By Garrett Vickrey
On a side street just off of South Congress in Austin there is a mint green wall with a message written on it. Scrawled across the wall in cursive red spray paint are the simple words, “I love you so much”.
Every day hundreds of people come from all over to take their picture with those they love in front of this wall. They post pictures with kids, spouses, parents and “besties” on Facebook and Instagram. It’s so simple: words on a wall. But, these simple words remind us of something profound. Something as necessary to us as the food and drink found in every establishment on South Congress Avenue.
You are loved.
This is the simple message of Christmas. It’s obscured sometimes by the commitments and nostalgia of the season. It’s so simple we wonder why it’s a big deal.
Not only did God love you so much to send the Christ, but in doing this God doubles-down in committing to the world God made. It’s a reaffirmation of what God said in the beginning— “It is good”.
As we celebrate the infant Jesus being born to Mary, may we remember that the One born in suspicion at an inopportune moment with no place to rest his head is waiting to be born among us today.
As the words of the old carol proclaim:
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
Or to put it simply: I love you so much.
By Marilyn Gladson
“The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
Today is a special day for me. My father was born on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1926. Once, when I was a child, I asked him if he got combined Christmas/Birthday gifts when he was growing up. “What gifts?” was his reply. He was the third of three brothers and had three younger sisters. It is safe to say their family was quite poor. My grandfather was a jack-of-all-trades who made his living by doing a variety of jobs. He even did some preaching along the way. Yet, he always provided for his wife and children. And not all gifts come wrapped in pretty paper, ribbons, and bows. Daddy had the gift of a loving family who nurtured his faith, taught him to sing the old hymns of praise, and showed him how to be a fine man, husband and father.
He learned those lessons well. While his teacher/preacher salaries did not always stretch to the end of the month, our family of five was never hungry, always had clothes and shelter, and managed to put a dollar each in our Sunday School envelopes every week. The “true bread of God,” Jesus Christ, was as familiar to me as my aunts, uncles, and cousins. I cannot remember any time in my life when I did not know about our loving God and our salvation through faith in Jesus.
So, today I celebrate not only the human birth of Jesus in tiny Bethlehem, but also the birth and life of my dad. Both have given me life and love and joy.
By Daniel Zamora
Increase your Joy and Rejoice!
Have you ever tried to walk in the darkness, at least a few steps to reach the closest light switch or perhaps when the power is out during a big storm, and are trying to reach your cell phone or any other source of light? We tend to do it very slowly to avoid bumping into furniture or stumbling on a toy or rug. Suddenly, you reach the light switch or the power is back. Can you picture yourself with a big smile on your face?
Yes, after struggling with limited or no visibility, the light is back on and we can see everything around us making it easier to walk or returning to our previous activity with a joyful attitude. It has been said that people who live in areas with limited lighting tend to be sad and depressed while those living in sunny places all year round have a more cheerful mood. If one light gives us that much joy, two or more lights can bring us lots of it.
In Advent, we light a candle to symbolize each of the gifts that God sent with Christ: hope, peace, joy and love. These presents are not part of a menu from which we choose from but, they come altogether. Thus, the light coming out of these candles increases every week and finally, on Christmas Eve, the Christ candle is lit giving us the better perspective of what the prophet Isaiah referred to seeing a great light.
During this season, let every light be a reminder of increasing our joy and rejoicing before the Lord.
By Sandra Peters
Hallelujah, it’s Christmas Eve and we are celebrating the Present of presents! King of kings! Lord of lords!
Yes! Jesus Christ!! The ultimate Present from God!!! Thanks be to God!!!!
Think about all that has happened in 2016. God through His Beloved Son Jesus has granted us gifts of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love through our church family, our families, a multitude of caring friends, and people we do not even know. We see His Presence everywhere we look
Today our church family joins Christians across the globe, whether in church or at home, to give thanks for God’s Present of Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus, in turn, gives us His presents of Hope, Joy, Peace and Love!
By Roy Myers
1 Corinthians 13
Our holiday decorations have become one part of the way we create space for celebration and a way to proclaim our love for God and each other during the holiday. Dana and Peter, particularly, love to decorate. Of course we have a tree and other traditional trimmings. We also have many knickknacks and lights, perhaps not as many as some and probably more than others. This tradition is so important to us that we developed a special collection of deployment holiday décor, which Dana sends me while I am away. Over the years, my ‘deployment holiday set’ composed of a tiny tree, lights and Thanksgiving Turkey have grown into a pretty neat package of memories. These items are a precious reminder to me of the love we share even as I am far from home. The decorations also express a reminder of love from home for those who stop by my office to take a moment and enjoy some holiday cheer.
In reflecting upon our family tradition, I began to wonder how we might expand upon holiday home decoration. Could our love itself decorate the spaces and events of the season as a demonstration of the love of God expressed though the Incarnation of Jesus? I Corinthians 13 describes what could be thought of as decorations that we can bring to our holiday celebrations and observances. How might God’s love during this season become more patient and kind? How does the Incarnation of Jesus remind me to step back from prideful hubris and lean into long suffering forgiveness? How does God’s love in and among us strengthen us to tell the truth in forbearance, confidence and hope? In many ways the process of decoration with knickknacks and lights seems much easier than the challenge of a love that ‘hopes all things and endures all things.’ I hope in this holiday season that you might consider how each of us can decorate our celebrations with the love described in I Corinthians 13.
By Becky Upchurch
The setting for today’s text is the Upper Room where Jesus and his disciples have their last meal together. Judas has left to do his traitorous work. Jesus first tells his disciples that He will be glorified and God will be glorified through Him. Then He tells them that where He is going they cannot come. It is at this point that we find our text: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
It appears the disciples may not have even heard Jesus say these words about this new command and love because the immediate response from Peter is “Where are you going”? After a short conversation with Peter, Jesus reassures the disciples and tells them He is going to prepare a place for them. Thomas replies, “We don’t know where you are going.”
Unlike the disciples, we know where Jesus went – to the cross. We know what happened – He died and He overcame death. And we know where He is – He ascended into heaven and resides with God His Father. And because we know these things, we are able to focus on His words about love. We know, because of where He went, just how much He loved us. We know, because of what happened, that our sins are forgiven. We know, because of where He is, that He is truly the Son of God. And because of Who He is and His extreme and unending love for us, we are challenged each day to follow His new command: “As I have loved you…so you must love one another”.
By Lee Weems
The boom of the thunder awakened us. Pounding rain was falling on the roof and we were thankful to be inside. In the dark night, the winds whipped the rain around while we experienced another March storm. Memories of severe storms and flooding from last year stirred thoughts of Wimberley and the families whose houses were swept away. Some persons experienced the tragic death of a loved one.
During spring break, youth and sponsors from Woodland gathered with a multitude of other youth and adults to invest time in the San Marcos and Wimberley communities. The volunteers equipped with paint brushes, rollers, hammers, saws and compassion provided a presence of God to the battered communities north of San Antonio.
Lent allows us a time to explore the questions and struggles of life. This is a time to ask questions – Why do disasters happen? We can ponder the uncertainties of life and confess that sometimes events happen that don’t make sense.
Lent offers a time to pause and to allow both silence and reflection to remember our foundation of life during the stormy weather. We need to back away, catch our breath and remember a bigger story.
Psalm 118 continues to be an essential reading in my spiritual journey, especially during Lent. This psalm invites the faith community to remember the days of darkness and affirm the Light that shines even behind the ebony shadows.
“Re-member” means to put the parts together. Psalm 118 is a congregational song of “re-membering” and affirming. This psalm allows us to reconnect with our life story. No doubt, along the way, each of us have been powerful and pivotal moments. The people of Israel had some tough times. This psalm contains a list of the crises and tough times in their history.
Psalm 118 is a public worship hymn. Woodland gathers as family of faith each Sunday. We come to re-member that our faith journey is jagged. Within a short distance from where any of us stands, someone has known the struggles of divorce, illness, death, relocation, or times of forced change. Confession allows us to acknowledge the bruised and broken, the confused and critical times along the path.
When this psalm was read responsively, the Hebrew people were invited to affirm a greater truth, “God’s steadfast love endures forever.” Hesed, the Hebrew word, proclaims the covenant love of God to the people of God. In our fractures and failures, disappointments and destruction, God never gives up on us and his enduring mercy surrounds us.
As we worship, there are spoken words, hymns, prayers and silence. We can confess times of insecurity and uncertainty. Together we speak aloud the great truth to one another, “God’s steadfast love endures forever.”
The storms of life are weathered and God’s steadfast love embraces us. Let us hold firmly to Hesed and trust God to gently hold us. Then we move forward into a world that knows pain, and become ambassadors of hope.
By Barbara Higdon
We appear to be a nation depressed and angry. We cry out to God to “restore our fortunes.” We rail against the failures of our leaders in whom we placed our trust. Greed, corruption and power-lust have invaded many of our political offices. Many are voting in anger and disgust with those who made huge promises and failed to deliver. We turn against them and look for other saviors who promise to change.
In the midst of that anger, it is easy to lose hope and forget the One who promised “to do great things for us.” He has not failed us, but he has allowed us to believe that in man we can find relief.
My prayer today is that we can “sow with tears” and wait patiently for the harvest. Putting one foot in front of the other in the midst of despair of any kind is important. God has promised that we will “will reap with songs of joy” if we simply follow his path.
Moving forward in this season of Lent, we must remember that our responsibility is to sow the seeds, whether with or without tears. It’s God’s promise to restore our souls, and our walk to the Cross is a daily reminder of his faithfulness even in the face of broken dreams. Reading the Psalms reminds us that we are not the first, nor the last to cry out to God for help. Our Lord has faced everything we face or will faced, and he understands us better than we understand ourselves.
Prayer: Lord, we know we have duties as Christians and citizens of a broken world. Remind us daily of those duties and help us to sow seeds of love and peace wherever we find ourselves.
By Dan Jean
“‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.” I would be surprised if you haven’t heard these words already this season. They come from a beloved poem by Clement Clarke Moore and paint a romantic portrait of the power of Christmas to warm our hearts. This wonderful poem captures the preparation, imagination, and excitement that point to the arrival of Christmas, revealed in a flash to be St. Nicholas and his team on the new fallen snow. “The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.”
The fruits in today’s passage from Galatians are not exactly sugarplums. The Apostle Paul writes this letter to challenge controversy in the early church. His clear tone shows how important it is for people to embrace unity in Christ, no matter their differences. Paul describes a tree laden with fruits worthy of our dreams and visions. Can anything possibly be wrong with such fruits as these?
Love. Joy. Peace. These words so often describe Christmas. The faithfulness of family and friends bring kindness and goodness. Patience and self-control soothe stresses of the season – most of the time. Paul gives us both beautiful words and worthy ideals. Take a moment to receive Paul’s gift. These fruits are a clear vision of life in the Spirit of Christ. Tonight as you close your eyes and imagine the best Christmas can offer, let Paul’s fruits inspire and delight you. “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
By Rubye Box
I Corinthians 13
The 13th chapter of I Corinthians is known as the love chapter. Many wedding ceremonies include this chapter because it is a perfect picture of what love should be. The final verse is a summary of the entire chapter.
“But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
This verse has such deep implications for us all. All three are intangible. You cannot hold any of them in your hand and yet they are as real as you and me.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, had incredible faith. Faith in God, faith in what the angel told her and faith that the child she was carrying was indeed the Son of God. Oh, that we could have such faith!
Hope is what keeps us looking toward heaven. Hope is what kept those faithful Jewish believers praying that the promise of God would come true – the promise that a Messiah would be born and bring deliverance.
Love was the ultimate gift God gave mankind. It was there when God created the perfect place where his creation could live and thrive. His love was there with Adam and Eve in the garden. It was there with Moses as he led the Hebrew children out of Egypt. But mostly, it was there the night Jesus was born, when he lived among us and then when he died to save us all. No other love is greater than the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus offering himself for the sins of the world. May we all learn to love as our Heavenly Father loves us.