We currently have a full-sized camel standing in our church narthax. Her name is Caramel. Her presence is a sign that we have some dedicated Kingdom workers here at St. Peter’s UMC. A number of individuals have been tirelessly making preparations for a couple of big events scheduled for tomorrow. At 11:00a.m. our church will participate in the Morehead City Christmas Parade with an elaborate float complete with Magii and Caramel, inviting people to “Follow the Star.” After the parade, come rain or shine, our church will host a free family event where people can enjoy hot dogs, drinks, a petting zoo, pony rides, face painting and balloons with Skeedaddle the Clown, and a coloring contest for children. Our prayer for this event is that even one life can be changed through Christ – that even one individual can “follow the star” and choose to follow Jesus.
The work that has gone into preparing for tomorrow reminds me of what this season of Advent is all about. It’s a season of preparation. According to The United Methodist Book of Worship: “The season proclaims the comings of Christ – whose birth we prepare to celebrate once again, who comes continually in Word and Spirit, and whose return in final victory we anticipate. Each year Advent calls the community of faith to prepare for these comings.”
I am grateful for all those who have worked so tirelessly preparing for tomorrow’s parade and family event. Tomorrow’s parade will be here whether we’re ready or not, so I’m glad we’re prepared! One day, Christ will return whether we’re ready or not. Are you prepared for that day? Take this season of Advent to prepare your heart for the One who came into this world as a tiny baby, who died for the sins of this world, and who will one day return to judge this world in righteousness. God loves you so much He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into this world so you CAN be prepared for that awesome and glorious day!
See you in church!
- Pastor Karl
Do you put up outdoor Christmas lights? This time of year I love to drive around at night and see the beauty and splendor and, in some cases, gaudiness, of people’s lighted decorations. When I was growing up, our decorations consisted of one string of multicolored lights that ran along the roofline of our split-level house in Raleigh. These were the old style lights – the ones with the large glass bulbs. This was long before anyone ever thought of hiring a professional Christmas Decorating Company to do the work for them. My father would lay the lights out on the living room floor and plug them in to make sure they all worked before he’d hang them outside. Once the lights were up and turned on, my sisters and I knew that Christmas was not far off.
Christmas lights serve as a sign that Christmas is coming. Christmas will be here on December 25th – that’s a fact. This year, December 25th will fall somewhere between the 24th and the 26th – that’s a fact. Christmas ALWAYS falls between the 24th and 26th, and as Uncle Si from Duck Dynasty would say, “That’s a fact, Jack!” Christmas is a holiday on which Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ – that’s a fact. Some people celebrate Christmas with no recognition of the Biblical aspect of the holiday – that’s a fact too.
Luke wrote his Gospel so people would know that the story of Jesus Christ was fact. He opens the third Chapter with a listing of who was in power when John the Baptist began his ministry to give his readers a specific time frame in world history when these events took place – he is saying, “This really happened, and this is when it happened. It’s not just a story or a legend – it’s fact.” In Chapter one, Luke begins, “I am writing an orderly account for you… that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.” Luke is saying, “What I’m writing about really happened – it’s true! Here are the people involved and here is when it happened.”
Do you regard the story of Jesus Christ as historical fact? Are we able to move beyond the written accounts of Jesus’ miracles and teachings to see them as historical fact? That He really did turn water into wine? That He really did calm the storm on the sea? That He really did give sight to a blind man? Do we believe this AND regard it as fact? Do we accept as historical fact that Jesus really did rise from the dead and walk out of the tomb? These are not just stories – they are facts!
Jesus Christ came into the world to bring salvation to God’s people. The Old Testament prophets foretold this Good News, and the New Testament writers declared this Good News to be true. If we will believe God’s Word, then we can know salvation. Jesus Christ was born of a virgin – that’s a fact. Jesus Christ lived a sinless life – that’s a fact. Jesus Christ died on a cross and accepted God’s judgment for sins – that’s a fact. Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day to open the way to eternal life for all who believe – that’s a fact.
Jesus Christ really did do all these things. And he really did come into the world as a baby so He could grow up and die for you. That’s the fact of Christmas. Christmas is not about family, it’s not about presents, it’s not about a certain magical feeling – those can all be a part of what we have made this holiday – but these things are not what Christmas is about. It’s about Jesus Christ. The world may not want to hear it, but Jesus Christ is a real-life figure from history; He’s the One around whom all history revolves. And His birth, the fulfillment of prophecy, is what Christmas is all about.
Our next door neighbor used to sneak over to our house in the middle of the night and unscrew a bulb from my father’s string of Christmas lights. This teenager knew that if one bulb was removed, the decorations were no good. If one light was missing, then all the work my father had done was for naught because, without that one light in place, nothing worked. Taking Jesus out of Christmas is like taking a bulb out of the decorations. It’s removing the light from Christmas – it’s removing the light from the world. You have no light – you have nothing but darkness.
Until we accept the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as fact, our holiday celebrations don’t mean a thing. Until we accept the Word of God and repent and follow Jesus, then we have omitted Him from the picture and our decorations are one bulb short. If we remove that one light, all God’s work through Christ is for naught. Without the light, all you have is a meaningless string of darkened bulbs.
God so loved the world that He sent His only Son to bring light to those who sit in darkness. Do we welcome that light, or are we content to sit in the dark? Or maybe we’d prefer to have a professional decorating company come and put up our Christmas lights. Then they’d be perfect, right? Not if they’re missing a bulb.
One light makes all the difference. There is only one light that matters, and that light is Jesus Christ. He is the light of the world. And that, praise God, is a fact.
See you in church!
- Pastor Karl
Some years ago I was invited to offer the opening prayer at Whiteville’s annual Veterans Day observance. Thus began my tenure as a regular speaker at both the Veterans Day and Memorial Day sponsored by the local Veterans Association.
When I got up to speak at last year’s Veterans Day observance, I suddenly felt totally inadequate. The crowd was made up of men and women who had given a part of their lives to military service, and here I stood a civilian who never served his country. I looked out and saw eyes that had witnessed firsthand the horrors of war, and my experience was limited to what I had seen on television or read in history books. The closest I ever came to combat in Vietnam was my childhood memories of Walter Cronkite reciting the weekly casualty on the evening news. In stark contrast, the memories some of these veterans carried with them were the seeds of nightmares and personal anguish. These guys had experienced humanity at its worst firsthand, and they carried the resultant physical and emotional scars for the rest of their lives. They had gone through the fire and I had not. They deserved to be up on the podium that day with all eyes on them, I did not. Before I offered the prayer, I made a confession to those gathered. I said:
“I remember watching the Vietnam War on the news when I was 8 years old, and all I could think about was how to get out of going when I grew up. My third grade teacher talked about the Peace Corps and how if you worked for them the army wouldn’t draft you, so I decided that’s what I would do! Or maybe I’d just go to Canada like those other guys. I was 8 and I didn’t understand. But I didn’t want my life to end in some Vietnamese jungle. When I was 15, President Ford announced the end of mandatory draft registration and I celebrated because that meant I was off the hook. But then in 1980, registration once again became the law for those born in 1960 or later. So here I was, a 20-year-old college student, filling out my Selective Service paperwork in a Post Office, grumbling that I was doing so in protest, and wondering just how cold it got in Canada during the winter. I share this to say that I don’t deserve to stand before you this morning. But I am so grateful for what you went through. I have a deep appreciation for the sacrifices you made, for the pain you live with, and I don’t feel worthy to speak on your behalf. But I thank you for this opportunity.”
Then I bowed my head, and offered a prayer. Afterward, an old man in an officer’s uniform came up to me and thanked me for what I said. Another man wearing a Vietnam Veteran hat came up and put his arms around me and began to cry. Another placed his hand on my shoulder and offered a smile that seemed marked with a distant and haunting sadness. I was moved to tears that day.
At their annual Christmas dinner last December, the Veterans Association presented me with a plaque which named me as their honorary chaplain, and at their Memorial Day observance in May they presented me with a jacket that had a large Vietnam Veterans logo embroidered on the back and my name on the front, identifying me as a chaplain. A month ago I mentioned the jacket to a friend who is an officer in the Marine Corp, and told him I’ve never worn it because I don’t feel like I have that right. “How can I be identified as one of them if I never fought? I didn’t go through the hell they went through,” I explained.
He told me, “They gave it to you because they’ve identified you as one of their own. That’s what these guys do. They’re telling you ‘You’re one of us.’ You should wear it with pride. It says a lot about how they feel about you. “
It’s a lot like Jesus dying on the cross for my salvation. He went through the suffering, he went through the fire, he went through hell, and I didn’t. I’ve only read about God’s wrath being poured out, but Jesus experienced it firsthand. And in dying for me, He endured hell to secure my freedom. I don’t deserve to stand among the righteous, but Jesus has identified me as one of his own.
The Apostle Paul writes, “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.” (Ephesians 1:4-7 NLT)
I have done nothing to earn the right to wear that Vietnam Veterans jacket, but I was chosen to wear it by those who DID earn that right, and I’ll never forget that. That jacket was a gift which marks me as a part of a special family – a gift I will cherish to the day I die.
I didn’t earn salvation; it too is a gift that marks me as a part of a special family. That’s a gift I will cherish even unto eternity.
With thanks, and prayers, for the sacrifices of our veterans.
See you in church!
- Pastor Karl
I love a good joke, especially one with a surprise ending. Rev. Dr. Belton Joyner, author of “Being a United Methodist in the Bible Belt”, is a master joke-teller. This past October in his worship class at Duke he shared the story of a husband and wife who were flying across the country on a commuter plane. After boarding the plane in New York, the man noticed a small red fuel truck sitting next to them on the runway. Workers fueled the plane, and the truck drove away. When the plane landed in Pittsburgh, the man looked out the window and saw a small red fuel truck pull up to the plane on the runway, and he watched as workers fueled the plane, and then watched as the truck drove away. Sometime later, the plane landed in Chicago for more fuel, and, once again, the man saw a little red fuel truck on the runway. When the plane landed in Kansas City for refueling, the man looked out the window and once again saw – you guessed it – a little red fuel truck pulling up alongside the plane. His wife glanced at her watch and said, “You know, we’re making pretty good time.” Her husband replied, “Yeah, and that little red truck’s not doing too bad either!”
The Gospel writer Luke tells of a tax collector named Zacchaeus who heard that Jesus was going to be passing through town and he wanted to see Jesus. Because of his tiny stature, Zacchaeus had to climb a tree to see over the crowds who had gathered to watch Jesus walk by. To the little man’s surprise, Jesus stopped, looked up into the tree and called out, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” Zaccheaus came looking for Jesus, but Jesus was already looking for him. Wherever we are and wherever we go, like that little red fuel truck on the runway, God is already there waiting for us.
Do you come to worship on Sunday morning looking for God? He’s already there looking for you! Come and celebrate being in the presence of the One who longs to be with you!
See you in church!
- Pastor Z