Unwrapping God’s Gifts this New Year

    I suppose a predictable blog post for the New Year would be about resolutions and making positive changes in your life –healthier behavior, more prudent decisions, self-control, breaking bad habits, etc. But this is a different kind of year. We’ve all been “incarcerated” for the past ten months and we may have learned some lessons from this painful, sobering opportunity. Here are a few lessons I’ve gathered:

Death is a definite possibility. Wow! Unpack that one for a while. How does living change with death at the door?  Make haste to love. Be even more generous with your time and attention and money. Our short time on this planet is precious. Don’t postpone a loving gesture or word. Take a risk in the direction of love. Make your own list and perhaps honor these lessons into the New Year.

Life’s meaning and much of its value lies in small moments of connection, kindness and beauty. We’ve all had to live “small” this past year. Going forward , I hope we can keep appreciating “small” blessings – walking, nature, a greeting, a morning prayer, humming a tune.

And how about honoring and valuing your inner life. Joy cannot be choreographed. It comes and goes. Like grace or the weather, we cannot control it. But we can honor and feel our emotions and dreams and sensations and deem them precious.  We can set the stage for joy and grace to enter by being “in touch” with ourselves and with the spiritual realities and encounters that God provides.

     For this New Year I’m hoping to get back to “normal” but not the normal of rushing, cell distraction and a constant outward focus. Perhaps we can hold onto these small, modest, more vertical lessons from what will be our pandemic past.

    Then again I look forward to some big plans – a big trip, dinner with friends, even a wedding or the birth of a grandchild. It’s nice to anticipate again, to look forward. I’m sure God has something joyful and life-giving in mind for you in this New Year.

Let’s unwrap God’s gifts together.

Reverend Dr. Ken Ruge

The Bridge

A card from my favorite Etsy shop, eileengraphics. It features the Newport Pell Bridge, Santa’s sleigh, a full moon, and Narragansett Bay.

I so loved curating the Advent Blog for 2020. And I am hoping you enjoyed following this year. “Irrational Season” really captured all of what 2020 brought us. Thank you to all of the 27 different voices who shared their poetry, music, thoughts, vignettes, and prayers this year. We are so very blessed that you said yes to the “irrational season.” There will be one more post on New Year’s Day before the blog hibernates until Lent.

The bridge’s picture with the full moon and Santa’s sleigh was my Christmas
card for 2020. When I bought the card from my favorite Etsy Shop, eileengraphics, I was hoping to get to the other side of 2020 and build bridges between people with the stories of Advent.  We all just seemed a little far apart.  I certainly felt more connected. 

I hope that the blog moved you, may have even brought you to tears, and most of all inspired you during this very unusual Advent season.

As our church is still entirely virtual, I would like to invite you to a Saturday morning workshop with Nina Frost on January 9th. The 2-hour long workshop titled “Listening for the Light” will be an excellent way to journey into 2021 through journaling. The workshop is free to all participants.

You can sign-up at the following site:

https://marblechurch.org/calendar/6891/listening-for-the-light-a-winter-workshop-online

Thank you to all of our followers,

Marcie Doll

Curator of the Marble Women’s Ministry Blog

 

Always Look for the Light

The light over Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey

For so many of us this has been the most unusual Christmas we’ve experienced. We navigated busy websites rather than packed malls. We celebrated through screens rather than across tables. We sang our favorite Christmas songs while sitting in front the computer rather than shoulder to shoulder in church. Each of these reminds us that this has been an unexpected year filled with many challenges.

I’ve been thinking about the words we read every Christmas to describe the meaning of the birth of Jesus. It says, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:3-5). When we celebrate the birth of Jesus it reminds us the light is always shining, even in the darkest of times, so always look for the light. While the pandemic has brought difficult and dark times, our faith tells us that if we look for it, we can see the light of God shining into our lives. And sometimes it is through the simplest of things.

I’ve seen light when Gracie (the best dog ever!) greets me joyously as I walk through the door, when neighbors check on us, when I laugh on Zoom with friends, when a stranger asks how I’m doing, when I receive encouraging notes from friends at Marble, when I see frontline workers selflessly serving us, when I finish the day sitting by Tena, and especially when I look into the adoring face of my new granddaughter! How about you? Where have you seen light amidst the darkness of this pandemic?

To celebrate the birth of Jesus is to celebrate the one whose life was the light of all people, a light not even darkness can overcome. Therefore, as we end a difficult year and move into 2021, let us remember to always look for the light.

Merry Christmas and may God’s light and love guide you in the new year.

Reverend Dr. Michael Bos, Senior Minister of Marble Collegiate Church

My new granddaughter Harper…

It’s Christmas Eve

Madeline L’Engle’s book The Irrational Season has been the basis of this year’s Advent blog.


As Advent ends and we welcome the Christ Child, I share these words, and also some words of thanks.


This is an irrational season…and God is irrational.

Who would think God, almighty God, would choose to touch down in our world, coming in frail human flesh, born in a manger bare, in what we think was a cattle trough?


Who would think God, almighty God, would choose to first be announced to lowly shepherds, working the night shift, alone, calloused hands, the bottom of the social ladder?


Who would think God, almighty God, would shine forth to star gazers, magi, foreigners, who followed a faraway star with faith it would lead them somewhere glorious, and would then take a risk and not follow Herod’s order to tell him the place where the Messiah was born? 

All of it is irrational. 


And yet, this is what God did for us…to be with us…to be Immanuel...to touch down in the midst of whatever we are going through and bring tidings of hope…comfort…and joy.


Thank you for being part of this Advent journey.  Thanks to every writer and special thanks to Marcie Doll who so beautifully leads us through this seasonal blog each year.


I end with a video thanking the Marble staff for everything they have done through this extraordinary year.  The password is “1.”

Reverend Dr. Elise Brown

We ARE Christmas

The first time I heard this song, I was preparing for an Advent sermon for my congregation in Des Moines, Iowa. I was a new minister and feeling very insecure about delivering a message during a pretty important season… this was not the time for an ordinary sermon (get it?), but I just didn’t know what to say.

My best friend James encouraged me to listen to the Spelman College Glee Club’s song, “We Are Christmas” for some inspiration. This song not only inspired my Advent sermon in 2016, but it continues to resonate in my heart.

We ARE Christmas because we are God’s hands, and God’s heart, and God’s hope. We are called to be Christmas to each and every person we meet. We are called to open our hearts to share the Good News of Christ’s hope, peace, joy, love and justice with our neighbors.

WE ARE CHRISTMAS.

We are Christmas

In the stable in Bethlehem; a baby was born
Born of a virgin, God’s only son
Angel Gabriel told them to have joy, have no fear
For this baby, our savior; he could dry every tear
Mary magnified the lord, Her soul and she cried
For this baby she would bear held all power and all might
Born for all people to be free and redeemed
And he lives today within us though we don’t always see

We are Christmas, we are God’s hands
To care for one another in these war torn lands
We are Christmas, the love that we share
Will carry one another ‘til we understand
We are Christmas

So this Christmas please remember what the true meaning is
Remember Gabriel and Mary and the savior who lives
Remember we are “Christ among us” and we live for his cause
To fulfill his purpose daily as we bring Joy to all
We are comfort for the hurting, mending each broken heart
We are friends to the lonesome and unite those far apart
We’re his Hands who touch the sick and they’re instantly whole
We are water for the thirsty and bring peace to every soul

We are Christmas, we are God’s hands
To care for one another in these war torn lands
We are Christmas, the love that we share
Will carry one another ‘til we understand
We are Christmas

He lives in me, He lives in you (repeat)

We are Christmas, we are God’s hands
To care for one another in these war torn lands
We are Christmas, the love that we share
Will carry one another ‘til we understand
That We are Christmas

Shared by Reverend Brittany Juliette Hanlin

Are you looking for a place to worship virtually on Christmas Eve? Here is the info for both the Family Worship and Christmas Eve Services.

Christmas Eve Family Worship – Online 4:00pm – 5:00pm EST

Join Rev. Brittany Juliette Hanlin, Brian Hampton and the Children, Youth & Families Ministry for this special online worship experience. Followed by a Birthday Party for Jesus.

Christmas Eve Worship – Online 6:30pm – 7:30pm EST

“Living with Wonder” is Dr. Michael Bos’ message today. Meditation by Dr. Michael Bos. Music prelude with The Marble Choir and brass ensemble at 6:10pm.

Heart and Hope

Our heart……that physical organ that beats within us

Pumping blood through a network of arteries and veins called our cardiovascular system.

Not my words and quite a mouthful but an apt description of this life-giving organ

Shared by official sources that define the meaning of words.

But we can also picture our hearts existing in this physical space of darkness

Enveloped in moisture that is warm and of measured density.

Our hearts are at home in this dark, wet, condensed space, requiring optimal conditions to maintain life.

Yet within what appears to be this opaque, unlit space, is life

Life that shows up with energized movement in humans, lived in wildly different ways.

Life that shows up as Christ did, sent by God to reflect love, light and hope.

Our God of mystery creates states of being that straddle opposing realities.

But in the midst of these realities are revelations, possibilities and openings

The nucleus beginnings and gateways that move us to states of being that make life rich

States such as love, light and hope to which God calls us.

And as believers, our hearts are at the center of that inner space that connects us to God.

The Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 1:18,

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he [God] has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people…… 

In writing to Ephesians in the early church, Paul through wisdom from God describes our hearts

Hearts with eyes capable of seeing and believing in that which is ahead of us

Not yet fully known but waiting to be embraced and manifested in our lives.

This is the opened heart and in times of darkness, this is the working muscle

The organ that pumps us with properties of love leading to breakthroughs of light and hope

Cutting through the perception of darkness

And accessing the light and hope to which God calls us.

May this be so for us now and always.

Shared by Reverend Susanah Wade

Are you Ready?

Luke’s story – a story about how God, in Jesus Christ, has touched the pain of the world in a new and wondrous and transfiguring way – begins with a priest. With a priest in the temple:

Then there appeared to Zechariah an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. (Luke 1:11)

We could be forgiven for thinking that miracles and visions and getting the goosebumps feeling God’s presence are things that happen to especially religious people and that happen in church. That’s how things seem to go here. Like Samuel and Isaiah before him, holy Zechariah has a powerful and overwhelming, life-changing experience of God in the house of God. No big surprise.

But Mary!

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. (Luke 1:26-27)

Mary has her own powerful and overwhelming, life-changing experience of God — not in Jerusalem, the holy city, but in sleepy, little Nazareth; and not in the temple, but in her own home. Who knows what Mary is up to when the angel Gabriel knocks on her door: doing the wash? making dinner?

The way that God comes to Zechariah in the temple is nothing compared to the way God comes to Mary while she is at home. The one only sets the stage for the other. Encountering God in church is just preparation for encountering God at home. And at work. And out and about. And really any place we may be.

Most of us are spending more time at home than we ever have. And maybe less time in church than we ever have. For Luke, this is a great set-up. We are right where God wants us. Ready to be visited by an angel. Ready to be called and to put to work by God. Ready for something new. Ready for miracles. Ready for ‘the Holy Spirit to come upon us.’ Ready for ‘the Power of the Most High’ to overshadow us.’ Ready for Jesus.

Shared by Reverend Anthony Livolsi

Alright

We’ve spent a week at the Jersey Shore every summer for the last 17 years. We were so grateful when we found out it would be okay to return this year. The transmission rate of the virus was lower, and we could do the same social distancing there, as we were doing here. It was such a relief to think for a few days we could be some place so familiar, so loved by our family, and away from the incredible loss, heartache, and fear the last few months had brought. 


How naive to think we could escape. Less than 72 hours after our arrival, Tropical Storm Isaias took aim at the Jersey Shore. Of course it did. It’s 2020. There was no escaping that. We battened down the hatches and huddled in the living room. The storm raged outside. From our porch we could glimpse the ocean waves as they roared and crashed against the shore. There on that narrow barrier island it felt like the anguish of the world had come to life. Would we be alright?


After several hours, the rain slowed and then stopped, but the fierce wind had not. We peered out the door. My husband and daughter hesitantly stepped outside, and then dashed across the street and over the dune. I slowly followed. The sand felt like little pellets as it hit our skin and instantly covered everything we were wearing. We stared down at the roiling waves, and then up at the sky. The sun was beginning to break through. As we looked around – up and down the beach there were people in each direction as far as we could see. All timidly glancing around as if to say – “We’re here. We’re alright. Are you alright?” 

In this waiting season of Advent, as I look toward the birth of Jesus. Some days feel like that summer storm. Heavy, and intense. But I know God is near. He will light the way, and it will be alright.


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

~ John 1:5

Shared by Kim Sebastian-Ryan

Great are You Lord

Almighty God, you are the source of our everything.

We are eternally grateful.

Here is a beautiful rendition of Great Are You Lord!

Here are the lyrics:

You give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken
And great are You, LordIt’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
We pour out our praise
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise to You onlyYou give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, You restore (You restore)
Every heart that is broken
Great are You, LordIt’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
We pour out our praise
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise to You onlyIt’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
We pour out our praise
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise to You onlyAnd all the earth will shout Your praise
Our hearts will cry, these bones will sing
Great are You, LordAnd all the earth will shout Your praise
Our hearts will cry, these bones will sing
Great are You, LordAnd all the earth will shout Your praise
Our hearts will cry, these bones will sing
Great are You, LordIt’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
We pour out our praise
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise to You onlyIt’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
We pour out our praise
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise to You only

Finding Comfort In Where You Are… And Not Knowing Where You Will End Up

Yesterday, I was pondering over how Mary must have felt when she was told by an Angel that she was the favored one to bear Jesus Christ. Her life was definitely transformed and changed forever. She had no frame of reference to lean on, or a Mother’s guidebook for rearing the Christ child. She didn’t know when or where she would give birth. Despite her fears, she trusted God and his guidance for her life.

Waiting is not one of my virtues. However, this Advent season finds us all involuntarily waiting. Waiting for…… a vaccine, a job, getting to see our family and friends, getting our lives back again!

Yes, we do grieve the loss of our former lives, but Advent is all about the hope, gratitude and joy for the new life we will embark on. We are joyously waiting the renewal of our faith through Christmas and anticipate what God has in mind for us.  As I reflect over the many transformational events in my life, I must admit that just like Mary, (I may have taken a lot longer), I eventually threw up my hands, and surrendered to God’s will and guidance.  Then, things began to happen!

Isaiah 40:31 – “ They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

Submitted by

Brenda W. Walker

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