In Case You Missed It

From the Financial Officer

  • Undesignated Monthly Offering Received during November 2022 (need $7,667)
    • $10,080.00
  • Designated Offerings Received during October 2022
  • $530.00 was donated to the Food Pantry
  • $40.00 was donated to the Happy Hearts Hopeful Future fund (goes directly toward the mortgage principle)
  • Mortgage balance as of November 30, 2022
    • $155,728.45
  • 2022 Year to Date Undesignated Giving is behind $9,943.00

The “Stocking Cap”

Judy Bitterman, an elderly woman in a wheelchair regularly visits the All Saints’ pantry on Saturdays. She brings with her colorful stocking caps she knits by hand to donate to needy families for winter wear. It’s all she can do but wants to make her contribution. This past Saturday she brought a bag of additional caps. A small curly haired boy waited in the food line when she arrived. Someone asked him if he wanted a cap. He enthusiastically answered, “yes” and selected a blue one. He put the cap on and his faced beamed a big smile. The seasonal color for Advent is blue. Jesus says we ought to share clothing with those in need, as part of our discipleship. The woman’s gift through our pantry fulfills exactly what Christ calls us to do this Advent season. Call it the miracle in the pantry.

From the Pastor – December newsletter article by Pastor Pokora

The other day I stopped by the local religious supply store to check for books and other materials related to the Advent season.

The first thing I noticed in the store was a figurine set with a Santa Claus kneeling at a manger with the Christ child. I’m certain members of our congregation are familiar with this image. Target, Walmart, and the local drug store probably have seasonal items inspired by this image.

To me the ubiquitous figure of Santa Claus represents the commercialization of Christmas. Santa Claus is everywhere. His picture or life-size figure can be found as far away as store windows in Japan and China. In fact, I’ll bet, if you bought a Santa Claus figure, the attached tag says made in China. Sometimes I wonder what is not made in China.

The Christ child in the manger ought to represent for us the birth of our Savior on Christmas Day. Over the years I have struggled with how to salvage the spirit of Christmas from the commercial excesses of this season. I suppose that’s why I get uptight about Santa Claus kneeling at a manger. The image represents for me a blurring of the distinction between the religious spirit of Christmas and the hyper-charged sales promotions dominated by the corpulent Santa Claus figure.

Several hundred years ago our Puritan forefathers became really upset by the non-religious activities attending the Christmas season. As a consequence, they virtually banded the celebration of Christmas altogether. That was throwing the baby out with the water, no pun intended.

I enjoy Christmas trees, listening to Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas,” and watching “A Christmas Carol.” This time of year could be a pretty dark time, if it were not for Christmas lights on houses, platters of cookies, and Christmas cards in the mailbox. I enjoy many of the non-religious traditions and activities of this season.

We, as Christians, ought to recall again that Advent is something distinct from the so-called commercial Christmas season. Advent is about our spiritual life, specifically our willingness to receive the reign of Christ into our life. Receiving Christ is not a one-time event. Christ comes to us again and again in Word and Sacraments. He comes to us encouraging a renewal of our spirit and commitment at Christmas.

Message from December 18 – 4th Sunday of Advent by Pastor Pokora

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

Not too long ago a local high school choir sang a medley of holiday songs at a Rotary Club meeting. The songs were seasonal, that is, none mentioned any religious theme related to the Christian celebration of Christmas. Now days, I guess that is expected.

After the choir departed, the club’s sergeant of arms stood up to tell the story of a graduation ceremony in Maryland, where the student speaker intentionally sneezed and the graduating class responded in unison, “God bless you.” That was their way of invoking God in a secularized service.

No sooner did the sergeant of sit down, then another member of the club rose to say we need to hear more about God this time of year. That comment provoked a Jewish member to say we may talk about God, but not Jesus. Other comments followed. I was caught by surprised at these emotional, conflicting, and spontaneous declarations of faith, coming on the heels of the choir singing. The meeting adjourned quickly.

The title for my sermon today is, what is Christmas all about anyway? My choice of this title was certainly occasioned by the dust-up at my service club meeting. But I think this is a good time to ask, what is Christmas all about anyway.

We begin to answer this question by reading the Old Testament prophesy from Isaiah. Here we learn King Ahaz of Judah is caught on the horns of a dilemma. His neighbors are conspiring against him. He asks the Assyrians to help him out. The prophet Isaiah tells King Ahaz this strategy will make matters worse. Isaiah says trust in God and not in men and armies.

Then Isaiah offers this prophecy: “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” Immanuel means God with us. This child is a sign Ahaz should trust in God alone. The enemies threatening Ahaz will be defeated, their land rendered barren. God will do these things. Trust in God.

Otto Kaiser, the German Old Testament scholar, once made this comment on Isaiah’s prophecy. Kaiser said: “the Christian knows only that it is better for him in every case to remain faithful to his God than to save himself without trust in God and in alleged self-reliance.” King Ahaz could not put his trust in God. He wanted to trust the Assyrians. Professor Kaiser reminds us we are faced with the same choice in our time. Do we trust in God or in alleged self-reliance? That is the choice we have to make.

The prophet Isaiah proclaimed God sends us the child, Immanuel, as sign to trust in God. That theme is taken up in our Gospel for this Sunday. Here the Evangelist Matthew recounts how Jesus came to be born. He says Mary was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. An angel of the Lord tells Joseph, Mary will bear a son named Jesus who will save God’s people from their sins. Matthew links these words of angel directly to Isaiah by adding: “All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emanuel, which means God with us.”  Joseph responds to this news by trusting in God’s promise. He believes Jesus is the sign promised to Isaiah by God.

When the Apostle Paul wrote himself a letter of introduction to the church in Rome, he recounts the story of the coming of Jesus. He tells the Romans Jesus was the one promised by the prophets, the one descended from King David and declared Son of God by the Holy Spirit and the resurrection from the dead.

Paul believes the prophecy of Isaiah has been fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one sent by God and descended from David. The seal and proof of this promise is the resurrection. The promise has been kept. Through the birth death and resurrection of Jesus, Paul received grace and an apostleship to the gentiles.

From these lessons, we learn what Christmas is about anyway. Christmas is about God’s act of salvation in Jesus Christ. At Christmas we acknowledge God fulfilled his promise spoken by the prophets in the birth of Jesus to Mary. The problem, of course, is the secular world never accepts the religious content of Christmas, whether prophecy or promise.

I read an interesting article about the history of Christmas in the Wall Journal. The early church did not begin celebrating the birth of Jesus until Pope Liberius placed the date of the Nativity on December 25th. This day coincided with the Roman festival of Saturnalia a time of parties, fun and games.

A hundred and fifty years ago Americans created the modern American form of the old Roman Saturnalia by introducing Santa Claus and the eight reindeer. In addition, “Merchants began to emphasize Christmas, decorating stores and pushing the idea of Christmas presents for reasons having nothing whatever to do with religion, except, perhaps, the worship of mammon.” Clearly, people lost sight of the fact that Christmas was a time to remember our trust belongs in God and not in material wealth or social status or political power.

Richard Niebuhr, the great American theologian, once said “we must proceed from history and speculation to action; in deciding we must act on the basis of what is true for us, in individual responsibility, we must grasp for what is true for us with the passion of faith.” This is a definition of what Christmas is about. Motivated by trust in God we take action based on the truth revealed by the birth of Jesus Christ. The act of God in Jesus Christ prompted the Apostle Paul to accept his apostleship to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles. He saw Jesus as sign and promise fulfilled.

Somewhere I read a newspaper article encouraging people this Christmas season to attend church, bake cookies, as a family, and do something for the less fortunate in the community. In other words, let the coming of the Messiah proclaimed in the Gospel motivate you to action with the passion of your faith. Hear the word of God preached. Bring your family together. Act on behalf of those less fortunate than yourself. That is what Christmas is all about. It’s about trusting in God and taking action. That is why Paul accepted his apostleship.

Christmas means allowing the birth of Jesus to return us to God and letting God give meaning to this season of celebration. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.