He Became One of Us

Advent Reflection, Friday, December 17

By: Harrison Higgins

I like Christmas and parts of it I love: the family gatherings, my wild and wonderful children and grandchildren, sweet memories of Christmases past, my wife’s calming, beautiful presence next to my chaotic all-over-the-placeness. But most of all I love the story that God decided to come to this earth and be with us, Emmanuel, actually to become one of us.

When I look out a plane window, I often wonder what it must be like to be God and know every person down there, to see their lives, their thoughts, their hearts; to see their acts of love and cruelty. Would it be more heart warming or heart breaking? I naturally tend to think the latter, but I don’t know. I hope I am wrong on this. What I am sure of is that I would not want to be one of these people; I would love them, try to help and teach them, forgive them when they repented but I would not want to become one of them. That would be asking too much, going too far. “They need to learn. They need to grow up.” I would be saying to myself.

But that is not the God we believe in. He did become one of us. I believe when He looks down at us, because of Jesus, He now also sees Himself. This gives me hope and sometimes even strength to not give up and to keep working for a better world. Christmas really is good news of great joy, if we can get past all the shopping.

One final thought – in today’s world, what is the equivalent of being born in a stable? A homeless shelter? A refugee camp? Under a bridge? And if God had chosen to become incarnate in 2021, who would He (or She) be? If God can see Himself in humanity, I think He also wants us to see Him in each other too.

This is something beyond my understanding that happened in that stable 2,000 years ago where a man and a woman, some shepherds and animals, and angels gazed in silent, reverent awe as the heart of God revealed itself and found voice in a cry of an infant son.

The Stories of our Shared Family Tree

Advent Reflection, Friday, December 10

By: Amelia McDaniel

Knowing your family tree is a great gift. I love hearing stories about the people who have gone before me, like my great-grandmother who moved west in a covered wagon or my first-generation Lebanese grandfather who made his way in a new country. These are the kind of stories that feed my imagination and my understanding of who I am in this life.

Today, we learn about the genealogy of the people of God, the stories of Jesus’s family tree. We call this the ‘Jesse Tree’ which comes from the scripture that says “out of the stump of Jesse will spring a Savior.” The practice of the Jesse Tree traces the story of God’s people from the beginnings of creation through the birth of Jesus. There are some real characters in there. Some of the stories in this family tree are a little dicey and a little racy, but nevertheless show both the goodness and tom foolery of being a human in this world. All the stories reveal that we are made by a loving God who simply refuses to give up on us no matter how ridiculous we can be.

For the past few weeks, the children and youth have been making Jesse Tree ornaments. We began with the story of Creation and the Fall. Let me tell you: there were some questions. Hard ones. Like “why do people have to die?” and “just where is that serpent now?” When we told the story of Abraham and Sarah being the father and mother of a nation more numerous than the stars, their eyes widened in wonder. Telling the stories of the people we belong to is a way of inviting them into this great, big, grand family tree that we are a part of. And the same invitation is offered to you today.

I hope when you hear the stories from the Jesse Tree you will smile and let your imagination go. What if Noah was your great-great-uncle who came through on a visit every summer and told you crazy tales about the ark? What if sitting around in a family gathering someone told you that you laughed just like your great-great-grandmother Sarah? Or imagine that as a kid struggling to master a skill that required you growing bigger, someone reminded you that your third cousin ten times removed, was David and that small people, with God’s help, can do big things.

It may sound a little wacky to stretch our imaginations that far. But these stories really are the stories of our shared family tree. They remind us how far we have come – by the faith of our mothers and fathers who have gone before us who trusted in God’s promise of love. And they remind us to how we are to carry on – with great hope, love, and trust in God’s never-failing love.

A Matter of Time

Advent Reflection, Friday, December 3

By: Eleanor Wellford

Time marches on! No, time stands still. Time is running out! Actually there’s plenty of time left. The time is now! The time was then. Time means everything! Time means nothing. So, which is it? How can “time” be so many things at once?

It can be that way because we’ve made it that way! We’ve made time really important in our lives. And if you don’t believe that, just think of how often we look at our watches or more likely, our cell phones to see what time it is. And what good does it really do because the more we see what time it is, the more we tend to stress about it – whether we’re running out of it or have too much of it. Rarely is there a feeling of satisfaction after seeing what time it is.

According to the church calendar, we are in the season of Advent which is a time to wait for Jesus’s birth. Yet what we’ve been hearing from our readings recently, is that we are to be prepared for Christ’s second coming at an unknown time.

To say the least, it’s a confusing time! There’s a stretch of time, however, that can be captured in the phrases “in the meantime” or “in between time” which means something hasn’t happened yet but is expected to happen.

The apostle Paul was concerned about this “in between” time. In his letters to the various communities of recently converted Christians, he wrote about the importance of keeping the faith when it was hard to do so. The ground on which those early churches was founded was shaky to say the least; but against all odds, those churches not only survived, but thrived because of their faith.

I believe that faith is the only thing that allows us to live a meaningful life during times of stress and uncertainty – something we’ve all become used to during the past almost two years.

So the next time you look to see what time it is, especially during Advent, try to be aware of the time that marks the beginning of something not yet here. As humans we know how hard it is to live in that time, but as Christians, we have faith that God’s love, incarnate in Jesus Christ, will be the strength we need to see us through whatever time it is.

In the Stillness of Advent

Advent Reflection, Friday, November 26

By: Kilpy Singer

Can I share something with you?

Advent is hard for me. These four weeks are some of the most cherished in our liturgical year, but I tend to find them exhausting. It’s a combination of the cold weather, diminishing hours of sunlight, and anniversaries of a loved one’s passing. While the world gets decked out in string lights and takes on an air of excitement, I start to feel a little blue.

Maybe I’m not alone in this. Maybe you, or a friend, or a family member get this too. The season calls for boundless holiday cheer, but it takes all our energy just to make sure every family member is where they are supposed to be at the right time and in clean (enough) clothes. On top of that, we each carry our own invisible but very real burdens. We carry guilt, fatigue, hurt, and fear, especially after these past 20 months.

This expectation of how we are supposed to feel versus the reality of how we really feel is difficult. It’s a tension that I carry as I wrap gifts, go to parties, and re-watch Elf for the hundredth time. But there are two places I have relief from it: when I am in our kitchen lighting our table-top Advent wreath and when I am in the church late on Christmas Eve. I have a brief reprieve because I’m reminded. I’m reminded that the tension I’m feeling is between me and Hallmark, not me and God. I’m reminded that life is hard, and the world wants to distract me of it, but God, on the other hand, wants me to enter into it. I’m reminded that some 2,000 years ago, God did enter in by becoming incarnate – the Word made flesh.

This reminder requires very little of us. As the world screams “Do more, buy more, and look cheery while doing it!” God whispers a gentle, “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still. Our simple, yet sacred, Advent practices help us to find quiet amidst the holiday chaos. Know that I am God. It’s in that stillness that God enters in and reminds us of who God is – a God who doesn’t tell us to feel or be something we aren’t, but instead, becomes what we are.

Thank You for the Music

Weekly Reflection, Friday, November 19

By: Meriwether Roberts

It’s come to my attention that people either love ABBA or hate it. I fall into the category of ABBA lovers having discovered the band a few years ago. Their song “Thank you for the Music” tells of someone’s life positively changed by music and their ability to share it with the world. I owe thanks to St. Mary’s for giving me music as a way to worship and a place to share it. Through Vacation Bible School and Sunday School I am able to connect with our youngest members, but more importantly, I thank St. Mary’s for giving me a choir that has become like family

At four years old, I joined the Children’s Choir because I loved singing and performing. Who knows if I was any good when I started but I learned to sing. Beth Stephens should probably become a Saint due to her ability to transform energetic children into musicians. After a few years, I moved up to the Treble Choir and, there, developed musically and spiritually. My favorite time of year is Advent and Christmas due to the music. Nothing has been more special to me than singing the opening solo of “Once in Royal City”, during the pageant. It’s still one of my favorites.

I “graduated” from Treble Choir with my very own hymnal that I still use every Sunday. As a member of the Adult Choir, I have expanded my repertoire and now sing a wide range of pieces. I love the routine and the familiarity of our service music contrasted against the unique choral music. Thanks to Ryan I have begrudgingly learned songs in German, Latin and Greek, among others. While most of my childhood at St. Mary’s is a blur, every clear memory involves music. It has always grounded me and given me a personal way to worship and give thanks. I missed it dearly while I was away in college and during the pandemic. Throughout those times I couldn’t wait to get back to the music and the community I found in it.

So thank you St. Mary’s, thank you Ryan, Dwight, and Beth, and thank you to the wonderful congregation that allows me to share my love of music. In the words of ABBA:
“So I say
Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing
Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing
Who can live without it? I ask in all honesty
What would life be?
Without a song or a dance, what are we?
So I say thank you for the music
For giving it to me”