This past Sunday, December 22nd, we had our Lessons and Carols service. It is always a moving service filled the Scripture and some of our favorite hymns! The very first Lessons and Carols service dates back to December 24, 1880, and it was held at Truro Cathedral in the United Kingdom.
Christmas Carols has only recently started to be sung in churches; before that, they were only sung at homes. In 1916, Brown University held its first service of Lessons and Carols, and has continued this tradition every since. However, the popularity of this service really started in 1918, when it was held at King's College in Cambridge. The new dean had served as a military chaplain and was concerned that the Great War (World War 1) had hardened the peoples' hearts against religion. He decided that this service would be a way of bringing Christmas back to the church. It was very successful! Then the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) began broadcasting the service on the radio in 1928, and followed by airing it on television in 1954. Now, it is traditionally pre-recorded in early or mid-December , then broadcast on Christmas Eve. If you haven't seen it, take a couple of hours this Christmas season and check it out online!
This week, there was no sermon because we were graced with the children's pageant, and as you can imagine, it was great! However, in case you want to continue through the Advent passages, I'd like to offer my reflections on the lectionary readings this week (Isa.35:1-10; Ps. 146:5-10; James 5:7-10; Luke 1:46b-55; Matt. 11:2-11)
The Old Testament, Epistle lesson, and Gospel lesson continue in the preparation for the coming Messiah. You may remember that John the Baptist is seen preparing the way for the Lord, and the passage from Isaiah is about the prepared path. This passage brings good news to the oppressed and hope and new life to lifeless deserts. Isaiah reminds us that God has not given up o the original purpose for creation. Simply put, you better watch out, you better not pout--God is coming to town! But the good news is that with God, no one gets coal! We are all presented with the gift of God's grace and new life. The Epistle lesson this week comes from James, who reminds us that we must be patient as we await the coming Messiah. As farmers wait for their crops, we must be patient and strengthen our hearts. Finally, we are given Matthew 11:2-10 as the gospel reading. While the other two readings are about the road prepared and patiently waiting, this reading defines the expectations of the Messiah. When asked by John the Baptist's followers if he is the Messiah, Jesus tells them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." We are only two weeks away from Christmas, but we are also 2000 years into the new life in Christ. May God continue to offer blessings to each and every one of you as we patiently wait for the second coming of the Messiah!
Despite how we often envision Advent and Christmas as a calm and peaceful season, John the Baptist brings a different idea to the coming of our Lord! Out of the wilderness, dressed in camel's hair and a leather belt--and eating locusts and wild honey--he tells everyone listening that it is time to repent because the Lord is here. For us, today, it is easy to misunderstand this call to repentance as simply offering a confession, asking for an apology from God, and then moving on with our lives, as if nothing happened. But when we do that--we miss the real purpose of repentance, which really means to have a change in heart and mind. We can take this time of preparation during Advent to really think about the ways we can make changes in our lives and in the lives of those around us. But Remember, this isn't some resolution for the New Year! God continually gives us the chance to make these changes--we don't have to quit if we mess up on January 3.
Each year, the first Sunday of Advent begins with an apocalyptic text from one of the Synoptic* Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). This year, Year-A in the three-year lectionary, brings us Matthew's version of the importance of being watchful for the return of Christ. A fascinating part of this passage is that it contradicts our commonly held beliefs of the "end times". While the Left Behind series, and many others like it, point to a rapture of the faithful, Matthew tells us that the faithful will be the ones left behind to do the work necessary for bringing about God's Kingdom. As we read these words, it is important to remember that living a faithful life should not be motivated by fear of judgment, but because we have been given the wonderful gift of a life in Christ. Forget worrying about when the day will come. Instead, let's focus on what Matthew is famous for telling us to do--feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and welcome the stranger. When we stop worrying about the final days and stop acting out of fear, we will be able to open our hearts and live the grace-filled life God offers to each and every one of us.
*The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the synoptic Gospels because they include many of the same stories, often in a similar sequence and in similar or sometimes identical wording. They stand in contrast to John, whose content is largely distinct. (SOURCE: wikipedia.com)
Rev. CHRIS HOUTZ
Welcome to the pastor’s blog! This page will have sermons uploaded so you can listen to them whenever you want, and I will add a brief reflection on the text, the sermon, or a little bit of both. My hope is that you will be able to see that the Bible can still speak to our world today, and that we can always find a note of God’s grace in any passage, whether it is one of the most well-known and beloved passages, or one of the most difficult readings to grasp.
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Iselin, NJ 1295
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We are a friendly, multi-cultural congregation that welcomes all to worship with us as we glorify our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; sing praises to God, the Father; and let the Holy Spirit guide our footsteps. As faithful witnesses to our Christian beliefs, we dedicate ourselves to worship, stewardship and discipleship. We will always endeavor to nurture the youth in our congregation to grow in their commitment to God and the Church and to become active participants in the life and work of the Church.
We commit ourselves to evangelism and mission to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to all people in a variety of ways in our community and beyond.
We will continue to be open to God’s presence, leading us into new pathways of ministry and service for the betterment of the community and to the glory of Jesus Christ our Savior. -
-ratified by congregational vote, January 27, 2008
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