Children’s Time: “Who Built the Stable?”

For the second Sunday in Advent, Who Bulit the Stable?  was read at Children’s Time by Pastor Jenny Smith Walz. Written and illustrated by Ashley Bryan. it tells of a boy, a shepherd and a carpenter, who helped provide the place where Jesus was born.

The boy looked in the infant’s eyes
And in his heart he knew
The babe would be a carpenter
He’d be a shepherd too.

As the publisher says, “this is a picture book that captures the reason for the season in all its wonder and beauty. Who Built the Stable? is a celebration of Christmas, of the kindness of children, and of the new hope born with each new baby.”

Unwrapping Advent: December 2020

Brighten the month of December by participating in a small group study led by Rev. Skitch Matson and Tayler Necoechea on Zoom. Their four-week series starts on the first Tuesday in Advent, December 1, 7 to 8 p.m.

They will base the study on a book, Light of the World, by Amy-Jill Levine. “While the subtitle is ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Advent,’ Dr. Levine goes a few layers deeper,” says Skitch. “It will be good for anyone.”

Dr. Levine teaches New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University, and her book is available on Kindle, as a paperback, and as an audiobook on Amazon here 

“As we trace the Christmas narrative through the Gospel stories of Jesus’ birth,” says Tayler, “we will study the role of women in first-century Jewish culture and be amazed at the revolutionary implications of Mary’s Magnificat, the census, the star of Bethlehem, and the flight to Egypt.” 

To sign up, email tayler@princetonUMC.org

                           or

skitch@PrincetonUMC.org. 

 

Winter Solstice: Longest Night Service

In the calendar of 2,000 years ago, December 25 was the Longest Night of the year and it was proclaimed the Winter Solstice. Today — Saturday, December 21 – is the actual date of the Winter Solstice. Some Christian churches offer “Blue Christmas” or “Longest Night services, as explained in this NPR segment. 

At Princeton UMC, we acknowledged the darkness in life at a Longest Night Service, held this year on Tuesday, December 17. Pastor Jenny Smith Walz and the PrincetonUMC’s Stephen Ministers led a service of reflection, minor and modal music, and prayer – with several times of comforting silence.

 

Each worshipper received an origami star (made by Hyosang Park) and placed in the bar in back of 28 flickering candles.  The star represented the  mix of feelings – happy and sad. And the contrast between the joy of the Baby’s birth with the cruelty of Herod.

When the bar was raised, the lights behind it turned on and sparkled. It was as if the stars and are prayers were lifted to heaven.

Longest Night Decemb
Pastors, Stephen Ministers, and members of the Love Lives On groups participated in the Longest Night Service at PrincetonUMC

 

Here are some United Methodist Church resources about the Longest Night.

A quiz and an answer   

An episode of Chuck Knows Church

A secular book about the winter solstice 

 

 

Sermon “Singing Mary’s Song of Rejoicing”

“Singing Mary’s Song” is the theme for Princeton United Methodist Church this Advent season, during 10 am worship. “The Magnificat” is the Virgin Mary’s joyful, prophetic response when the baby John the Baptist in her cousin Elizabeth’s womb joyfully recognizes the presence of the baby Jesus in her womb.

On this First Sunday of Advent, December 1, 2019, Pastor Jennifer Smith-Walz preached a sermon titled “Singing Mary’s Song of Rejoicing.” The Scripture for the week is Luke 1:46-55. These ten verses of Scripture are beautiful, dense, vibrant, hopeful, and challenging. 

“We are a diverse community joyfully responding to God’s love and growing as disciples of Christ.” That is our Mission Statement – why we exist as PUMC – why we are thankful more and more. 

The keyword here is “Joyfully.” We are joyfully responding to God’s Love, yet, we get confused sometimes between “joy” and “happiness.” Joy can be both a gift and a challenge. Is it aspirational? Is it appropriate – given so much sorrow, struggle, and despair in the world? A joyful thing can be a struggle, particularly when we are struggling and finding it difficult to be happy. It is not always a natural disposition to be joyful when one has a lot of work to do. Define Joy. What is your joy?

In the Gospel of John, chapter 15, verse 11, Jesus said: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” Jesus demands us to love one another: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

Mary taught me much about Joy. Here we see a young Jewish girl from the backwater town of Nazareth, unwed and vulnerable – receiving the announcement by the angel Gabriel that she would conceive a son by the power of the Holy Spirit to be called Jesus. She goes to visit her relative, Elizabeth. Her response to the Annunciation is to sing a song, “My soul magnifies the Lord …” She is full of joy, but it could easily have been fear. This song is full of joy, hope, reversal, expectation, Incarnation, and Kingdom building. 

Rejoice! God has broken into your life and human history.

Rejoice! God has regard for you – beloved, enough, seen, known, loved

Rejoice! God is calling you to join God’s action. Incarnate, kingdom building, liberation, healing, joy

Rejoice! Mary’s ‘Yes’ and every ‘Yes” within us

Rejoice! The reign of God is at hand. God has fulfilled his promise. Full of surprise and life 

Rejoice! God is trustworthy, kind, merciful. We can say yes, even if we don’t understand

Rejoice! God is giving us eyes to see God’s promise as already fulfilled.

Rejoice! God is turning things on their heads! Subverting power structures, pretensions, hierarchies, sin, in church and society  

Rejoice! God’s liberating work has set you free. No more fear of failure, loss, rejection. No more shame that distances and hides. No more need for anxiety and control. No more need to get your worth from status, wealth, privilege, possession, or meeting expectations.

Rejoice! God has not forgotten those who are oppressed (underprivileged or overprivileged). God’s liberating work is setting the downtrodden free, scattering the proud, lifting the lowly, filling the hungry with good things.

Rejoice! God has embodied all of this in the absurd choice of these two marginalized pregnant women who bear the good news, the gospel, the “incarnate” love of God in this world of the “I – young/poor/unwed” or the “I – too old!”

Rejoice! We are all pregnant with the possibility of a new life. God is with us – God is in us.

Rejoice! We do not have to manufacture joy – a gift – a fruit of the Holy Spirit. We just let it in. Say yes! And when we do, like Mary – our souls magnify the Lord – aglow.

So let us celebrate Advent, singing Mary’s song of praise together: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my savior.” AMEN

The sermon is a podcast on this webpage under the category worship. Here is the link

For the complete video of the December 1 service, found on Princeton United Methodist Church Facebook page, click here

Sermon “The Bethlehem Trek: From Despair to Hope”

On December 9, 2018, the 2nd Sunday of Advent, Rev. Jenny Smith Walz preached a sermon titled “From Despair to Hope” from the series ‘The Bethlehem Trek’. Her text is from Malachi 3:1-4 and Luke 1:67-79.

To hear the sermon live, go to the Princeton United Methodist Church Facebook page

Also, the sermon will be podcast soon on this webpage under the category “worship”.

 

 

 

 

Zechariah’s Song

Luke 1:67-79

Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

   for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. 

He has raised up a mighty savior for us

   in the house of his servant David, 

as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 

   that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. 

Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,

   and has remembered his holy covenant, 

the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,

   to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,

might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness

   before him all our days. 

And you, child, will be called the prophet of The Most High;

   for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 

to give knowledge of salvation to his people

   by the forgiveness of their sins. 

By the tender mercy of our God,

   the dawn from on high will break upon us, 

to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,

   to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

Are you sitting in darkness? Are you sitting in the shadow of death?

When does despair creep into your life? Maybe it’s a constant companion – especially if you suffer from depression. It’s there more often than not, no doubt. But most all of us have these moments where we just aren’t sure that the future will be positive, that there’s any way out of this mess, that good things can and will happen, that there is a future at all.

  • After a loss of relationship or job
  • death
  • in any sort of storm in life
  • after listening to the news
  • politically things don’t go your way

Zechariah sat in some darkness for a while himself. In Zechariah’s case – there were some reasons to be less hopeful – his own childlessness, and ongoing occupation by Rome, to name two. 

Do you remember Zechariah?  A priest, whose turn it was to offer incense in the sanctuary. Older, childless – social, spiritual implications if no children.

When Gabriel comes – angel catches him in a moment of despair. Uncertain about the future, that there would be a positive outcome in the future, at least for him and Elizabeth. Angel Gabriel – you will have a son! name him John! You will have joy and gladness! He will be filled with HS!  He will turn hearts to God, make people ready for this new thing God is doing.

“How will I know? – my wife and I are getting on in years. Yeah, I’ve heard this sort of things before – these prophecies about a savior. I’m afraid Can I trust? Hope? for Elizabeth and I? for my people? Struck mute.

The next time we hear from him is here. John has been born, and upon his birth, when others want to name him Zechariah after him, he writes, affirming his wife Elizabeth’s pronouncement, that his name was to be John. At that moment, he is able to speak again. And this song is his response. And it’s vastly different than when Gabriel meets him in his darkness. I wonder what happened to him in his silence. There are several things I think he did in that time.

Acted – he and Elizabeth acted as if the angel’s predictions were true. It’s an act of courage and strength to do hope-filled things. Jeremiah – bought a field as the nation was falling to the Babylonians.

Remembered – the ways God has acted and continues to act. God is trustworthy. God keeps God’s promises. This is part of why we worship, we read scripture, we study and pray with one another – to remember. God is the beginning and the end, the alpha, and omega. Christ was born, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Abraham, Noah, Moses, prophets, God will do a new thing, God is doing a new thing.

Patience found – Patience is the assurance that it is worth it, it is worth the frustration, worth the setbacks. “We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder” verse: “the struggle is long, but the hope is longer.” Suffragettes – took 70 years to secure the vote for women: song: “we shall not, we shall not be moved, just like a tree that’s planted by the water, we shall not be moved.” Wild patience. Anne Lamott – hope begins in the dark. It depends, not on sight, glimpses, and glimmers, but on waiting, watching, and working.

Community engaged –  when we cannot, others will hope on our behalf (like belief, prayer.) We have each other, we are accompanied by these saints, and we carry candles to light at least a little of the way. We are the church.

Envisioned – in what ways are your Christian hopes too limited? If our life together as the people of PUMC was made into a wonderful movie with a happy ending, tell me what that last part of the movie would look like?  Our world history?  Or your life?

Zechariah was transformed in the silence. He was refined and purified in these months. He became hopeful, joyful!

Anne Lamott – Hope begins in the dark, it is not dependent on sight, glimpses, and glimmers, but on waiting, watching, and working. 

 

Sermon “The Bethlehem Trek: From Fear to Love”

On December 2nd, 2018, the 1st Sunday of Advent, Rev. Jenny Smith Walz preached a sermon titled “From Fear to Love” from the series ‘The Bethlehem Trek’. Her text is from Jeremiah 33:14-16, 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 and Luke 21:25-36

To hear the sermon live, go to the Princeton United Methodist Church Facebook page

Also, the sermon will be podcast soon on this webpage under the category “worship”.

 

 

 

 

Have you ever wanted a reset button? To reinvent the world or some part of it? To go back and correct a mistake or to choose a different path?

Advent is for YOU! 

● New Year in our Christian calendar

● church gives time before Christmas to get ready, make room in our hearts.

● already and not yet

● History, mystery, majesty

● remember first coming, look ahead to the second

● with longing and need and lament and hope

● tension between the nostalgia of our beloved Christmas memories and all of the magic, warmth, and beauty of the season, and our real need to cry out in need because our world is broken and we are too, and there is a gap between the kin-dom (what we long for and the promise we seek) and now.

We are vision-challenged 

● we are often complacent and despondent at worst, afraid to dream of what might be. We tell ourselves, “it’s ok. We’ll make do.”

● At best we often dream in muted tones, smaller ways, afraid to ask for what we really need, what our souls most long for.  Advent is our opportunity to dream and vision, to see the gap, to hear our longing.

All three passages are dreaming of and longing for the Kin-dom

Jeremiah – in the midst of exile and dismantling of his nation. Weeping for his people. Everything has been cut off. There’s just this one thread of hope, of promise. David – highly flawed – still the best he could remember. For Jeremiah, the most hopeful, promising thing was to envision a shot from the family tree of David / Jesse

Luke – a transformative chain of events was launched at the announcement of the coming of the infant, God-incarnate, the strangeness and peculiarity of which can be proclaimed only with the help of this frightening apocalyptic imagery. 

Thessalonians – oldest book in NT. Paul’s 1st church plant. Can you imagine? No common practice or theology. Maybe not common morality even. Dared to envision a new, beloved, Christ-community. Audacious, daring, Hard, courageous work.

People of God, followers of Christ – we do things differently. In the face of fear and turmoil:

● we move toward it, calm and anchored

● we pray – root in God, which opens us to be able to 

● love one another, which results in

● joy

There is so much that could be said about loving the world, but I have a specific, immediate challenge and vision for us: 

Do we, here at PUMC deeply love one another?

● Not a corrective – openness, desire, affection, deep seeds of love. Already on the path. In the already, but not yet. Love Live On group. The Philippians group. Members Caring for Members project.

● Move from supportive and enjoyable to co-operative and deeply loving.

● Do we care for one another with the same passion with which God loves us?

● As we serve the community, outreach – do we love them as God loves us?

● Fear stands in our way

○ vulnerability

○ conflict

○ disagreement

○ beyond niceness

○ honesty

○ hard conversations

○ their concerns become ours

○ show up

The Absurdity of Advent: Forgiving Love

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Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash –  4th Sunday in Advent: December 18. Luke 2:15-20; John 3:16

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent, next week we will gather for worship to celebrate the birth of Jesus the newborn king.

These last four weeks we have spent in a season of expectation and hope. It is also a season of following — a time when we travel along with the Holy Family as they struggle with the hardships of peasant life in first-century Palestine. The Christmas story, as we have come to know it, includes much drama and tension, and we might even say absurdity.

The drama of Christmas begins in anxiety. An unplanned pregnancy is followed by an imperial summons to Bethlehem. Along the way there are mysterious angelic interventions, improvised accommodations for birth and royal orders of infanticide. Yet, in the midst of such challenging conditions,// newness and promise overflow. There is a father’s word of prophecy, a mother’s song of revolution, gift-toting wise men and praise-filled shepherds. Yes, the long hoped for Messiah will arrive — but not quite as we had expected, another point of absurdity.

When the Shepherds headed into town to see the Messiah I can imagine the whispering that might have taken place. “Did I hear correctly Eli, did the angel say, the sign is a baby that was born in Bethlehem?” Another shepherd says to the guy behind him, did that angel say, “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord?” A baby born// is the Messiah we have been waiting for, it’s absurd!!

Each year as we get ready to close Advent night, the highlight of the evening comes when kids and adults alike are all sugared up and we sing together “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” As we were singing this year I got to thinking,// I wonder how much it costs to purchase all those gifts? Have you ever wondered about that?// You may not be surprised, but I was, to find out that for more than 30 years PNC bank has calculated the prices of the 12 gifts from this song.

Take a guess at the total cost of purchasing all the gifts mentioned in the “12 Days of Christmas” song… This holiday extravaganza would cost $34,363 this year, an increase of just 0.7% from last year. The Consumer Price Index has risen about twice as fast, at 1.7% over the past 12 months.

The gift with the biggest price hike was the cost of two turtledoves ($375), which spiked 29 percent due to a shortage of the birds. Rising wages also drove up prices, with the cost of 11 pipers piping ($2,708) and 12 drummers drumming ($2,934) rising 2.8 percent this year. Granted, I don’t know where you would find them, but they are very expensive.

At $210, a partridge in a pear tree saw the biggest price decline this year. The cost of partridges fell to $20, thanks to an increase in supply. The cost of the pear tree ticked lower as well. While gold prices have gone up and down significantly over the past five years, the cost of five golden rings has held steady at $750.

All these extravagant gifts are for a true love. As a matter of fact the Hallmark Channel is showing a movie centered around these gifts to a beloved. Still, the real message of Christmas is not the gifts that we give to each other. Rather, it is a reminder of the gift that God has given to each of us. We are God’s true love, you are God’s true love.

This gift of love keeps on giving. This gift comes in the birth of a baby and the death of a man who gives his whole life to and for us. Jesus comes as forgiving love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.In that gift of forgiving love also comes eternal life.

As we think about God’s gift of forgiving love, there are a few things I’d call to your attention: Continue reading “The Absurdity of Advent: Forgiving Love”

3rd Sunday of Advent: Is Fruitcake Really a Gift?

In her sermon, “Is Fruitcake Really a Gift?”, on the Third Sunday of Advent, December 13, 2015, Pastor Jana Purkis-Brash compared John the Baptist to fruitcake.

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While fruitcake may be a gift for some, for others it is not, and indeed, some like it, others do not. At the suggestion that the Christmas fruitcake is some weird kind of cake, some would say the same about John the Baptist, that he was weird. He might even be called a fruitcake. He lived in the desert, ate locust and wild honey, had a long beard and dressed in camel hair. He preached a strange message about repentance and baptized people from their sins. On street corners, his message would have been: “Repent, Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is near. Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!”

John the Baptist was the “appetizer” for God telling the people to flee the wrath that is to come. His message was prophetic: Repent! Repent! Repent! He promised repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In this regard, John the Baptist is a fruitcake that is loved. He baptized with water but also preached about the One who is to come – the Messiah – who will re-baptize us with the Holy Spirit. Luke 3: 7-18. He speaks not only to us but for us. He is the psychologist for us. He completely immersed those he baptized, holding them under water long enough. This way, they knew what death by drowning is like. They understood that the end was coming. At the same time, they received new life in Jesus Christ.

While some people liked John the Baptist, others – like the Pharisees and those who did not share John’s eagerness for the coming Messiah – not so much. His message of repentance, along with the good news was untenable to people who did not believe they were doing wrong. John the Baptist’s message is forever on the table: “Repent! Turn away from sin”.

Fruitcake is not most people’s favorite gift. John the Baptist, like the Christmas fruitcake, is not everyone’s favorite, appearing, making a few more appearances, disappearing during Advent and then fading away. However, during this holiday season we are called to share the gift of Christmas with one another.

2nd Sunday of Advent: Regifting

In her sermon, “Regifting”, on the Second Sunday of Advent, December 6, 2015, Pastor Kaleigh Corbett explores fundamental questions of Jesus’ love in a world filled with hatred.

While it may not be appropriate to re-gift our Christmas presents, it is OK to re-gift the greatest gift of all – the love of Jesus. Yes, we are called to share his love with others especially in light of recent acts of terrorism around the world.

In the second scripture lesson for that day, Luke 1: 68-79, God sends John the Baptist, (whose birth like Jesus’ was also foretold by the angel Gabriel), as the forerunner to go and prepare the hearts of the people for the coming of the Lord.

We see promises made by God to his people – a reminder of our hope in the birth to come, and that hope never leaves us. The story of Zachariah would not be complete without that hope, as is the story of Mary.

When we share stories of people in the Bible we are regifting. For example, the story of Jesus being refused a place in the inn mirrors that of refusing asylum in our country to Syrian refugees. And yet, we are called to regift the love that God has for us when he gives us his son.

In the first scripture lesson for that day, 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13, we are told that we gain nothing without love and that love conquers all.

Advent heralds the coming of Christ into this world. Yet, how much longer must we wait for the Messiah to come and to renew our faith? We must, therefore, ask ourselves what we can do to bring hope, joy, peace and love to this world.

During this Christmas season we must begin to act by regifting the Christmas story. We will let ourselves feel at least some of the pain of those we consider our enemies. We will do our best to show each other the courage to act in love and justice in our particular life.