2012 Christmas Eve Message: Mistletoes and the Search for Christmas Joy

Mistletoes, photo by Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia

Readings: Luke 2:1-20 and Psalm 16:8-11

Let’s be honest for a moment. Are you happy? We spend huge amounts of time, money and energy searching for happiness. Marketing teams teach us lasting happiness comes from things- getting things ourselves and getting the best deal when we buy things for others. The perfect Christmas is purchasing the perfect Christmas present for everyone we know. (Check out this Target commercial as an example.)

But that’s the thing. Happiness doesn’t last. By its very nature, happiness is momentary because it’s based on outcomes and circumstance. I’m happy because I got what I wanted for Christmas… I got into college… I got good news from the doctor… I got the job… Most of the time we find ourselves in a vicious cycle of I’ll be happy when…

We search for happiness, but it can’t provide what we long for. What we’re really searching for is joy. Joy lingers long past the moments of celebration. Joy is based on something deeper; it’s based on presence.

This past week, six three-year-olds from our church preschool came bounding into my office. They were dressed for their Christmas party and so excited to give me a gift. “Open it! Open it!” I reached into the bag to find a white shirt with green imprints of their feet hanging from painted red ribbons. At the bottom of the shirt it read, “Mistletoes.” We laughed and hugged and took some pictures. Their gift was wonderful, but their presence more than their present filled me with joy.

Sunday night our eldest daughter arrived home from college. We only get to see her a few times a year. We laughed and hugged and settled in on the couches to watch some TV together. After a few minutes catching up, it became quiet. I took in a deep breath to remember the moment and whispered a prayer of thanksgiving for the joy I was experiencing.

Joy is about presence. The presence of those we love may come and go, but the presence of the One who loves us most never ends. (Hebrews 13:5) This is where we find the lasting joy we’re search for.

Joy is associated with the word enthusiasm which comes from the Greek word en theos – God within. This is the very heart of the Christmas story- God with us and for us and in us. This is what makes the arrival of the Babe in Bethlehem tidings of great joy.

Joy believes and trusts God is with us no matter the outcome or circumstance. Think of George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. George gets a glimpse of what life would look like without him. This helps him realize God is with him – blessing him, helping him – even though he couldn’t see it. Suddenly, George is filled with a new enthusiasm for living. He turns from despair to joy, even though his circumstances have not changed. The joy of the Lord has become his strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)

The same is true for Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Scrooge has a powerful change of heart, from sour, miserly and mean to enthusiastic, generous and joyful. Why? His circumstances have not changed. Why? Because he claims the gift of God’s presence and the presence of the image of God in each and every person he encounters, especially in the presence of the poor he formerly despised. Like George, Scrooge’s faith results in a shift from happiness to joy, circumstance to presence, death to life.

Think about the Christmas story itself. Joseph is confused and heartbroken when Mary is found to be with child. Everything changes when the angel reveals the child is the Messiah, Emmanuel, God with us. (Matthew 1) It is not hard to imagine Joseph’s relief and joy at believing, a believing joy which comes even though his circumstances have not changed.

Miraculously pregnant Mary greets miraculously pregnant Elizabeth. In a loud voice Elizabeth exclaims, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:42-44) John leaps for joy because of Christ’s presence, not a change in his circumstance.

Mary replies, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” (Luke 1:46-48) Like the shepherds, Mary rejoices that God is drawing near to all people. (Luke 1:46-55) All people, no matter their circumstance.

The angels rejoice at the birth of the Savior. (Luke 2:8-14) The wise ones rejoice as the star comes to rest and their search for the new born King is over. (Matthew 2:10)

The Good News is our searching can be over as well. The end of our searching for joy comes when we claim God with us and for us, and in us in Jesus.

One of my favorite Christmas poems is First Coming by Madeleine L’Engle.
God did not wait till the world was ready, till nations were at peace.
God came when the Heavens were unsteady and prisoners cried out for release.
God did not wait for the perfect time.
God came when the need was deep and great.
God dined with sinners in all their grime, turned water into wine.
God did not wait till hearts were pure.
In joy God came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame, God came and God’s Light would not go out.
God came to a world which did not mesh; to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh, the maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane to raise our songs with joyful voice,
or to share our grief, to touch our pain,
God came with Love:  Rejoice!  Rejoice!

God draws near, not when all is perfect, but now, in the time of great need. There is no need for us to wait either. No matter our circumstance, now is the time. This Christmas, lay aside the false hope of happiness for the presence and joy of God.

For more information on the scripture translation, art and the use of this message in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.

Ring the Christmas Bells

Luke 2:17-18 NIV
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.

Selected verses from I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by Hen­ry W. Long­fel­low
I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

2 Timothy 4:1-7 NRSV (Paul encouraging Timothy, and us!)
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully. As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Selected verses from The Way of the Soul, also known as In Memoriam,
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Matthew 10:7 NRSV
Jesus said, “As you go, proclaim the good news,
‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.'”

For more information on the scripture translation, art and the use of this devotional in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.

A Great Thanksgiving Celebrating the Joy of Christmas

A Great Thanksgiving Celebrating the Joy of Christmas
A Great Thanksgiving is also known as a Eucharistic Prayer or Prayer for Holy Communion. It is used to consecrate the bread and the wine/grape juice. This Great Thanksgiving incorporates texts from well-known hymns and Christmas carols as congregational responses. The responses may be sung or spoken.  

Holy One, Eternal and Blessed

We lift up our hearts to You.

Your joy overflows, calling the wonder of creation into being
Filling the world with beauty and goodness

Receive our thanks and praise

We join the company of heaven
and Your faithful across the nations
in celebrating Your glory and good news

ALL: singing or speaking
Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the new born King,
Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies;
With th’ angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the new born King!”

When the fullness of time had come
You sent your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ
That all people might experience your perfect love
And share in your unending joy

ALL: singing or speaking
Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,  joy of every longing heart.

The demands and burdens of the day left no place for Your birth.
The poor and the animals made room.
The proud sought Your power and Your death.
Wise Ones sought Your presence, brought You gifts.
The world despised and rejected You.
You responded with grace, forgiveness and new life.

ALL: singing or speaking
Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven, to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling; all thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus thou art all compassion, pure, unbounded love thou art;
Visit us with thy salvation; enter every trembling heart.

On the night in which he gave himself up for us,
Jesus took bread, gave thanks to You, broke the bread,
gave it to those gathered around the table, and said:
“Take, eat; this is my body which is given for You.
Do this in remembrance of me.”

When the supper was over, he took the cup,
gave thanks to You, gave it to those gathered and said:
“Drink from this, all of You;
this is my blood of the new covenant,
poured out for You and for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this, as often as You drink it, in remembrance of me.”

We remember You, and welcome You,
and proclaim Your power:
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again!

Come Holy Spirit,
Abide with us and in us
And on these gifts of bread and wine
Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ
that we may be filled with Your light, Your life and Your joy
and be useful to You in Your saving work.

ALL: singing or speaking
Joyful, joyful, we adore thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away.
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!

A Great Thanksgiving Celebrating the Joy of Christmas © 2012 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia. You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution. Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

For more information on the art and the use of this post in other settings,
please refer to the copyright information page.

Advent Door Day 15: Preparing the Way


Prepare the Way of the Lord by The Benedictine Sisters of Turvey Abbey

The Advent Door Reading Plan
Day 15 Reading:
Luke 3:7-18

Scripture Summary: John the Baptist brings a sharp message of repentance with clear examples of godly living.

Forget fire, forget winnowing forks, forget threshing floors; is there anything more unsettling than receiving a clear word about what we are meant to do in this world? Is there anything that risks taking us deeper into our insecurities, into our fears, into the dark unknown than when someone who sees and recognizes and knows us, then challenges us to be the person whom God has created and called us to be? And is there anything more full of wonder and hope?
– Jan Richardson, Through the Advent Door

How do we prepare the way in this time and place?
I’ve witnessed the modern day prophets
Who dip your two-edged sword in fear and hate
Divining pure from sin, saved from heretic
Confident in their judgments

There are others, too, who take a different path
Coating your sword with sugar and stories
Tickling our ears with prosperity

John picks up your sword to prepare the way
Sharp yet washed in the wilderness of prayer
Dripping with your good news
The antidote for our stealthy, venomous existence

Sever your selfishness
So generosity may grow
Cut out the cheating
So honesty may flourish
Amputate all falsehoods and threats
That your power may raise the powerless

This is Your Way, Your Truth, Your Life
Repentance and Grace
Discipline and Community
Holiness and Love
Make your way in us, O God

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
such a way as gives us breath,
such a truth as ends all strife,
such a life as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
such a light as shows a feast,
such a feast as mends in length,
such a strength as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
such a joy as none can move,
such a love as none can part,
such a heart as joys in love
– George Herbert

For more beautiful work by today’s featured artists, The Benedictine Sisters of Turvey Abbey, click here

Click Here for another reflection on this passage by Steve Garnaas Holmes entitled The Ax at the Root. Click Here for his inspiring post Fruits of Repentance.

This year’s Advent reflections are inspired by the e-book Through the Advent Door: Entering a Contemplative Christmas [Kindle Edition] by author and artist Jan Richardson. In the style of a classic Advent calendar, Jan offers twenty-five reflections, each with an original piece of art. Consider this your invitation to join me and Jan on this journey to Christmas. – Lisa <><

For more information on the Christian season of Advent, click here

For more information on the scripture translation, art and the use of this devotional in other settings, please leave a comment.

Advent Door 14: I am not, Therefore I am

The Advent Door Reading Plan
Day 14 Reading: John 1:6-8, 19-28

Scripture Summary: The authorities ask John the Baptist to identify himself. He says who is isn’t and then says who he is. 

John the Baptist’s claiming of Isaiah’s words to describe himself places him firmly in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets. He knows he comes from Elizabeth and from Zechariah, but with his answer he places himself in the lineage of those for whom the wilderness, both literal and metaphorical, was home, their place of formation as messengers of God. John’s response to his questioners is not only a way of saying who he is, but also where—and whom—he has come from.
– Jan Richardson, Through the Advent Door

It is not the question, what am I going to be when I grow up;
you should ask the question, who am I going to be when I grow up.
– Goldie Hawn

I heard an English teacher once say that there is really only one story line and that every story ever written is a variation of this one theme- Who am I? Romeo and Juliet, Ulysses, The Great Gatsby, Les Misérables, The Lord of the Rings, Moby Dick, To Kill a Mockingbird… this is the universal story, our search for meaning and identity.

On the way to discovering who I am, I discover who I am not. This process of elimination is not failure, but focus. Close enough doors and only a few remain. In a world of far too many choices, there is peace to be found in knowing we are not all things, nor must we strive to be so. Our uniqueness is a gift. What I am comes alongside what you are and forms a greater whole. What we are comes alongside who God is and forms all that is needed for us and for the world.

May you know the One who made you
And thus know yourself
Soaring in your strength and gifts
Joining with others for healing and provision
At peace with who you are and who you are not
Assured of your beauty and worth

Be Still, Remember
a hymn for reaffirming the baptismal covenant
Suggested Tune- ONE BREAD, ONE BODY (United Methodist Hymnal #620)

Be still, remember, who you are.
Come touch the water
of your birth.
Be dead to sin, alive to God.
Remember who you are in Jesus.

You are beloved.
You are an heir.
You are a child of God.

You are claimed.
You are marked.
You are named by God.

Chosen and blessed
Gifted by God
Witness through word and deed

Be Still, Remember © 2000 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.
Lisa is especially interested in collaborating with someone to set this text to music.

This year’s Advent reflections are inspired by the e-book Through the Advent Door: Entering a Contemplative Christmas [Kindle Edition] by author and artist Jan Richardson. In the style of a classic Advent calendar, Jan offers twenty five reflections, each with an original piece of art. Consider this your invitation to join me and Jan on this journey to Christmas. – Lisa <><

For more information on the Christian season of Advent, click here

For more information on the scripture translation, art and the use of this devotional in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.