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We Aren’t Surprised

Just these lines, my friends …
… to say that Sunday (November 26) was another glorious day of worship at Matthews United Methodist (watch here). I got to sit with my family in church for the first time in years. What a blessing! Thank you Pastors Paul, Stephen and Roldan for your messages to us. Thank you Joyce Fisher for your GodStory (watch here). Thank you for tender moments in Holy Communion. Thank you for music that lifts us to new places. Thank you for powerful, moving worship.

Reception for Pastor Stephen
I’m hopeful you can drop by our reception this Sunday, December 3, in The Commons from Noon to 1 pm, to say a word of thanks to Pastor Stephen Knopp, Emily, Caleb, William and Lilly for their nearly five years of service with us. Moreover, I hope you’ll consider a “love gift” for Pastor Stephen and his family as they embark on new challenges and adventures. If you’d like to make a financial gift, please make your check out to the church and put in the memo line, Pastor Stephen Love Gift. Their final day to be with us will be Christmas Eve.

Bishop’s Pastoral Letter to the Church
In the face of acrimonious conversations permeating even the church over political, religious and justice issues, the bishops of The United Methodist Church have issued a pastoral letter calling for respectful dialogue. The letter states, “Conflict and differing opinions, a natural part of the human and faith experience, come in a variety of forms. We are called to address our differences with authenticity and respectful conversations which enrich our understanding of God and of one another …”

The bishops remind United Methodists about Ephesians 4:1-2 which admonishes us “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Click here to read the full letter.

The First Sunday of Advent
Guess what? Advent is almost here! Surprise! Why does it always sneak up on me and take me by surprise? It seems like I’ve hardly made it through Halloween, and here we are lighting candles and singing carols. I guess it really shouldn’t be a surprise since we do it every year, yet somehow it seems that hot on the tail of the Thanksgiving turkey, Advent catches us unaware and takes us by surprise.

It shouldn’t take us by surprise, but then again maybe that’s the way it should be. Zachariah and Elizabeth were in disbelief at the promise of a son to be born in their old age. The announcement came to Mary as a complete shock. The angel spoke to Joseph when he least expected it. Shepherds were just minding their business, keeping their sheep, and the Wise Men were busy doing whatever it is Wise Men do when the message came, calling them out of their mundane, daily routine.

Advent takes us by surprise…or maybe not. Perhaps our problem is that we aren’t surprised. Most of us have heard the message so often and we think we know it so well that when it comes, it no longer amazes us, awes us, or overwhelms us. I wonder if our familiarity with the story robs it of its wonder and mystery. Maybe this year the birth of the Baby really will surprise us. Maybe we can hear the message as if for the first time.

I invite you to join in the journey, starting this Sunday, December 3. Our Sunday worship will lead us toward Bethlehem.  Maybe it will happen in the lighting of a candle or the singing of a familiar carol. Maybe it will happen in glorious music or at the Children’s Nativity, but somewhere along the way I hope you will be taken by surprise and once again experience the wonder of the season.

Preparing for Advent 2017
The first Sunday of Advent (Nov. 27) is also the first Sunday of the worship (liturgical) year. We enter again into the ancient cycle of worship that leads us through the biblical story of the odd way God has chosen to heal this broken creation in Jesus Christ. Click here if you’d like to read more about Church Year spirituality. Here are three of the best ways I know to keep our lives focused in the right place during this season:

  • Make worship a priority. Make a personal and/or family commitment to be in worship every Sunday from now until Christmas.
  • Practice daily prayer and reflection. The Upper Room (available at https://www.upperroom.org/devotionals) devotional guide would be a great place to start. It can be even more meaningful if you make an Advent wreath the centerpiece of your home.
  • Find a way to serve. Honor the One who came “not to be served but to serve” by ringing the bell for the Salvation Army, serving at the Matthews Help Center, serving in our hospitality and worship ministries, or finding a personal way to make God’s love real to someone else.

Advent begins with a question that sooner or later haunts the soul of every person with a sensitive heart. The prophet Isaiah shakes his fist at the heavens and shouts: “Why don’t you tear the sky open and come down? The mountains would see you and shake with fear. They would tremble like water boiling over a hot fire. Come and reveal your power to your enemies, and make the nations tremble at your presence!” (Isaiah 64:1-3, Good News Translation)

Most of us know that feeling, even if we aren’t audacious enough to speak it. Most of us have times when we want God to come down here with something that looks like real power to shake this world up and make things right. That’s why some folks are tempted to grasp for economic, political or military power in the hope that by sheer force they can make things right … or at least make things right for their lives, their families and their nation.

The prophet captures the real, down-to-earth longing in every human heart. But as Advent will teach us, this is not the way God comes and it’s not the way God makes things right.

G. K. Chesterton said, “God came down and slipped in the back door … to surprise us from behind.” God comes down, and hope for a new world is born in a nondescript cow stall in a nowhere place called Bethlehem. God slips in the back door by way of the same human sweat and blood by which every one of us is born. God comes down to save this world, not by what the world calls “power,” but by the subversive and often hidden power of self-giving love.

God comes down and hope is born, sure enough. But we will miss the whole deal if we aren’t looking in the right place for the right thing. The purpose of Advent is to train our eyes, minds and hearts to be ready for hope to be born in each of us.

We’ve got a special Sunday (December 3) planned just for you and yours. The Sunday morning Sanctuary sermon will focus on our theme for this Advent season, The One and True Light. 801South and Pastor Stephen will continue the series, Hidden Christmas. Centro Cristiano Hosanna (CCH) and Pastor Roldan begin a new series called Celebrating with Understanding.

Of course the morning will include beautiful Advent decorations, the lighting of our first Advent Candle, magnificent music and so much more. Sunday afternoon will also include a Candy Cane Christmas for the entire family, please drop in between 3:30 to 5:00 pm. Then at 5:00 pm we’ll gather in the Sanctuary for a Holy Light service featuring all the music groups of the church.

I hope to see you on the first day/Sunday of Advent, Sunday, December 3, in one or more of our several times of gathering.

With great joy, I am your
Pastor and friend,

Dr. Charles (Chuck) W. Wilson II
chuck@matthewsumc.org

 Did you know Pastor Brad officiated at the marriage of Mary Blanchard and Marcus Walker on November 19? Mary is the daughter of Linda Blanchard.

Did you know we have teams of Ushers that serve to bring the gift of welcome and hospitality to our visitors and members? All are welcome to serve — youth, men and women — for just an hour or two once a month. Contact Meg Moore at meg@matthewsumc.org. Ushers are needed for Christmas Eve, too!

Did you know Hubert and Joyce Helms’ grandson, Deacon Heath, committed to play collegiate-level basketball at UNC-Asheville? Congratulations, Deacon!

Did you know that families from our Centro Cristiano Hosanna congregation gathered for a Thanksgiving feast?

Did you know 1,089 Operation Christmas Child (OCC) shoeboxes were contributed by our congregation in 2017, the most our church has ever given during a single year? Matthews UMC serves as a drop-off location for the community where over the past 13 years we’ve collected 37,995 OCC boxes — each representing a child who has received a copy of the gospel!