Candlelight

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by Hannah Comerford

You take a candle at the door of the dim church. You stick the candle through the paper circle and hold it underneath, the wax malleable if you grip tightly enough. You clasp it gently, just enough to feel the thinnest residue on your skin.

How hard it is to wait until the last song of the Christmas Eve service to light the wick.

You find a seat in the fourth row of the right section. You leave space on the other side of you for friends who may or may not come.

You don’t need the lyrics to the carols, but you look up at the projected words anyway as you sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” A cello adds an especially mournful note tonight. You sing quietly, your voice lost in the crowd of fifty or so voices.

 O come, O come Emmanuel
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear

Your mind doesn’t think of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Instead, you think of Elizabeth, her cousin. The one who spent decades of marriage childless, the pity of her village.

Suddenly the words aren’t about the Messiah anymore. In your heart, they’re about Elizabeth’s missing child who never was. The cries of the strings become her cries of mourning as she reaches middle age without conception.

They become the cries of Anna, the prophetess whose husband died in their first short years of happy marriage.

It becomes the cries of the shepherds, living outside with animals, never invited to celebrations, lonely and poor.

It becomes the cries of the Magi, the wise men who longed for a King who would not disappoint them like every person in whom they had trusted.

The song becomes the pain suffered by so many in this well-known story.

And the song becomes every heartbreak and loneliness you’ve known this last long year. 

Rejoice, rejoice
Emmanuel
shall come to thee O Israel
Emmanuel shall come to thee.

And in this you remember that their cries were not just for the missing child, the dead husband, the loneliness of being outcast, the disappointment of failed heroes. Whether or not they realized it, their cries were for a Savior, one who would make “everything sad come untrue.” A Savior who would come.

Rejoice, rejoice
Emmanuel
Shall come to thee O Israel

Shall come.

The music ends not on the completion, but on the hope of completion. The last note feels dark and unsettled, begging for the lighter sounds of the refrain, like a fairy tale missing the “happily ever after.”

The song does not recall the end of the story. It does not meet you in the happiness of Christmas morning, but it meets you in the long waiting of Christmas Eve. Like Isaiah, it looks forward to the hope that is yet to be.

You grip your candle tightly as you wait for the chance to light it. You know the time will come. 

O come, O come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel

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Preparing Well

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By Brian Waple

Well, it’s almost Christmas. It’s about now that I start to think of all the things we are normally doing as a family (planning get-togethers in Oregon and/or Washington, developing ideas about gifts, making a list of calls we need to make to connect with long-distance family members, dropping off presents at the UPS store for shipping) as well as things we normally do with our church community (coordinating the Christmas Eve service, wrapping things up for the year in our small-group communities, planning activities that will begin with the new year), and it starts to get a little overwhelming. Not in a bad way . . . it’s just that my calendar starts to fill up with all the things I need to “do.”

This season of Advent reminds us that this is a time of preparation. By that, I don’t mean activities that we necessarily do, although it can look like that. It’s more a state of the heart, a state of being. After 400 years, the silence that the Jews had experienced from God was about to be broken. What He was about to do would be the fulfillment of a long-awaited prophecy concerning a Messiah. But it wouldn’t come as they had expected. Rather than a mighty king overcoming the occupation forces and reestablishing Israel as a powerful empire, the Messiah would come in the form of a little baby, born to a poor couple staying in a nondescript little town south of Jerusalem. The fulfillment of the prophecy would be born out in the life and ministry of an itinerant preacher—not extraordinary, but simple. But this simple life would become the hope for us all.

So, as we prepare for Christmas this year, remember that in all the doing, take time to just remember. Remember the birth of a little baby in a plain stable on a lonely night in southern Israel. Remember a heavenly proclamation sung to those who were called to be present at the scene. And remember God’s promise to those who accept and preserve the hope brought by the birth of Jesus. Following all the events of that night, it says, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Let us do the same.

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Christmas Traditions: O Come Let Us Adore Him!

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By Tom Chase, Elder Board Chairman

I want to share just a few of the things we do and have done as a family around Christmas. These traditions have helped restore and maintain meaning to this incredible time of year when we celebrate Jesus!

Several years ago, we began celebrating Saint Nicholas Day on December 6. What is Saint Nicholas Day? It is a day set aside to remember the man Nicholas of Myra. He was a Christian saint who was born March 15, 270AD, and died December 6, 343. He was a follower of Jesus and a leader in the church (a bishop). He wore red robes and a pointed bishop’s hat. Names like O’ Saint Nick, Sinterklaas, and Santa are all personas derived directly from Nicholas.

Nicholas had compassion, a soft spot, for orphans. He would make little wooden toys and spiced cookies for them. Today we give gifts, and many make gingerbread men cookies.  When I was little, we had a cookie cutter of a gingerbread man. I always thought it was strange, though, because it had a pointed head — ah, the bishop’s hat from Nicholas.

Another story of Nicholas tells about a merchant sailor who lost all his ships and wealth at sea. He had several daughters, and this loss would mean his daughters would be unable to marry, as a dowry was required. Nicholas learned of this loss and what it would mean. One of the girls intended to sell herself into slavery so the other sisters could marry.  Nicholas put his plan into action — he came at night and dropped bags of gold coins through an open window. Some of the coins landed in stockings hung by the window. Because of his generosity, the girls were then able to get married.

Hanging stockings by the fireplace filled on Christmas morning, gingerbread men, and giving gifts to one another all have beginnings here.

Saint Nicholas Day becomes a time when we celebrate and remember a passionate follower of Jesus who would be happy to celebrate with us the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the world, because that is what Nicholas did with his life!

Years ago, when I was still a child, we began celebrating Christmas like it was Jesus’s birthday. I know we don’t know the exact date He was born, but Christmas has been set aside to remember that God came and was born — He became a man. As a small child, I wondered, “If it’s His birthday, where are the presents for Him, and where is His birthday cake?” That year we baked a cake and decorated it for Jesus’s birthday. If I remember correctly, we put candles on it and sang “Happy Birthday” to Jesus!

We have celebrated in various ways over the years, including by playing birthday-party games, such as Pin the Star over Bethlehem. But the one consistent part that began that first year is a present for Jesus — a wrapped package under the tree with His name on it. The package has a removable top; on Christmas day, we as a family sit down and write on a piece of paper what we want to give to Jesus in the coming year. These notes are individual and private, shared with others only if the writer desires. These notes are then placed in the box, prayed over individually, and placed again under the tree — Happy birthday, Jesus!

Over the years, before writing the new gift, I will often go back and read previous years’ gifts. What an amazing reminder of how God has met me in the gift given previously. When my kids were small, writing a note was too involved for them, so we would just encourage them to draw a picture and/or color it for Jesus. This time is incredibly precious to me — Happy birthday, Jesus!

Another thing we did, especially when my children were small, was to enact the Christmas story. We got a small, nonbreakable nativity set in which baby Jesus could be removed from the manger. A couple of weeks before Christmas, we would set up the stable and place the empty manger in the stable with some animals. At the other end of the house, Mary and Joseph would start their journey to Bethlehem. Each day at night, we would advance Mary and Joseph along and ask the kids where Mary and Joseph were on the trip, then talk with them about the story — like where and why they were going, and Mary’s condition (expecting a baby!).

As the days went by, the kids enjoyed looking for Mary and Joseph. They would travel along the tops of picture frames, bookshelves, and any flat surface along the way to Bethlehem and the stable. Mary and Joseph would arrive at the stable Christmas Eve day, and we would explain why they ended up in the stable. We would talk about how Mary was going to have the baby on Christmas morning. Each of our kids, when young, ran to the stable on Christmas morning, saying, “The Baby’s here!” They didn’t run to the tree — that came later — but they got the message, and so did I. The shepherds can show up later on Christmas to see this thing God has done. If you want, in the days that follow Christmas, the wise men can follow a path similar to Mary and Joseph’s and arrive to celebrate the coming King — worthy to be worshipped and adored!

I share these traditions not to add more things to an already-busy time of year. I know I have longed for meaning in all the busyness, not just more things to do. My hope and goal would be for us (you and I) to find freedom in celebrating the real meaning of Christmas found in the person of Jesus. Feel free to add and subtract any of these. And don’t feel like you have to do all or any of these things.

I would love to hear some of your traditions and the meaning behind them, with the hope and goal of worshipping our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

O come, let us adore Him,

O come, let us adore Him,

O come, let us adore Him,

Christ the Lord.

 

We’ll give Him all the glory,

We’ll give Him all the glory,

We’ll give Him all the glory,

Christ the Lord.

 

For He alone is worthy,

For He alone is worthy,

For He alone is worthy,

Christ the Lord.

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The Bread of Life Never Grows Stale

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AdventBy Cindy Waple  

The Bread of Life never grows stale. I saw this recently on a church sign and thought what a wonderful message for the Advent season. Advent, which means “coming,” is the season of preparation to celebrate Jesus’s birth, in whom all of God’s promises are fulfilled. In addition, it is a time to celebrate Christ’s coming into our own lives as our Savior and Lord and to prepare and await His second coming.

Advent is like an icebreaker—those large ships built to cut through the ice on the frozen Arctic waters. Advent breaks through the onslaught of the economic-driven and worldly messages of Christmas that promise happiness by receiving the right gifts being offered now at the lowest prices of the season. Advent also breaks through the familiarity and rote traditions, bringing a new and fresh vision of God’s faithfulness. Advent breaks through empty messages and unrealistic expectations of a Pinterest-perfect Christmas with the enduring truth that the sovereign, holy, almighty God of the universe, our Creator, because of His immeasurable love for us, took on the form of man and came to dwell among us—Emmanuel, God-with-us. Advent invites each one of us to step out of the holiday-prep-merry-go-round and take time to stop and pause, to consider afresh with eager expectation the gift of Christ.

Here are a few ideas and practices that Brian and I engage in during Advent. First, be intentional and make space for God and those opportunities that are energizing and life-giving, not life-draining. Try to under-schedule your time this season, rather than over-scheduling. Take time for Advent devotions and perhaps schedule a half-day (or full-day) retreat. A friend and I did this recently using a guided Advent-retreat resource. It was a wonderful time of rest and perspective shaping as we worshipped, prayed, read Scripture, and spent time in silence, listening and reflecting. This is a great way to slow down and cherish the Good News of Christmas.

Second, I have been captivated by the idea of “one thing.” During this season of many lists—to do lists, wish lists, gift lists, and so on—I am encouraged by David in Psalm 27:4, where he writes: One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in his temple. There was only one thing David wanted—to be with the Lord and enjoy the beauty of His presence. What if that was the only thing on all our lists? Or what if that was the first thing on our lists? I wonder how long (or possibly short) our lists would be if that was our primary focus.

Lastly, the greatest way to enter into Advent, to prepare our hearts, to break through the hype and ward off staleness, is to consider Christ Himself. What do you really need the most this Christmas? What is going on in your heart?

  • Are you struggling, disappointed, or tired of the trials and the hardness of life? Isaiah 61 reminds us that Christ “comforts the brokenhearted.”
  • Are you grieving a loss—loss of a loved one, a job, health, or a relationship, or a loss that comes from change and transition? Jesus promises a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair (Isaiah 61:3).
  • Is your hope diminished because of unanswered prayers for healing, for prodigals, nagging sin, the lack of transformed lives? In Christ, we have been born into a living hope (1 Peter 1:3). He is our sure and steadfast anchor (Hebrews 6:19).
  • Are you tired and weary? Christ is our Strength, our Refuge, our Rock (Psalm 62:5-8).
  • Are you in need of peace? He is our Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).
  • Are you in need of love? His love for us is inexhaustible. (Ephesians 3:17-18).

This is a list that, thankfully, goes on and on. Here is the truth—whatever your deepest and greatest need, it is found only in Christ.

In a few weeks, the tree and lights will come down, the credit card bills will begin to arrive, and the gym will be overly crowded for a week or two as we try to hold to our resolution to finally lose weight. Christmas will be over, but the truth of Christ will not. We have Him and His promises into eternity. With our focus on the one thing, the only thing that is necessary (Luke 10:42), the Bread of Life will never grow stale. This Advent season, may your heart be renewed and refreshed as you ponder the good news of Christ, and “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit Romans 15:13.

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‘Tis the Season

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By Gordy McCoy

‘Tis the season to be giving. There are so many opportunities to give this year. So many needs. Deuteronomy 15:7-8 says, “But if there are any poor in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Instead, be generous and lend them whatever they need.” It’s a good reminder for me to pay attention to the needs of others around me.

What do you do when you see a homeless man in our local library? Imagine if you will, you are taking a lunch break. After you have finished the first half of a ham and cheese sandwich, that homeless man’s face comes to mind. You offer him the other half of your sandwich, and he accepts it. This short encounter helps me realize that God has richly blessed me and I need to do more to help those less fortunate than I.

Linda remembers when she was out painting at Point Defiance early in the morning and a homeless woman came out of the woods. She went over to the garbage can and was looking for something to eat. She then went over to a park bench and sat down quite a ways from Linda. Linda had brought two apples with her that day because she had planned on being there for quite awhile. She walked over to the lady, who looked more uncomfortable the closer Linda got to her. Without making eye contact (on purpose), Linda offered her an apple.

The woman said, “Do I have to eat it now … in front of you?” Linda replied, “No, of course not.” The lady snatched it out of her hand and Linda walked away …but she kept thinking about her, and how blessed we are, and how hard life must be for the woman who lived out in the woods at Point Defiance.

It also says in Deuteronomy that an open hand symbolizes the way God wanted His people to provide for the poor – willingly and freely. When we offer up to the poor, even though this isn’t our motivation, God blesses us for our kindness.

Psalm 41:1-3 says, “Oh, the joys of those who are kind to the poor. The Lord rescues them when they are in trouble. The Lord protects them and keeps them alive. He gives them prosperity in the land and rescues them from their enemies. The Lord cares for them when they are sick and restores them to health.”

Proverbs 19:17 says, “If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord – and He will repay you.”

In this season of giving, think about what you can do to help those less fortunate. Perhaps you can look back and see the many ways the Lord has helped you. Seek him and He will lead you to those who could use a little help, if you are able.

One way to help is our “Feed the Homeless” program, and another is “Freezing Nights.” If you haven’t already, come up some Monday evening to Freezing Nights and see this powerful ministry in action. It is a beautiful thing to see the tender way our people take care of those who are cold, hungry and needing a safe place to stay. We can always use your help, and you WILL be blessed!

In closing, I would like to thank all of you for allowing me to serve on the Elders Board. It has been a privilege.

Respectfully submitted,

Gordon McCoy

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Christmas: Grief … and joy

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By Larry Short

One of the many incongruities of Christmas is this: We sing “Joy to the World” and celebrate the birth of our Savior. But it is also, for many of us, a time of grief and sorrow … a reminder of painful personal losses.

I lost my dad, a few years back, on December 30. Darlene lost her teenage sister, Laurie, many years ago, a few days before Christmas. Many of you reading this, I know, have experienced similarly difficult losses at this time of year.

When we think of the birth of Christ, we envision angels singing Hallelujah! But what else was happening around that time? Think about Herod — seeking to kill the Messiah, and ordering the massacre of thousands of innocent babies in the process.

The arrival of the wise men, and the gifts that they bore, surely brought joy, we think. Gold and frankincense? No problem. But myrrh? An embalming spice, which releases its fragrance when crushed. If I were Joseph, I think I just might have put that third wise man’s gift right back on his camel, with a quick: “Thanks, but no thanks!”

Now think about the words of Simeon, as recorded in Luke 2, who was moved by the Spirit to prophecy to Mary and Joseph when Jesus was consecrated in the Temple at a tender age:

30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,

31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:

32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

and the glory of your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Mary and Joseph must have thought: Okay, Simeon, you should have stopped at “the glory of your people Israel.” Why did you have to go on and say that part about the sword, piercing your own soul? Merry Christmas.

Thus is the human condition: Joy … and sorrow. Life … and death.

Or perhaps I have that in the reverse order. Simeon said “falling … and rising” … because of the birth of our Savior! There’s the grave … and THEN the victory over the grave. The crucifixion … and THEN the resurrection.

It’s Friday … but Sunday’s a comin’!

As my Christmas gift to you, I’d like to leave you with one of my favorite “newer” Christmas songs (not quite a carol yet), which embodies this Christmas conundrum of joy and sorrow: “Joseph’s Lullaby,” by Mercy Me. This YouTube video sets its words against poignant scenes from the movies “The Nativity Story” and “The Passion of the Christ” (difficult to watch … but well illustrative of both the joy and the pain that is wrapped up in this thing we call Christmas).

Merry Christmas!

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