Confirmation class assists at worship
This past Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent, our Confirmation class served as greeters and then lit the three candles of the Advent Wreath.
The first photo is Jonathan and Morgan ready to greet people as they came into church.
The second photo is Maddie and Pari also serving as greeters at the door.
The third photo is Maddie lighting the rose candle, the candle of love.
The fourth photo is Morgan reading the prayer and Scripture citation for the candle lighting ceremony.
Many thanks to the class for their participation, and thanks to Carol for the pictures.
Our congregation's "Stuff our Stockings” collection continues through the end of the month. We are asking those coming to church to bring in new men’s and women’s socks for the Hampshire County Interfaith Cot Shelter in Northampton. That's the board you see in the picture with all of the Christmas stockings. If you come to church to bring in your sock donation, you also get to hear our Music Director Anthony as we get to hear and share in some of the glorious music of the Advent and Christmas Seasons.
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps. 19:14)
Preparing for Christmas can get confusing. It can get confusing because a lot of people can think of it mostly in terms of presents and decorating. Sharon and I still haven’t decorated our house for Christmas. We’ve got a wreath on the front door facing the road so we’re hoping that if we keep the blinds drawn really tight that no one will notice that we’re not yet prepared.
But how do you prepare? The Season of Advent represents the long years during which the people of God waited for the coming of the Messiah, the Saviour.
That expectation was still being preached by John the Baptist, and people were crowding around him, amazed at his message and his freedom. John feared no one, not even the king. He spoke with the assurance of God’s voice.
People, we hear in today’s Gospel, were filled with expectation. They were hoping that John may be the long-awaited Messiah.
They heard his thunderous pronouncements against the enemies of God. They heard that all who dared to stand in the way of God would be destroyed. John preached: “Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
He warned the people gathered around him in the desert that the world was going to be changed. He spoke of those who would not repent, who would not come out into the desert wilderness, as the chaff that God would burn with unquenchable fire.
These were the expectations of the coming of God that filled people’s heart and minds with excitement. They wanted God to intervene and right every wrong, and punish everyone who would not listen. The coming of the Messiah was a fearful day for others, but one filled with justice for God’s chosen ones.
And this message was being preached right up until the time of Jesus. This is what the coming of the Saviour was supposed to mean. This is how people thought you prepared for Christmas. You waited for an angry God.
But the Saviour came to us in a surprising package. He came to us in a humble, homeless child born in an animal’s stable to parents who were seeking to register as citizens of a foreign country.
He came to us with the lights of the Advent Wreath that are now burning. The lights of hope and peace, and today, of love. Even amidst all of these wondrous promises, love stands out. Love is what most defines the coming of Christ.
We prepare for Christmas by trying to ever better understand and practice this unexpected message of love.
I was reading a book the other day of a year worth of sermons by Rev. Peter Gomes. He was the chaplain of Harvard University’s Memorial Chapel. And during one of his Advent sermons, he complained about Advent ideas turning into Advent ideals.
Ideals are perfect, and for Gomes that was the problem. Christmas revealed a Saviour who didn’t come to impose the perfect on us, like John the Baptist was expecting and people were filled with expectation that he was the Messiah. Christmas reveals a Saviour who brings wondrous ideas to us that we must choose to embrace and practice.
Remember that John the Baptist right up until the revelation of Jesus was preaching the dramatic intervention of an angry God. Then Jesus comes as God’s perfect revelation and He does not force God upon any person. Jesus offers God as the better alternative. Jesus speaks of God’s love and asks us to love in turn.
He died rather than turn away from this message. That was Jesus’ unexpected revelation and it was about ideas. It’s about us accepting those ideas and trying to live them and to change the world by them.
The problem with turning ideas into ideals is that we too quickly pass over the work we need to do.
Think about the fact that Advent not only reminds us about the coming of Christmas. It talks about Jesus coming again at the end-time with power and glory, and that Jesus will force the world to accept the ways of God or else.
That’s the same message of John the Baptist. All we did is postpone it from the coming of Jesus at Christmas to the coming of Jesus at some point in the future. That jumps right over the ideas of hope and peace and love, the three Advent candles already burning, and makes them into ideals that can only be forced upon us by God.
This is the opposite of what Jesus’ humble birth and peaceful life and loving message reveal. It’s the opposite of Jesus inspiring us with the ideas of His gospel so that we work to make Christian love a reality, if even only in our own lives.
Christmas is but a short few days away. This is a time to celebrate. But let’s not replace the reality of Christmas’ revelation of better ideas with the notion that God will do it all for us.
Paul told his church in the old Greek city of Philippi: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.”
The Lord is near. That’s the wonder of Advent. And may His nearness inspire us to live the ideas that Jesus lived perfectly, and even among those ideas of gentleness, hope and peace, love stands alone. Love summarizes everything about Jesus.
On this Advent Sunday of Christian love, may this idea inspire us to work at giving it a real chance in our lives and in our world. This is the revelation of God’s nearness that the Bethlehem birth reminds us of each year.
May the fact that the Lord is near guide our preparations for Christmas as we strive to be a people of Christian love, and for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The Executive Committee of the Hampshire Association has reached out to our congregation to ask if any of our members would be interested in serving on either the Executive Committee or the Committee on Ministry.
The Executive Committee runs the Association. It meets once a month on the first Tuesday to talk about and plan events and decisions that need to be made.
The Committee on Ministry keeps in touch with pastors and churches and makes decisions about privilege of call and ordination. There are some very experienced people on this Committee and Rev. Jill Graham is usually there. It is mostly on the job training, but there is reading material available if someone would want to study up.
The biggest thing is getting representation from lay and ordained members from various churches in the Association.
If anyone may be interested in this opportunity of serving the Association and giving Hatfield Congregational more of a voice, please reach out to Rev. Randy for contact information.
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
I think by now all of my co-workers know that I’m a pastor. This past week three of us were chatting during some down time. One of them starts to tell the story about things once being kind of rough in his life.
He went down to the shore, he told the other two of us, and was walking along the beach thinking about his life. He had a vision of two sets of footprints in the sand, one his own and one belonging to Jesus.
I think you have an inkling of where his story was going. So did I. When you’re a pastor, people like to share these kinds of stories with you.
Then he continues telling his tale. He told us that in his vision he saw that the two sets of footprints in the sand turned into only one during a particularly rough patch in his life. In his vision, he turned to Jesus and asked why there was only that one set of footprints. He said to Jesus, “I thought you would always be there for me.” And again, I think you may have an inkling of where his story was going. As did I.
But there was no climactic: “When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you." Instead, there was Jesus only saying, “Yeah, that was my bad. I had a lot of things going on that day. Sorry about that.” Well, I didn’t see that ending coming of Jesus apologizing for not being there and letting the guy walk all by himself. It took me by surprise, and that did make me smile.
Today is the First Sunday of Advent, and Advent is also all about surprises. It’s the beginning of the church’s preparations for Christmas. When all people of faith were expecting a powerful Saviour sent from heaven, God came down to earth instead in a Bethlehem manger. During Advent, this is the surprise we anticipate, the coming of the Christ Child, and it begins with the message of hope not power.
The Reopels lit the first candle of the Advent Wreath, the candle of hope. Its light is not all that powerful. It’s just a single candle burning. Imagine if it were dark in here right now. How much light could that one candle possibly share?
Most all of us would be in the darkness. But the thing is, even in the darkness, we would still be able to see its light, the light of hope. And that’s what hope is all about. Hope is not reality – yet. Hope is our dreams, our expectations, what we would like to see. Hope gives us the optimism to keep going, to keep working, to keep trying to make things better. Hope is a beacon that draws us to its light. It doesn’t settle for the way things are. It gives us the strength to believe in what we can be.
Power, on the other hand, forces itself upon us. Hope changes us. Power uses us. Hope inspires us. Power threatens us. Hope makes us stronger. Power is outside of us. Hope is us. It’s what we want to be, what we can be. And that is so much more powerful than power.
The reason I shared that opening story of my co-worker is to get us thinking in surprising ways about the meaning of Advent, that we are preparing for Christ among us as one of us and what that says about us.
The coming of Jesus into our world promises that Jesus is never absent. He’s always near. Advent’s surprise that can make us smile is that because Jesus is us, we can be like Jesus.
By my co-worker’s story that I shared, I did not mean in any way to imply that Jesus is not there when we need Him most, but it is to tap into the surprise that when God comes to us as us, when God brings His holiness into the world in the ordinariness of human life, all of a sudden power is not what it used to be. Now it’s hope. Now there’s God revealing to us what we can be, what we can do.
That’s the message I want to emphasize by the image of the lone set of footprints: not abandonment, but trust. Jesus trusts us. He believes we can be better people.
I saw a bumper sticker the other day. It said something like “If you think there’s too much hatred in the world, be a nicer person.” We can look at the world and complain, or we can take the next step and be different than the world. For that not to be simply naïve, we have to have hope, and hope comes from God.
I saw pictures the other day of the world leaders gathered for the Group of Twenty meeting. There’s a lot of power in those people. But I also saw the Saudi prince who our CIA believes ordered the murder and dismemberment of a journalist who was one of his own countrymen. He’s most likely a murderer. I’m sure he was dressed in the finest of clothes. I’m sure he ate the finest of meals. I’m sure he seemed so refined and dignified, but he’s most likely a murderer.
We don’t have to fall for what the world elevates as important. We can be different. We can look past the glare of the world and look for the light of hope, a light that calls us to something different, a light that call us to make a difference, a light that calls us to be like Jesus.
Maybe all you’ll remember from today’s sermon is my co-worker’s story of Jesus’ “my bad,” but if you do, don’t think of it as Jesus forgetting about us and not being there, think of it as Jesus trusting us enough to believe in us.
This is hope, and this is where we begin our Advent preparations for the coming of the Christ Child. May His birth fill us with hope so that we can be different. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
After our church Service on Sunday, December 9th, the congregation will gather for our annual "Old Fashioned Christmas." We enjoy a shared pot luck dinner and then we begin decorating the church for Christmas. All are welcome to attend and we'd love to see you!
The Board of Deacons met on November 26th and finalized plans for a New Members Meeting on Monday, December 3rd from 6 - 7:00pm. If you are interested in becoming a member of our church, we invite you to attend. You will hear about the process itself, our church congregation and our denomination. There will be time for you to ask any questions you may have, as well. If you are interested, but cannot make this date or time, please let Rev. Calvo know.
Today is Giving Tuesday throughout the nation. Black Friday was followed by Small Business Saturday which was followed by Cyber Monday. Now after making purchases for us and ours, Giving Tuesday asks that we give back to a charity of our choice. There are so many wonderful and worthwhile charities out there that need and appreciate our support. We at Hatfield Congregational Church would also ask you to consider a donation to our church on Giving Tuesday. Remember - all of this giving is because of the approaching birth of Jesus. Maybe give Jesus a birthday present this Giving Tuesday. And thank you.
Here is the link to our Sunday Service on the Last Sunday after Pentecost:
Sunday 10-11am (9:30am July + August)
Children Sunday School 10-11am
Nursery care available during worship