The 2023 CSM Daily Advent Devotional

Advent is the season of preparation for the coming of the Christ Child. Our theme for this year’s devotional is “How does a weary world rejoice?” Thistheme is taken from the Christmas Carol, “O Holy Night.” You remember the words-

O Holy night! The stars are brightly shining,

It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

‘Til He appears and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices!

Certainly in 2023 we live in a weary world! And perhaps you’re feeling pretty weary too, so the question for all of us is, “How does a weary world rejoice?”

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December 24, 2023

by Martha Prevost

Luke 2:1-20

2 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. 2 This was the first enrollment, when Quirin′i-us was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. 7 And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. The Shepherds and the Angels 8 And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; 11 for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”[a] 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; 18 and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

I remember when I was in Sunday school, and we were preparing for our Christmas program, everyone would meet in front of my house and we would light candles. We would then sing Christmas carols as we walked to the church. After, inside the church, we’d blow out the candles and have our program. Our ending song was “Silent Night” with the candles lit. Everyone had a wonderful time.

Prayer: O keep my soul and deliver me: Let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in thee. Psalm 25:20.

Biographical Statement: Martha C. Prevost has been a member of Central St. Matthew UCC since May 2022. She sings in the choir, and she participates in the Zoom Prayer group and the Lectionary Study group. Her son is Maurice “Mo” Prevost.

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December 23, 2023

by Princella “Princi” Graham

John 1:19-23

19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Eli′jah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 They said to him then, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

 It was Christmas Eve, 1989. My brother’s 23-year-old daughter, Lisa, was beaming as they entered the football stadium. The family had just left Lisa’s engagement party and her fiancé was playing for the Houston Oilers. The crowd was ecstatic when the Oilers won the game and began throwing candy around the stadium. Within minutes, my brother was trying to revive Lisa who had suddenly passed out. Prayers went up like silent fireworks, but she was declared dead just before midnight. There still are no words to describe the shock and pain. Lisa choked to death on a hardball candy. What? WHY?

Christmas rejoicing was impossible! The only words that found space in the depth of my despair both times continued to be, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”  Psalm 30:5. What? How?

December 11, 2023, my best friend was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer. Prayers again, like rushing, whispering hurricanes, went up.  “With God, all things are possible.” Six months later, Linda was dead. My faith was rocked to the core. I was beating on God’s chest…What? WHY?

Again Psalm 30:5 echoed.  But mornings kept coming and there was no joy. And then the Holy Spirit reframed “morning” to “MOURNING”.

Joy comes in the mourning…in that sacred space where there are no words. Joy is in the freedom and safety to honestly cry out from an emotional wilderness and beat God’s loving chest…crying out to the Beloved Father, trusting that there is something much greater than the unspeakable pain…something greater than we can see…even greater than faith. Trusting that God IS the greater HOPE yet to manifest…and it’s in that sacred space of God’s love and acceptance that we can “re-JOY-ce”.

Thank You, Beloved Father, that “in Your presence is fullness of JOY.” Your joy comes through the night of our mourning and breaks into the morning of a new hope…a sacred space of trusting, remembering and celebrating the love and laughter even in the presence of the pain and tears. We can be forever grateful for Your gift of their love in our lives and welcome a new day.

Princella “Princi” Graham and her husband, Charles, are Michigan-based members of Central St. Matthew UCC. CSM has been their loving faith community for over 13 years. Princi is a member of the CSM Prayer Team.

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December 22, 2023

by Melissa Aguilar

John 1:14-18

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. 15 (John bore witness to him, and cried, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.’”) 16 And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only Son, [a] who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.

 How does a weary world rejoice? I know from experience that it is not easy to rejoice when you are weary. So, how do we do it? The answer is so very simple, yet also quite profound. The answer that I found of how to rejoice when I am weary is God’s grace! As the above scripture states, grace and truth came through Jesus. When we accept Him into our hearts and make Him the Lord of our lives, His grace fills us and it is that grace that carries us through the hard times when we are weary and can’t make it on our own. That grace is how a weary world or a weary person is able to rejoice.

It was the grace of God through Christ that carried me through when my daughter had a baby at the age of 16. The same grace carried me again when my husband died just three months after we were married, and again when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the New Orleans area and God led me to move to California for a season where I didn’t know anyone. These were all times in my life when I definitely became weary. However, keeping my eyes on Jesus and letting Him lead me and guide me with His grace, allowed me to continue trusting and Rejoicing in Him. I have come through it all stronger and with a great testimony. As the Apostle Paul stated, “Rejoice, and again I say, rejoice!”

Prayer: Gracious Heavenly Father, thank you for Your undying love and the grace that You give to each of us. Help me to always keep my eyes on You and to always trust that You are with me and will never leave me. Please help those reading this now to realize that same truth and to fully trust their hearts and lives to You.

Melissa Aguilar is the Office Administrator at Central St. Matthew UCC. She has been married to her husband Dave for almost six years and they live in Bogalusa. Melissa and Dave have two daughters, seven grandchildren, and two great grandchildren.

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December 21, 2023

by Rev. Philip Brockett

John 1:6-13

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. 9 The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. 11 He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

I grew up on a farm. Farming is a risky business because it depends on uncontrollable forces, like the weather, crop yield, and market prices. Therefore, farmers were a pessimistic lot. When my father would cross paths with other farmers, I would hear it said, “The world is getting worse all the time.” “I don’t know how we are going to make it!” “I pity our kids (that was me) and what it’s going to be like for them.”

Hearing all this doom and gloom puzzled me. We lived just fine, my father and mother took care of me. The weather was always changing, but that gave each day variety. I had no experience of “The Great Depression” because children are born “blank slates” with no previous experience and have an anticipation and eagerness for the future. However, now that I am at the stage of life that I am, I understand some of what I think my father was feeling.

We live in a world clouded by weariness and darkness. Where can we find the strength and energy to rejoice? John 1:6-13 sheds light on this question.

John was a man sent by God to bear witness to the light. His testimony aimed to ignite belief in people’s hearts that they may become children of God. He showed us that true rejoicing lies in embracing the light and acknowledging the divine presence within us.

In this weary world, we often find ourselves searching for something greater than ourselves, something to believe in. The passage tells us that the true light, the light that enlightens every man, has come and is coming into the world. The source of our rejoicing is not found in our accomplishments or our possessions but in our spiritual connection with the divine.

How does a weary world rejoice? By choosing to receive and believe in the light. That’s what I am focusing on this Christmas season!

Prayer: Lord, may Your light dispel all darkness. Amen

Philip Brockett is the pastor of Central St Matthew UCC. He is husband to Olga and father four children, Hayden, Gillian, Noel, and Natasha. He is thrilled that Hayden and Gillian and their families will be visiting this Christmas.

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December 20, 2023

by Dawn Robinson-Weldon

John 1:1-5

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God; 3 all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. 4 In him was life,[a] and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The Little Things

I am a person who sees God and inspiration in the little things; the sun shining when the forecast calls for rain, things that make me belly-laugh, or even nearly-missing potholes that I KNOW would have destroyed my tires. It’s during these moments I always say “Thank you, God.” These seemingly small occurrences have a significant impact on me, and how I navigate my day-to-day life. Thinking of “how a weary world rejoices” as well as the scripture John 1:1-5 makes me think of the little things in life, like these moments, that make me so thankful and bring me warmth and joy.

I have loved the Christmas holiday ever since I was a child. I can always find comfort in the warmth and magic the season brings… but the season also brings a great deal of anxiety for me. The first 3 1/2 weeks of December are FULL of social events, school performances, increased workload, book events, and low funds with HIGH budget demands. In the midst of all these things, it feels like I’m putting one foot in front of the other, just to make it to the next commitment. The joy in these events often gets lost, and I forget to appreciate the little moments or reasons I’m there in the first place. No matter how busy or stressful my life gets, I never want to take the magic of the holiday season, or joyful times in my life for granted.

Prayer: Dear God, thank You for the light You bring to my life in moments of anxiety, stress, and exhaustion. Please help me to always keep my mind and heart open to the blessings You bestow upon me…especially the little things. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Dawn Robinson-Weldon is married to Nick Weldon, and is mother to Xavier and Zora Weldon.

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December 19, 2023

by Rachel Ricks

Matthew 1:18-25

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ[a] took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child  of the Holy Spirit; 19 and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; 21 she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emman′u-el” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.

 When my mind is occupied with problems or injustices, or when I feel a huge workload on my shoulders, my tendency is to retreat. Just thinking about the mental and physical energy required to overcome those challenges is overwhelming.  Taking a step back and continuing to dwell on what still needs to be done, as I’ve found, only makes things worse. Not only do I feel bad, but when I don’t make the move to do something, obviously, nothing ever gets done and I don’t ever feel any better or have any sense of accomplishment.  All hope is lost, there is no change, and the weariness prevails.

I wonder how Joseph felt when he first learned that his betrothed, Mary, was with-child, and he was not the father.  As he went to sleep that evening, he must have been feeling overwhelmed, disappointed, frustrated, even angry thinking about how the plans for his life and for hers would change. But an angel encouraged him to make the decision to carry forth, continue with the marriage, and support his new wife, accepting her as the mother of a divine child. He yielded to that change, even though the path forward had many unknowns, which surely gave him a new sense of direction and a new purpose.

There is encouragement around us – from family, friends, strangers, angels, God… and I believe when we make connections with others, we are empowered to overcome fear, doubts, and indecisiveness, knowing that we do not face change alone. We walk together with an entire support network as a shield from weariness. And while there is never a guarantee that it will be an easy walk, I’ve found new hope in an expression shared recently at work, “We can do hard things.”

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Prayer: Dear Lord, In the spirit of togetherness, help us hear and accept the reassurance around us, and help us to offer reassurance in return, elevating our collective sense of hope so that we may rejoice in what the future may hold.

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Rachel Ricks currently serves as secretary for CSM’s governing council, and on the facilities task force. She and her husband Philip live in River Ridge, love Christmas, and are happy to be celebrating this season.

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December 18, 2023

by Evelyn Raymond

Luke 1:75-80

75 in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life. 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, 78 through the tender mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon[a] us from on high 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” 80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel.

This Bible passage tells how God sent John the Baptist to prepare hearts before Jesus came. It makes me wonder who went before me to prepare me to follow Jesus. Who is here now?  Whom will I inspire.

When people ask me  why I smile so much, I usually answer, “Because I have the joy of the Lord.” I was not always like this. I was a very unhappy child. Today, looking back, I can say my transformation came through the encouragement of teachers, pastors, and Sunday School teachers as well as faithful friends.

When I was 16, my youth group went to a Billy Graham crusade in Madison Square Garden. Everything changed! I began my  walk with Jesus. Step by step, I was led to make better decisions about my life. Set backs, yes. Challenges, yes, but always  there were helpers. In short, God showed up!

My biggest challenge today is overcoming death by turning grief into gratitude. Also a challenge is keeping my family together despite distance, as the four of us live separate lives in different states and countries. My youngest son lives with his family in Japan. Always the joy of the Lord is my strength.

Thank you God for giving me joy through all hardships and challenges. I am grateful for all the helpers You have put in my life to encourage me to put my faith in You. May You continue to make me a blessing to others so, out of my life, Jesus may shine. In Jesus’ name, Evelyn Raymond  In Florida

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December 17, 2023

by Allan Eickelmann

Luke 1:67-75

67 And his father Zechari′ah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying, 68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people, 69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; 72 to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath which he swore to our father Abraham, 74 to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life.

DO YOU KNOWWHAT TIME IT IS?

“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times…” And so Charles Dickens opens his classic A Tale of Two Cities. The point being, that it is always the best of times and the worst of times.

In December of 2002, Margene and I experienced both the best of times and the worst of times. You see Margene’s dad had come to pay us a visit during Christmas. At the time, we were living in Ocean Springs Mississippi and dad loved to come down from Central Illinois “on the train they call the City of New Orleans.” We would hop over to New Orleans to pick him up with joy in our hearts, since he always brought joy with him.

He always used to tell me, “You are the best son-i- law a father-in-law could have,” and when Margene and I got into a tiff, he would take my side, but wink at Margene. He was quite a diplomat. In the evening we packed up the dog and took the convertible, with its top open out to the beach, where we all frolicked together as we watched a beautiful sunset. It was the best of times.

The next day, Margene heard Dad call her to come to his room. He was holding his heart, and he said, “I think it is happening,” because you see he had congenital heart failure and had already survived two heart bypass surgeries. At age 80, his doctors were amazed that he was still alive, but then again, he refused to be a victim and insisted on living each day to its fullest.

The paramedics immediately transported dad to ICU. Margene and I went to the hospital cafeteria to get something to eat, but then a nurse called down to the cafeteria, telling Margene she needed to come to ICU immediately. This was the worst of times.

Margene took her dad’s hand. She didn’t even know if he knew she was there, because he was now in a coma, but then she bowed her head and in silence said, as if praying, “Dad come to me one more time.” With that a strange current like happening came though her body and up her arm. She said it was like electricity, but not exactly. There were no words to completely describe it. Then the nurse came into the room and said, “He’s gone,” to which Margene replied, “I know.”

When Margene looked up at me, she had a dual expression on her face. She looked weary, but also confident and assured. You see the best of times and the worst of times had blurred together, because the last gift her father had given her was the gift of hope. And so it is that often hope is born out of the worst possible moments. For people of faith, the worst of times can also be the best of times.

Prayer: Lord, when the worst happens, may we never lose hope, because we know that you reside in our hearts every day. Amen!

Allan Eickelmann is a retired UCC pastor, who currently serves on the faculty of The University of Southern Mississippi. His greatest accomplishment was marrying Margene Minor.

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December 16, 2023

by Margene Minor

Luke 1:57-65

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to be delivered, and she gave birth to a son. 58 And her neighbors and kinsfolk heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they would have named him Zechari′ah after his father, 60 but his mother said, “Not so; he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “None of your kindred is called by this name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he would have him called. 63 And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all marveled. 64 And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. 65 And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea;

 IS IT REALLY BETTER TO GIVE THAN TO RECEIVE?

Truth to tell, I have no answer to that…it’s a conundrum.  However, and unfortunately, the motivation for giving isn’t always selfless, anonymous, or with “a cheerful heart.” Rather, to often it can be prideful, seeing your name on a “contributors list,” for all to see, especially your “closest friends.”

It can also be done so that you are the very best parent, a super grandparent or relative, etc… Competition, right? And of course, not to be forgotten, a tax deduction?

Now, not to be too negative about giving, I can say that my imperative and guide regarding giving came from my father, Maurice Eugene Minor. He would say, “If you can, you must.” That reflected to me that the blessings that I have received MUST BE SHARED and he added “privately.”

Now about receiving, much harder than giving, because it requires a sense of humility, vulnerability and gratitude, not pridefulness, self-reliance, or a sense of entitlement. However, when we humbly and gratefully open our hearts to receive, we don’t merely receive the material, but more importantly the miraculous. We can experience a sense of grace and receive all of God’s gifts and therefore, especially in this advent season, we will always have a sense of hope, regardless of personal chaos, hardship or loss. That is where my hope lies.

So how about, sharing is better than just giving, and receiving can be life transforming.

Lord, help me to share and receive with a joyful heart your blessings, that I may remain hopeful in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. Amen.

Margene Minor is a retired teacher and mortgage banker.  She is currently pursuing her WSET wine educator certifications.

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December 15, 2023

by John & Vera Triplett

Luke 1:51-56

51 He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, 52 he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.” 56 And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her home.

 Christmas has always been a special time for our family. When our children were younger the excitement of surprising them and seeing the joy on their faces brought us much happiness. Celebrating the birth of Christ and feeling inextricably yoked to the Holy Spirit all season long.

Certainly there have been difficult Christmases as well. Celebrating after the loss of dear loved ones, coping with the strife and reality of pain in the world can seem counterintuitive to joy and celebration. However, as Christians we know that all things work together for the good of them who are called together according to GOD’s purpose. We read a quote recently that simply said “What punishments of GOD are not gifts”.  GOD does not make ordinary moves and fortunately, our minds are not designed to figure out how to solve all the problems of the world. For if they were, we have woefully failed. Our minds are designed to be fixed on the perfecter of our faith. Our bodies meant to be the hands and feet here on earth whenever, wherever and however we can provide. So we pray and we act and we move heaven and heaven moves earth.

The world is experiencing collective grief while in the middle of a period that is meant to provide collective joy. However, we rejoice in knowing that joy and justice can live under the same roof at the same time. This holiday season, even if just for some brief moments, the weary world will rejoice in celebration of all the holidays that are near and dear to them, including Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza. For I am convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of GOD. Oh come let us adore him.

Prayer: Father, we thank You and we praise You. We are grateful that You have kept us in the midst of it all. Lord we pray that You send a reminder to all people to lift up their heads and let the King of glory come in. Who is this King of Glory? The Lord God strong and mighty the Lord of Hosts who takes away the sins of the world. Amen

John and Vera Triplett are members of CSM. John is an entrepreneur and Vera is a school founder and leader. They share three children and three  grandchildren. They are lifelong New Orleanians.

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December 14, 2023

by Mary Hall

Luke 1:46-50

46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation.

“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices”

In the middle of November I had an operation to replace my shoulder. It was a massive procedure in which the positions of the shoulder ball and socket are reversed so that the deltoid muscle can carry most of the burden of the shoulder. I knew the recovery would take months and I was terrified but determined at the same time. How else could I proceed through life without toughening up and tussling with all this discomfort?

But I forgot that I was not  alone. In the days before the procedure, people extended themselves themselves. How could they help? What food could they bring? What errands could they run? The night before, we went to a concert at which I received the seat of honor. In the days that followed rivers of goodwill rose about me. Dinners  were provided, flowers were delivered. My so arrived to care for me and my husband, to cook for us, and to organize our lives. My  cousin, who had had the same procedure and with whom I usually spoke a  couple  of times a year, called me every week to give me tips and to exchange experiences.

No, I was not alone. I was surrounded by the love and outreach and generosity of spirit that was God. And it did give me a thrill of hope, and I did, I am, rejoicing, for indeed, yonder is breaking a new and glorious morn. And it is not just the morn that will occur when my shoulder is all recovered. No, this is the morn of right now when I’ve been shown how glorious is the world of God where people reach out and take care of others.

Prayer: I pray, Lord, to remember that You are part of all living things. Remind us that it only takes sharing to makes this world the glorious world of God.

Biographical note: Mary Hall and her husband, David Barnes, moved to New Orleans from New York in 2018. Together, they have five children and  five grandchildren, who love to share the glorious world of NOLA.

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December 13, 2023

by Dave Rota

Luke 1:39-45

39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechari′ah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be[a] a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” 

Over the 53 years of our marriage, Marg and I have been blessed with many friends who have lived, worked, served, or journeyed in Israel. When I was in my twenties, I worked at a dairy farm in Upstate New York. The farmer and his wife (who was attending graduate school with Marg) were a Jewish couple who had formerly lived in a Kibbutz near where Hamas slaughtered or took hostage the many men, women, and children that we’ve been hearing about day after day. During the last month or so I have been looking at Google Maps to get some sense of how and where this tragedy took place. I also began comparing ancient maps to the present.

Mary, if she were traveling today, would visit Elizabeth by taking highways from Nazareth in Northern Israel to the Hill Country in the West Bank (Har Yehuda). The trip would have taken two hours and nine minutes by car. She could have stopped half way for a sandwich at Gingis Hummus, and then, just before arriving at Elizabeth’s dwelling, eat a piece of New York style pizza at Zaidy’s. Or she could have walked for 48 hours! According to the Gospel of Luke,

Mary, while in her first trimester, took this journey to visit Elizabeth who was in her last trimester. I imagine, given the rough terrain and lack of restaurants and hotels, Mary would be wondering why she was crazy enough to take this arduous journey. At this point in her young life, Mary would be unaware that Herod would soon order the “Slaughter of the Innocents (Matt. 2:16-18) in an attempt to murder the infant Jesus. On October 7, 2023, a Slaughter of the Innocents took place in Israel which, in turn, brought about the death of even more innocents in Gaza.

In Mary’s day, both John the Baptist and Jesus survived Herod’s onslaught and changed the world. Can there be hope for a transformation in our “weary world?”

Meditation: As we think about ancient Israel in Mary’s world and the current conflict in Israel, where can we look for hope? Is it perhaps the miracle of Jesus’ birth?

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December 12, 2023

by Douglas Bristol

Luke 1:38

38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

After Hurricane Katrina, I remember feeling apprehensive as the first Christmas drew nearer.  I lived in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, which certainly did not look festive at the time.  Mounds of people’s ruined belongings remained piled up along the streets, and some of the houses remained in the streets where the tidal surge had pushed them.  My partner Dwight and I had not finished repairing the damage in our house caused by three feet of water.  We worked hard because a representative of our mortgage company had stopped to check our progress and had said the company would foreclose on the house if we did not move fast enough.  We did the best we could, working with the help of friends and family.  There was no insurance money in the foreseeable future.  I feared that Christmas, normally my favorite holiday, would be unbearably bleak.

Then, my friend Janise invited Dwight and me to a Christmas party at her house.  As I got dressed for her party, something came over me.  I put on one of my few remaining dress shirts and then I put on a bow tie.  While I walked carefully through the muddy streets in my one good pair of shoes, I ran into a neighbor, who asked why I was dressed up.  I told her that “I got weary of looking dreary.”  The prospect of good fellowship and good food had lifted my spirits.  We had a wonderful time at the party.  It made me realize that all you need to celebrate the birth of Christ is people of good cheer.

Prayer: Lord, we ask that you walk with us in uncertain times and help us to feel the joy of Christ’s birth in the company of other people.

Douglas Bristol grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2003 to teach U.S. History at the University of Southern Mississippi.  He and his former partner (and current friend) Dwight lived in Bay St. Louis during Hurricane Katrina.

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December 11, 2023

by Margaret Rota

Luke 1:34-37

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” 35 And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[a] will be called holy, the Son of God. 36 And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”

What! How? Why? Who, ME? Ok, so when?

Elizabeth was “stricken in age.” Mary was unwed. Had Elizbeth, all those many years, maintained hope that she would be a mother? Was Mary ready to be a mother? Is Santa real? When/how will good overcome evil in our world? Will seemingly hopeless situations in each of our families have a positive outcome? Can we even imagine how good can come of what seems like hopelessness?

I want to be more aware of little signs, glimmers of hope. I want to accept those small steps for what they are, and not count on what the next step might be. I want to realize that, like hiking up Sunset Crater in Arizona–two steps up through the ash will probably be followed by one step back. Hope alone won’t help you reach the top.

Meditation: Please help me acknowledge glimmers of hope, which may start the path ahead, so I don’t miss new realities coming my way.

In many ways, it’s been a tough year for Dave and me. One might say, “Well, thank goodness 2023 is over.” But each day brings new opportunities, chances for renewal, and bright shiny things ahead.

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December 10, 2023

by Tracey Braden

Luke 1:31-33

31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

 The Christmas of 1990 began with the usual preparation, shopping for gifts, groceries, and decorations. My mother was in rare form, smiling, laughing and full of joy, with the anticipation of hosting the traditional family dinner. Christmas day was beautiful, dinner was fabulous, and everyone was happy, rejoicing, and overjoyed. Suddenly, we heard that my beloved grandmother passed away. Sadness filled the house, tears were falling, the excitement of Christmas was over. How would Christmas ever be this joyful time again, after such a loss.

My mother’s faith was truly tested. She lost her mother on such a celebratory day as Christmas. I wondered how she and all of us would be able to find JOY in this weary situation. What I found was that God was prepared for this, He knew we would need each other and Him more than ever before. Our family experienced death before, but not on Christmas Day. Even traveling to the funeral felt unusual, it was somber, not like my childhood memories of visiting relatives and staying with “Grandmommie.” No more hugs, no more blackberry cobbler, no more handmade pottery, and no more crocheted slippers.”

With all this sadness and loss, God brought us all together and we found hope, peace, and love in the midst of it all. We laughed, told stories of Grandmommie’s cooking and favorite sayings. The anticipation of the birth of Christ had new meaning, and yet it was the importance of family, such as Mary awaiting the birth of her son, we looked forward to, being with family. God gave us something to be hopeful for.

Prayer: Father, I pray that no matter what situation we face, that your love and grace would be sufficient to bring us hope in this weary world. Amen

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December 9, 2023

by Michael Boucree

Luke 1:26-31

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”[a] 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.

“How does a weary world rejoice?”

It is both a wonder and an irony that we survive in the “weary” world of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Though “the light at the end of the tunnel” may be dim at times, we all have some degree of hope that “things will get better”. But what are we hoping for? What’s the “better” that we envision or long to experience?

A dear friend who has not had a troubled life but has had her share of life’s ups and downs went through a significant health challenge that, as she said to me, “should have taken me out, but it didn’t. I was so confused by this.” In her ongoing recovery, and thinking these were her last days, she put aside everything and was motivated to travel to the Grand Canyon – alone. As she trudged through the tours, she ultimately found herself on a mountain of the Canyon and looked out to see the vast breathtaking beauty and sheer magnificence of a portion of the Canyon. She recounted, “it was at that point, I knew why I didn’t die and why I had such a pressing motivation to come to the Canyon in my 7th decade of life. God brought me here to see and bear witness to the magnificence of His creation! And in that moment of stillness and quietude, I KNEW God. I prayed and I thanked Him! I then knew, that is the ONLY way and reason that I survived: so that I could come here and witness God’s majesty and presence, say ‘thank you’ and KNOW Him!” Since that time, she has become a more devout Christian, aligned with a church, and engaged more deeply with that church, much as a surprise to her, but a comfort of knowing and arriving at a point of gratitude and a degree of raison d’etre. It is in such moments and beyond that the weariness of the world no longer mattered. She was firmly rooted in the experience of God’s grace, mercy, and majesty. We don’t all have such testimonies, but those that we do have bear witness that there is God’s grace and mercy in the blessing that are our lives here on earth. Especially in our lives as a church community of CSM.

Her testimony brings to life what we hear and learn in the scriptures, and the “thrill of hope” that rails against the weariness of the world brings me to a point of calm and gratitude. It is from that “point of God” I can share myself with others to get to their own thrill of hope in this weary world and rejoice. These passages from God’s word help to ground me and guide me: Psalm 46:10, Mark 4:39, John 16:33, Philippians 4:6-7. I know they too will excite, comfort, and embrace you beyond the weariness of the world.

PRAYER: Dear Father-Mother God, help us to remember that we live in a world of beauty, majesty, and peace that You gave to us. Let Your grace, mercy, and peace, which surpass all understanding, replace the weariness of the world we have created.

Michael Boucree regularly serves as CSM Worship Leader and currently serves as President of the Governing Council.

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December 8, 2023

by Rev. Peter Scie

Luke 1:24

24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she hid herself, saying,

“I am Hope.”

Finding hope amid what seems to be a hopeless time in life can be considered impossible. For every victory we experience in life, it looks as though multiple challenges proceed to that one victory. That experience can make one believe that two steps back is the payout for one step forward. I can attest that life can give us a sense of hopelessness after life-altering experiences occur.

Two years ago, I believed I was living a dream. I was finally accomplishing goals that would put me in a place where my peers and society would view me as successful. My spouse, at that time, and I worked together to build a community-based ministry encompassing a nonprofit segment catering to returning citizens and a spiritual component promoting the liberating Gospel to marginalized communities. I’ve finally arrived where I was actively living out my full potential and purpose in the universe. September 15, 2022 is when my life unexpectedly changed. My spouse informed me they wanted to follow a different path in their life, not including me, our marriage, or the work we were building together. At that moment, I was thrust into a place of unfamiliar territory. A sense of hopelessness overshadowed me. My biggest challenge was my age and being too old to begin again. This experience happened to me before we entered the 2022 holiday season. I spent that season alone, traveling, in an attempt to find my way. That was the first time in years I spent the holiday season alone.

In the focal text for today, we find Elizabeth, the wife of Zacharias, pregnant with John the Baptist, who would be the forerunner of Jesus Christ. What was so special about Elizabeth’s pregnancy, you might ask. Elizabeth had the reputation of being a barren woman, which was frowned upon in the society of that day. Not only was her pregnancy a promise fulfilled to her by God, but because of her age, her conception was a miracle. Here in the text, God takes a hopeless situation, such as a barren woman who is deemed too old to conceive and allows her to carry one of the ones who will bring hope to a hopeless community, usher in the one who will proclaim liberation and salvation to those who are oppressed and make a historical impact on generations to come.

Just like the writer of Luke’s Gospel testifies about God’s ability to allow Elizabeth to produce hope out of a hopeless situation, her barrenness, and her age, I can attest the same through my experiences with God since that day in 2022, which altered my life forever. I had to renew my faith daily, trust that God was in control of whatever happened, and look into myself to find the seed of hope we were all given at birth. During this season, I found hope within myself and realized that I was never alone during my challenges. God was and is leading and guiding me to a new and better life that includes my purpose in the universe.

We are not too old, too broken, and too challenged by life’s experiences to be fruitful and produce what is essential for the hope of this weary world. I realized that I am hope! You are Hope! We are hope for this weary world.

PRAYER: God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, you are the one who continually walks with us during these times when it seems as though all hope is lost. Please help us to trust you. Please help us to tap into and utilize what you have given us to bring hope into this weary world.

We thank you for every challenge, trial, and victory. Because of you, we are the hope for this world. Please help us to walk therein. In the name of that North African Freedom Fighter who boldly proclaimed liberation and freedom to all the world, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Rev. Peter S. Scie, MDiv. (he/him) // New Orleans, La. Native // Father & Grandfather // LGBTQIA+  & POC Community Advocate

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December 7, 2023

by Carol Etter

Luke 1:18-23

18 And Zechari′ah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things come to pass, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechari′ah, and they wondered at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he could not speak to them, and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he made signs to them and remained dumb. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

“Push the Mute button”

Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for years for a child. Now Zechariah has been told that his prayers have been answered. But, rather than cheering and thanking God for this gift of joy, he scoffs!  “How will I know this is so!?” The ultimate “sure, right, anything you say” dripping with sarcasm. Who can blame him? They are old, there is no way this is possible. In my imagination, I see Gabriel pulling himself up to fill the sanctuary and bellowing in a God-voice… “I am Gabriel” “I stand in the presence of God” “I have been sent to bring you this Good News!”

And Zechariah cowers in the corner before this mighty presence. “Okay, okay.  I’m sorry I didn’t believe you at first.” But partway through this fearful apology, Zechariah’s voice falters and goes mute, as Gabriel imposes the consequences of not believing: “you will be mute until this thing, which will be fulfilled in God’s time, occurs.”

Those who know me know that I find it hard to be quiet, to not speak my mind in meetings and gatherings (whether relevant or not). Zechariah is likely a leader in his community, someone people come to for advice, and Zechariah gives advice, probably with lots of embellishments and history.  Now he is muted for nine months, unable to communicate except through hand gestures. Unable to give advice, to discourse on the events and challenges in his community. For NINE MONTHS! Youch!

In today’s world, someone is almost always speaking at us – TVs, social media channels, radio, pod casts, streaming music, phone calls with family and friends – the sounds go on and on, often straight to our heads with ear buds. With all the noise and difficult news pouring into our heads, is it any wonder we are weary?  If God spoke to us, would we hear Them? Or would God’s message be drown in the rest of the noise and business?

Perhaps God didn’t make Zechariah mute just because he didn’t believe. Perhaps God wanted Zechariah to contemplate the wonder of God’s creation and actions without the noise of Zechariah’s words to distract him. To spend time with God in silence.

I suggest we need to push the “mute” button in our lives so that we can see and hear the joyful gifts God has given us.  We are weary from all the sounds and noise around us.  Perhaps to rejoice we need to quiet our world.  Not for nine months or even a month. Maybe just for the time it takes to walk around the block without our cell phones and ear buds – mute and aware and joyful in God’s world.

Prayer: Spirit God, help us to have the courage to mute our world so we can rest and rejoice in the wonder of Your creation and hear the words of Your still small voice in the silent spaces.  Amen.

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December 6, 2023

by Dale Bonds

Luke 1:13-17

13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechari′ah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth; 15 for he will be great before the Lord, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Eli′jah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

My father died in 1978.  By then I was working, married, and had two children. But his death took the joy of the season of Christmas out of me for quite some time. I was the weary world.

He was a big joy for me during Christmas time. We always had a huge tree and we waited until Christmas Eve to decorate it. Daddy and my brother put the lights on first. And then Daddy would always put the first ornament on the tree. It would be the one newly purchased for that year. After he hung the first ornament, he would sit back and direct us kids as we put on the rest of the ornaments. Then came the tinsel. Daddy would always be the first to throw the tinsel in some spot that was kind of empty and then of course, he directed where the rest of us should fill in.

Through the years, I tried to recapture that lighthearted joy. While that joy with Dad no longer existed, I established a new joy watching the eyes and excitement of my children especially at Christmas. We decorated our much smaller tree and participated in pageants and parties. We weren’t that great at traditions, but we were pretty great in spirit.

So, how does a weary world rejoice? For me it’s taking the time to watch and nurture our children and grandchildren. If we allow it, their joy and excitement can be infectious and can bring the light we’re, sometimes, missing to fruition.

Prayer: Gracious God help us to see the world through the eyes of our young ones and REJOICE!

Dale Bonds is married to James K. Bonds. Neither of us is a native of New Orleans, however it has become home. We are part of the initial membership of Central St. Matthew UCC and continue to participate where we are able. Together we have 4 grown children, 10 grandchildren and two great grands.

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December 5, 2023

by Curry Miller

Luke 1:8-13

8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, it fell to him by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechari′ah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechari′ah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.

How Does A Weary World Rejoice

On November 5th I was in church preparing for worship. Just as the bells were ringing to signal the beginning of the worship service my phone began to ring. Seeing that the caller was the youngest daughter of a dear friend that had been hospitalized the day before, I stepped into the stairwell to take the call. My friend’s daughter was crying so much that she could barely get out the words that her mother had just died. She told me that I was the first person she called because she knew how special the friendship that her mother and I had was, and how much her mother loved me. I attempted to tell her that I would be there for her and her siblings throughout this ordeal they were facing. As I reentered the sanctuary and sat down in the pew, I felt as if I had been kicked in the stomach. I couldn’t breathe. I was trying to grasp that I had lost a very dear friend, a friend that I loved dearly.

As the holidays approached, I felt that there would be no joy, little to be thankful for or to celebrate. Then I remembered the long conversations my friend and I would have about her love for all of her children, conversations about our faith and beliefs, and I knew that although she was no longer physically here, the love she imparted to so many would continue to fill the voids in our heart. As long as she is remembered she will be loved and that is a reason to rejoice.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the love of friends and family. Thank You for the blessings You have given me and my family. Help us to use those blessings to help others. Amen

Curry Miller has been a member of Central St. Matthew UCC for 19 years. In years past he has served as vice president and president of the congregation, member of the Governing Council, member of the Committee on Ministry and the Nominating Committee.

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December 4, 2023

by Maurice “Mo” Prevost

Luke 1:5-7

5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechari′ah,[a] of the division of Abi′jah; and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

For yours truly, the ability to rejoice in a weary world means getting to the source of fear! God did not give us fear, God gave us a spirit to overcome and learn. As Christians during Christmas time, understanding that God is indeed the power and control is hard since we are challenged at work, on the road, or even at home.

I rejoice in a weary world by going to the ultimate instructional manual called The Bible. I love to study and research, which has drastically helped me with my anxieties and fears about the world and even how to deal with people with their own dilemmas.

The Bible is my solace. Research is my recovery from past traumas by understanding that everything was ordered by God for me to become closer to the Word. I’ve even learned to pray and to guard my heart since my own understanding of others is limited. God wants us to enjoy and rejoice during this Christmas time and all times since there is still air in our lungs and spirit in our bodies. We have work to do in continuing to be disciples for Christ. To God Be the Glory.

Prayer: Lord! Help me to hold out until a change comes. Amen

Biographical statement: Maurice “Mo” Prevost, member of Central St. Matthew UCC since 2020 and son of choir member, prayer warrior, devoted sister, and aunt Martha Prevost.

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December 3, 2023
by John Etter

Psalm  137:1-4 /Jeremiah 33:10-11

By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down, and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

Thus says the Lord: In this place of which you say, “It is a waste without humans or animals,” in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without inhabitants, human or animal, there shall once more be heard the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voices of those who sing as they bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord: “Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” For I will restore the fortunes of the land as at first, says the Lord .

This is a trying time. The newspaper and on-line news are full of war, poverty, oppression, anger and hate. While most of the bad stuff is far away in other countries, our City, State and Country are filled with hate and oppression based on race, poverty, nationality, gender, religion, ethnicity and sexual identity.

I am overwhelmed and saddened by these facts and the seemingly great public support for hate and anger against people who differ from some 1950’s male, white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant, heterosexual, middle class “ideal.”

For me, Psalm 137 (which was a hit song for the disco / funk / reggae group Boney M. in 1978) expresses the frustration and weariness of the Lord’s people, when they were taken from their homes and held captive in a foreign land for decades. Today, how can we share Jesus’ message of love and Jesus’ resurrection in a place where so many people oppose our views and hate people that we love? Or, do we just “hang up our harps” and isolate ourselves in the loving community of our church?

I find a message of hope in Jeremiah 33. The Lord promised that after the time of captivity and war, that there will be a time of rebuilding, when mirth, gladness, joy and praise will be heard again.

Prayer:

Lord, in this time of hate, oppression, conflict and war, remind us that Your steadfast love endures forever, and that there will be better times ahead. Help us to sing the Lord’s song, NOW!

John is a glass artist and recently retired from practicing law.  He, and his wife Carol, have been members of St Matthew and CSM since 1996.

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