Advent One – Week of November 29

The Word

Mark 13:24, 27, 32-37

“But in those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Reflect

Sunrise or Sunset. Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849-1921), Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Jesus instructs us to keep awake –
As the fires rage, and the days grow shorter, and as our patience thins.

Jesus instructs us to keep awake –
as the darkness closes in.

Jesus instructs us to keep awake –
But the last year has been an entire chapter of our communal lives, spent in an ever-present state of dusk, “distanced” as it were, physically, socially, emotionally. I have not only felt distanced, but even further separated still – disembodied even – from my community, my family, my congregation. And this disembodiment has been exhausting. If I was tired last Advent, this Advent I feel simply defeated.

Jesus instructs us to keep awake –
I know Jesus is coming, that is the entire point of this Season of Advent. Both the birth in Bethlehem, the fantastic conglomeration of light and dark and angels and shepherds. And the rebirth. The rebirth that I so desperately want to see in the routine and mundane and quotidian.

Jesus instructs us to keep awake –
Awake like the fig tree? The one that grows its leaves every year at just the right time, indicating that summer is about to begin? How does it sense that the time is right to bud? Can it notice the change in seasons, the light and dark of Advent, the light and dark of a darkened sun or moon? I think it must. How else can it grow? How else can it learn when the time will come?

Jesus instructs us to keep awake –
Awake like the fig tree. For it senses the cyclical nature of our world. The seasonal blessing of life and death, of birth and rebirth. The promise of springtime, the gratitude of harvest. The sacred gifts of time, and opportunity, and hope, and another chance. The loving embrace of the possibility of God.

Jesus instructs us to keep awake –
Yes, fires are raging, darkness closes in, but the fig tree still blossoms. Birth, rebirth, still arrives, often unexpectedly, often in the unknown.

Jesus instructs us to keep awake –
As the darkness closes in – so too does God.

Listen

WPC Chamber Choir: “Now the Heavens Start to Whisper”

New to us is the advent hymn “Now the Heavens Start to Whisper.” The poet, Mary Louise Bringle, found inspiration in Celtic sources for these stirring words. In particular, the idea of “thin places” – places where two separate realms of existence (heaven/earth, sacred/secular) – seem to come closer. For me, this is a perfect way to explore the paradox of the creator of the universe coming to earth as a child. The tune, Jefferson, was composed by an anonymous 19th century musician from Tennessee. A chamber choir of eight voices from the Westminster Choir sing it together here. To maintain our safety, we recorded – masked and distanced – in the Blomberg Courtyard back in November. The unexpected ‘accompaniment’ of passing DASH buses only further punctuates our music. –Dr. Ben

Now the heavens start to whisper,
as the veil is growing thin.
Earth from slumber wakes to listen
to the stirring, faint within:
seed of promise, deeply planted,
child to spring from Jesse’s stem!
Like the soil beneath the frostline,
hearts grow soft to welcome him.

Heavy clouds that block the moonlight
now begin to drift away.
Diamond brilliance through the darkness
shines the hope of coming day.
Christ, the morning star of splendor,
gleams within a world grown dim.
Heaven’s ember fans to fullness;
hearts grow warm to welcome him.

Christ, eternal Sun of justice,
Christ, the rose of wisdom’s seed,
come to bless with fire and fragrance
hours of yearning, hurt, and need.
In the lonely, in the stranger,
in the outcast, hid from view:
child who comes to grace the manger,
teach our hearts to welcome you.

Serve

Virtual Alternative Giving Bazaar

This year, the coronavirus has changed our ways of being and doing together and placed disproportionate burdens on vulnerable communities. With both realities in mind, Westminster will hold our annual Alternative Giving Bazaar (AGB) in virtual fashion during the weeks of December 6 and 13. We hope that the bazaar in this new digital format will still provide concrete help to our local, national and international mission partners and those they serve. As a part of your Advent devotion, we encourage you to participate this year by visiting when the site goes live later this week. Watch some of the introductory videos from our partners to learn how our support is needed and used. If you are able, make a donation online or by mail (using the form you receive in the mail), for which you will receive special bookmarks infused with seeds that you may share with loved ones for planting in their gardens.

James 3:18 says, “A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” May you sow peace this Advent as you learn about and support our partner missions with your prayers and gifts on their behalf.

Christmas Eve & Christmas Day

The Word

Isaiah 9:2-7

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.

John 1:6-14

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.

Reflect

CmasEve-Day-- Moyers-Shine_HR-large

Shine by Mike Moyers.

Three of the gospel writers begin their narratives with stories of Jesus’ life: his birth or his ministry. The writer of John, however, begins with an affirmation of the eternal nature of God and the ancient hymn affirming that God is eternal, outside of time and space.God, and the Word that is with God and is God, existed before creation and continue to exist. The relationship between God and the Word is eternal, from before the beginning to the creation of the world and afterwards. 

Everything came into being through God, who is the source of all light and life. This light, which is eternal, shines even in the darkness.Even darkness cannot overcome this light from God. 

After reminding us of the eternal nature of God, and the Word, the writer John brings us to a specific time and place to describe the life and teachings of Jesus: Palestine at the time of John the Baptist, with no birth narrative or story of Jesus’ childhood.

The gospel of Mark introduces John the Baptist as calling people to repentance and baptizing them with water, but the writer of John introduces John the Baptist as one who came to witness to the light.This witness is an important vocation in this Gospel, because it is through witness that the world comes to know the presence of God in the world. The writer of John later describes John the Baptist’s witness in answering the Pharisees’ questions and baptizing. 

As the writer of John has emphasized the importance of witness in spreading God’s word, we are drawn to the question of how to bear witness in our contemporary society. Calling people to repentance goes against the grain of most Presbyterians and would doubtless cause some to question our grip on reality.However, in this season of Advent it may be worthwhile to explore how we can best witness to the reality of the Messiah, not for the sake of converting people, but to demonstrate to others that Christ lives among us. 

After describing the role of John, the writer of John closes this prologue witha return to the meaning of the Incarnation.The eternal Word enters our earthly dimension, becoming human.The story of Jesus, then, is the story of the Word made flesh. 

The significance of the Incarnation is that we are to discover God’s presence and God’s glory in Jesus himself. Thus, the rest of John’s gospel presents the life and teaching of Jesus, the Word made flesh which dwelt among us. 

For Unto Us a Child Is Born

CmasEve-Day-- Angels-Worship-Christ-Child

Angels Worship the Christ Child, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. 

I grew up with the words, “For unto us a child is born.” These words from the prophet Isaiah 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:
Light – Wonderful Counselor – Mighty God – Everlasting Father – Prince of Peace – Endless peace

Then words in the passage get a little more earthly and move toward a certain concreteness:
Throne – Kingdom – Establish – Uphold – Justice – Righteousness – Forevermore

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 that we, as a society or a people, have a positive place in our hearts for the word “authority.” In recent years we have grown to distrust authorities, to discount experts. On the one hand we yearn for leaders who seem to possess authority and on the other we 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

Christmas is here! After four weeks of preparing, the purple of Advent is gone and the brilliant white of Christmas adorns our sanctuary. We embellish our church with hundreds of candles, guest musicians, and carols of celebration. 

While many familiar carols are associated with this most holy night, I have chosen to include the hymn, “Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding.” In it, we are reminded of the brilliance of this season.  Familiar metaphors for Christ—”the sun” and “the lamb”—combine with a soaring tune to lift our spirits. Upper voices of the choir sing descants in two of the five verses. American composer, Richard Webster, provides us with a truly thrilling brass fanfare and accompaniment. The recording is of the Westminster Choir with brass quintet and organ recorded live earlier in December. 

This Christmas, may you and yours experience the excitement that the Christ Child brings.  

Pray

The Christ Candle

A gift is wonderful to receive. A gift is also wonderful to give.  Whether gifts are wrapped in beautiful paper, a bag, brown paper or newspaper, a gift brings us wonder, excitement, joy and appreciation.

The greatest gift that we have received as Christians is the birth of Jesus Christ. God so loved us that he sent us a son. What an amazing present that we get to receive year after year after year.

The children of Westminster were asked to talk about the word gift. This is their response:

Word Art (4)

Prayer

Dear Lord, thank you for the most wonderful gift of Jesus. As we celebrate Christmas day, we are most grateful for your gift to us.

Serve

CmasEve-Day- Mission Photo- Moi's Bridge

Why Do Mission in Kenya When There’s So Much Need Here?

This question comes up from time to time and is a fair one. Strategically, we may wonder whether it makes “sense” to devote such significant resources abroad, when such significant human need exists just down the street, where our money and time may “go farther” because we do not have to travel so far to serve. And yet, for reasons that have as much to do with identity than strategy, Westminster remains steadfastly committed to the children and staff of the United Orphanage and Academy in Moi’s Bridge, Kenya, because our relationship with them is now an inseparable part of our story in God. It’s who we are, so it’s what we do.

We have Scriptural precedent. On Christmas Eve, we re-inhabit the story of Mary and Joseph, who were summoned from Nazareth so that Bethlehem may be the manger of our Savior’s birth. We anticipate the magi journeying great distances to pay the Christ child homage. We remember their antecedents, Abram and Sarai, who left home to be a blessing to all people in a new place far away, and we honor how Ruth felt in her God-given heart to leave her own people to abide with her mother-in-law, Naomi. We recall how in his grown-up ministry, Jesus hiked many miles to Tyre and Sidon to be with “those people,” the Samaritans, when he had plenty to do with “his” people in Galilee. And likewise, there is Paul, whose missionary map unfolded far beyond his city’s blocks, leaving us a faith whose boundaries extend far beyond the human imagination of his time.

All this to say, there are always needs “right next door,” in those places that are familiar to us, and seem tailor-made for our involvement. And yet, God seems to move through God’s people such that they move, extending their care beyond the well-worn paths of their everyday lives.

The disciples are sent, empty-handed but sure-footed, to proclaim release to the captives, good news to the poor, health to the sick. As disciples of this age, we are likewise called to “go,” to not restrict God’s movement in and through us to the confines of our known contexts. For this reason, we serve people in Kenya, and Haiti, and Mexico. We nurture relationships with friends in the Spirit Lake Reservation. We cross borders locally, by serving meals to people who might never eat with us at our tables, so that in God, someday, they might.  

One need not travel far to move beyond one’s fenced-in yard. So, the invitation this Christmas is to go, be open to God’s leading you away from familiarity to the awe of the unknown, even if that place is just down the street. Join in this holy movement, because it is our story in Christ. It is who we are, so let it move in what we do, locally, nationally and abroad.   

 

Cover Art: Awake My Soul by Mike Moyers. Image from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. Original work from www.mikemoyersfineart.com/.

Advent Four – Week of December 22

The Word

Advent 4- Cover- The Dream of Joseph_James Tissot, 1886-96_Brooklyn_museum

The Dream of Joseph, 1886-96. James Tissot. Brooklyn Museum.

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,

“Joseph, son of David, 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.”

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”

When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25

Reflect

jacob-he-qi- Advent 4- interior

The Dream of Jacob. He Qi.

Well, this must have been awkward. Joseph and Mary are pledged to marry. They’ve probably gotten to know each other a bit. They’ve no doubt registered for gifts at the Nazareth market. The stage is set for a long, happy life together. And then she turns up pregnant. This would be an uncomfortable situation today, but it was, no doubt, far worse given the cultural norms of the time.

We want to imagine Joseph’s initial reaction as well as how Mary prepared to break the news. Did she just blurt it out? What was the conversation between them?

“I’m pregnant. But don’t worry, it’s from the Holy Spirit,” his bride says.

“Uh… what?”

Joseph must have felt betrayed. He probably thought she was delusional. He may have rolled his eyes, raised his voice or both. Although they technically were not yet married, Joseph and Mary were in a phase where they were legally pledged to one another. Her
action would have been considered adultery. We don't know what the exact conversation was like. But we do know that it seems to have left Joseph unconvinced that Mary was telling the truth.

Joseph has the inclination that many might: I’ve got to get through this. He wanted a divorce (to remove himself from the situation), and he wanted it done quietly (to save her dignity– and perhaps prevent a death by stoning, which would have been an adulterer’s fate). Joseph had a few options at this point, neither of them good. Divorce put Mary’s life at risk. Going forward with the marriage put his dignity at stake, since the community would know that they had not yet formally married. Either he wasn’t the baby’s father, or they had engaged in premarital sex.

Most of the Christmas story is focused on Jesus and Mary. Luke tells this portion from Mary’s perspective. The Angel appears before her to say that she will bear a son, and that she shall name him Jesus. Joseph isn’t mentioned at all in Luke’s telling, other than to note that he is engaged to Mary.

Matthew is the reverse. This passage is all though Joseph’s perspective. The angel appears to him: Don’t worry. Mary is pregnant but it’s through the Holy Spirit. In Matthew’s gospel, Joseph is the one who is told to name the baby Jesus. When Joseph wakes, he is abeliever. He does as the angel instructs, and he takes Mary as his wife.

There are many miracles we look to this time of year. I’m certain that Joseph’s understanding is one of those miracles.

Listen

The hymn “Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth” is a perpetual favorite of mine. At Westminster we employ it in a twofold procession. The first, perhaps most obvious, is the physical movement of singers from the rear of the sanctuary to the chancel. In so doing, we are reminded of entering into God’s presence as we worship.

The second is procession of sound. As the hymn retells the story of the coming Christ, the number of voices and instruments swells with each passing verse. In today’s recording, the first verse of the hymn is sung by five of our Girl Choristers. A small number of handbells accompany 40 of our youngest children in singing verse two. The adult choir takes verse three. The remainder of the verses are sung by the largest choir of the church—the congregation.

The late Sir David Willcocks provides us with the free harmonization of the last stanza as we sing praise to the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Paraclete. The recording is that of the choirs of Westminster earlier in December 2019. May your celebration of Christmas be filled with the light, love, and joy expressed through our music.

Pray

Fourth Sunday of Advent – The Candle of Love

What is love? What do you love? How do you show love?

As you light the candle of love, spend time talking about what love means to you and your family. Take the time this week to intentionally show love to others, and don’t forget to take the time to love yourself.

The children of Westminster were asked to talk about the word love. This is their response:

Word Art (3) love

Prayer

Dear Lord, thank you for giving us love. Thank you for the ability to give love as well as to receive it. Amen.

Serve

 

baskets

In the Advent season we await and celebrate the coming gift of Jesus to our lives and the world. It is a glorious time to reflect on the gifts God continues to provide in our lives and share these gifts with our friends and neighbors. Through our long-standing relationship with local Alexandria agencies, Westminster Local Mission offers low barrier ways to share God’s gifts with our less fortunate neighbors. Westminster collects non-perishable food items for ALIVE and distributes “people in need packets” regularly to those without a stable home. Baskets to receive donated items for both of these local ministries are found in Fellowship Hall and the church lobby entrance off from the parking lot.

ALIVE! Last Saturday Program

This food distribution service at the Ladrey building in Old Town serves senior citizens and other clients. Volunteers prepare 90 bags of food the last Saturday of each month and distribute to people in the building and others who need assistance and are identified through the social services agencies in Alexandria. This opportunity is great for families or groups.

As part of your Advent Devotions, follow through on your desire to serve by adding a last Saturday date for 2020 to your calendar. Or, simply contribute some non-perishable food to the ALIVE donation baskets in the church lobby as you come into Christmas Eve services this week. In these ways you will feed those for whom the world has said, “there is no room in the inn.”

Advent Three – Week of December 15

The Word

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 1:46-55

Reflect

Advent 3- interior art idea

The Annunciation, 1430-1438. Stefano da Verona (Italian, c. 1375-1438). Ink, tempera, and gold on vellum. The Cleveland Museum of Art.

Advent seems so sentimental sometimes. Perhaps that is because Advent is often swallowed up the larger consumer culture winter holiday frenzy. This is the third week of a season that is four weeks and, by now, your calendars are that much more full of holiday obligations and errands. That call from the scriptures that this be a season of waiting, remembering and hoping may seem laughable.

Advent is about the waiting — not just the waiting of the Christ-Child who comes into the world in the form of the most dependent version of our humanity, but waiting for the reconciliation of the world. A world made right. A world fit for a Christ to come back and draw us to Him.

Sometimes the problem with sentiment and nostalgia around this time of the year is that it is always about the memory. The memories of little pieces of chocolate each day and bathrobed shepherds can be wonderful. What is so beautiful about Mary’s song is that it seems to remember while hoping for something to come. When Mary speaks of all these future generations calling her blessed, it is not of anything Mary has done of her own volition but because the God of her ancestors has been as faithful to her as God was to them. Mary is a vessel through which God is birthed in the world anew through the person of Jesus Christ.

There is something about getting ready for a change in life that tends to fill us with both excitement and anxiety. We get through those times of uncertainty: fear and excitement because of the memory of previous times when we got through change. In what ways this Advent season, can the memory of God’s faithfulness buoy our expectancy about the future?

The Magnificat, or the song of Mary, is looking backwards and looking forwards. God has been faithful and God will be faithful. However, God’s faithfulness in the future will not necessarily look like God’s faithfulness in the past. A different vision of God’s faithfulness is never as clear in scripture as in the advent of Jesus Christ. God’s faithfulness now becomes a crying, walking, talking, sometimes introverted, sometimes extroverted, son of a carpenter who proclaims that salvation is found not in seats of power and wealth
but in radical acts of love and forgiveness. God gives Mary the task of carrying all that into the world. And this week, we hear her song. A song of blessing, but that song did not come without fear and anxiety. She had to be supported by her cousin, Sarah. She had to be reminded of God’s faithfulness in the past so she could hope for God’s faithfulness in the future.

This week, Breathe! Slow Down! Gather around those you love and remember God’s faithfulness in the past. Where did God show up for you, for your ancestors? Where have you seen God’s mighty deeds in your life? Thank God for those times and if those times seem hard to remember, ask God to show up, to remind you of God’s faithfulness.

Listen

This week we focus on the song of Mary, also known as the Magnificat. It is one of the eight most ancient Christian hymns and perhaps the earliest Marian hymn. Composers throughout the centuries have been inspired to set this text to music. At Westminster, you have the opportunity to worship through many musical settings both at our Sunday morning services, and at services of choral evensong. During this season of Advent, I have chosen a musical setting for our choristers and adult choir that is a reflection on the angels’ annunciation to the blessed virgin, “Angelus ad virginem.”

This popular 13th century carol is a poetic version of the annunciation story. It is said to have originally consisted of 27 stanzas, with each following stanza beginning with the consecutive letter of the alphabet. The setting employed by the musicians at Westminster use only four of those. This setting, composed by 20th century British composer Andrew Carter, uses a rollicking organ accompaniment to highlight the joy of the text. Carter chose to alter between groupings of three and groupings of two. In so doing he musically highlights the triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost – and the duality of Christ – truly God and truly Human. May the joy of the blessed Virgin Mary and this lively carol inspire us this Advent season!

Pray

Third Sunday of Advent – The Candle of Joy

How do you feel when you hear the word joy? Joy is a beautiful word. We want to feel joy, spread joy to others and live a joyous life.

In this third week of Advent, focus on sharing joy with those around you who may need to have more joy in their lives. Send a card to someone who may be sad, take treats to a hospital, fire house or police station, donate toys and clothes to a family shelter, and thank someone who has helped you. By giving joy, we receive joy.

The children of Westminster were asked to talk about the word joy. This is their response:

Word Art (2) joy

Prayer

Dear Lord, thank you for giving us joy. Help us to give joy to others, especially to those who need it more than me.

Serve

paula cooper_Mission_Advent 3

Meet Paula Cooper, the Presbyterian Church (USA) mission co-worker based in Zambia. As regional liaison for East Central Africa, Paula facilitates PC(USA) relationships with partner churches and institutions in Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, and Zambia, where the church is growing rapidly, and pastoral training and leadership development are of major concern. Paula also provides support for PC(USA) mission personnel and Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) in the region.

Paula brought her faith-filled exuberance and warmth in a visit to Westminster this past
March as part of the Kenya Mission Network conference that Westminster hosted. Paula is the recipient of ongoing budget support through our International Missions Committee. The committee would love for you, as part of your Advent devotions, to reach out to Paula and wish her a joyful Christmas season. As such, we encourage you to email your thanks and prayers for work and ministry, identifying yourself as a member or friend of Westminster. This way, she may know that our financial support is matched by human care.

Paula may be reached by email at paula.cooper@pcusa.org, and you may copy internationalmission@wpc-alex.org, so that we may echo your well wishes.

 

Cover Art: The Annunciation, 1380s. Netherlands, or possibly France, 14th century. Tempera and oil with gold on wood. The Cleveland Museum of Art.

Advent Two – Week of December 8

The Word

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.|
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 11:1-10

Reflect

nypl.digitalcollections.510d47dc-94e3-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.001.w

Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. “Rosa gallica” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1799.

I was once at a Christmas party with the supporters of the Alexandria Symphony. Then-Maestro Kim Allen Kluge was playing Christmas carols on the piano while a group of us sang along. We were singing “Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming” when halfway through, I realized I was the only one still singing. I looked at the Maestro, and he said, “It’s great! Keep singing!”

To me, it’s not Christmas without this song. It has been special to me since I first learned it as a teenager. It reminds me of the many friends I have had in choruses and church choirs. When we get together at Christmas reunions, we still sing it in four-part harmony.

The devotional scripture for today foretells the birth of the Messiah. It has been dated to the seventeenth century, before the birth of Jesus. It clearly foretells that this Messiah will come forth from the line of David (Jesse’s son). For this reason, Christians have always traced the lineage of Jesus through the House of David to prove that He is the long-expected savior come to set his people free. Both Matthew and Luke include a genealogy at the beginning of their gospels to make this point.

Until modern times, most people could not read, but they could sing. This is why hymns of all types were so important in the Church—they told the story of Christ in a form that was easy for people to understand and to memorize. “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” is not just a beautiful carol, it was a way for Christians to recall Isaiah’s prophesy and its meaning.

Lo, how a rose e’re blooming
From tender stem hath sprung
Of Jesse’s lineage coming
As those of old have sung.
It came a floweret bright,
Amid the cold of winter
When half-spent was the night.

Isaiah ‘twas foretold it
The rose I have in mind.
With Mary we behold it
The Virgin Mother kind.
To show God’s love aright
She bore for us a savior
When half-spent was the night
.

Listen

This week’s passage is my favorite from the Book of Isaiah. I always find a way to include it in Advent Lessons & Carols services, and this year is no exception. While there are many carols and anthems that reflect on this text, our terrific associate for children’s music, Molly Roden, found a perfect fit in our own library. Listen above to a recording of our children’s choirs singing a portion of “A Shoot Shall Come Forth Out of Jesse” by Richard Horn. Horn chooses to set several verses from Isaiah 11 and 32 in this anthem:

A shoot shall come forth out of Jesse,
And a bud shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of life shall be with him,
The spirit of wisdom and truth.

From out of the wells of salvation
Will he draw us the water of life;
His waist shall be girdled with justice,
The heart of his heart shall be Love.

He’ll come from the end of his heaven,
And the earth shall be torn from its place;
Our lives shall be filled with his radiance
As floodwaters cover the sea.

Refrain:
Then the lamb shall lie down with the leopard,
And the lion eat straw with the ox,
For the hand of a Child shall lead them
To the peaceable kingdom of God.

It is the words of the refrain that are most meaningful to me. May the voices of the children of Westminster remind us all of the promise foretold by the prophet Isaiah as our prayers for peace and concord ascend to the throne of heaven.

Pray

Second Sunday of Advent – The Candle of Peace

What is peace? Where can we find peace for ourselves, our family, our community, our world? How do we help others find peace? In this season of Advent, take the time to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas and find peace within yourself. Spread that peace to others. Use the word peace at your gatherings, dinners and prayers.

The children of Westminster were asked to talk about the word peace. This is their response:

Peace.png

 

Prayer

Dear Lord, thank you for giving us peace. May we find it within ourselves and help give it to others.

Serve

mission-01.jpeg

Each Christmas season, we look through Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus and remark at the accomplished and God-fearing ancestors of Him. One of those is Ruth, known not only as David’s grandmother, but also as one who gleaned Boaz’s fields to provide her and her mother-in-law Naomi enough to eat. Like Ruth, we at Westminster glean—gather produce left after a harvest—twice each year to provide food for those who need it.

In the summer, we glean corn through Healthy Harvest Food Bank, an organization which organizes gleaners to harvest fresh produce that has been left behind after farms in the Northern Neck of Virginia have finished their harvest. The produce is then taken to food banks within the Northern Neck region of Virginia, so that people can have fruits and vegetables when they otherwise may not be able to afford it. In the fall, Westminster gleans apples through the Society of St. Andrew. They coordinate produce gleaning across Virginia and, like Healthy Harvest, donate it to local food pantries. This year, we gleaned truckloads of apples and corn through the two organizations.

Though it is a little cold for us to be gleaning this Advent season, the National Missions team hopes you will keep our summer and fall opportunities in mind as you plan out your 2020 calendars. In addition to our annual gleaning trips, Westminster also contributes financially to the two organizations.

If you are interested further in Healthy Harvest Food Bank or the Society of St. Andrew, explore hhfb.org or endhunger.org/virginia. Please also pray this week for those who farm and those who glean food that will feed the Ruths and Naomis of the world.

 

Cover Art: Two Trees, first half 1800s. Johann Jacob Dorner (German, 1775-1852). The Cleveland Museum of Art.

 

Advent One – Week of December 1

The Word

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 

But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 

He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 

Genesis 3:6–12 

Reflect

Library-of-Congress_Currier-and-Ives_lithograph-hand colored-Adam&Eve in-th-Garden-of-Eden_LC-DIG-pga-05753

“Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden,” Nathaniel Currier (1813–1888), Springfield Museums.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and [Adam and Eve] knew they were naked; And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.
(vv. 3:7 and 3:21) 

Through the ages, the church has regarded Jesus Christ as the new Adam, who came to save humanity from the tragic sin that originated from (or is epitomized by) the “old” Adam and his wife, Eve. 

A theological question arises: Had Adam and Eve chosen not to eat forbidden fruit, would Christ have needed to come? Should we be somehow grateful for the First Couple’s tragic disobedience, without which we might not know the love and mercy of our Lord? This strand of thinking exists in the historical church, which explains in part why this “bad news” text is part of the Advent cycle of readings, but it can be hard to accept. Would we celebrate a cancer because of the joy of its remission? Would we embrace the ravages of war, without which we would not know the relief of armistice? 

And yet, so often we hear those emerging from periods of great ruin and suffering describe how paradoxically grateful they are for their hells, because of the new life that emerged through them. I have heard people express gladness for their battles with addiction, which shaped them into new people, capable of greater love and forgiveness. I have seen a friend nearly destroyed by his divorce nonetheless embrace it as a part of the journey that led him to the wife and marriage he now cherishes. In the church, we honor the cross for a similar reason, as we acknowledge how a grotesque tool of torture and death became an instrument of eternal life. It is this perspective that allows us to call the terror of Good Friday, “good.” 

The point of this is not to solve riddles (is darkness really a necessity of light?) or be persuaded to celebrate suffering or sin of any kind as a prerequisite of healing or forgiveness. Our invitation, instead, is to celebrate and anticipate the ways in which the God of our faith shines light in the midst of darkness so that even our horrors can become vessels carrying the possibility of transformation and gratitude. If Adam and Eve’s shame in seeing their nakedness led them to receive the very fabric of God’s mercy, may we in Advent look upon all that is unworthy of praise as the raw material through which we receive the joy that awaits us in Christ. 

And so we pray anew the prayer of the ancient church, saying, “Come, Lord Jesus!” 

Listen

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

As we begin this season of preparation and expectation, there is nothing more appropriate than the beloved carol, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Like much of the music of this season, the music for this carol began its life in the 12th century. The text is taken from the so-called “O Antiphons,” and is more ancient than the music. We can find references to these dating all the way back to the 6th century. 

Originally, there were five “O Antiphons;” later, two more were added. The first letters of the Latin titles, from last to first, form an acrostic – ero cras – meaning, “Tomorrow, I will come.” 

O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
O Adonai (O Lord)
O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
O Clavis David (O Key of David)
O Oriens (O Dayspring)
O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)
O Emmanuel (O With Us is God) 

We will all join in singing this carol at Advent Lessons & Carols on Friday, December 6 and Sunday, December 8. For today’s recording, you will hear our own Dr. Ben Hutchens performing the original plainsong chant, in Latin. 

Pray

 

First Sunday of Advent – The Candle of Hope

Advent is a time of hope. It is hard for us to remember this when we think about all that we have or want to do. When your family is baking, wrapping, setting up the tree, shopping, or writing cards, remember what Advent is about. When the stress, hurriedness and over-stimulation of the season happens, stop, breathe and say the word hope. Use the word hope at your gatherings, dinners and prayers. 

The children of Westminster were asked to talk about the word hope. This is their response:

Hope

Prayer

Dear Lord, thank you for giving us hope.

Serve

AGB 2019

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: 

1) to the people whom these donations will serve, and
2) 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 AGB is also a great introduction to the mission ministries of our church. This year, the AGB will be held after the 11:00 a.m. services on December 8 and 15 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 wpc-alex.org/bazaar 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.

 

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

GoodShepherd_pexels-photo-693776

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

DSC_0485.jpg

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

visitation

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

WPCScan_20181107_131142_Page_05

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

dan-kiefer-467645-unsplash

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.