Sunday, December 29, 2013

Wednesday Women's Bible Study Resumes Next Week

The Wednesday Ladies Bible Study will begin a new study on Wednesday, January 8. The group will be studying Gideon by Priscilla Shirer.  Do you ever feel overwhelmed? Inexperienced? Intimidated? Insufficient? Too old or too young? Too afraid?  Gideon’s story involves far more than a wet fleece and a battle won with 300 soldiers.  His epic victory actually tells of one man’s struggle with his own weakness – and the One True God who transformed it into triumph.  So if you ever struggled with insecurity or had trouble accepting your limitations, this study will help you see how God can use your weakness to unlock his strength. 

This eight-week study includes a DVD and workbook.  We will meet in room 201-A from 9-11 a.m.  Childcare is available.  For more information or to sign up, contact Juanita Cowles at 865-712-3262 or  Workbooks will be handed out at the first meeting.  The cost is $13. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Advent Devotion: December 25

Be Eager and Deliberate
Read Isaiah 55:6

My children have taught me many lessons in their brief lifetimes. One of my favorites happened at Communion and continues still. With my first born, Grace, I have observed her thoughtful posture, but especially her care with finishing her cup. As early as she was able to hold the cup for herself, she took as many times as necessary tipping the cup with tiny hands even to the last drop...always very deliberate. The world around her had ceased to exist. The cup must be finished.

My second born, Luke, began greeting Communion with wide-eyed excitement from his earliest experiences. Anticipation rising in our waiting pew, eyes shining as we carried him to the high altar or he toddled his way there, his small hands open, body a wiggle he eagerly waited for the bread. Always. The bread is good.

I have often pondered just how to be eager and deliberate thanks to my children. It is a good thing to ponder and a befitting mood for Advent, although it may be hard. It’s hard to be eager when the demands of this season are so many. And, it’s hard to be deliberate when schedules are heavy laden with activity. I think sometimes our culture and our choices make it hard to deliberately share God’s love and hard to be eager in a busy world not bent on finding the Christ child even at Christmastime. But, I say it is well worth it in this season to rise above the cacophony of this world to eagerly and deliberately search for the Christ child once again...eyes wide and shiny repeatedly tipping God’s bountiful cup. The children have it figured out.

Prayer: Most Holy One, give us childlike hearts. Teach us to be eager and deliberate as children in our search for You. Fit us for your Kingdom at Christmas and always. Amen.

-Terri McCluskey

From the Church Street Advent Devotion Book, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Advent Devotion: December 24

A Baby Cries
Read Isaiah 9:6

Last holiday season was especially hectic. Too much last-minute shopping, too much money spent, too many dinners prepared and too many consumed to the bone, too many late nights trying to catch up, and then more guests. More, more, more of everything.

But, at last, Christmas Eve arrived. We made our way to Church Street, too late to sit in our habitual pew, but we eventually found a definitely snug space where we could all sit together. Just in time, as Christmas carols and songs had begun to fill the Nave. “O Come All Ye Faithful” brought tears to someone nearby, perhaps someone recalling their own annual traditions, maybe from childhood. The first verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” tugged at Christmas hearts, but somehow not mine. I remained burdened with the heaviness of the last few weeks. And then, a few rows from us, a baby cries. A crying baby to spoil this beautiful service!

But the whimpering is just what I needed to hear. The crying was perfect.  

Once upon a time, ever so many years ago, a baby was born. The father enthusiastically shouts “It’s a boy!” With baby’s first gulping cries, his mother and father gently soothe, caress his tiny body, wrap him ever so snugly. Yet somehow those first cries carry into the wilderness, alerting shepherds, and wise men peering into night skies hear a special sound, until even angels stop their appointed tasks just to listen, because in the cries of a precious newborn, God has kept His promise that Christmas will forevermore be beautiful and real.  

Prayer: God of my heart, open my eyes, my ears, all my senses to an awareness of your incredible gifts. Open my heart that I may see, and hear, and feel your presence in my life. Thank you.
-Linda Blair

From the Church Street Advent Devotion Book, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

Advent Devotion: December 23

Finding Jesus
Read Luke 2:8-16

It seems to me that the church doesn’t always appreciate our greatest message, our moment in the spotlight of the whole world, the birth of Christ!  We begin the season of Advent in the oddest sort of way, with screaming prophets, voices crying out in the wilderness, “Repent, repent…prepare the way of the Lord.”  As if that is not enough, we hesitate to arrive at “Joy to the World” saying over and over to one another, “Wait, wait!” Christmas is not yet. Christ is not born in us today but surely and always tomorrow, when Christmas finally comes!  We avoid singing Christmas carols, lest we proclaim that He is born too early and too often.  

But it’s not only the uproar of the prophets and our fear of arriving too early.   Perhaps we’re not really ever ready for Christmas to get here.  With the disarray in our lives…shopping, spending, partying, family gatherings, traveling, and finally collapsing under the weight of our busyness.  Are we ever ready to have our own Hallmark moments, the family holy round yon’ virgin mother and child? In all of the commotion of wild-eyed prophets proclaiming repentance and preparation of heart and our own halting spurts of pretentious preparations, we barely get to experience Mary, Joseph, shepherds, wise-persons, and a little baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes laying in a manger.

For many years now part of our family observance of Advent and preparation for Christmas is to set out the pieces of the manger scene, the crèche, a few figures at a time, as we all make our way to the manager.  It had even become a tradition to tell the story of Christmas through the figures of the crèche with the children of the church I served.  So every week of Advent, different characters arrived and the children, gathered around on the chancel steps, heard their story as we carefully placed them in our manger scene at the center of the altar table.    

The crèche, a beautiful hand-carved antique, had been carefully put away the year before with all the pieces wrapped in tissue, placed in a shoebox, and stored on a high shelf.   On that first Sunday of Advent, I took down the box and carefully began to unwrap the figures in preparation for their starring roles. Everyone was there: the angel, Mary, Joseph, two shepherds, three sheep, three wise men, and three camels. Even the manager was there. But no Jesus!

I quickly decided that since he would no doubt turn up long before I really needed him, I would keep this piece of information to myself. Perhaps following the advice of the angels, since I had not found him, I proclaimed it to no one! Over the four weeks of Advent, it would cross my mind from time to time and I would begin to look for Jesus.  I looked around my office and the church, searching every place and even in the filing cabinet: Maybe he was filed under J for Jesus or C for Christ.  But he was nowhere to be found.  

Frankly, how could we have Christmas with no Christ?  I couldn’t exactly find a reasonable stand-in at this late moment.  And even if I could, isn’t that exactly what so many have preached against, leaving Christ out of Christmas in favor of gifts, gatherings, and greed?  Christmas Eve came and I needed to find him and find him fast.  Early on that morning I was in my office again, searching high and low for the little carved figurine, wondering if junior high shop classes qualified me to shape a new Jesus from the closest stick of wood.  

Finally in absolute despair, I cried out, “I can’t believe Christmas has come without Jesus.”  The frustration and the busyness of the season had overwhelmed me.  At that very moment, the hand of God reached down to tip over the shoebox, not so carefully balanced on the edge of my desk.  And there he was…wrapped in swaddling clothes of tissue paper, in the box exactly where I had left him.  In all the commotion He wasn’t lost, I just wasn’t ready for Him to arrive.  

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, help us in the season of Advent to truly prepare to receive you.  Amen. 
-Darryll Rasnake

From the Church Street Advent Devotion Book, 2013

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Advent Devotion: December 22

Time Enough
Read Psalm 90:12

Christopher Morley once wrote an “Epitaph for Any New Yorker” (1923):
I, who all my life had hurried,
            Came to Peter’s crowded gate;
And, as usual, was worried,
            Fearing that I might be late.
So, when I began to jostle
            (I forgot that I was dead)
Patient smiled the old Apostle:
            “Take your eternity,” he said.

There seems to be a shortage of free time in every Advent season. My calendar in retirement boasts obligations and promises of happy times with friends. I join the choruses with familiar tunes and contemplate seasons gone by.

Advice from a venerable professor saved in an autobiography (1962) offers encouragement to get to appointed places with the appropriate preparation. Frank Luther Mott summed up his attention to details in his life:

“I have time enough—enough and to spare for what I really wish most to do.”

No matter how burdened or harried we are, there is always time for what we want most if we make it. There is enough in a week for that week; there is time enough in a year for what we want to make of that year.

There is time enough in a life.

Prayer: O God, parent of us all, hear the cry of a busy person in a troubled land. Help me to make wise choices in my allotted time on earth, and be with me as I ponder your will to be done.  Amen.

-Jim Crook

From the Church Street Advent Devotion Book, 2013

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Advent Devotion: December 21

How Do I Love God?
Read Luke 10:27

I was concerned.  Do I know how to love God?  I decided to ask others how they show love.  Answers from adults and children included: I tell them, I hug them, I kiss them, I do kind things for them, I have fun with them, I give them gifts, I do things that my Mom and Dad ask me to do, I spend time with them, I talk to them and share things, I want to be with them a lot.

Do I tell God that I love God?  It’s hard to hug and kiss God, but I certainly can do kind things for God—things that God expects me to do.  Love my neighbors.  Help the stranger.  Pray for the sad and troubled.  If I do things God asks me to do, I show love for God.

Have I ever had fun with God—thanked God for a gorgeous fall day, gloried in an amazing sunset, enjoyed the Smoky Mountains, wondered at the intricacies of creation?  Have I ever given God a gift—a gift of obedience, a gift of time, energy, or money, a gift of my talents in service? If I have, I have shown God love.

Do I spend time with God, talking with God in prayer and meditation, sharing my thoughts and feelings, my cares and concerns?  Do I want to be “with” God?  Do I look forward to worship on Sunday mornings? Is God like a friend to me?  Do I listen to God as much as I talk to God?  If I do, I show God love.  

I do know how to love God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind.  Now I can do it.

Prayer: Loving Father, thank you for your amazing love, for your grace that forgives us, and for your gift of Jesus. Amen.  
-Nancy Carmon

From the Church Street Advent Devotion Book, 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

Advent Devotion: December 20

Tough Question
Read Mark 15:19-20

It’s nearly Christmas. It is one of the most joyous Christian holidays, a time to remember the birth of Christ our savior. Christmas is a time to share our blessings with one another, and to be surrounded by the people we love. It is a time for giving and a time to be charitable. It is a reminder of how much God loves us. 

One Sunday during Advent last year, one of the kids in my Sunday school class asked, “Why did God send Jesus if he knew he was going to die?” I paused at her question and thought - “Why do I always get the hard ones?” It’s peculiar, because we as Christians this time of year, remember the captivating times in Jesus’ life. We love to tell the Nativity story, with the glory of the beautiful angels. We can’t forget the Magi’s precious gifts, the miracle of the Virgin birth, and in my mind’s eye, I see fluffy little lambs smiling at a tiny, beautiful baby. However, amid the manger scene with the cooing doves, we forget that shortly after his birth, Christ had to flee from Herod’s army. We overlook the price he paid for our sins. We forget the lengths that God went to show his love. 

To be honest, thinking about this left me dumbfounded and I still had a little girl with a question. I knew that God knew what would happen to his son. God had told Isaiah, along with several other prophets, of the suffering the Savior would endure. God knew that the very beings he had created would crucify him for trying to save us from ourselves. So I told my curious young student, “God knew this would happen ahead of time and yet he loved us so immeasurably that he sent his son to die. That way we could spend eternity with our Heavenly Father.” That’s the greatest gift and a story of love. That is the story of Christmas. 

Prayer: Dear God, help us to remember the price you paid for us, because of love for us.  Teach us to remember what true love is, and share that love, God’s love, with all.  Amen. 
-Beth Cooper-Libby

From the Church Street Advent Devotion Book, 2013

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Advent Devotion: December 19

Celebrating and Serving
Read Philippians 2:5-8

As we prepare to celebrate the coming of the Christ Child we can get caught up in the pageantry, the pomp and circumstance of the arrival of the King of Kings. I am the first to admit that I get a little too excited about the luminescent part of the season: glowing candles, twinkling lights, glittery ornaments, packages wrapped in bright paper and foil ribbon, even the shiny accents of Christmas scarves and sweaters. Part of the pageantry of Advent is the glorious music, full of bells and soaring refrains of joy and praise. I’m probably a bit too loud trilling out the Hallelujahs and Gloria in excelsis Deo, trying to imitate the welcoming angels of familiar Christmas hymns. Christ does come as a king—but the words of Paul remind me he comes not as a royal personage demanding homage, but as a servant. He doesn’t come looking for servants, but to serve, bringing love and healing. He comes to lead us, but as a shepherd leads his sheep through danger and darkness to safety and peace. He teaches us how to hold out our arms so that he can embrace us—and embracing him, we learn how to open our arms and hearts to serve others, sharing the love Christ brought into the world. 

Prayer: Dear God, let me open my mind and heart so that your Spirit will work in me, my actions will be part of your purpose, and your light will shine through me to your glory. Amen. 

-Laura Still

From the Church Street Advent Devotion Book, 2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Advent Devotion: December 18

Read Luke 2:25-32

We aren’t very good at waiting. Every day I hear someone complain about the world’s conveniences not being fast enough: The drive-thru at McDonalds; the high-speed internet service at work; the quick-checkout line at Kroger. Remember when Mr. Coffee machines replaced the percolator so we could get our morning coffee faster? Today it’s Keurig because waiting for the whole pot to brew simply takes too long.

There are two ways we can wait: With impatience or with anticipation. Waiting with impatience is usually “hurry up” waiting. Let’s get this done as quickly as possible so we can hurry up and get something else done. Hurry up waiting is like eating without tasting – it’s over before you can enjoy it.

Waiting with anticipation is the willingness to experience something totally, without the desire to move on too quickly. This type of waiting is filled with the joy of what is to come and the patience to savor every moment along the way. Waiting with anticipation also gives us time to prepare ourselves for what is to come.

God’s people knew about waiting. It seems as though nothing came quickly to them and still they waited with faith, trusting that God would hear them and answer their prayers. After hundreds of years God did just that, by sending a baby into the world. And as they waited, God used the time to prepare their hearts to receive what the Messiah they anticipated would bring.

How will you wait for Christmas this year? Hurrying from store to store, wishing lines were shorter and being grumpy if they aren’t? Or with patience and peace, anticipating the miracles God has in store if you only take the time to wait?

Prayer: Loving God, prepare our hearts and our lives to receive the gift of your Son this Christmas. Give us days filled with patience and hearts brimming with anticipation so we might experience your glory fully this year. Amen.

-Sue Isbell

From the Church Street Advent Devotion Book, 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Advent Devotion: December 17

Broken But Purposeful
Read Colossians 3:12-15

It’s hard for me to leave the beach without shells. My family loves shelling...the exploring, the anticipation of finding nature’s treasures. It’s a daily trek when we go to the beach, and we search out the best places for looking at low tide. Shelling for us began on Grace’s first beach trip, when she was still so young that the waves did not beckon her to come in. And, I am forever glad that ritual began.

We bring home loads of these fine treasures left behind by the sea every year. I always try to bring home only the unbroken ones... the ones hardly changed by their watery life, but thankfully that never works for me.

I have long planned to do something special with at least some of that bounty of shells brimming from baskets on our porch, and this summer I did. I pieced together those broken beauties on a styrofoam ring, so I could have summer anytime. What started as a simple craft project really became so much more to me. The shells came together in such a way that could not have happened had they not been broken. In those three glorious summer days of tinkering around while my children were abuzz with summer projects of their own, a wonderful epiphany happened for me. It truly became a lovely creation, not because I made it, but because of the One who did. And, this got me to are we...lovely creations. And, my my what God can do with a broken mess.

I am so thankful for those beautiful days and those moments of clarity to really think about how God can use any brokenness in our lives, knit it back together for his purpose, and make us whole.

Jesus came into a broken world for a broken people...and he still does. This season and always. To make us whole. Hallelujah!

Prayer: Sweet Jesus of us all, knit our brokenness together...with others and with you. Shine your light and love all around us. Show us your purpose for our lives and draw us closer to you, Forever and Amen.
-Terri McCluskey

From the Church Street Advent Devotion Book, 2013

Monday, December 16, 2013

Advent Devotion: December 16

Lighting the Way
Read John 1:1-9

A few years ago, a house in our neighborhood set up a display of Christmas lights in their yard. Beautiful white and colored bulbs adorned dozens of bushes and trees around the home. Our children oohed and ahhed every time we drove past the bright, twinkly lights just down the road. December 25 came and went, but the lights stayed. New Year’s rolled around, followed by Epiphany. The lights remained in the yard, and not only that, they were switched on every evening at dusk. I would drive by the house on the way home at night and wonder why they hadn’t been taken down and placed back in the garage with all the other decorations. “Don’t they know it’s almost February?” I would grumble to myself. “How tacky.” 

Then one cold, winter night, just before the calendar turned to March, I drove home after a particularly stressful day at work. I was mentally exhausted. I was discouraged. And wouldn’t you know it? Those lights were blinking in the darkness. It was at that moment that it struck me. Those lights represent what we are called to be as Christians. Long after the manger scene has been taken down from the mantle and carefully wrapped in tissue paper, long after the radio has stopped playing Christmas carols and the sanctuary is no longer hung with greens, we are called to be the light to a very dark world. The joy of this season is to be with us every day, in every corner of our lives. So this year, remember to carry the light of Christmas into the new year and beyond. For there is much darkness in our world and together we can bring the light of Christ to those who need it most. 

Prayer: Almighty and Everlasting God, help us to carry the light of Christmas in our hearts all year long. Amen. 
-Caroline Lamar

From the Church Street Advent Devotion Book, 2013

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Walk Through Bethlehem Celebrates 17th Year

Thanks to everyone who participated in today's Walk Through Bethlehem. This Church Street tradition recreates the village of Bethlehem as it might have been on the night Jesus was born. We appreciate all the volunteers who made today possible. We're so glad we were able to share the Christmas story with the Knoxville area in such a unique way!

Advent Devotion: December 15

The End of Religion
Read Philippians 2:5-8

So often in our churches today we are preaching and teaching a religion of dread.  We believe that we will never be good enough and that God will never really love us.  Tom Long once said, “No matter how often the good news of God’s forgiveness and gracious providence is preached, the idea lingers deep in the consciousness of many that they are watched disapprovingly by the stern Father God who glowers his disapproval upon all humanity.”   

Maybe that’s the kind of religion you grew up on. Perhaps you believe that God cannot or will not accept you. Religion, for you, is that certain feeling of unworthiness and the desire to “get right” with God through some right actions.   The religion of dread.  For many years I personally struggled with these same feelings.  I rejected God’s love while hoping to finally live good enough to deserve God’s approval. I wanted salvation on my own terms, earned by hard work.  

Thankfully, religion like that finally ended for me.  The coming of Christ, as a child weak and vulnerable, is not some abstract thought but concrete and real proof that God really loves me personally.  The true gift of Christmas is the gift of God’s love, made incarnate, real, and personal in Jesus.  I realized that I couldn’t earn that love and frankly I quit trying.  And I finally saw a God who watches over me but not in stern judgment but in lavish love.  My actions, imperfect and always falling short, are no longer a desire to win God’s loving approval but rather my response to his perfect gift of love.  So, let your religion of dread end here and now! 

Prayer: Loving God, in the birth of the Christ child, remind us of your unfailing love for us.  Amen.  

-Darryll Rasnake

From the Church Street Advent Devotion Book, 2013

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Sermon: December 15, 2013 - Giving Size and Shape to Christmas

John 1.1-18
      John, the great witness, stood at the collision of the ages. He was the final face of the old; Jesus, whom John announced, is the face of the new age.

I. The first face of Advent is the fearsome face of John. He is the final O.T. prophet, stern and unflinching in the face of change.
            There is a sketch somewhere of the “Laughing Jesus.” I saw it hanging on the wall of a pastor friend years ago. Since then I have been looking for my own copy but without success. It pictures Jesus as loving, approachable, and joyous at the work. You would never see a similar picture of the “Laughing John the Baptist.” John, the forerunner was stern and condemning. John stood up against the powerful of his day, and lost his life for his unflinching candor. John was the messianic herald who stands on the frontier as the ages collide, destined to bear the impact.
            John throws his accusation against the religious leaders of his own time: “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” We read that last Sunday, confident that he was addressing the religious leaders alone and equally confident that he would have welcomed people like us with open arms. If John could have baptized the Pharisees and Sadducees in a vat of boiling water, he would have gladly done it. In the same way, we are confident that John would have chosen a calm stretch of the River Jordan, free of turbulence and debris, for our baptisms. We are confident, you see, that John’s face would have softened on sighting us heading down to wash in the River in preparation for meeting the Heavenly Father. Still, John the Baptist represents the Old Testament, the old way, the old thinking and the God we saw in the O.T.
            That old thinking is still with us. Around the world, religion continues to be a source of division and criticism among peoples. This is the legacy of the old.
+       The Washington Post this week showed a gallery of pictures portraying the armed and violent conflict between Muslims and Christians in the Central African Republic. This nation sits immediately west of South Sudan where United Methodists have missionaries and churches. Is it politics or ancient tribal conflicts that divide them? Is it truly religion that separates the people of that nation? Sadly, the news portrays the conflict as one between Christians and Muslims. It is the old legacy at work.
+       People have been talking about the new category of believers identified in the U.S. recently. They call themselves the *NONES.* When a computer form asks for religious affiliation, their answer is “*None*;” thus they call themselves the “*None’s*.” Only in America can a decision not-to-believe become an identified religion.
+       When Americans look at the Arab world, we are often reminded that our Christian religion is not welcome there. To make matters worse, it is often illegal to make efforts to convert a Muslim person in those nations to the Christian faith.
The old way, which John represented, divided the world into those *like us* from those *different from us*, those *with us* from those *against us*. Even within the land of Israel, the old way drew a dividing line between those who are *good enough* from those who *do not measure up*.
            As the people of John’s day got the idea he was proclaiming, they went out to him in the wilderness to be baptized with the waters of repentance in the Jordan. Hearing his idea, they made it concrete in their lives by that act of humility and return.

II. The passage we read for Christmas this morning is one that connects the old and the new. It identifies the role and the place of John in the great plan of God. He is the forerunner. He prepares the way. He is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord!”
            At the same time, the Prologue points toward the Word of God taking flesh in Jesus Christ so forcefully that the Word overshadows John’s role in history. Such is the fate of those who faithfully announce the one who comes after them. As they are clear and successful at their work, the one who follows takes center stage, leaving the faithful witness in the shadow. How else could it be?
3 Through him all things came into being,
            not one thing came into being except through him.
4 What has come into being in him was life,
            life that was the light of men;
5 and light shines in darkness,
            and darkness could not overpower it.
What more can John possibly say? In the days before Jesus’ ministry began, there was no other one to make the announcement. There was no other way to explain what God was about to do. God has no interest in dropping down out of heaven like some space visitor. In Jesus, God is not popping up out of nowhere; God is taking flesh in the fullness of time. The great history of Israel, the prophets, and even the Star that the Magi followed all point to the fullness of time when the Christ should be born. So, with all this preparation, the Christ is born.
            Think about it: what a wonderful metaphor God chose for entering our common life when God chose to be born of Mary. The woman conceives; the child grows in her womb; in the fullness of her pregnancy – in the fullness her time – she delivers her child, a living being. Again, God’s idea now taking flesh in the child born to Mary.

III. Then, in the birth of Jesus, this new initiative of the Heavenly Father moves from idea to a living being walking among us on this earth. As the Prologue says:
14 **The Word became flesh,
            he lived among us,
            and we saw his glory,
the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father,
            full of grace and truth.**

How do such words, such ideas, become real in human history? They might have remained lofty thoughts of seers and sages. They might have remained the hopes of the prophets. But, in God’s great work at Christmas, those words took human form and walked among us.
            Years ago, my mother was killed in a tragic car wreck. A friend, Dennis, went with me to see the wrecked car and retrieve her belongings. We found the junkyard where the car had been taken. We went to the office to get directions. Finally, we found it. I was struck as I stood there looking at the wreck that the collision must have been a terrible blow for my mother. Dennis, realizing how the sight of the wrecked car affected me, said, “This is getting too incarnational. You wait, I’ll look for the personal things.” With that, he knelt down beside the car and began to explore the glass-littered carpet for anything she might have dropped. When he found something, he turned to offer it to me. I saw that his hands were bloody from reaching through the broken glass. And, I thought to myself that I was supposed to be the one who bled. So, this is what taking flesh means.

The incredible joy of Christmas is that God has taken human flesh to dwell with us. God is no longer faraway in heavenly splendor; God is with us! God no longer stands in regal distance from the affairs and the troubles of human existence; God walks with us.

            The other night rather late, I was walking through UT Hosp to the MRI Lab. I have been there before, so I didn’t have to stop for directions. As I walked through the main lobby of the hospital, I saw a fellow who appeared to be lost. He was on the house phone asking directions but it was not working. As he hung up the phone, he seemed about as lost as he was before he called. I realized that he had others in his party who were fanning out looking for his destination.
            So, I asked if I could help him find some place. He said, “Yes, I’m looking for the MRI Lab. Do you know the way.” I said, “Not only do I know the way, I’m going there right now. We can walk together.” Soon the fellow was beside me with his group of family following along. Because I had been thinking about this passage and its message, it occurred to me that our walking through the hospital was a bit like Jesus walking on earth showing us the way. I was able to take the scribbled directions on his piece of paper and live them out beside him.

            Well, I’m not going to claim any more of Jesus than that. Yet, every time we share the journey with another who does not know the way, we give something real and concrete to the ideas we are following.

      John said: “He who comes after me
      has passed ahead of me
      because he existed before me.”

            How do we give the unreachable God flesh and blood among us? On Christmas, this unreachable God humbled Himself, and taking human flesh like ours, he was born of Mary. The Almighty Creator of all worlds came among us in vulnerability and incredible grace. As a result, the Christmas season is the sum of our many efforts to give God’s incredible love size and weight and time in our world. Suddenly, I understand the awe of the shepherds on the night the angels announced his birth. Sit with the incredible gift of Christmas this morning. Wrap your mind around all that God has done in the birth of Christ. Then, go out to make it real somehow so that others get it, too.

Advent Devotion: December 14

The Small, Still, Quiet Whisper
Of God
Read 1 Kings 19:11-12

One of my favorite Bibles stories is when the prophet Elijah bemoans his predicament to God concerning his conflict with Jezebel.  The people do not do what they should, all places of worship have been destroyed, prophets killed and Jezebel is after his  life.  He hides in a cave afraid and waiting to hear from God. God does not come to Elijah in all the powerful means of wind, earthquake and fire; but God comes to Elijah in a “thin, quiet whisper” or as other translations state, “a sound of sheer silence.” 

Sometimes God chooses to speak to us not in the big loud sounds of our society and culture, but in the quiet sounds that come from unexpected sources. If we take the time to be attentive and listen for the voice of God, God will make God’s self known.  In the Advent story I remember God speaking to Joseph in the quietness of the night in a dream telling him to take Mary as his wife against all cultural norms. Like Elijah who wanted to do something else, Joseph wanted to dismiss Mary’s pregnancy quietly as not to disgrace her. However, God had different plans for both men. 

This Advent season as we go about listening to the loud, clanging sounds of commercials on TV, seeing all the bright colorful lights everywhere we go and trying to buy all the right gifts for all the right people, I hope we will take the time to listen for the quiet, still whisper of God trying to get through our busy lives. Listen for God as you light your Advent candles.  Listen for God as you quietly read your devotions, listen for God in the small voice of a child. Listen for God as you visit or call that lonely neighbor.  But most of all, listen for God in the voice of that child born to poor parents in an out-of-the-way place in a small village. Can you hear it?
Prayer: O God, in the glitter, gifts and business of the Advent season, help me to be still and listen for your small, still whisper.  And when you speak, help me to obey your promptings and do what you want me to do instead of what I think I should do. Amen.

-Rick Isbell

From the Church Street Advent Devotion Book, 2013

Friday, December 13, 2013

Advent Devotion: December 13

Advent: A Time of Expectation
Read Luke 2:25-35

Christmas is a time of great expectations. My children expect that Santa will soon be here, bringing bags full of toys for good girls and boys.  My wife and I expect romance to be renewed and family to be re-connected.  We expect to hear from old friends through cards and Christmas parties. But, in the midst of these expectations, are we expecting Jesus this Christmas? 
We “expect” future events only when we understand that we are part of a story.  Things have happened before and things foretold will happen in the future.  We are in the middle of the story.  When we forget the story, we lose our sense of expectancy – that something else is about to happen.  Without expectancy, we wander aimlessly through life.  
There is a reason that we are moved by the beauty of creation – by sunsets and snow-capped mountains and flowers in bloom.  There is a reason that we have a natural compassion for our fellow man – a desire to end suffering and to remove injustice.  There is a reason that our hearts long to be in lasting relationships – with friends and families and spouses.  We were created to be caretakers in the Garden, to be in community with God and our fellow man, to live for eternity.  As Christians, we should know that the story in which we live is not nearly finished.  We should be expecting what happens next.  
Simeon “eagerly expected” Jesus. He was not surprised to come across Jesus.  He was living righteously in preparation for Jesus’ arrival. Are we eagerly expecting the arrival of Jesus?

Prayer: Lord, if I were honest, I would admit that the last thing I am expecting this Christmas is to see Christ.  I am so busy trying to meet my expectations and the expectations of others that I am blind to the expectation that you have placed in my heart.  Let me sit quietly this season in expectation of you.  Let me not be surprised when you appear.  Amen. 

-Monty Walton

From the Church Street Advent Devotion Book, 2013

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Advent Devotion: December 12

My To-Do List
Read 1 Corinthians 15:58

A friend of mine recently told the story of finally cleaning out his garage and digging deep in an old box to discover a “To-Do List” from Christmas 2005. Prepared in the Yuletide season of 2005, this list set forth all the things he hoped to accomplish before December 25 arrived. 

Openly and candidly, some eight years later, my friend admitted looking at the list and realizing that he had never checked off a number of the items, and even more poignantly, admitted that he could not recall what some items on the list even meant!

My hearing of this story in my friend’s life made me think how much of the Christmas season I spend on matters that are unimportant, irrelevant and a waste. 

I recently read a novelist speak the truth: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans!” So I ask myself, how much of Advent will I spend checking off items on a list, to the exclusion of what ultimately matters. 

This Christmas, I challenge myself to change directions and make my “To-Do List” look like this:
1. Send a note of encouragement to my dear friend’s wife who became a widow this year, expressing my love for her husband and my concern for her. 
2. Forgive that colleague who openly insulted me at a public forum. 
3. Make myself vulnerable. Share with my children how grateful I am to be their father. 
4. Tell my colleagues at work how much I appreciate them. 
5. Spend an evening with just my wife remembering the blessings of our lives. 
6. Spend an early morning reflecting on the biblical account of Jesus’ birth.
7. And so on. 

Prayer: God, invite us to prepare for Advent. May our “To-Do List” this Christmas be ways of making our heart ready for the birth of Christ, and not wasted on the glitter and tinsel of the holiday rush. Amen.

-John Eldridge

From the Church Street Advent Devotion Book, 2013

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Join Us For Walk Through Bethlehem

Walk Through Bethlehem
Sunday, December 15
1-6 p.m.
Church Street UMC
900 Henley at Main, across fom the Knoxville Convention Center

Step back more than 2,000 years and experience the Christmas story first-hand with Church Street United Methodist Church. Join us as we bring the tiny village of Bethlehem to life on Sunday, December 15, from 1-6 p.m. Busy shopkeepers go about their daily tasks while villagers whisper of angels and the birth of a very special baby. Explore the streets of the town as you experience the
mystery of Christmas like never before.

Walk Through Bethlehem is open to everyone and there is no admission fee. If you have never visited our Bethlehem, we invite you to make it part of this year's holiday celebration. If you have, come back again and see what's new. Walk Through Bethlehem is our congregation's gift to the Knoxville community and east Tennessee area.

Advent Devotion: December 11

Read Psalm 130

Here we are again, in the season of Advent:  the season of waiting.  We wait to celebrate the birth of Jesus—His first coming—and we remember that He will come again and take us unto Himself.  

Merely waiting can be hard.  We’d rather be doing something, and during Advent that “something” has become a bit of a monster!  We talk about putting Christ in Christmas; we also need to put Christ back into Advent.  Taking time to wait upon the Lord prepares our hearts for the coming celebration and makes it more meaningful. 

Take time out from parties and shopping and decorating.  Take time to read the old stories; to think about those people waiting so long ago:  the prophets, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, Anna, Simeon—even the Angels of Heaven.  

Remember that “waiting” doesn’t mean “passive.”  Spend some time in scripture and prayer.  Make space for Him to fill your Advent with Himself.  Then the mystery of the season will fill your heart with joy.

One more thought:  This season is hard for those who are mourning or suffering illness or other loss.  Be sensitive to their needs and faithfully lift them to the Lord who loves all of us so much.

Prayer: Open our hearts, O Lord, as we wait upon you. Remind us of the meaning of the birth of Jesus. Fill us with your spirit and great anticipation of the blessings to come. Amen.
-Fran Wheeler

From the Church Street Advent Devotion Book, 2013

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Advent Devotion: December 10

Love in Action
Read Matthew 25:40

Last fall when United Methodist Women made the decision to open the Sharing Shop, it was to be a temporary mission project.  Opening for about three months before Christmas would give those in need, the opportunity to “shop” for items that were necessities or perhaps do a little shopping for presents.  Over a year later, we are still in business and I have loved getting to know the people who come through the doors: Betty and Avis and Tony and many, many others.

In the beginning, I believed that we would offer donated items, people would be grateful, and we would feel good about ourselves and our mission work. I have been deeply affected by my interactions with the people we are serving, and I am the one who is grateful for the opportunity to get to know and to serve these individuals. The blessings I have received are too many to count. I believe that God calls each one of us to walk in ministry with the poor, the marginalized, the forgotten. And sometimes we must be brave and courageous and be willing to step outside of our comfort zone when we listen to God’s call.

I believe we are called in the Sharing Shop to be the hands, the feet, the voice of Christ – and these take determination, commitment, love and a willingness to see the world through the eyes of others. I have been touched and humbled by my time in the Sharing Shop. This Advent, the belief that Jesus came for ALL of us will be more real to me than ever before. 

Prayer: Father, help us to remember that we are all called to action and that no kind deed is ever too small or too insignificant.  Bless all those who enter our lives. Bless our actions to reflect the love and compassion that lies in each of our hearts.  Amen.

-Pat Bellingrath

From the Church Street Advent Devotion Book, 2013

Monday, December 9, 2013

Advent Devotion: Monday, December 9

Little Flower, Show Your Power
Read Psalm 104:24-35

This summer one of my dear friends gave up her heroic battle with cancer.  About five years ago she got the diagnosis - breast cancer.  With her usual investigative nature, she researched all about it, questioned the doctors at length, underwent treatment and hoped for the ‘magic bullet.’  For about three years all the tests were good…then cancer returned with a vengeance, metastasizing to other parts of her body.  For two years different chemotherapies, surgery, etc., were tried but nothing held the cancer at bay.  Throughout all of this she kept her strong faith intact. For her Celebration of Life service, the family included one of her favorite sayings of comfort throughout this ordeal…”Little Flower, in this hour, show your power” (St.Therese of Lisieux).

In the Spring, we see the power of little bulbs. As the sun warms the soil, green shoots emerge from the tiniest of bulbs and burst into bloom.  So often our busy lives prevent us from stopping to enjoy this power.  Likewise, we fail to stop and appreciate God’s creation.  Spending time each day reading the Bible, talking with God and being grateful for His creation will enrich one’s life. Another enriching experience is to create a ‘Gratitude Journal.’ Every day, write a word, sentence, or paragraph of what you are grateful for that particular day.  It will enrich your life.  And the next time you see a blossom, think about the power involved in producing that lovely item…God’s power.

Prayer:  Creator God, thank you for the beautiful world you have created and that we enjoy.  Help us to be mindful of your plan for our lives and the promise you have given us to be with you forever.  Amen.
-Betty Craig

From the Church Street Advent Devotion Book, 2013

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Church Street Christmas Pageant

Tonight we continued a wonderful Church Street tradition - the annual Christmas Pageant. We started the evening in Parish Hall with dinner and Christmas carols. After dinner, we made our way upstairs where everyone was able to dress up for the pageant. Some chose to be angels while others were shepherds and wise persons. We gathered in the Nave where our storyteller began the Christmas story.

He started with the shepherds, resting on a hillside.

Then he told of the angels and their good news. We had a lot of angels tonight. Definitely a multitude of the heavenly hosts! They brought news of a very special baby's birth.

Then a star was spotted and wise persons came to the stable where Jesus was born!

Thank you to everyone who participated in tonight's pageant. We appreciate those of you who helped prepare dinner and serve our guests. It was such a special night as we shared the Christmas story in a most unique way!