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February 18 – First Sunday in Lent/ Communion

February 19 – 10:30 a.m. 1 Peter Bible Study, six sessions looking at the book of 1 Peter led by Grace Shutt

February 20 & 27, March 6, 13, 20 – 12 p.m. Who’s Who in Holy Week, five sessions meeting the people we hear about in the stories of Holy Week led by Pastor Joe Moore (day)

February 21 & 28, March 7, 20, 27 – 6 p.m. Who’s Who in Holy Week, five sessions meeting the people we hear about in the stories of Holy Week led by Pastor Joe Moore (evening)

March 4 & 11 – 4:30 p.m. Gospel of Mark study session led by Pastor Worth Green in preparation for the March 18 “Gospel of Mark” presentation by John Robinson

March 4, 11, 18 – 4:30 p.m. Children’s Lenten program “What Lent Means to Me” led by Evie Blum (March 11 New Philly Kids incorporated into this program.)

March 18 – 4:30 p.m. “Gospel of Mark” presentation by John Robinson

March 25 – Palm Sunday

March 26 – 30 – 7 p.m. Holy Week Readings – including Maundy Thursday Communion and Good Friday Tenebrae Service

March 31 – Egg Hunt (details TBA)

April 1 – 10 a.m. Easter Morning Worship

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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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The Twelve Days of Christmas

December 31, 2017

New Philadelphia Moravian Church

 

The days between Christmas and New Year’s are always kind of “off”, kind of different from normal. Christmas is still lingering. Yesterday, as I was getting the golf cart out of the church garage to have it ready to be used this morning, I noticed that the Christmas lights that were on it for Christmas Eve were still burning. Their brightness had dimmed quite a bit, but it was still there. That’s what this week feels like.

The decorations are often still up but they always seem to look a little less  colorful and festive than they did last week. There are football games during the middle of the week! Many people take vacation days, school is out and almost everyone has a different schedule. No one seems to even know what day of the week it even is.

For me, that feeling has been heightened by the fact that Kelly and Zach and I  are just back from Winter Camp at Laurel Ridge. Zach was a camper (along with 35 other 6th to 12th graders plus a couple of college freshmen) and Kelly and I were the Deans and led the program. We had a wonderful time but it certainly wasn’t the way we would normally spend a Tuesday through Friday. Regardless, it was a great four days of fun and fellowship and even some learning. The program was all about the Twelve Days of Christmas.

The Twelve Days of Christmas are not the 12 days before Christmas but they are the twelve days starting on Christmas Day and ending on Epiphany (January 6). So that would make today the 7th day of Christmas. And on the 7th day of Christmas my true love gave to me seven swans a-swimming. Most of our familiarity with the twelve days  of Christmas comes from the song- the one where the true love gives increasingly elaborate (and often strange) gifts for each of the 12 days. And the gifts are cumulative, so over the 12 days of Christmas, you get 12 partridges in 12 pear trees and so on for a total of 364 gifts. Despite the lack of any real relatability (who wants 3 french hens as a Christmas gift?) the song has become a Christmas tradition.

Kelly and I based our program for Winter Camp on the legend that the song was written as a secret catechism for Catholics in England. The theory is that it was a code to help young Catholics learn the basics of their faith at a time when Catholicism was outlawed in England. While it is only a legend and there isn’t really any way to prove  that that is why it was written or what it really means, it is interesting.

Each of the 12 days represents a basic point of Christian doctrine. “My true love” who gives all the gifts is God, the partridge in a pear tree is Jesus, the 2 turtle doves are the OT and NT, the 3 French hens equal faith, hope and love, the 4 calling birds are the 4 gospels, the 5 golden rings are the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the OT) the 6 geese a-laying are the 6 days of creation, the 7 swans a-swimming are the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit, the 8 maids a-milking are the 8 Beatitudes, the 9 ladies dancing are the 9 fruit of the Spirit, the 10 lords a-leaping are the 10 Commandments, the 11 pipers piping are the 11 FAITHFUL disciples, and the 12 drummers drumming are the 12 points of doctrine in the Apostles Creed.

Sharing this with the kids at Winter Camp was lot of fun and led to some interesting discussions about what the basics of our faith and belief are. But sadly, since we were trying to cover 12 days of Christmas in 4 days, we didn’t have time to go into a lot of depth on any of the gifts. And we didn’t really get to talk much about the whole  idea that the song was written as a means of sharing faith in secret. Even if that is not really the reason the song was written, even if it is not really what the whole thing is all about, it is still fascinating to think about. Primarily because we rarely, if ever, have had to hide our faith, or practice it in secret.

We live in a time and place where we are free to live our faith and share our beliefs. But not all Christians do. In fact, over the 2 millennia of Christian faith, believers have frequently had to hide what they believed and who they were. Even going back to the very beginning itself. Our Gospel reading for today continues the story of Jesus’  birth and details the time when Jesus himself had to go into hiding for who he was.

It’s interesting how we take the very different Christmas stories from the gospels of Matthew and Luke and combine them into one narrative, even though that was not what the authors intended. We have the angels coming to visit Mary (in Luke’s gospel) and Joseph (in Matthew’s), to tell them that they will have a son and name him Jesus. Then we have Luke’s account of the journey to Bethlehem where there was no room in the inn so the baby was born and laid in a manger; the angels bringing good tidings to the shepherds; and Mary pondering all of it in her heart. In Matthew the wise men follow the star to Bethlehem and find the CHILD (not a baby) in the house (not a manger) and then leave by another way so as not to tip off Herod to Jesus’ whereabouts.

We put it all together in one beautiful story that we put on Christmas cards and in Nativity scenes. But we always end it with the Wise Men and we never include the less acceptable continuation of the story- Herod’s slaughter of all the children under two years old and the flight of Joseph, Mary and Jesus into hiding in Egypt. It’s pretty obvious why we don’t include Herod’s murdering children in our Christmas celebrations. It is less obvious why we overlook the flight to Egypt. But I think I gained a better understanding of it as I considered the theory of the Twelve Days of Christmas being a secret catechism, being a secret way of sharing faith that has to be hidden.

We overlook Jesus having to hide in Egypt because we have never had to hide our faith. We have always been free to practice our faith out in the open. We have always been free to gather here and sing the hymns of faith and share the gospel and proclaim the good news that our Savior has been born. And while that is a great thing and a blessing we have that many Christians do not have, it also causes us to miss out on something.

In 2004, I had the chance to see first hand what it was like to have to be a Christian in secret. A colleague in ministry offered me the opportunity to join him on a mission trip to China. We were to spend 3 weeks teaching Chinese Christians how to teach the Gospel and the basics of Christian faith. We journeyed from the United States to Beijing then onto Shenyang, a city that I had never even heard of but it is the home of 8 million people. On our VISA applications, we listed the purpose of our trip as “visiting friends” since it was illegal to go there to share the gospel. When we arrived, we had to hang out in a tea shop until it was late enough to go to the “seminary” without attracting any attention. The seminary was actually a 3 bedroom apartment that served as a teaching facility for Chinese Christians who came from all over the region.

When we finally were clear to go to the apartment, before we got out of the car, we were instructed to put on our hats and to keep looking down if we passed anyone on the stairwell. It was unusual for Americans to be in the part of the city. It was far away from any tourist places and our arrival would attract attention, possibly unwanted attention. Once we made it into the apartment, we didn’t leave for a week. We weren’t even supposed to look out of the windows because we would risk being noticed. We were joined by 25 Chinese Christians who were anxious to learn new ways to share  their faith with the people in the villages that they had come from.

We were only able to communicate through an interpreter, as they didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Chinese. But that really didn’t matter because what we shared was often shared without words- faith, hope, and love transcend language. The Chinese students traveled for hours on crowded trains to get there. If we had been discovered, I would have just been expelled from China and sent back to the United States. But the Chinese students would have likely faced lengthy prison sentences.

Think about that for a second- imagine being so committed to your faith that you would risk going to prison just to learn more. It is something that I had often read about but until I spent time with people for whom it was a very real possibility, I had never really grasped its importance. It helped me to see how much I take my faith for granted. And how much most Christians in our world take our faith for granted.

When we have the freedoms that we do, the freedom to practice our faith openly and to worship anywhere and everywhere, then we also have the freedom to NOT practice our faith, to not worship. And that is a freedom that we exercise far too often. In the midst of our freedom, our faith has become a faith of convenience. We practice it when it is convenient, when it fits our schedule, when it doesn’t require too much sacrifice on our part.

I recognize that I am preaching to the choir a bit on this one. After all you are here on New Year’s Eve. Maybe I should have preached this on Christmas Eve. But even the best of us, even the most committed among us, are guilty of taking our faith for granted, of practicing a convenient faith. But our God isn’t a God of convenience. Our God is a God of commitment.

God is so committed to us, that he became one of us. As Paul writes “though he was in the form of God, (he) did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”  That is commitment.

And it is something that we should not lose sight of during these 12 days of Christmas, or ever. God is so committed to us that he became one of us. He put aside his divinity to assume our humanity. He then gave himself over to death in order to bring us over to eternal life. That is the level of commitment that our God has to us. He  literally gave all that he is for us and to us.

It is really hard for us to understand that level of sacrifice. That’s why I’m glad  that the account of the flight to Egypt appears during our Christmas celebration. It reminds us, at the one time of year when it is the easiest to be a Christian, that it isn’t always so easy to practice our faith. There have been times, ever since those days right after Jesus was born, when it is downright dangerous. And there have been people who have made great sacrifices to share their faith, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. Whether it is fleeing from their homes to the safety of anonymity or teaching the basics of faith in secret codes or risking imprisonment to learn how to teach others about Jesus, Christians have always made sacrifices for their faith, for their God, for their Savior.

So as we stand in the middle of these 12 days of Christmas, as we watch the old year pass away and a new year enter in, the questions are “What about us? What sacrifices will we make for our faith this year? How will we serve our God? How will we share the good news of salvation?”

I think that the answer to all of these questions comes is the same- to stop making our faith a faith of convenience, to stop having church be something that we do only when we don’t have anything better to do. Jesus’ ministry to us was first and foremost a ministry of presence. He came to us so that we might be able to come to him, so that we can draw closer to God. During 2018, I think that we should all commit  to doing the same. We should all commit to a ministry of presence rather than a faith of convenience.

That means being here. Being at church, being with our brothers and sisters as we worship, as we serve, as we learn, as we play, as we come together in the name of our Lord and Savior. It means giving of ourselves, not just when we feel like it, or when we don’t have anything better to do, but always. It means making the sacrifices for our faith necessary to make our faith part of our lives, every single day.

On the first day of Christmas, our true love gave himself to us. What are we  going to give to him?

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A few pictures from our 2017 Lovefeast services taken by our church member, Denise Hunt:

 

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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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