The 2020 CSM Daily Advent Devotional

December 24, 2020

by Pastor Philip Brockett

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. 

When I was a small boy, I was terrified of the dark. Do you recall those feelings of being afraid of the dark that you had as a child? It is a terrible feeling, and I didn’t seem to be able to get over it.

One of the dark places that scared me was our basement. Our old late 1800’s farmhouse had been remodeled many times, but nothing had been done to the basement. The basement floor was just plain dirt, and the walls and foundation were rough field stones. There was a long staircase going down into the basement and, in the middle there was a bare light bulb turned on by a pull string, so you had to go down in the dark to turn on the light, then leave in the dark after
the light was out.

Down in the basement was the chest freezer, and in the freezer was ice cream. After supper I would ask if I could have some ice cream. “Yes,” said my father, “but only if you go and get it.”

I wanted the ice cream, but I was afraid of the dark. Knowing full well my predicament, my father suggested that as I go down the stairs I call out to him, “Yoo-Hoo ” and that when he heard me he would call back to me. “Yoo-Hoo.” With the assurance of my father’s constant presence, I could cope with the darkness.

Many times, over the course of my life, as circumstances have taken me into dark and unknown places, I have recalled this experience and have been reassured that though I am dwelling in darkness, that God, though unseen, is still with me.

Philip Brockett, loves being Pastor of Central St. Matthew United Church of Christ. He lives with his wife, Olga and his daughter Natasha, and is the proud father of 3 grown children Hayden, Gillian and Noel.

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December 23, 2020

by Nettie Parker Bauman

Genesis 1:3  And God said, “Let there be Light,” and there was light. 

I recently took up hiking. Yesterday, I went out for a solo trip up Avon Mountain, which is gorgeous and not far from my home. It was after 2:30 p.m. and a gray day. Heavy clouds blanketed the sky. After getting half way up, I realized that if I didn’t turn around soon, I would have to descend the mountain in the dark. I had a headlight, but would it be enough? When darkness invades, it’s quite precarious on the leaf-covered, rocky slopes. I envisioned a torn ACL and worse, bears. I chose to turn around and head back down. The summit would
have to wait.Today, on this super sunny day, I venture back to the mountain. A good bit earlier too. Not only am I more confident in the blinding light, all the minutia of nature is beautifully illuminated too. It’s so alive. The ferns shine in their chartreuse and seem to dance as I go by. The mossy logs look like velvet upholstery. And, not only do I reach the summit, but my heart swells from the beauty.

Honestly, my faith is “rocky” these days, still I muster the prayer: “Thanks for the sunshine, Lord.” And that is enough for now. I know enough to remember that God is faithful. Aren’t you thankful for sunshine?

Prayer: Thank you for light, especially in the form of the sun. It helps to light our way back to you when our faith wanes.

Nettie Parker Bauman is a New Orleans native but currently divides her time between it and Connecticut. She is a member of Central St. Matthew. She looks forward to becoming a full-time resident of the Big Easy. Someday.

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December 22, 2020

by Willard Hill

Ephesians 5:8  For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.

Moses has some idea of what he is being asked to do, and he’s starting to have some real doubts about the whole thing. If he returns to Egypt, Pharaoh just might kill him. And Moses doesn’t know whether the people he’s being asked to lead will even follow him. As he stalls for time, Moses has a few questions:

And Moses said unto the Lord, “See; thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people: and thou hast not let me know whom thou wilt send with me. Yet thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight.”

God assures Moses that he should never doubt God’s promises, and helps him to find the courage to face whatever lies ahead.
“And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the Lord which call thee by name, am the God of Israel.”

In his letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 5: Verse 8, Paul says:
“For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of Light.”

The light which the Lord speaks of and which He calls us to spread is the light of faith. Each of these passages assure us that we should never doubt God’s presence or God’s power to turn darkness into light and turn tragedy into triumph. If we trust in God and have faith, believing that all paths lead us back to Him, we may live our lives freed of our fears knowing that His love never leaves us.

Prayer:
God our Father, we know that You can clearly see the road ahead, and like a kind shepherd, would never let us come to harm. Teach us to trust You and to trust in Your love when we grow weary and depressed. Give us faith and courage to face the frightening days which lie before us. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

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Willard Hill:  Both of my parents (Willard Hill, Sr. and Gladys Jones Hill) were raised as Baptists, but joined Central Church during the Christmas season of 1949, a few months after I was born. My mother taught vocal music at Booker Washington High School. My Dad left the Army after the war and found work with the Postal Service. My mother’s mother took care of baby me while my parents worked. I went on to high school and college (Dillard) and off to law school. My mother rose in her profession to become the Vocal Music Consultant for the entire Orleans School Board, directed the Central Church choir, and later taught at Dillard until she retired. Both parents had beautiful voices, and both were faithful members of Central until they passed away. My mother would always say: “Let divine order prevail.” I’m still learning that lesson.

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December 21, 2020

by Katie Howe

Ecclesiastes 2:13  Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness. 

As an epidemiologist, I was working very long hours in the early weeks of the COVID19 pandemic. One of the phrases that we kept returning to was “Work smarter not harder.” We were already working very hard, yet we knew there was an insurmountable amount of work that
needed to be done.It was frightening seeing all of this unfold from the front lines, and here we are nine months later asking the same questions. Although my colleagues and I had learned about pandemics in our training, we had not anticipated that we would participate in a pandemic response. For many of us, we were unable to see that there were more efficient ways to approach a situation, as our methods were quickly
becoming outdated.Sometimes we have to take a step back from the situation at hand. We have to learn to work smarter not harder. We can find comfort by asking God for guidance as we approach these tumultuous situations. We may not know the answer but we have to trust that, by making wise decisions, we are seeing the light that God is revealing to us.Prayer: Lord, we trust that you will show us the light as we try to make wise decisions. Help us to look towards the light of Christmas, and remember the joy that the Advent season provides, especially in this time of uncertainty and darkness.

Katie Howe is an associate member of Central St. Matthew. She currently lives in Providence, Rhode Island with her newly adopted dog Sophia. She is an Epidemiologist at the Rhode Island Department of Health and is working on an online Master’s in Divinity degree through Chicago Theological Seminary.

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December 20, 2020

by Michael Boucree

Matthew 6:22-23  “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
During the summer months of the pandemic quarantine, I got more familiar with my house in many ways. One of those was observing, learning and timing the pattern of sun movement across my South facing dining room window and East facing kitchen window. Opening the curtains in the morning brought in such warm light. I learned where there were bright spots, dark spots, hot areas, cool areas, shadows, shaded and glare spots. In spite of the scourge, sadness, containment and isolation of the pandemic quarantine, the light that beamed through the windows was eye-opening, awakening and uplifting upon my descent of the stairs from my darkened bedroom and previous night slumber. This revelation seemed to enliven me, if only for moments, as a stark contrast to what was happening just outside the door in the world around me.

As I meditated on this passage from Matthew, my mind’s eye imagery of this light-filled morning awakening brought me to a different allegorical appreciation and understanding of what was going on in the community around me and what was going on within me. Can you think of a place you like to go and sit because the light gives you a different appreciation of where you are located, what you are thinking and what is around you? When you’re there, do you seem to just escape what’s going on around you and feel a change, if only for a moment?

So it is with the eyes of our bodies, and the eyes of our hearts – letting in the light of love, kindness and all that is good. It changes us in a way that we may not have anticipated. When we let this light into ourselves, we feel comforted in God’s omnipresent grace and mercy, and bathed in the light of comfort and forgiveness. When we forget this salvation we have, though our eyes are open, our light dims and we allow darkness to become present. Remembering that we can close our eyes and, in that darkness, we can search for the light, we can also open our eyes and “let the sun shine in”! For when we act with kindness, forgiveness and mercy, we see the light. We ARE the Light. For where the light is, there is God. Where you are, God is. Where God is, there is peace beyond understanding. When you are at peace, you are God’s light!

PRAYER: Father-Mother God, help us to open our eyes to see You. To see Your light. To feel Your light. To be Your light. Amen

Michael Boucree is a New Orleans native who returned to New Orleans in 2011 to work at Ochsner Health, and care for his aging parents who have now transitioned to God’s eternal glory in 2018 and 2019, both at 96 years of age. He has been a member of CSM since 2013, and resides in the Lakeview area with his life partner of 22 years, Ivan.

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December 19, 2020

by Nick Weldon

Luke 12:3  Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.
This year has brought a tidal wave of challenges to our family, as it has to so many. Health and vitality have been at the forefront of our minds much of the year, particularly as we went through our bouts with coronavirus in the spring. On a terrifying Sunday afternoon in April, I found myself whispering to God in my curtained area of the ER—a makeshift private room. I was awaiting test results, and in the agonizing interim, I found myself begging God for courage to face whatever obstacles awaited me. I asked for strength to be the best husband and father I could be and to overcome what, at times, has felt like a crippling fear of the unknown. I prayed that no matter what happens, that He take care of my wife and children and wrap them in love. I got good news that day, and when I stepped outside after several hours, the air had never felt so fresh. Tomorrow remains an unwritten page, but I am striving more than ever to see that as a blessing rather than something to fear.

Prayer: Lord, I pray for courage in the face of the unknown. I pray that by placing my worries about tomorrow in your hands I may fully recognize the blessings of the given day. Through this faith, may I find peace.

My name is Nick Weldon. I am husband to Dawn and father to Xavier (5) and Zora (1), and have been attending CSM for about two years now. I am an editor at a museum in the French Quarter; my passion is seeking truth through storytelling.

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December 18, 2020

by Dawn Robinson-Weldon

1 John 2:11  But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has

blinded his eyes.

This month we took a trip to Arkansas for my uncle’s funeral. He died from complications of pneumonia. He had been fighting in a hospital and then a rehab facility for two months to get back to good health and was slowly on the mend, but took a quick and drastic turn for the worse. Because his death happened so suddenly, my family spent the week preceding the funeral just processing that he was gone.

At the service, every speaker stumbled in describing who he was. No one was ready to give that type of speech. Despite our shock and unpreparedness, a consensus formed among the speakers: that his physical presence, words, and actions reflected a man who, at his core, was peaceful.

My uncle was also smart, simplistic, and kind, but not overly concerned with existential things. He lived simply and peacefully. I wonder if it ever occurred to him that that would be how he was remembered. It got me thinking about how impactful and lasting our life choices are, because they become how you are remembered, and more importantly, your legacy.

It made me reflect on my life choices, and what legacy I want to leave behind. I ask God often to help me lead a life more exemplary of His love, but do my choices reflect that?

Prayer: Lord, I pray that when I ask to lead a life more exemplary of your love, I put my prayer into practice. Help me to lead a life of love, forgiveness, kindness, and humility. Help me to choose this life everyday, even in the face of adversity. I pray this is my legacy. Amen.

My name is Dawn Robinson-Weldon. I am a black woman, a wife, a mother, a social worker, and somebody learning more everyday about my connection to God and my place in the world.

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December 17, 2020

by Tammy Dilizia

James 1:17  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

2020 has changed me in a dramatic way. The change is so breathtaking that it makes me wonder what you will think of me after you read this, but I feel compelled to tell you my story. To begin with, you need to know that I did not come from the most upstanding background. My father was an alcoholic and my mother was a drug addict. I escaped my home at an early age to carve out a life for myself on my own. My biggest motivation was my son (who is now grown). I did not want him to have to go through what I had lived through. And yet despite all of this I have always had faith in God. I attended church off and on and even read the bible, but I have lived in the world of the flesh. I’m a bartender in New Orleans for gosh sakes, I’ve seen it all and I’ve lived most of it.

When COVID lockdown came, isolation was a body blow to my being. I felt like I’d lost all connection with almost everyone and everything – work, co-workers, friends, the church, even the Bible. My prayers felt empty and seemed to go nowhere.

One day I watched a sermon on TV about “When God takes you out of everything you are used to – so that God can work with you,” and I realized that this is what was happening to me. I had nothing to turn to except God, so I dropped to my knees and prayed to surrender to God. I opened my Bible and turned to John 17, Jesus’ prayer in the garden, and read how He prayed not just for Himself or His 12 disciples, but for His disciples to come. I realized that Jesus was praying for me. At that moment it felt like the darkness turned to light; my sadness turned into happiness and I felt connected with God. It was an amazing feeling, but even after this experience I still had anxiety.

So, I prayed about my anxiety and God prompted me to write down everything that I was afraid of and to surrender it to God. Once again my prayers had a powerful impact, my anxiety left me! And an even more amazing change took place, I no longer needed my evening bottle of wine in order to get to sleep.
It may sound strange to hear this but the Pandemic lockdown was the best thing that ever happened to me. It took everything away from me except God. Now I wake up every morning glad to be alive, excited to read my Bible, and to pray. Instead of being cynical or judgmental of people, I pray every day that God will let my life shine like a beacon of God’s light.

Praise Be To God!

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.

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December 16, 2020

by Curry Miller

Psalm 119:130  The unfolding of Your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.

God spoke and there was light, and that light was the light through which all the earth will be blessed.

I was born in rural north Louisiana in 1948. All through my adolescence my mother made certain that my younger brothers and I were in the pews of the First Baptist Church every Sunday. It was a time that I remember fondly. However, after going way to college in 1966 I began to come to terms with and to accept what I had known for some time, that I was gay. After hearing sermons from many pulpits that I was a sinner undeserving of God’s love and that I was destined to burn in hell for all eternity, I began to allow the darkness to creep in. That darkness became a place of comfort for many years. I think I actually grew to need the darkness.

Then in 2004 I began searching for a way out of the darkness. One evening I saw a UCC “God Is Still Speaking” TV commercial that said no matter who you are, no matter who you love, or wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome in the United Church of Christ. I did some research and found there was a UCC church on Carrollton Avenue less than a mile from my house.

I still remember the first Sunday I attended a UCC service. As I walked through the door with a great deal of anxiety, I was greeted with a warm welcome and a hug by Ellen Bentz. Rev. Fred Meade’s sermon that Sunday was about the woman at the well and of God’s Love for all, and how even those that are living in darkness are invited into God’s light.

That very day with the acceptance and warmth of the members of the congregation, I began the process of listening to a Still Speaking God and moving back into the warmth of God’s light.

Prayer: Loving Father God, make me a beacon for Your light to shine through to those individuals that are searching for a pathway out of the darkness. Make me a channel for your peace, that where there is hatred, I may bring love. Amen.

Curry Miller has been a member of St. Matthew/Central St. Matthew for 16 years. He has served as president of the congregation for three years, oversaw the unification of the two churches and CSM becoming an Open and Affirming Congregation and has served on the Governing Council for eight years. He is in a twenty-eight year relationship and is married to Milton Cheramie. He and Milton have two Rat Terriers, Zach and Lucca.

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December 15, 2020

by Noel Many Braning

Isaiah 42:16  And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide hem. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.

2020 – it’s the year that will remain in our collective memories, and not in a good way. It’s been a crazy quilt year of unfortunate and unexpected events that have challenged our patience and our faith. Multiple hurricanes, civil unrest, and particularly the coronavirus pandemic have created a dark atmosphere of hopelessness and despair.

My own personal experience relative to the pandemic happened early on, when my granddaughter, a newly-minted registered nurse, was assigned to ICU duties at University Medical Center. We all shared in her enthusiasm for her first nursing assignment.

Then came the first COVID cases, and her unit assigned her to care for very sick patients. As a grandmother, I feared every day for her safety, and I asked God to protect her from this dangerous virus. She eventually contracted COVID, however, and I prayed to God that there would be a light beyond all the darkness of fear and worry that we were experiencing. God answered my prayers and she recovered well and could continue her nursing duties. He had turned “the darkness into light, and the rough places into level ground.”

But the specter of the COVID pandemic has lingered on, claiming many lives in its path. The darkness is still among us, but God has assured us that there is a healing light in store. The season of Advent is one of hope for an end to the darkness and into the season of light as we celebrate the birth of our Lord – the light of the world.

Prayer: Lord, lead me through the darkness and into the light of your assurance and comfort. Amen.

Noel Many Braning is a lifelong member of the St. Matthew congregation, preceded by her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. She has served as a Sunday School teacher for many years and enjoys being a part of a historic family of faith.

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December 14, 2020

by Maurice “Mo” Prevost

Psalm 27:1  The LORD is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

2020 has been the breakthrough year I have been waiting and praying for since childhood. All my life I have been guided by people instead of the Lord. My life before joining Central St. Matthew United Church of Christ was a life walking in a dark room trying to find my way out of many situations.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, I have found the Lord and my Savior is officially my flashlight in darkness. The awesome GOD I serve has illuminated everything and everybody in front of my own eyes, showing truths I’ve never seen before prior to the current pandemic. I’m grateful for the gift of discernment that God has given me.

Dear Lord, I pray that your children will see the light of holiness and righteousness within themselves. Discernment is a needed condiment on the table of life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Maurice “Mo” Prevost is a member of Central St. Matthew United Church of Christ and devoted son to Martha “Mama” Prevost. A survivor of verbal abuse which diminished his light for most of his life. A survivor of always seeking approval from others instead of GOD. A survivor of self-doubt and redeemed through the word of GOD. With the grace and patient hand of GOD, Mo has seen his purpose as a provider and healer for anyone willing to open their hearts to greater possibilities. Mo survives and thrives in Jesus’ name! To God Be The Glory!

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December 13, 2020

by Evelyn Raymond

Psalm 18:28  For it is You who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness.

Romans 8:38and 39 says, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I tried, Lord knows I tried to deny those verses, be angry, and turn my back on God when my beloved husband, Dennis, passed away February 1, 2020. I wanted to sink into despair because my life as I knew it was over. Well maybe my life as I knew it was over, but God was not done with me. He just would not let me Go. He sent angels, helpers of family and friends. People stayed with me in NOLA and Hurleyville. Every day I discovered things Dennis left for me. I haven’t been alone since February. Even now when I am facing an upcoming operation, people are helping me with prayer and support.

In this Advent season, I am convinced that God is surrounding me. He is behind me, on either side, and leading the way every day. The Holy Spirit of Jesus is real and will not leave even if we ask him to go. He is the light in the darkness, our amazing grace. It is a mystery, but I have experienced it first hand. Advent celebrates His coming, but He just won’t leave, ever.

The light of God surrounds us.
The love of God enfolds us.
   The power of God protects us.
The presence of God watches over us.
Wherever we are, God is.
What a miracle!

Evelyn Raymond was with Dennis Raymond over 50 years. We have three children; Heather, Jesse, and Nathan and three Grandchildren; Julius, Chloe, and Cedrick. Our primary home is in Hurleyville, but NOLA has been a winter home for ten years. What a blessing to find Central St. Matthew. As Pastor Phil said, Dennis took a nap and woke up in Heaven with Jesus.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

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December 12, 2020

by Dave Rota

Matthew 5:14-16  “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

As the eye of Hurricane Zeta passed over our third -floor apartment, Margaret and I saw multiple strikes of what looked like blue lightning in the western sky. I don’t pretend to know why, but I assume it had something to do with the light spectrum, or the rainbow phenomenon. And in the midst of the hurricane when the lights went out, we discovered that the batteries in our recently bought lantern and two flashlights were dead, even though we had tried them out the week before.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world, and we shouldn’t put our light under a basket. As I look back on this blue light phenomenon, I can see Jesus’ message being reversed. Inside, we had no light, and certainly not enough to put under a basket. But there were explosions of light beyond the horizon. During these dark times of hurricanes, COVID, and isolation, I often have the feeling that there is no light inside me to shine. At these moments I need to remind myself that God’s world is much larger than myself and my apartment.

Sometimes it is necessary to look out the window and the greater world to see the light of hope coming from the outside. In Genesis God gave us the promise of the rainbow to remind us that God’s love outlasts our fears of darkness. Whether the light is red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, or violet, God’s light shines.

Prayer:  God of Light, thank you for your heavenly signs of hope and comfort in times of darkness and isolation. Thank you for reminding us that the storm is passing over.

When the Rotas retired to New Orleans in 2016, (Dave as an English Professor and Margaret as a Speech Pathologist), they joined Central St. Matthew immediately. Their son Matt and his wife Beth and Arlo (7) live in New Orleans, and son Ben and his wife Annie, Henrietta (14) and Charlotte (10) live in Arlington, MA.

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December 11, 2020

by Tracey Webster

Romans 13:12  The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

2020, a year filled with great anticipation and the end of a decade. No one could have imagined it would be a year of such heartache, stress and darkness. For me, it started like no other year in my life. Two family members died in January and another died in April. The night covered my family with a thick haze and heavy hearts. Death is devastating under “normal” circumstances, but now COVID-19 has come with a vengeance and it was in my family. The night was getting longer and there seemed to be no end. For so many families it was like waiting for the next call, text, Facebook post, Tweet just to hear if another loved one was sick or passed on.

“Who’s next Lord?” I asked. Then I realized, I should ask the Lord “what can I do?” My assignment came in the middle of the night….PRAY FOR THE CITY. The Lord asked me to cover the City in prayer. I would go to the North, South, East and West; to hospitals, nursing homes, churches, synagogues and places of worship. God gave me a helper who read and prayed from home. We read Psalm 46 and prayed for strength, mercy, hope, forgiveness and grace. Although I looked strange outside buildings on my knees with my Bible, I knew my obedience meant so much to the Lord.

Father God, show us the way that we should go, use us for your Glory. Help us to listen for your Shepherd-like voice, that we might follow you out of the darkness and into the light, which is Jesus Christ. Amen. John 3:21

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December 10, 2020

by Marianna Chambers

John 12:35-36  So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become children of light.”

The year 2020 has probably been one of the darkest years of our time. I don’t need to remind you of all the tragedies so many have endured, as they are numerous and still fresh on our minds.

When I was a child, I was taught many things about God. In my mind, God was darkness. Someone scary who was always watching me, waiting for me to make a mistake so I could be punished. Someone angry at me, just waiting to pour His wrath out on me with pain or suffering. Imagine my confusion as a young child trying to reconcile Jesus as the light of the world, while at the same time being terrified of his father. How was I supposed to love a God like this?

This year, I finally became brave enough to re-examine the teachings of my childhood – to ask the difficult questions and look closely into the darkness. Now I’m growing into awareness about the true God. The real God is loving. Kind. Gentle. Tender. The real God loves me unconditionally. The true God gives me real peace that I do not have to be afraid of Him. He is not angry. He does not condemn me, but welcomes me.

God is not darkness, but is light. This Christmas season, let us rejoice in the love that God has shown us. The hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem” puts it perfectly: “Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in
thee tonight.”

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for this Christmas season. Show us that we can trust you to shine your gentle light on us and in us. Amen.

Marianna Chambers is a licensed clinical social worker in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina. She is married to her husband, Matt, of 17 years. They are parents to three amazing kiddos: Sofie, Alex, and Sarah. Their family has been faithfully attending CSM virtually since watching their first livestream in June of this year.

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December 9, 2020

by Jim Tingley

Ephesians 5:11  Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

My decision to seek out Central St. Mathew was precipitated by the death of my mother, the passing of a dear friend and the suicide of a chef, writer and television personality who traveled the world showing its wonders and complexity. I so enjoyed his insights and his poetic writing. What drove him to end his life we don’t know but we have some clues.

I was raised in the UCC and spent lots for time in the parsonage with the pastors’ families. As a teenager I had the privilege of attending church camp in the summer which greatly widened my vision of the world and my circle of friends. My early spiritual education has stayed with me in a way I never could have imagined back then.

Through high school, college and into my career I became a skeptic and discounted the value of this church. I lacked faith and still struggle with it now. I was fooled by the myth of individualism. I always felt like part of me was missing and compensated in unhealthy ways. Finding my church family at Central St. Matthew has made my soul fuller and my heart happier. I will be forever grateful for this.

Prayer: Lord please raise us out of darkness through your apostles here among us; past, present and future.

Jim Tingley is a member and a deacon of Central St. Matthew, a resident of New Orleans for 13 years. He lives happily with his wife PC and his dog Snooks.

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December 8, 2020

by Rachel Ricks

Psalm 139:12  Even the darkness is not dark to You; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with You.

After Hurricane Zeta barreled through New Orleans on the evening of October 28th, thousands of homes were left without electricity. Many of us, including Philip and me, went to bed in the dark. The next morning when the sun rose, we were able to see the damage left in the wake of the storm. But the loss of power and the destruction that we and those in our city faced was not a surprise. As folks in this part of the country have done for several hundred years, we began to pick up the mess.

By daylight we worked to regain a normal existence – finding ice and refrigeration so we’d have safe, fresh food to eat and locating a place to temporarily charge our devices and keep the lines of communication open. At nightfall, where a century ago candles and oil lamps were the go-to solutions, our neighbors turned to generators and we gathered up our battery-powered devices (including a few Mardi-Gras throws) so we could make the trek to the bathroom without stubbing our toes or running into walls. These stop-gap measures helped us and thousands of others through the darkness until we were finally reconnected to the grid.

But there are times where physical light is not what any of us need or seek. We carry individual burdens weighing heavily on our souls, and we long for those to be lifted. There are situations where each of us, with family, friends, or community, collectively grieve in darkness, looking for some semblance of light at the end of the tunnel. The current pandemic is an example of this. It is during these times when our only stop-gap measure needs to be remembering that we can always plug-in to God. Where our faith may be running low on fuel, we are promised unlimited refills. Where our strength is fading dim, we are guaranteed fortitude and a recharge.

Just as the sun is always shining somewhere, the light that God provides is ever present and can be found when we open our eyes and hearts. If you start to see darkness, then Church – weekly worship, Bible study, or phone a friend are great places to start. Prayer, meditation, and mustering up confidence can provide a bright recharge anytime day or night. Depending on where we find ourselves, some avenues may be more brightly lit than others, but when one light is extinguished by God, another is irrevocably turned on. Like Motel 6 – God will leave the light on for you!

Prayer: Lord, for the times when we find ourselves caught in the dark, help us to find and embrace your everlasting light.

Rachel Ricks is thankful that her mom “made” her come to church as a sixth grader after moving back to New Orleans from time in Fairhope, AL. This is where she met her husband Philip, and they were married 20 years ago December 9th, after she graduated from Nicholls State with a degree in Instrumental Music Education. Rachel is currently a Director of Revenue Cycle Compliance at  ACS, a Louisiana-based professional medical billing and consulting company.

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December 7, 2020

by Keelyn Myers

1 Thessalonians 5:5  For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 shutdown, there was a premature sigh of relief because it was like a two-week vacation that was scheduled for me, even better was the perfect weather. Two weeks went by and what seemed like a vacation and a chance to breathe wasn’t. As people around me fell ill, there were no places to visit without risking my health, and the hope of any normalcy faded into the darkness, I felt like this was becoming a dark heavy burden. So many questions. So much uncertainty.

As my home turned into my office and my office into my home, there was no separation and screen fatigue was real. I decided to make it a routine to disconnect and find the sunlight. Each day I’d find a moment to take advantage of what was surprisingly still great weather. I’d take a walk, or sit outside, or even just open the windows. I began to notice, we couldn’t have paid for this kind of good weather. Each day was filled with so much light and freshness that it was unbelievable, even the days hurricanes and bad weather threatened turned out to be lovely.

The more I disconnected from the world around me, the more I realized focusing on the good weather was my way of finding the light. At one point, things had gotten really gloomy with uncertainty, death, and disaster. Everyday when my alarm went off saying it was time for me to disconnect, it was a new reminder to find the light in the darkness, and even days I couldn’t make it outside there was still light.The world did shutdown and it had gotten a lot darker than I’ve ever seen before. Everyday I spent time outside or opened my window, it was my way of letting God in and a reminder that it wouldn’t stay dark. The more time I spent finding the light and letting it in, somehow that made the burden of what was going on feel less heavy.

Prayer: God of light, even in the darkest of times remind us to let you in.

Keelyn Myers is a member of CSM. She loves to work with kids and serve the youth.

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December 6, 2020

by Lori Hume

1 John 1:7  But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

I moved to New Orleans from the northeast in February 2019 to be closer to my daughter. My first visit to Central St. Matthew was on February 10, 2019. The moment that I walked into the hallway I was greeted warmly by Mr. Michael and Mr. Walter. Al Eickelmann introduced himself and asked me if this was my first visit. I felt like I had come to a family gathering rather than a stranger to a place
I did not know.

When I walked into the sanctuary, I had this overpowering feeling that I had come home. I looked around and saw something that I had never seen in any of the churches that I had gone to in my past. I saw
a true representation of humanity in the diversity of the people attending church.

When the service ended, and we got up from our seats to stand in a circle around the sanctuary to sing “Bind Us Together,” I was overcome with emotion. Holding the hands of the people on either side of me and looking around the circle, I felt a part of something bigger than myself; to know that I was not alone in this new city that I had moved to and this new church that I had come to.

Now, almost a year and a half later, Central St. Matthew has never felt more like home than it does for me today. Although I am now living in Florida with my mother, due to the pandemic, I continue to walk in fellowship with Central St. Matthew through the livestream of the service and the Zoom virtual meetings offered by the church.

Knowing that I am not alone and that I have a Church family to turn to in this crazy time of a global pandemic and a deeply divided country, brings me a sense of peace amidst the turmoil.

PRAYER:
Dear Father God, please continue to be the beacon of light that guides the steps we take towards each other. Shine your light brightly through each of us so that we recognize one another on this journey we call life. Bind us together in your everlasting LOVE. Amen.

Lori Hume is a retired real estate paralegal who moved to New Orleans to be closer to her daughter, Kathryn. She became a member of Central St. Matthew on September 15, 2019. Lori is currently a member of the Diaconate. Prior to the pandemic and ending up in Florida, she volunteered for the Audubon Nature Institute at the Zoo and the Aquarium, as well as volunteering for United Way.


December 5, 2020

by Trish Hawley

2 Corinthians 4:6  For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

I am an avid journal-keeper. I still have all my journals going back to the seventh grade. I do not journal every day or sometimes even every week, but I have journals that include my thoughts and feelings from most important experiences throughout my adolescence and adulthood.

When 2020 began, as with any year, I reflected on 2019 and made some observations about my experiences and relationships, and then I made a few goals and wishes for the coming year. I typically make some goals that are very practical and realistic, and I make others that are challenges for me in different areas of my life from personal to professional. Of course, I had no idea how 2020 would unfold. I had some idea of what I would like to do but was most certainly in the dark about what was waiting for all of us in the coming year.

I have had ups and downs like everyone else this year. Some weeks the slower pace seems tolerable and refreshing and then some days feel long and lonely. However, God continues to speak light into my darkness. When I feel sad and the news goes from bad to worse, God shines light into my experiences, and I am reminded “even the darkness is not dark to You; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you (Psalm 139:12).”

Dear God,
Please shine light in our darkness so that we can see the glory of God in the face of Christ. Amen.

Trish Hawley is a clinical social worker in New Orleans. Her journals include entries from El Salvador, Colombia, Ecuador, Ireland, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, India, Belgium, Slovakia, Mexico, England, and her home in Gentilly.


December 4, 2020

by Princella Graham

Psalm 119:105  Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

I am grateful that I learned at an early age that God speaks to us directly. Over the years, God has taught me how to be still, to recognize His voice, and to listen deeply. He often sends me to the dictionary to look up the deeper meanings of words, like “obey”…definition -”to know what is possible, and to act without hesitation or doubt.” So, I sought God’s inspiration for this devotional and here is what the Spirit taught me.

Don’t be afraid of the “dark.” Instead, examine and acknowledge the “darkness” …I am already there!  Darkness is as daylight to Me…nothing is hidden or unknown to Me. Trust Me, I will direct you. I will transmute the “power” in the darkness into the very Light that will empower you to run the path I set before you.

I acknowledged my pandemic “darkness”:  the death of family members, the ugliness of social injustice, the fear of COVID, the fatigue of isolation, and damage to our home with Zeta.

I looked up “LIGHT” in the dictionary and meditated upon its meanings. Here are the defintions, followed by my (Spirit interpretation): – a lamp (grounded, steadfast light).
– a beacon (guiding light, flashing to get your attention, showing the way). – a flashlight (to hold in your hand, lighting the path).

Then when COVID-19 hit, the borders were shut down and we had the stress of selling our home in Canada from Mississippi. What started out being a win-win, for us and the buyers quickly became a nightmare. The buyers were insufferable, demanding payment for furnishings that we had agreed we would take. There was nothing we could do. In the end, we were only able to get a few furnishings and our personal belongings. After 20 years as our home, it was like suffering a death!

In prayer I kept hearing the Spirit say “detach…attach yourself to God alone.” As much as I wanted to fight for things that rightfully belonged to us, in the end I stopped and listened, I surrendered and God took over.

Our wonderful Canadian neighbors packed and helped coordinate the professional movers. The complex in Michigan held our apartment for us so that the move timed perfectly. Family members who were refurnishing their homes, gave us beautiful furniture for a fraction of the cost. In the end, God transmuted that darkness into Light, and overwhelming gratitude replaced stress. Truly God had been a light to our path.

Thank you, Precious Father, for teaching me to be still and listen…to meditate on what You say that I might know…absorb Your Word, Your LIGHT, into my being and understanding. To let go and trust you. Your Word is a beacon to get my attention; a grounded, steadfast lamp to dispel the darkness and give me vision; and a flashlight I can grasp to illuminate my path. I am forever grateful, Father, for Your Light and consummate love!

Princella “Princi” Graham and her husband, Charles, live in Ocean Springs, MS.  They have been “snowbirds” since 2009, traveling to their home in Canada during the summer and back to the Coast for the winter. They have considered Central St. Matthew UCC their loving faith community for over 10 years.

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December 3, 2020

by Arlean Fermanis

1 John 1:5  This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.

Whenever I think of light and darkness I think of the phrase “light at the end of the tunnel.” My sister and I began to malign that phrase in 1995 as we spent most of it with our mother, first her recuperating from a stroke and then from a pulmonary embolism. We moved her from Florida to Indiana and a few months later she suffered a heart attack followed by by-pass surgery and her passing on Christmas Eve after three weeks in the heart unit. We stopped using the phrase, “what else could go wrong,” and “the light at the end of the tunnel” was always met with skepticism and the belief it was most likely an oncoming train.

 At times like that, it is difficult to believe that God is light and all good, as prayers go unanswered for a Christmas miracle. But the Lord was there with us in the darkness. He was the light in sisters being there for each other. He was the light that brought us Sister Mary John who had been a rock for us and just happened to be on call the night Mom died.

God was the light in bringing my husband and kids safely through a snowstorm from Virginia to see Nana, the day before Christmas Eve. He was the light that gave us comfort in each other’s arms.

That was a difficult year as has been this past year for many, but I have learned through all the difficult years that if we have faith, we have the light to see through the darkness and have the courage to walk towards what could be an oncoming train.

This scripture says that God is all light and there is no darkness in Him, but I like to rephrase it slightly and say, “God is light and WITH Him there is no darkness. God is good all the time, and because of His goodness and love for us, He is the light when darkness threatens to overwhelm us.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, may we always know the comfort of Your guiding light in our dark moments, and help us to be instruments of Your love by bringing Your light to others through our presence, our prayers, and our service. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Arlean Fermanis, grew up in Northern New Jersey, graduated from East Carolina University with a degree in Child Development and Family Relations, lived in Connecticut for 18 years and in Northern Virginia for 10. She moved to New Orleans in 2002 with husband Michael. Mother to Megan and Ethan, grandmother to four and great-grandmother to one adorable little girl.

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December 2, 2020

by Lorna Edwards

1 Peter 2:9  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

A couple of years ago, a dear friend, Will, invited me to a Justice and Mercy seminar at CSM UCC. My friend is also a member of this church. As a Social Worker at Children’s Hospital, I was very interested in learning of new community resources that I may be able to pass on to my clients. I continued coming to these initiatives and continued to meet several genuinely nice and welcoming people who also were church members. I met Pastor Phil who was very gracious. I enjoyed quality time learning, sharing and even enjoying meals
with this church family.

At this same time, I was also searching for a church home. I have always been a church goer. As an infant, I was baptized and always belonged to a Catholic congregation. I attended Mass regularly, but I still felt somewhat empty. I was experiencing challenges at work, had gone through a difficult divorce, and needed to find peace and joy in my life. I began attending services, participated in Meditation classes with Stephanie, and then began Bible studies with Tracey with Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life. I also became part of the group studying white privilege and racism using the book White Fragility and The 1619 Project with Lori. I also had a lot of help and guidance from Pastor Phil as my shepherd and spiritual leader.

This year has been difficult, but I can say now with all my heart, I know God and His goodness now more than any time in my life. All of the challenges that I have been dealing with are being exposed and I am receiving greater understanding, gaining knowledge, and ways to cope and live with a purpose. Through all of these experiences and with my study and prayer, I have grown immensely.

Today’s verse means a lot to me as I am chosen, just as I am, to be one of God’s own. I am now in marvelous light.

Prayer:  Father, thank you for allowing me to be part of Your chosen family. Help me to call upon You and show gratitude for all You have done for me.

Lorna Edwards, a new member at CSM, enjoying my experiences and thriving on new friendships as I praise God and live in love and peace with others.

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December 1, 2020

by Jack Caulder

John 3:19  And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.

We only have to look to nature to be reminded of the attractive quality of the light. I remember when I was a boy trying to catch lightning bugs on summer evenings at my grandparents house in South Carolina. It was fascinating to see those pops of light in the darkness and race toward it to catch them in a jar to create a makeshift lantern. In spring, termites swarm at night to any light source (and we all know what kind of damage they do in the dark). Plants in the shade will grow to the light.

And so it is with God. He gave us the light, through his son Jesus Christ. When confronted with fear and uncertainty, who wouldn’t naturally be attracted to the light and the promise of everlasting life, peace, and salvation? However, in addition to the light, God gave us free will. We have a choice to make in whether to follow the light or retreat into the darkness. Following the light isn’t always easy. In fact, it can be quite hard. Realization of the rewards from walking in the light are rarely immediate, requiring faith. Whereas, part of the seduction of the darkness is the seemingly instant gratification it offers.

2020 has provided no shortage of opportunities to choose the fleeting comfort of the darkness over the everlasting promise of the light. As if COVID weren’t enough, throw in a historically active hurricane season, a bitter partisan election, and for me, like so many others, the specter of unemployment to name just a few. The darkness is different for each of us. For some it’s an addiction, for others it’s pride of superiority in your race or political leanings. Regardless of what your personal darkness is, the light shining is the same for all of us.

Prayer: Lord, when I’m afraid, uncertain, and find myself in the darkness, give me the strength and courage to follow the light of your Son so that I might find peace.

Jack Caulder is a member and deacon of Central St Matthew UCC. He has two sons, Jackson (16) and Harrison (12).

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November 30, 2020

by Dale Bonds

John 8:12  Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Every day I receive a Daily Devotional from the UCC written by various ministers and lay persons. Sometimes I “get it” and sometimes I do not. Nevertheless, I appreciate reading them and appreciate the time it took someone to write it.

Writing does not come easy to me …that is one reason I was a Mathematics major. That is one reason I was a troubleshooter in the world of mainframe computers. That is one reason I procrastinate writing a devotional like this.

Being a Christian, to me, means not always taking the easy road or doing things that come easy to you. It means doing things to deepen your faith and enhance your spiritual life, even if those things make you a little uncomfortable. Trust me, studying math and being an analyst were not easy. However, for me that path was easier.

Why did I say “yes” to this request? Because, selfishly I saw this as a challenge that would help me grow spiritually. So here I am!

I read and reread this verse trying to get a sense of what it was telling me. Guess what, I feel like a minister on Saturday night with no sermon prepared. Nothing was coming: no anecdote to share; nothing; nada, except … “Jesus, the Light of the World” a hymn we sing this time of year.

“We’ll walk in the light, beautiful light.
Come where the dewdrops of mercy shine bright.
O, shine all around us by day and by night.
Jesus the light of the world.”

Could it be that simple – follow Jesus the light, follow goodness because Jesus is all around us and in us?

Prayer: Gracious Jesus, help me to always be a light to someone in need. Amen!

Dale Bonds is a charter member of CSM. She is married to James and they have a blended family. Together they have four children, 10 grandchildren and 1 great-grandchild. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

November 29, 2020

by Melissa Aguilar

John 1:5  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

As we enter this time of Advent where the days get dark early and depression seems to reach its peak, it can seem that darkness is taking over. In fact, when looking back over this year, I see several ways the darkness tried to overcome me; in my finances, in some relationships, in  physical struggles, etc. However, this is also a season of hope and light brought into the world by our Savior; and, by holding to the hope I have in Christ, and shining His light, the darkness cannot overcome!

Then of course there’s COVID 19…when churches all over the world were forced to close their doors, the enemy (darkness) thought he had victory. He was wrong! God’s people came together and started worshiping online. We couldn’t gather together in person, but we could still worship together. God used the internet to reach more people than ever for His kingdom and the darkness could not comprehend or overcome!!!

Add the most active hurricane season ever and you can see the enemy is still hard at work. Many people have lost loved ones as well as possessions. Don’t forget that God has the bigger plan and He will prevail. When things seem hopeless and darkness begins creeping in, shine the light of Christ and darkness will flee!

Our verse for today is  John 1:5 – “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Looking at the context for this verse, we see that the light referred to is Christ in whom there is life which is the light of mankind. When Christ is the light in our lives, darkness cannot overcome it. The King James version says the darkness “comprehended it not.” This means that the darkness could not understand the light. Something that cannot be understood is impossible to overcome. “Thanks be to God, who gives the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” 1 Corinthians 15:57

Prayer: Lord God, I pray that you light the way for Your people in this dark world and help us to shine Your light to lead others to You. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Melissa Aguilar has worked as the Office Administrator at Central St. Matthew for a little over a year. She is married to David and combined they have two daughters, seven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. Melissa enjoys baking, traveling, and serving the Lord in her everyday life.


Introduction to Our Devotional

Each year come Advent we provide a printed daily devotional for our communal spiritual growth. But 2020 has been a different kind of year, hasn’t it? It has been a year of darkness, struggle, isolation, uncertainty, and chaos. Yet over these past months, some of you have been sharing with me how in the darkness there has been a blessing!

So the thought came to me that this year we should do something different, we should write our own Advent devotional and take the opportunity to share the struggles, the joys, and the learnings that God has taught us during this season of isolation.

I am indebted to Princi Graham for our theme verse from Isaiah 45;3. “I will give you treasures hidden in the dark and secret places. Then you will know that I the Lord God of Israel has called you by name.” I love this verse! Isn’t it ironic that the darkest season of the year is called the season of light? But doesn’t it make sense that it is in the darkness that light shines brightest?

So here is a ray of light for you! Each day during Advent (November 29- December 24) we will email and post on our website a brief devotional written by a different member of our community. I’ve asked each person to conclude their devotion with a prayer and a brief biographical statement.

My hope and prayer is that as you read these devotionals, that you will be encouraged, and inspired so that even in our isolation we will be drawn closer together as a community.

Pastor Philip Brockett
Advent 2020

P.S. If you have a story to share of how light came into your life during this dark time, let me know, I’d love to hear it.