Remembering 2018, Looking with Hope to 2019

The evening of Sunday the 16th is going to be a great time. It’s a time where we will stand up together as a family and proclaim the faithfulness of God as a church body and remember His goodness and His work in 2018.

How did God work in your life in 2018? What victories and joys do you recall? How did God provide in a miraculous way? What new friendships and relationships did God provide to you?

Maybe it wasn’t such a fun and carefree year. Maybe your 2018 contained struggle or deep heartache. Maybe there was a loss of a loved one. Perhaps 2018 was a year through which you were only able to endure by the grace and strength of God.

Maybe 2018 was the year of great breakthrough. Maybe you saw the fulfillment of a promise or the answer to long time of prayer. Again, these joys are only by God’s grace.

Let’s mark 2018. Let’s remember God’s faithfulness as we go forward with our eyes fixed on Him.

Romans 8: 38-39 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You are invited to join us on Sunday the 16th for our annual meeting. We will celebrate with carols, cookies, cocoa and worship, and we want you to be a part of it!

Advent: Great Joy Gives Great Praise

Joseph and his betrothed, Mary, arrived in Bethlehem some time before Jesus’s birth. They traveled the eight-day journey along the Jordan River from Nazareth most likely with a caravan as there were always dangers along those roads. Luke tells us that once they arrived in the city of their ancestors, they could not find a room. So, other accommodations were made to provide for an obviously pregnant relative. Then, He was born.

We tend to add more to the Christmas story like Mary traveling on a donkey, although it is hard to imagine a pregnant woman on the back of a beast of burden for eight days. Or, the birth occurring in a stable, even though stables were not in use in Palestine at the time. We add the inn keeper who said there were no vacancies, although inns would not have been in a city such as Bethlehem and Luke’s account never even mentions an inn keeper. We even add a cold December night to the birth though shepherds would hardly be keeping watch of sheep outside in winter. These things add color to the story of Jesus’s birth although they are not mentioned in Scripture.

Erwin Lutzer, former pastor of Moody Bible Church in Chicago, once said something to the effect that there would be no cross if there were not a cradle. True. Yet, while there is a certain cuteness to the image of a cradle surrounded by animals with Mary and Joseph kneeling on a bed of straw in a stable gazing at their new born Son under the glow of a star as shepherds and three wise men arrive with gifts, the actual story is much more profound.

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:15-20)

 Photo by Jessica Lewis from Pexels

Photo by Jessica Lewis from Pexels

The shepherds great fear had been turned to great joy and their great joy would turn to great praise. So, they go “with haste” to find what they had heard from the angel. Christ the Lord was indeed born! And there He was, exactly like the angel had announced.

The color we sometimes add to the story of the birth of our Savior can distract us from what Scripture says: the shepherds found Jesus just as they had been told. What the angel announced was indeed true! Christ had come! A Savior was born! We have no idea how many babies had been born in Bethlehem at this time or on this day, but His was different. He alone was lying in a manger wrapped in swaddling cloth. And if this were true, as the shepherds experienced, then he must be the Savior. Just as in the field after the angelic announcement when the chorus sang, “Glory to God in the highest,” so now, the shepherds, departing from the child, sang their praise. It was all about God’s glory! The great giver gave a great gift that brought great joy and resulted in great praise.

So, here’s a question for the season. What would happen if we genuinely understood that Christmas was about God’s glory? How would that change our lives? It changed the shepherds. Their great joy gave God great praise and they told everyone about their awesome experience. 

Advent: From Great Fear to Great Joy

December is a great time of year. Children are getting excited about Christmas. Parents are frantically looking for the best shopping deals for gifts. College students cannot wait for the final exams to be complete. Families are scouring for the best Christmas tree. And in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the season, we are reminded that Jesus was born.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14)

That first Christmas must have been incredible. It was an announcement like no other to a group of people who were of no consequence. I’m not sure what great fear feels like, but it had to be intense. Here was a group of shepherds with their sheep at night; a pitch-black darkness that would have been illumined only by the stars. The shepherds, ever so vigilant and constantly on alert from all sides, would have no doubt encountered fierce wolves who would surround their prey in the cover of darkness. With courage and bravery, they successfully thwarted many attacks by these predators.

On this night, however, they were filled with great fear like nothing they had ever experienced. Heaven had opened up to the shepherds. They were all at once surrounded! But, not by wolves. It was the glory of God himself, shining down on them with the announcement of good news for all people. It was the ultimate Christmas gift, delivered in the most awesome manner and it would change their great fear into great joy.

After more than 2,000 years, that good news is still being delivered here and around the world. Sometimes I hear stories of the gospel coming to Muslims and Hindus through the announcement of a messenger in a dream or vision. More often, the gospel is shared through personal testimonies of faithful saints, like you and me, who have experienced the great joy of the Savior. And, it always brings God glory when the gift is shared with others. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the season, the story of the shepherds reminds us to be aware that there are people we will encounter at work, in our neighborhoods, on the bus, or at the shopping mall who might be overwhelmed with great fear but ready to hear the good news of great joy that is for them.

­—Michael Cooper