Bethlehem – a place or an emotion or both?
Bethlehem was the place where King David was born. But to me, it is the place where Jesus came into the world. The city is in the mountains above a fertile plan, south of Jerusalem (approximately 10 km). It is a quiet center of commerce and trade, both in Jesus’s time and now. Perhaps that’s why there was no room at the in when Joseph and Mary arrived.
The ancient buildings and square are now and were then home to many peoples of different religions – Canaanites, Philistines, and Samnites. Today, it is home to mostly Palestinians who are just a step, but a physical barrier away from modern-day Israel, through a very secure border wall with Israel, where many Palestinians are forced to find work.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem because his father, Joseph, was required by the Roman Census to return to his ancestral city and be counted. A very pregnant Mary and Joseph traveled back to Bethlehem and arrived one evening and found no room in the city for travelers. A prophet predicted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
The only space Joseph and Mary could find for accommodations was a grotto – a hollowed out rock enclosure under an inn. This is not the modern day image of a cute manger in a stable, with animals gathered round, where Mary laid her newborn son.
But perhaps that is the message – that the very much more humble place of Jesus’s birth makes his ministry accessible and appealing to everyone. This humble place of Jesus’s birth, a lot more rustic than you’d think, presages Jesus’s mission to appeal and attract everyone. His ministry, appeal and mission was to everyone. Symbolically, it begins a new relationship between us and God. And to many, especially me, the word Bethlehem evokes hope.
- Martha Dale
To be quiet, vigilant, seeing, patient, peaceful, observant. To step back. Being objective, not
subjective. You can disappear and be on the alert even while seeing the beauty of the moment.
Keep in view. Your mind ever recording events. To safeguard. Take heed. It is not about you.
Imagine what watching must have been like before the age of multiple devices. Almost hard to
imagine. With tweets at the ready, talking heads, misinformation and commercialism. Could we all be missing something?
So how do we all watch and see as Christmas approaches? Perhaps watch children watching pageants and waiting for presents? Others watching for signs of peace and the end of the
pandemic? All of us mentally watching for the Star of Bethlehem and wondrous news ahead.
Please share your thoughts so we can watch, worship, maybe weep and with the grace of God wend our way together in this blessed time of year.
- Dalen Cole
We have all been through an unexpected journey this past year that are in many ways universal
while others with others unique and personal. Pope Francis recently wrote a trenchant and
heartfelt piece in The New York TImes that I found moving and forward looking in this journey together. These are but a few example of his:
"To come out of this pandemic better than when we came in, we must let ourselves be touched by
other's pain. Where the danger is, also gives the healing power. This is a moment to think big, to rethink our priorities -- what we want, what we seek - and to commit to act in our daily life on what we have dreamed of. To come out of this crisis better we have to recover the knowledge that we as a people have a shared destination. The pandemic has reminded us that no one is saved alone: the call to embrace the reality that we are bound by bonds of reciprocity."
How will you continue on your journey to Christmas in a year so different from others before?
If our family gatherings are not the same, what can be done to help loved ones suffering from pain or loss or just the ability to comfort one another? Perhaps we could reach out to community projects for those alone, with food insecurity or other worries. A warm voice on the telephone melts hearts. I'm sure this is not news to you, but, as Pope Francis noted, we are in this journey
together and there is such might in a helping quest.
* synonyms for journey in this context: a passage, quest. mission, pilgrimage
- Dalen Cole
Waiting- sometimes it seems as though we spend all our time WAITING for something to happen. We could experience anxiety waiting for test results, excitement waiting for a happy event such as a wedding, fear waiting for something unknown, or many other emotions.
Waiting- whether in joy, anxiety, pain, or fear- often pushes us towards prayer more than other events might do. We think “Dear Lord, please keep my loved one safe, Dear Lord, thank you that we can look forward to something special, Dear Lord, help me to get through this time.”
But often the best prayer would be “Lord, Thy will be done and help me to accept whatever it might be. With YOUR help, the waiting will be easier.”
Subordinating my will to God always helps me to move from WAITING to being better able to “live in the moment” I can move from the negative and the fearful to appreciate each moment for what it can offer.
Advent is often viewed as a time of waiting- a time of waiting for our Lord. Before Christ’s birth, the people did not even know what they were waiting for- Just a Messiah- in an unknown form. We are so fortunate that God’s form in Christ has already been revealed to us. We know what we are waiting for!
We can use this Advent Season to do PURPOSEFUL WAITING and PREPARATION in remembrance of Christ’s birth.
- Betsey Lenskold
Today we have two reflections on the word "Angel." The first is by Becky Graber. The second is by Skip Raymond. After Skip's reflection there is a song Becky recorded. Click the Play button on the left to listen.
I have looked for angels and longed for their touch since I was young. Somehow just hearing the word “angels” makes me light up inside.
I think that angels come to us as an embodiment of heaven, heaven being the place where generosity of spirit thrives and blesses human life.
I have a memory of being 5 or 6 years old; my class was riding a bus to the Swedish Museum in downtown Minneapolis, the snow was falling and I thought to myself that the angels were sending the snow to us. (I had an idea that it might be the dandruff from their heads but that didn’t seem quite right, not heavenly enough.)
We loved laying down in the snow and flapping our arms and legs to make snow angels imprints. I’m sure many of you share that memory of making snow angels, or helping your little ones to do so!
Angels are found just EVERYWHERE during this season of Advent and Christmas: on cards, on the top of the tree, in the twinkling lights, in songs: “Angels Hovering ‘Round”, “Angels, Come Stand by My Side”, “Angels Watching Over Me”, Angels We Have Heard On High”.
I loved the story of the Littlest Angel, a story about a boy who died young and gave baby Jesus a wooden box full of all the gifts of being a boy on earth - which became the start that guided the Wise men. When I got a little older, I loved getting acquainted with Clarence, the angel in “It’s A Wonderful Life”, and the seed was planted in my mind and heart that angels can appear in our own lives.
When I was older still, I discovered that we humans have felt angels, and seen them, for hundreds of years. I was struck in particular with the beauty of the Medieval paintings, with gold halos and rich colors. I loved Book of Hours, where angels were often seen hovering over the scenes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tr%C3%A8s_Riches_Heures_du_Duc_de_Berry#/media/File:Folio_44v_-_The_Nativity.jpg
One snowy day, when my kids were 2 and 5, I brought Sarah’s friend Fiona along with us to a doctor’s appointment. It turned out that Sarah needed to get booster shots, and she HATED shots and did everything she possibly could to get away from the doctor. Finally, shots given, appointment over, I took the kids to Friendly’s for an ice cream treat. When we came out of the restaurant, we had a flat tire. Oh dear (to say the least!) This was pre-cell phone, so I think I went back into the restaurant to use their phone, 3 little kids in tow.
That’s where my angels-to-be were just finishing up their meals; two truckers followed us out to our car, happy to help us. One of them entertained the kids and me while the other man changed our tire for us. And they went on their way back into their lives. Angels.
They were angels in action. Kindness personified. An embodiment of heaven.
I look for angels, and I hope to be one at times as well.
- Becky Graber
Most people when they think of “Angel” think about the angel coming to Mary about the birth and that is only natural at this time of the year. I have 2 thoughts about Angel ! The 1st is when my wife died suddenly 6 years ago on November 14, 2011 and my daughter-in-law sent me a cross with an Angel on the front with the words, “Angels are sent to ease our sorrows, strengthens our faith and lighten our hearts” and she wrote a very nice message on the back. That Angel sits on her dresser today!
The 2nd Angel reminds me of a Christmas tradition that we have had in my family from when I was a child. We would come down on Christmas morning to see a tree all decorated with the exception of the Angel on the top; it was the youngest child’s duty to put the Angel on that top most branch; usually the Dad would help and we would all look to that figure and know that things were good.
Angel’s have played a role in my life for lots of year’s and it is from the birth of the Christ child that this all stems. “ Angel’s we have heard on high”
- Skip Raymond
Last year on this date, my husband Bob left this earth to Rest in Peace after suffering many months from Lewie Body Dementia. I remember every day the good times and the sad times. It is painful at bedtime not to say "Good night. Love ya." But there is light coming through this darkness. I know Bob is in a better place, and I find comfort knowing Jesus is here to comfort me. The words from the 23rd Psalm reassure me that the Lord is my shepherd and surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
This is a very difficult time for everyone, but I must trust in the Lord to bring light into the darkness.
- Sally Brown
The timing is so right for the word, Hope, not only do we all Hope for a vaccine that will cure the virus but we Hope that people will come to their senses and stick with the protocols of wearing masks and social distancing.
In the final article of this months “Our Daily Bread” the author talks about Hope in the Desert. It states that, “Just as He demonstrated with his people in the desert, He’s more interested I capturing our hearts, receiving our genuine worship and proving Himself faithful rather than provide a quick fixes or temporary solutions.” The author concludes by stating that, “He chose the desert then, and He uses it now to show us the beauty of Hope – Hope in Christ. Stay Awake, He has so much to show you in your desert season.”
What an interesting way to look at Hope as we enter the Advent Season a time for re-birth, lighting our individual ways and looking forward with renewed Hope in what lies ahead. May we all be blessed during this Hopeful season and in the New Year!
- Skip Raymond
I hope for many things.
I hope the Patriots win this weekend.
I hope for a snowy winter in Vermont.
I hope that nobody in our family gets the CoronaVirus.
I realize that each one of these worldly wishes may or may not happen, but I still hope that they do.
There is another, a better, kind of hope.
It is biblical hope, the desire for something unseen but with the sure and certain expectation of its fulfillment. This most precious hope comes from Jesus Christ to Christians who have saving faith by sincerely believing in him. The death of Jesus on the cross and his subsequent resurrection defeated his death and our deaths by atoning for all of our past, present and future sins. What a precious gift is this undeserved blessing that promises us eternal life in heaven beyond our earthly years.
As we anticipate and await our celebration of the birth of Christ, let us praise the Lord and thank God for our eternal hope.
- Bill Cooley
This year, to help us be ready for Christmas, we are going to have a daily Advent Devotional.
This is how it will work.
With the help of Paul Alcorn, we have made a list of 28 words associated with Advent and Christmas. We are asking you to select a word and write a short reflection based on the word you chose. Instead of writing something you can also send a carol or poem that you like. Then send your reflection to Paul who will post it on our church's website (2ndcongregationalchurchvt.org) and on our church's Facebook page (Second Congregational Church UCC).
Here are the steps:
Here are the words and dates!
Sunday, November 29 Hope
Monday, November 30 Darkness
Tuesday, December 1 Angels
Wednesday, December 2 Waiting
Thursday, December 3 Journey
Friday, December 4 Watch
Saturday, December 5 Bethlehem
Sunday, December 6 Peace
Monday, December 7 Light
Tuesday, December 8 Wisemen
Wednesday, December 9 Pondering
Thursday, December 10 Shepherds
Friday, December 11 Mary
Saturday, December 12 Joseph
Sunday, December 13 Joy
Monday, December 14 Star
Tuesday, December 15 Prepare
Wednesday, December 16 Rejoice
Thursday, December 17 Holy
Friday, December 18 Wisdom
Saturday, December 19 Fear Not
Sunday, December 20 Love
Monday, December 21 Manger
Tuesday, December 22 Gifts
Wednesday, December 23 Messenger
Thursday, December 24 Good News
Friday, December 25 Emmanuel
Reminder: Once you have chosen a word please email your choice to Paul Alcorn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for helping us get ready for Christmas!