For many in the 21st century, the Christmas season kicks off with Black Friday or maybe Cyber Monday.
Sandwiched between the two is the first Sunday of Advent, the traditional start to the season for faithful Christians.
Instead of collecting sales flyers or surfing the Web for the best price, these Christians prefer to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth by reflecting on what His coming means for the world.
At least two Florida Conference congregations – Trinity UMC, Gainesville, and Hyde Park UMC, Tampa – have made it easy for members to share their reflections on the season with others in their church and beyond. From funny to touching to profound, the writings of congregation members have been compiled into devotional booklets that include scriptures and reflections for every day of the Advent season.
The theme of Trinity’s devotional booklet is “Come & Worship.” At Hyde Park, the theme is “Making Room,” and reflections focus on mission work in the local community and across the world. The booklet includes children’s artwork and suggestions for an “Advent Photo Challenge” to share on social media as well.
Here are some excerpts from Trinity UMC’s Advent devotional booklet:
Things in the past
“Life is an inscrutable mystery. And Advent is the time when we celebrate the coming of the solution to that mystery. We cannot know how we got here. And we cannot even really know why. But we do know the who – Jesus Christ. If we accept that He is God’s gift to us, we do not have to know any other answers. He has told us what He wants us to do, and when we fail to fully live up to His request, as we always do, He also brings us forgiveness, which He bought for us with His suffering on the cross.”
Come as you are
“The shepherds didn’t have fancy clothes and shoes to change into on the way to Bethlehem. They came just as they were, welcomed by a God of mercy and grace.
“We’ve heard the angel’s good news about the Christ Child. Like the shepherds, ‘Let’s go right now … and see what’s happened.’ Come as you are to the manger! God’s mercy and grace are waiting.”
Presence and presents
“While worship means very different things to different people, whether it is through prayer, Bible study, meditation, feeding the homeless or watching a sunrise on the beach, for me may greatest sense of feeling God’s presence come through worship music. Funny enough, I also can’t sing. Well, I can; people just don’t like it much. But God loves it. Whether I am singing “How Great Thou Art,” “God of this City” or “O Holy Night,” as long as I am singing it for God, He doesn’t care how it sounds. He judges me by my heart, not my voice. It’s why the Sonlight Christmas Eve Service is so near and dear to my heart. So find your favorite form of worship this Advent season and be intentional to set aside the time to be with God amongst the busy-ness of Christmas.”
Jesus is the light
“Carl Jung coined the term 'collective unconscious,' meaning that all people have the same inborn archetypal concepts. Light is one of those archetypes. We light candles, build bonfires and shoot fireworks. All are eternal flames reaching up to God. And in return, He is sending His light to sustain us. The light of the sun nourishes our bodies, the light of the stars guides our paths and the light of His spirit within us bonds us to one another.
“The Hindus have a greeting word, 'Namaste.' Basically, it can be translated as “the spirit of god within me greets the spirit of God within you.” I love that word, as it reminds me that we are all the children of god, we are all connected to one another, and as we reach out, we are sharing God’s love.
“In the spirit of peace and light that passes understanding, I wish you all Namaste and Merry Christmas.”
- Tara Thornock
Here are some excerpts from Hyde Park UMC’s Advent devotion guide:
Stitch by stitch
“Five years ago we were listening to the evening news, and the newscaster closed with his occasional story of good news. This story was about a young woman, who had returned from a birthday trip to Africa. She wasn’t talking about the great safari she had been on, but about the extreme poverty and the plight of women and girls who were relegated to last place in society.
“She was determined to do something. She created ‘Little Dresses for Africa’ and got her church and neighboring churches involved with making pillowcase dresses, which were then sent to Africa.
"Wow, I thought, I can do that! I suggested this idea to our missions pastor, Vicki Walker, who gave me permission to run with it. Volunteers were recruited, sewing machines and fabric were donated, and we were in business. That first year Vacation Bible School donated 427 pillowcases: a bonanza!
“The word has slowly spread throughout the community, so we have never had to purchase a single piece of fabric. Almost 2,500 dresses and 1,000 shorts have gone to help children in third world countries and locally.
“Not only did I make room in my house (by donating my stash), but I made room in my heart for all of those children who have received a gift labeled 'Hyde Park Methodist Church, Tampa, FL USA, God Loves You!’ This is our example of making God’s love real, stitch by stitch."
God of Grace, Bless the widows, women and children of this world. Help lift them up, with education, training and resources to provide for themselves and their families. Stitch by stitch, show us how to use our talents and good works to serve. Amen.
Darrell Hiester Painter
Manna Bag ministry
“The Manna Bag ministry was established in 2009 by a loving lady named Bess Coleman after she received a ‘nudge’ from the Lord. She was given seed money to buy the supplies and then assembled these nourishing care packages. Each bag contains healthy, nonperishable food, a tri-county area resource guide and a grace card proclaiming God’s love. For Bess, this ministry was a direct response to making God’s love real on the streets of our community.
“We’ve all been faced with that awkward moment when we lock eyes with someone on a corner holding a sign. Manna bags are available to purchase the last Sunday of the month in the [church] courtyard for just $5, and it enables you to offer a helping hand.
“The blessings are plentiful. The person to whom you give the bag is blessed with something to eat and a new pair of socks, information for help and God’s grace! You are blessed with experiencing God’s grace when you share a Manna Bag with someone in need.
“The recipient’s appreciation never fails to make my heart sing, and I always drive off knowing I did something to help. I’m also inspired by parents who let their children pick out a bag for their family to give away. What a great teaching moment for all of us!”
Dear Lord, Make us your instruments. Open our hearts to make room in our lives for the needs of those less fortunate. In your blessed son’s name, Amen.
- Gray Caron
– Susan Green is the Florida Conference managing editor.