Sunday, December 17, 2017

Jule Ann’s Advent Meditation, Week 3: The Candle of Joy

Today, we light the third candle on the Advent wreath. Three purple candles represent the penitent season of preparation for Christmas. But today’s candle is pink. Today we get to take a break from penitence, and focus on JOY.

In Liturgical churches, today is known as “Gaudete” (Gow-DEH-teh) Sunday, or the Sunday of Joy. The First Reading on Gaudete Sunday begins with Philippians 4:4,

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

Rejoice ALWAYS? Is that even possible? Everyone gets sad sometimes, right? Even Jesus wept on occasion. Is sadness a sin?

Absolutely not! The ability to mourn is a sign of a compassionate heart. It’s a good thing for Christians to do.

But joy isn’t the absence of sadness. Joy is something more. Something deeper.

I grew up in Ottawa, Canada. The snowiest capital city in the world. In general, it’s usually about 10 degrees colder in Ottawa than it is here in southeastern Pennsylvania. But Ottawa still has seasons, and in the summer, it gets hot enough to swim. And every once in a while, I look at the weather reports, and I see that it’s actually warmer in Ottawa than it is here.

That’s the difference between climate and weather. Weather changes from day to day, and sometimes from hour to hour. Climate doesn’t change so easily. It is the basic, underlying conditions of a place. Climate influences the daily weather, but the weather isn’t always average.

Weather responds to outside forces. A storm, a change in wind direction, a drop in pressure. Climate doesn’t mind outside forces too much, because they all average out in the end.

What climate can do, however, is influence how the weather might respond to those forces. The same pressure system might become a hurricane over Florida, or a blizzard over Buffalo.

Happiness and sadness are like the weather. They respond to outside forces, and change from day to day, or even minute to minute. They are only as permanent as the situations that brought them about.

But joy isn’t like the weather. It doesn’t go away when something makes you sad. It’s something that lives at your core, and influences how you respond to the world. Joy is a climate of the heart.

The opposite of joy isn’t sadness. It’s bitterness. Sadness comes and goes, but bitterness lives in the heart. It colors a person’s reaction to everything. Like a desert climate, where it might rain occasionally, but nothing lasting can grow. A bitter heart causes joy to wither, and die.

The good news is that heart climates are easier to change than local climates. You know who is really good at changing hearts? I’ll give you a hint: we’re getting ready to celebrate his birth.

Jesus is the antidote to a bitter heart. Remember the wise man who built his house on a rock? And the storms came, and the floods rose, but his house stood firm, while those same storms and floods flattened the foolish man’s house. If you want a heart of joy, you need a firm foundation. And that foundation is Christ.

A heart climate of joy won’t stop the storms from coming. It won’t stop the tears from falling. But it will give you the strength to face every situation with courage and peace. It will color your view of the world, and help you to see God’s hand at work in even the dark places. As Nehemiah encouraged his people, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)

Be strong. Rejoice!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Jule Ann’s Advent Meditation, Week 2: The Candle of Love

God knows everything. Everything that ever was, is, and will be.

But he still made us. He knew that we would give in to temptation, but he still gave us free will. He knew that we would break his laws, but he still wrote them down for us on tablets of stone. Twice.

Why? Because he loves us. With a perfect, unwavering love.

The Law demands sacrifice. Hebrews 9:22 tells us, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” God wrote that law. He knew what it meant. He knew better than anyone what it would cost.

The concept of infinity frustrates my kids. They want infinity to be a really huge number that they can add to or subtract from like any other number. But infinity isn’t a number, and no matter what you add to it or take away from it, it’s still infinity. It’s a bit hard to wrap your mind around for child. Honestly, it’s not easy for an adult, either.

God has infinite strength. Infinite resources. Infinite time. No matter what gifts he gives, he still remains infinite. There is no sacrifice in those gifts.

How then can God, the infinite, give anything sacrificially? How can he satisfy the Law that he wrote? There is literally only one thing he can give that would cost him anything, and that is to give up his infinity itself.

Good Friday and Easter get most of the “sacrifice” sermons. But I think Christmas deserves a few, too. True, Jesus suffered and died on the cross, but the sacrifice began over 30 years earlier, when he gave up his infinity. And he became human. Not just any human, but a baby. A completely helpless baby. He gave up his strength, and had to learn to walk on chubby little legs. He gave up his eloquence, and had to depend on cries to communicate his needs. He gave up his throne in heaven for a feeding trough.

He became human, even though he knew what was coming next. He knew he would be despised, rejected, and killed. But he came anyhow, because even in his finite human body, he retained his infinite love.

We human beings are slow learners. I get frustrated waiting for my children to put on their shoes, but God waited, patiently, century after century, for us to finally recognize his love. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that “Love is patient.” And God’s love for us is the perfect embodiment of patience.

Advent reminds us to wait. Let it also remind us that we are loved. That our loving God is waiting for us, patiently, arms open wide, ready to give anything, and everything, for us.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Jule Ann’s Advent Meditation, Week One: The Candle of Hope



Waiting is hard. It’s awkward. Uncomfortable. Boring.

In this fast-paced modern age, we don’t have to wait very long for anything. We can communicate instantly with anyone on the planet. But still, we get impatient if we have to stare at those three little dots that tell us that they are typing a response for more than a few seconds.

But Christianity is counter-cultural. Twice a year, for Advent and Lent, we deliberately slow down.

And wait.

God’s people waited a long time for the Messiah. They waited in bondage. They waited in the wilderness. They waited in exile. They waited while the prophets railed against the evils of the day. They waited in the empty silence when God seemed to have left them alone.

But we don’t wait in darkness. We wait in hope. We know how the story ends. And it ends triumphantly! With victory over sin and death!

“We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.” (Psalm 33:20-21)

Hope is a great motivator. A bride-to-be, in anticipation of her wedding day, calls florists, interviews D.J.s, and samples cakes, working hard to make sure everything will be just right. Expectant parents, eager to meet their baby, build nursery furniture, wash and fold tiny clothing, and make their home ready for their new family member. Many of you may hope to see distant family members over the holidays, and you will soon be making travel plans or furiously cleaning the guest room in anticipation of that precious time together.

When you wait in hope, you don’t sit around twiddling your thumbs. You get up and work!

“A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.'” (Isaiah 40:3)

That’s not a passive verse. It’s not a verse for sitting around, mourning the state of the world, and waiting passively for Christ to return and fix everything. No! It’s a call to action. It’s a command to get up and work. Prepare the way for the Lord!
“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
“’Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’
“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
1 Corinthians 15:54-58

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Save our Sewing Circle

When Pearl invited me to the church sewing circle, my brain scrambled quickly for ways to turn her down politely.

“I don’t really sew,” I tried. She assured me that it didn’t matter. Many of the members didn’t sew. I could help knot comforters, and they could teach me if I wanted to learn to hand-quilt.

“I don’t have anyone to watch my son.” That didn’t matter either. He could play while we worked, and I could tend to him as needed. The members all brought their kids when they were younger, too.

Out of excuses, I told her maybe, and went on my way.

I really didn’t think sewing circle was the place for me. There’s a pretty good chance that you think the same thing.

But one week, I found myself going a bit stir-crazy at home, and I looked at the calendar and saw that it was sewing circle day. Sure, why not? I thought to myself. At least it will get me out of the house.

Fast forward a few months, and I now count myself as a regular member.

It’s hard to describe sewing circle to an outsider. It’s not a club for people who like to sew, as I thought it would be. Half the ladies there don’t even sew. Sewing is a means to an end, rather than the end itself. These ladies do nothing for themselves. Everything they work on together is for someone else. Their comforters go to families in need. Their quilts go to the Mennonite Central Committee so they can be auctioned off, and the proceeds can be used to send the comforters overseas. It’s a mission and a ministry.

Sewing Circle is not just a social club for the older ladies in the church, although that element is present. While their hands are stitching and knotting, their mouths are talking, and their hearts are sharing. Once upon a time, they shared their parenting struggles, and gave loving advice to one another. As their families grew, their stories changed, but they continued to be there for one another. They held each other up as they became widows, prayed for each other as they received bad news from their doctors, comforted each other as they watched their friends go home to be with the Lord.

Our sewing circle is dying. Both literally and figuratively. Every year, there are fewer members and fewer finished projects. This is the 62nd year of the sewing circle at our church, and it may very well be the last. Our president has terminal cancer, and when the Lord takes her home, there is no one to take her place.

Maybe sewing circles are a thing of the past. Maybe their time has come and gone. Maybe today’s women just don’t have time to sit around making quilts. And if that’s all that was going on at sewing circle, maybe we should just end this chapter and close the book.

But sewing circle isn’t just a social club. It has a heart that beats with love for people in need, near and far. And if no one takes up the torch, that heart will stop beating.

I’m asking for a favor: Help me save the sewing circle. Come to a meeting. It doesn’t matter if you know how to sew. Sewing is just a means to an end, remember. And if you care about that end, we can work together on the means.

I don’t know what sewing circle will look like in 20 years. Maybe it will look exactly the same as it did 20 years ago, with ladies sitting around the quilting frames, chatting and sharing, while their children play together off in the corner. Or, maybe we won’t even be making quilts anymore. That would be okay, though. Because the quilts are nice, but the quilts aren’t the heart of the sewing circle. The people are.

The Sandy Hill Sewing Circle meets on the first Tuesday of every month in the Fellowship Hall. Come any time after 8:30, and stay as long as you can. We stop to discuss business and have brief devotional time around 11, and we break to eat lunch at some point after that. Bring a bagged lunch if you’d like to stay longer. If you need directions, they are available on the church website.