A View from the Pew: Pancho and the Christmas Play

If you’ve ever performed in a Christmas drama you know the truth of the old show business maxim attributed to W.C. Fields: “Never work with children or animals.”

Crossroads: Love

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel loved by God. I grew up in the church, and I remember standing on top of the pew and sharing the hymnal with my mother.

Formations 12.27.2020: Blue Christmas

It’s always good to remember that the Christmas season isn’t always joyful for some of us. Those folks ringing the bells and collecting donations outside your favorite grocery store?

Connections 12.27.2020: The Blessings of the Old

My grandparents have played an enormous role in my life. My mother’s parents worked side by side for years in the tiny town of Woodland, Georgia.

We Need the Hope of Christmas Now

Simply and directly, our world is not what it should be. And the Advent and Christmas season offer the expectancy of what should be.

Pass the Parcel Nativity Story

I wanted a simple, interactive way of telling the Nativity story, as my Sunday group can be a bit lively, so I decided that we would use some of our leftover Christmas cards.

Crossroads: Joy

I have a friend named Joy (she’s one of the 8-year-olds at church), and her name suits her personality. She always has a smile on her face and a radiant attitude.

Formations 12.20.2020: The Honor Christ Deserves

My wife and I got married over my school’s Thanksgiving break one year. I was a newly minted Ph.D., with little as of yet to show for it. We arrived at the hotel before our room was ready, so we gave them our luggage and went out to explore the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Connections 12.20.2020: Faithful to Send Jesus

I thought about opening with these words: “Put yourself in Mary’s place.” But then I realized that we can’t do that.

Crossroads: Peace

dish detergent, water, and food coloring. We started with clear water, and then we began to talk about all the hard things that can happen in life.

Formations 12.13.2020: Rejoice!

On January 1, the new year seemed fresh and exciting. Maybe the new decade would even become the twenty-first-century version of the Roaring Twenties! We could only hope. But March came.

Connections 12.13.2020: God Will Do This

By my count, Paul offers a list of fourteen instructions to the Christians in Thessalonica in verses 12-21 of this week’s lesson text.

Flame: Advent Wreath Craft

We’ve now entered Advent and I was thinking of how families could use the tradition of the Advent wreath at home in a craft and prayer activity. Of course it’s great to have the real candles to light, but here’s an alternative to make and do.

Crossroads: Hope

I saw the Star Wars movies much later than many others. I was in my early twenties before I watched any of them, but when I did, I found a familiar story: of hope.

Connections 12.06.2020: The Waiting Time

Do you like roller coasters? I confess that I liked them better when I was a younger woman. After the most recent time I rode one, it took me a couple of hours to recover from motion sickness.

The Night Before Advent

The calendar gave us an early Thanksgiving this year and it seems like it has been an eon between turkey and Advent. But I am ready for Advent. I need Advent right now. I need it more than I need Christmas.

Connections 11.29.2020: Christian Holism

I recall a day when I was in fifth grade and it occurred to me that I had to go to school for seven more years before I could graduate from high school.

Catching a Glimpse

The first Christmas comes and goes, and most people don’t notice. Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and a few others catch a glimpse of what is happening, but they’re just a handful.

Helping Each Other Grieve

As well as being a joyous time, Christmas can be difficult for people touched by tragedy or loss in the past year. Grief is isolating. While the rest of the world seems to be celebrating, tragedies years and decades old resurface.

Connections 12.22.2019: A Righteous Man

Our lesson text says that Joseph was “a righteous man” (v. 19). We could use more righteous men these days. I say that as a man. I’m allowed to talk about my own kind.

A View from the Pew: ‘Tis the Season for Missionary Speakers

Missionary speakers at church are as much a Christmas tradition as Christmas trees, Advent wreaths, and Nativity scenes.

Coming, a Prayer for Advent

Come to us, Lord Jesus,
in every purple-patterned life,
every wrap of loving arms
in shivering December.

Formations 12.08.2019: Happy Holidays

How many traditions can you name surrounding the birth of Jesus? Some of these traditions are purely secular; others are deeply religious.

Connections 12.08.2019: Privilege

Advent is a good time to consider our privilege and what we need to do about it. This week’s lesson text features John the Baptist.

Flame: Advent Prayer Bags

Lately, I’ve seen a variety of lovely ideas online for helping children and families to get involved with the Advent season. Drawing on some of the ideas I’ve seen, I’ve come up with a little bag of items that will take children through some of the main Advent themes.

Connections 12.01.2019: Being Alert

This week we begin a unit called “Advent and Christmas Goals.” Our lesson text calls us to be ready for Jesus to come again.

Meditations on Mark: Prepare the Way

This is the promise John the Baptist makes in the opening chapter of Mark’s Gospel. Mark doesn’t begin with the story of Jesus’ birth. Rather, he jumps into the middle of the story with Jesus already as an adult, ready to begin his ministry. This is the urgency in Mark: The Messiah has come.

Connections 11.10.2019: Getting and Being Ready

I try not to think too much about “the real meaning of Christmas”—the incarnation event, the Word made flesh, the baby in the manger—until just after the fourth Sunday of Advent. Don’t freak out on me.

Advent Devotions: Joy

Merry Christmas! Technically, Advent is over, but as I’ve said before, even though the Christ child has come, in a way, we are still waiting. We wait with hope. We wait with peace. We wait with love. And today, we wait with joy.

A View from the Pew: Hearing the Story

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” aired in 1965, and a generation formed an indelible association with the passage from Luke 2 and the recitation of the Christmas story by the character Linus Van Pelt. Born in 1970, I am definitely of that generation.

Advent Devotions: Love

When I was in junior high school I began going on mission trips each summer to New Orleans. Our youth group would break up into teams and lead backyard Bible clubs in neighborhood parks. We always carried Evangecubes—an interactive tract—with us. One day I was sitting at the bottom of a slide with a little boy who was around 8 years old.

Formations 12.23.2018: Rhythm Saved the World

The fourth Sunday of Advent, less than a few days before Christmas—It’s a time when I often turn from the prophetic hopes of Israel to a single family gathered around a manger. But Paul raises a vision of Christmas that is more cosmic than it is common.

Advent Devotions: Peace

Isaiah tells us of a promise that will be fulfilled. Though he expects to see the promise fulfilled in his lifetime, he is left waiting and faithfully pointing toward the truth. This is the same promise that we are waiting for as we move toward celebrating the birth of the Christ child.

Connections 12.16.2018: The Lord Is in Our Midst!

How’s your Advent going? By this point, about a week before Christmas, many of us usually feel weary. We haven’t had time to wait for Christ because we’ve been so busy with the trappings of this season—decorating, planning meals, attending parties, cleaning house for guests, preparing for family gatherings, and more.

Advent Devotions: Hope

As I’ve prepared to explore Advent and journey through this season of waiting and watching, I’ve had one song stuck in my head. Well, one line from one song stuck in my head: “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices….”

Formations 12.9.2018: From the Wasteland

For this second Sunday of Advent, I’ll admit that part of my preference for this season is religious cover for my Scrooge-like demeanor. It persists most of the year, but November and December throw it into particular relief. Needless to say, this year I’ve surprised myself and have willfully listened to Christmas music before Thanksgiving.

Connections 12.09.2018: Advent Fussing

It was 1977. I was a college student, and I’d been invited to preach at my home church on a Sunday night. As I walked in the front door, I encountered my first cousin’s husband. The following conversation took place.

Advent Devotions: Introduction

On Sunday we will begin a journey through the season of Advent. During Advent, the start of the church year or liturgical calendar, we wait expectantly for the coming Christ child. I’ve never been a huge fan of waiting…is anybody a fan of waiting?

Two Advent Hymns

At this time of year, we look forward to Advent worship. A few years ago, I realized that we might benefit from some additional Advent hymns, so I wrote a couple and set them to the tunes of well-known Christmas hymns. If you think your church’s Advent worship might be enhanced by them, I’d be honored for you to sing them.

Crossroads: The Angel Candle/Candle of Love

Today we light the last purple candle. This candle is the angel candle, or the candle of love. This candle reminds us of the love God has shown us through Jesus.

Formations 12.31.2017: Christ(mas) Has Come!

On the Christian calendar—as opposed to the secular calendar by which stores began decking their halls shortly after Halloween—the Christmas season began on December 25th and will end twelve days later on January 5.

Connections 12.31.2017: Jesus and the Elderly

I turned forty this year, and I’m grateful to be able to say that I still have one living set of grandparents. My father’s parents, known to me as Mom and Pop, are age eighty-three and ninety-three. They’ve been a huge part of my life since my birth.

Facing Grief, at Christmas and Always

I am neither a nihilist nor a pessimist. For heaven’s sake, I am pastor of America’s home of Positive Thinking. I am, however, a realist. And as such, I have a theory about life. Here it is: Life is not the last five minutes of the movie.

Crossroads: The Shepherd Candle/Candle of Joy

Welcome to the third week of Advent! Advent is a time of preparation, when we wait and prepare for the Christ child. Each week, you will light a new candle as we recognize the things that Christ brings to this world: hope, peace, joy, and love.

Formations 12.24.2017: A Song of Joy and Sorrow

Because I live a few blocks from a hospital, ambulance sirens, and the occasional helicopter, form one pitch in that harmony of creation I hear. For what they signal—coming help and immediate danger—these sounds are above all interruptions demanding drivers to make way.

Crossroads: The Candle of Bethlehem/Peace

Welcome to the second week of Advent! This week, our focus lies on Mary and Joseph, a couple who were waiting for the changes that come with a big transition: a new baby.

Connections 12.17.2017: The Light of Christ

At this time of year, we marvel at the beauty of Christmas lights. Our family enjoys getting a special treat and riding through our town, admiring neighborhood light displays while we listen to Christmas music. We love to decorate our own house as well.

Crossroads: The Candle of Prophecy/Hope

Welcome to the first week of Advent! Advent is a time of preparation, when we wait and prepare for the Christ child. Each week you will light a new candle as we recognize the things that Christ brings to this world: hope, peace, joy, and love.