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Advent 2016

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.  (1 JOHN 4:7-9)
Dear Friends:
Simple gifts are sometimes the most beautiful gifts of all. I can remember the gifts of Christmas ornaments that our children used to make for us. All it took was construction paper, scissors, pipe cleaners, ribbon, a school picture and a bit of imagination, glitter and glue. Each year in Advent we bring out these well worn and sometimes faded gifts and hang them on the tree. Each ornament brings with it with the memories of years gone by as we watched our children grow and mature. Yes, the simple gifts are the best.
In his gospel, John speaks of the gift God gives to us - the gift of Jesus, God’s only Son. It is the best gift of all because Jesus is the gift of pure love. As John says in his fi rst letter, God is love. This is the gift we celebrate in Advent and Christmas. All of our loving fl ows from this gift of God. We love because God first loved us.
The Shakers understood the importance of simplicity. We all know words of the Shaker hymn:
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
The hymn was sung as a kind of dance that embodied the Christian practice of repentance. In the Hebrew, to turn is to repent. In repentance, we turn our lives around, discover true humility before God and “fi nd ourselves in the place just right.” On the four Sundays of Advent, we are going to use this theme of simple gift s to explore the spiritual gift s of hope, peace, joy and love.
There is another simple gift that we can give this Advent Season. Elder George Srour, the founder and chief dreamer of Building Tomorrow, is our congregation’s Commissioned Missional Elder. George was recognized by Forbes Magazine as one of 30 national social entrepreneurs under 30 years old. Building Tomorrow is building schools in Uganda to educate 51,000 children. The ground has been broken to build the 50th school. Our congregation is being challenged to raise $35,000 to build a school in a remote area of Uganda where there are no educational opportunities for children. By simply joining together and doing our part in sharing in this project we can make the life-changing gift of educating hundreds of children. I believe that we can raise this money by the end of December. Simple gifts transform the world.
Yours in Christ,
Lewis F. Galloway, Senior Pastor

The First Sunday in Advent

Hope  The First Sunday in Advent
The Week of November 27
“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.Th e shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”  (LUKE 2:13-20)

As the sun began to set I, along with four of my seminary classmates, sat in a small church in the beautiful, but conflicted, countryside of Ukraine and broke bread with the pastor of this congregation. We had spent an eye-opening day traveling over roads that had not been paved in decades and through towns that time seemed to have forgotten. What amazed me was the hope this pastor had for his church and this world. As his country was torn apart by war and his church struggled to make ends meet, he spoke with a courage and faith that could make the most anxious congregation forget their worries over retaining membership and attracting millennials. He spoke out of true hope.

So while bread was passed and water was poured, I posed a question to the pastor, “Where do you find hope?” He sat quietly for a moment as he turned his thoughts over in his head and then turned to me with a soft smile. He responded that he found hope in the people who imagined grand ideas that sought to reunite the whole church community. Yet, he said where he found true hope was in the simple gift s of fellowship he experienced in his congregation. Among the many examples, some took the form of rich friendships formed over community meals and while others took the form of people volunteering their time for children who had no one else to go to. It was these things that gave the pastor faith, which inspired hope. He understood hope as bringing faith to the future, knowing Christ is always with us.
Advent is a time for hope. It is in this season that we anticipate the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ who allows our hope to blossom for our church and our world. In this passage from the gospel of Luke, hope abounds. The shepherds discover hope in a grand choir of angels, in a brilliantly shining star and most importantly they find it in a small baby wrapped in simple swaddling cloth. Mary finds hope in a stable, yet finds true hope simply in the words the shepherds share with her. So in this holy season, find hope in the simple gifts of fellowship we share between one another. This may take the form of devoting time to spend with family, or it may be simply in exchanging conversation over coffee and donuts. No matter what form it takes, we can always find hope in one another through the simple gift of reflecting Christ’s love and grace in this world.   by Rev. Joshua Stanley, Lake Fellow


The Second Sunday in Advent

Peace  The Second Sunday in Advent
The Week of December 4
“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adders den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (ISAIAH 11:6-9)

This image of God’s peaceable kingdom in Isaiah is not so unlike the 2016 Disney film, Zootopia. In this movie, animals have learned to live together in harmony— predator and prey alike. They have cultivated an entire society—with neighborhoods, police stations, ice cream stores, and the many other amenities of our own human world.
All is not utopic in the fictional Zootopia, we learn. Long-held prejudices between predator and prey lead to some pretty ugly situations for this seemingly perfect place. The “peaceable kingdom” wasn’t so peaceable, after all.
We so often imagine peace as an absence of war—something accomplished after years of negotiation between diplomats and heads of state, or brought about by generals after a well-fought series of battles. There are peace accords and meetings and cease-fi res and terms of engagement, all decided by men and women of standing in the world. And yet, the picture of the peaceable kingdom in Isaiah’s vision of the coming reign of God is not accomplished by statesmen and queens. Instead, a little child leads the way and animals make known to us the signs of God’s peace in our midst.
Peace is not passive. Peace requires conscious effort – a striving toward a more perfect place in which all of God’s creation is honored, respected, cared for, and loved. Each of us plays a part in the unfolding of God’s kingdom – from the nursing child to the centenarian. Peace is cultivated over time. It is something we teach our children and our children’s children. It is a way of life instilled from one generation to the next. It is not the wisest, the most learned, the oldest among us who lead others into that which is to come – it is a little child, who knows no other way than to lead the young of the cow and the bear alike.
Take a moment, this week, to see the world through the eyes of a child. What do you notice that you haven’t noticed before? If you have a chance, take a walk with a child. Let him or her lead. Ask questions about what they see. Open your eyes to the simple gift of God’s in-breaking all around you, as we await the in-breaking of God’s peace into this world in the birth of Jesus Christ.   by Rev. Anna Owens, Lake Fellow


The Third Sunday in Advent

Joy  The Third Sunday in Advent
The Week of December 11
“It was another day in the lives of two Jewish women in Judea, under the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire. Th ere wasn’t much to be excited about, it was just another day in King Herod’s kingdom. But despite the bleakness of their reality, there was potential for joy--potential that lay in the truth of the news Mary had just heard. She was going to have a baby. A very special baby. Th is truth was quietly held within, but the joy this truth inspired could not be contained. Mary so much as walks in the room and utters a greeting and the joy of the truth resounds through her cousin’s home, through Elizabeth’s bones, and even the child Elizabeth is bearing jumps with anticipation. The joy sprung forth and was a cause for song and dance.” (LUKE 1:39-45)

As we wander through this Advent season and through whatever season of life we are in, there are things that might make our days bleak and dreary. The weather can be depressing, our relationships can be tense, and our work can be stressful. Monotony might be taking hold of our
schedules, but this season reminds us that there is a burst of excitement on the horizon. We might be feeling the heaviness of life, but the flicker of the candles of Advent reminds us that there is something more, something stronger.
Joy is the fl ash of color that we see in the bland winter tones around us. Joy is the giggle heard from a small child in the busyness of our day. Joy is the fine laugh lines in the face of one who greets you. Joy is the welling up of happiness and enthusiasm that comes from within when you hear the words of Good News, when you think of the coming Savior, when you are able to share a gift , a smile, a handshake with one who needs it in that particular moment. Joy is the uncontainable excitement that arises when we are finally able to shout from the hills and mountaintops, “Jesus Christ is born!” And even more than that, joy is knowing why that birth is
important. It’s what is inspired when we know that the birth of this child is the birth of our salvation from slavery to sin and death. In awe-filled joy, we proclaim the goodness of God as we await this Christmas day!   by Rev. Jon Reinink, Lake Fellow


The Fourth Sunday in Advent

Love  Epiphany
The Fourth Sunday in Advent
by Rev. Chelsea Benham, Lake Fellow 
I confess that growing up in the church I took the Trinity for granted. It always seemed like just a weird theological thing that didn’t merit much thought. My feelings about it were equivalent to how I felt about gravity—it must be true, yet so obvious that it was not particularly relevant. Then I was invited to consider the Trinity anew in a seminary class, and this trusty old doctrine came to life. The Trinity is not just a metaphysical explanation of the paradox that God is both one and three, but it is a description of the very nature of God. God exists, and always has, in a relationship of self-giving love. As we read in scripture, God is love. God is not a static being but is the movement, the giving and receiving of the loving relationship of the Trinity. 
As I gaze at this icon, I feel invited to the table of love, beckoned to join the relationship of the three figures that represent the Trinity. The waiting of Advent offers us that same invitation. In these weeks leading up to Christmas, we remember the story of God’s amazing work to extend the ever-giving Love of the Trinity to us in a new way. We anticipate the arrival of Love in human flesh. Christmas celebrates that Love has come to us as a real, crying human baby lying in a manger among the animals. In another paradox, this is both extraordinary and terribly ordinary. Emmanuel, God with us, has come into the world, in a humble, ordinary place through the sweaty, earthy labor of childbirth. 
In this season we might be tempted to find love in grand places—huge family gatherings, outlandish exhibits of lights and decorations, and piles of presents. But the baby Jesus beckons us to think smaller. In what humble, ordinary places might we find God this season? The manger invites us to join the Trinity’s relationship of love. This love is moving, and in this season we are called to participate. You may have heard the adage that love is a verb, not a noun. It is something you do, rather than something you feel. What simple tasks might bear the love of God to our own lives and the world around us?  
Like the doctrine of the Trinity, the gift of Love is simple and complex, ordinary and extraordinary. In its simplicity, we may miss it, and in its complexity, we may be scared off by the hard work it requires, the giving and receiving of real relationship. In this season may we remember that Love has come here, and may we hear the invitation to take a seat at the table of Love.


Good News
December 24 & 25

Good News  Christmas
The Nativity of Jesus Christ
Good News for All People
by Dr. John Franke 
One of the most basic elements of the Christian faith is the belief that the coming of Jesus Christ is good news for all people. This fundamental idea is at the core of the proclamation of the gospel found in Luke 2:8-11: “In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.’”
It is one of the sad realities of Christian history that all too often the proclamation and living out of the Christian message has not been good news for many of the people of the world. It has frequently not been the cause of great joy but rather of pain and suffering. Throughout the history of the church, people have been subjugated, enslaved, and exterminated in the name of Christianity.
This is in direct opposition to the message of Jesus, who taught that the kingdom of God was different than the traditional societies of the world that divided people into winners and losers, haves and have nots, desirable and undesirable. Instead, the kingdom of God is a new reality in which everyone has enough and no one needs to be afraid. This message of Jesus has been given to church as a community committed to believing this message and living it out in the world as a sign, instrument, and foretaste of this kingdom.
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus this Christmas season and throughout the year, let us remember his proclamation concerning the reign of God and the simple but profound gifts of joy, peace, hope, and love that are intended for all people and not just a privileged few. But more than simply remembering this message, let us commit ourselves to participating in the mission of God that Jesus was sent into the world to proclaim. In short, let us not simply believe the good news; let us also become the good news as a community that worships and serves the God who announces “good news of great joy for all the people.” Merry Christmas!



The Second Week of Christmas

Light  Epiphany
The Second Week of Christmas
The Light
By Dr. John R. Franke, Theologian in Residence
The dictionary defines an epiphany as a sudden intuitive perception of or insight into the essential meaning of something. In Christian terms epiphany is particularly associated with the realization that Jesus is the Son of God. The church celebrates this revelation among the Gentiles in the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus where they honored him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
While this is the pinnacle of epiphany in the Christian tradition, the experience of this phenomenon is not limited to this knowledge of Jesus as the Son of God. For many people epiphanies are a regular if not frequent occurrence in the journey of faith. They occur as we gain fresh insight into the nature of our faith and the commitments it requires of us as we seek to be faithful to the things we believe.
Epiphanies are not limited to individuals but also occur in the midst of communities as a group of people come to mutually shared insight regarding the practice of their faith. While such communal epiphanies are seldom sudden and are often inspired by particular individuals, their collective nature makes them more enduring and socially significant.
As we turn the calendar to 2017, the Protestant church prepares to celebrate the five hundredth anniversary of such a communal event. The Reformation forever changed the practice of Christian faith in the West and throughout much of the world, even among those who do not accept the conclusions of the various reformations that were promulgated during the sixteenth century and beyond. In addition to the practice of Christianity, the Reformation had a profound effect on societies in which it occurred.
In Geneva, the leaders attempted to capture the significance of this communal epiphany for their city and the lives of its citizens with the Latin motto Post Tenebras Lux, from darkness into light. As the history of Geneva and the Reformation demonstrated, this movement from darkness into the light is not a onetime occurrence but something that must be understood and appropriated again and again.
In this season of Epiphany let us remember this most basic movement of our faith; continually leaving the ways of darkness behind us and moving ever onward toward the light of God’s love for the world made known in Jesus Christ.