Christmas Meditation 2016: Thoughts on the Light of the World

John 1: 1-14

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life,* and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.*

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own,* and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,* full of grace and truth.

One of the things we do each Christmas is to ponder the incarnation through lessons and carols.

In our scripture readings this evening, we have heard the Biblical story and it is a joyous one.

But one that took thousands of years.

Our lessons tonight started with Genesis and the fall from grace in the garden and the promise that one would come to restore us to God’s grace.

We heard the prophecy of Isaiah that the promise would come in the form of a child who would be born for us.

And that the child would be “Wonderful counselor! Mighty God! Everlasting Father! Prince of Peace!”

We were told of Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would be the mother of that child and her acceptance.

We were reminded of the journey to Bethlehem and the birth of that child who was named Jesus.

We heard of the angels announcement and the shepherds visit.

And then we are taught what it all meant by John.

Light was coming into the world.

The light was Jesus.

Jesus was God.

God came here.

The incarnation.

God – Jesus – Light.

All coming into a world that had been in shadow since Adam’s rebellion.

But this was not the first time the light came.

To really understand this, we need to go back to the very beginning.

In the beginning when God created* the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God* swept over the face of the waters. 3Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

The first thing God did was to shine light into the formless void.

The light was good and separated what it illuminated from the darkness.

Humanity lived in the light and walked with God.

But humanity chose to step out of the light.

Into the shadows.

And humanity was diminished.

The darkness overcame us.

We were lost.

What does our darkness look like?

It looks like many things.

Jesus lists some.







There are others.








Everywhere we look people are fighting over land, wealth, power.

So many trying to be God.

This is the darkness.

We cannot see a way out.

And we are afraid.

So our fear makes things darker.

It has been cycling this way since Eden.

But there can also be a personal darkness.






We all have some of that.

What we want is a bit of light.

For the world.

For us.

And as we learned in our lessons this evening, God gave it to us.



God started over, in a way.

In the form of a child.

A child with the power to drive the darkness away.

This child.

The one Luke tells us about.

6For a child has been born for us, a son given to us … He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.

This child.

The one John was talking about.

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Jesus was that light.

The same light that illuminated creation at the beginning.

And illuminated us again in Jesus.

The incarnate God.

God – Jesus – Light.

It is the Christmas gift.

A light that we can rely on to shine into our shadows and show us a better way to live.

The Jesus way.

Feeding the hungry.

Giving water to the thirsty.

Clothing the naked.

Comforting the sick.

Visiting the prisoners.

Welcoming the strangers.

Loving God.

Loving each other.

And that light, the Jesus light, the light we let into our lives to encourage us to live the Jesus way cannot be overcome by the darkness.

Once there it remains there.

Encouraging us and empowering us and restoring us to God’s grace.

Jesus is the true light.

The light for all people.

The light that enlightens all people.

And all people been invited to live in that light, in the presence of the living God.

Which is why many of us are here.

We are here looking for a better way to live in a dark world.

And it is this child we gather around tonight seeking refuge.

This sanctuary is now the stable.

We are the shepherds and townspeople and kings who surround the child.

We plead to the child.

“Save us!”

“Help us find our way!”

“We want the peace that being in your light offers.”

And it is good that we are all here.

Because it is this child who will lead us out of this present darkness and into the light of the Kingdom of God and his salvation.

This child was born to say:

I am the light.

I am shining in the world as an example of what is good and true.

Out there?

That is the darkness.

That is where there is no truth and there is no goodness.

Over there in the darkness there is death.

But here in the light there is life.

The choice is yours.

This is the way out.

Those who want to find a better way, follow me.

Follow me and live.

I have come to give you sanctuary in the Kingdom of God.

Where you will be reconciled to God.

Where you will have peace.

I have come to take you there.

And here we are.

Gathering around.

Gazing at the child.

Looking at our salvation.

God is with us.

But we still have a question for him.

“Why would you do such a thing?”

His answer?

‘For God so loved the world that he [sent me] his only Son, so that everyone who believes in [me] may not perish but may have eternal life.”

‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

The birth of this child gives us this.

We experience forgiveness and grace through this child.

We are taught how to live by this child.

We are reconciled to God through this child.

We are taken into God’s presence with this child.

And this child of hope comes to us every time we need him most.

So take a moment.

Consider the Creator who shined the light at creation.

Consider the baby who brought the light back to us.

Consider the light that pushes the darkness away.

It is the basis of hope.

It is the source of peace.

It is the springboard of joy.

It is the illumination of love.

That light is shining.

Right here.

Right now.

Come and live in the light with the baby.

Jesus Christ our Lord.

Merry Christmas!



Love: Thoughts on what we celebrate on the 4th Sunday of Advent.


Jeremiah 31: 2-9
2 Thus says the Lord:
The people who survived the sword
found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
3   the Lord appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
4 Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
O virgin Israel!
Again you shall take your tambourines,
and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
5 Again you shall plant vineyards
on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant,
and shall enjoy the fruit.
6 For there shall be a day when sentinels will call
in the hill country of Ephraim:
‘Come, let us go up to Zion,

   to the Lord our God.’
7 For thus says the Lord:
Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;
proclaim, give praise, and say,
‘Save, O Lord, your people,

   the remnant of Israel.’
8 See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
those with child and those in labor, together;
a great company, they shall return here.
9 With weeping they shall come,
and with consolations I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
for I have become a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn.

Jeremiah speaks of love today.

Which is what we celebrate on the fourth Sunday of Advent.

But it is not romantic love he is talking about.

Jeremiah is talking about God’s love.

And as he speaks the words God puts on his lips, he seems almost plaintive.

Powerful words.

Intense words.

I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

This little phrase reminds me of the song, “Do you love me?” in Fiddler on the Roof.

Tevye and Golde have been married for 25 years.

And finally have this conversation:

Do you love me?
Do I what?
Do you love me?
Do I love you?
With our daughters getting married
And this trouble in the town
You’re upset, you’re worn out
Go inside, go lie down!
Maybe it’s indigestion

But do you love me?
Do I love you?
For twenty-five years I’ve washed your clothes
Cooked your meals, cleaned your house
Given you children, milked the cow
After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?
Do you love me?
I’m your wife
“I know…”
But do you love me?
Do I love him?
For twenty-five years I’ve lived with him
Fought him, starved with him
Twenty-five years my bed is his
If that’s not love, what is?
Then you love me?
I suppose I do
And I suppose I love you too
It doesn’t change a thing
But even so
After twenty-five years
It’s nice to know

25 years of community and companionship.

With all the ups and downs of life that comes with it.

And they never spoke of romantic love.

But in the end, when they finally do talk of love, they speak of that community and companionship as their everlasting love.

Their faithfulness.

Love in action.

Jeremiah is speaking to people who are wondering if God loves them.

They are not like Golde and Tevye.

They have acted like rebellious children.

Like ungrateful spouses.

Times are hard.

They have not spoken of such things for a long time, if ever.

And now in their despair they ask:

Do you love us, God?

God responds.

I have created you.

You bear my image.

I provide for you.

I gave you the earth and everything in it.

I gave you an identity.

You are children of Abraham.

I chose you.

I brought you out of slavery.

I gave you order and justice.

I gave you the law.

We have had our ups and downs.

But I have always been present.

I have always been faithful.

Then you love me?
I suppose I do
And I suppose I love you too

Our conversation would add a line to God’s answer:

I forgave you when you were unfaithful.

When you did not return to me.

I came to get you.

I was always there for you.

I was always faithful.

Then you love us?
I suppose I do
And we suppose we love you too.

How do we know God loves us?

The same way Golde and Teyve know they love each other.

We know that God loves us by observing what God has done for us.

John Franke in his book about Karl Barth God’s love this way:

The specific way God loves us is through the ongoing establishment of communion between God and God’s creatures. God’s love for the world is not as a passionless Deity, but rather that of one who is passionately involved in the life of the world and pours out his love lavishly in Jesus Christ.

Scripture is the story of God’s love for us.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, notable Jewish author and teacher, says this about God’s active love.

[T]he narrative of Abraham and Sarah and the children of Israel, as the journey through time and space to the Promised Land … is a story of what it is to live closely and continuously under the tutelage of God. It is a story … essentially of love.

That is what Jeremiah is talking about.

God’s love for us is in essence a love story.

And God’s refrain throughout the story:

I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

But there is more to God’s love than that.

God loves us because God chooses to love us.

God’s love is “utterly free” and does not respond to anything.

It just is.

That is what Jeremiah is talking about.

The people …
found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
3   the Lord appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
4 Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
O virgin Israel!

8 See, I am going to … gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
those with child and those in labor, together;
a great company, they shall return here.
9 With weeping they shall come,
and with consolations I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
for I have become a father to Israel …








Jesus tells the same story though in the form of a parable.

The Prodigal Son.

A man had a son.

The son wanted to go to town and live “the life”.

To pay for it, the son took what he was going to inherit when his father was dead.

And off he went.

The story follows the son’s fortunes in town, his great fall, and the resulting financial and moral bankruptcy.

What we don’t hear much about is Dad.

I have this picture in my mind.

Dad is where he has always been.


The son has gone to a far-off place.

Every day, just before bed, Dad goes out to the gate of his property and stares down the road.

Maybe today my son will come home.

Maybe today.

Maybe he will come home prosperous.

A wife.


Maybe he will come home penniless.


An outcast.

It does not matter.

I will be happy to see him.

I will tell him he was never out of my mind.

He was never out of my heart.

He is now and has always been my son.

I will welcome him home.

I have loved him with an everlasting love;
I have continued my faithfulness to him.

That is the kind of love Jeremiah is talking about.

God has become the father of Israel.

God has been where God has always been.


God’s people have gone away to a far off place.

Every day God looks for his people to return.

Maybe today.

And if they do, I will welcome them.

But they don’t.

And so God does what the Dad did not do.

God went after his people.

God went and got them and brought them home.

God came to get us.

To rescue us.


John 3: 16

16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Paul puts it this way:

Romans 5: 8

8But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa said this is his favorite Bible verse.

Here is why:

It sums up the Gospel wonderfully. We think we have to impress God so that God could love us. But he says, “No, you are loved already, even at your worst.”

While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

While we are in exile because of our unfaithfulness, God loves us.

While we are in town enjoying our unfaithfulness, God loves us.

While we are ignoring all that God has doe for us, God loves us.

This is the way God loves.


And freely given.

That is the love we celebrate today.

And we should celebrate such love.

It is how we want love to be.

We want someone to choose to love us.

And we want to choose to love someone else.

It is what we crave.

It is what we all want.

To be loved with an everlasting love.

And to love with an everlasting love.

To love and be loved with an everlasting love.

And this is what Jesus says God wants for us!

Diana Butler Bass wrote this in her book “Christianity after Religion”:

When asked what the greatest commandment was Jesus, he responded “love God” and “love your neighbor as yourself”. Love is the connective tissue of relationship, the internal disposition that reaches up toward God and out toward others. It is impossible for love to exist in isolation. Love needs expression in relationships and communities.

 If you want to love and be loved, you need to be in community.

With God and with others.

Where do we learn to do that?

Right here.

That is what the church is for.

That is what this church is for.

A place were we belong.

Where we are part of a community.

It is a place where we can love and be loved, even when we are at our worst.

Where we are loved with an everlasting love.

Where we are among people who are faithful to each other.

A place where we can find:








This is what we celebrate in Advent.

Love that came down.

Which came to a place we depict here.

Where God became one of us.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it this way:

… [I]n the conception and birth of Jesus Christ, God took on humanity in bodily fashion. God raised his love for humanity above every reproach and falsehood and doubt and uncertainty by himself entering into the life of human beings, as a human being, by bodily taking on himself and bearing the nature, essence, guilt and suffering of human beings.

The incarnation.

In Bethlehem.

In a stable.

In a manger.

God with us.

Why would God do such a thing?

God loves us with an everlasting love.


Joy: Thoughts on maybe church should be joyful and fun?

Jeremiah 31: 10-14

10 Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
and declare it in the coastlands far away;
say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him,

   and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.’
11 For the Lord has ransomed Jacob,
and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.
12 They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,
and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord,
over the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and over the young of the flock and the herd;
their life shall become like a watered garden,
and they shall never languish again.
13 Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance,
and the young men and the old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
14 I will give the priests their fill of fatness,
and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the Lord.

A long time ago, I went to church on Christmas Eve with my family.

I am not one who displays a lot of emotion.

But then we started to sing the first hymn.

O Come All Ye Faithful!

You know how it goes.

O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!

And the words caught in my throat.

I got a little misty eyed.

That was unexpected.

I was overcome with … well … joy!

Then we sang another hymn.

Joy to the World.

You know it.

Joy to the world, the Lord has come.

That is why we should be joyful.

The Lord has come!

Church should be joyful.

That is what Psalm 100 preaches!

1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
2   Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.
3 Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
5 For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

When we sing these hymns, we are making a joyful noise!

This feeling should be one we have at church all the time and not just during Advent or Easter.

But is it?

I am reading a book right now called, “Between Heaven and Mirth; Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life”.

It is written by Jesuit priest James Martin.

Martin opens the book with a story about his friend Mike who was studying for the priesthood with him.

Mike was someone who told clever stories with good comic timing and who was always uplifting and encouraging.

Mike found humor in many things.

One of the customs of the Jesuits was to stay humble by confessing publicly their faults and failures to the head of the community.

One-day Mike began to laugh during the mass because he could not get a funny thought out of his mind.

So he went to the head of the community and confessed, “Father, I confess I have excessive levity.”

The head priest looked at him and said, “All levity is excessive!”

That reminded me of the stories my Dad told me about Rev. Paul Hudson over at Pleasant Hills Church.

Paul Hudson was a former priest who became a Presbyterian minister and planted the church.

My Dad said that crying babies, listless children and whispering members of the congregation would stop the sermon and the offending party would get the “stare” from Rev. Hudson.

One time someone dropped an offering plate and it did one of those spins that you can only stop by grabbing it or stepping on it.

Someone stepped on it.

Everyone started to chuckle – until Rev. Hudson hit the entire group with the stare.

Immediate silence.

Eyes down.

I suspect going to church in those days did not generate a good deal of joy.

But that has been the history of the church, right?

When we come into the sanctuary, we are supposed to be reverent.

And we tend to translate that to solemnity, seriousness, and gravity.

Why is that?

Martin gives several reasons:

First, many of us imagine God as a joyless judge.

Think of Jonathon Edwards’ most famous sermon: “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God!”

Second, we are concerned with our relationship with the creator of the universe and the rules and regulations we are required to follow in order to avoid “sin”.

Even Paul tells us that we must work out our salvation with “fear and trembling”.

Third, many sermons and lessons focus on sin and spend time scolding and pointing out our faults and failures rather than encouraging is to flourish.

Fourth, we tend to think that people who are sober, solemn – dour even – are better leaders.

They are more serious about ministry.

Fifth, pastors most often deal with the sad, the troubled, the suffering, the sick, the dying and the dead.

And then there are the periodic Sunday morning technological issues that drive your pastor to distraction and irritation.

Like today’s sermon lost in the cloud and replaced by one I preached 5 years ago.

As Martin puts it, a pastor “becomes more burdened with heaviness of spirit than uplifted with lightness of heart.”

And it is hard to lead joyfully at times.

And lastly, people misunderstand the place of joy in their faith.

They think it does not belong there.

How does such a life proclaim a good and loving God?

How does such an attitude invite people to investigate Jesus?

That is why Billy Joel wrote his song “Only the Good Die Young!”

A song that encourages folks to walk away from church and go have a good time.

So it should be no surprise when we hear people say that the thought of going to church is not something they equate with joy!

Yet today joy in the church is what we celebrate.

We even give its candle a different color!

What are we to be joyful about?

The Lord has come.


The incarnation.

God with us and present with us as guide, friend and companion.

That God loves us so much that he came here.

And we see that in the story of Mary and Elizabeth.

Mary is pregnant with Jesus.

Elizabeth is pregnant with John, Jesus’ cousin.

They come together and what happens?

Elizabeth shouts with joy!

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?

The unborn John jumps for joy!

And Mary sings!

“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. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. … He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

And maybe they are even dancing!

The Holy One is coming!

And for us the Holy One has come and saved us and restored us.

And so we should be joyful!

That is what Jeremiah says in our scripture reading!

Jeremiah is preaching that God is going to restore his exiled people.

Things will be as God intended.

The people will be radiant over the goodness of the Lord.

There will grain, wine, oil and livestock

Life will be like a watered garden.

The people will never suffer again.

The young women rejoice and dance.

The young men and the old shall be merry.

Their mourning will be turned into joy.

They will be comforted.

And my favorite part, the priests will be well fed!

And the people will be satisfied.

What is interesting about this prophecy is that Jeremiah appears to be speaking in verse!

Is he singing?

Mary and Elizabeth know about Jeremiah.

They know that the prophecy about restoration is going to be fulfilled though Mary’s child.

So they erupt with joy!

We have reason to be that joyful.

We are restored, too.

That kind of joy both praises God and spreads his Good News.

And when we have that attitude, church is a good time!

And that church people are fun.

And here at JMPC, we get it honestly.

Humor mixed with religion is in our heritage!

In my office I have a biography of John McMillan.

In it there is this story.

McMillan and Rev. Joseph Patterson were on their way to a Presbytery meeting in Pittsburgh.

It was a long trip from what is now Washington and Jefferson College and so they stopped at a tavern on the way “to refresh themselves”.

They each ordered whiskey.

Patterson closed his eyes and offered a blessing over the whiskey.

When he was done both glasses were empty.

McMillan told him:

“Brother, you must watch as well as pray!”

But I have a better source of authority for some joy and levity in church and life.


What was Jesus first miracle?

Water to wine at a wedding feast.

How did he spend leisure time?

Hanging out with sinners, having a good time with his disciples, eating and drinking.

As one pastor I heard put it, how could Jesus not be having a good time?

He spent most nights camping with his friends.

How did Jesus teach?

He told parables.

A kind of story, clever and well told, that attracted people to him.

These stories were often factually absurd and might well have evoked some laughter as he told them.

But there was also a message that was easily understood.

And kids seemed to like him.

And he liked them.

Kids don’t like solemnity.

Yep, Jesus seems like he was pretty joyful.


Light hearted.

Perhaps jovial.

We should be like that.

Church should be a joyful place on more Sundays than the Third Sunday of Advent.

It should be joyful all the time.

So how do we do that?

We worship joyfully.

Even though we don’t have a loud praise band or big screens.

We don’t shout out during the sermon of prayer.

We don’t sway with the music and swing our hands in the air.

We don’t fall down and quiver on the floor.

And there is nothing wrong with that, but that is not how we at JMPC express joy.

We are, after all, still Presbyterians.

The frozen chosen.

We express joy in our own way.

We have music!

We have our choir.

Our bells.

Our soloists.

Our praise band.

We sing, a lot!

We also have children who come up with Matt and as Art Linkletter would put it “say the darndest things!”

And we proclaim the word and celebrate the sacraments.

We are joyful outside worship, too.


Screaming children learning to love the Lord.

The Christmas Affair.

Festive selling of homemade wares to raise money for mission.

Kid’s Club and Youth Group pandemonium.

Retreats and mission trips.

And plenty of laughter.

Martin tells a story about that.

Martin had a friend named John.

John’s mother liked to tell stories about her family.

The stories were long and boring.

But they all ended with the same three words.

“And we laughed.”

It is my experience here at JMPC that at the end of everything we do, we laugh.

After meetings, events and worship.

We laugh.

Not necessarily because something is funny, but because we really are joyful about our church and what it means to us.

And I think JMPC has been like that since it was founded.

I learned that at the 50-year anniversary.

Joy and funny stories.

And we laughed.

Now we are in our season of joy.

And we still have a bunch to go.

Today we have the Christmas Concert.

Next week the Christmas Pageant.

Special services on Christmas Eve.

Join us.

Let’s come together as a family of faith, be joyful, and laugh.

And then let’s make a New Year’s resolution.

Let’s keep the joy going in 2017.

And for the next 50 years.

Come all ye faithful,

There is joy to the world,

Let’s make a joyful noise to the Lord,

And rejoice that we are disciples of Jesus Christ.

In conclusion, did you hear the one about …

No, no time now.

But maybe later.

Confirmation Class

Youth in 8th grade and older youth, who have not been confirmed are invited to attend Confirmation Classes that will begin February 5 and end May 21 on Confirmation Sunday. On Sunday, January 29, youth along with their parents, are invited to a meeting after church. We will explain the goal for confirmation as well as go over what we will be learning in the class. The classes will be held during the Church School Hour, 9:30-10:30am. Contact Matt Fricker ( with questions or to register.

Church School for All

On Sunday Mornings there is a learning experience for everyone.  Children through adults meet and 9:30-10:00 to learn about God in our lives.  Adults have current event discussion and Bible Study groups.  Children of all ages meet to meet God through play, crafts and stories. Join US!!!




Peace: Thoughts on the second Sunday of Advent.

Jeremiah 31: 31-34

31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

This morning we conducted a little ritual that we do every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

We “passed the peace”.

The litany goes like this:

The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

And the congregation responds:

And also with you.

Then we spend the next few minutes wandering around, shaking hands and saying something like, “Peace be with you”.

Where do we get that?

John 14: 27:

Jesus tells his disciples this at the Last Supper.

27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.

The peace we pass is the peace that Jesus left them and they passed on to us.

The second Sunday of Advent is when we celebrate that peace Jesus left us.

The peace he brought from God and passed on to us.

But last time I checked, the world is not a peaceful place.

Just read the paper.

So, what is this peace that Jesus left us?

It’s a spiritual peace.

A sense of well-being, and fulfillment that comes from God.

The word Jesus would have used is shalom.

Shalom is a sense of wholeness.

An awareness that one is somehow complete.

It is a mindfulness that God is present.

It is a gift from God.

So when we pass the peace, we are offering a prayer that the person we greet feels God’s presence.

A feeling of well-being.


So when we think if peace in these terms, opposite of peace is not war, but distance from God’s presence.

Anxiety, worry, apprehension or fear, instead of well-being.

A feeling that something is missing in our lives.

And so we look for something we can do to give us … well … peace.

A sense of harmony even in troubled or stressful times.

To somehow become aware of God’s presence.

A presence that gives us a sanctuary from the anxiety of life, even if just for a moment or two.

Here is one way.

Some time ago I read a book by Richard Foster simply called “Prayer”.

In it he describes a time when he was harried and anxious.

He was looking for a bit of peace.

So he began to pray:


“Be still.”


And he repeated those words until he found it.

A calm.

A feeling of well-being.

An awareness of something more important and profound than his apprehension.

He called it the “presence in the midst.”

The presence of God in the midst of his life.

Not long after that, I was an adult chaperone on a high school mission trip to Agua Prieta, Mexico.

While we were waiting to go to the airport from a local church in Arizona, a virus burned through our group and sent around half to a local hospital.

One young man was particularly distressed as he got sicker and sicker.

His anxiety was worse than the GI symptoms.

He needed to calm down.

So I told him to look me in the eye and repeat those words Foster used.


“Be still.”


As we repeated those words, both of us began to relax.

He became peaceful.

Things were going to be OK.

In five minutes, he was asleep.

One of the other chaperones watched.

He said, “I’ve never seen anything like that!”

Neither had I.

We had just experienced the presence in our midst.

The peace had been passed.

My law partner did that for me a while back.

In a particularly difficult time in our practice she bought me a plaque that said:

‘Be still, and know that I am!’

It still hangs in my office.

It comes from Psalm 46.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

I read it this way:

Be still and know that I am present.

That plaque gives me peace.

So what does this have to do with Jeremiah?

Jeremiah describes something similar.

He is talking to an anxious people.

Exiled from their homeland.

Living in a hostile and foreign culture.

Feeling cut off from their God.

Their covenant with God was broken.

They did not feel the presence in their midst.

And so they had no peace.

Then Jeremiah told them some good news.

There would be a new covenant.

Not one written on stone tablets.

One that would be written on their hearts.

One that would not have to be taught.

It would just be understood.



God would never be distant.

God would be just there.

Just here.

All would be well, somehow.

And then these words:

I will be [your] God, and [you] shall be my people. … I will forgive [your] iniquity, and remember [your] sin no more.

We will have a new relationship with God.

One based on love, not rules.

That is Jeremiah’s prophecy.

When we hear that we should have rest, stillness, shalom.

Go will no longer just be “with” us.

God will be part of us.

Written on our hearts.

We will be whole.


We will have peace.

And this is how it happened.

550 years later the prediction of another prophet, Isaiah, came true:

6For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Luke says the angels proclaimed at the time of Jesus birth:

14‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’

And then there is Paul who speaks of Jesus to the Ephesians.

14 For he [Jesus] is our peace…

[H]e came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.

Not necessarily world peace.

But the peace of knowing God.

The peace of receiving God’s spirit and having God as part of us.

Our peace is Jesus.

Right now.

No matter what.

Even during anxious and disheartening times.

We can live that way.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer did.

After he was imprisoned by the Nazis, he wrote to his fiancé one Christmas.

Listen to what he said:

Be brave for my sake, dearest Maria, even if this letter is your only token of my love this Christmas-tide. We shall both experience a few dark hours – why should we disguise that from each other?  We will ponder the incomprehensibility of our lot and be assailed by the question of why, over and above the darkness enshrouding humanity, we should be subjected to the bitter anguish of a separation whose purpose we fail to understand. … And then just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong … God is in the manger … No evil can befall us … the God who is secretly revealed to us as love … rules the world and our lives.

His words:

“God is in the manger!”

That’s the kind of peace people sought … and got … when they went to church after 9/11.

I remember it well.

I was the managing director of a downtown law firm.

I was told about the attacks and turned on the radio.

The World Trade Center was in flames.

The Pentagon was devastated.

There was still one plane unaccounted for and it was near Pittsburgh.

We were being told to evacuate because Pittsburgh was the closest “target”.

I told everyone in the office to head home.

Then I sat down at my desk and prayed.


I knew this was going to be bad.

The world had just changed.

Dark times were ahead.

It was going to last a long time.

But as I prayed, I felt peace.

I did not know what was going to happen.

I did not know if the world was going to survive.

But I knew that God was present.

The one who offers peace through his son.

The one who forgets and forgives the stuff we people do to each other.

That was my peace.

That is what Jeremiah said God promised.

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people … for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

The presence in our midst.

But as Bonhoeffer said, the darkness of the world enshrouds us.

We have trouble feeling God’s presence.

So we have rituals that we use to remind us.

The advent wreath.

The passing of the peace.

And this table.

When we come to it, we are reminded that Jesus invites us here and promises that he will be present.

That God is in our midst.

In our hearts.

And regardless of the anxiety and stress we feel during this advent we can break through the darkness and feel that presence.

Our iniquity is forgiven.

Our sin remembered no more.

For God is in our midst.

God is in our hearts.

So while we wait to eat and drink together, pray Foster’s prayer.


Be still.


New Members Class

NEW MEMBERS’ CLASS: We will offer our next New Members’ Class on Sunday, January 22, 2017 at 9:30am in the Parlor. Pastor Jeff will offer a presentation on what it means to be a Presbyterian at JMPC. If you cannot attend the class, we will make accommodations. New members will be received on Sunday, January 29. Come and Join Us.  Contact Pastor Jeff at 412-833-4704 for more information.

Souper Bowl Sunday

It’s almost SOUPER BOWL time! The Souper Bowl of Caring is a national program to help the hungry.  It was started over 25 years ago by a church youth group.  On Sunday February 5 look for the Soup Pot in the narthex.  Bring in a can of non-perishable food and $1.00 to help feed people in need.  All food and money will be donated to SHIM (South Hills Interfaith Movement) to help with their food bank.

Welcome Back Kids Club

Welcome back Kids Klub and  Youth Group.  We are glad to see you back.  January 11th– 5:00-7:00. The church as been quiet without you. See you Wednesday. — Kids Klub Staff

This week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church

So this week we light the “peace” candle on the Advent Wreath. As I was thinking about what to say about “peace”, I kept hearing that Eagle’s tune “Peaceful Easy Feeling” in my mind. It was written by Jack Tempchin in 1971 and recorded by the Eagles in 1972. It’s about a guy who has a peaceful easy feeling. The lyrics don’t really say why he has that feeling, (in fact the lyrics would make you think he shouldn’t) but he does. I think part of the song’s popularity was just that. He had a peaceful, easy feeling and that is what we all want. But who has that kind of feeling in Advent? There are decorations to put up, cards to send, presents to buy, parties to attend, concerts to enjoy, families to visit. I suspect that none of us sings that we have a peaceful easy feeling as we try to get it all done. And that is a problem. Because when we think of the birth of Jesus, it should give us a feeling of peace. What kind of peace? A peace that knowing that God came to be one of us, to know us, to experience what we experience, and to promise us that he will remain with us and in us for all eternity. This is so regardless of the busy-ness of our lives that distances us from God and leads to the anxiety and apprehension so many of us feel, particularly this time of year. We feel out of touch with God who is reaching to us from the manger. We feel like we have put God down the list of importance. And so we feel restless, uneasy, and incomplete. That is where Jeremiah comes in. He preached to a people in exile who lived in a state of severe tension, believing that God had abandoned them. Jeremiah told them that however they felt then, God was going to make a new covenant with them and write his laws on their hearts, so that they would always have God with them. God would be part of them. There would never be another separation. They would be his people. He would be their God. He would forgive them for their wayward ways and remember their mistakes no more. Whenever I read those words, I do get that peaceful, easy feeling. And there are ways to remember and use those words in our lives that will allow us to be at peace – even during Advent. Come and hear about it this Sunday at 8:30 or 11, December 4, 2016 at John McMillan Presbyterian Church when Pastor Jeff preaches “Peace” from Jeremiah 31: 31-34. We will also be celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Come, be at peace, at least for an hour.