As you can see, the light is growing on our path here in the sanctuary. We continue to follow the path to Christmas, approaching the light of Christ. Last week we focused on getting started on the path, on setting aside time to stop and breathe in the midst of the typical flurry of activity in these weeks leading to December 25. To put that into practice, a group of us spent an hour yesterday morning on a yoga practice that invited prayer, paying attention to our bodies and souls. This morning we focus on sharing the path. Who do we share it with? We share the path with God’s Holy Spirit, with people, with all of creation. In what ways do we share the path? There are multiple ways that the path can be shared with others—spending time with one another, supporting one another through difficult times, going through common experiences, whether pleasant or unpleasant. And there are multiple ways that we share the path with God. God is with us, we know that from the psalmist, who experienced God’s presence while traveling the valley of the shadow of death. We know that from the name given to Jesus, “God with Us”, or Emmanuel. We know that from Jesus’ promise at the end of the gospel of Matthew— “I am with you always, to the end of the earth.” Everywhere, on every path, God walks with us whether we acknowledge it or not.
Sing Sing together several times: We Will Walk with God (see words and music link on Advent 1 below!)
Reflect Gifts abound! Christmas gifts, wrapped and given, unwrapped and received. But more than that. We have gifts of painting or drawing, singing or dancing, writing or playing an instrument, sewing or woodworking, baking or gardening. God has gifted us with creativity in so many different ways. What a joy it is to share that creativity as a form of praising God. What a joy it is to see God’s Spirit at work in and through our gifts. Gifts abound!
Pray Light for all people, shine on us. Shine before us. Shine from within us. Shine around us. On the path we follow we find joyful surprises around the bend, a sharing of the creative talents you have given your children. Fill our days with music and art, with dance and song. Together with shepherds and angels, in the company of visitors from afar, let us celebrate with joy the coming of the Light of the world. Lead us on your path to Christmas, Amen.
Light Light four candles, saying: “We are following the path to Christmas. The Lord’s light goes before us to show us the way.”
Read As you walk through this week, carry these words of Jesus with you: “I am the light of the world.” John 8:12
Joy for Christmas— by Elizabeth Woodson
The puppies were found!
Placed in homes filled with warmth, light
This is Christmas Eve.
Children sing with praise
Rest and laugh, for bellies fed
And mothers’ somber
I wonder does this
‘Morrow bring joy that heals all?
For pain knows God too.
So we pray for this
Healing comes for us here now
Rainbows wash over
She whispers something
And I barely make it out
Snow falls, God smiles. Hope.
ADVENT 3: SHARING THE JOURNEY
Sing Sing together several times: We Will Walk with God (see words and music link on Advent 1 below!)
Reflect The path is not always easy and smooth. It can be filled with obstacles, distractions, deadlines, and worries. Sometimes the path becomes hidden, and we feel as though we are foraging through the woods without a path to follow at all. Yet even then, God’s light continues to shine. The Spirit continues to wrap us in a way that brings encouragement and hope. We keep walking. We are not alone. We walk with God.
PrayStop first and quiet your mind. Close your eyes and take a deep breath in. Hold it for a moment. Then let that breath out very slowly. Do it two more times. Now….
Lord of light, you are the lamp for our feet. You came down in human form, living in the neighborhood, relating to our life, our struggles, and our pain. You walk with us; you carry us when the walking gets too hard. As we continue on our path to Christmas, fill our steps with love and peace, justice and joy. Enable us to see and feel your Holy Spirit as we walk. Lead us on your path to Christmas, Amen.
LightLight three candles, saying:“We are following the path to Christmas. The Lord’s light goes before us to show us the way.”
Read As you walk through this week, carry these words from Psalm 119 with you: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light unto my path.”Psalm 119:105
The friendly forest surrounds me as I travel down the ancient path through the trees. The trees provide unusual warmth in winter as they protect me from the wind. In summer their shade ensures coolness from the sun that heats the plants as they grow to bloom and harvest. The forest provides a quiet silence with only the sound of my feet padding on the soft earth of the path. An occasional solitary small animal scratching for a morsel or a songbird calling to its mate breaks the silence.
I feel very much alone but not lonely, I sense the order of creation. I feel blessed to experience these woods. I am aware that this wonderful place exists and continues with its abundant life when I am not present. I think of a recently read book about the interdependence of the trees and our knowledge now that the trees communicate with each other in beneficial ways. There are older mother trees that provide for the younger trees. Another of God’s plans for creation that we had not known before.
It is a natural feeling when you travel in the forest to think of God and feel awe at the beauty of the trees and this world. The colorful leaves in autumn and the fallen trees are part of the plan of creation and recreation as they provide nourishment to the forest floor. We are so blessed to have Leakin Park in the midst of our city, and near our church, for us to explore. —Jeannine Michel
Whenever I have had an important decision to make in my life, I walk. When I decided to get married to Deborah, I walked. When I decided to take a job that would require our whole family to move from New Jersey to North Carolina, I walked. A lot. When I have had various important decisions to make at work, I have gone and taken walks.
I’m not sure why I like to walk when I need to think. I’m sure part of it is that being out in the fresh air and moving relaxes me and clears my mind some. But I also think that when I am outside walking I can communicate with God better; maybe I am better able to listen and hear his voice.
Thinking about walking and making decisions brought to mind the following poem:
One night I dreamed a dream. As I was walking along the beach with my Lord. Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand, One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me, I looked back at the footprints in the sand. I noticed that at many times along the path of my life, especially at the very lowest and saddest times, there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it. “Lord, you said once I decided to follow you, You’d walk with me all the way. But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life, there was only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you. Never, ever, during your trials and testings. When you saw only one set of footprints, It was then that I carried you.”
Maybe when I was walking it made it easier for me to recognize God’s presence. But I also know that you don’t have to walk to be able to know that God is with you. As I have been writing this, I realize that I don’t walk and make decisions like I used to. Maybe it is because I am older and can’t walk as far or as much. Or maybe it is because I don’t need to walk to be able to realize that God is always with me, trying to help and guide me. But he is. And one of the things we celebrate at Advent is that He came down so that He could accompany us on our life walk. —Dan McEachran
Whether it is a physical journey, an emotional journey, an educational journey, a journey of illness and healing, a spiritual journey, or a journey through a pandemic, the journey is always easier when we can share it with someone else. That someone can be a friend or family member, a classmate, even a stranger on the bus. That someone is always God, who accompanies us on any journey we take, no matter how difficult or draining, no matter how easy or exciting.
As we follow the path to Christmas, let us pay attention to who shares the journey with us.
Stop first and quiet your mind.
Close your eyes and take a deep breath in.
Hold it for a moment.
Then let that breath out very slowly. Do it again. Now….
Light of the World, you have come to earth to dispel the darkness around us, for indeed no amount of darkness can overcome your light. Fill us with your light so that our lives will be sharing your light with others. Let us find ways to walk with others on their journey, to share pain and joy, fear and hope. Give us the strength, wisdom, and patience that we need on this path before us. Remind us always that we never walk alone, for you are with us on any path we take–through the dark valleys and over the difficult hills. Lead us on your path to Christmas. Amen.
Light two candles, saying:“We are following the path to Christmas. The Lord’s light goes before us to show us the way.”
As you walk through this week, carry this message to God with you: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…” It comes from Psalm 23:4.
One way to share the path with others is to eat or cook together. Food can be a connector across cultures and generations, and perhaps even more so at Christmas! Our sharing of the Lord’s Supper is one way we share the path with one another.
A Spiritual Practice You Can Do at Home
When you sit down to any meal, either alone or with others, commit to eating in silence (or with quiet music in the background) and commit to take your time!
1. Stop to assess how you are feeling at this moment—are you happy, anxious, sad, tired, excited….?
2. Take a slow, deep breath. Even two!
3. Give thanks to God for the food in front of you, silently or aloud.
4. Look at the food on your plate—note the colors. Choose your first bite.
5. Lift the food with your fork/spoon, bring it close to your face and smell it. Note your response to the smell.
6. Put the food in your mouth, receiving it as the gift that it is.
7. Taste the food, note the texture of it. Chew 10 times. If you breathe while chewing, the flavors are enhanced.
8. Swallow the food, feel it move to your stomach—receive it there.
9. Notice any residual taste in your mouth.
10. Let your eyes choose your next bite and repeat the process. Continue to eat at your own pace, remaining quiet and conscious of what you are doing.
When your meal is over, you may want to have a conversation with others at your table about your experience or you may want to jot down some of your thoughts.
Advent 1: Getting On the Path
Reflect Due to heightened uncertainty and the constant shifting of guidelines, mandates, and practices; because of the rising level of anxiety in many areas of our lives, we can follow a different path to Christmas. This year we seek a path for reflection, for quiet, for listening, for breathing. Now is the time to take the first step, to get started on this path which will wind its way to the hillside outside of Bethlehem, down to the humble feeding trough which held the Son of God, and into our hearts, enabling us to receive anew the Light of the World.
Stop first and quiet your mind. Close your eyes and take a deep breath in. Hold it for a moment. Then let that breath out very slowly. Now….
Lord of light, we stand at the beginning of Advent, facing an uncertain season ahead. Do we try to prepare for a Christmas as we have in the past? Do we create alternative activities and traditions? We could follow any number of paths in front of us. Some paths lead to feeling frazzled or overwhelmed. Some paths lead to depression or melancholy. Lord of light, guide our feet to take your path, to walk the good way. As we walk your path in this Advent season, give us rest for our souls. Help us to set aside time to breathe, to notice your handiwork, to appreciate the little things. Lead us on your path to Christmas. Amen.
Light Light one candle, saying: “We are following the path to Christmas
As you walk through this week, carry these words with you from the prophet Jeremiah: “Stand at the crossroads and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16
As I made the decision to accept this assignment for the Advent season, I began to reflect on the significance of prayer and meditation. What is the difference between the two expressions? In my mind, I see prayer as talking to God, just like having a conversation with someone very dear to you who never judges you and accepts you just as you are. In my heart, I feel meditation gives you a direct pathway to hear God speak, so that you can listen to God. It is akin to having a personal audience with Mother/Father God speaking directly to you in your quiet time. The biblical definition for meditation is to mutter, to speak or to ponder. Let us examine the word ponder as we consider Jeremiah 6:16 during this season of Advent. We are given several directives:
1. To stand at the crossroads and look
2. To ask for the ancient paths
3. To ask what the good way is and walk in it
The prophet Jeremiah ends by letting us know that once we have finished these instructions, we will find rest for our souls. Jeremiah concludes this passage by saying…
But you said you will not walk in it!
In this time of Advent, we are preparing for the coming of the Christ. I encourage and invite you to take time to ponder, that is, to think carefully about how you prepare for Christ’s coming and what the time of Advent represents in your daily life. Give yourself a time out to silence your mind and ponder the words of the prophet Jeremiah as he directs us to stand and look at (examine) whatever crossroads we find in our lives. Use this opportunity to look within as you tap into your spiritual center in this quiet time of meditation. As we allow ourselves to release the clutter and noise of the world, it is here, in this place that we can fully access and listen to the still small voice of God speaking to us. It is inside our spiritual center in the silence where we find the ancient path and where we can embrace the good way. It is through meditation and hearing the voice of God speaking to us that we develop the courage to walk in “The Good Way”.
Just as the prophet Jeremiah promises, the key to finding rest for your soul is letting go of the clutter and noise of the world and welcoming in the voice of God. When we take time to connect and be with God in our moments of quiet meditation, he speaks to us in a clear, audible voice. It is then that we began to comprehend the true significance of rest for our souls.
I challenge you today: Are you willing to ponder and think carefully? Are you ready and willing to renew your spirit and your commitment to God through prayer and meditation? In this Advent season, you do not have to plan a vacation or even a staycation, pack a suitcase, spend extra money that you do not have, board a plane, get on a cruise ship, take time off from work, or even ask Siri.
Make the decision to seek rest for your soul by spending quiet time alone with GOD, just you and the Holy Spirit; up close and personal, One-on-One.