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Dear Friends:

I count myself blessed to have served this church for more than thirty years. When I consider my time here, I am reminded of Psalm 16. I am particularly fond of verse 3 which declares, “As for the saints in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight,” and of verse 6 which declares, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.”

It was reported to me that a visitor to our Farmer’s Market said, “I think I have stumbled into a Hallmark Movie.”  Had I heard her, I would have responded, “Yes, we are a Hallmark congregation, for we know that when God sent us his son, God cared enough to send the very best.”  How does the author of the 4th gospel put it: “The law was given through Moses,” but we have all received “wave after wave of grace in Jesus Christ.” Most of us agree that grace is all we want, and all we want to give.

Despite my pleasure in your company, the time has come for me to close a long chapter and retire from this pastorate. I will do that on Sunday, October 28th, 2018. This congregation will face new challenges, but with every challenge, there is an opportunity, and I believe that your best days are ahead. 

Why am I leaving? There are a number of reasons: 1) I am leaving because I am 69, and I am confident that this is the right time for me.  2) I am leaving because I want to spend time with my wife, Elayne, and we want to spend more time with our children and grandchildren.  3) I am leaving because I want to be responsive to the needs of my mother, Henrietta, who suffers from dementia and is making the long good-by and awaits promotion to the higher service. Her illness is one of the most challenging things Elayne and I have ever faced. Finally, I am leaving because all these things—and many others besides, point to my leaving as the will of God. Though I will miss being your pastor, I look forward to new freedom in a new chapter of life. Whatever I do, I hope to do the work of a witness.

After my departure, you will have an interim to help guide you into the future. However, I still have almost three months left to set the stage for the better days that are coming. In three decades here, we have learned a few things from our successes and failures. We have a lot to talk about. If you care about your church, please make every effort to be in attendance. I would count it as a personal favor. It will certainly impress those pastors who are already starting to contemplate what it might be like to serve here with you.

Blessings,

Worth Green

Senior Pastor

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Funtastics

August Event

On August 23, the Funtastics will be given a tour of the Moravian Music Foundation. The Foundation houses over 10,000 music manuscripts and early printed editions which represents a great diversity in music style and sources spanning hundreds of years. The Funtastics will have an opportunity to visit the vault at the Foundation and view some treasures there, including a copy of the first edition of the Star-Spangled Banner, and the only known hand-copied manuscript of works by one of Johann Sebastian Bach’s sons. After our tour we have lunch at the Five Points Restaurant. The bus will leave the at 10 a.m. Register your attendance with the Church office by August 20.

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Becoming New

2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17

June 17, 2018

 

Today is Father’s Day and I am wearing my dad’s tie. My dad died from cancer just after I accepted the call here to New Philadelphia. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in early September 2016 and not even two months later, he died. I remember the day before his funeral. Kelly and I were out looking for some appropriate clothes for Zach to wear- even though he is a pastor’s kid (a double PK actually) he doesn’t often wear a jacket and tie. While we were shopping, I decided to look for a new tie for myself. But not just any old tie.

My dad was a lifelong Wake Forest fan. He graduated from Wake in 1965 and rarely missed a football or basketball game. That love of Wake Forest sports was definitely passed on to me, and I decided to look for a tie in old gold and black for his funeral. I looked in a number of stores but just couldn’t find the right tie. So decided to just wear one of my regular old ties.

The day of his funeral, Kelly and Zach and I were getting dressed at my parents house. And I just happened to look through my dad’s ties, where I found this one. It was EXACTLY the tie I had been looking for to wear. So I asked my mom if it was okay for me to wear it for the funeral. Of course she said yes. And that I should just keep it if I wanted it. It has become my favorite tie. I wear it on the most special and important of occasions; like Father’s Day.

As I was looking over the scriptures for today- I had really planned to focus on the OT or the Gospel lesson. I preached on 2 Corinthians two weeks ago and Worth used it last week, so it seemed like this week was a good chance to move on to something else. But as I read the verses from 2 Corinthians, and remembered that it was Father’s Day, I knew that I would HAVE to preach one more time on Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth. It just fit too well to do anything else.

There are three phrases in those verses that have stuck in my mind all week: for we walk by faith, not by sight…For the love of Christ urges us on… and if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! I think that each one is special enough to spend a little bit of time on this morning.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians that we walk by faith and not by sight, he was doing so as a way of affirming their belief in Jesus, even though they had not ever seen Jesus during his earthly life. For that matter, neither did Paul. And that was a bit of an issue for Paul. In those first decades after Jesus was crucified and died, then was resurrected and ascended into heaven, there was some controversy about the legitimacy of those believers who never knew Jesus in his earthly life, especially about those who called themselves “apostles” yet never knew Jesus. Those who knew Jesus while he walked on the earth wondered if someone who didn’t actually know Jesus in the same way that they did could preach the “true gospel” of Jesus.

Yet Paul did preach the true Gospel of Jesus and he wanted to assure those who heard it from him that it was okay, that he was a legitimate apostle. Paul also wanted to tell them that even though they had never seen Jesus, even though they didn’t know him they way that those who were with him did, they too were still true followers of Jesus. Their faith was just as genuine as the sight of others.

It may not seem like that big of a deal to us today. We are all like those followers of Jesus who didn’t ever know him. We are thousands of years and thousands of miles removed. We know that we don’t have to have seen Jesus to know Jesus. We all walk by faith and not by sight. While we don’t need to hear Paul’s words in the same way the believers in Corinth did and we don’t need them to reinforce our legitimacy as Christians, we still need to hear them. Because even though we have no doubt about our legitimacy as believers, we still need to remember that we walk by faith and not by sight.

For us, walking by faith and not by sight is not so much about our faith in who Jesus was and who Jesus is, it is more about what Jesus is going to do. It is about how Jesus is at work in our lives. The faith that we walk by is a faith in God who creates, redeems, and sustains his children. It is a faith that trusts in our God enough to know that every little thing is going to be alright.

This journey that we are on that we call our lives often seems like we are stumbling around in the dark. We don’t know what we are doing and we can’t see where we are going. Even though we can’t know or see the future, we know that God will continue creating, Jesus will always be redeeming, and the Spirit will constantly sustain us, as we walk by faith and not by sight and follow our Lord and Savior.

For the love of Christ urges us on… it’s not always easy to be a follower of Jesus. It’s hard to walk by faith and not by sight. The Apostle Paul knew this and we know it too. Paul faced many challenges and difficulties even after he encountered the risen Christ- maybe even especially after he became a Christian. As I mentioned before, his legitimacy and authority as an apostle was questioned and constantly challenged. And he suffered from what he called “a thorn in his flesh” that kept him humble and made his life difficult. He was not that different from us.

We have challenges and difficulties in our lives as followers of Jesus. We struggle with being in the world but not of the world. We are challenged by the call to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. And we even struggle to love ourselves; especially to love ourselves in the same way that God loves us.

We are often incapable of looking at ourselves and seeing us the way that God sees us. We see our faults and failings; and God sees them too. But unlike they do to us, they don’t matter that much to God. For God loves us unconditionally, despite our faults and failings. God looks at us and sees all of those things that we see in ourselves that make us unlovable; unlovable by ourselves or anyone else, yet alone by the Creator of the heavens and earth and all that it is. God looks at us and sees our faults and failings and God loves us anyway.

God loves us so much that he died for us. When God became human, when Jesus died on the cross, it was all done for us and for our salvation, so that we might not die but may have everlasting life. This is the love of Christ that Paul writes about. It is the love to urges us on… it urges us on to love each other and to love the world in the same way that we are loved. It is the love that urges us on to love each other, despite being keenly aware of each others faults and failings. The love of Christ urges us on to love each other anyway.

It urges us on to live, and to love, not for ourselves, but for others. Which brings us to the last phrase from 2 Corinthians that has held my attention this week “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” This is the one that convinced me to preach one more week on this same letter. Because this is the one that reminded me so much of my dad.

For my brother and sister and I, we knew that we were loved unconditionally, supported and encouraged in all our endeavours. We were urged on by his love. My dad had a way about him that made it comfortable to be around him, even when there were no words to be said. When you were in his presence, you just knew that you were loved and accepted and valued and safe.

In addition to being a great father to me and my brother and sister, my dad was a “father” to many other boys, and later to many other men and women. He spent his life helping others to see themselves as the “new creation” in Christ that they are meant to be. Much of my dad’s career was spent as the director of the Winston-Salem Boys’ Club. It was those same gifts that he shared with us that enabled him to be a second father to countless boys who desperately needed a positive male influence in their lives. As he did with his own children, he loved them into seeing themselves as new creations in Christ.

After leaving the Boys’ Club, he went to work at Prodigals Community, which was a recovery community for people struggling to overcome addiction. At Prodigals, he helped many men and women to know that they were beloved children of God, that they were loved and forgiven- unconditionally and completely. It was at Prodigals where dad became the true representation of the Father as he greeted God’s beloved children and welcomed them home to the love that they desperately needed, greatly desired, and so deeply longed for.

My dad helped countless people to be able to see themselves as God sees them; he helped them to claim their identity as a child of God. No longer are they defined by their faults and failings, but they are “new creations” in Christ, everything old has passed away- all of the sins and shortcomings, all of the selfishness and striving to fit into the world, all of that is gone and we are made new.

I used the word “we” intentionally. For it is not just fatherless boys and substance addicted men and women who need to know that they are loved. It is not just them who need to see the old pass away and all things made new. This is something that we all need. We all need to claim our identity as new creations, as God’s beloved children.

I don’t want you to leave here thinking that my father was some kind of saint. He was a great man but he also had his own faults and failings. However, he didn’t allow those faults and failings to prevent him from seeing himself and others as God’s beloved children. On this Father’s Day, I know how very blessed that I am to have had a father who helped me to see and know this. But I also know that many aren’t as fortunate as I am. Many people struggle with Father’s Day. Either because their father’s are no longer with them (like me) or because their fathers have never been with them or, even worse, they had fathers who were the exact opposite of what a father is supposed to be.

Yet I also know that God gives us a father. Maybe not in the men who caused us to be born or who were married to our mothers, but God gives us at least one man in our life who fills that role of father, who helps us to walk by faith and not by sight, who urges us on with the love of Christ, who helps us to see ourselves as new creations in Christ.

So on this Father’s Day, just like I wear this tie to honor and remember my father and to give thanks to God for giving him to me, I want us all to take a moment to honor and remember our fathers, and give thanks to God for sharing them with us. Whether it is our actual father or another who was or is like a father to us; they are indeed a gift of God.

And even as we give thanks, let us also be challenged to be like them; to do for others as they have done for us. For we all need those people in our lives who see us as God sees us and who help us to become who God has created us to be. And we are all called to be those people to each other and to the world. It doesn’t take being a father or a mother, but it does take the being able to love like a father or a mother, it takes being able to love each other as we are loved by God- who creates us, redeems us and sustains us. It takes someone who knows that they are a new creation in Christ and wants to help others know that they too are new creations in Christ. So let us urge each other on with the love of Christ as we walk by faith in that love.

 

Amen

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New Philadelphia, Moravian Church, all band musicians are invited! The band will meet each Wednesday from 7 p.m. – 8 p.m. in the church fellowship hall (on the God’s acre side of the church) June 6 through August 29. We will play chorales from the green and blue books that are selected by the players. A different local band leader will direct each night. This is a great opportunity to meet new players, learn a new instrument or part, and keep those lips in shape over the summer. 

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Fly Eagles Fly – sermon by Rev. Joe Moore

Isaiah 40:21-31

February 4, 2018

 

For the last two weeks, I have been driving my wife crazy. (Well, she would probably say that I have been driving her crazy for the last 22 years) But specifically for the last couple of weeks, I have been texting her or calling her or just asking her “Hey, did you hear that the Eagles are in the Super Bowl?”

Yes, I am an Eagles fan. I come by it honestly. As I mentioned last time I preached, our first church was in New Jersey. South Jersey to be exact. And South Jersey is basically a suburb of Philadelphia. We could actually see the Philly skyline from our house in New Jersey. So naturally, the Philly sports teams dominate the news. The Eagles, Phillies, Flyers, and 76ers are all anyone talks about.

So while we were living there, I adopted some of those teams as my own. I would root for the Phillies (if they weren’t playing the Braves) and the 76ers (on the rare occasion that I paid attention to the NBA) and I even had a Flyers t-shirt (despite knowing nothing about hockey). But the Eagles became my team, primarily since football is my favorite spectator sport.

While I naturally wanted to support the local teams, it also helped me as a pastor there. It gave me an instant conversation starter with the members of the congregation. It was kind of like what Paul meant when he wrote “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.”

I’m not saying that I became an Eagles fan “for the sake of the Gospel” but it helped to establish some common ground with people that I really didn’t have much in common with otherwise. Being a North Carolina boy in New Jersey made me something of a stranger in a strange land. That is really the first steps in sharing the Gospel- finding something that brings you together, establishing a relationship, building trust. Coming together over things that are less significant allows you to then share about the more important things- like the good news of Jesus Christ.

From the very beginning of Christianity, followers of Jesus have been called to share the gospel- Jesus sent his 12 disciples out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Then the risen Christ expanded that mission when he said “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” and “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

 Sometimes I feel that we don’t really take that call as seriously as we should. We know that we are supposed to share the gospel. And we try to share the gospel. But it is not the driving force of our life and faith. We share it when it is convenient, or comfortable, or safe. But we seldom take risks to share the gospel, we seldom venture out of our comfort zones, we don’t have a sense of urgency or expectancy. We don’t feel like Paul does when he proclaims “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!”

That’s a pretty powerful statement. I don’t think that we have ever felt “great sorrow or distress” when we fail to proclaim the gospel. We may feel a little bit guilty, but it is a passing guilt that quickly fades. We may know that we should but we don’t really feel that bad when we don’t. We certainly don’t feel “woe”

I see three main reasons for this- 1) the sense of urgency isn’t as great for us as it was for the first Christians and 2) We haven’t had the Gospel “proclaimed” to us and 3) proclaiming the Gospel is hard! I want to spend a few minutes taking a closer look at each of these.

1)We don’t proclaim the Gospel with the same urgency that the earliest Christians had. Let’s face it, over time the sense of urgency will fade. Jesus’ original disciples, and other first century Christians, like Paul, believed that the return of Jesus was imminent. They believed that it would happen in their lifetime. Therefore they did not have much time to share the Gospel, the good news of Jesus, with the

Knowing both the command of Jesus to be his witnesses to the end of the earth and to make disciples of all nations combined with the belief that Jesus was returning soon, meant that they HAD to share the gospel as quickly as possible. I imagine that if we were living then, we would feel the same. But we aren’t living then. We are living now, and almost 2000 years have passed and believers are still waiting for Jesus to return. And we all know how that works. The longer we wait for something, the less urgent, the less immediate it seems. Sure, we still believe that it is going to happen. But instead of expecting it to happen tomorrow or next week or even next year, we just think that it is going to happen “someday” but who really knows when.

So we don’t feel that urgency to share the gospel. We know that if we don’t take advantage of the opportunities we have today, there is always tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, there is always the day after that and the day after that. For two millennia, there has always been another day, another opportunity, to share the good news of Jesus. It seems almost arrogant of us to think that this is THE day or this is THE time.

But maybe we should. Maybe we should try to revive that sense of urgency and immediacy to share the gospel that motivated the first Christians. Because we have been entrusted with the same gospel that they felt such urgency to share. We have been given the same mission, received the same calling. And the news is just as good now as it was then. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that whoever believes in him will not perish but will have everlasting life.”

This news is something that we should never hesitate to share. It is news that can’t wait until tomorrow. It is news that requires being told to the whole world. For God did not send his son, the Word did not become flesh, just for us, or for some of us. But for the whole world and it is up to us to tell the world. So we can’t stop until we have made disciples of ALL nations, until we have been Jesus’ witnesses to the very ends of the earth. We need to reclaim that sense of urgency.

The second reason that we don’t proclaim the Gospel as we should is that we have never had the Gospel proclaimed to us. Yes, we are all believers but our faith is primarily an inherited faith. It is something that we have received from our parents and family and church. Our faith is not something that we didn’t have one day and were told about the next. But it is something that we have always had, and always known. It is something that we have cared for and nurtured over the course of our lives. And that is a good thing. But it also limits our understanding of what it means to have the Gospel PROCLAIMED to us.

Imagine what it would be like to hear about Jesus and his love for the very first time; to hear the Good News that you had never heard before. It would be news that was actually NEW. I would want to run and tell everyone all about it. Kind of like how I have felt the need to text Kelly every day about the Eagles being in the Super Bowl. It’s just something that is impossible to keep to yourself.

We need to treat the Gospel in the same way. We need to be so excited about it, so amazed by it, that we can’t help but tell everyone we meet about how exciting and amazing it is. We believe that, don’t we? We believe that the Gospel of Jesus is exciting and amazing, right?

The final reason that we fail to take our call to proclaim the Gospel as seriously as we should is that it is just hard to proclaim the good news. And I mean that very literally. It is hard work. It takes confidence and commitment. It takes patience and persistence. Like a Boy Scout earning his Eagle award.

To proclaim the Gospel, we need to elevate the gospel. We need to see it- not as something that is essential on Sunday morning but nonessential the rest of the week- but as something, actually the ONE thing that is essential always. We need to remember that we need the good news; that everyone needs the good news.

And we need to believe that it is up to us to share that good news. Yet, in the midst of our calling to share the good news, we need to know that even though everyone needs the good news, not everyone is ready for it. Not everyone is ready to hear the gospel, to receive the gospel, to believe the gospel. But we can’t let that deter us, we can’t let that defeat us. We can’t let that even slow us down or stop us.

We have to keep on sharing the good news of Jesus even with people who aren’t ready to hear it, or receive it, or believe it. We have to keep on doing it until God makes them ready. It’s not up to us to determine when and where people are ready to hear and receive the gospel. Our task is to proclaim it- to all people and all the time.

God knows how difficult that can be. God knows and God helps. The words we read in Isaiah make that clear. The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

God gives us all that we need to fulfill the mission he has given us. God gives us power and strength. God allows us to fly like eagles, soaring higher and higher, as we seek to help the world claim the victory over love over hate, of light over darkness, of life over death. That is the Gospel, that is the good news. Through Jesus, love wins over hate, light overcomes darkness, life defeats death.

So let us regain that urgency that Christians once had because the good news is THAT good. Let us proclaim the Gospel that we have received. And let us walk and not faint, let us run and not be weary. Let us fly like Eagles and tell all the world the good news of their salvation. Do you not know? Have you not heard? We do know and we have heard, so now let us go and share what we know and tell what we have heard.

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Harbinger of Hope December 3, 2017- Advent 1 New Philadelphia Moravian – Rev. Joe Moore

Over the last two weeks, Worth has covered the topic of hope pretty well, actually he has covered it exceptionally well. So well that I am hesitant to delve into the same topic. But it just so happens that today is the first Sunday of Advent and, as I said to the kids when we were lighting the candle on the Advent wreath, the theme for the first Sunday of Advent is hope. So I don’t really see how I can avoid it. I hope that you are ready for one more sermon on hope.

I imagine that many of you were kind of expecting it. Because more than any other season, Advent and Christmas are times of tradition, times of expectation, times of anticipation. I’m sure that most of you came to church this morning anticipating that we would sing Hosanna because that is the tradition for the first Sunday in Advent in the Moravian Church. It’s just one of those things that we expect this time of year.

Among the many traditions and expectations of the season, there’s another event that happens every year about this time. Usually around Thanksgiving or the first Sunday in Advent, what I like to call the “Harbinger of Hope” appears. That’s a good word, isn’t it? “Harbinger”- it means a person or thing that announces or signals the approach of another. And that is what the “Harbinger of Hope” does. He comes to lay the groundwork for the big event, to get things ready for the major arrival, to signal the approach of one who is greater than he, to herald the arrival of the big guy, to “prepare the way.” But it’s not who you think. If you were paying attention to the gospel lesson, you are probably are thinking that the Harbinger of Hope is John the Baptist. But it’s not. However we will get to him later.

The Harbinger of Hope that I am talking about is the Elf on the Shelf. Have you seen these guys? They are elves who make an appearance in homes between Thanksgiving and Christmas to scout out who is being naughty and who is being nice. Santa’s “scout Elves” hide in houses to watch over events. Once everyone goes to bed, the elf flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa the activities, good and bad, that have taken place throughout the day. Before the family wakes up each morning, the elf flies back from the North Pole and hides.

We have one of these elves in our house. I wanted to bring him to church so that you all could see him, but one of the rules is that if one of the family touches him, he goes back to the North Pole and never returns. His name is Jingle and in addition to spying and hiding, he creates a fair amount of mischief. But he still qualifies as a Harbinger of Hope.

When Jingle, the Elf on the Shelf, appears, the hope and anticipation that Christmas is soon to follow, arrives with him. He signals the approach of one who is greater than he, he prepares the way, he gets us ready for the arrival of Santa Claus. When you see the Elf on the Shelf, you know that Santa Claus is coming to town. For all of those who have been good this past year, he is a sign of hope. And for those who maybe haven’t been quite so good, he is also a sign of fear. Because when you see the Elf on the Shelf, you had better hope that you are ready for who is coming next, for the one who comes after him. And if you are not, you know that it is time to get ready. It’s actually kind of nice to know what’s coming, to have the chance to get ready, to prepare for the one who is to come.

John the Baptist plays much the same role for Jesus as the Elf on the Shelf plays for Santa Claus. John is Jesus’ “harbinger of hope” He is the voice in the wilderness that Isaiah prophesied would come to herald the coming of the Lord, the Messiah. John the Baptist told the people, all the people who would listen, to get ready, to prepare the way of the Lord; to make a straight highway in the desert, to lift up the valleys and bring down the mountains, to level the uneven ground and smooth out the rough places. Because the glory of the Lord is about to be revealed, He is coming.

For the people that heard Isaiah’s prophecy and for those who saw John the Baptist as the fulfillment of that prophecy, the thought of the coming of the Messiah was a great cause for hope. They had long been persecuted, held captive, forced into slavery; their lives were defined by being oppressed, defeated, hated. They were waiting, they were longing, for the one who would come and save them and set them free. So they listened. They listened to that voice in the wilderness calling them to prepare the way of the Lord.

They listened to the wild man, clothed in camel hair, eating locusts and wild honey. They listened as he called them to confess, to repent, and to be baptized. They knew that it was necessary, they knew that it was what they needed to do to prepare, to be ready when He arrived. They knew it, but do we?

Confession and repentance aren’t really what we like to think about when we are celebrating Advent. We would prefer to save that stuff for Lent. Hope, peace, joy, and love- these are the things we like to think about, to focus on during this season of preparation. It’s much more fun, it’s much easier to prepare to receive those things that Jesus brings into the world than it is to look at ourselves, to confess our sins, to repent from our sins, and to go and sin no more.

It reminds me of a lost verse from one of my favorite Christmas hymns, Angels from the Realms of Glory. “Sinners wrung with true repentance, doomed for guilt to endless pains; justice now revokes the sentence, mercy calls you break your chains.” Doesn’t really fit the Christmas mood, does it? No wonder it’s a “lost’ verse that you won’t find in either the red or blue hymnals. It was in the old 1923 black hymnal but it has wisely been left out of the more recent versions. Who wants to sing about that on Christmas?

Yet they are an essential part of our Advent preparation. There are really two types of preparation during Advent. The first is physical- we decorate our homes and  our church, we buy and wrap gifts, we trim candles and hang stars. The second is spiritual preparation.  And it is something that we often overlook. That’s why it is good to have John the Baptist, the Harbinger of Hope, to remind us to prepare not only our bodies, but our souls as well.

We spiritually prepare for the coming of Jesus into the world and into our lives by first doing the thing that we don’t like to do- to consider our sins, our faults, our shortcomings, all the ways that we have failed and fallen short of God’s glory. Then we confess our sins, we acknowledge the wrongs we have done and the good that we have failed to do. Then we repent from those sins, we turn our backs on them and strive to  not do them anymore.

We need to remember that an equally important part of our spiritual preparation  is recognizing that we have been baptized with the Holy Spirit already. When  we confess and repent, we also receive the assurance that our sins have been forgiven. The penalty has been paid. Jesus has made recompense for our sins. In a way, he has prepared the way for us, rather than our preparing the way for him. At least when we are only focused on preparing the way for Jesus to enter into our own lives.

But our Advent calling as Christians is much larger than just preparing to receive Jesus in our lives. That may sound strange to hear, but I believe it to be true. As Christians we are called to prepare the way for Jesus to enter the world- not only our world, but the WHOLE world. This is where Hope, Peace, Joy and Love come in. These are not just the qualities that Jesus brings into the world, they are also the qualities that he expects us to bring into the world.

It may seem like a daunting task, bringing hope, peace, joy and love to the world. They aren’t things that we always have, or more accurately, they aren’t things that we always feel. Even during Advent and Christmas, when we are supposed to be filled with them, when they are supposed to be at the forefront of all that we do. Let’s face it, sometimes we are just going through the motions, doing what we are supposed to do, just because it is the “most wonderful time of the year.”

But it’s difficult to offer hope when you aren’t feeling hope, it isn’t easy to bring peace when you aren’t peaceful, it is impossible to share joy without being joyful, it is hard to give love when you aren’t receiving love. But do it anyway.

I’m not discounting those negative feelings. I’m not saying that they aren’t real or that they don’t matter. Because they are real and they do matter. Life is hard and pain is real. But you aren’t alone in your pain, you aren’t alone in your life. That’s what this time of year is all about. It is about welcoming God into our world and into our lives. It is  about welcoming God made flesh who dwelt among us, who felt the pain that we feel, who knows what it is like to feel hopeless.

Remember how Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” as he hung dying on the cross. Jesus knows what it is like to feel hopeless. Remember how Jesus was persecuted by the very people he came to save, he knows what it is like to not have peace. Remember how Jesus wept as he saw the lack of faith when his friend Lazarus died, Jesus knows what it is like to lack joy. Remember how Jesus was denied, not once, not twice, but three times by Peter. Jesus knows what it is like to not be loved. So if you are not feeling what you are “supposed” to be feeling this Advent, if you are struggling to find hope and peace and joy and love, remember that Jesus  knows how you feel. You are not alone.

But as difficult as it is when you don’t feel the way that everyone says you are supposed to feel, even when you know that you aren’t alone in those feelings, that you have a Savior who has felt the same way, it is essential that we do what he did. It is essential that we be who God has called us to be and and who the world needs us to  be.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, was profoundly influenced by the Moravians. As he struggled with his faith, he asked a Moravian friend, Peter Boehler, how he could preach faith when he wasn’t sure he had faith. Boehler replied “Preach faith until you have it, and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.” The same applies to us. We can bring hope and peace until we have hope and peace, we can share joy and love until we have joy and love. In other words, fake it until you make it. But not really. Because we do have those things, even if we don’t always see it or feel it or know it.

We have already received Jesus, we are recipients of the hope, the peace, the joy, and the love that he brings. They are part of our identity as his followers, they are part of who we are as Christians. We have them and we are called to share them. And this Advent and Christmas at New Philadelphia provide us with plenty of opportunities to prepare the way of the Lord, to make a straight path on which he may come.

The offerings and activities of the 12 Days of Service, as we feed the hungry and welcome the stranger, as we care for the sick and the prisoner, as we work and pray for and serve the least of these, are all ways of bringing hope and peace to our neighbors and community, to our world. Our wonderful Advent worship services and our Christmas lovefeasts share the joy and the love that we have with our friends and our families.

Like the Elf on the Shelf and John the Baptist, we are Harbingers of Hope. We are preparing the way of the Lord. We are the hope and the peace and the joy and the love. So let us use what we have and be who we are so that we can make straight in  the desert a highway for God, so that we can lift up every valley and bring down every mountain. Let us tell the world that their penalty has been paid, their debt is forgiven. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.

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