Joseph, Journeyman Carpenter

This week in worship we’ll turn our attention to Joseph with our scripture lesson from Matthew 1:18-25, which describes the culturally delicate situation Joseph finds himself in as he learns that Mary is pregnant, and he knows for sure that he isn’t the father. Even before he has angel visit him in a dream with the usual assurance of “do not fear”, Joseph shows us who he is: a just and righteous man who did not want to bring the full force of the religious law against Mary. After the angel’s visit, Joseph “doubles down” on his sense of justice and righteousness and continues to do the right thing. 

Through it all, Matthew doesn’t record any words that Joseph spoke, nor does he speak anywhere else in the Bible. Our Christmas pageants routinely have him pleading with the innkeeper for a place to stay in Bethlehem, but that doesn’t appear in the Bible. All we have in the Bible is the record of Joseph’s actions, which as the saying goes, speak louder than words. The Rev. Dr. Kenneth Bailey, a Presbyterian Missionary to the Middle East and a biblical scholar, writes, “Obviously, Joseph exhibits a definition of ‘justice/righteousness’ that goes beyond the common understanding of any age. The just person is here not one who supports a strict and impartial observance of the law. Rather, the just person is defined as one who has compassion for the weak and the downtrodden.”

To put it bluntly, Mary had virtually no rights in this situation and could have been subjected to very severe punishment by village elders. Joseph does the compassionate, just and loving thing, and the rest is history.

Joseph is often pictured as being a whole lot older than Mary, who was likely a teenager. While it is certain that he was older, it’s not clear that he was decades older, as he is sometimes portrayed in art works, almost as a Father figure not just to Jesus but also to Mary. Our bulletin cover will show what I feel is a more “real life” portrayal of Joseph.

The Real St. Nicholas

This week, our candle will help us remember another disciple, Saint. Nicholas–The Real St. Nicholas, who was born in the third century A.D. and who died on December 6, A.D. 343. Born of wealthy parents, he took seriously Jesus’ command to “sell all you have and give it to the poor”, and he had a passion for the just treatment of all. Over the centuries, Saint Nicholas has morphed/transformed/mutated into jolly old St. Nick or Santa Claus, who bears little resemblance to the pictures of a thinner, gaunt, ascetic Saint Nicholas. In some Christian traditions he is still honored on St. Nicholas Day, Dec. 6. which has the advantage of keeping his memory alive apart from much of the “Winter Festival” and commercialism that abounds in the more secular celebrations of Christmas. 

A website dedicated to Saint Nicholas tells us, “as a bishop, Nicholas, servant of God, was first and foremost a shepherd of the people, caring for their needs. His active pursuit of justice for his people was demonstrated when he secured grain in time of famine, saved the lives of three men wrongly condemned, and secured lower taxes for the city of Myra. He taught the Gospel simply, so ordinary people understood, and he lived out his faith and devotion to God in helping the poor and all in need” (www.stnicholascenter.org)

Our scripture lesson will be taken from the Letter of James, with its famous passages, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works?…….faith, by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

Mary: Jesus’ First Disciple

The sermon this week is drawn from Luke 1: 26-38, the angel Gabriel’s visit with Mary, and the sermon is entitled “Mary: Jesus’ First Disciple”. Mary’s faith in saying “Let it be to me according to your word”, and Mary’s faithfulness that took her to the foot of the cross and beyond demonstrate that she had an important role to play in Jesus’ ministry and the work of the early Christian church.

To get to the “real Mary”, we do have to cut through a lot of layers and traditions and some beliefs about Mary to understand who she was in her first century context. Sister Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.N., a Roman Catholic nun and biblical scholar, tells us that “it is reasonable to assume that Mary, with her husband Joseph, practiced the Jewish religion in their home, following Torah, observing Sabbath and the festivals, reciting prayers, lighting candles and going to synagogue. . .[After Jesus’ death and resurrection] Mary was a Jewish Christian–the earliest kind of Christian there was. She was never a Roman Christian, never a Gentile at all. So it does no honor to her memory to bleach her of her Jewishness. We’ve done this ethnically by turning her swarthy Jewish complexion into fair skin and blond hair and blue eyes. But we’ve also done this religiously by turning her deeply rooted Jewish piety into that of a latter-day Catholic”.

The first candle we light in the Advent Wreath will be in honor of Mary, and the light that her faith brought into the world.

Community Christmas Sing-a-long

Friday, December 5, 2014
Burlington Presbyterian Church
7 – 8 pm

Do you love Christmas music? Do find yourself humming along under your breath as you shop? Come sing loud and clear with us on Friday, as we work our way through traditional and religious Christmas songs together. The young and the old are all welcome to come and sing. We’ll be accompanied by a medley of instrumentalists, and our singing will be followed up with cookies and snacks! No religious affiliation is needed – your presence is welcome and wanted.

Mike’s Musings

The great Lutheran preacher Edmund Steimle gives us the following bit of history (and I completely understand how it can happen, having lived in Baltimore, Maryland, where a number of locals spoke of it as Bawlmer, Merrlin):

In England at the beginning of the 15th century, the members of the Roman Catholic Order of the Star of Bethlehem began to take in some patients, and in time their efforts became the Bethlehem Hospital in London—the first lunatic asylum, as they called it back then. Over the years, Bethlehem became shortened and slurred into Bedlam and “Bedlam” became the name for any lunatic asylum and eventually it entered the language as a name for any wild uproar and confusion. From Bethlehem to Bedlam.

As I write this three days before Black Friday, and with however many shopping days until Christmas, I think you know where I’m going with this: are we going to Bethlehem—to the manger and to Jesus—or are we going to Bedlam, that is, are we going crazy? Are we going to use the season of Advent as a time of patient waiting, prayer, reflection, and family time together, or are we going to jump on the express train to Bedlam?

The concern over the nature of our Christmas celebration is not a new one; in the 1700’s, Benjamin Franklin observed: “O how many observe Christ’s birthday, how few his precepts. It’s easier to observe holidays than commandments”.

Even earlier, Puritans in America were shocked and appalled by what the holiday had become. You know H.L. Mencken’s definition of a Puritan, don’t you? A Puritan is someone who is upset that somewhere, somehow, someone else is having a good time. In the 1600’s, Puritan William Prynne thundered from the pulpit, “Into what a stupendous height of more than pagan impiety have we now degenerated. Christmas ought to be a day of mourning more than rejoicing, not a time spent in amorous mixt (sic), voluptuous, unchristian, dare I say pagan dancing, to God and Christ’s dishonour, religion’s scandal, charitie’s shipwrecke and sinne’s advantage”. Puritans struck Christmas from the church calendar, and insisted it ought to be like any other day. They wanted to avoid any appearance of celebrating a “papish” or Catholic, holiday. Puritans treated Christmas like any other day; they saw no word in the Bible that called believers to a special celebration.

To paraphrase a bumper sticker posted in my office window, “Tough Season? We’re Open on Sunday”. During Advent, my sermons will be focusing on participants in the “First Christmas”: “Mary: Jesus’ First Disciple”, “Joseph: Journeyman Carpenter” and “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Shepherds.” I’ll also take a look at a later addition to the festivities: “The Real St. Nicholas”. And on Christmas Eve, we will remember the story of Jesus’ birth through the Tableaux.

I’ll see you in church!

The Peace of the Lord be with you,

Mike

December 2014 Crossroads

Deacon’s Corner

This year the deacons will be sponsoring the Wish Tree at the Burlington Mall again. Thank you to all who have signed up. There are still some empty spots. We will also be participating in People Helping People’s pajamas and underwear drive. The cards have all been taken. Please return you unwrapped gifts (with card attached) to the office by Dec. 7th

Once again we would like to thank all who have been providing rides for George. As you all know, George loves receiving mail. We will have Christmas cards available for you to send to him on the table in the narthex. (also labels)

Don’t forget our monthly pantry needs of 20 oz. bottles of dish detergent and individually wrapped bars of soap. We always collect on the first Sunday of the month…Dec 7th this month.

Thank you to all for your generous giving.

Stewardship Report
Sue Hadsell

Our last program for the year is The Christmas Joy Offering.

The Christmas Joy Offering has been a cherished Presbyterian tradition since the 1930s. It helps fund the Assistance Program of the Board of Pensions, which provides current and retired church workers with the help they need to get through life’s unexpected challenges. The Offering also supports education at Presbyterian-related racial ethnic schools and colleges, promoting a commitment to higher learning and leadership development for all students regardless of race or economic standing.

This Offering encourages meaningful gift giving in the spirit of Christmas while sharing the message of God’s love during the Advent season.

Look for more information which will be available in your church bulletin.

Women’s Bible Study
The Women’s Bible Study has finished their first study of the year. The Brunch will be held on Dec 4 at 9:30 am. If you are interested in attending Bible Study, please come to the brunch. They will be choosing their next study. There will be no meetings in Dec. They will start up again on January 8 with the new study. All are welcome. Come see what they are all about.

“Wish Tree” Volunteers Needed
There are still a few open slots for staffing the Wish Tree table at the mall on “our” day – Wednesday, December 3. Please consider taking a slot. It gives one the opportunity to witness generosity and good holiday spirits.

In Niloo’s absence, Linda Roscoe will coordinate our volunteers. Let her know if you’d like to volunteer, but aren’t available either of our days; or if you need to change your time slot.

Please sign up!!

Please remember to turn in your unwrapped pjs and underwear with card attached to the church office by Dec 7!

PRESBYTERIAN GIVING CATALOG

What would you do with three extra hours every day?

The bigger question is, what could those who are forced to walk miles for water each day do? Help give this time back through water-related gifts found in the Presbyterian Giving Catalog. Items like the sand dam, which is an effective method of water conservation in dryland communities, provide a sustainable source of clean water for entire communities. Together, we can help change the lives of countless people by giving them a reliable and convenient source of water.

With your support, gifts from the Presbyterian Giving Catalog can lessen the burden for those in need of help. Start flipping through the catalog, or give online at http://www.presbyteriangifts.org. There are catalogs on the table at the front of the church.

Christmas Eve Service
A Family Tradition with Crèche, Carols and Candlelight
Wednesday, December 24 @ 7:00 p.m.

It’s a long-lived tradition at BPC. There will be nativity tableaux vivants (or living scenes) featuring young folks in the roles of Mary and Joseph, angels, shepherds and wise men. Choir and congregation will join in many carols. The service will end with a spreading of candlelight throughout the sanctuary. Pastor Mike will give a brief message. The Christmas Joy Offering will be received. This service is a wonderful way to introduce friends and neighbors to the church – and maybe to make a difference in their lives.

THANK YOU!
On behalf of Session (and our Presbytery), a moment of gratitude to all of you who joined 40% of the voters in our Commonwealth and voted Yes on Question 3 in November.

People of Faith were the greatest hope for reversing a decision that will be particularly unjust to those who can afford it the least, not to mention the number of families who will now deal with addiction.
Thank you again for your efforts.

Shelly Henderson, Clerk of Session

From the Deacons

The carols of Christmas touch our hearts in ways beyond any other music-reminding us of our past, bringing joy to our present, promising hope for our future.

From the Bethlehem hills, where angel songs ring, to a lowly stable where a mother sings to her newborn babe; we journey in song through the miracle of the Nativity. Legacy Christmas, created by acclaimed instrumentalists and vocalists, connects us, defines us, reminds us.

Millions of God’s children thirst for clean healthy water to drink. To help address this need, proceeds from Legacy Christmas will assist Living Waters for the World and the Presbyterian Women Birthday Offering in providing clean, sustainable water and enhancing the quality of life for women and children throughout the world.

We will be selling the new CD Legacy Christmas-Nativity Carols and Hymns this year during Advent. There will be limited copies of last year’s CD also available. The cost is $15.00 each. These make wonderful Christmas gifts.

On a First Name Basis With the King

Depending on what calendar you consult, this coming Sunday has some different meanings. On most calendars it’s “the Sunday before Thanksgiving” but on the liturgical calendar, or “Church year calendar”, it is known as “Christ the King/Reign of Christ” Sunday. In essence, it is the last day of one liturgical year, as the next Sunday, November 30, begins a new liturgical year with the First Sunday in Advent.

So, will we celebrate “The Sunday before Thanksgiving” or “Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday?” The answer is, we will celebrate both! Our service will include the Harvest of Offerings, during which worshipers process forward, bringing their weekly offering, time and talent sheets, and financial pledges for 2015. We will also bring forward gifts of food for People Helping People and/or checks to help PHP provide Thanksgiving turkeys for local families in need. As we do all that, we will be expressing our deep Thanksgiving for the Presbyterian Church of Burlington and all it means to us, but we will also be expressing our gratitude to God for the gift of Jesus Christ.

Our Old Testament Lesson, Deuteronomy 8: 6-17, will tell us of God’s commandment to the Hebrew people about how they (and we) should express our Thanksgiving.

Our New Testament lesson will probably surprise you: Luke 23: 32-34, 39-42, which is about Jesus’ crucifixion. What does Jesus on the cross have to do with Thanksgiving or even with “Christ the King/Reign of Christ.”. The answer is, it has everything to do with Thanksgiving to God–and everything to do with the kind of King that Jesus is. Jesus speaks twice during the lesson, the first time in prayer to God when he says “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do”. The second time Jesus speaks is after the dying thief next to him says “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus then says, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The Rev. Dr. David Lose, President of the Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia tells how our Thanksgiving is related to Christ the King: “What kind of king is this, who welcomes a criminal into his realm and promises relief and release amid obvious agony? It is a king who refuses to conform to the expectations of this world, who will be governed neither by its limited version of worthiness nor its diminished understanding of justice. It is a king who is not content to rule from afar, but rather comes to meet us in our weakness and need. It is a king willing to embrace all, forgive all, redeem all, because that is his deepest and truest nature. It is, finally, our king, come to usher us into his kingdom even as he implores us to recognize and make more manifest that kingdom already around us.”

My sermon will be “On a First Name Basis with the King”, and we will show our thanksgiving for that king by presenting our gifts, our time and talents, and our contributions so that all God’s children may be fed.