The 2021 CSM Daily Advent Devotional
by Rev. Philip K. Brockett
2 Corinthians 9:15: “Thanks Be to God for his indescribable, inexpressible, unspeakable, inexpressible, priceless, precious beyond words, gift. ”
If you look up the definition of “Gift” you discover that it means “a thing willingly given without the expectation of payment.” In the 2 Cor. 9:15 passage, Paul is thinking of the “the gift of Jesus Christ.” To him God’s gift of Jesus is such a great and wonderful thing that it is indescribable. In fact, in my quoting the verse above I listed all the different ways that bible translators have tried to express the indescribable nature of God’s gift. God gave the gift of God’s own self in the form of a person! And best of all this gift is for everyone. No matter who you are, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, the gift of Jesus communicates that you are known, you are loved, you are valued, you are adored by the person that is the power behind the very existence of all that is. Not too shabby a gift. Wouldn’t you agree? In fact, it is a gift that I will always remember and never forget. Thanks be to God for God’s inexpressible, priceless, precious beyond words gift.
by David Young
Romans 15:13, May the God of HOPE fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with HOPE by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Four years ago, I was in intensive physical rehab following shoulder surgery.
Three years ago, I developed a blood infection and was admitted to the hospital on Thanksgiving. After a week in the hospital and two weeks of in-home IV’s, I was at the hospital having the PIC line removed. Someone said, Merry Christmas. Only then did I notice the decorations on the wall. I didn’t even know it was December, let alone eight days before Christmas.
Two years ago, Thanksgiving to the day after Christmas was filled by cancer testing. A bone marrow biopsy, multiple lab tests, full body bone scan, CT scans, and an abdominal mass biopsy. Another year passes and the best I can hopefully think of is to have these tests completed and get answers.
The next year, a major abdominal surgery and a diagnosis of Follicular Lymphoma, a blood cancer. A whirlwind of appointments with specialists, surgeries, recovery, radiation, and more testing have continued. Prostate cancer meant more surgery, radiation, and appointments. My list of specialists grew as I was diagnosed with an immune disorder that leaves me vulnerable to anything pneumococcal related: sinus infections, MRSA abscesses, pneumonia, even meningitis.
My routine of life has become medical appointments, procedures, lab tests, and treatment. As this becomes my new norm, my anxiety has lessened.
My hope this Advent, especially on Christmas Eve, is to be able to settle into a rhythm of anticipation, preparedness, and hope for the Joy of Jesus that is in each of our hearts.
Love Peace & Unity,
by Melissa Aguilar
Romans 5:2-4: we boast in the HOPE of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, HOPE. And HOPE does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Hope, such a small word, but with such great meaning. Where would we be without hope, and how do people without the hope of Christ make it through tough times? It is easy to see why suicide rates and drug overdoses are so high. With Christ in our hearts, we can, as it says in the scripture, glory in our sufferings because we know that God will use those sufferings to strengthen us and give us hope and the promise of an eternity in Heaven.
Hope is what has gotten me through some of the toughest times in my life. I had a very difficult childhood, but did not come to know Christ until later in my life. However, I can now see that He had His hand on me during that time. I walked away from Him for a time, but He never turned His back on me, and when I was ready to come back, He was waiting with open arms. I returned to Christ after I lost my dad and a close cousin, who was also one of my very best friends, was brutally murdered. I realized then that I needed God and the hope I could only find through a relationship with Jesus. Since my return, I became a grandmother at the age of 33 when my 15 year-old daughter got pregnant, I remarried and became a widow three months after getting married, Hurricane Katrina hit, and I relocated to California for 13 years. I came back to New Orleans in 2018 with a new husband and things have been difficult financially since coming back. There are issues within my family that also make things difficult. However, through all of this, the joy of the Lord and the hope that He gives have sustained me and kept me going. Even if God were to never do anything else for me, what He has already done by sending Jesus to die for me and by giving me peace and hope through His Holy Spirit, is enough.
Prayer: Awesome Heavenly Father, I thank You so much for Your grace, mercy, love, and faithfulness. May we never forget all that You have done. I pray that You will continue to watch over and protect each person reading this and their families, and that they will all know the peace and hope that You have blessed me with, so that when the tough times come, they will be able to endure and stand steadfast in Your love.
Melissa Aguilar has worked for Central St. Matthew for the last two years as the office administrator. She lives in Harahan with her husband Dave and her elderly mother. She enjoys baking, travelling, movies, music, and spending time with friends and family.
by Michele D’Aquin
Ephesians 1:18 “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people”
As we wait in joyful hope during this Advent season of anticipation, I reflect on some of the ways that God has blessed me.
God protected us from COVID as we relocated to Lafayette just before the pandemic arrived full force in New Orleans. He has protected us in all our commutes back to visit church, friends, and family, even letting us walk away unharmed from a bad auto accident.
God protected us from Hurricane Ida, allowing us to provide a place for my family to evacuate, and a time for us to be together, creating new memories, even as family members waited for news of their homes, and for the electricity to return in New Orleans; and, He has kept us connected to our faith community at CSM, thru the miracle of on-line worship.
Long before Christ walked the earth, God promised never to leave us or forsake us. Deuteronomy 31:6 This strengthens my hope. Every night I thank God for peaceful, restful sleep. Every new day is a promise of hope.
Prayer: God, You are the creator of every good thing in my life. This gives me unending hope and joy. I place my hope in you. You put us here to bear one another’s burdens and share each other’s joys. Keep me humble to accept prayer from others and keep me bold to give hope to others thru prayer. Let me never forget there is joy in the journey. Open the eyes of my heart to see the good that You have created in others. Use me, God to encourage others to feel hope too. Let others feel :
“A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn”
Michele D’Aquin and her spouse, Vicki Weeks joined CSM in 2004. They managed a group home in New Orleans prior to retiring to Lafayette. They were blessed that the pastor felt called to invite them to visit CSM.
by Michael Boucree
Psalm 33:18: Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who HOPE in his steadfast love,
Have you ever been told or heard someone say “why are you looking at me that way? It looks like you’re looking through me, not at me!” It’s been more than once that such a statement has been made to me and I’ve become conscious about how I “look” at people. But there are times that I must look at people, items, problems, conundrums, dilemmas, projects, art, literature, music, and so forth, and see beyond what is in front of me. In such a way, I am looking “critically” for what else I can see, learn, find, and/or discover. As written by Dottie Rambo in the 1970’s to the tune of “Danny Boy”, “He Looked Beyond My Faults and Saw My Need.” Looking with my critical eye, my spiritual eye, and my heart, I look beyond what I see, to see and understand, or to approach an understanding greater than what I see. I believe that this is also what God is doing with his personified “eye” at our heartfelt desires and prayers. Simply put, looking at our hopes!
Earlier in our scriptural passage, before telling us that the eye of the Lord is upon us and upon that which is deeper than what is presented, the psalmist tells us “the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” And I see in this statement, that while through the tragedies we are experiencing which at times are unfathomable, I must trust that there is a deeper message and meaning in all of this; and I must use, much like God demonstrates and teaches us, the eyes of my heart, the ears of my soul, and the brain of my faith to HOPE that all transpiring is in order and is divinely ordained for a reason known only to God. Many of our tragedies are of our own (“man’s”) doing, resultant of our free will. But, that cannot withstand the plans that God’s love has for his creation(s).
It is from the combination of all that is tangible and intangible that, through faith and trust, that I derive hope that all will be as it is divinely ordained to be. My struggle is to keep that desire and imagination for better times, for better health of the human condition, for an end to suffering in all forms, and for salvation of the human spirit in this life form, if it is God’s will, and pray for improvement and proper direction. The sensation that this promise and anticipation creates is HOPE. It is my duty to not lose faith while all around seems desperate, not to love less because of the continued fall of the human condition, to maintain a sense of joy that God is the Savior and Master of ALL, and not lose HOPE that in God’s hands, in God’s presence, and in God’s wisdom, he will see beyond the fault of man and supply our need.
PRAYER: Heavenly Father, we often yield to our own fallible free will and run afoul of your perfect desire for us as your beloved children. We strive to atone for our human-ness in the HOPE that you will love us beyond our faults, supply our needs, and receive your grace and mercy to live a worthy life in your beautiful kingdom on Earth, as it is in Heaven. Amen.
Michael Boucree is currently the Vice-President of the Governing Council at CSM. He is a frequent Worship Leader and loves being a part of the life of CSM in many different aspects. He currently works at Ochsner Health as the Medical Director for Regulatory Affairs. He has been a member of CSM since ~2013, and resides in the Lakeview area with his life partner of 23 years, Ivan Griffin.
by Rev. Philip Brockett
James 1:17: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
I had the radio on the other day as I was driving to church and I was very interested in what was being said because the radio host was interviewing a pastor about the effects of COVID on himself and his congregation. The pastor talked about the wearing nature of the pandemic and the sense of heaviness he and his people felt. The host asked about the impact on funerals, weddings, and family gatherings. They discussed having to close down church for a period of time and both the joy and the uncertainty of reopening. They wondered out loud if people will return to church in the same numbers as pre-pandemic. Then at the end of it all, the radio host asked, “So given everything that’s happened and continues to take place, what role does faith have in the face of this condemned continuing pandemic?” It was a good question and I quickly thought to myself, I wonder what I would say if I were put on the spot on live radio to answer such a question?
“Well,” said the pastor, “What I tell my people is that God is a constant source of hope. No matter what happens, no matter what circumstances we face, God’s love is constant, God’s presence is undisturbed, and God’s love is always with us. No matter what, God is a constant source of hope.”
I thought it was a pretty good answer, and immediately my mind turned to James 1:17. I like the way the message puts it. 16-18 “So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures.
What James is telling us is that God’s attitude towards us is constant and it’s one of light and love and blessing. Sometimes when bad things happen and they continue to happen we wonder, “What did I do wrong?” or “ Is God mad at me?” “No,” says James “God is for you, hang on to hope!”
by Steven Edwards
Isaiah 43:1-2: 1 But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
by Tammy DiLizia
Psalm 42:5: Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? HOPE in God; for I shall again praise him, my help
This scripture reminds me to focus on what God has already done for me. In these dark days, hope’s light must shine brightly.
I must continually hope in all the wonderful promises and blessings God has given to me. Hope in my salvation keeps me moving forward, staying on the narrow path He’s placed before me. I always hope His Holy Spirit will make me wiser and reveal God to me so that I can deepen my relationship with Him.
At times, hope is all we need.
Tammy Dilizia became a member of CSM in 2019. She lives in the neighborhood and can frequently be seen riding her bike. And of course she is a diehard Pittsburgh Steelers fan.
by Margaret Rota
Isaiah 9:6-7 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
Indeed, God has created us as unique beings – special in every way – no two snowflakes look the same. You Southerners will just have to believe that to be true, as you may have not experienced enough snowflakes in your life to confirm that statement. Sounds like a Biblical reference, eh? Believe that which is not seen?
Anyway, embedded deep in the synapses of my brain are direct paths to music. A word, a phrase, leads to lyrics, songs, melodies. Growing up, I enthusiastically participated in lots of family singing. I always searched out the alto part, and sister Ellen, as I remember, sang soprano. So, when I read the passage I had been assigned, I experienced a disconnect between the written word, and when I’ve sung those same words since high school days in Handel’s Messiah. Hum along with me. In vs 6: Wonderful, (pause), Counselor, (pause), the Mighty God, (pause), the Everlasting Father, (pause), the Prince of Peace. So, will God’s gift to us be wonderful, and a counselor, or a wonderful counselor? Hmmmm?
We continue to relate to God and the Son in our own unique way, and then as Wilson would say, to “act accordingly.”
Prayer: Help me to be mindful this Advent season, and to act accordingly, with Hope, as my unique path leads. Amen
Margaret and her husband Dave, have been full time members of CSM since they moved permanently from Illinois to NOLA in 2016. They are blessed with family here, their son’s family–Matt, Beth and Arlo–and Margaret’s dear sister, Ellen. Margaret has allowed the music of New Orleans to fully enter her body and soul, and to come out dancing. Oh, and she also loves quilting!
by Dale Bonds
Ephesians 1:18 “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people”
COVID-19! I know all of us have a story or stories to share about our experiences over the last 20 or so months. I’m no different!
If you know anything about me, then you know I have a terrible aversion to driving over bridges. Of course, all of James’ doctors are on the Westbank in Marrero. Before the pandemic, I was blessed with friends that would assist me in one way or another getting James across the river to his appointments. Then along came COVID and my need to do the driving all by myself was real. Before each trip, I would take a deep breath and say a quick prayer. With each trip, and there were quite a few of them in 2020, my faith got a little stronger, I became more relaxed and more hopeful that my next trip would be uneventful.
With each of our journeys, there is always the anticipation of hearing a new diagnosis which we hope will bring James some relief of the symptoms he is experiencing. Not every visit proves to be satisfying, but each one leaves us with a glimmer of some answer or diagnosis to come.
We cannot pretend to know what lies ahead, but I do know that, without hope and knowledge of God, we would be nowhere.
Prayer: Gracious and loving God may our hope in You never fade. Amen
Dale Bonds is a retired systems analyst who is a charter member of CSM. She is married to James, and they have a blended family of four children, 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Zechariah 9:9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
God is never early, never late
The Lord will stand by what He’s promisedI heard your heart, I see your pain
Out in the dark, out in the rain
Feels so alone, feels so afraid
I heard you pray in Yaweh’s nameSometimes it’s days, sometimes it’s years
Some face a lifetime of fallen tears
But He’s in the darkness, He’s in the cold
Just like the mornin’, God always shows
Help is on the way
Roundin’ the corner
Help is on the way
Zechariah’s words of faith lived in the collective consciousness of the Jewish people to such a degree that, when 1st century Christians looked back on the birth, the life and the teaching of Jesus, they saw in them the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy and we can do the same. It may be pandemic, political unrest, supply chain interruptions, inflation, polarization, or injustice, but the story of Jesus’ birth impresses upon us that God’s help is on the way.
Philip Brockett is Pastor at Central St Matthew United Church of Christ, father to Natasha, and husband to Olga.
by Dave Rota
Matthew 1:22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
“Penultimate” is a word that intrigues me. In simple terms it means next to final. The apostle Paul, in the first letter to the Corinthians, exclaims that there is a trinity of ultimate Christian virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love. He then professes that Love is the greatest. Love, then, is the Ultimate virtue. It wins the gold. That leaves Faith and Hope to contend for the silver and bronze. I imagine Paul would argue that Faith gets the silver or Penultimate award, or next to greatest (compare Galatians 2:15 and Galatians 5:13-14). If so, Hope gets the bronze. (I wonder what Paul would pick for fourth place. Maybe Courage?) In the Gospel of Matthew Joseph experiences three dreams that seem, like many dreams, to be bizarre: First he’s told that his virgin wife will bear a son. Then, in the penultimate dream, Joseph is told to leave his home and flee to Egypt, a country that had enslaved his relatives, taking along a pregnant wife and little Jesus. Then in dream three he is told to pack up his bags and go back home where Herod had slaughtered all the children of Jesus’ age. I presume that Joseph, upon waking from these dreams, relied not just on Faith and Love, but on Hope that those dreams were truly from God. It takes courage. to Hope in the face of what seems to be absurdity. The ultimate question, then: Is Hope worthy of the bronze? I hope so.
Prayer: God of blessed assurance, of blessed hope, give us the courage and wisdom to discern when and how to embrace hope in our daily lives.
Dave Rota and his wife, Margaret will have been married 52 years come next May. During the last half of those years, I taught literature and rhetoric at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. We made regular trips to New Orleans to visit Margaret’s sister Ellen Pecoul and her husband John. On many of those visits we attended worship at St. Matthew’s while being thrilled with the culture of New Orleans. Soon after retiring, we moved to New Orleans to be near our son Matt, daughter-in-law Beth, and grandson Ario.
by Norman Robinson
John 1:14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
When I was a little boy, I remember the conversations and life experiences that I shared with my grandmother. On more than one occasion she would encourage me and my younger sister to trust in God and look to Jesus for our salvation. Growing up in the cotton fields of Toomsuba, Mississippi, in the midst of cruel prejudice and discrimination, her words were like the balm of Gilead.
The word of the Lord definitely dwells among us in the flesh. The word is our source of hope and inspiration. My grandmother’s faith in God helped us endure and rise above the hardships of our time. It’s a faith that I and my siblings attribute to our success and survival.
No matter the toils and strifes of life we stand firm and secure in the glory and grace of our Lord and savior.
My prayer is that God continues to bless us all with His grace and mercy. I shall always put my trust in God. He is my life and my salvation. My life is my testimony.
by Rev. Allan Eickelmann
Luke 2:13 “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.”
Praise God! Really? You’ve got to be kidding! Why would I praise that nasty so and so, when I am so pissed off at HIM/HER?
As, as from a distance, I watch my loved one, he/she struggles to breathe on a respirator and I can’t even hold their hand, and at the same time my house has a huge live oak laying across what remains of it, and you expect me to praise the ONE who let this happen. No way! I am boiling over with anger, and who else is there to blame? If you have ever felt like this then you know why, at such times, you can’t praise God.
But wait, in my anger, am I not recognizing the incredible power that God has over my life? Isn’t my anger a testimony, as it was for Job, to my total dependence upon God? Doesn’t my anger, in and of itself, proclaim that it is in HIM/HER that I live, move and have my being? And isn’t that testimony a form of praise? Ironic, isn’t it, that the mere recognition of the power of God is a form of praise, perhaps most especially when we are overcome with the anger that accompanies grief.
Lord may we always remember that You are the Lord. As we constantly remember this truth, it is our act of praise.
Allan Eickelmann is a retired UCC minister, currently on the faculty of The University of Southern Mississippi. He is married to Margene Minor.
by Margene Minor
Micah 5:2 “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”
Oh Lord, I hope my car starts! I hope I get a good report from the doctor! Lord, I hope I have a good hair day! I hope it does/doesn’t rain today!
How I have trivialized “hope” by using it so frequently and casually. However, during these past 18 months, through COVID, Hurricane IDA, etc. etc., hope in its fullest meaning has gotten me through.
For me, hope, just like love, faith, mercy and gratitude, are all God’s gifts to each and every one of us. These are gifts, I feel, we are commanded to share with friends, loved ones, and perhaps most importantly, with the stranger.
As I read the Ephesians 1:18 verse about the “eyes” of the heart, I also prayed that my eyes would have heart. So that during this advent season, during all seasons actually, I can take a breath and bountifully and joyfully give and receive those gifts given to all of us by a babe in a manger. A child destined for the centuries to bring hope to the downtrodden as well as the fortunate, the beleaguered as well as the victorious, to you and to me, and to all who ask, for they will receive from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Lord, we pray that during this season of busyness, gatherings and festivities we take the time to use the “eyes” of our hearts. That we know Your presence during the darkness and sunlight of our lives and that we know Lord, You are love and mercy and our hope and salvation. These are the everlasting treasures of our souls, and for this and for so much more we give You praise this day and forevermore Amen.
Biography: Margene Minor, who has served as a deacon of CSM, is a retired educator and realestate/financial manager. She is married to retired to UCC minister, Dr. Allan Eickelmann.
by Charles Hadley
Psalm 147:11 the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their HOPE in his unfailing love.
First there was Hurricane Katrina which was followed exactly 15 years later with Hurricane Ida during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2014, moreover, I had open heart surgery for a triple bypass. I consider myself lucky because I was given a second chance for life, because I was away from New Orleans for both hurricanes, and because my modest Irish Channel home suffered no damage by either hurricane, other than a beat-up oak tree in my yard.
My modest home, moreover, has provided me with the resources to help others through my church and through charitable giving to help the less fortunate, e.g., a winter coat (three in the last few weeks) or other clothes and monetary contributions to a range of organizations from Back Bay Mission to Covenant House and Café Reconcile, which directly help those in need, to New Orleans City Park, WWNO and WYES, which I consider “riches of His glorious inheritance [for] His holy people.” [Ephesians 1:18]
More important than money, is time. Sent from New England in 1970 to teach at The University of New Orleans (UNO), I felt a personal obligation to Louisiana citizens who paid my salary through taxes. I frequently explained our presidential elections to elementary school children, local community groups and visiting foreign dignitaries. Besides normal UNO obligations, I have taught both high school honors and international students (Germany, Austria and eventually, in the Czech Republic at Charles and Masaryk Universities). Although 15 years into retirement, I continue to teach Czech students gratis at the two universities.
I always served my church and its mission. I also served my neighborhood by helping establish and lead The Irish Chanel Neighborhood Improvement Association (1970s and 1980s), served the UNO community and my undergraduate university, as well as the legacy German community through Deutsches Haus on Galvez Street (1990s and early 2000s), and at its Bayou St. John relocation.
May the Lord continue to guide our lives to do good works, to help those in need, and to give us the fortitude and wisdom needed to navigate these tumultuous times of natural disasters and misinformation.
Charles Hadley grew up in a Congregational Church in Massachusetts and transferred membership to St. Matthew UCC in 1980 when he learned it was his own church where he brought his son to a cooperative pre-school. He transitioned full circle with the merger of St. Matthew and Central Congregational churches. His son, Nathaniel works for an international architecture firm in New Haven, CT, where he lives with his family.
by Carol Etter
As I write this on Thanksgiving eve, I know I have much to be thankful for and “shouldn’t” complain. But still, I often feel that I’m stuck in a drudge of work, and family, and life challenges that seem like they will never, can never end. How long, O Lord, before I can relax, enjoy life without worry?Jeremiah was a prophet writing during the time of the Babylonian exile. In this chapter, written early in the time of exile, he tells the exiles that they will be away from Jerusalem, their promised land, for a very long time – sources say as long as three generations. But Jeremiah goes on to say that God will not forget them. Regardless of how long they are in Babylonia, God has plans, good plans, hope-filled plans for them. He will bring them back to Jerusalem. I can imagine the exiles complaining to each other, to their leaders, their priests as the years go by – How long, O God, will we be stuck here in this foreign land, worrying about what might come? When can we go home to our beloved Jerusalem? Jeremiah’s message is a message of hope in the midst of exile.
Similarly, the early Christians frequently complained to Paul and other leaders, wondering when the better life they’d been promised was going to show up. How long, O God, before we don’t have to live in caves, scrabble for food, ever worrying for our lives? When do we get that inheritance we’ve been promised? Unlike Jeremiah, Paul’s answer to the Ephesians is that the inheritance available to us here and now, through the workings of God’s power within our current lives. While Jeremiah promises a future of hope, Paul says that hope is now, if we but open our eyes.
For me, I need both messages. Regardless of how dim and far off the future of light may seem, God has plans, good plans, for me. I can trust that there is a hope-filled future to come. And, if I look around with the eyes of my heart, I will see and know God’s hope and love right now in the midst of today’s challenges.
Prayer: Lord, help me to lift my eyes from the cluttered path of my daily living, so I can see the love and power of your inheritance here and now. Help me also to know and trust and believe that you have plans for my welfare and for a future of hope.
Carol Etter is a native of Colorado who proudly claims the “Katrina exemption” to say she is now from New Orleans. She has been active in many roles at CSM, but now is content to just sing in the choir. She is looking forward to retirement sometime in the next few years.
by Rev. Philip Brockett
The Audacity of Hope
Marjorie was a mess! She was lonely, afraid and on the edge of confusion. She hadn’t always been this way. In fact she had never been this way. She had lived a very active life as a mother, a teacher, and an active and faithful church member but now in her late 80’s, grieving the recent death of her husband, living alone, she had suddenly become seriously ill and had been rushed to the hospital where doctors had determined she needed immediate surgery. Talk about trial by fire! Talk about passing through deep waters!
Just hearing what had happened and seeing the pain on her face, I felt overwhelmed too. What could I say? There were no words that did not sound like platitudes. What could I do? Nothing, all I could do was sit with her till the orderly came to take her to surgery. So, being speechless and helpless, I opened my bible and read her these words from Isaiah 43:1-2…
2 When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
And as I read, Marjory listened, she wiped her eyes, stopped her moaning and her lips moved, as she spoke the verses with me. She knew the verses! And as she spoke them her demeanor changed, her distress lessened, and there was hope in her voice. If you look up the word hope, you discover it means to desire with expectation of fulfillment. It is an audacious thing to have hope in the face of difficulty. Marion found hope in these words from scripture. When we face hopeless times and we don’t know what to do or say, may we do the same.
Philip Brockett has been the Pastor of Central St Matthew United Church of Christ since February 2015. What he wants for Christmas is for every member of the CSM family to invite someone to attend church with them.
by Princella “Princi” Graham
Isaiah 43:18-20 (NIV): “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
When Pastor Phil asked me to write about HOPE I had to take a deep pause. HOPE? I consider myself a person of strong faith, but I am struggling to keep feeling hopeful. With all the personal loss…my son’s incarceration for possession of marijuana, the disruption and devastation of COVID including the death of eight family members, selling both our homes…giving up my community and my art world…and the chronic, pervasive political and racial insanity. It’s like being in a dark cave! I have no control over anything!! Not even getting my second vaccine because of an allergic reaction! Everything is a struggle!
So, I went to my sacred space to be still…to detach…from things, thoughts, needing to have control…to reflect on and remember what God has taught and is teaching me. He told me to befriend the darkness, to see it as a womb. He reminded me that He continues to form me…and the world…in this darkness for His glory…that a new thing is being birthed. To not struggle, but feel His hand on me and “settle”…the same command I would give my corgis when I’d take them to the vet. I could feel their bodies settle and relax…and, under His hand, I did the same. He reminded me to meditate on the things He has done for me and my family in the past; to think on those things worthy of praise. He told me this darkness will not last forever; He is using it to transform us, and to consider who I want to be in the “new birth”…when He transmutes…births this darkness into Light.
THAT is what gives me HOPE. That GOD is working all things to our good and I don’t have to know how…I can just “settle”, believe, receive, and yield myself to reflect His Light. As Jesus said in Mark 5:36, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
“…but we also glory in our sufferings (darkness), because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
Beloved Abba Father God, this is hard. There is so much grief, sadness, and anger. But I hear Your invitation to be still and embrace this darkness; to know that I am where You would have me be as You re-form me in this sacred womb. Help me to settle, to remember and know by experience that You are able to take care of us. Implant Your Light in my heart that I may be a beacon of hope in the renewed life into which You are birthing us.
Princella “Princi”, Graham and her husband, Charles, moved from Ocean Springs, MS three days before Hurricane Ida hit. They are now living in Michigan, close to their youngest grandchildren but will return to NOLA for the winter. Central St. Matthew UCC has been their loving faith community for over 11 years.
by Vicki Weeks
Romans 8:28-29: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.Ephesians 1:18
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.”
As I think about this past year and a half, it reminds me of how life has changed so much, not just for Michele and me, but for EVERYONE! I have to say that, even through the trying times of COVID, quarantines, masks and vaccines, God has been so good to both of us. We had moved to Lafayette, LA in March of 2019, just as COVID took hold of the entire United States. When we arrived, the entire Acadiana area (7 parishes surrounding and including Lafayette) had only 430 cases of Covid and you could hardly find a mask anywhere. However, we committed to wearing masks whenever we were out and about running errands. I have some medical conditions that put me in the high-risk category, so Michele did most of the errands to keep me from possibly being exposed to COVID. I thought I would be bored to death, not going anywhere and staying indoors most of the time. Thank goodness we have an outside patio that I could go out on to get some fresh air and to help me remember that God is truly in control of EVERYTHING. Being outside helped me keep my perspective on what was important; and that no matter what I did, thought or acted on, God was still in control… I am so grateful for my faith and for Michele’s faith. We know that no matter what happens, or how long it takes for COVID to be eliminated, the eyes of our hearts are continuing to be focused on God, for we have HOPE for which he has called us.
Now that we are both retired, we are waiting on God to show us what He wants us to do next; how He can use us for His purposes. We’re not sure yet what that is, but we do know that God has a plan for us; and that He will disclose His purpose for us in His time. So, as we wait upon Him, we fill our minds with His Word so we can more easily discern what He desires for us, as we ask God to continue to use us every day, in little and big ways, that He sees fit. May each of us know God’s calling for us and that we have the FAITH to believe HE will help us accomplish it, no matter the size. I have HOPE!
Biographical Statement: Vicki Weeks has been a member of Central St. Matthew UCC since Year 2004. I am presently the Secretary of the Board of Trustees at CSM. I am truly blessed to have Michele D’Aquin, as my Christian wife of 31 years, this December 13th. Even though we moved to Lafayette, LA, we continue to be members of CSM, for it is a very special church that we love and love everyone who worships here.
by Rev. Addie Wright Gatewood
Romans 8:24-25 For in this HOPE we were saved. But HOPE that is seen is no HOPE at all. Who HOPEs for what they already have? But if we HOPE for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patientlyHope Demands Change
Hope can be a challenge. Some people use it to control others. It can also seem out of reach when we find ourselves in desperate situations. It defies a “catch all” definition and hinges on personal desire. Hope is forward-facing , but it also demands change in one’s current situation, as preparation for the future. Hope is the fertilizer that helps the flowers grow.
My hope is built on Isaiah 43:19: See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
So what’s new? Our sins can no longer be hidden due to the influence of social media. Most national television and video commercials reflect racially blended immediate family members, as harbingers of our future. Both of the major political parties are obsolete and out of step with the average American. And by the way, have you noticed that Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego are exiting the fiery furnace whole and with praise in their mouths? The last are becoming the first in our society through changes that were unimaginable to our ancestors. Miracles are happening daily. Hope and the change it ushers in is not coming, it’s here.
I can’t wait for 2022. My hope and prayer is that CSM will accept the new things that God wants to do with the Body of Christ. It’s going to feel very odd and uncomfortable as we put on tight shoes of faith and heavy cloaks of evangelism and activism. Indeed, we will look odd and maybe even laughable to some. We will become weary waiting for the fruit of our work. But God’s people always stick out like sore thumbs because we unapologetically wear the whole armor of God. We are a peculiar people. 1 Kings 2:9.
Glory be to God!
Thank you for placing the spirit of hope in our hearts. Hope not just for ourselves, but for those who are in desperate need of earthly and heavenly “food.” Bind us together, as a Church, and use us as your handmaiden here on earth. Let us grow in hope as we grow closer to You. Selah!
Update: Charlie and I are becoming bi-urban and will split our time between the Raleigh, NC area and NOLA. I will be maintaining my membership and participation at CSM.
by Rev. Charlie Gatewood
Isaiah 11:1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.T.R.U.S.T
The television show 20/20 has a motto that is so unique that it is impossible to forget it; “You be in touch, so we’ll be in touch!” The uniqueness of this motto is the personal connection that it implies. The year 2020 was a unique opportunity to reconnect with those in our household, other family, friends and God. Last year you either affirmed or changed what you believed and trusted.
It seemed as if the whole world shut down. The only thing that we could control was our beliefs. Everyone had trust issues, believers and non-believers. The loss of a loved one, job, shelter, businesses, food and even toilet paper led many to call out to God for their day-to-day provisions. They cried to God, and He provided! God revealed to me that “trust” was not only a word, but it is also an acronym. T.R.U.S.T: The Righteous Understand Some Things!
The righteous understand that:
God is The source, and not a resource, Philippians 4:19.
Some things are only clearly understood by the righteous, Romans 11:25-27.
The understanding gained through obedience is greater than any sacrifice offered, Psalm 111:10.
The secret to obtain God’s understanding, you must be one of His. He set aside a “remnant” for Himself to accomplish His goals. He charged us that we not participate in iniquity, lying or deceit, but share the love of Christ. Christ’s return is for His bride. We are His bride. We prepare, strengthened, eat, and receive our blessing by eating the fruit of His vine, Zechariah 8:12.
In this season of Advent, pay attention to your levels of anger, bitterness, loss, depression and loneliness. These emotional states are heightened during this time of celebration. Take breaks, seek counsel, call or visit friends. If possible, write, don’t fight; talk or walk, to redirect stress. You will feel better by lessening stress.
The lyrics of the gospel hymn “I Will Trust in the Lord, Till I Die,” remind me of why we have hope, Romans 8:24-26. God is Jehovah Jireh, our provider, Genesis 22:14. If you have no hope or lost your connection with God, pray and get reconnected. I did and now I “know some things!”
Lord, we celebrate Your gift to us, Your Son, Jesus the Christ. You told us, let not our hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. We seek from You wisdom and understanding to navigate this life and overcome our fears and failures. Our trust, hope and everything is in You. Hear now our prayer. Amen.
by Sarah Carter
Romans 5:5 And HOPE does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
As I think about the last two years of life with COVID and hurricanes, I think about how long-range plans often don’t go as planned. Four years ago, while living a rather idyllic life in rural Arkansas, my husband and I began thinking about future travel and about where we wanted to spend the rest of our life. We discussed moving to New Orleans to be closer to our daughter. I decided that my goal should be to move before I turned 80 so I would have enough time left to make new friends. So, in October 2017 we bought a lot in the Irish Channel and engaged an architect to design our house. In May 2018 we signed a construction contract and building commenced. Our long-range plans were working.
Then came the bumps in the road! In October 2018 my husband was diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer. That hit us like a ton of bricks, but with good medical care, prayer, and the support of friends and family, we gradually regained hope of better things to come. As the scripture says, “the eyes of our heart were enlightened that you may know the hope to which He has called you.”
In September 2019, with the completion of our new home, we moved to New Orleans and began making new friends, not the least of whom were the good people of Central St. Matthew. Then came COVID in March 2020 followed by Zeta, Ida, and recurrent COVID. But in every cloud there is truly a silver lining. In the aftermath of Ida, with the city without electricity, we were fortunate to have a generator. We turned our front porch into an internet cafe with charging stations and free wifi for our neighbors. Word quickly spread so we got to meet many new friends. At one point we even had people from Turkey, Poland, and the Netherlands all on the porch at the same time.
My prayer is one of thankfulness that we have been so amply blessed with many new friends in our new home.
Sarah Carter is a retired physician who, with her husband Michael, moved to New Orleans in 2019 to be closer to their daughter and son-in-law, Elizabeth Carter and Adam Swensek. They celebrated her 80th birthday with their new friends outdoors in 2020 in a COVID safe way.
by Michael Carter
Philippians 1:6: being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.Ephesians 1:18: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people”
The theme for my devotional is hope and I had to reflect on what this means for me. I believe that each of us was created in the reflection of the perfection that is God, and part of that plan provided us with the gift of making choices. I choose to be a very hopeful person. I delight in the hope of each new day and the promises it brings. I also delight in the hope of the conclusion of each day and the achievements I may have been able to have that day to prepare me for the next day. Hope helps guide the many choices that I make.
As a mostly retired nurse practitioner, scientist and educator, I reflect on the sacred moments in the lives of my patients that I am honored to care for – the hope of assisting in welcoming a new life at birth, the hope of assisting children grow healthy lives, the hope of watching new families form and grow, the hope in helping people recover from illness, the hope of assisting older adults move into the conclusion of their lives and finally, the hope I have when I am holding the hand of a person who dies in my care. I believe that there is hope in joy as well as in sadness and loss. My hope allows me to fully appreciate the riches of the glorious inheritance of being one of God’s holy people.
Prayer: God, thank You for Your profound gifts and presence that strengthen each day. Help me as I strive to make full use of both of these for the betterment of others.
Michael Carter is a nurse with doctoral degrees in both nursing science and nursing practice. He is a University Distinguished Professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis Tennessee, the husband of Sarah Carter and the very proud father of Elizabeth Carter, JD, LLM, a law professor at LSU.
by Rev. Philip K. Brockett
Hebrews 13:3: Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.
It showed up unannounced, addressed to Central St Matthew. In the return address was an inmate ID and a stamp that said, “Mailed from a State Correctional Institution.”
“Hello,” it read, “My name is (xxxxx) and I am on death row. I’m writing to you in hopes of finding a friend, a pen pal, someone I can write to and who will write me back and will pray for me. People don’t understand what it’s like to be on death row. Your friendship would mean the world to me.”
Here was a man reaching out for hope. I tried to imagine being in prison with death as the only exit. I couldn’t, and my heart went out to him and then….and then I thought better of it. Is this a ploy, or a scam? I wondered. If I write back will he ask for money. I googled his name. Sure enough the facts he shared were accurate and there were gruesome details and yet here was a man reaching out, looking for some hope in the form of human contact. What should I do?
Truth is, people reach out to us for hope all the time. The panhandler on the street who is hoping for something to eat or maybe a drink. Our spouse when they don’t know what to do or need some encouragement. Our children, when they are overwhelmed. Our friends when they are ill or grieving. The person sitting in the pew behind us who needs some human contact. The way we respond can push them away or give them hope – hope that they can make it, hope that they can endure, hope that they are not alone and that there is a way forward. We have that power to kindle hope in the life of another.
And knowing that I, that we, have that power, what should I do regarding inmate #154907? What do you think? – email me -firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Tracey Braden
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you HOPE and a future.
2021 has been filled with hope, expectation and much anticipation for CHANGE in my life. God has affirmed for me that He’s always there for me when I feel anxious or uncertain about my future. I’ve learned to place my trust in Him and not in myself. God gives me glimpses of how my life can be, when I trust Him. In my prayers, conversations with other believers, bible study and Sunday school class, God shows me that everything I have and everything I hope for will be provided for me according to His good and perfect plan for my life. I then find myself less anxious. I know it won’t be exactly what “I dream of”, because it will be far greater and so much better than I could ever imagine.
As I read the word of God, I find myself relaxing and peaceful thoughts come over me. My heart rate calms down and my spirit feels lighter. The scripture that continues to inspire and give me hope, as in Jerimiah’s scripture is:
REJOICE IN THE LORD ALWAYS…AGAIN, REJOICE. …Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7
Father God show us Your grace and mercy so that we may be able to weather every storm and trust in You. Even when we don’t see You or feel Your presence Lord, speak to our hearts with words of HOPE. Amen
My life has changed, I’m divorced and taken my maiden name, again. So now, as Tracey L. Braden, I have the peace of God.
by Rev. James Pennington
Isaiah 40:31 but those who HOPE in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
If I am completely honest, I have had a hate – love relationship with this word and with the concept of “HOPE.” Recently I re-read a book written by a mentor of mine, Miguel De La Torre entitled “Embracing Hopelessness.” It is a powerful read in which Miguel describes hope as “a middle-class privilege” that “soothes the conscience of those complicit with oppressive structures, lulling them to do nothing except look forward to a salvific future where every wrong will be righted.”
Those are some pithy words and worth our reflection. I both agree and disagree due to my own experiences with hope. In certain situations of my life, especially as a teen growing up in Mississippi in an abusive home, it was difficult to find hope, a way out, a safe place. There have been other times in life when all I had was hope. And in some scenarios, I find myself hoping against hope.
In both my times of hope and hopelessness, I have discovered the only constant presence has been the ever-dwelling Spirit (Eagle’s wings), the knowledge that much of my life is out of my control and in the bosom of God. This present moment or the next moment lies in the One who does not exist in time and space but is in all things and everlasting.
During the season of the pandemic and the chaos of racial inequity experienced in this country, I found hope renewed in personal and communal awakenings as we discovered our humanity in the silence and stillness of sheltering in place. I found hope renewed in civil dialogues between polar opposites who came to an “ah ha” moment of common ground. I found and continue to find hope renewed in self-awareness fostered by the isolation of a pandemic that assures us that we can indeed love ourselves knowing that loving self leads to loving others and loving God!
Prayer: O Eternal One who is in all things and the keeper of my soul, fill me with hope for today and hope for the future. Let me be the bearer of hope for others during this season of Advent. Amen.
James is an ordained UCC pastor who has served Living Table UCC in Minneapolis and First Church UCC in Phoenix. He grew up in Northern Mississippi and recently moved to the coast of Mississippi to become the Executive Director of Back Bay Mission. He is a new member of Central St. Matthew UCC.
by John Etter
Galatians 4:4-5: “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”
“So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” Galatians 4:3-7 (NRSV)
In 2014, Carol and I visited Turkey for two weeks. We toured both Ephesus and Cappadocia, which is next to Galatia. The contrast between the two could not be more extreme. Ephesus had been a prosperous port city, much like today’s New Orleans. Cappadocia was a dry, barren, rural area, where early Christians dug caves into sandstone cliffs for churches and homes, and subsisted on sheep, pigeons and grain from dry land farming.
Paul preached hope, redemption, God’s love, and kinship with Christ and with all Christians to both the Ephesians and the Galatians.
I have been isolated, struggling and grieving during the pandemic. I have felt the New Orleans malaise from the displacement and chaos of Hurricane Ida. To me, these verses offer promise and hope whether I am in good times or am suffering.
Paul’s message is that God, Christ and the community of Christians are present and available to me, and to those I love. Paul reminds me that the poorest and the richest are all inheritors of God’s love, glory and comfort.
Prayer: God, help me to know that wherever I may be and whatever my struggles, we are all your children and that you are present for me and for everyone.
John discovered the United Church of Christ, when he and Carol were married at First Congregational UCC of Boulder, Colorado in 1980. After moving to New Orleans in 1995, they joined St. Matthew UCC. John is a mostly-retired attorney and has been filling his “free” time with volunteering, glass blowing, and family.