Pastor's E-Letter

Pastor's E-Letter

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Pastor's E-Letter 12/20/19

Tomorrow in the Northern Hemisphere is the Winter Solstice or the longest night. This event has carried significance for many people for thousands of years. While others further north of us will see no sunlight on Saturday, or only an hour or two, living here in Florida, the difference is not that extreme. We will still see about ten and a half hours of light, give or take a few minutes based on where you are. Then, on December 22nd, we begin our journey back towards long days and lots of sunlight once again.

I’ve always thought that Christmas following the Winter Solstice feels especially appropriate, given the state of our world. While we attempt to fill our dark moments with light, love, gifts, and delicious food, the world still darkens around us. Then, just as we think it cannot get any darker, we make that turn towards the summer solstice again. Christmas comes in those days just after, where the light is still in small quantities, and (at least in most places) it is cold and full of precipitation. 

I found myself reflecting on this darkness just this week. A big myth is that Christmas is extra difficult for pastors. While it is hard and full work (and you should definitely thank a church staff member this week!) I can’t say it is any more difficult than the Christmases we know you experience along with us. Christmas isn’t hard because of the work, it is hard because darkness seems like it will never go away. When people go to the hospital, jobs are lost, loved ones pass away, and money is tight in the days before Christmas, the darkness feels like it is winning, and our efforts to beat back the darkness can seem futile. This season can be difficult for all of us, containing all of our hopes, fears, and longings. When we combine this with our culture’s deep need to “buy,” and our own drive to have the perfect decor and families, Christmas can feel burdensome instead of beautiful. 

This week in worship we will light the fourth advent candle. The light grows stronger as we approach the birth of Christ, but we aren’t there just yet. We will hear that Scrooge’s transformation from his own personal darkness is almost complete. It feels like we’ve made a turn, just like the turn from the longest night, but we will still wait a few more days until it is time to light candles, sing carols, and welcome Emmanuel among us. This isn’t so bad. We continue to need, even as we come dangerously close to Christmas, the sacred pause of Advent to right our course and soothe our longings and anxiety. 

This week, we’ll have special opportunities for sacred light and pause for you to experience in both spaces. In The Gathering, we’ll have our children’s play, “Little Drummer Dude,” as our Suntree Kids tell a wonderful adaptation of the Christmas story. In the 9:30 and 11am Traditional Services (remember- NO 8am!) we will hear, “And There Was Light,” a beautiful Christmas Cantata from our Chancel Choir. We thank Lia, Mary, Robert, Tom, and all those volunteers in our Suntree Kids Ministry and Chancel Choir that make this possible.

Then, Tuesday is Christmas Eve. Be sure to check out our service times, and invite a friend or a neighbor. We are not the only ones who need the lights of the candles, the soothing music of the carols, and the Gospel proclaimed in our lives. Christmas Eve, in the midst of such a poignant season, is a great opportunity to share love and grace with those you know who might not have a church home. 

The longest night is not our final story. Neither is our longing, pain, and grief at the holiday. The “crazy” of Christmas may seem overwhelming, but we are not alone. Join us Sunday for a joy-filled reminder of that truth. 

See you then,
Pastor Allee

Posted by Allee Willcox with

Pastor's E-Letter 12/13/19

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For the past several years since my father passed away, my sister has given my mom, my brothers and me a gift with the word “Believe” on it. I’ve attached a couple of those gifts for you to see. One is a wall hanging with the word “believe” stenciled on it. The other is a picture frame with the word “believe” on it with a picture of my dad, my grandpa, my brothers and me one Christmas. She does this in honor of my dad’s enduring belief in all things Christmas and as a reminder for us to carry on his legacy by continuing to “believe.”

You see, my dad believed in Santa Claus and always encouraged us to believe as well. He loved the idea of a Father Christmas who gifted the world’s children with things that brought them joy each year, though he was never a fan of the “naughty/nice” thing. To him, every child deserved to know they were loved, valued and remembered at Christmas.

He believed in the power of music at Christmas to bring joy and healing. He believed in the magic of Christmas lights, shining as a beacon of hope in the darkness. He believed in celebrating Christmas in a big way, decorating his home both inside and out in a way that would rival Clark Griswold from Christmas Vacation.

Dad was a “believer” in the truest sense of the word. He believed that underneath all of the those more “secular” ways of celebrating Christmas lay the fundamental truth that lies at its heart: that in the babe born in Bethlehem the Word became flesh and lived among us, filled with grace and truth and in him, we have seen and experienced God in the flesh. He believed that in Jesus we have experienced love incarnate, love in the flesh. He believed that in Jesus lies the power for changed lives and a changed world. And all those other things we do at Christmas, in their way can point to the fundamental truth of Christmas: that Christ, our savior is born, that light and love has come, and no one is left out of the miracle that is Christmas. And all we need to do to receive the gift is believe.

When you get right down to it, Christmas is all about believing – believing in love and transformation and healing and grace. Believing that God has not abandoned us, but that God is with us, in Christ, even in the biggest messes that we create. Believing that in Christ Jesus born in Bethlehem is the power to redeem the mess and empower us to change.

This week in worship we will encounter Scrooge as he continues his journey of redemption and as he encounters the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Scrooge has already experienced the pain of regret for the choices he has made in his past. He has begun to see the possibilities for true joy and gratitude in life in the present. Now he gets a glimpse of the future toward which he is headed, and it is a scary sight. The question is, can he change? Can he discover a new and different future? Does he believe that change is possible? Do we believe?

We will turn to Mary’s story as recorded in Luke 1:26-38 and see how she responded when God burst into her life with a whole new plan, a whole new future. I’ll give you a hint – she believed! She trusted in the power of God to use her to give birth to light, love, and life for the world. She trusted in the miraculous power of God to use her to bear God’s gift of grace to a hurting world.

So, I ask you to ponder as you continue your Advent journey: what do you believe this Christmas? How might your belief in the miracle of Christmas need to be rekindled or strengthened this year? How is God inviting you to keep believing, despite the harsh realities that we often face in life? Can you change? Can the world be different? What would Mary say to you?

I look forward to seeing you in worship this Sunday as together, we seek the answers those questions and as we continue the journey toward Christmas. The light is coming. Do you believe it?

Grace and Peace,
Annette

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