December 16, 2018 -ADVENT III

To a Maid Engaged to Joseph

United Methodist Hymnal – #215

“So be it; I am ready

according to your word.”

 

I have never been visited by an angel. At least not one that I was aware of. Yet in the Christmas story, it seems that people are having visits from angels all the time! How would one know? In Renaissance paintings angels usually have flowing white gowns and big wings (except for Botticelli’s The Mystical Nativity, where the angels are dressed in white, brown, and pink, and always look more like Neapolitan ice cream – but I digress). But what if they looked just like us? Who could forget Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life? Except for some outdated clothes, he looked pretty much like everyone else. And my personal favorite, Dudley in The Bishop’s Wife. Cary Grant looked just like . . . well, Cary Grant. The Hallmark Channels have angels everywhere, and there’s no way to tell them from anyone else. So how do we know that we have not been visited by angels? And for that matter, what really qualifies someone as an angel? With a small change of my understanding of what an angel actually is, I can guarantee that I have been visited by any number of angels. From the doctor who discovered my heart murmur, to the person who introduced me to my wife, to the people who just wouldn’t give up on me, to the person who loved me when I was at my most unlovable. The search for angels in our midst is not that different than the vision of Christ in someone else’s face, or the God sightings we have in the most mundane experiences. Be aware!!!

 

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,

for by doing that some have entertained

angels without knowing it.

HEBREWS 13:2

      

Gracious and loving God, open our eyes to your presence. Let us not look beyond those we encounter, but rather into the souls of your children, our brothers and sisters. You do not deny your children. We, therefore, should be loving and accepting, opening our arms as well. As we love you, and you have loved us, guide us to show that same love to all your children.  Amen.

 

~Rev. L. Michael Kelley


December 15, 2018

It Came upon the Midnight Clear

United Methodist Hymnal – #218

. . . when peace shall over all the earth

its ancient splendors fling

 

Once upon a time, a friend who was visiting worship dared me to see how many alternate harmonies I could cram into one hymn. It was Advent, so I chose It Came upon a Midnight Clear. It was awesome. It’s no wonder that it is a favorite of jazz musicians. Probably the finely crafted melody enables that kind of variation. But the most interesting part of this carol is in the cyclical nature of the lyric. We hear of the angels, pronouncing the birth of Jesus. But that is followed by a plea to stop, and take a minute to again contemplate the angels’ song. Finally, the prophesy that peace will prevail, and the whole world will declare “Peace on Earth” back to the angels. Well . . . we don’t seem all that close to real peace on earth. In Seminary, I clung to the belief that all people were capable of good, and that there  could actually be a time when peace could prevail. Not to seem overly negative, but it seems less likely now than ever. What are the roadblocks to real and lasting peace? Fear? Distrust? The desire to rise by bringing down someone else? The thought of a world without conflict is perhaps an unrealistic dream. But I prefer to think that each one of us can do our part to bring about that peace. Opening our hearts to those who think, look and perhaps act differently than we do is a good place to start. And if you want to offer a prayer for that peace, it’s easy. Just read the Peace Pole at our campus entrance. “May peace prevail on earth.”

 

His authority shall grow continually,

and there shall be endless peace for the

throne of David and his kingdom.

ISAIAH 9: 7

      

God of peace, we pray for peace on earth, yet are constantly reminded that it is an unlikely reality. As St. Francis said, make us instruments of your peace. Allow us to put aside petty differences that divide us, and instead, sow seeds of peace and unity in our families, our workplaces, our communities and our world. We acknowledge that it is your will, now and always.  Amen.

 

~Rev. L. Michael Kelley


December 14, 2018

The First Noel

United Methodist Hymnal – #245

. . . and to the earth it gave great light,

and so it continued both day and night.

 

Do you think that darkness gets a bad rap? The metaphors are everywhere. We are encouraged to understand: Light = good, Dark = bad. Why else would Darth Vader be from the “Dark Side”? But in the dark, we can see the stars in the heavens. We can see the Northern Lights (if we’re lucky enough). We sit in a dark room at the movies, and many of us sleep in completely darkened rooms. You can’t tell me that my nice comfortable bed is bad. So what about light? Well . . . it’s far stronger than dark. The tiniest light can erase the darkness. Light can keep us safe. Think about a lighthouse. Or that firm footing is impossible in complete darkness. Why else would there be an issue with the “people who walked in darkness”? Closer to home, the “Dayspring” is believed to be the coming of light into the world. The original stained glass window (in the Fellowship Hall) is a perfect depiction of that. The birth of the Christ Child was announced by the presence of a star. Be it a navigational device, or simply illumination for the Magi, a star filled the sky with its light. And like a light house, guided the 3 Kings to Bethlehem. That’s why we light candles on Christmas Eve. When we share our individual flame with those around us, the light increases exponentially. And while dark may not be really bad, the light, Christ’s light, illuminates everything around us, but only when we share it. You know, it doesn’t have to be a candle. What might your light be?

 

O send out your light and your truth;

let them lead me; let them bring me

to your holy hill, and to your dwelling.

PSALM 43: 3

      

God of light and life, we come to you as those who have walked in darkness. We long for your light to illuminate our path. We draw strength, assurance, and stability from your light. Help us, guide us to discern our own light, giving us the ability to understand where we might illumine those we encounter. Let us, like your Son, be a source of light and life in our world.  Amen.

 

~Rev. L. Michael Kelley


December 13, 2018

Joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine

The Faith We Sing – #2099

Gladly, dear one, lady mine, help I cradle this child of thine;

God’s own light on us both shall shine . . .

 

So what’s the deal with Joseph? We know he was there, so the story tells us. We even read that he was visited by an angel who explained the surprising (to say the least) pregnancy of Mary, imploring him not to leave, but rather to stay, serving as the earthly father of the Son of God. In this snippet of lyric, Joseph offers his parenting help to Mary, understanding that they have both been blest with the arrival of this precious gift. But shortly thereafter, he vanishes. He, Mary and Jesus flee to Egypt, escaping Herod’s slaughter of the “innocents”, but is not heard from again. This good man, who played such a major role in Christ’s birth, is gone. Talk about a thankless job! But it’s easy to remember the multitude of thankless jobs we have all undertaken. In fact, many of the most generous and loving acts we may offer up, often go un-thanked. This, then, becomes about those random acts of kindness that many of us strive to include in our day to day activities. It feels so good to make someone’s day. In fact, their gratitude is hardly necessary, if even desired. Sitting in my car at Starbuck’s Drive-thru, being informed that the person in the car ahead of me just paid for my coffee is definitely a “day maker”. I can hardly wait then, to do the same for the car behind me, knowing how it will make them feel. Think of how many of these kind gestures could really make someone’s day, while taking almost no effort on our part. OK – your turn!

 

Thus says the Lord of hosts:

Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy

to one another.

ZECHARIAH 7: 9

      

God of kindness. God of love. You gave us the example of perfect love in your Son, Jesus. Even the simplest act of kindness can be transformational both for the intended recipient, and for ourselves. You ask so little from us, and demonstrate great patience when we are slow to respond. Help us to heed your call to love kindness, and do justice, as we humbly walk with you,  Amen.

 

~Rev. L. Michael Kelley


December 12, 2018

On This Day Earth Shall Ring

United Methodist Hymnal – #248

“. . . born on earth to save us,

peace and love he gave us.”

 

Eternal life. Not always the main focus of a Christmas carol, but certainly a main point of our faith. It’s just usually more discussed around Easter. But many of the early carol texts revolved around eternal life, usually by way of salvation or redemption. I love redemption stories. They’re my favorite. You know, the selfish, reclusive person has some kind of a life changing experience, and they emerge totally different people. George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life sees what the world would have been had he not been born.  And in my favorite, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, we see Ebenezer Scrooge travel from past to future, looking at his life, ultimately becoming a new person. And geez, the Hallmark Channel has some kind of redemption story playing on television 24/7. But often I wonder why things have to get so bad before they can get better? For Scrooge, it was his impending death that changed him. For George Bailey, it was the bleak lives of his mother, and his wife, Mary. We are not blest with the ability to see what the world would be like without us. But it is an interesting exercise. The early church focused on the gift of eternal life, by way of salvation through Jesus Christ. Born on earth to save us! This was, and is, the Good News of Christ’s coming. Humankind was blest at God’s incarnation as human. And redemption can be thought of as a Christmas gift, or an ongoing blessing. As Tiny Tim would say, “God bless us, every one.”

 

God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him

should not perish, but have eternal life.

JOHN 3:16

      

God of grace, we thank you for the gift of redemption, the gift of salvation, and the gift of eternal life. Bless us as we live day to day, doing our best to reflect your spirit is all we do and say. Though unworthy of your love and grace, we will do our best this season to emerge as new, redeemed people. Open our hearts to the needs of others, and then bless us, every one.  Amen.

 

~Rev. L. Michael Kelley


December 11, 2018

O Little Town of Bethlehem

United Methodist Hymnal – #230

. . . where meek souls will receive him,

still the dear Christ enters in.

 

Thanks to modern technology, I’ve seen all sorts of things that I would never have had a reason to see. For instance, baby goats in pajamas. Or a raccoon scaling a 25 story building. It would seem that one of the regularly posted videos is of a poor unsuspecting deer finding itself in a convenience store, or worse, someone’s home. Usually the poor animal is seen frantically leaping about, doing all kinds of damage before it finds its way back out the door and into its far more familiar environment. The animal was certainly an unwelcome guest, one that did not receive an invitation to enter. For the past 10 days I’ve spoken much about the season of Advent being a time for us to open our hearts to welcome the Christ Child and others. But the founder of Methodism, John Wesley saw it differently. Wesley spoke of three forms of grace: Justifying, Sanctifying, and Prevenient. Justifying and Sanctifying grace fuel God’s forgiveness and the on-going presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It’s Prevenient grace that may be the most remarkable, misunderstood, and un-earned. Defined as “going before”, Prevenient grace exists even before we ask. Certainly God will respond to our invitation to enter our lives, but through Prevenient grace, God is already there. During the Advent/Christmas season, we do experience a rebirth, the coming again of the baby born in a manger. But an invitation is not necessary. God already lives in our hearts.

 

Do not be like them,

for your Father knows what you need

before you ask him.

MATTHEW 6:8

      

God of the open heart, we marvel at the breadth of your love. Even at our most unlovable, you live in our hearts and offer us grace and forgiveness. As we ponder the unnecessary act of invitation, we feel unworthy to be recipients of your grace. But it’s there, today,  and all the days after. Make us worthy Lord, to claim your ever present grace, and live according to your will.  Amen.

 

~ Rev. L. Michael Kelley


December 10, 2018

Love Came Down at Christmas

United Methodist Hymnal – #242

Love was born at Christmas;

star and angel gave the sign.

 

In the movie “You’ve Got Mail”, Meg Ryan inadvertently finds herself in the “Cash Only” line of her neighborhood grocery store with only a credit card to pay for her purchase. It’s the night before Thanksgiving, the store is full, and tempers are running high. As she pleads with the checker to accept her card, the man behind her, exasperated by her apparent disregard for the rules exclaims, “There’s a sign!” pointing to the large “Cash Only” sign. She, in her preoccupation, had just missed it. This is a round about way of asking, how many signs do we miss every day? Truth is, we’re inundated with signs. Some are there to keep us safe (walk/don’t walk, for example). Some are designed to keep us in our place, or to protect someone else’s belongings (keep off the grass!) Still others are strictly informative (Business hours 9 – 5). But there are other signs, the ones that may not be printed and posted. Non-verbal signs are everywhere. What about someone who suddenly stops showing up for a favorite activity, or someone who become unusually reclusive. Even body language, crossed arms, or the inability to make eye contact are all signs, potentially of a far more severe problem. Just as we must heed the signs that keep us safe and protected, we must not miss, or intentionally ignore the signs when a friend or colleague may be actually crying out for our help. We need to keep our eyes open to the signs around us, this Advent and beyond.

 

And this shall be a sign unto you;

You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes,

and lying in a manger.

LUKE 2: 12

      

God of Grace, you want only the best for your children. We thank you for your presence with us, and the opportunities for love and service you offer if we will but listen. We pray not to be oblivious to the signs you place around us, but rather, be vigilant in recognizing those signs, better enabling us to be your eyes, ears, and hands in our world, always striving to do your will.  Amen.

 

~Rev. L. Michael Kelley


December 9, 2018 -ADVENT II

People Look East

United Methodist Hymnal – #202

Make your house fair as you are able,

trim the tree and set the table.

 

Our Senior Pastor, Jane Tews, once confided to me, “there are only so many ways to say, ’He is Born’” This was obviously as she prepared for her Christmas (Eve) message. She understood that people are most comfortable with the much beloved story of Angels, Shepherds, Wise Men, the Star etc. But to stand before a congregation, telling the same story over and over can inspire someone to find new and meaningful ways to connect that miraculous birth to who we are, and how we live in this modern day. Still, there are some images, or metaphors, that just won’t go away. One of them concerns the preparation of one’s house for the coming of the Christ Child. A medieval poem tells of two kings. If the King of the land was coming to visit, the preparations would be all encompassing. Floor to ceiling, chairs, table, food, everything that would make one a great host would be attended to. Yet, at the coming of the baby in Bethlehem, there was not even a welcoming place for him to be born, and this was the King of Kings, the Savior of the world! How did we get so messed up? And what can we do now? Surely we understand that the Advent season is a time of preparation. So what preparations can we make for our guest? Far more than setting the table or sweeping the floor. I would propose that this season we mindfully focus our preparations on our hearts, opening fully to our families, friends, and those we have yet to meet.

 

Prepare ye the way of the Lord,

make straight in the desert a highway for our God,

the crooked straight and the rough places plain.

ISAIAH 40: 3-4

      

Gracious and loving God, we were so very lax in welcoming your Son so many years ago. Fill our hearts now with radical hospitality. May we fling open the doors of our hearts this Advent season, welcoming not only the Christ Child, but offering a welcoming embrace, both literally and figuratively, to our loved ones as well as those most  in need of our love and resources.  Amen.

 

~Rev. L. Michael Kelley


December 8, 2018

Once in Royal David’s City

United Methodist Hymnal – #250

With the poor, the scorned, the lowly

lived on earth our Savior holy.

 

Quick – describe heaven! Is the heaven you imagine all white and bright, with beautiful clouds and harp music pervasive? What about wings? Were there angels with wings and flowing white robes? It’s an image that we have become quite comfortable with. We have heard time and time again about the bright white light beckoning those who pass from this world to the next, only to be medically revived and returned to our reality. But there are other ways to see heaven. It could be as simple as the faces of your children, parents, and other loved ones. In fact, I think that perhaps heaven might be found in the company of those we love, and who love us. And in keeping with that thought, think how difficult it is to say goodbye. Like a nice warm bed on a really cold morning, we just don’t want to leave and break the spell. And why would we? What could be better than to be comfortable one minute, then thrust into an alien environment. Much like birth – it’s no wonder newborn babies cry. Yet . . . at this time of year we think about how God came to live among us. A hostile, alien environment, a dirty stable is not the white and fluffy image we have of heaven. And beyond that, we’re told that God’s Son, Jesus, lived and ministered to “the least of these”. The poor, the sick, the outcast, the disenfranchised and socially rejected, these were the friends of the One who came to gather us in. Perhaps Jesus’ ministry began on day one.

 

. . . the Dayspring from on high hath visited us,

to give light to them that sit in darkness

and guide our feet into the way of peace.

LUKE 1: 78-79

      

Gracious and loving God, we live in a world of contrasts. Happiness and sadness, darkness and light. We often find it difficult to see through the bad , to experience the good. Let us remember during this season, that Christ, the bringer of light, was born into the most hostile surroundings. And then let us look around us to discern where we might be light to someone else.  Amen.

 

~Rev. L. Michael Kelley


December 7, 2018

The Friendly Beasts

United Methodist Hymnal – #227

Then all the beasts, by some good spell, in the stable dark

were glad to tell of the gifts they gave Emmanuel.

 

Everyone has favorite images of Christmas. Many like the glorious heralding of the angels, over the pastures where shepherds kept watch. Maybe others like the grand procession of the three Magi, resplendent in their finery, riding their camels to Bethlehem and the manger. Then there’s always the star, shining overhead, pointing the way to the Christ Child. But my favorite is the stable, and not just the stable, but the animals in it. The gentleness of the sheep and cows stands is such sharp contrast to the rough surroundings. Additionally, the legend of the animals talking on Christmas Eve is hard to ignore. One has to wonder if the animals communicated that night, beyond the stable, in a 101 Dalmatians kind of communication line, announcing the birth of baby Jesus. The presence of animals has been a source of inspiration for years. The Medieval Matins service for Christmas Eve sang of the animals’ presence in the stable (O magnum Mysterium). The animals in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind and the Willows, sing of the same, as they carol door to door. And here, each animal tells of his or her contribution to the comfort of the Christ Child. Lowly animals? I think not. What could possibly be of more value that the ability to comfort the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace. In this season of Advent/Christmas, we should take another look at the dog or cat lying so peacefully in our chair. Come Christmas Eve, you never know what they might be saying.

 

“Who were the first to cry NOWELL?

Animals all, as it befell, in the stable where they did dwell! 

Joy shall be theirs in the morning!” 

THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS

      

God of all creation, The beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea are yours. Yet you have charged us to be stewards of all living things. As the beasts looked on, your Son was brought into the world. We pray that the same world might become one where the lion lay down with the lamb, and the cow and bear might feed together, and a little child shall lead them.  Amen.

 

~Rev. L. Michael Kelley