Crescent Hill Baptist Church
A Journey of the Heart
Advent is the season of preparation for Christmas. It is not to be confused with the celebration of Christmas or in the commercial and secular activities of the pre-Christmas season. Advent means “to prepare,” and this preparation has a three fold meaning. We prepare for Christmas 2005 and its yearly celebration of Christ’s coming to earth. In addition, we celebrate the coming of Christ into our hearts and our hope in the second coming of Christ to serve the earth.
Advent has traditionally and historically been a celebration of Christmas in the church as well as in the family and private devotions, and it came to Crescent Hill in such a way. In the mid-1960’s, a Swedish family, in Louisville at the Seminary and members here for those years, brought their family Advent Wreath custom to us, and since then we have joined them and Christians around the world in this tradition and celebration of this important Christian event.
The Advent wreath is made of greenery, which is the symbol of Christian growth. The circular form represents eternity. Our preparation should be a serious time for preparation because we are celebrating the fact that Christ has come and we are soon to celebrate His first coming at Christmas.
As you begin this Advent season we urge you to make a wreath to use with the reading of the meditations which include a Scripture and a prayer.
So, gather greens and candles and enjoy the symbolism of the Coming of the Light into your life during these weeks. Do this knowing that you share the moment with your extended family of the church. We pray that each of us may gather some fresh insights and rekindle old commitments as we all make ready for that holy night.
The beginning of a new day
The beginning of a new adventure
The beginning of a new chapter of life
a new baby
a new friendship
a new family
A light coming from darkness
Faith coming from doubt.
Hope is taking the first step and accepting grace.
Dear Lord, thank you for your love and your hope and most of all, for your grace. Amen
Scripture: Hebrews 1
Sunday, November 27, 2005
Hope for a Hope-less World
Scripture: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”—Colossians 1:27
We have heard many times the “Litany of Hopelessness” for our country and world. The elements of the litany may vary from time to time and place to place, but usually included are: the dividedness of people over the war in Iraq and other social/political issues, the oppression and exploitation of various groups, natural disasters and the accompanying human misery, the fear of diseases such as AIDS and bird flu, economic uncertainty, the crime rate, decay of inner cities, abuse of drugs, moral/ethical failures of trusted leaders, etc.
How is it possible to deal in constructive and healthy ways with hopelessness? The gaining or regaining of hope is not always easy to predict or analyze, but one key step may be the refusal to accept easily a verdict of “hopeless.” The world of sports provides many examples of athletes who persevered in seemingly hopeless situations. For example, on February 15, 1994, the University of Kentucky basketball team trailed L.S.U. 37 to 68, yet won 99 to 95.
Another key ingredient in the struggle against hopelessness may be a relationship with someone who embodies hope. A chess Grandmaster visited an art museum and enjoyed many of the works of art. However, he returned many times to a painting titled “Checkmate.” The painting showed a player who was about to resign in defeat—all hope was gone. After much study, the Grandmaster exclaimed, “Don’t give up –there is a way out.” Because of his experience and wisdom, the Grandmaster could offer hope.
Our leader in the struggle against hopelessness is Jesus Christ. By refusing to accept defeat, He transformed the blackness of crucifixion into the dazzling brightness of Easter. Because He experienced life as we experience it, but without failure, He is able to help and encourage us in our times of hopelessness (Hebrews 4:15-16).
Prayer, in the words of Georgia Harkness:
Hope of the world, Thou Christ of great compassion,
Speak to our fearful hearts by conflict rent.
Save us, Thy people, from consuming passion,
Who by our own false hopes and aims are spent.
--Paul M. Debusman
Monday, November 28, 2005
Scripture: “For I know that my Redeemer lives.” Job 19:25 (RSV)
The first season in Advent is hope. The word hope permeates both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, the hope of the Israelites resided in God. The section on hope in the Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (IDB) states four attitudes the Israelites had about hope (p. 641). They trusted in God for protection (Job 11:18). They took refugee in him for deliverance from their enemies (Ps. 5:11). They expected future gladness, which lead to present rejoicing (Prov.10:28). They learned patience in the midst of adversity (Ps. 31:24).
In the New Testament, in Luke-Acts, hope is “the desire and expectation of a Messiah who will redeem Israel (Luke 24:21)” (IDB, 1962, vol. E-J, p. 642). This is the interpretation that Handel gives to Job 19:25 in his choral work Messiah. Since this was done after Jesus’ birth and resurrection, it is hard not to apply this interpretation.
Reading several translations gives a better idea of what the word redeemer in this passage means. The RSV footnotes this word as Vindicator; as well as several other modern translations. The Jerusalem Bible has Avenger. Job wanted an “advocate” or “champion” who would represent him, as in a court of law, and testify to his innocence before God. Through all of his suffering and agony, which his three “friends” thought was because by some sin, Job never lost faith in God and hoped that his relationship with God would be restored. David Hester in his bible study on Job says, “only faith dares shout at God so loudly and accuse God so boldly. Only faith can feel forsaken by God. And only faith can hope against hope that beyond divine silence there is presence and beyond incomprehensibility, meaning” (p. 76).
Today we place our hope in Jesus Christ, our true redeemer, who was born in a manger and died on a cross so we can have renewed fellowship with God.
Prayer: Thank you gracious Lord for the birth of your son Jesus, our savior and redeemer.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Learning To Trust
Scripture: “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8
Many times my mother told me that the first question I asked was “Why?” I do know that I always seemed to have a curiosity about cause and effect. Even in geometry class I wasn’t satisfied to memorize theorems without wanting to reason them out. In my adult years as a parent, I have come to believe that mom didn’t really literally mean “why?” was my first question. She probably was expressing her frustration at my wanting explanations when she told me to do something or gave me information I needed.
As an adult I still want to know “why?” Why do people have cancer? Why do little babies need surgery? Why is our world so violent? In life’s difficult times, I have found some of life’s most precious gifts; the love and support of my family and friends, the joy of watching a hummingbird and the value of many simple everyday experiences. I do not have answers to these questions, but when I scoop up all of my life’s lessons, the faith that I hold, and stories shared by fellow pilgrims, there is one step more – learning to trust even when I do not fully understand.
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
(Jennifer Johnson Armstrong)
It is Christmas again, already! Each year it comes seemingly more quickly than the year before. The calendar continues to flip and all of a sudden, it is December. Each year at least one person asks me to recollect a favorite Christmas memory or a favorite gift. I would love to give a simple answer to this question, but for me, my Christmas memories resemble a collage in my mind: some memories overlap, some are more pronounced and some, though faint, provide a strong foundation for memories to come.
As a child, Christmas could not come soon enough. It seemed to take an eternity to arrive. Little details became annual reminders of Christmas’s arrival: the scent of a wood-burning fireplace, the warm glow of an electric candle in my bedroom window, my fascination with ribbon candy, making a “wish list” for Santa, and riding in the family car to our grandparent’s house for dinner after the Christmas Eve service. I don’t remember all the gifts I received, but I embraced the presence surrounding me…the love, the joyful voices, the warmth during the mid-bleak winter, and the hope of another Christmas to come.
As a youth, the same Christmas reminders remained, but more poignant events began shaping Christmas memories for me. In Acteens at Crescent Hill, we made calendars for church members. All donations went to provide for an Angel Tree child, a tradition we cherished and looked forward to every year. We were able to provide Christmas presents for at least four or five children each year, and we had so much fun! Most of all, it was rewarding: an experience that profoundly changed me for the good. I learned that I could help, and that Christmas meant more when helping others and providing hope where hope seemed lost.
This memory of offering help and hope points me to what God did at Christmas. God provided the world help and hope in the gift of the Christ Child In sending the baby, Jesus, God taught us how to know and love God better and how to know and love and help others better. And for certain, the Christ child was and is hope to a world where hope seems lost.
May the Christ of love and hope, peace and joy shine in the heart of your Christmas memories.
--Jennifer Johnson Armstrong
Thursday, December 1, 2005
To an Adventuring God
The word Advent refers to the coming or arrival of Jesus. In looking toward Advent this year, it occurred to me to wonder how the words “Advent” and “adventure” might be related. I turned to “Google” and the Internet to see what I could find. Among the offerings were:
The adventure story is one that has to have something happen. There has to be action and conflict within this type of story. The author has to have the reader identify with a character in the story in order to “draw them in.”
- a gamble: take a risk in the hope of a favorable outcome
- a wild and exciting undertaking (not necessarily lawful)
Adventure—a risky undertaking, or a remarkable and exciting experience.
[Middle English aventure, from Old French, from Latin advent?rus, future participle of adven?re, to arrive.]
It seems to me that there is a disparity between the meaning of the root word, “arrival,” and what the word “adventure” has come to mean. We think of “going on” or “setting out” on an adventure, not arriving.
Perhaps we can’t “arrive” until we set out.
God set out on an adventure when God arrived/enfleshed/incarnated in Jesus. God became a character in our story with whom we can identify, who draws us into a wild and exciting undertaking.
Because of Advent, Jesus’ arrival among us, God invites us into God’s own adventure. God wants to adventure with us into the world as we seek to walk in the way of Jesus.
God, help us see the exciting adventure you’re up to in the world. Help us discover our part in your story.
Friday, December 2, 2005
Scripture: Then Samuel took a stone, set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and said: “The Lord has helped us all the way”—and he named it Ebenezer “Stone of Help . . .”
I Samuel 7:12
Some years ago I read an article about the history and symbolism associated with the Christmas tree. One writer suggested naming your tree “an Ebenezer” to symbolize how the Lord has helped you/us. The Ebenezer described in I Samuel was established to remind the Israelites that God had help them defeat the Philistines. The second verse of the great hymn: “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” reads “Here I raise my Ebenezer hither by thy help I come”--a reference to Ebenezer in I Samuel. So each year, when I erect my Christmas tree, I place a sign on its branches that reads: “Here I raise my Ebenezer: God with us.”
Across the years I’ve had all manner of Christmas trees. I remember the year Mother sent my colorblind brother to buy a tree. Her brought home a beautiful tree; however, it was most brown. We couldn’t afford another tree so we sprayed it with green paint and still enjoyed it. My first tree in my first apartment after college was a real trip. I thought it likewise lovely but by Christmas all the needles had fallen off. It looked like something out of the Adams family—bare branches with lights and ornaments hanging down. Big or little, real or artificial, cheap or expensive—each time, no matter its state, on goes the sign. It reminds me over and over of how God, through his son, has established the ultimate Ebenezer.
Dear Lord, helps us to remember that through the tinsel, trees, lights and festivities of Christmas that the real gift is your beloved Son.
Saturday, December 3, 2005
Guardian Carpenter Angels
On this All Saints Day Sunday, I give thanks for all those friends in the faith who’ve moved on to join the celestial choir of angels and anticipate being reminded in about seven weeks of that other angelic choir which announced the birth of Jesus one night long ago. Those choirs of angels continue to be our guardian angels today — blessing us and encouraging us to keep on at the tasks that God sets before us.
One of Jesus’ early tasks was to assist his father Joseph in his carpenter’s shop. Not only did he learn how to build furniture from raw lumber but he learned the role of the carpenter in repairing broken furniture as well. It may well be that during those years of being a mender of wood he once again heard the guardian angels suggesting God eventually would want him to be a mender of people.
In the fullness of time, Jesus again heard the voice of God which led him into the wilderness following his baptism. There again, the guardian angels continued to encourage him and following his forty days, “the carpenter’s son” emerged as the great mender. Eventually God would lead him to the level of Master Carpenter and use him as the agent of forgiveness for all the sins that break down lives.
Today, Jesus joins with the great host of guardian angels—encouraging us to accomplish those tasks of creativity and re-construction God gives us the opportunity to perform.
Let us sing with the angelic host, “Glory to God in the highest and Peace on earth to those who are willing to do some good . . .” despite our imperfections.
God, thank you for our guardian carpenter angels who help us tend to this world you’ve given to us.
sitting in front of a warm fire on a cold rainy night reading a book or talking to a friend;
awakening and knowing all is well with your personal world;
knowing that you have done the best that you could do at that particular moment;
knowing that you are accepted just as you are with all of your warts;
sharing time and experiences with your best friend;
listening to favorite music;
reading a favorite book;
walking on the beach;
sitting in the backyard swing.
Dear Lord, Thank you for your peace and understanding.
Scripture: Philippians 4:7
Sunday, December 4, 2005
God’s peace enters my life in unique and unexpected ways. June 22, 1977, is one such example. I grew up in an older home in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and I came to know the problems related to living in an older home. An annual chore was “cleaning out the sewer lines” of the roots that had grown in them. We knew the time for cleaning had come when we discovered clogged sinks and heard gurgling sounds. I was always willing to dig down to the sewer pipes, but my father had the “wonderful opportunity” of doing the dirty work. But June 22nd was different, for on the morning of June 21st my father died, and June 22nd brought grief, anger, loss, and “gurgling.” At 7:30 a.m. on that morning, it was no longer my responsibility to only dig, but also to do the cleaning. In the midst of my digging, God’s graceful word of peace entered the scene helping me to know that God was with me, even in the shoveling of the dirt. The comedy of digging and cleaning somehow refocused the reality of death.
The realism of life reminds us that joy and sorrow are often closely related. I am glad that God’s presence interrupts the chaotic, messy moments to share the word of peace. Indeed, God’s peace and the way it comes “passes understanding.”
Remind us, O God, that Your peaceful word can transform our most difficult moments. Help us to be Your agents of peace in a troubled world.
Monday, December 5, 2005
A Measure of Peace
For my nephew Jon “Radio” Elliott
and all the troops of the The Battle for Fallujah, Iraq
Warriors are they and mighty:
Helmeted, flak-jacketed, armed.
Each one before this battle
Writing his “kill number”
On torso, limbs and forehead,
In case he meets Death
and is not left intact.
Mighty are they and frightened:
On the threshold
Of this mission, orders are:
Remove insurgents from
Close quartered battlefields,
Previously the private homes
Of families that have fled.
Frightened are they
Weary heart and soul
Of boots treading bloody streets;
Of buddies forever fallen;
Of war’s ever-present stench;
Of an illusive enemy who
Blends randomness and death.
“Sing, Radio,” they whisper,
“Sing us those songs you know.”
So softly, in a baritone still boyish,
He raises his face and voice:
“Amazing grace, how sweet. . .”
Followed by “It is well with my soul…”
And for a moment
There is a measure of peace
In the midst of hell.
O God, in this season of your birth, help us comprehend the Peace You extended to us in Jesus. Amen
Tuesday, December 6, 2005
“In Him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”—John 1:4-5
It was just a small metal model of a church, a chapel really, with snow on the evergreen bushes around the sides and a red brick exterior leading up to a bell tower. But a light burned inside, a small yellow Christmas tree light, and it shone through the fake stained-glass windows with a great allure for the eight or nine year old boy I was then. The hardware store near the center of my small town featured this along with some other Christmas decorations that December so many years ago, and I visited it many days leading up to Christmas itself, admiring the little church and the inviting glow emanating from its windows.
Over the years since then, I‘ve often been drawn to such little churches, plastic during the 60’s and 70’s, ceramic now, all with their ersatz stained glass windows issuing that inviting glow. Were they just symbolic of Christmas for me, or did they suggest something I was drawn to, perhaps seeking, over those many years?
On Christmas Eve now, in our own church, as we join together holding our small candles and singing “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright,” I think of the light shining through our real stained glass windows, and the sound of our singing the old hymn, and my mind moves outside the church and looks back toward it, momentarily small and glowing, and I’m drawn to it again, this time a real church with real people inside. And I find myself full of gratitude, and joy, and peace.
May the light, and the joy, the gratitude, and the peace of Christmas remain with us throughout the year, and across the years of our lives.
--John C. Birkimer
Wednesday, December 7, 2005
Oh, Little Star . . .
While struggling recently with some deep pain because of some difficulties with a dear friend, I have been keenly aware of wishing desperately to know the right thing to do. My parents used to freely tell me what to do, and even though that didn’t sit very well with me as I do miss the certainty of it, whether they were right or not.
As I have wrestled with this a tiny light has been slowly creeping in, in the form of a Buddhist concept that to me is strikingly like things Jesus said:
Close your eyes and breathe, gently, deeply.
Breathe in the pain and hurt, the toxins and confusion;
Purify them with you heart and
Breathe out pure love.
These words don’t really tell me what to do, but they do give me some hints on how to do whatever it is I do.
Jesus didn’t say, “Come to me for salt,” but “You are the salt.” He didn’t say, “Come soak up my light,” but “You are the light.” That challenges everything in me, and sometimes feels overwhelming, and that there is no way to rise to that. But it seems like a very good idea to try, and keep trying.
Oh, Little Star of Bethlehem,
Be born in me
Thursday, December 8, 2005
(Mera Cossey Corlett)
Luke 2:19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
Greetings favored one! I suppose it was bound to come to this. My momma always said that you can’t stir beets without getting a bit of red on you. I have studied at St. Meinrad, had a priest as one of my best friends, and prayed the rosary with Catholic patients for years. I suppose that it was just a matter of time before you were a part of an epiphanic moment. Don’t get me wrong. I am no Julian of Norwich, no Bernadette of Lourdes. I will not be inviting seekers to make pilgrimages to Fourth and Breckinridge. Presentation Academy’s chapel is far too small to accommodate a throng. Nonetheless, there you were. Hands outstretched in love, face filled with compassion, looking down on our seventeen year old, the first-ever Baptist Student Council President at a Catholic girls school. She and her friends had just returned from Kordes and were reporting on their Senior Retreat.. Their faces beamed like Moses’, their hands anxious to get on with building the Kingdom of God. I saw her, stained in gleams of crayola glass, beneath an icon, feet fastened so that your hands appeared to be placed on her shoulders, left and right. I saw her anew, as did I you. And we were connected by some mystic bond. Yes, she and I, but you and me, too. At three, losing her for five minutes in the Disneyworld Emporium nearly scarred me for life. Didn’t you just want to shake him when you found him in the temple? Didn’t you and Joseph consider career counseling when he told you his plans? I mean, pondering things in your heart is great, but getting a good therapist is under-rated. That day, I reckoned that sending her off to college was a cinch compared to the road your boy chose. And I exhaled. Later, she asked me if it was “theologically alright” for her to sing “Ave Maria” at the school Christmas concert….being Baptist and all. I told her that when my friend Mary Burks-Price was interviewed by Time Magazine about her veneration of you, the local seminary president, rebuked her. Oh, well………”Sing out, Louise!” Dear, dear mother of Jesus, turn an ear toward earth on the evening of December 8th. You might even hear me, humming along.
With deep love and great gratitude for your faithful devotion,
Mera Cossey Corlett
Holy Jesus, Son of God, son of Mary, In this holy season and always, may we hear the words of your mother, and set them as a seal upon our hearts: “Whatever He says to you, do it.” Make it so. Amen.
Friday, December 9, 2005
(Carol J. Phipps)
“Do not be afraid.”
The leaves were slow in changing this Autumn. I was looking forward to seeing the brilliant colors yet still felt myself slumped, waiting for change. Then a mailbox key appeared in my little box one day this September. Something was waiting in an adjoining larger mailbox requiring the key. I poked out a lip, “hum, I wonder what that can be?” A large, 14 x 24 x 5 inch white box had come from Pennsylvania. What could be in such a big box this time of year? To my surprise, Jean had boxed up all the letters and drawings, poems, pictures I had composed when I was a foster child in their home (1964 –1974). A personal note read that she and J.D. were cleaning out things to live in a retirement home. She thought I would receive a blessing from seeing these things again, she said. “Let me know what you think once you go through everything,” she wrote. I found myself peering at an 8 x 10 photograph of the family back then (Jean and John, their two children, 6 and 8, another foster child, age 5, and myself, at 15). I looked surprisingly attractive and like I fit in, although older and taller. I looked a lot like John and beamed with joy.
What did I feel as I became reacquainted with myself as a foster child through the work of my own hands? The letters reveal a deep personal faith in God and a bubbling-over gratefulness for the love I found in this foster home. Repeatedly I declared in writing and picture my love and gratitude. Some letters were largely prayers for everyone we knew; a maturity not remembered read between the lines. I see that God had been with me and continues with me. God has provided for every need no matter how great or small. Although I have for much of my life felt inadequate and undeserving, the Creator, Savior, Spirit of Christ sought me, found and walks with me daily. I have worried at times like the young Daniel and Mary worried when Heaven was slow in responding or came in an unexpected way. God calmed their fears and calms mine with these words, “Fear not! Nothing will be impossible with God.”
Pray for a fresh awareness of God’s presence, especially for those times when desired change is slow in coming. See Daniel 10: 2-13; Luke 1:26-38.
--Carol J. Phipps
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Read John 17:11 and 15-18
dipped in Soul.
a sunny, clear blue sky morning;
a rose in full bloom;
a smile from a special someone;
a celebration of obtaining a goal—
passing an exam,
finishing a project,
your very first home of your own;
doing your favorite things—
reading a book,
decorating the Christmas tree;
being with friends and family and sharing life.
Dear Lord, Thank you for all the moments of joy that you give me.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
“As Good As It Gets”
Scripture: “This is the day which the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
When I meet someone for the first time in a social setting, often their first question is, “What do you do?” As I respond to them by saying that I’m a first grade teacher, I usually watch their eyes glaze over and begin to wander around the room as they inevitably answer, “That’s nice.” Well—it is nice actually. It’s not easy keeping a room full of six-year old balls bouncing all day (or not bouncing), but it is quite nice.
A few weeks ago, on a golden October afternoon, I had just finished working with my last small reading group. The children were finishing up their work projects before we cleaned up to go outside for recess. Several kids were writing stories and sounding out words as they tried to best-guess spell them, making a busy hum in the room. Others were scattered around on the floor doing activities such as building block cities, playing games, and engaging in imaginative play. Remarkably, James wasn’t standing upside down in his chair, Jamie wasn’t turned around in her seat being bossy, Jeff wasn’t whining about anything, and Emily wasn’t pushing and shoving. Then William, a minister’s son, began sweetly humming “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” Everything was just right. The world was OK—right there, right then. I received a simple, unexpected gift—first graders—noisy, imaginative, sweaty first graders—getting along and feeling happy just to be alive. In the same simple, ordinary way—a baby, a mother and father, some animals, a few shepherds, and a manger. What more do we really need?
Prayer: Help us not forget to rejoice in your simple, profound gifts.
Monday, December 12, 2005
From Luke 2:10 , “behold, I bring you good news of great joy . . .”
Christ the Lord
Christ the Lord
Christ the Lord
Greg, Cindy, Kristen and Jennifer’s arrival
Christ the Lord
Josh and Jessi’s arrival
Christ the Lord
Christ the Lord
Fay’s courage and grace
Christ the Lord
birth of Alex Holm
Christ the Lord
birth of Ryan Pope
Christ the Lord
Christ the Lord
Christ the Lord
Christ the Lord
Christ the Lord
safe arrival of first grandbaby
Christ the Lord
God of Advent and all the seasons of our lives, we thank you for the joys of this year. Amen
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see….” (Matthew 5:8)
In the wee, small hours of Christmas morning,
Working only by the lights on the tree,
Two of Santa’s grown up helpers
Finished wrapping at half past three.
Dad was storing away his tool box
Having assembled the last child’s toy,
Ready to relish his final task:
Eat the snack left for Santa to enjoy!
Striped stockings hung from the mantle,
Filled up until they overflowed.
Then as Mom loaded the Brownie camera,
She and dad heard a noise and they froze.
It was the sound of my footed p.j.s
As I got out of bed sleepy and slow,
Then shuffled in their direction,
Drawn to the Christmas tree aglow.
Quickly and quietly mom rushed to me
Put her hand on my shoulder to guide,
Walked me straight to the bathroom doorway
Where she waited to walk back by my side.
When I was ready, she went with me
To my bed where she tucked me in tight;
She gently kissed my forehead
And with relief said “Good-night.”
The incident when unremembered
Until late Christmas evening, I said
What I, and I alone knew,
”Last night Santa put me back to bed!”
Dear God, create in me a pure heart this season so that I might see……
Wednesday December 14, 2005
(Mary Neal Clarke)
Giving Thanks for Christmas
Christmas is a time for giving thanks for the coming of Christ into the world long ago, and for God’ guidance in our lives day by day. This will be my tenth Christmas since my husband, Coleman, went to be with the Lord. My heart is full of thanksgiving for God’s guidance through these years. I have written a poem to try to express that gratitude:
Your Heart Will Sing
“Your heart will sing.”
I heard the words as
my heart ached, no hope
of ever being happy again.
“Your heart will sing”
finally penetrated the lump in
the pit of my stomach and
reached the depth of my soul.
“Your heart will sing”
I began to believe as I
reached up to God and
out to people around me.
“Your heart will sing.”
At last I know it is true
As I lay aside my grinding pain
To learn how to live again.
God help us always to remember that joy which came to earth that first Christmas in
the coming of Christ. In Christ¹s Name. Amen
--Mary Neal Clarke
Thursday, December 15, 2005
(Katherine Thornton Williams)
In the middle of the night,
Standing in a living room,
Before my eyes my friend and her husband
together with their coming son
danced the final steps of the dance of birth.
Push, breathe, rest, push…
witnessed by midwife, grandparents and friends
a child comes into the world.
My thoughts go to the story of Mary and Joseph.
In the middle of the night
In less welcoming conditions in a stable long ago,
No witnesses but the animals
Another Child comes into the world.
Here and now the midwife coaches and soon the crown of a head appears.
Slowly, with his own timing and rhythms he ventures further out.
The head, a shoulder, and then between one breath and the next:
INCARNATION. The child breathes in the breath of life and becomes a living soul. A new spirit enfleshed in this little body has come to live among us.
No wonder the angels sang in the heavens that night
and the shepherds bowed down in awe.
INCARNATION: The Word made flesh.
God comes into the world to dwell with us.
Each one of us shares that experience with Jesus…
We are born into the world from a thought, a wish, longing and desire,
Breathed into life, loved and cherished by God.
Loving God in return, the family of God.
Lord, thank you for the sacred gift of my breath, my thoughts, my pulsing blood and for that of all of your children on this earth. Fill my heart with the wonder of your love in giving me life. May I seek to love all of your children and honor in each person I meet the spark of life that is gift from you.
--Katherine Thornton Williams
Edited by Brent Williams
Friday, December 16, 2005
A Heart Attuned
Imagine going to heaven and standing by God as He lovingly shows you the calendar of His plan for your earthly life. It begins with the day you are born. Once you received Christ as Savior, every day that follows is outlined in red. You see footprints walking through each day of each week of your life. On many days, two sets of footprints appear. You inquire, “Father, are those my footprints on the calendar every day and is the second set of prints when you joined me?”
He answers, “No, my precious child. The consistent footprints on your calendar are Mine. The second set of footprints are when you joined Me.”
“Where were you going, Father?”
“To the destiny I planned for you, hoping you’d follow.”
“But Father, where are my footprints all those times?”
He answers, “Sometimes you went back to look at old resentments and habits while I was still going forward, hoping you’d join Me. Sometimes you departed from My path and chose your own calendar instead. Other times, your footprints can even be seen on another person’s calendar because you thought you liked their plan better. At other times, you simply stopped because you would not let go of something you could not take to the next day.”
“But, Father, we ended up OK even if I didn’t walk with You every day, didn’t we?”
He holds you close and smiles. “Yes, Child, we ended up OK. But, you see, OK was never what I had in mind for you.”
“Father, what are those golden treasure boxes on certain days?”
“Blessings, My Child, I had for you along the way. Those that are open are those you received. Those still closed were days you did not walk with Me.”
--Beth Moore, 1999
Dear Lord, please keep my heart attune so that I might receive all that you have in store for me.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
“On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity”
This is the month, and this the happy morn
Wherin the Son of Heav’ns eternal King,
Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring;
For so the holy sages once did sing,
That he our deadly forfeit should release,
And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.
That glorious Form, that Light unsufferable,
And that far-beaming blaze of Majesty,
Wherwith he wont at Heav’ns high Councel-Table,
To sit the midst of Trinal Unity,
He laid aside; and here with us to be,
Forsook the Courts of everlasting Day,
And chose with us a darksome House of mortal Clay.
John Milton (1608-1674)
--submitted by Dorothy Spurr
your mother’s smile and hug;
a newborn’s first cry;
your first kiss;
your dog’s barking and jumping up and down welcoming you home;
a welcoming smile;
a feeling of being accepted just as you are;
Scripture: John 3:16
Sunday, December 18, 2005
How does one “keep Christmas?” In my growing up years in Ohio keeping Christmas with the prospects and the reality of snow always seemed special. How we would look forward to a white Christmas—the winter wonderland described in various carols. On Christmas Day after opening our gifts at home we were off the Grandpa and Grandma Ward’s house. There we would be joined with lots of aunts, uncles, cousins, and assorted friends. The house was full of holiday cheer with a roaring fire, Christmas goodies and food that always awaited us. We ended the day at Grandview Methodist Church for a lovely candle light service. Looking back it seemed easy to “keep Christmas” in Ohio.
In 1947 the Howard clan of six headed for Hollywood, Florida to live an entirely different life. South Florida has a semi-tropical climate. Christmas Day was usually fairly warm. We would laugh at the tourist who swam on Christmas Day. I came to realize that south Florida with its mild temperature and palm trees was more like Bethlehem in the winter. Even so, we missed the snow and family and everything associated with Christmas. One neighbor (from Michigan) completely covered her lawn with white sheets to simulate snow. Decorations abounded everywhere long before today’s propensity to decorate. We learned to love our tropical Christmas.
And now, across the years, after spending Christmas in many places, with different configurations of family and friend, I think I’ve learned a lot about keeping Christmas. It has nothing to do with weather or decorations. It’s about the gathering of those who love to remember the one that God so loved the world that he sent his son as a tiny babe.
O Lord, help us always keep Christmas in our hearts.
Monday, December 19, 2005
The Presence in a Meal
Scripture: Luke 24:30-31
The theme of this year’s Crescent Hill Women’s Retreat was “Being in the Presence.” We were asked to share with the group a symbol of how we experience God’s presence in our lives. The symbol I brought and talked about was a vintage white tablecloth with bright blue and red flowers printed on it. It represents for me the experience of God’s presence in the preparation of food and the sharing of a meal with others around a table. The tablecloth was given to me by Mildred Burch when she broke up housekeeping. She epitomized for me the spiritual gift of hospitality. Being at her table was truly a gift of God’s love. A lot of us can recount being invited to a meal with her. Sometimes we were to be a part of a meal with 8-10 others for a special occasion or holiday. But it was not unusual for Mildred to invite just one person. When you were with her she was present and made each person feel so special.
It was always a sit down meal with special dishes that had been in her family forever—the table was beautiful. During the meal we heard stories about her growing up in Crescent Hill with summers in Leitchfield. We also frequently talked about the most recent book she was reading. She spent some quiet time reading daily. She loved to share her favorite passages. Her life experiences of having moved several times as a wife and mother seemed to make her open and accepting of new friends and ideas. The children she included always felt loved and made special by her. Because of her caring our children ate foods she served them they would never have eaten for us at home, such as chicken salad or salmon croquettes. Mildred fixed everything from “scratch.” She didn’t believe in shortcuts (didn’t even own a microwave). I loved her special breads, desserts, and salads. If Mildred knew that someone liked one of her dishes she would likely serve it to them. She modeled for me gifts of sharing, hospitality, and presence. Her table was a place of communion and sharing of God’s gifts of love and acceptance.
Dear God: May we make all persons feel loved and accepted as we share the story of your Son who made meals with him special times of grace and communion. Amen.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Scripture: Matthew 21:37a—“ . . . and last of all he sent his Son.”
Lately, I’ve been noticing last things. Perhaps it’s because of where I am in my life’s journey “the last of life for which the first was made.” Among cherished last things, I remember the last red raspberries from Gilbert Westerfield’s garden. Gilbert and Maybeth were old family friends. He was in his eighties with failing eyesight; she was in a nursing home. Once he had had a glorious garden; he first introduced me to swiss chard and sugar snap peas. Over the years, he would call me to come by when things “came in.” He had called and left a message that the red raspberries were ready, but I was delayed in going by.
“The red raspberries are gone.”
Gilbert’s tone rebuked me for not coming sooner.
“Well, maybe you can find yourself a handful
He could not see the hidden fruit remaining.
“They’re so pretty—red ripe!” I replied,
filling my cupped hand with the warm, fragrant spheres.
Then back from fetching a basket,
he stood aside to watch as I quickly filled it,
careful among the briars so not to snag my nylons.
“Don’t know which is finer, the color or the taste!”
Heavy with juice they bled from the plucking,
Staining my fingers and, he noticed, the kitchen counter.
“Don’t you want to put something under them?
They’re dead ripe. You should have come two weeks ago.”
Love made him scold.
“But I am here today. And they were waiting for me.
Surely these last are the sweetest of all.”
Prayer: Father, help us to treasure each day’s gifts, knowing that sometimes you save the best for last.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Love That Has No Ending
“I love you so much I could squeeeeze you.” So were the words of my little girl, years and years past that feel life just a minute ago. Those words were a gift that can never be lost, stolen or misplaced. The gifts of the season should be remembered in a similar way. My best gifts also include the excitement of a bright eyed, red head boy mashing bananas so we could make banana bread as gifts. Whenever I am about to do that task, I call that grown up boy to let him know the bananas are waiting.
God is like that—waiting to help us, yet also ready to love us so much and squeeeeze us just when we need it most.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
(Mary Neal Clarke)
Unto All People
“And the angel said, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy WHICH SHALL BE TO ALL PEOPLE.’ “ Luke 2: 10
In many countries around the world,
I think of all the people I¹ve met.
They are a part of all that I am
Though some of their names I forget.
From all of these I have learned.
Yet my heart has always longed
To share with people nearby
That they might understand
The need to help and care,
Embracing people everywhere.
Prayer: Lord, show me how to live,
What to do and how to give
That others might find true life,
Meaning, and freedom from strife.
Let me be a bridge to a distant shore
So that all people, more and more,
Will learn to trust God¹s love and grace
And welcome each day we face.
for Jesus¹ sake. Amen
-- Mary Neal Clarke
Friday, December 23, 2005
Christmas for Me
In Japan most young people spend time with their boy friends or girl friends on Christmas Eve. It is very important for most young people who have lovers to spend romantic time on Christmas Eve. However it is exciting for all children to get presents on Christmas morning.
When I was a child I spent the time with my family on Christmas Eve. We decorated our small plastic Christmas tree early before Christmas. On Christmas Eve we ate a more gorgeous dinner than usual and ate a Christmas cake together. I was very excited because I would get Christmas presents the next morning. All children are too excited to sleep on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning we would find presents near our bed. Most children believe in Santa Claus and love him for bringing presents. I didn¹t know that Christmas Day was the birth of Christ when I was a child.
I have been surprised to meet many Christians in America. I am very interested in celebrating Christmas here. My friend told me that Christmas is the most important day for Christians because that is the birthday of God as a human by a miracle. They celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas. While he was a human, Jesus brought down love and taught many important precepts. God made humans and he is still telling us about love even now, so at Christmas families get together and they are thankful to parents, ancestors, and God for their existence.
I think that most Japanese people have never thought of their existence on Christmas day. However, I can understand Christmas now and I can genuinely celebrate Christmas this year.
-- Eriko Moriki
Saturday, December 24, 2005
(Laura Adams Henderson)
Christmas 2004. As it approached, for me it was loaded with emotions, thoughts, faces, and absences. I returned from cold, dark Norway, my heart filled with anxiety that Christmas 2004 would be filled with cold, dark emptiness. I could not imagine; did not want to imagine what Christmas was going to be without Sam and Jenny. I dreaded the emptiness of Sam and Jenny’s places in Christmas events. And though their presence would be acutely missed, I needed the tradition of Christmas Eve at CHBC. I wanted to see all of the faces and hear all of the voices that are Louisville, home and family to me. I knew simply being among my Crescent Hill community would help me to feel closer to Sam and Jenny, too. In all my anxieties and fears about being home for Christmas 2004, I never considered that there would be no CHBC Christmas Eve service.
So, I suppose my suggestion that we have a Christmas Eve service at home began as a largely selfish act. Whatever it took, I was going to have my CHBC Christmas Eve. I could not have planned for such a wonderful gift as the healing of togetherness of that small, impromptu gathering. For me, Christmas Eve 2004 is loaded with emotions, thoughts, faces and presences that fit together as a beautiful memory. We cried together that night, but we also laughed and celebrated together. In the smiles, the laughter, the music, the words and the tears we shared, I felt the presence of those absent, almost as if they were in the room with us.
After a year in which so many lives have been lost to natural disaster, human destruction and the unpredictability of life, so many people will be facing Christmas 2005, or have just passed Ramadan 2005, or face Hanukah 2005, or simply the turn of 2005 to 2006 under the shadow of grief. May they be blessed as to have a Family of God that fills some of the emptiness and brings the presence of loved ones lost.
--Laura Adams Henderson
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Let the Star of Morning Rise
in the deepest night
there rises the star of morning,
the herald of a new day you are making,
a day of great joy dawning
in yet faint shafts
of light and love.
I hear whispers of peace in the stillness,
fresh breezes of promise
chirping of life,
a baby’s cry
and hope –
In the darkness I see the light
and find in it comfort,
cause for celebration,
for the darkness cannot overcome it;
and I rejoice to nourish it
in other people,
in the world
for the sake of him
in whom it was born
and shines forever,
even Jesus the Christ.
-- Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace,
submitted by Ginger Miller
CRESCENT HILL BAPTIST CHURCH
2800 Frankfort Avenue
Louisville, Kentucky 40206
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