First United Methodist Church

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9am Contemporary | 11am Traditional

Angels We Have Heard on High

Just like our Christmas Carol today reminds us, I have heard Angels singing on High this past week. I am blessed to be the Pillar Pastor over our two AMAZING Preschools and last Wednesday and this Wednesday I have had the privilege of hearing the voices of over 300 children sing about the birth of Jesus and the love of God. Every year it brings tears to my eyes to hear the voices of children sing praise and celebration to God. That is after all what the Angels are doing in our Scripture lesson in the first few chapters of Luke.

Luke 2:13-15 says this.

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

I don’t know about you, but when I see the cuteness of little children singing, ringing bells and using hand motions with enthusiasm, I want to tell others about it. Because it is these HOLY moments that remind us why we are here to celebrate and why we are invited to share this good news with others.

This carol was originally written in French in the eighteen century and it reflects a common theme found throughout the history of Christian hymnody. Our United Methodist Discipleship resource reminds us that these kind of hymns have two parts; a cosmic chorus which begins in heaven with the angels. Then the “mountains in reply” echo back in response—antiphonally, symbolizing the participation of earth. What a beautiful example of what God is doing in and through us. What begins above is lived out below. When God begins a new and good work, it is always brought to fruition. Over and over again we see these thin places, where heaven and earth meet, and we are left changed in the process.

The three verses of this hymn invite us into the transformation through the order of the Scripture story. It begins with a festive spirit as the angels appear and invites all to come celebrate Christ’s birth with them. Then stanza two focuses on the Shepherds and the joy that these angel greetings brought them. And because the angel brings good news that the Messiah has been born, there is so much to celebrate! In the third stanza, we are invited to the party. We are offered a front row seat to come to Bethlehem and see how heaven and earth are one. I have said it before, and I will say it again, if you need help seeing the glory of God this Christmas season, look and listen to the children. They mimic and give witness to the holy moments of God like the angels did so long ago.

Whenever we encounter the Holy, we are transformed and see the world a little differently. This happened to me today, I was not feeling celebratory or joyous this week. It has been a lot for us over this last week. As you might imagine, there are a lot of demands on the lives of two pastors during the season of Christmas. I have let the busyness of this season as a full-time working mom, wife, daughter, sister, pastor…get the better of me. I wasn’t seeing the joy.  But then there was a shift, a HOLY moment if you will, because there is something about children singing, smiling, waving at their loved ones and rocking their baby Jesus’ that reminds me that heaven and earth are in fact working together as one.

And so I encourage you, over the next five days to really focus on seeing the HOLY moments where heaven and earth meet. Don’t get distracted by the crazy  schedules, the traffic, the to do lists, or family drama. If you need some help, look to the little children who remind us daily of the HOLY moments and emulate what it means to sing “Glory to God in the Highest Heaven!”

Devotion: In the Bleak Midwinter

It shouldn’t surprise you to hear that I know NOTHING about a Bleak Mid-winter. I am a Florida Girl through and through and while I have experienced snow and colder conditions on a brief occasion, I can’t even begin to picture how I would do in a midwinter storm. The only thing that came close to this was when we were first married and living in Atlanta in our last year of graduate school at Emory when Snowpacalypse 2011 happened and Ryan and I couldn’t go to all of our January term classes because there was ice on the road and no one knew how to drive on ice in Atlanta. And this was before Zoom, so our classes were condensed and we missed the last 4 days of class. We used that time to have a Harry Potter movie marathon, and when the ice melted down enough, we drove up to Cataloochee and had our first ski trip as a married couple.

But the point is this, I have no idea how I would survive a Midwinter season when frosty wind was moaning, water was frozen like a stone and the earth was hard as iron. I can’t imagine this world physically, but if I look at the lyrics of this song through a spiritual len, I can begin to imagine the darkness and starkness of a world without the light of Christ.

The words remind us, that in the bleakest of days, warmth and light and goodness entered the world. In the midst of the water standing still, the giver of Living Water came into being. And when the oppression and humiliation of another conquered people group cried out to Creator God, the most helpless and vulnerable being came to save them all.

But they didn’t notice because all they saw was the bleak mid-winter.

On the day when love came down, heavenly beings travelled to praise God and to give witness to this event; all angels and arc angels and Cherubim and Seraphims were present, but that wasn’t what the God of the universe required of us. Surprisingly so, God was satisfied simply with the kiss of his mother, the humility of a shepherd, the determination of the wise men. And what is it that God asks of us…only our hearts.

The song ends by asking this question, “What can I give him?” and I have wondered that question before as well. With all that God has given and continues to give me, what can I give back in return for that love? The song answers the question with the image of giving our heart back to God, but I think God deserves more. I want to give God my whole self, mind, soul, demeanor, future plans, convictions, energy, passion…I want to give my all, but I am far from perfect and far from sinless. But the song has good news about this too. But we may look around and see only snow covering the grounds of our frozen parts that used to be lively, foundations now hard as iron unyielding and ungracious and we may quite honestly feel like our spiritual life is like a mid-winter and it is oh so bleak.

But there is good news, God meets us there and prepares us in this season because Spring always follows winter. And so I don’t know where you are in this season as you wait for the Christ-child, but I want to remind you that God wants all of you and all of me and especially our hearts. If we come and bring what we can with curiosity and wonder, see what God does with our bleak Mid-Winter storms when we simply open ourselves to be shaped in one season so that we can be ready for the next.

Devotion: O Holy Night

As I catch my breath amid the holiday whirlwind, the enchanting notes of “O Holy Night” resonate in my mind. There’s something about this song that reaches deep within, prompting us to pause and reflect amidst the festive frenzy.

You know that part, “Truly, he taught us to love one another; his law is love, and his gospel is peace”? That right there is the heart of it all. It encapsulates the essence of Christmas—the arrival of Jesus, bringing love and peace. It’s not just about gifts and glitter; it’s about sharing love and living in peace.

Now, let’s rewind and dive into this timeless hymn’s story. “O Holy Night” wasn’t crafted by some high-and-mighty composer. No, it was penned by a regular guy, Placide Cappeau, a wine merchant, in the 19th century. Picture that—an ordinary person like us giving us a song that still strikes a chord today.

Let’s discuss the crux of this song—the line that goes, “Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother.” That right there is a game-changer. It’s a declaration of freedom, a proclamation of equality. In a world where chains of injustice and inequality persist, this line hits close to home. It reminds us that no one should be in chains, that we’re all brothers and sisters, deserving of love, freedom, and respect.

Why is it so crucial to sing this line today? Because we still live in a world with chains of injustice—whether they’re visible or hidden. As we belt out those powerful words, it’s not just about singing a song; it’s about internalizing a call to action. It’s a reminder that we’re called to break the chains of prejudice, discrimination, and injustice. We’re urged to recognize the humanity in every person, acknowledging that we’re all connected as brothers and sisters.

As we gather with our loved ones during this holiday season and sing our hearts out to one of the most powerful songs on our playlists, it’s important that we don’t just skip over the impactful words. Instead, let’s take a moment to allow them to truly resonate with us and inspire us to take action. “O Holy Night” serves as an anchor that can guide us through the sometimes-chaotic holiday season, reminding us to stay true to ourselves, spread love, prioritize peace, and actively work towards breaking the chains that bind our brothers and sisters.

FUMCWP’s Core Values

Check out today’s update from Pastor David to learn about our church’s core values!

Devotion: O Come, All Ye Faithful

Every Advent season, I can rarely get through the lyrics of “O Come All Ye Faithful” without tearing up. The up-beat march and the joyful melody keeps me smiling all the way through. As I heard this song recently on the Pentatonix Christmas Album (which is my favorite version; I highly recommend) I loved how the voices, power and passion built over the three verses. It ends with a choir, dressed in red robes, swaying together to the beat in every size, shape and color and what an image of the Kingdom of God this is. So it is no surprise that as I read the lyrics again in preparation for this devotion that I was struck by the word ALL. The invitational nature of this word reminds me of our Communion Liturgy when the pastor says,

“Christ our Lord invites to his table, ALL who love him,

who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another.”

Even after 37 years of walking with Jesus, I am still overwhelmed by the grace of God that invites and beckons ALL to share in the joy and the triumph of the manager. All are invited to faithfully follow and to obediently love. I hear this Christmas Carol as an invitation to belong, believe and become.

As I looked into more of the history of this Carol, maybe the word ALL was written in because of the collaboration team. While this Hymn is attributed to John Francis Wade in 1743 and it included the Latin text in its first version, it was worked on by a group of people. I share these notes from the United Methodist Discipleship website:

“This favorite Christmas hymn appears to be the result of a collaboration of several people. What we sing is a 19th-century version of a hymn written in the 18th century.

The Latin text comes from the Roman Catholic tradition, found in an 18th-century manuscript in the College at Douai located in northern France beginning around 1561 and continuing until it was suppressed in 1793. The college was exiled to England at the time of the French Revolution (1789-99).”

Like Scripture itself, this hymn had several versions, languages, and contributors over time. The theology came from both Protestant and Catholic traditions, Latin and French languages were translated too. Originally written by the Englishman, John Francis Wade, the first manuscript was dated in 1743, and the English language translation of stanzas one, two, three and six is the work of Frederick Oakeley (1802-1880). He was a translator of Latin hymns during the Oxford movement who worked closely with Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890), a leader in the movement. Oakeley became a Roman Catholic and was known for his ministry to the poor at Westminster Abbey. Oakeley’s stanzas, penned in 1841, first appeared in F.H. Murray’s Hymnal for Use in the English Church (1852). And then Abbé Etienne Jean François Borderies, who was inspired upon hearing the hymn, translated three additional stanzas, of which four and five are included in the UM Hymnal, to fill out the Christmas story.

What I hear in the history of this hymn is once again the echoing of ALL. Writers from Protestant and Catholic faiths, those who spoke Latin, English, and French, those who lived in the 18th and 19th centuries all faithfully followed Jesus, had a story to tell and a new stanza to add.

And so as we inch closer to the manger, as we make our way to Bethlehem to see the Christ Child, how are you listening to faithful voices along the way? How are you being informed by those that have a different voice, language, or tradition? Our God is the God of ALL because ALL is situated in grace. And so as you sing this carol, as you wrap your gifts, as you attend parties and worship and embrace the moments of craziness, may you open your ears for the voices that you haven’t listened to lately or the faces that are not a part of your normal circle of friends and welcome them also to the manger. To come, faithfully one and ALL.