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Pastor’s Letter December 2011/January 2012

This December-January issue bridges some major themes in Church time, secular time, and our business as congregations. As we come to the end of the fiscal year, we plan our budgets, offer our pledges, and work to finish paying our bills. All this, and we start a new year—hopefully depending on God’s grace for our Church’s business in the year to come.

In secular time, we are in the pre-Christmas Shopaganza—this is the time when we are asked to offer our dollars on the altar of consumption in a way we rarely hear trumpeted so loudly! Last week, I saw a new add—outdo Santa with our deals! Wow! I’m not against gift-giving, I’m a fan of generosity, kindness, celebration and signs of affection—but that seemed to me like we’ve gone a bit too far. All the shopping ends in one large and often joy-filled gathering of family and friends to exchange our finds, and to celebrate “peace on earth, good will to all…” at least for the day. On the eighth day of receipted returns to the retail world, we’ll be recovering from staying up too late to see midnight on New Year’s Eve as we begin 2012 with parades and college football.

In Church time, we have the rare privilege of setting the pace for the wider culture. We’re in the midst of Advent—waiting for the coming of Christ (as King? as Lord? as a Baby? to judge the Living and the Dead?), and preparing to celebrate a core conviction of our faith—that in Jesus, God has taken on humanity, so that we might be remade to be more perfect reflections of the Divine. We have a pageant coming (in Winterport on December 16th and 17th downtown, and at HHUMC on December 18th in the afternoon) as well as Christmas Eve services and worship on Christmas Day (Sunday is, even on Christmas, the Lord’s Day). On the Eighth Day of Christmas, we will celebrate Jesus’ presentation in the Temple, and then follow to Epiphany and the season after—the Church year, at least in worship, will already be well underway, beginning as it did in Advent.

There are these schedules, these rhythms, these patterns that crash together this time of year. Family, friends, parties, celebrations, breaks in the school schedule and special events. Our traditions vary by ancestry, by region, and even by family, but they share a cultural conviction based in a time when Christian faith was normative. As we approach December 25th, we all focus on the blessings we have received and on sharing gifts with others. Some of our neighbors might not remember quite why Jesus came to be with us, or that before moving to the North Pole, Saint Nicholas was a Greek Bishop who gave gifts to the poor and dispossessed in secret. So I suggest, in the midst of this season of joy and giving, of lights and laughter, offer your neighbors a chance to see Christ in you, and learn from Saint Nick’s example of generosity.

Who are you hoping to see this Christmas? Are you looking for Santa? Are you searching for the Christ-Child? Are you waiting for a miracle? Where is Jesus on your Christmas list? Recently, those of you from HHUMC have been asked to think about generosity and your pledge for 2012—I want to ask you to consider that again, and to share the same invitation with folks from ECUMC—Knowing what God in Christ has given you, what have you been moved to give to God through the Church in 2012? Are you ready to think about giving as a percent of your income? Have you been moving toward tithing? Is this the year to reach closer to that 10% that reaches a tithe, or to go beyond? What might Christmas inspire in you?

What might Christmas be like, if this year we focused not so much on what we might be getting for Christmas, but on what we have received in Jesus? Would our giving be transformed? Would we follow Saint Nicholas’ example and want to share with others because God in Christ gave everything for us? Might this season of joy mark a new way for all of us, for every day, for the year to come?

In Christ, with you,

The Rev. David Nicol, Pastor of Hampden Highlands UMC
Pastor-of-Record to Ellingwood’s Corner UMC

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