Crescent Hill Baptist Church
Advent Meditations - 2000
An Olde Fashioned Christmas
writers: Lelia Gentle, Edward Thornton, Elaine Parker Akin, Beth Wade, Frank Woggon, Janet G. Tharpe, Mary Ann Bootes, Bob Brocious, Edward Thornton, Wyc Rountree, Louise Goff, Henlee Barnette, Hilda Dean, Fay Leach, Meme Tunnell, Edward Thornton, John C. Birkimer, Mera "Susie" Cossey Corlett, William M. Johnson, Dorothy Spurr, Cheryl Davis, Sharleen Johnson Birkimer, Edward Thornton, Peggy Schmidt, Beth Ryan, Mary Frances Owens, Chuck Leach, Ron Sisk, Glenna Hess, Gaye Tyner Rountree, Rick Forest
(Some Youth Meditations: Mera Corlett, Carlie Fogg, Caitlin Goodhue, Philip Hess, Joelle Leiferman, Brandon Davis, Hilary Hoomes, Chris Jones, Elizabeth Jones, Sarah Buster, Ben Creech, Charlie Gritton, Casey Henry, Drew Smith, Courtney Chase, Leigh White, Michael Conver, Morgan Vanhoose)
editor: Lelia Gentle; artist: Colleen Burroughs
In his December 17th writing, Edward Thornton uses the phrase Advent Moment:
. . . "Listen to your inmost voice.
Know you are having an Advent moment.
You have tuned in God."
That is what you will find in these pages -- moments where we have turned in God. Times we have found God in unfamiliar places -- voices we have heard with new ears -- sights we have seen with new eyes -- the familiar experienced in unfamiliar ways . . . comfort and healing . . . questions and answers . . . all Advent Moments.
These Advent meditations this year are dedicated to our outstanding ministerial staff. Thanks for sharing your lives with us.
We offer deepest gratitude this season to Ron, Bill, Louie, Jeff, Anita, Karen, Bobbie and the church office staff for making Crescent Hill Baptist Church such a special place for all us to worship, to celebrate and to share the journey.
Each year as our Christmas decorations emerge from their off-season residence in the basement, a child size wagon bearing a load of Christmas books rolls out to take its place near the tree. Tucked away among Rudolph, the Nutcracker, and other childhood favorites is a collection of several paper booklets. Some are tattered and worn – some smell musty from their years in the basement. Others have water spots from close calls during flood season. In spite of their scruffy appearance, these booklets are indeed Christmas treasures . . . Advent meditations of Christmases past from the Crescent Hill family of faith.
Each year the Advent book represents a gift from our congregation. It bears words of hope, peace, joy and love for a season when we all need such words. Its pages are prose and poetry filled with experiences, memories, joys, sorrows, insights, and struggles. This is a time when we as a church family share our personal and private "Advent moments." As I reminisce through the meditations from Christmases past, I find these writings have the ability to bless again and again. Words from persons no longer in our congregation bring back fond memories of those who have either moved on to other locales or have left us through death. Words from those among us provide comfort and encouragement for the season. And this year is no different. Our writers have provided awe-inspiring and insightful looks inside their hearts and lives. Perhaps you will see some of your own tragedies or triumphs within these pages. And perhaps these thoughts and stories will inspire you to search for your own "advent moments."
Advent, from the Latin adventus, means "coming." It is a time of self-examination and prayer, a time set aside to prepare for the celebration of Christ's birth. As we make the journey to the manger and ultimately the cross, God has given us the gift of brothers and sisters who share our journey. These writings are simply one small way in which we share the journey. May these writings bring us all closer to each other and to the One whose birth we now prepare for and celebrate.
Yours on the Journey,
Lelia Gentle, Editor
Sunday, December 3 (Edward Thornton)
A Voice Of Hope
A memory from the mid 1960's -- then professor of pastoral theology in a seminary near Philadelphia. It's an easy commute to New York's Grand Central Station, then a subway to 124th Street and a short walk to Union Theological Seminary. A room in the guest tower was always ready. Something went wrong. A notice about a change in housing for our Committee failed to reach me. Being familiar with the usual hospitality, I left Philadelphia after dark.
emerging from the New York subway at 124th street
Sidewalks dark and chancy. Seminary doors locked
Only one door alight. A man appears. "The guest
tower is closed. Not another soul in the building"
He climbs the tower and makes my bed, in an airless room
Alone atop the city, scared of the solitude
I pace the floor. Possessed by compulsion to pray:
"God, I'm talking straight!"
"I don't believe in prayer any more."
"You never say a word. Are you fake?"
"Part of me wants to trust, but"
"I don't. I can't I hate hypocrisy"
"I hate your silence...God!!"
............................................................ "Dead still"
Next day I see the man who made my bed
presiding over the meeting
The Seminary President
As you see, I was in a faith crisis at that time. Less obvious, this event was a turning point. It wakened a truth spoken by the poet Theodore Roethke: on a spiritual journey "the eye is not enough."
Monday, December 4 (Elaine Parker Akin)
Each year I commiserate with friends about the over-commercialization of Christmas. Yet despite the feeling I should protest when Christmas merchandise begins to appear, even as the Hallowe'en candy has barely been marked down, there is a small rush of excitement when I see the shiny new ornaments, the ribboned wreaths and the first real Christmas tree. You can't blame the retailers for trying to catch up for the year; and we find ourselves caught up in the frenzy of buying gifts, giving gifts and returning gifts to the stores. One day we wake up and wonder whatever happened to Love, Hope, Joy and Peace.
I wish I could give you, my church family, at least one of these gifts of the season. If that were possible, which one would it be? Is one of them the key to possessing the others, or is it true that if you have enough of any one of them you'll have the other three? The longer I pondered these questions, the more certain I became that they are of equal importance and are so interconnected it would be impossible to have one without the others.
So it is I would leave you with a beautiful gift this Christmas season. Picture a shining silver mobile supporting four ornaments of different colors. Each is marked with one of these four words: Love, Hope, Joy and Peace. As it hangs glittering in our imagination, wonder of wonders, it is perfectly balanced.
Elaine Parker Akin
Tuesday, December 5 (Beth Wade)
Hope Is -
-- a newborn baby crying at birth
-- a bulb or seed planted in the ground
-- a smiling child looking at you with expectation
-- a jumping up and down excited dog when he sees you coming
-- a friend sharing your dreams
-- a vacation
-- sunshine and a double rainbow after a horrible storm
-- a song in laughter and in silence
-- a question expressing our doubt and our belief
-- an ending and a new beginning
-- a newborn baby born in a stable two thousand years ago
Wednesday, December 6 (Frank Woggon)
All That Stuff In God's Hands
Once in a while the voice of hope rises like a shooting star out of the dark--or, for that matter, out of a child's safety seat from the back of a car. It was during a week filled with disappointments and dissatisfaction when I heard that gentle voice driving down Hurstbourne Parkway. Old grief had been conjured up by some recent experiences, and I was wrapped up in my thoughts, when Hannah, our little theologian in residence, made herself heard, as she so often does. "Papa, God must have very big hands." I tune out of my thoughts into the challenge of the moment. "What makes you say that?" "Well, it's because God holds all that stuff–the whole world–in his hands," she states with a certainty that is beyond any questioning.
And instead of trying to claim my expertise and explain to her the nuances of God's involvement with this world, as I have learned about it in seminary, I choose to believe her and just say: "I think you're right, Hannah, God must have very big hands."
The image is a hopeful one for me: all the stuff that haunts me, hurts me, worries and confuses me–all of that and the good, the kind, and the generous, too, in God's hands. During the season of Advent I am reminded again that God is still on the way to reach out for us with hands big enough to carry us through, to guide our hope, heal our grief, and to hold safe our sometimes fragile faith. There is, of course, always the danger that the voice telling us about it from the backseat of the car is discredited as childish, naïve, or even crazy, while we are driving down the road ahead with adult determination. Yet, I trust that, when we hear it, our hearts will know.
Thursday, December 7 (Janet G. Tharpe)
(These reflections were prompted by an article titled, "I Thirst" by Wendy Wright in the July/August 2000 journal of Weavings.)
In the past few years it has become more and more difficult to satisfy my thirst for the transcendent God within the particular expressions of the church. Worship seems pedestrian and rings hollow. Music, that most sacred and treasured keeper of our personal and corporate faith journeys has become a battleground for conflicting liturgical styles. Issues divide us: denominational affiliation, church polity, homosexuality, the exercise of authority, family values and the gender of God in the language that we use. Building renovations and providing parking space divide us. The criteria for evaluating church leadership has come to be "are we functioning effectively as a corporation," not as a dynamic community of faith. And so, vision fragments. Passion wanes. The community grows cold. The center does not hold.
I have gone too long in the pew without an encounter with the Holy, too long without an experience of mystery and wonder washing over me. The landscape of my soul is a desert. I thirst for the Living God.
However, in this season of Advent, as we wait and lean in to the coming light, my hope is rekindled by the words of Isaiah and Matthew: thirst for God will be satisfied. Somewhere in the distance, a stream flows and gurgles. My efforts to reach it are insignificant compared to the distance the Living Water is willing to travel to me. For it will not be my small cup that will finally bring that Water to my parched lips, but the desires of the Water itself to slake my thirst that will fill my cup and overflow it.
In a stable, a rough wooden feeding-trough becomes a hollowed out place where my thirst, and the thirst of all who thirst for God, may meet God's own thirst for us in the Incarnation. Come, Lord Jesus.
Janet G. Tharpe
Friday, December 8 (Mary Ann Bootes)
And an Angel Appeared
Do you believe in angels?
I do! And so does my mother.
The setting was St. Francis Hospital Intensive Care in Memphis. Mother was at the lowest point of her illness both emotionally and physically. A colostomy had been performed to counteract the damage that had invaded her body. She had suffered the indignities of this invasive procedure. Staff was concerned and kind and she was a "good patient," but healing seemed not to come. Alone in her sterile room, she prayed often but was not at peace. She had much to live for, she loved her family, her flowers, her life. Doubts and fear appeared to have the upper hand. It was the dark night of her soul.
And an angel appeared...first as a shadowy outline, then an illumined image of light. It was beyond description, she said, this angel of my mother.
She does not doubt, neither do I.
And yes -- healing did come. It came in many different ways. Possibly the same as the announcement of the angels so many centuries ago. If but we have the eyes to see.
Mary Ann Bootes
Saturday, December 9 (Bob Brocious)
"And they came with haste. . . ."
Do you remember the very first scripture verse you ever memorized? I do. It has been stitched into my memory like a golden cord.
We were just little whippersnappers, my brother and I. Rosalie Griffin, a lady down the street, took a godly interest in our little souls and would stop by and pick us up and take us across town to Riverside Baptist Church. The pastor's name was Andy Anderson. Never will forget him or Rosalie. All of us boys in the Sunday School class were each given a verse to memorize for a Christmas program. We were to stand in front of all those adults and recite our verses like little human dominos, one after the other, in prescribed order.
I stepped forward and said, "And they came with haste and found Mary, Joseph and the babe, lying in a manger. Luke 2:16," and stepped back.
"And they came with haste. . . ." I can still hear the screech of the tires on my dad's car as he skidded to a halt before turning on to our street the day my mom died. He was rushing home from work after my phone call to tell him there was "a pool of blood around mom's head."
"And they came with haste. . . ." Police cars. Lots of police cars. Enough to catch a dozen bad guys. We watched from across the street at Mike and Nick's house. Not sure why they were in such a hurry. There was nothing for them to do but gawk then huddle up for quiet whispers in the front yard.
"And they came with haste. . . ." Andy Anderson, our pastor materialized before our blank eyes, like . . . like an angel. Where he came from or how he heard about our tragedy I'll never know. I can still see him sitting on our green Naugahyde couch holding my dad's wet and shaking hands, praying. He was God in our Midst. The calm center in a human hurricane. No answers. Just presence.
"And they came with haste. . . ." "Haste" means something. I know it in my bones. Someone you care about needs you and you can't get there fast enough. It's not much fun to be needy but the relief that washes over you when you know you're not alone any more. . . . It's priceless! Why did the shepherds hasten to the manger? Most think it was to gawk at the Christ child. I think they came to offer anything they had; their lives if necessary. Maybe it was just their presence. I can easily imagine the relief on Mary and Joseph's faces when they realized they weren't alone any more.
I know who two of the shepherds were. Andy and Rosalie.
Sunday, December 10 (Edward Thornton)
A Voice Of Peace
Responding to a challenge for Crescent Hill's Cornerstone Sunday School Class to write one's own version of a Psalm, I wrote,
Psalm 23 - From Within
The Lord is within me
stirring desire to see the tracks of the Spirit
to have courage to walk in Her way
whether at ease or in trouble
refreshed or exhausted
Her Spirit wakens my soul
Her guidance is good
When most fully awake, I am not afraid
of the darkest darkness
shadows of evil or death
Forced to face my failures
her confrontations comfort me
with self respect and second chances
Her name is generosity --
she vindicates and empowers extravagantly
as my center
loneliness and weakness wither
My future holds promise
of her Presence
Why not write your version of Psalm 23 now, listening to your inmost self?
Monday, December 11 (Wyc Rountree)
A Christmas Blessing
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel (Luke 2:30-32)
For those of us with small houses, Christmas brings with it the inevitable question of where to put the Christmas tree. For a number of reasons, our living room gets the honor: the sofa angles into previously open space, presents are stacked on bookshelves and the tree sits in front of the large world map hanging on the wall no matter what the furniture arrangement. Now that lights have returned to our tree – we didn't use them when our daughter was small – I sometimes sit in the living room at the end of the day and stare at the tree shimmering in the dark night. It relaxes me.
It also supplies some of the hope and peace which seem so sadly lacking in the frantic, consumption-driven days which make up the contemporary Christmas season. Illuminating towns and cities all over our world map are the lights reflecting off the Christmas tree; and I am reminded anew that Jesus didn't come into this world so that I could get the latest cellular telephone on his birthday, but he came as "light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel" as Simeon reminds us in his blessing.
My work at the Presbyterian Center constantly reminds me that this revelation continues to this day throughout the world: Mozambiquan refugees, who have experienced the generosity and kindness of Malawian Christians, return to Mozambique at war's end with a new faith in the grace and power of Jesus Christ; Romanian orphans who meet Christ in the words and actions of those who care for them in Christian children's homes; lowest caste Hindus whose future consists of handling garbage but who become no longer "untouchable" when they are embraced by the Jesus who holds all possibilities in his hands.
They too will be praising God this season and celebrating with us the birth of the same salvation which Simeon saw and which has been prepared for all peoples – even us.
Tuesday, December 12 (Louise Goff)
Hope, Love, Peace, Joy
These are the prizes we all want to see in our lives. In personal relationships with family, we strive to obtain these.
God gives us hope each time the seasons change, especially with the coming of spring each year. The trees leaf out, flowers with the brilliant colors, the rain that is necessary for all life. The miracle of new life in humans and all living things.
The love we have for our God and family and those in our community relationships is very important in all of our lives. The way we treat each other shows our love of God.
When we are sure of the love of God, we have peace of mind, body and soul. This peace can be passed on to those in all of our relationships.
When we have hope, love and peace, we have joy in all that we do.
God commands us that we love one another as he loves each of us and for us to follow Him in all that we do.
Ephesians 3:17-19, John 12:12
Wednesday, December 13 (Henlee Barnette)
God's Great Gift
God's gift of his son, Jesus the Christ, cannot be fully expressed in words. So the apostle Paul declares: "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift." (2 Corinthians 9:15, KJV) There is no language that can give full expression to the incarnation of God in Jesus. It is a wonder beyond words. Indeed, the Apostle had to coin a word for unspeakable (anekdiegetoi). It may be translated in many ways but none of them can ever capture the full meaning of God's gracious gift. So, let us give thanks --
........... for his indescribable gift (Goodspeed)
........... for his inexpressible gift (RSV)
........... for his unspeakable gift (KJV)
........... for his unsearchable gift (Romans 11:33, KJV)
........... for his inestimable gift (Good News)
........... for his indefinable gift
........... for his incredible gift
........... for his incomprehensible gift
........... for his inconceivable gift
........... for his unutterable gift
........... for the gift of Christ himself (John 3:16).
Thanks be to God for this wondrous gift. We can do this by exercising the gift that God has given us in terms of prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, generosity, leadership, acts of mercy, healers, helpers, administrators, evangelists, pastors and a host of others. (See Romans 12:6; I Corinthians 12:4-10, 12:28-30; Ephesians 4:11; I Peter 4:10-11.) Every Christian has at least one grace gift of which he or she is a steward.
Take the gift of teaching. In my hometown of cotton mills, there was a Sunday School teacher. He was crippled, had an eighth-grade education and stuttered when he talked. Out of his class came twenty-six persons who became ministers with college and seminary training. One of them was Wayne E. Oates, the internationally known scholar and writer. Also, hundreds of the teacher's students became leaders in their various professional roles.
When I asked this humble teacher how he "did it," he replied: "Well, I don't have much education, I can't talk very well; I'm not much to look at. I guess it's just because I gave God all I've got."
God has given us all He's got for our redemption in Jesus the Christ. Out of hearts of gratitude, we exercise our grace gifts for His glory.
Thursday, December 14 (Hilda Dean)
Bus Stop Meditation on Peace
As I walk to the bus stop this early morning
Heavy clouds blanket the sky-
Blocking out the light from the stars and the moon-
Making the way seem more dark and lonely.
But I know the stars are there,
Waiting for a break in the clouds
To give light to the path.
That's like you, O Lord-
I can't see you
But I know that you are there-
Waiting for a break in our crowded minds and hearts
Waiting for us to open up ourselves to you.
And while I wait for the bus, I am surrounded by your peace,
Even in the darkness.
Lord, in this season of Advent,
Help us to be more aware
of the peace and love that you give to us.
Prepare our hearts and minds for the event of Advent.
Help us to be able to say,
As with the wise men of old-
"We have seen his star in the East,
and have come to worship him (Matt. 2:2)."
Friday, December 15 (Fay Leach)
Hope, Peace, Joy, Love and Grief
Thanksgiving was her holiday – she never really cared for Christmas. Jerry coordinated Thanksgiving meals into extravaganzas. We became family to each other in an annual event shared from the time our children were tucked into their footed pajamas for the ride home, until now when they drive their own cars to the annual 3 o'clock gathering.
My special contribution to the meal was pies, sometimes baking as many as 15 on Thanksgiving morning. Tradition dictated the clearing of the table and everyone joining in a group walk before dessert.
Eighteen months ago, the diagnosis was cancer. Our friend Jerry went through 13 months of open heart surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, most of the time without any promise of cure. We met on July 4th to celebrate new hope based on recent test reports. But our hope for cure was in vain.
This is our first Thanksgiving without our friend. It has not been easy to decide how to celebrate this special holiday. It is a time of grief, remembering months of a faithful husband's care of his ailing wife and of the pain and grief at the loss of partner, mother and friend. Deaths, illnesses, and losses in 2000 have brought me an increased awareness that in the celebration of family-oriented traditions there often are empty chairs. The loss of a person like Betty Cook, whose life radiates Christ, leaves the deepest kind of void even while we are celebrating. Amidst the joy of Christmas Eve at Crescent Hill, Betty's spirit will be there. She embodied hope, peace, joy and love and I will miss her.
May the table of our church family be big enough to nourish and comfort all those who experience the pain of empty chairs during holiday celebrations.
Saturday, December 16 (Meme Tunnell)
The Sounds of Love
I live in a world of sound. I make my living in the world of sound, and with two teenagers, two dogs, two phone lines, and more than 30 musical instruments in our home, sound is a constant companion. The sounds coming from our house most often are sounds of musical harmony, although Mike and I both have moments when we wish our respective students could produce sounds slightly more harmonious.
But even more important to both of us are the sounds of the voices of our children. At any given moment we usually have several extra teenagers in our house, at our dinner table, draped across the sofa in the den, arriving, departing, arriving again. Their voices and laughter bring me such joy, and some of the most peaceful moments come from knowing where they are and that they are safe, at least for now. However, anyone who has a teenager knows that a teenage voice is not always the "voice of peace." At the worst moments, I have learned to remind myself that these voices will move on to other rooms someday. I'm experiencing a season of loss as I face all the "lasts" of having a high school senior.
In The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran warns us: "Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams."
So, I'm trying as hard as I can these days to memorize all the good sounds of a loud and chaotic house full of the business of the last years of raising children. And when we reach the doorway of their houses of tomorrow, the memories of their voices will give me the courage to let them go on with love.
Sunday, December 17 (Edward Thornton)
A Voice Of Joy
For me, a poem is usually a witness to an inner event which I am moved to share with others. I do not write to instruct, to convince, or to give advice. Sometimes my experience sounds strange, unorthodox, even shameful. If so, ignore it. Sometimes it catches a person's attention -- sheds light in a dark place, lifts a burden, strikes a spark of hope, peace, love and joy. If so, linger a while. Listen to your own inmost voice. Know you are having an Advent moment. You have tuned in God. (My words -- just a channel.)
My life and death hung in doubt
Doctor transfusing as last resort
Alone in a dark hospital room
Nor expected, not wanted
burst in room's left corner
filled full by spiritual
What, then, can one do for such joy?
Not a thing. It is a gift from God.
Monday, December 18 (John Birkimer)
Gifts of Christmas
It was a cold winter's night in December of 1952 as my brother and I rode our bikes down the "straight hill" toward the only Christmas tree lot still open in our small Ohio town. The hill was quite steep, and long, and we rode with great care. Christmas was just a couple of days away, and our Grandmother Johnson ("Mom" to us) had decided not to have a tree that year. We weren't sure why, assumed the problem was financial, and had resolved to surprise her. As children we knew everyone needed a Christmas tree.
We proceeded to the lot, bought the best looking of the few remaining trees, then began our trek to Mom's. Pushing our bikes and trying not to drag the tree, we slogged our way back up the straight hill, then on to Mom's house, where we entered triumphantly with our tree.
At my current age, I can well understand that Mom had decided the task of setting up a tree outweighed the joy it might bring. She would have been well within her rights to sigh and accept the tree with only measured grace. But of course she did no such thing. You would have believed that tree was made of gold! Mom thanked us so graciously, and made such a fuss over our gift, that only with the maturity of years did I come to recognize the gift she gave us that night, the gift of appreciating our desire to give over and above the (perhaps undesired) gift itself.
And so Christmas approaches, and we think of gifts given out of love and accepted out of appreciation or out of greater love. And we recall the Great Gift of Christmas, and we are grateful for that Love, and the new life He brought to us then and brings to us yet again.
John C. Birkimer
Tuesday, December 19 (Mera "Susie" Corlett)
Our Trek along Frankfort Avenue
Luke 2:13-14: Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to folk on whom God's favor rests."
Psalm 89: I will sing of the great love of God forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known to all people.
At this time of year, my family likes to spend time in the bars along Frankfort Avenue. All three of us agree that the hallmark of our holiday season comes as we bar (and restaurant) hop along the street that runs like a ribbon in front of our church. We anticipate the days when most of the windows of our Advent calendar have been opened, and expectation is palpable. From Porcini's to Genny's Diner, the streetlights and even stoplights blink a bright red and green as we make our traditional pilgrimage. I have discovered that my family looks best to me in this light. Kevin's eyes shine especially bright and Mera Kathryn's cheeks are painted rosy by the brush of the nighttime wind.
We are not alone. There's Rowan, the leader of this pack, and Darrell, who lends his voice to the cause. Reba shakes a few hands along the way, and Tina introduces us to neighbors that we may never have met. There's Tim, whom I met on a Colorado mountain more than 20 years ago and Thea with the voice and face of an angel. Over the years, others have joined our corps and have been welcomed with a mirth-filled "the more the merrier" attitude. Magi-like, we sojourn westward; our only gift is that of a song. Though our voices may never fill Carnegie Hall, we are legendary in places like Clifton Pizza, the Crescent Hill Firehouse, the Irish Rover and the Clothes Up and Personal laundry mat. Old regulars welcome our encore performances. New patrons are caught by surprise not unlike the startled shepherds on a Galilean hillside so many years ago. There are no words to express the magic that happens each time a buzzing restaurant crowd grows quiet, listening for the strands of a familiar carol. Some folk join in and sing along. Once the jazz band at Zephyr Cove provided accompaniment. A tear in the eye of a guy at a bar is not unheard of and neither are embarrassed grins from teenagers being serenaded as they rent videos.
A music scholar once described Christmas carols as "essential lullabies." I suppose it's not surprising, then, that our trek along Frankfort Avenue always brings a sense of joy and peace to us and to our neighbors. It has become for us an epiphany of hope, a human manifestation of Harmony Incarnate.
Prayer: Wonder of wonders, Miracle of miracles, we raise our voices and echo the song that swept over the earth. We celebrate that you have come into our world and into our hearts. May we share the Good News along the avenues of our lives that others may find You in grace along the journey. Amen.
Mera "Susie" Cossey Corlett
Wednesday, December 20 (William Johnson)
Emmanuel and the Hanging of the Green, 1999
One of our treasured traditions at Crescent Hill is the Hanging of the Green service as we begin Advent. Although the service has changed over the years, one abiding feature has been the bringing of food items to the sanctuary front as part of our worship. At this moment we all are the same, child, youth, adult. I am always amazed and moved by the power of this moment.
At last year's service I was in the foyer greeting folk as they arrived. Since the evening was warm, the back doors were open and the music and light of Advent spilled into the evening darkness. And then they appeared. "Our" Bosnian couple was coming up the front steps. And I pondered the first time I saw them, arriving from their torn country with nothing but each other and hope for a better life. Gratefully, to that daunting request to sponsor them we said yes, and you know the rest. Their story continues to be a wondrous miracle in process.
Now here they were with radiant faces, beaming smiles and armed with bulging sacks of canned goods. Their goodwill and joy spoke beyond measure.
Earlier that day, I, along with you, had sung that holy request, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." And now for me, the request was being fulfilled. As they bought their "gold, frankincense and myrrh", I sensed an epiphany, and experienced the very presence of Christ, God with us! Joy to the world!
William M. Johnson
Thursday, December 21 (Dorothy Spurr)
This meditation was written June 10, 2000, at a CHBC retreat led by Dr. E. Glenn Hinson. The path to our retreat house led through a stand of old walnut trees. They reminded me of those I had seen as a child at my grandmother's and of chilly November days long ago when we children cracked and shelled black walnuts for winter baking. That day last summer I saw in a certain walnut tree qualities of our life in Christ.
A certain walnut tree grows to her fullness
In a grove branching randomly
Reaching in all directions toward the light.
At first her limbs grow horizontal
In earth compassion
Then lift gently skyward.
Her solitary leaves joined on palm-branch fronds
Stir in wordless praise.
In autumn chill she brings forth fruit
Seasoned 'til blackened hull and
Rock-hard shell yield
To hammer-blows and patience
Digging rich meats
To flavor Christmas sweets
And grace our celebrations.
"And the tree grew and became strong, and it top reached to heaven and it was visible to the end of the whole earth." (Daniel 4:11)
Friday, December 22 (Cheryl Davis)
Joy to the World . . .
I can't deny it: I love everything about Christmas! I love going to parties, shopping for special gifts for loved ones, wrapping presents, decorating our tree, driving around looking at all the colorful, twinkling lights, sending cards, being with friends, singing carols (especially on Frankfort Avenue), watching our favorite Christmas specials (Charlie Brown, Rudolph and the Grinch), and even going to church! It's always busy, sometimes exhausting and usually hectic . . . but what a joy-filled time of year it is!
Of course, joy is at the heart of the season. In Listening to Your Life, Frederick Buechner has observed that "at its heart Christianity is joy, and laughter and freedom and the reaching out of arms are the essence of it . . . we can never take credit for our moments of joy because we know that they are not man-made . . . they come when they come. They are always sudden and quick and unrepeatable. The unspeakable joy sometimes of just being alive. The miracle sometimes of being just who we are with the blue sky and the green grass, the faces of our friends and the waves of the ocean, being just what they are. The joy of release, of being suddenly well when before we were sick, of being forgiven when before we were ashamed and afraid, of finding ourselves loved when we were lost and alone.
Joy is all-encompassing; there is nothing of us left over to hate with or to be afraid with, to feel guilty with or to be selfish about. Joy is a mystery because it can happen anywhere, anytime, even under the most unpromising circumstances, even in the midst of suffering, with tears in its eyes. Even the saddest things we experience can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead."
Isn't it a wonderful gift of grace, that Love has indeed found us and made us whole, healthy, free and joyful. Repeat the sounding joy!
Cheryl Davis, with a whole lot of help from Frederick Buechner!
Saturday, December 23 (Sharleen Birkimer)
E-I-E-I-O, it's Christmas Eve!
Crescent Hill, Christmas Eve, 1999. John's daughter and her family would not be with us for the first time since Molly was very young. Disappointed, we volunteered to help with child care, hoping to help others find joy that night.
As the little children began to arrive, we wondered where the paid workers were. Later we learned parking had been difficult. As the service neared and the crowd of little ones grew, parents asked "Are you sure you can handle one (two) more?" "Sure," we called. "We're okay." And we were.
Soon after the service began, we were up to full strength, all workers present. The children were wired! The excitement of Christmas Eve had touched them, even as one- and two-year olds. After a few minutes of play they began to become restless. We helped them build towers, kick balls, and slide on the slide, but even these grew tiresome. Then I decided to try singing. "Silent night, holy night, all is calm..." and all was calm and quiet; the children did not know this carol. "Away in a Manger." No response!
After a couple more faulty efforts, lightning struck. I began one of their favorites, one they called "Eyi-eyi o". This is their version of "E-I-E-I-O. We sang "Old McDonald had a farm, eyi-eyi-o", the children joining in vigorously. We began to dance along to the song. Horses, chickens, sheep, animals galore, we sang and danced. Then Mark McClintock came by, grinned, and told us parents were on their way. The children sensed wonder that beautiful night. And for them, so young, Old McDonald, and much else of life, is filled with wonder. But there were sheep and donkeys at that first Christmas, too, and wonder enough for all. So we all dance on with the children, and the animals, and the wonder of Christmas Eve.
Sharleen Johnson Birkimer
Sunday, December 24 (Edward Thornton)
A Voice Of Love
Birding below the Ohio River Dam
Metallic green with golden bill
a mallard probes the waters edge
Following close, his mottled brown
mate twitches her white pin tail
as they privately cruise a cove
in harmony, unruffled by
gusts of rain on a winters' day
On a bluff above
I hold them in a binocular circle
where we three become one
Unseen, unknown by them
I bless them
with benevolent looking*
I leave elated by the eerie
mystery in my binoculars
but stumble looking back
wistful to bridge the gap
*a contemplative discipline, akin to intercessory prayer
Monday, December 25 (Peggy Schmidt)
3 A.M. Christmas Morning, 1999...
I jumped up from a sound sleep when someone knocked quickly on the bedroom door. The hall light was on and my niece, Anne-Britton Arnett Flecke, stood smiling, dressed, hair done, pink pillow under one arm and her hand outstretched. Between those two arms protruded her nine month pregnant belly.
"It's time. We need your car keys...to juggle cars...we're headed to the hospital. We'll call you later."
First call was to say "We're staying...the word is this baby is ready to join us." Next phone call was to say "Won't be long now...better hurry on up here." Then there was a series of short "update calls." And the incredibly long trip across town to wait for the arrival of our Christmas baby.
Amazing, how God sends babies on a heavenly schedule – but a Christmas birth is nothing short of a miracle. Arriving at the hospital, we were met by a jubilant new father and promptly led in to see our very special, 17-minute-old, Christmas gift. Swaddled in that hospital newborn uniform (pink and blue receiving blanket), Morgan Wray Flecke lay in her mother's arms. Carolyn, now know as "Gram," gently kissed her daughter and then her granddaughter. Then, as family crowded closely around the bed, Gram lifted Morgan Wray, peered in her tiny face, hugged, snuggled, loved and blessed her.
Next, she turned to "granddad" John and adjusted the tiny bundle in what looked like oversized hands. From one pair of hands to another, Uncle David whispered his blessing and love for her. There were kisses and long gazes as she was passed, slowly, reverently, from each set of loving arms to the next, receiving her first family welcome and series of blessings...yes, her first "laying on of hands." And then she was returned to the arms of her father and mother – as we all stood in a circle of love, sending the message, "Welcome to the World! Welcome to our Family!"
Prayer: Dear God! It is truly Christmas! Thank you for a way to share not only a birthday with Jesus but also to share the "hurry up and wait" of the journey and the awesome Peace when God joins our lives on Christmas Day!!!
Tuesday, December 26 (Beth Ryan)
I Will Never Forget You
She enters my office and stands quietly until I look up and ask, "May I help you?" New to this particular job site, I'd noticed this woman, an employee, staring at me several times before as I'd walked down the hallway, yet when I'd made eye contact, she had quickly turned away.
"I know you," she now says in a subdued, but firm voice. "We went to grade school together." I look closely into her face, scanning back into the foggy realm of long-ago grade school days, searching for some familiarity in her features, yet find to my embarrassment that I have no clue to her identity.
"Yes, I know you, your name is Beth," she says, "and I'm Freda. We both went to George Rogers Clark Elementary School and one year we were in the same Girl Scout troop."
Freda. The name rings a bell and I vaguely recall a tall, reserved African-American girl by that name and realize that the tall woman before me is the same. I nod slowly and say, "Yes, I do remember that."
"I will never forget you," she continues in a soft, but concentrated voice. "We were on a camping trip and a group of girls called me a 'nigger' and told me I couldn't stay in the same tent with them." Her eyes flash with intensity in the telling of what had most certainly been a painful moment in her past. Our gazes lock and she says, "And you were the one who took up for me."
We talk for a while about grade school days, and then she leaves. The words, "I will never forget you," circle around in my thoughts and I am humbled that an incident in my life which I could only vaguely recall had been of defining importance in hers.
Meeting Freda some thirty years further down life's path causes me to wonder how my words over the span of my lifetime have both healed and hurt others. Suddenly I am awed at the recognition of the personal power we each have as individuals to collectively transform this world in small but significant ways.
Wednesday, December 27 (Mary Frances Owens)
Love Makes a Difference
"Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fatted ox
and hatred with it." (Proverbs 15:7, RSV)
In the past we could walk down the grocery aisle without feeling compelled to read the nutrition facts on the products. This freedom disappeared with the health warnings of recent years. Now we complain that if the product is low fat, it is high sodium; if not, the sugar content is too high. Some of the fun of cooking and eating is gone.
In truth, however, it is the harmony of the family, not what is served at the table, that makes a meal enjoyable. Family conflicts can have a devastating effect on mealtime pleasure. Even the most elaborate dinner loses its appeal when family members are hostile toward each other.
When J.J. and I were newlyweds, our menus depended on what was cheapest to buy that week. Furthermore, our small oven had only two settings, "off" and "on." Thus the food was often burned on the bottom and raw on top. Surprisingly, though, the quality and variety of the food didn't matter much. Mealtime was a time of joy because we loved each other.
Proverbs 15:17 points to the truth that a meal's success depends more on the attitude of those around the table than on what is served. Even a fat ox (a luxury) lost its flavorful taste when the ones to whom it was served weren't in harmony. Wealth may put fine food on the table, but it doesn't guarantee an enjoyable meal. Lack of family harmony can spoil the most elegant dinner.
Christmas dinner is a good time to remember the importance of harmony with our earthly family and our heavenly Father. Festive Christmas dinners are fine, but loving relationships, not fancy food, are what really matters.
Mary Frances Owens
Thursday, December 28 (Chuck Leach)
Breathe In; Breathe Out
Someone has misquoted, a bit hopefully I think, "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, but if you're really good I might let you watch." There is enough Jerry Springer in me that I do, from time to time, hope for a good old fashioned Judgment Day. But I'm aware it takes a lot of energy to be adversarial, and it rarely brings people closer to God. Being a militant Christian never brought peace to me or anyone I have known; it has brought only conflict and major stress. So I – and many others like me – have found need for stress reduction.
Many people use relaxation exercises to achieve this goal. Typically these exercises go something like, "Breathe deeply and comfortably. As you inhale breathe in comfort, relaxing deeply. As you exhale, breathe out tension. Let it flow away."
I understand there is a Buddhist breathing exercise that goes this way: "Breathe in the poison; hold it in your heart and let your heart purify it; then let it out to change the world." I was stunned to hear that, and realized that is exactly what the coming of the Christ was all about.
Mahatma Gandhi was asked "What is the difference between you and Christians?" He replied, "I believe Jesus meant it." Gandhi reputedly would not use the word "love" because it has so many meanings it means nothing. He was more likely to talk about "non-violence." Love probably does have too many meanings to communicate clearly, but it is still a good idea to try to live it. Perhaps non-violence is a starting place where we absorb hate and hurt, transform it, and breathe out love.
We are not to be simply survivors but rather to be agents of change. We are to be neither aggressor nor victim; we are to be active means of healing.
(Matt. 15:10-11 NIV) Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen and understand. What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'" (Matt. 12:35 NIV) The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.
Friday, December 29 (Ron Sisk)
I was about seven, the age my son is now. And we were going to Grandma's for Christmas! For some kids, that's routine. But for me it was a once-in-a-childhood adventure.
My mother was one of thirteen, and, though we lived too far away to make it regularly, the clan still gathered in those days, drew names for presents, and exchanged food and laughter around Grandma's thoroughly old-fashioned tree.
The big family custom, though, was the gold house slipper. One ancient spray-painted shoe made the rounds, passed on appropriately disguised from last year's big winner to this year's amid the roars of the crowd. It being my first time, of course, I didn't know the custom. So I was mystified to drag this thing from my package, with cousins giggling all around me and aunts and uncles exchanging knowing smiles.
I was a little hurt at first. Why would anybody give me this stupid old shoe? But then somebody explained. And I realized what it meant. It was a badge of acceptance. This crowd was my crowd. I really was part of the family.
A lot of Christmases have come and gone since then – happy and sad and bittersweet. Some of them memorable and some of them not. But I've never felt more loved than I did that year at Grandma's house, singing carols around the tree and clutching that dilapidated old slipper. I was home. I was loved. I was part of the family.
Saturday, December 30 (Glenna Hess)
Baby Jesus in the Manger
Baby Jesus in the manger,
See him sleeping on the hay.
Mary sings and gently rocks him.
He is born on Christmas Day.
Each year when I hear our preschoolers sing this simple song, I am reminded of what this season is truly about. The clear, pure voice of a child singing this song reflects the hope of us all, fills our hearts with love, makes us smile with joy and gives us peace within ourselves.
To think that it was a tiny child for whom the world was waiting. A child, born into our hearts to help us find our way. A child whose life would offer us hope, love, joy and peace.
Sunday, December 31 (Gaye Rountree)
Lessons at the Creche
"They hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and they saw the baby
lying on a bed of hay." Luke 2:16 (CEV)
At our house you never know where you'll find the sheep; they tend to move around quite a bit. Sometimes they watch the baby Jesus sleep. Sometimes they are in the manger with Jesus – maybe he's cold. Sometimes they are not paying one bit of attention to what's going on around the manger. We have even found one of them sitting on the head of a wise man. You just never know from day to day where the sheep will be.
By the same token, you never know where the other "characters" in the story will be. Sometimes they join the sheep in looking at Jesus. Sometimes they all line up on either side of the manger, facing the horizon, as if they are joining the baby in welcoming the dawn of a new day. Sometimes Mary is lying down as if she is tired and in need of a nap. Sometimes only the sheep and the shepherd huddle around the manger while Mary and Joseph join the wise men in another huddle on the other side of the table – maybe they are cold and need the warmth of the fire. Or maybe they are discussing what to do about old Herod. Sometimes everyone in the story stands in their traditional positions. Sometimes the angel choir from the other table migrates to the creche and joins in the celebration.
Emma took on the role as arranger of the nativity scene when she first discovered it at the age of two. She was enchanted by the hand carved wooden figures. She immediately moved everyone into a straight line all facing the same direction -- toward Jesus. She told us they were "watching the baby sleep in the crib." And then she added an additional character. She went and found Bhe Bear, her comfort and security, and added him to the line so that he could watch the baby sleep, too. Satisfied, she went off to play.
And I have had to ask myself – am I willing to bring my "comfort and security" and leave them there with the baby who will grow up to be the savior of the world? Is it only in relinquishing our earthly comforts and securities into the hands of God that we can truly discover our ultimate comfort and security are with God?
And what about those sheep that keep moving around? Do I need periodically to rearrange my images of that first Christmas, not to change the story, but to see it in a new light? After all, the story of Christ isn't static. The first Christmas was only part of a dynamic story which is still unfolding.
Prayer: Dear God, Help me to see the story of your love with new eyes every day. Help me be willing and able to bring my comforts and securities and to leave them in your presence, knowing that you hold me securely in your arms. Amen.
Gaye Tyner Rountree
Monday, January 1 (Rick Forest)
In the spring of 1974 I was a junior in high school living in Germany. Through my school I had the opportunity to spend a week in Bacharach, on the Rhine River, attending a music seminar composed of German and American students. When we arrived we were given music that we had never seen before. Stravinsky, Orff, this was pretty tough stuff. In addition, we were led by several German and American conductors. At the end of the week we were expected to perform this music in concert. As I recall, it sounded pretty good. But the point is that despite the language barrier and the difficulty of the material, we came together with a common goal and completed the task. Our differences blended into a complex harmony that was a wonder to behold in the music we made and the relationships that we formed.
At Crescent Hill we have our differences. We differ in age, wealth, theology and social standing. At times I wonder if we even speak the same language. But we also have much in common. We agree to come to this place to worship, serve and learn. We serve the same Lord. And at heart, I think that we agree on many of our fundamental beliefs. It is both the differences and the commonalties that make Crescent Hill such a rich place to worship. It is our history and our future to be a place where a diverse group of people can work for the same goals in harmony, and make a little music in the process.
Hope (Carlie Fogg, Philip Hess, Joelle Leiferman, Caitlin Goodhue, Brandon Davis)
Our group had many different ways of expressing hope, like having faith in God because he loved/loves us and by believing in God.
Hope is related to Christmas because we were hoping for the Messiah to come, and he came, and our hope was fulfilled.
--- Carlie, Philip, Joelle, Caitlin, Brandon
Peace (Charles Gritton, Casey Henry, Hilary Hoomes, Chris Jones)
When there is peace there is no arguing between anyone or anything. Everything is calm when there is peace -- without disturbance. When two groups interact without conflict, they are in peace. The dove represents peace.
--- Charlie, Casey, Hilary, Chris
Joy (Courtney Chase, Mera Corlett, Drew Smith, Michael Conver)
Joy suggests happiness and bright colors like those of a parrot, the songs of a nightingale or the humor of a "Tweety Bird." Joys come when we have a good time and when good things happen to friends. Joy sets the stage for love.
--- Courtney, Mera, Drew, Michael
Love (Sarah Buster, Leigh White, Ben Creech, Morgan Vanhoose, Elizabeth Jones)
To love is to respect and to honor family, friends, God and life. Love is the best taste left by the Christmas season which helps us into the new year. God loved us and leads us into Life.
--- Sarah, Leigh, Ben, Morgan, Elizabeth
This book is a result of the cooperative effort of the members of Crescent Hill Baptist Church. The writings of our members make this book possible.
Special thanks to Edward Thornton for his pieces on hope, peace, joy and love.
This year, the solicitation, compilation, editing, layout, proofreading and copying were a joint effort of Lelia Gentle, Janet Cole and our wonderful office staff.
Cover design by Colleen Burroughs
Advent 2000 © 2000 by Crescent Hill Baptist Church, 2800 Frankfort Avenue, Louisville, KY 40206. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the publisher.
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