Christmas

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Fourth Sunday of Advent 18 December 2016

“Tell Out, My Soul” verse 4

Tell out, my soul, the glories of God’s word!

Firm is the promise and God’s mercy sure;

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord

to children’s children and forever more!

By Timothy Dudley-Smith

 

Matthew 1:21-23

“‘She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’  All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:  ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’”

Promises, promises!  How many promises have been made to the people of this land?  Promises of good will, promises of return, promises of peace.  And how many of these promises have been kept?

advent-pic-treePalestinians were forced out of their homes in 1948, many with the promise that they would be allowed to return within a few weeks, but almost 70 years later there is still no return.  Oslo promised a Palestinian state in 5 years, and yet, 23 years later, the people are still longing for a state of their own.  How easy it is to become cynical when we hear another promise being made, especially when we look back at all the broken promises that we have experienced.

But the hymn above tells us, “Firm is the promise and God’s mercy sure.”  Why should we believe that?  I remember a professor of mine, a Catholic priest, who taught us about “memory, imagination and anticipation” as a way of living and practicing our faith in God.  Memory – recalling how God has acted in the past; Imagination – trusting that the same God is acting in the present moment; Anticipation – believing that this same God will be with us in the same way in the future.

The Christmas story is one of great promises, beginning with promises to the prophets of a coming Messiah, then of a child to the virgin Mary, and to the shepherds a promise of peace and goodwill to all people.

The promises of God are firm and sure.  They are not like manmade promises.  They can be trusted.  God’s promise came to us at Christmas in the birth of a baby in Bethlehem.  His promise is one of peace and goodwill for all people.  Let us work together with God at making this promise a reality.

Lord, help us to trust you as we look around and see a broken world.  May your promises strengthen our faith and give us hope.  Amen.   

 

Devotion written by Tina Whitehead, Member of the Western Pennsylvania United Methodist Conference, Individual Volunteer serving in Palestine and Israel for 10 years.

Picture:  An olive tree coming back to life in the midst of a demolished village. The promise of hope.  Picture credit:  Tina Whitehead.

Advent Wreath:  Candle holders are olive wood Bethlehem Star, the Candles are placed in tear gas canisters, the olive wall panels represent the wall around Bethlehem and many other areas in the West Bank area of Palestine (available through the YWCA of Jerusalem), the green carpet is made by women from the Negev, and the scarfs represent men and women.  Photo taken by Kristen L. Brown 

Third Sunday of Advent 10 December 2016

Tell Out, My Soul   -by Timothy Dudley-Smith

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of God’s might!

Powers and dominions lay their glory by;

Proud hearts and stubborn wills are put to flight,

The hungry fed, the humble lifted high.

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.  His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.  He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Luke 1:46-55

Mary’s response to Elizabeth now known as the “Magnificat” or Mary’s song of praise and thanksgiving is a thread woven into the fabric of faith.  God, in God’s way has shown us grace and compassion in the incarnation through a girl named Mary.

This song reminds us of what God has done and is doing.  Who is this Mary?  We may often think of Mary, a simple girl… however, her role in the life of Jesus is so much more.

20151216_102356-copyWe realize that Mary is a blessing to all generations, from the past to the present and into the future.  The word used in the Hebrew is Brukha which is a blessing… but what if we look at “blessing” in the Hebrew form of Ishar an active verb “to go straight, a call to do something to make a change in the world.”*  Mary accepted the gift of Brukha blessing to be a blessing for all generations, and she Ishar did something in the process.  She agreed to be active in the life of Jesus.  She raised him, nurtured him, cared for him, cried over him, laughed with him, taught him, and most of all, she loved him.

Women and men in every place in the world are tasked to do something to make a change in the world.  The “Marys,” the ordinary women (and men), in Bethlehem today, even while living in the midst of occupation continue to work for change and justice in our world by loving, nurturing, caring, and teaching their children to live lives with faith, compassion and love.

Prayer:  Lord of love, we give you thanks for Mary and the action of her love.  Help all of us live our lives in action as we seek to serve and work for justice in the world.  Bless the work of men and women who seek to serve at home and around the world.  Amen.

 

*Notes from a talk by Archbishop Elias Chacour on going deeper with the Beatitudes from Matthew 5.

Devotion written by Rev. Kristen L. Brown, Methodist Liaison in Palestine and Israel, serving through the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church

Picture credit: Rev. Kristen L. Brown, picture of the Wall of Separation in Bethlehem, graffiti on the wall of 3 Marys designed by Rev. Steve Braudt.

Advent Wreath:  Candle holders are olive wood Bethlehem Star, the Candles are placed in tear gas canisters, the olive wall panels represent the wall around Bethlehem and many other areas in the West Bank area of Palestine (available through the YWCA of Jerusalem), the green carpet is made by women from the Negev, and the scarfs represent men and women.  Photo taken by Kristen L. Brown 

Second Sunday of Advent, 4 December 2016

Tell Out My Soul, by Timothy Dudley-Smith

“Tell out, my soul, the greatness of is name!

Make known his might, the deeds his arm has done;

His mercy sure, from age to age the same;

His holy name – the Lord, the Mighty One.”

 

 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  ‘Prepare the way of the Lord;  make his paths straight.’”  

Matthew 3:1-12

Without doubt, John the Baptist anticipated the might, power and strength Jesus will carry through His presence to everyone He encounters.  John called the people to repent, to prepare the way of the Lord and make His paths straight!  He was the prophetic voice that pointed to Jesus;  He was the one who wanted to decrease so that Jesus might increase. John got it right!

In the same manner, living in a highly volatile land, we have no choice but to be the prophetic voice to our communities and churches.  During this advent season and beyond, our hearts are inspired

star-street-advent-2016

Star Street in Bethlehem

to seek peace and justice in every action we do and every place we go.  Our words should be to build, encourage and support and to lead people to draw closer to God exactly like John.  In doing so, we must seek to repent of anything that hinders our relationship with whom whose sandals we are not worthy to carry.

Like John, we ought to ask the Lord for strength to bear fruit in keeping with repentance; for faith to see the hard stones turning into living ones, living stones that witness to the Lord and His work in this land where “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power…”  It is Jesus who “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” (Acts 10: 38) We can do nothing without God by our side, when God is in our midst, miracles happen, lives are transformed, broken hearts are healed, souls are saved, the good news is being shared; we can then all believe and see for ourselves that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!  This should be our dream and vision; as we lift Jesus up, as we glorify Him, we will advance the work of the Kingdom.  And on that day, when we behold the lamb in all his glory, when our faces gaze upon his majesty, we will know that it was worth it all!

Let us pray, Lord, in our weakness, help us be the voice of change, love, peace and joy for our nations. Use us, transform us, guide us to point people to you; Jesus Christ, the Hope of Glory, the Light of the world and the savior to all.  Amen.

Devotion written by Michael Arteen

General Board of Global Ministries missioner serving as campus minister at Bethlehem Bible College in Bethlehem, Palestine

Photo Credit:  Star Street is one of Bethlehem’s oldest commercial streets, connecting the northern part of the Old City to the southern part.  As I walk through this street, I am always reminded that as Christ’s followers we ought to prepare the way for the coming of our King.  It is a narrow street, that also makes me aware that following Jesus is not always the easiest path, however, whilst walking our journey on earth; Jesus will always be holding our hand as we follow that bright shining star.  Photo taken by Michael Arteen

Advent Wreath:  Candle holders are olive wood Bethlehem Star, the Candles are placed in tear gas canisters, the olive wall panels represent the wall around Bethlehem and many other areas in the West Bank area of Palestine (available through the YWCA of Jerusalem), the green carpet is made by women from the Negev, and the scarfs represent men and women.  Photo taken by Kristen L. Brown 

First Sunday of Advent, 27 November 2016

Tell Out My Soul” verse 1

“Tell out my soul the greatness of the Lord!

Unnumbered blessings gave my spirit voice;

Tender to me the promise of God’s word;

In God my Saviour shall my heart rejoice.”

by Timothy Dudley-Smith

Isaiah 2 1-5

1 The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.  2  Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills;  and all nations shall flow to it.

3 Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob;  He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.”  For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

4 He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

Advent Hope is an annual gift as we prepare for Christmas.  The love that led to the incarnation inspires a hope that can triumph over even the mostly bleak of prospects.  This year in the town of Jesus’s birth there is a need for advent-pic-wallthat hope perhaps as much as in any year of history.  Far from “beating their swords into plowshares” the powers plan on how to use 38 billion dollars to buy arms for the Israeli army – while the plight of Palestinians goes unreported.  There is a palpable sense of hopelessness in the West Bank with a sense that there is now even less hope that the conflict will be resolved in a just settlement on a two state basis.  Yet into that situation of despair comes the prospect of a birth.  God has not deserted God’s people, God weeps at the cruelty of “man’s inhumanity to man,” yet still God so loves the world that he gives his Son, God incarnate.  The angels sing of peace and the Shepherds and Magi search for the hope of humankind.  As we begin Advent once more may the thirst for justice be renewed.  Perhaps this year truly peace on earth might be achieved…  “Tell out my soul the greatness of the Lord!”

Picture:   A Children’s Playground in the shadow of the separation barrier.  At a convent on the Mount of Olives there is a nursery serving local families who used to relate to Bethany and to the E-Sheikh area on the Mount of Olives.  The separation barrier was built through the ground of the convent and now the convent uses the wall as a boundary for its children’s playground.  Access from Bethany is no longer possible.  Photo credit:  Revd.  John Howard.

Written by Revd. John Howard.  Mission Partner, Methodist Church in Britain, Serving in the Methodist Liaison Office, Jerusalem.

 

Advent 2016 Devotions coming soon!

Advent 2016 will begin in a couple of weeks.  We are working on devotions.  We will post them here and on Facebook through our “Methodist Liaison office in Jerusalem” page and in other groups.

advent-2016

photo credit to Rev. Kristen L. Brown

Pictured is an Advent wreath… included in this years’ wreath are:  olive wood panels representing the wall of separation in Palestinian areas of the West Bank and Gaza, these particular panels were made by a project of the YWCA of East Jerusalem; Bethlehem Star olive wood candle holders; the candles are placed in recycled tear gas canisters which were collected in the past year and available at Bethlehem Bible College gift shop; the green rug is made by women from the Negev.

We encourage each of you to be creative, your Advent wreath can tell a story of a people… what thoughtful ways can you help tell the bigger story of God in our midst?

A Day to Remember…

19 April is a day to remember… but then, every day is a day to remember, in one way or another.  If one has a connection with Oklahoma, 19 April 1995 is a day not easily forgotten.

It does not take much for the tears toJesus wept okc gather in my eyes.  On other days that happens as well.  Sadly, too often, in too many places, someone does something drastic and horrible that will forever change the lives of people.  Ironically, if one has no connection with a people in a place where tragedy has occurred, we may soon lose the memory of it ever happening.

For some events in our lives, we can clearly recall all the details of a day.  Where were you when…?  For much of our lives… however, we coast through, making connection and memoires that are easily blurred over time.  Family stories and pictures help, although, sometimes family members may not fully agree about all of the details!

Yesterday, another bus was blown up in Jerusalem… the other day 500 or so people’s lives were lost in a desperate move to flea one country in hopes of a better life in another country, and because it happened in the night on the Mediterranean Sea, few people are even mentioning it.  And so it goes on.

The Gospel message, of the risen Jesus, was something that happened, and we continue to celebrate it, and we continue to struggle theologically about it, and yet, we continue to hold on to the message of the risen Lord, Jesus the Christ, the Messiah.

As a United Methodist person serving in the Jerusalem area, we celebrated Easter a few weeks ago, meanwhile our Eastern (Greek, Russian, etc.) Orthodox and Armenian brothers and sisters will celebrate Easter in a couple of weeks.  When we gathered in Jerusalem with thousands of Christians from around the world, including some of those living in Palestine who had permission to travel to Jerusalem, to walk the Palm Sunday walk from the Mount of Olives into the Old City of Jerusalem, even though we thought this was the only event happening in Jerusalem that day, the rest of the world may not have realized we were there.

Although there are many more positive and happy things which have happened over the years, 19 April is a reminder for many about the explosion of the Murrah building and the death of 168 people in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; or for others the killing of 70 people in Waco, Texas; and for yet others, the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.  It is also the date of the first Boston Marathon in 1897.

It is important to continue to remember events, and it is as important to learn our history, as well as history in the world so that we do not continue to repeat the tragic events.  The scars of our past are very much a part of our lives and our world.

Dates, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures, all contribute to and add flavor to our memories.  Good and sad.

Out of the ashes, the phoenix rises.

Up from the grave our savior rose!

From the tragedy and from the beauty we will rise to find our place in this world.  May we all work together for real peace with real justice for all of humanity!

 

Pictures used were found on the internet, a statue of Jesus Wept, at the Murrah Memorial site in Oklahoma City.

 

Easter

“He Lives”

I serve a risen Savior, he’s in the world today; I know that he is living, whatever foes may say.  I see his hand of mercy, I hear his voice of cheer, and just the time I need him, he’s always near.

He Lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today!  He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.  He lives, he lives, salvation to impart!  You ask me how I know he lives?  He lives within my heart.

United Methodist Hymn # 310 words by Alfred H. Ackley

Acts. 10:34-43

“Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.  You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.  You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross,  but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.  He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.  He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.  All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land have been faithful witnesses of the death and resurrection of Christ since the day of Pentecost!  Peter, in today’s reading, could have been speaking to the ancestors of these Christians.  Though many forces have collaborated to snuff out their witness, they remain a precious “gem” that has persevered until today.  This Easter, many in the Palestinian Christian community will commemorate the age-old tradition of the Holy Saturday of Light as they receive the symbolic “holy fire” emitted from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and transmit it to local and area churches via candlelight and processional celebrations in preparation for their Easter Sunday celebrations.  Others will celebrate Easter sunrise services from the top of the Mount of Olives or at the Garden Tomb.  Regardless of their faith traditions, they are steadfast in hope as they believe, proclaim and live the miracle of the resurrection.

Today’s Palestinian Christians, along with their Muslim neighbors, are facing tough times.  Repeatedly misrepresented and discriminated against on the local, international and world scene, they struggle to keep the faith amidst the political challenges of walls, barriers, checkpoints, land confiscations, house demolitions, indiscriminate killings, arrests and imprisonment.  They have been under particular duress in the past five months as they witness the numerous and disproportionate killings and injuries of friends and loved ones.

IMG_1670Please pray for the Palestinian Christian community as they speak out against the injustices of a fierce and illegal occupation and as they seek spiritual as well as political resurrection. Pray likewise for Israelis who suffer from the side-effects of the occupation.  This Easter, let us affirm that we indeed serve a risen Savior and let us rise up to be the resurrected body of Christ promoting acts of mercy, compassion, fairness, reconciliation and cheer for all of God’s children here and abroad who are suffering from discrimination and injustice.

Dear Jesus,

As we look forward to celebrating Easter Sunday and your triumphal victory over death and the grave, we look and we see a land crying out for lack of justice.  We see Palestinian and Israeli blood being spilled, while the world looks away on the other side.  Lord may we be the first responders to proclaim and bring the good news of salvation, peace and justice to your people through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Devotion written by Rev. Alex and Brenda Awad, GBGM missionaries at Bethlehem Bible College and the East Jerusalem Baptist Church for the past 26 years. They are currently itinerating in the USA.

Photographs

 Olive wood representation of the Wall project of the YWCA of Jerusalem, photograph by Rev. Kristen L. Brown.

Women at the empty tomb of the resurrected Jesus Christ, tapestry made by members of Nichols Hills UMC in Oklahoma, photograph taken by Rev. Trevor W. Smith.

Holy Week: Holy Saturday

“Jesu, Jesu”

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you.

These are the ones we should serve, these are the ones we should love; all these are neighbors to us and you.

United Methodist Hymn # 432 words by Tom Colvin

Psalm 33:20 – “We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.

Isaiah 12:2 – “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.

Easter Saturday.  One of the in-between times that we have in our lives.  We often talk about events by using “from – to” but our lives are really more about “from – through – to.”  We live mainly in the “through” times.  Easter Saturday is one of those times.

The women in Luke’s Gospel (Ch. 12) have just come “from” the crucifixion experience.  Their world has been turned upside-down; they don’t know what lies ahead.  They come to the grave-site expecting to find Jesus’ body, bringing with them the spices that were used after a death.  They were not expecting a resurrection; they had not understood Jesus when he told them that in 3 days he would be raised.  They did not live in hope.  They were just going about their customary caring for a loved one who had died.

rainbow in JerusalemThere is a strong statement in the Palestine Kairos Document:  “In the absence of hope, we cry out our cry of hope.”  Like the women, the people of this land see very little that gives them hope.  They are living in an in-between time, from dispossession, through occupation to… what?  The answer we hope for is peace, liberation, justice, equality, freedom.  But at the moment, we wait in hope, in the absence of hope, in a hope that looks to God, a God who is faithful and who calls us to “trust and not be afraid.”

Lord, Help us to keep our eyes focused on you when we experience the difficult in-between times of life.  When we get discouraged and feel that hope is lost, remind us to put our trust in you.  Amen.

-Tina Whitehead, United Methodist Volunteer in Palestine and Israel

Photographs:

The wooden wall, a project of the YWCA of Jerusalem, photograph taken by Rev. Kristen L. Brown

Rainbow over Jerusalem, photograph taken by Tina Whitehead

Holy Week: Holy Friday

“Jesu, Jesu”

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you.  Loving puts us on our knees, serving as though we are slaves, this is the way we should live with you.

United Methodist Hymn # 432 words by Tom Colvin

John 18:1-19:42

“Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity.  So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed.”  John 19:31

20150819_093344As we reflect on the reality of Jesus’ death, we are humbled.  After spending time in the Holy Land, we have learned that this day is referred to as Sad Friday by the local Christian people.

Not long ago, I joined a group of Christians from Bethlehem who had gathered in a field where too many olive trees were being uprooted.  As we prayed, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…” an olive tree was uprooted from the earth.  With tears in my heart, I prayed.

“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  Hebrews 10:23-25

IMG_739420160115_122942We remember that God is present in times of despair.  A few trees remain in this field, though stripped of limbs and branches, new growth is happening.  A reflection of “Sammud” steadfastness of hope is witnessed in the people of this land.  While in our life we may despair, we know that earthly death does not have the final word.

 

Lord, fill us with your love as we seek to faithfully serve our neighbors, both near and far away.  Help us to remain steadfast in our love, hope and faith.  Amen.

Devotion written by Rev. Kristen L. Brown, GBGM Methodist Liaison in Palestine and Israel from 2011 to the present, and by Julie Hartbarger Blacksher, a member of Pathways UMC in Springfield, Missouri.

Photographs:

The wooden wall, a project of the YWCA of Jerusalem, second picture taken in a valley near Bethlehem as a tree was uprooted, third picture one of the olive trees which remained, at least for a short while, fourth picture a drawing of an olive tree,  photographs taken by Rev. Kristen L. Brown

Drawing of the olive tree by Julie Hartbarger Blacksher.