing a hammer? Not a problem; we can show you how! Never installed a sink? The ASP staff designs projects that anyone can perform, and Westminster brings along some experienced hands. In other words, anyone can do it, and for very little cost or time, so can you.

This week, visit the ASP web page or their YouTube channel to learn more. As one volunteer says: “We’re doing what Christ sent us out to do.” As one of the recipients replied, “It changes you.”

Christmas Eve – December 24

The Word

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Luke 2:15-20

Reflect

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The angels left the shepherds in the field. That, in itself, was rather astounding.

Ever since the Israelites left Egypt, God interacted with them in prescribed ways. The Tent of Meeting was built according to God’s intensely detailed instructions, the worship leaders were chosen only from one tribe of the 12, and only the descendants of one particular man were allowed to be priests. To enter the Tent of Meeting, and later the Temple, each person had to follow strict rules or go through time-consuming rituals to become ceremonially clean. Even then, the most sacred space – The Holy of Holies – was off limits to all but one person in the whole nation. Encounters with God were not for ordinary people.

If the average Israelite didn’t expect to meet God, it was even less likely for shepherds. Shepherds were by the nature of their jobs unclean. Daily they touched blood and dead animals. They didn’t have the freedom to take a week off to follow through on purification rituals—there was no one else to take care of the sheep. God lived in the Temple; shepherds weren’t allowed in. Encounters with God were not for shepherds.

There were certainly exceptions. A prophet could come from anywhere, and any walk of life. David, once a shepherd, ended up King of Israel. These people were called under extraordinary or even miraculous circumstances. And then, they were called away from their ordinary lives into exceptional service. Encounters with God were not for people who stayed in the field.

This time, however, the angels brought a message to the shepherds from God, and then left them in the field.

The shepherds hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby in the manger. They saw Emmanuel – God with Us – and ran off to spread the word. “God is with us, all of us, out here, even in the dirty animal stall, away from the glitter and glory of the holy places. God is here, with us.”

Then the shepherds returned to their daily lives, tending the same sheep in the same fields. But they returned rejoicing, glorifying and praising God-With-Us, who could now be encountered – even out here in the field.

Listen

Lessons and Carols

For a century, the choir of King’s College, Cambridge has lead the world in retelling the Christmas story. Their Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols was first held on Christmas Eve 1918. It was planned by Eric Milner-White, who had just been appointed Dean of King’s at age 34 after being an army chaplain. That experience convinced him that the Church of England needed more imaginative worship.

A revision of the Order of Service was made in 1919, involving rearrangement of the lessons, and from that date the service has always begun with the hymn “Once in Royal David’s City.” The service was first broadcast in 1928, and with the exception of 1930, has been broadcast annually. The broadcast even occurred during the Second World War, when the ancient glass (and also all heat) had been removed from the Chapel. Sometime in the early 1930s, the BBC began broadcasting the service on the World Service.

Here at Westminster, we will offer this traditional service at 8 PM on Christmas Eve. If you cannot be with us, visit the King’s College page where you can read more about the service, peruse the service leaflet, and listen to this year’s recording.

Pray

WPCScan_20181107_131142_Page_03Christmas Eve – The Christ Candle

We have watched. We have waited; in hope, for peace, in joy, with love! Now our waiting is nearly over! We light the fifth candle, the Christ Candle, on Christmas Eve because Jesus Christ, the true light of the world, has come. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life!” (John 8:12)

Prayer

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
(Phillips Brooks, 1867)

Serve

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As we celebrate the birth of Christ in Alexandria, part of our Westminster family is celebrating on the other side of the world. Founded in 2004 by the late Henri Rush of Westminster and Reverend Stephen Chege of Moi’s Bridge in Kenya, the United Orphanage and Academy (UOA) houses approximately 50 vulnerable children at its facility in Moi’s Bridge. The facility also includes a K-8 Academy, which serves about 150 students. In addition, living expenses and tuition are provided for UOA orphans in college or university. Westminster provides the majority of funding for the project and works closely with valued partners at Old Presbyterian Meeting House and Lewinsville Presbyterian Church to support the ministry.

Over the years, members of all three congregations have traveled to Moi’s Bridge to meet the children and the Chege family. It is an experience that is memorable and rewarding! Participants built buildings, taught school classes, cooked meals, worshiped in local churches, established relationships, and played a lot of soccer with the children. Recent projects include a new water system to bring running water to the kitchen and bathrooms, and a new school bus.

UOA continues to prepare children well for the future. It is a place where males and females receive equivalent educations and children from all African tribes are welcome. The children do very well on the national exams each year and most go on to secondary school and then college or university.

The first children housed at UOA are now college graduates with careers, who come back to UOA when they can. It is incredible to speak with these bright, confident adults that Henri Rush and Reverend Chege reached out to when they were just vulnerable children all those years ago.

Watch and Pray

As part of your Advent devotions, watch the following video of the children at UOA. When the children sing, “We are happy to receive you,” hear in their voices the welcome offered by the faithful to the living Christ, whose birth we will soon celebrate and in whose life we continue to grow.

Consider participating in a future trip or supporting the orphanage in prayer.

 

 

 

Advent Four – Week of December 23

The Word

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Luke 1:39-55

Reflect

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Visitation, from the Lombard Gradual. Cornell University Library, Rare and Manuscript Collections.

Mary’s faith is so great that her state of mind has completely transformed from when she hesitantly asked the angel Gabriel “How can this be?” that she would carry the Son of God. Now, she has no traces of doubt of God’s power as she joyfully exalts God.

The Magnificat, or song of Mary, reminds us of how selfless Mary is — though she says that “all generations will call me blessed,” she predicts that her admiration will be because of what God has done. She actively directs attention away from her own words saying, “my soul magnifies the Lord,” as if her joy is so great and profound that she can’t adequately describe it.

Next, Mary completely turns away from herself and exalts how amazing God is in five powerful contrasts that celebrate how God lifts up the needy. He has “brought down the mighty” and “exalted those of humble estate.” He has “filled the hungry” and sent away the rich. In Mary’s view, the immaculate conception is another miracle in the same vein as the ones she describes here.

We might consider the person God chose to carry the Son of God—until then, she was a poor, ordinary girl. That God chose Mary shows us, and inspires us to emulate, God’s constant commitment to “exalt those of humble estate.”

This Advent season, consider what God has called you to do, even if you seem to be an unlikely choice for that task. Can you answer God’s call with the grace and joy of Mary’s Magnificat?

Listen

Veni Emmanuel

The hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” gives us a joyous way to conclude our season of Advent. Historically, the western church has used the Great “O Antiphons” as a part of prayers services during the final seven days of the season. They are referred to as the “O Antiphons” because the title of each one begins with the vocative particle “O”. Each antiphon is a name of Christ, one of his attributes mentioned in Scripture. They are:

17 December: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
18 December: O Adonai (O Lord)
19 December: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
20 December: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
21 December: O Oriens (O Dayspring)
22 December: O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)
23 December: O Emmanuel (O With Us is God)

In today’s recording, the Westminster Choir is joined by the Monticello Chamber orchestra to perform David Willocks’ setting of this magnificent hymn.

Pray

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Fourth Sunday of Advent – The Candle of Love

Shepherds were considered dirty and sinful and were looked down upon by the “good citizens” of the villages. But it was to these shepherds the message of Jesus’ birth was first given! God sent Jesus into the world to show even and especially the poorest and weakest among us that God’s love is for EVERYONE. Together, tell a story of a time you felt loved.

 

Prayer

Thank you Lord, for the gift of love—for the gift of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Serve

goliath

Goliath and his family

Justo Mwale University (JMU) in Lusaka, Zambia, provides a quality theological education to African students who want to become ministers of the gospel in Africa. These students face daunting cultural challenges in many areas which we take for granted, including poverty, disease, death, and gender inequality. They also face challenges in some areas that would be very foreign to us — the practice of witch craft and the growth of a gospel of prosperity.

For many years, Westminster has sponsored a student in the Bachelor of Theology program at JMU. In 2018, Westminster’s sponsored student is Goliath Munthali, who is already an ordained minister but wants to strengthen his understanding and his ministry by studying the Bible more deeply in the Bachelor’s program. Rev. Munthali is 39 years old, married and has five children. He sends the following thanks and prayer requests (in his words) to his sponsoring church:

  • I thank God for all you have been/are sponsoring my studies at Justo Mwale.
  • Continual scholarships to students who are currently at colleges/universities and those who are to come
  • Praying for my sponsoring church to be blessed by God for the support they render
  • Praying for good health from cholera in Zambia
  • Praying for employment opportunities in Zambia
  • Praying for enough rains in Africa/Zambia
  • Praying for God’s intervention in the world
  • God bless you all.

Rev. Munthali plans to complete his studies in 2020. In this season of Advent, pray for him as he studies, and pray for the unique challenges that he faces as a minister of the Gospel in Africa. Please also pray for the teachers and administrators who support the studies of these new ministers at JMU, especially, Dr. Lukas Soko, who serves as Chancellor.

 

 

Advent Three – Week of December 16

The Word

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Isaiah 9:2-7

Reflect

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Photo by Dan Kiefer on Unsplash

I grew up with the words “For unto us a child is born….” These words are from the prophet Isaiah, and they have found much resonance among Christians, partially through Handel’s Messiah, and partially through the sheer purity of the joy these words express. What is more pure, more beautiful, more innocent, more gracious, than to say, “to us a child is born”? This is certainly true if we are parents to the child; it is even more true when we consider that as Christians, we have traditionally seen this text as pointing to and embodying the child who is the Messiah, the Savior and Redeemer of God’s created order, Jesus Christ.

Notice, too, the equally appealing words attached to this simple statement “For unto us a child is born:”

“Light”
“Everlasting Father”
“Wonderful Counselor”
“Mighty God”
“Prince of Peace”
“Endless peace”

These are enormously positive words as well. Then words in the passage get a little more earthly and move toward a certain concreteness:

“Throne”
“Uphold”
“Forevermore”
“Kingdom”
“Establish”
“Justice”
“Righteousness”

Less ethereal than the earlier words, these still speak to deep yearnings in the human heart. Interspersed, we have sentences which can be jarring to the hopeful cadence we have encountered so far:

“Authority rests upon his shoulders”
“His authority shall grow continually”
“The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this”

I am not sure whether as a society or a people we have as positive place in our hearts for the word “authority.” In recent years we have grown to distrust authorities, to discount experts. We have also seemed, on the one hand, to yearn for leaders who seem to possess authority and, on the other, to doubt and distrust authority of human offices and of leaders who occupy those offices. And while we may accept and affirm the “zeal of the Lord of hosts,” we are also distrustful of human zeal, unless of course it is our own.

A central mystery of our faith is that the One who has the greatest authority – God – chooses to become a person who appears “as one without authority.” One born. One born in a manger. One suffering and dying on the cross. At its heart, and at the most mature place in our faith, the authority of God in Jesus Christ is that of One born “unto us,” “among us,” “within us,” an authority of “light” and “peace” and “counseling” that is said to be “wonderful.” That authority is supreme even as it seems soft. It is zealous even as it whispers to us. It grows continually and lasts forever, even as Christ, its bearer and bringer, is vulnerable much of the time, vulnerable even to the point of death.

“For unto us a Child is born.”

A child. A mere child. But what authority rests upon his shoulders.

Listen

On Advent 3 we light the pink candle in the Advent Wreath. Also known as Gaudete Sunday or Rose Sunday (“gaudete” is Latin for “rejoice”), on this Sunday of Joy we focus on the building sense of joy as we await the great festival of Christmas.

The theologian Henri Nouwen described the difference between joy and happiness: while happiness is dependent on external conditions, joy is “the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing—sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death—can take that love away.” Thus joy can be present even in the midst of sadness.

FOREST GREEN - O Little Town - v. 1,2

This week, we focus our attention the beloved carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” In many churches, the tune ST. LOUIS is most often paired with this text. This tune was composed by Episcopal priest, Phillip Brooks, in 1868. The alternative tune, FOREST GREEN, provides a more flowing melody to this gentle text and is performed by the Westminster Ringers. In the recording you will notice that the handbells begin with the tune in a minor mode, then move to major.  This is an excellent way to highlight the joy of Gaudete Sunday, while reminding us of its context in the season of Advent.

Pray

Third Sunday of Advent – the Candle of Joy

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This week, set up your own manger scene one character at a time as you read the Christmas story. Change it up, put Mary and Joseph outside the stable and then move them inside the stable on Christmas Eve. Give the shepherds, wise men and the angel prominent spots. Encourage children to play with the pieces to learn more about the story. Talk about how God brought joy into the world when Christ was born. Tell a story of a time you experienced joy. (This would also be a great time to tell stories about the birth/adoption day of your children!)

Prayer

Dear Lord, help me see the drama of your birth through new eyes of discovery. Amen.

Serve

Westminster is part of an ecumenical program of nine churches in Alexandria that serves mid-day meals every weekday throughout the year (and on Saturdays from October to April) to low-income and homeless residents of the City. The meals consist of sandwiches and other bag lunch items, and in cooler months, we also prepare a special soup that is a favorite of the clients. This ministry nourishes and also provides a sense of community for guests: all who arrive are welcome.

As part of your Advent devotions, consider making sandwiches for the program. Simply prepare generous turkey and cheese sandwiches on wheat bread, and bag and label them with the date. Then, place the sandwiches in the bag lunch shelf of the WPC freezer, located in Fellowship Hall.

We also need volunteers to help serve the meals, which involves a commitment mid-morning to 12:30 p.m., beginning at Westminster to assemble the lunches and then going to Meade Memorial Episcopal Church in Old Town to serve the residents. This is a meaningful way to make face to face connections with those we serve. To volunteer, email baglunch@wpc-alex.org.

 

 

Advent Two – Week of December 9

The Word

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.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
Honor and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering, and come into his courts.
Worship the Lord in holy splendor;
tremble before him, all the earth.

Say among the nations, “The Lord is king!
The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved.
He will judge the peoples with equity.”
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord; for he is coming,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with his truth.

Psalm 96

Reflect

Charles Winburn Photography - Westminster Christmas Music (22 of 53)

The Children’s Choirs sing at Lessons and Carols in 2017. Photograph by Charles Winburn.

Cantate Domino canticum novum.

It is a Latin phrase that translates several Bible passages, but most particularly the beginnings of two Psalms (96 and 98), one of which is today’s scripture passage: Sing to the Lord a new song. But what did it mean to the ancient Hebrews to sing to Yahweh a new song? The Jews of ancient times did not share our modern popular culture’s obsession with novelty. After all, one of their most significant acts of worship preserves a ritual meal that recalls God’s act of freeing His people from bondage in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. I am sure they were not interested in a musical version of Psalm 96 (or any of the other “Cantate Domino” passages) that was new just for the sake of being new, and which would be forgotten next week or next month when another rendition of “Cantate Domino” hit the charts.

But they were concerned, I believe, with saying or singing their Psalms with feeling —not simply reciting them mechanically by rote. Doing so brought a sense of newness they could prize, even while singing the same old words to the same old melody. You have to sing as if you are just making it up on the spot, as if it is a fresh thought that just came to you.

This should be especially true for us today when this passage from Psalm 96 is used as an Advent reading. As we read it (or sing it!), do we capture its joy and exultation? Reflecting upon it, I have been struck by the exuberance of the closing verses (11-13), where

the heavens are glad,
the earth rejoices,
the sea roars,
the field exults,
and the trees of the forest sing for joy,

for Christ “is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.”

He is coming! Let’s join with all creation in singing for joy!

Listen

The Season of Advent is one of quiet preparation for the coming of the Christ at Christmas and also for the return of Christ as our King. This final hymn in our annual Advent Lessons and Carols Service is a favorite tune and is paired with a triumphant text. In it, we are reminded of the Second Coming of Christ. Charles Wesley directly linked this text to the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come.” The majesty of the text is painted beautifully with the soaring tune and delicious harmonizations. David Willcocks, perhaps the best church musician of the 20th century, provides us with a full choir descant in the final verse along with lush reharmonizations. Please use the recording to become familiar with this terrific hymn as we worship together on Advent 2!

Lo, he comes with clouds descending,
once for our salvation slain;
thousand, thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of his train.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
God appears on earth to reign.

Now redemption, long expected,
see in solemn splendor near!
All the saints, this world rejected,
Thrill the trumpet sound to hear:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
See the day of God appear!

Yea, amen! Let all adore Thee,
high on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the pow’r and glory,
claim the kingdom for Thine own:
O come quickly, O come quickly,
Alleluia! Come, Lord, come!

Melody: Thomas Augustine Arne (1710–1778)
Harmony: Ralph Vaughan Williams (1710–1778)
Arranger: David Willcocks (1919–2015)
Text: Charles Wesley (1707–1788)

Pray

Second Sunday of Advent – The Candle of Peace

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The Christmas story is full of humans who made hard and faithful choices to honor God. This is especially true of the story of Jesus’ birth. Even though she was afraid, Mary  decided she would follow God’s plan for her. The angel told Mary, “Do not be afraid.” Just as the angel brought Mary peace, Mary would bring peace to others. She was the mother of Jesus Christ—and we call Jesus the “Prince of Peace.” Tell a story or draw a picture about a time you felt peace.

Prayer

Dear Lord, help us to have the faith of Mary. Help us to have courage, and to bring peace to others. Amen.

Serve

Wanikiya tonpi wowiyuskin! (Merry Christmas!)

The wintry windswept high plains of North Dakota, where buffalo can be seen in their heavy winter coats grazing through the deep snow, are pretty far away from Bethlehem, but Christmas still comes to the Spirit Lake People in its own way. Joe Obermeyer serves as the youth and outreach coordinator at Bdecan Presbyterian Church in Spirit Lake and is sponsored in large part by Westminster. He recently described the holidays on the reservation. “Bdecan is a small family church,” says Joe. “Family is very important to members at Bdecan. Because of this, the people of Bdecan love gathering together for
special holiday services….The Christmas service is always very meaningful.”

As one of our national missions, Westminster sponsors several activities supporting the Dakota Sioux Mdewakan (Spirit Lake People) on the reservation at Devils Lake, North Dakota. WPC has partnered with the Bdecan Presbyterian Church for several years, and helped to install and fund Joe Obermeyer at Bdecan. Six Westminster members travelled to North Dakota to celebrate Joe’s fifth anniversary with the Bdecan ministry earlier this year. WPC visits the reservation most years, provides funds to support building improvements, and provides scholarships to students at the Cankdeska Cikana (Little Hoop) Community College. The WPC senior high youth have the Spirit Lake reservation on their four-year rotation for mission trips as well, and were there last in 2016.

For the last several years, Westminster members have filled out Christmas cards for Joe Obermeyer, but this year let’s widen our outreach! During the Alternative Giving Bazaar, please stop by the National Mission table and write out a Christmas greeting to one of our friends at Spirit Lake (simply address it to “Our Friends at Bdecan”). If you cannot attend, feel free to write a card and leave it in the National Mission box in the church office.

 

 

Advent One – Week of December 2

The Word

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return
to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth.

Micah 5:2–4 

Reflect

“L'arrivée au champ" by Charles Emile Jacque, New York Public Library Digital Collections.

“L’arrivée au champ” by Charles Emile Jacque, New York Public Library Digital Collections.

ֵצֵ֔א לִֽהְיֹ֥ות מֹושֵׁ֖ל בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל
yese liyowt mowosel be’Yisrael
From you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel.

Ancient words of ancient dreams.

When Micah preached seven centuries before Christ, he was mostly concerned with local problems: the suffering of the poor, the corruption of the kingdom, and the fall of Israel. The first half of his teachings are all accusation, woe, and destruction. Yet, halfway through the book bearing his name, he turns and speaks of hope and redemption – how Jerusalem will rise again, how the descendants of Jacob will have a new Exodus from slavery, and how a new king will rise to rule and protect. He says it will all start from the small town of Bethlehem, the birthplace of King David. But he also says it will begin in pain and agony, chaos and confusion.

Micah, quite frankly, had trouble seeing the forest for the trees – and how easy it is to be blinded by the tyranny of the immediate and miss the wider significance. His prophesy and preaching was all about how Israel would rise again, but he didn’t understand that the One who would come forth to rule, would rule far more than the ancient kingdoms. God would not come to rectify local politics. He would come to change the world.

The King that Micah prophesied did not come in thunder and righteous fire, but from the pain and agony of childbirth, carried out in the chaos of a crowded town during a census. He did not rise up and expel invaders, but He would overturn the tables in the temple – and, in doing so, overturn centuries of tradition. His origin may have been from the most ancient of days (“In the beginning was the Word…” [John 1:1]) but His impact would be for centuries to come. The flock he fed grew not to rebuild Jerusalem, but to become one of the most powerful forces in human history.

How easy it is to be mired in tradition when the new life that awaits us is so difficult to imagine. Even Matthew, when he quoted Micah in his gospel, probably lingered on the soft consonants and poetic cadences of this prophesy in Hebrew, and probably nurtured those promises of a Jerusalem ascendant. So is it also easy for us to be mired in our personal and local problems and miss that there is a greater vision that God holds for us. We are like students fretting tomorrow’s classwork but missing the vision of college and the life beyond it that awaits us – like the patient dreading the surgery but missing the cure.

That is why, even as we heed God’s call to be shepherds to His world, we must remember that this world is such a small part of what God has in store for all of us – and how amazing it is that a God who can set an entire universe to order, can still find the language that speaks to each of us personally.

Listen

“Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland” (English: “Savior of the Nations, Come”) is a Lutheran chorale of 1524 with words written by Martin Luther. The chorale was used as the prominent hymn for the first Sunday of Advent for centuries. The tune – simple and beguiling – fits perfectly with this season of preparation for the great Feast of the Nativity.  At the late service, on Sunday, a quartet of voices will sing each of the four verses with organ pieces (called Chorale Preludes) inserted between each. The remaining verses are included below.

Saviour of the nations, come; virgin's son, make here your home. Marvel now, O heav'n and earth, that the Lord chose such a birth.

From God’s heart the Savior speeds;
back to God his pathway leads;
out to vanquish death’s command,
back to reign at God’s right hand.

Now your manger, shining bright,
hallows night with newborn light.
Night cannot this light subdue;
let our faith shine ever new.

Praise we sing to Christ the Lord,
virgin’s son, incarnate Word!
To the holy Trinity
praise we sing eternally.

This week’s recording is of this tune played on the Westminster Organ. Verse 1 is just the melody and showcases the foundation stops in the positiv division. Verse 2 is performed on the Oboe. Verse 3 is a choral prelude by German Baroque composer Dietrich Buxtehude. Verse 4 returns to only the melody and features our “chiffy” flute: the small percussive sound at the beginning of each note is a “chiff,” and is cause by the sudden rush of air into the pipe.

Pray

WPCScan_20181130_115259_0001First Sunday of Advent – The Candle of Hope

Advent is a time of preparation. We spend a lot of time getting ready for Christmas during Advent—buying presents, making food, sending cards. It can be exhausting! For families, it can be a time of stress and over-stimulation and we tend to forget about finding comfort and peace in God’s words to us. This week, think about how God brings “comfort” to you. When we find God’s comfort, we are able to “hope— where do you feel hopeful? At dinner this week, or before bedtime, tell a story about a time you were comforted.

Prayer

Dear Lord, help us to remember your comfort and hope. Help us to bring comfort and hope to others. Amen.

Serve

AGB 2018

Though Christmas is still weeks away, we have been bombarded for months by Christmas commercials, all telling us what we can or should buy to make someone’s Christmas bright.  As a community of Christian faith, we join in that desire to bring joy to others, though we attribute the light we share to a different source. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus said (John 8:12).  Jesus also said, “I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). In that spirit, Westminster celebrates its annual Alternative Giving Bazaar (AGB), a festival of giving that provides an opportunity to honor friends and family with gifts in their names to nearly twenty organizations supported by our Local, National and International Mission Committees.

One purchase gives rise to two gifts:

  • to the people whom these donations will serve, and
  • to members of your family, friends, co-workers or neighbors whom you enable to be a part of this expression of love and care.

The Alternative Giving Bazaar is also a great introduction to the mission ministries of our church. This year, the Alternative Giving Bazaar will be held on December 2 and 9, after the 11:00 a.m. service in Fellowship Hall. As part of your Advent devotion, make a point of visiting one of the tables and making a connection with the mission representative. We will also have children’s activities to help our young ones engage the bazaar. If you cannot attend, go to the church web site to read the AGB catalog and prayerfully consider finding ways to support one of the featured groups with time, talent or treasure. Doing so will indeed infuse a measure of Christ’s light into the darkness of this world.

 

As One Without Authority

Listen:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

[Isaiah 9:2-7] Continue reading

Even Out in the Field

Listen:

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

[Luke 2:15-20] Continue reading

Peace and Goodwill

Listen:

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.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: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 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 2:8-14] Continue reading