As Advent winds down to its ending on Christmas Eve, I'm doing what I tell everyone else to do: take a moment to reflect in the midst of a trying season. Several things pop in my mind: being prayerful for those who really suffer this "happy" time of year. For those of you in mourning, our prayers and love surround you in your loneliness and pain. For those of you physically suffering right now, our hearts go out to you in your pain - if we could take it from you, we would. And for those of you caring for loved ones, we hope and pray you will sense the helpful encouraging presence of God in your soul in the midst of your tiredness.
For those of you in trying circumstances: the only thing that can make Christmas "merry" is to experience the deep love God has for you in your wounded heart. Know that you are loved. Know that you are not alone in your depression and sorrow and brokenness.
And I've been reflecting on gifts. Oh, gifts themselves aren't so important; however the thought behind every gift received does matter more and more. As the years pass, I'm learning that gifts take new and varied forms. The best gifts come with skin on them! (Here you will expect an exposition on the Incarnation. Well, that's too obvious. It's the ultimate gift. But here's the secret: the Incarnation is revealed in the hearts, minds and acts of the people - the believers- around us today.)
What am I talking about? Gifts with skin? Zebra skin rugs or something? Nah. It's all about YOU. You volunteering your time and talents in the name of Christ for others is the best gift of all. Why? Goes back to the Incarnation. You represent the Incarnation to others.
Perhaps the greatest present this Christmas is the way we use our God-given gifts to reflect the Light of the World. I am blown away by how many people we are helping directly in our community this Advent. The families dealing with domestic violence; the poor; the staff at Zachary Elementary School we've adopted. Walking in to the church office building today, there were three different areas where items were being collected for various missional activities, while in the foyer of the sanctuary there are loads of food piled up for distribution. Pretty amazing how many gifts we are giving others because we have received the gift of salvation.
There are other "gifts with skin on them" around here!
Jan Whiddon is a great gift. She keeps the church organized. She keeps the pastor organized. She is always pleasant, has a deep faith, and is a prayerful person.
Don Bass is a great gift. He's the most important person in the church. He keeps our church in great condition.
Jason Gafford is a great gift. He keeps our church grounds manicured.
Joe Dilmon is a great gift. He is a faithful steward. With Joe in charge, we have accountability and peace of mind regarding the church's business management. He is a hard worker and loves this church very much.
Cathy Borneman is a great gift. She's a great gift because she oversees a group of great teachers who make our Little School the best in the area.
Myrna Rabalais is a great gift. She is our financial secretary and is always a pleasant soul to be around, as well as a dependable steward.
Chris Stephens is a great gift. Do you realize how talented he is? We sometimes forget how blessed we are to have him.
Our new choir director is a great gift. Daryl Johnson is calm, cool and collected every Sunday morning. We are so blessed to have his leadership.
There's Cyndi Hadden. So faithful. So good at organizing the Sunday morning children's ministries. So good at inviting others to participate in this ministry.
The Stewarts - Lonnie and Susan - certainly have been a gift to so many persons of so many ages at ZUMC. They are truly devoted servants of Christ and they do amazing things in their quiet, humble way.
There's Jennifer Bass who does so much to ensure Wednesday night suppers run smoothly and deliciously.
Another gift is Emily Nevarez, who has transformed our website and maintains both it and ZUMC's presence on the internet via Facebook and Twitter.
Phil Gagliano and Mary Williams are great gifts to our church. Really, if I was gone for six weeks and they were gone for six weeks, whose absence would be more sorely missed? Theirs, hands down. After all, they keep the campus neat and sweet for the rest of us.
What about our sound people? Skip Hudson, John Hadden, Mark Antoine are keeping it real. They have made lots of improvements this past year and contribute to the high quality of worship we enjoy every Sunday morning. You're a gift.
It is so wonderful - such a gift - to pastor such an amazing group of people. The people - you - are the gift. Really, the church is people, not buildings. It's about people doing things great and small to make a difference in other's lives for the sake of the kingdom! It is the response to love.
Way to go Church!
Merry Christmas and God bless you all,