By Pastor Christie John

Geneseo United Methodist Church

December 24: 7:00 PM Candlelight Service

“Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.” If only these words from the beloved hymn matched my Christmas experiences! They sure don’t. Well, maybe the “bright” part, since for more years than I care to admit, I’ve been awake all hours on Christmas Eve (and the nights before) hastily finishing projects, furiously wrapping gifts, quickly baking one last batch of cookies and frantically attacking the messy house.
Then there are those Christmases that seem far from serene and calm, as I mourn the loss of a loved one, or ache for a happier, simpler Christmas past. At Christmas, I find myself especially missing my parents and siblings who live far away. And when I see those holiday television specials featuring families who somehow manage to fix all their relationship problems just in time for the closing credits – I struggle with regret, guilt, and frustration that my own family remains stubbornly imperfect, even on Christmas Eve.
It sometimes helps me to remember that the hymn writer surely took some creative liberties with the lyrics to “Silent Night.” After all, it probably seemed none too “bright” to Mary and Joseph that a decree from an emperor would force them to travel to Bethlehem just when Mary should have stayed home with family, preparing for the birth of their first child. How “holy” would it have felt to get stuck spending the night in a garage, because all of the guest bedrooms were taken? And after having given birth a couple of times, I wouldn’t exactly use the words “silent” or “calm” to describe Mary’s night.
The truth is that Jesus was born into a chaotic, grieving, imperfect world…a world like yours and mine. And that is the point. God did not wait to reach out to us until everything was perfectly silent, calm, holy and bright. In Jesus, God was drawing near to us in the midst of the muddle. And that is where God still draws near to us, restoring us in Faith, upholding us in Peace, encouraging us in Hope, embracing us in Love. May these gifts of the Christ-child be yours on this (messy, murky, noisy) holy night and always.
Merry Christmas!

 

Pastor Nathan Richardson

Heartland Community Church

December 24: 4:00 & 6:00 PM

In 1966 a movie called How the Grinch Stole Christmas was released. Chances are you have seen the movie or read the book that it was based on by Dr. Seuss. It is amazing how we can learn so much from a simple children’s story. The Grinch hates Christmas. He hates people. His heart is small. He would do anything to ruin Whoville’s Christmas Celebration. So he decides to steal all the Christmas gifts thinking that this would ruin their day.
The apex of the movie is near the end when the Grinch and his dog have just stolen all the gifts and are about to get away. The Grinch starts to hear singing coming from Whoville. He looks down on the town and sees the town gathering, singing a song of joy. This puzzled the Grinch. How could Whoville be so happy without their presents? And then it came to him, “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe, perhaps Christmas means a little bit more.” This epiphany changed the Grinch’s perspective. His heart grew in size and he returned all the gifts.
In the movie this “little bit more” meant the importance of being together, holding each others hand. As long as they have each other they have everything they need. But there is still a “little bit more.” Luke 2:10-11 says, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”
This “little bit more” is meant for all people. It is good news and it will cause great joy. I don’t know about you but I need a “little bit more” good and joy in my life. With all the turmoil going on in our nation and world it seems a little bit hopeless. Luke 2:14 says, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” We need a “little bit more” peace and good will. This only comes with knowing Jesus and living out the teachings of Christ. Jesus said in Matthew 22:37-39 to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. If we did this, the world would be a “little bit more” of a place of good, of joy, of peace and goodwill. So go into the world, “Love God, Love Others and Serve All.”
Come spend your Christmas Eve at Heartland Community Church. We are bound to have some fun, eat some cookies and worship through Christmas Carols with a Candlelight Service at 4 PM and 6 PM.

 

By Rev. Ray Atwood

Prince of Peace Cluster Schedule
December 24: 4:00 PM (Vigil) Sacred Heart
December 24: 6:00 PM St. Mary of Mt. Carmel
December 24: 9:00 PM St. Paul (Traer)

Christmas Day: 9:00 AM St. Paul (Traer)

Christmas is a season of joy and gladness. Family and friends gather, exchange gifts and experiences, and hopefully thank God for the blessings of the year. It is a special time for children, who eagerly anticipate their presents. It is a special time for the elderly, who look forward to lots of company and activity which they don’t normally enjoy. As you gather for your Christmas celebration we wish you God’s blessings. May the Christ-Child, who came to a virgin at Nazareth, watch over and protect you at this holy time.

 

By Rev. Doug Rokke

American Lutheran Church

December 24: 4:00 PM Festival Service with Holy Communion &
6:00 PM Festival Service of Light with Holy Communion

Christmas Bread

Some of the best memories I have of Christmas in my younger days would include the special foods of Christmas. In my family the foods of Christmas included many Norwegian dishes. There was “the white meal,” on Christmas day which included boiled cod, boiled potatoes and lefse. And there were all the many baked goods such as sunbakkles, krumkaka, fattigmann, and rosettes. But of all the baked goods I think my favorite was julekaka (Christmas Bread). It was a white egg-type bread with dried fruit, citron and cardamom in it. After baking, it was frosted and we would slice it thin, toast it, and eat it with toppings like Gjetost, which was a type of goat cheese.
As years have gone by I’ve lived in different places and had the opportunity to taste other kinds of Christmas foods. Many of them have their own type of Christmas bread. Like the julekaka they often include fruit or nuts and other sweet ingredients to make them a delicious addition to the Christmas season.
In my past it never occurred to me how appropriate it really is to make a special bread at Christmas or that there might be some significance to making “Christmas Bread.” But really it is very appropriate. Because when Jesus came to our world he made many references to bread and used bread as a symbol for his coming. In fact, even the town that Jesus was born in, Bethlehem is sometimes translated as “house of bread.” During the course of his life Jesus told the people that he was “the bread of life,” or “the living bread that came down from heaven.” (see John’s gospel chapter 10). When he instituted the Lord’s Supper he used bread as a means to show that his death on the cross was given to them; “this is my body given for you,” is what he told them as he gave them the Passover bread.
This week Christians throughout the world will celebrate Christmas by gathering for worship. For many that service will include the Lord’s Supper. Once again they will eat the bread and listen to those words saying “this is the body of Christ given for you.” And it will be Christmas bread; in this case the real bread that was and is given for the life of the world.
So, as you approach Christmas I hope you have many opportunities to gather with family and friends to share a meal and eat the many foods unique to this time of year. But as you eat, or especially if you have some Christmas bread, take a moment and give thanks not only for the people you are with or the food you are eating, but for the other Christmas bread, the real Christmas Bread, who came from heaven for the life of the world.

 
By Pastor Mike Gudka

St. Paul United Methodist Church
December 24: 7:00 PM Candlelight Service

A Message of Peace and Hope

A traditional Bible reading that is read during the Christmas period is from 1 Thessalonians 5:23a, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely;” Now let me step back a little bit. The holiday times can be a little hectic and despite our best efforts, things like burnt cookies, stained table cloths, ornery relatives, bosses with bad attitudes, financial problems, cold weather, the flu, and a hundred other challenges, can cause Christmas to be less than joyous. So this scripture is read to offer hope during the stressful Christmas period when we await the arrival of the Christ Child.
So before I go into this traditional Christmas Bible verse, let me share with you a little background about 1 Thessalonians. This is a letter written by Paul to a little brand new Christian church in the city of Thessalonica. And this little group of people was having a very rough time. You see they were under severe persecution and many of them were under the threat of being killed, just for believing in Jesus Christ. So they had gotten a little cranky and had written a letter to Paul attacking him personally, judging other members of the Church, and they were even beginning to doubt their faith in Jesus Christ. So Paul responded to them in this First Letter to the Thessalonians with words of encouragement. And in this letter, Paul encourages them by saying, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely;”
I want to look at the original words that were used by Paul. Paul used the word “Shalom” that we translate as “peace.” Shalom is so much more than just having a moment of mental peace and quiet. Shalom is a peace, a calmness that penetrates your mind and puts you in perfect harmony with yourself, others, the world around you, and with God. This is the kind of “peace” that Paul was asking God to deliver to this very stressed out little Church. And Paul then goes on to use a Greek word that we translate as “sanctify.” The literal translation of this Greek word is “through and through.” So in other words, Paul was emphasizing his desire for “Shalom” that would penetrate them “through and through.” And finally Paul uses the word “entirely.” For Paul, he believed that humans are made in the image of our Triune God. Like God is Three Distinct Persons who are One God, we have three distinct parts that make up our one person. And for Paul, these three parts include our body, our soul (this is our personality, it is who we are, it is the sum of our experiences), and our spirit (this is our connection to God through the Holy Spirit). So when Paul says “entirely” he really means through everything that we are. So to sum up this little piece of scripture, Paul is asking for a very deep peace, that penetrates through and through, and reaches from our body, into our soul, and even our spirit.
My prayer for you this Christmas day is that despite all the frustrations that you might be facing, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely;” and may God Himself help you stay focused on the real meaning of Christmas and let some of your other worries melt away.

 

By Pastor Jenna Couch

Zion (Jubilee) Lutheran Church
December 24: 7:00 PM with Holy Communion
Christmas Day: 9:00 AM with Holy Communion

“The light shines in the darkness; and the darkness does not overcome it.” ~ John 1:5

This verse is part of the passage that will be read during worship on Christmas Day. It is such a beautiful verse that provides hope to us as we adjust to longer periods of darkness that the season of winter brings.
I recently bought a gorgeous standing ornament from the Hallmark store and thought it was a cool image for the above verse from John. This ornament shines the light on the manger scene.While that is certainly the central story of the Christmas season, Christmas is about so much more than the baby Jesus; it’s about God’s beautiful presence with us, now and always.
These past few weeks during Advent, we’ve been talking about waiting, watching, preparing, and witnessing. While Advent is also about joy and hope, these are all themes that we live in all of our lives as people of Christ, not just in the few weeks leading up to Christmas. We live in those promises by being the people that God created us to be; by following God’s call to show others Christ’s light.
I love the ornament because the colors of the light change within this ornament. Sometimes it’s red, then blue, then green, and purple. It’s always changing.It is a fitting representation of God’s light that shines differently through each and every one of us.
Yet, that light all comes from the same God; the God that is full of grace and truth and that created each and every one of us. Christ came into the world to shine His light and give hope to a world living in darkness. Christ’s light also shines through us, so that we can see ourselves as children of God more clearly. We are children of the light.
As we celebrate Christmas this year, may the light that led those to find the baby Jesus, the light that has overcome the darkness, and the light that shines within you all be a testament of Emmanuel, God With Us, not just during Christmas, but always.
Merry Christmas and God’s Blessings to you!