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A Grinchy Christmas

Oh NO!
My sister always said I was a Grinch,
but I never imagined 2020 would do it in a cinch.

No services to be held at our church,
but for the Christmas Spirit we still search.                   

This Christmas is different from those past…
Travel to visit family and friends? Not so fast.
Time with grandparent, aunt, uncle, and cousin?
These loved ones may not buzz in.
Favorite foods may too be lacking from the feast,
whether it is rolls, pie, or even the roast beast.

Shiny packages, short and tall,
Bright lights, big and small,
may be dimmer as is all.

Perhaps, you better not flinch,
for 2020 can also make you a Grinch.

If you will indulge me, may I share a story?
It tells of divine glory,
when God broke into our deepest, darkest night
with Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love so bright.

Mary, a young girl with a pure heart not to be ignored,
was asked to birth a son, Jesus, who creation adored.
Joseph was her husband-to-be,
but not the father of Jesus was he.
Jesus was the Son of God,
who among the ordinary would trod.

Mary and Joseph rode a donkey down,
across and through the desert, to Bethlehem town.
And then, the time came for the divine light
of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love to shine so bright.
Jesus was born that very night.

Nearby shepherds, strong and tough,
watching their flock by night were busy enough.
But, the baas of the sheep would hush
as the angels told of God born in human flesh.

These shepherds to Bethlehem they sped
until reaching the babe in a manger as the angel said.
They shared with Mary and Joseph the news
the angels proclaimed about Jesus, who was a snooze.

They pondered the words within their hearts.
What an amazing adventure God charts!

A babe born in a manger that night,
would shine with the divine light
of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love so bright.

On this deepest, darkest night,
this light continues to shine so bright.

These gifts wrapped in paper so shiny
may seem, well, oh so… tiny.

The first candle we light is Hope,
which helps us in the worse of worse to cope.

The second candle we light is Peace,
which encourages us to remain calm and squabbles to cease.

The third candle we light is Joy,
which reminds girls and boys
to enjoy more than their toys.

The fourth candle we light is Love,
which is more powerful than any on earth can dream of.

The final candle we light is Christ,
who came among us in Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love to sacrifice.

So you see, on this darkest night
the godly light of Christ remains oh so bright.

“The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But, I think that the most likely reason of all,
may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.”*

Despite the most wonderful, awful ideas of the Grinch,
he could not steal Christmas in a pinch.

“He HADN’t stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?”
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!”
“It came without packages, boxes, or bags!”

And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.”
“Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!””*

Christmas doesn’t come from a store.
Christmas definitely means a little bit more!

Christmas is Christ entering in the deepest, darkest night
shining the divine light oh so bright.

“And what happened then? Well… in Whoville they say,
that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!”*

May our hearts grow three sizes too, we pray. (Amen)

With our hearts so big on this day,
a prayer for the church, the entire world, and all in need will you say?

God of love, who is above, we give you glory.
May peace upon all the earth be your story.

Blessed Prince of Peace, may you rule all of earth with justice and truth.
May all the nations with your gift of peace sooth.

Blessed Son of Mary, who our humanity shares.
May the sick, dying, and suffering be in God’s merciful care.

Blessed Son of God, who is Word made flesh, please among us dwell.
May we reflect your light of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love oh so well.
(Amen).

May this night shine forth always and forever with God’s light
of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love oh so bright.

Christ is born this night!
May divine Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love be a light
in Whoville, on Mt. Crumpit, and everywhere oh so bright!

*These are quoted directly from Dr. Suess’ ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’.

‘A Grinchy Christmas’ was created by Rev. Melinda Gapen.
‘A Grinchy Christmas’ was originally performed/preached on 24 December 2020.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2021 in Resources

 

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Advent Traditions: Nativity

Again, Advent is a time for spiritual preparation inviting us to pause and reflect, to dust off our souls, clean the cobwebs from our spiritual lives, and to de-clutter our schedules and lives to welcome the divine house guest into our hearts, souls, homes, and entire creation in Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

This evening, I will be sharing about the Nativity of Jesus and how it can be utilized during Advent and Christmas.

The Nativity of Jesus
The Nativity of Jesus is often shortened to ‘the Nativity’, although it is simply birth.

I will continue with the short-hand for convivence.

The Nativity is the depiction of Jesus’ birth, although often envisioned as 3-dimensional figures.
It may include a dramatic performance (or Living Nativity), painting on canvas, or otherwise. 

The Nativity varies in production, but always includes the Holy Family: Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus.

It will often include an angel, shepherds, and perhaps a donkey and sheep.

It may include the Magi (or Wise Men), camels, and additional barn animals such as cattle.

History of the Nativity
The original Nativity is attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi in the year 1223.

Saint Francis was inspired after a visit to the Holy Land, including Jesus’ traditional birthplace.
 
He developed a dramatic production, or a Living Nativity, in central Italy with the blessing of the Pope.

These Living Nativities became widely popular throughout Europe.  

Saint Francis desired to shift the cultural focus and cultivate the worship of the Christ Child at Christmas instead of secular materialism.

Hmm, I guess Christmas materialism has been a significant concern for FAR longer than I imagined.

Nativity Traditions
There are a number of Advent traditions with the Nativity, which varies depending on denomination, culture and nation, as well as family practice.

  • One tradition is a Nativity Blessing, which seeks to re-orient us to the Christmas story and speaks a word of blessing for all who set their eyes upon it. In my professional ministry, I have begun to invite the entire congregation (especially young youth) to Bless the Nativity with me during the Christmas Eve worship service.

The majority of traditions, however, engage a significant debate about whether the Holy Family, but especially the baby Jesus, is added to the manger scene prior to Christmas or not. These traditions often emphasis the ‘journey’, but as you may have noticed not all Nativities allow for said traditions.

  • One such tradition is to place Mary and Joseph, plus the other persons and animals, within the home but not the manger. Then, you can relocate these each day until their arrival to the manger on Christmas Eve. On that night, the Holy Family (including the baby Jesus) is placed in the manager as well as their donkey, the angel, shepherds and sheep, and additional barn animals.
  • Another such tradition is to have the empty manger, but with each day add a piece of straw to prepare the manager and your heart for the Christ Child to be born. On Christmas Eve, again, the Holy Family, their donkey, the angel, shepherds, sheep, and additional barn animals may be added to the scene.

However, you may have noted that I did not include the Magi (Wise Men) and their camels. The Magi were not present at the Nativity. They arrived potentially two years later. We celebrate their arrival at Epiphany, which concludes the Twelve Days of Christmas on January 6. Thus, you can continue to relocate the Magi and their camels until their arrival at Epiphany.

Conclusion
I invite you, as able, to incorporate the Nativity of Jesus into your Advent and Christmas.

Allow the Nativity to incite your pondering of the journey to the Christ Child, whether as Mary and Joseph, the Shepherds, or the Magi (Wise Men).

Allow your preparation of the Nativity to be a preparation of your own heart and home for the Christ Child to be born, yet again, in hope, peace, joy, and love.

Advent Traditions is a Faith Formation resource created by Pastor Melinda Gapen.
Originally developed and published digitally for 11 Dec. 2020 for Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2020 in Resources

 

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Advent Trees: Jesse & Chrismon

Again, Advent is a time for spiritual preparation inviting us to pause and reflect, to dust off our souls, clean the cobwebs from our spiritual lives, and to de-clutter our schedules and lives to welcome the divine house guest into our hearts, souls, homes, and entire creation in Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

This evening, I will be sharing about Advent traditions that utilize the image or foundation of a tree.

The Jesse Tree
Our first Advent Tree tradition is the Jesse Tree, which is basically a Biblical family tree of Jesus.

I personally enjoy genealogy because our ancestors, their stories and histories, and their culture shapes our current family dynamics and individual personalities, whether embracing or rejecting family traditions and traits.

For example:
John (ex-husband) once announced that he had one question about by family, to which I replied: ‘only one?’. He claimed that the family is typical Irish, but he did not know how the entire (biological) family relocated from Indiana/Ohio to Arizona. I shared that essentially because two brothers fell in love with Arizona and decided to re-locate, their brother decided to join, their sister (mother) would eventually follow, and their mother (grandma) relocated after her husband’s death (step-grandpa who raised my mother). 

Despite internal conflicts, the Irish ‘Clan’ mentality remains, especially for the “Gapen Girls”, which is my mother, sister, and me… BUT, that is enough about my family dynamics.

The Jesse Tree is a popular image in Medieval Christian Iconography, or art, beginning in the 11th century. However, the imagery is scripturally based in Isaiah, which reads:

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and
a branch shall grow out of his roots.”
(Isaiah 11: 1)

Jesse is not an overly familiar figure in Scripture and Christianity; however, he was a shepherd and the father of David… King David. King David was a direct ancestor, a multiple generationally separated great-grandfather, of Jesus the Christ.

Similar to our own ancestry, this Scriptural ancestry continues to inform and shape the Israelites and Judaism, Christians and the Christian church universal, as well as Muslims and Islam.

The Advent practice of the Jesse Tree explores the Scriptural ancestry from creation until Jesus with assigned daily Scriptures from December 1 to December 25. After reflecting upon it, the participates create an ornament inspired by the Scripture and place it on a display.

The intention of the Jesse Tree is to encourage the participates to reflect upon Jesus and the Jesus Movement (or Christianity) as rooted in the whole of Holy Scripture through the ancestors, their stories and histories, and their culture, instead of beginning with a very young Israelite girl in first century Palestine pregnant with God in human flesh and bone.

I encourage you to discern creating a Jesse Tree this year or perhaps next.

The Chrismon Tree
The second Advent Tree tradition is the Chrismon Tree… not the Christmas Tree.
However, I understand the confusion.

Chrismon Trees are quite familiar, and yet you may not have distinguished these from Christmas Trees.

  • The tree in my home is a Christmas Tree.
  • The tree in the Narthex, or lobby, of Trinity Lutheran is a Christmas Tree.
  • The tree often in the sanctuary near the altar and lectern is a Chrismon Tree.

How are we able to distinguish between Christmas and Chrismon Trees?
Well, there are a few basic, differing features.

A Christmas Tree may be ever-green, but it may also be white or another color.

A Chrismon Tree will be an ever-green, artificial or real, because it symbolizes the eternity of God. God has, is, and will always and forever be.

A Christmas Tree may have multi-colored lights shining brightly.

A Chrismon Tree will be adorned with white lights only. White/Gold is the church color for Christmas.

A Christmas Tree will often be adorned with tinsel, beads, or strung popcorn spiraling around it.

A Chrismon Tree will not be adorned with tinsel, beads, or strung popcorn.

A Christmas Tree may have colorful ornaments.

A Chrismon Tree is adorned in white and gold only, again these are the church colors for Christmas.

A Christmas Tree may have ornaments that reflect your family, memories made, passions, and hobbies.

A Chrismon Tree is decorated only with Chrismons.

Chrismons are ancient symbols or images of Jesus the Christ and his earthly ministry. Chrismons include, but are not limited to: a descending dove, shepherd’s crook, chalice, and a cross. 

The intention of the Chrismon Tree, adorned with symbols of Jesus, is to draw our attention to and direct our minds, hearts, and souls to reflect upon Jesus the Christ: the person and the ministry.

Although the Chrismon Tree is a familiar sight, it is not an ancient tradition.
The Chrismon Tree tradition begun when an ever-green tree was decorated with Chrismons at the LUTHERAN Church of the Ascension (Woot! Woot!) in Danville, Virginia in 1957.

I challenge you to track the number of Chrismon Trees you see this holiday season.
You may be surprised at the count.

Advent Traditions is a Faith Formation resource created by Pastor Melinda Gapen.
Originally published digitally for 04 Dec. 2020 for Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2020 in Resources

 

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Advent Hope (2020)

Proverbs warns that “HOPE deferred makes a heart sick” (13:12a), but why?

Gregory of Nyssa (335-395), early Church Father, wrote about the hungering soul:

HOPE is always drawing the soul away from the beauty which it sees to what lies beyond, ever kindling the desire for the hidden by means of what is continually perceived. Someone who deeply loves beauty receives what he sees as an image of what he longs for and still longs to be filled with the very imprint of the archetype.

Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses

Hope is an emotional and spiritual hunger, which is always and forever seeking fulfillment beyond the present, beyond the perceived, and beyond the imagination.

For example:
Hallmark and Lifetime Holiday movies are teased for the consistent, predictable plot. And yet, this is a plot that inspires HOPE through depicting desired ‘perfect’ romances and happily ever-after endings. It is HOPE because it draws the individual into a desire for what lies behind and beyond the scenes.

The Hallmark and Lifetime HOPE is not different in principle than our Advent HOPE. Advent is a season of HOPEFUL anticipation and expectation.

  • It is HOPE for the promised Messiah to come to Israel.
  • It is HOPE for the Baby Jesus born into our broken world.
  • It is HOPE for Jesus to return to our still broken world.
  • It is HOPE for Jesus appearing, breaking into our world, and journeying alongside us daily.

Advent HOPE embodies seeking the divine presence of Peace, Joy, and Love composing the Kingdom of God to Come that is here now, near, and not yet fulfilled.

Advent HOPE beckons us to prepare our hearts, souls, and entire creation for said Kingdom to Come.

We should always engage said HOPE reaching beyond the present, the perceived, and our current abilities of imagination in and through our shared baptismal vocations to:

  • Proclaim Christ is Word and Deed;
  • Seek Justice;
  • Act with Compassion and Mercy; and
  • Love and Serve ALL people, especially the most vulnerable.

Whether body or soul, if hunger is not addressed it can cause fatigue, weakness, and eventually illness.

Whether deferred or not satisfied, HOPE can cause us to become exhausted, faint, and heart-sick.

Thus, it is essential that we seize the glimpses of the Kingdom Come in Peace, Joy, and Love to mend our hearts, comfort our souls, and empower us in our vocational efforts and imaginations as we await.

Since our Psalm (119: 48-50, 73-76, 80-82) emphasizes this HOPE in the word, or teachings, of God, may we dwell within said word during this Advent season and beyond. Amen.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2020 in Resources

 

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Advent Wreath

Welcome to Advent and a New Church Year!

Advent, similar to Lent, is a season of spiritual preparation encouraging us to pause and reflect. Advent, unlike Lent, is more warm-and-fuzzy with less emphasis on repentance.

Instead, Advent is the preparation of our heart, soul, and even our world for a divine house guest. Advent is intended to be the removal of dust from our souls and cobwebs from our spiritual lives. Advent is intended to be a de-cluttering of our calendars to focus on God breaking into our lives.

Advent is the embodiment of awaiting with hopeful anticipation and expectation:

  • the long-awaited Messiah promised to Israel;
  • Jesus, as the baby in the manger; and
  • Jesus, as the judge and jury at the end; but, also
  • Jesus, as the one who appears, breaks in, and journeys alongside us daily.

Advent has rich traditions, which we will pause and reflect upon on Fridays in Advent (not Christmas Day). We begin with one of the most common symbols and rites in Advent. It is the Advent wreath.

Do you have an Advent calendar, or another means for counting down the days until Christmas?

  • Perhaps, it is a store brought chocolate Advent calendar? YUM!
  • Perhaps, it is a wooden one with little compartments with daily treats or gifts?
  • Perhaps, it is fabric one with a little marker that finds a new pocket each day?
    My childhood home had a cute little mouse that counted down the days.

Well, the Advent Wreath is our Church Advent Calendar.
It helps us to countdown the four Sundays until Christmas.

Although Advent Wreaths are common among Catholics and Mainline Protestants, it was not always. The Advent Wreath originated in 16th century Germany and was developed by Lutherans. Woot! Woot!

In the 19th century, a German Lutheran missionary (woot, woot) shook the dust from the Advent Wreath and introduced it to the impoverished children he ministered. Why? Similar to all children, these asked daily ‘how many more days until Christmas’. Thus, he used an Advent Candle Calendar with one candle for each day Monday-Saturday and special candles on Sundays.

That is a lot of candles! So, it was adapted into the modern Advent Wreath.

This Advent Wreath became widely popular in Germany during the 1920s and arrived in North America during the 1930s, however it was not popular in the United States until 1964 after appearing on Blue Peter, a popular children’s television program.

The Advent Wreath originated as a personal, family, and household spiritual practice, but it has become more commonly associated with public worship in congregational settings. Whether in private or in public, the candles being lit should be accompanied by Scripture, a devotional, and a prayer.

The Advent Wreath is an evergreen wreath, whether artificial or real.
The evergreen and circle are common symbols for eternity.
The Triune God has, is, and will always and forever be.

The increasing light with each passing week is symbolic of God’s divine light returning to the creation.

Western Christianity, such as Catholicism and Lutheranism, have Advent Wreaths of five candles:
three purple or blue, one pink, and one white.

Purple/Blue Candles:
Purple is the traditional color for Advent and these candles; however, it begun to be further associated with the repentance emphasis during Lent.

Blue is a modern option for Advent and these candles, because it distinguishes Advent from Lent and is associated with HOPE.

These purple/blue candles are lit on the first, second, and fourth Sundays in Advent. These are commonly associated with Hope, Peace, and Love,
but may also symbolize the Prophets, Bethlehem, and the Angels (Peace).

Pink Candle:
The pink candle is lit on the third Sunday in Advent representing Joy (or the Shepherds).

White Candle:
There is often a white candle in the center of the Advent Wreath and is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. It represents Christ and divine Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love born into our world (again).

However, there are variations of the Advent Wreath.

The Advent Wreaths in the United Kingdom commonly have four red candles, representing:

  1. HOPE for all God’s People,
  2. Old Testament PROPHETS,
  3. JOHN the Baptist, and
  4. MARY, the Mother of Jesus.

The Advent Wreaths for Eastern, or Orthodox, Christian traditions observe a 40-day Advent, similar to the 40-days of Lent. Thus, their Advent Wreaths have six candles and in various colors to be lit on the appropriate Sunday.

  1. FAITH (Green)
  2. HOPE (Blue)
  3. LOVE (Gold)
  4. PEACE (White)
  5. REPENTANCE (Purple)
  6. COMMUNION (Red)

Faith Formation resource created by Pr. Melinda Gapen.
Originally published 27 Nov. 2020 for Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2020 in Resources

 

National Day of Prayer Service (2020)

Invocation

Gathered in voice and heart, we pray for the creation, nations, and communities.

Prayers

International Governments

God of the Nations, you created ALL people.

Blessed be the peace-makers who seek to reconcile and build relationships across lands and oceans among diverse people.

Guide our international relations to reflect your light of grace and love.

Unite us in the seeking of justice and the merciful and compassionate service of the vulnerable, despite race, ethnicity, and nationality.

In your name, Amen.

National Government

God of the People, you liberate us.

Blessed be the elected officials of the United States of America.

Blessed be federal organizations and their employees.

Liberate Americans from our sins of self-centeredness and greed, racism and sexism, nationalism and all prejudice that enslaves us and our neighbors.

Strengthen our lovingkindness in service, so that we might be a collective light for all.

In your name, Amen.

State Government

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2020 in Resources

 

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Be Still?

Advent is a favorite of mine in the church year, but it is also when the Church and the world may be at odds the most.

Advent is a time of preparation that prepares our homes, hearts, and souls to welcome Christ. But, any time we prepare to welcome guests our life gets a little crazy.

So, it is not a surprise that December seems to be the busiest month for all of us.
We are busy preparing for Christmas with lights, trees, and presents.
We are busy preparing for loved ones to visit us OR for us to visit loved ones.

AND that is above and beyond our normal, everyday responsibilities that we cannot simply walk away from be it work, school, or loved ones.

And yet, the Church in scriptures and tone is quite the opposite calling for us to be still, to be quiet, to be patient and await the arrival of Christ.

There was a magnet in the kitchen of my home church that read:
“Look busy! Jesus is coming!”

This summarizes every Advent… Look busy! Jesus is coming! Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2018 in Resources, Sermons

 

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