Advent is a season of expectation.
As I enter into Advent, I am looking expectantly towards our new ministry together. I thoroughly love Christmas: the carols, the evergreens, the stockings hung with care, the joy on our children’s faces; these are a few of my favorite Christmas traditions.
Many families have their own beloved traditions. I remember my youth pastor telling us how he would gather with his family on Christmas morning and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus. Another family I knew always ate pickled herring during Christmas time. (It must be a Swedish thing.) In his teenage years, my father grew up in a predominately Mexican-American area of L.A. and would receive tamales on Christmas Eve from his neighbors.
Traditions are important. They give us a sense of stability and connect us to our past. Many of us are reminded of fond memories of yesteryear as we watch our children and grandchildren share in the same traditions we enjoyed as a child.
The church also has many traditions surrounding Christmas such as Advent Wreaths, Christmas pageants, favorite carols and hymns, and special services. Just like with our family traditions, church traditions are important because they point us back to our spiritual heritage and draw us into the deeper message of Christmas.
Many of the carols we sing are rich in their theology and relay the miracle of God with us –from the Magnificat to Handel’s Messiah to Silent Night, these carols draw us closer to God. And who can forget some our favorite songs of past children’s pageants such as We Three Kings and Away in a Manger.
Another of my favorite Christmas church traditions is the lighting of the Advent Candle. Each week through the readings and the symbolism of the candles, we are readied to receive the baby Jesus. Each candle represents a different lesson that we can take with us throughout the week and carry forth into our daily lives. The messages of hope, peace, joy, and love prepare our hearts to receive Jesus and remind us of the many blessings we have received through him. Each week as I listen to these messages, I find myself being prepared for our time together. I am excited about seeing these opportunities unfold.
Michelle and I are looking forward to joining you shortly. Although we are not with you this Christmas, we are one with you in Spirit. In this joyous time and season, as you gather and share your Christmas traditions, may God bless you and your family this Christmas. Peace and joy,Pastor Jon Nellis
THANKSGIVING MESSAGE A Pilgrim Faith As Michelle and I begin our packing to start this new journey of faith with our new church family, my thoughts turn towards Thanksgiving. I am reminded of the Pilgrim story and my childhood. Growing up, Thanksgiving was one of my favorite holidays. In particular, the story of the Pilgrims and their courageous journey to America inspired me. I wondered at their trek across the sea and pondered their strength as they forged with the natives to make a new home. In school, I looked forward to making multicolored turkey tails and paper boats of the Mayflower. And of course, every Thanksgiving, I looked forward to our family’s turkey feast.
However, as a child, I never really thought much about the struggles the Pilgrims had to endure. How they were setting out away from everything they knew, away from the comfortable and predictable in order to flee the religious turmoil that had existed for them in their country. I didn’t consider the old stale food and cold conditions they endured on their boat ride to a new land. It didn’t dawn on me that several of their loved ones died during that first harsh Massachusetts winter.
Now that I am older, I can appreciate their trust in God. I am encouraged by the Pilgrim’s courage and fortitude; and I am humbled that they endured what they did so they could worship God and practice their faith freely.
In considering their hardship and what they endured, I understand better the power of faith. I can see that it was their faith in God that encouraged them through the stormy seas. It was their faith in Jesus that held them together as they buried their loved ones.
It was their hope in the new Kingdom that revived them to strive for a better existence. One cannot separate the Pilgrim’s accomplishments from their faith in God because it was their faith that helped them survive.
It was only natural that such a faithful people would look to God as the host of their good harvest and the provider of their feast the following autumn. And it is in their thanksgiving to God after such hardship that we understand how special they really were. We should look fondly upon their memory; and as Christians, we should take pride in the heritage of faith they set before us. They represent everything that Thanksgiving is all about and the perseverance our nation was founded upon.
As we begin our adventure together, like the Pilgrims, I am expectant of what God will bring from our efforts together. I give thanksgiving for the Pilgrims’ spirit and faith already alive at Park United. It is my fervent prayer that we share together in the harvest of faith and expectation that our Pilgrim brothers and sisters have set before us. This year, I am thankful for the many joys that God has provided. In our common faith, let us sit with the Pilgrims and share the great harvest before us giving praise to our wonderful and caring Lord for his good and bountiful provision.
In Christ,Pastor Jon