Dear Friends in Christ,


As we come to another Advent and Christmas season, the beginning of a new church year, we do so in a time of confusion.

As I read those words which began my column in 2003 I was struck by how much things today are the same. The war continues; then we were coming out of a recession, now we are again in a recession; Israel and the Palestinians are still in conflict, though less violent at the moment; our president-elect is already coming under attack from the extremists in his own party for trying to bring the nation together (as President Bush often had to struggle with the extremists in his party). That year a woman had been trampled to death on Black Friday at a store in Florida by shoppers, this year a worker at a Wal-Mart in New York was trampled to death by shoppers. There continue to be conflicts over the public celebration of Christmas and this year some people even began to attack Thanksgiving as a violation of the separation of church and state.

In the midst of this we prepare to celebrate the birth of the prince of peace, always remembering that the peace Jesus promised was not the peace of the world. The weekly subjects of Advent -- peace, hope, joy, love -- seem in stark contrast to the state of the world. However, the overarching theme is one of preparation and anticipation. In the mundane we can think of getting ready for the celebration of Christmas -- finding a tree, decorating, buying gifts, etc. But Biblically it is both simpler and more complex. We need to make time for nurturing our faith and that of our children and grandchildren. The events and state of the world make that even more essential. News reports and events in daily life can push us toward doubt, depression, and even despair (traditionally one of the seven deadly sins). Coming together with our fellow believers to focus on God and that which is eternal can help us to keep clear the important things of life. Those four weekly focal points of worship -- peace, hope, joy, love -- remind us that whatever the disappointments and confusion the world gives us there is one who does not disappoint but rather clarifies and encourages. Jesus sent us the comforter, the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit God comes into our everyday life and can restore and make whole that which is broken. Plan to be with us weekly as we gather in anticipation of Jesus' coming. 
As we need hope and healing so does the world. This time of Advent between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a time to especially remember the needs of those who are suffering in the midst of the economic crisis as well as the conflicts and natural disasters which have come upon us. We can't solve all the world's problems or resolve all the world's conflicts. We can however share what resources we have with those who help locally -- Rowan Helping Ministries, Cooperative Christian Ministry in Kannapolis, Main Street Mission, Salvation Army, etc., as well as globally -- Lutheran World Relief, ELCA World Hunger, ELCA Disaster Response, Food for the Poor, Bread for the World, among others. The resources we can share include not just money and time but equally (if not more) important, we can pray, making time in our all too busy lives for God, interceding for the world and all those in need, wherever or whomever they are.

While we can't solve all the problems in life, we can hold out the promise of love, joy, hope, and peace of the One who can resolve all conflicts and suffering, the One whose birth we celebrate. And we can resolve that in the new year we will strive to show those blessings in our lives. We can strive to live it in our families, jobs, schools, and daily life. We can resolve to be guided by love and caring. We can renew our own faith and recover our own hope and joy, not because we change the world but because we change ourselves. We can commit to pray for God's peace in the world, as well as an earthly peace marked by an end to human war and violence.

I pray that Advent will bring you to a deeper faith as you come each week to thanks and worship God as we prepare our hearts for the wonder of Jesus' birth. May you have a most blessed Christmas and a New Year filled with joy and hope and peace. May you find in the new year a deeper understanding of God's love for you.

In Christ's joy, hope, and service,
Pastor Joseph