Just these lines, my friends …
… to say that Christmas happened to me in so many ways during the last few days:
- This past Thursday night (December 21) I stopped by to see all our volunteers with Room-In-The-Inn (RITI). Every Thursday night during these winter months we host a group of homeless persons with this ministry. I learned later that Kelvin, a homeless man, asked if he could say a few words to the group. He announced to the group that it was his third time to spend the night at Matthews United Methodist and “He knew from the moment he entered The Commons the first time that our church was filled with God’s love.”
- Last Friday, December 22, I went to Jonathan’s for breakfast with our Lay Leader, Scott Putnam, and the Chair of our Administrative Council, Grant Overbey. As I walked in I saw a wonderful group of our men, led by Kyle Brown, studying scripture and the book A Hole in our Gospel. They had already been there for over an hour. WOW! I love it! Men following Jesus!
- Also on December 22, I saw the Youth Choir, led by Jill Willis, headed to carol at one of our area care facilities. I was moved and grateful for their efforts to make God’s love real to the easily forgotten.
- I learned of 18 families from Matthews United Methodist making it possible for a Cuban family that are dear friends of Pastor Roldan and his family to arrive in our community to a beautifully furnished apartment. See pictures of the Armentero family and their apartment below.
- We must have had at least a dozen families wanting to make sure that all our families are “OK” for Christmas. Such amazing hearts of generosity!
- I’ve been sharing the excitement of our Lay Leader, Scott Putnam, on his upcoming mission trip to Haiti from January 6 to January 13. This is his fourth consecutive year to go and make God’s love real to so many.
- And then Christmas Eve at Matthews – I got an email on Christmas morning that read, “I’ve attended a Christmas Eve Service for 76 years and this was the best one ever.” It was a beautiful sight to see the Sanctuary filled to overflowing with people who came to praise the newborn King. All told we had nearly 4,000 people with us on Christmas Eve at Matthews United Methodist.
Our 4th Sunday of Advent morning services (December 24) were filled with preaching and teaching from Pastor Paul, Pastor Stephen (his last Sunday to be with us) and Pastor Roldan…and always great music.
The 4 pm Family service had some wonderful Christmas magic. People sang the carols louder than ever. I sat through this entire service with a big smile on my face. You couldn’t have wiped it off had you tried. Thank you Jill Willis, Madeline Kamp, Pastor Brad, and so many more for your leadership.
Our 6 pm Contemporary Christmas Eve Service featuring Tyris Washington, our band, and a few guest musicians can be seen here. Tyris gave me a special gift of a unique arrangement of “The First Noel.” Thank you, Tyris. All our evening services featured a special story during my sermon about Brody Lindberg. You can watch Brody’s story below.
In our 9 pm service, one of the ushers told me, “I’ve never seen that many people in the balcony.” Our musicians and technicians (led by Pete Leo, Kathy White, Tyris Washington, Shane Hall) all day long gave us a gift of Christmas ecstasy that we’ll treasure for years to come. Our facility team and volunteers – like magic fairy dust – pulled off straightening up and cleaning up all day long.
Finally, the day concluded with our 11 pm service outlined in the spirit of Midnight Mass. 9 pm featured brass, but this service featured a string quintet and Chamber Chorus. It was an unbelievable capstone to a remarkable evening.
I sensed a deep hunger and hope among us. The presence of the Spirit was tangible, drawing us deeper to God and neighbor.
In a world where bad news often outweighs good news, we experienced the closeness of the One who is so lovesick for his children, that this One became a child to show us infinite mercy. My prayer for Christmas Eve was that every person who walked through our doors would experience God’s love made real. I watched as you greeted, welcomed, praised and worshipped, and in those gestures and actions we experienced nativity.
But now that Christmas Day is over many of us feel let down because the day we have been anticipating for so long is over. The malls strip their elaborate decorations and junk their remaining Christmas stocks with huge 50-70% off sales. The Christmas wreaths and trees are thrown out for the garbage collectors and our frenzied activities give way to a low-grade depression.
But Christmas isn’t really over. In the sixth century it was decided that celebrating Christmas just for a day didn’t provide time to celebrate all the joy that Christ’s birth brought into the world. They made Christmas into a twelve-day festival that ended with a feast on the Eve of Epiphany on January 5th to celebrate the coming of the wise men. Yes, that’s right…the 12 days of Christmas begin with Christmas Day. They don’t end there as many malls would have us believe. In countries where this understanding of Christmas has not been co-opted by the commercialism of our society, Christmas trees are not decorated until Christmas Eve and remain in the house sparking with light and life until the Eve of Epiphany.
This is the season when we are meant to celebrate with joy and gratitude the wonder of a God whose love is so great that he sent his son to dwell amongst us. How incredible! How wonderful! Let’s take advantage of every day of the Christmas season.
Finish 2017 Strong
I’m glad that at the same moment we have been preparing for the coming of the Child of Christmas, we have also been challenged to support our shared life and mission together with–yes indeed–our money.
Even if Matthews United Methodist didn’t require money to exist or even if we had some outrageously magnanimous benefactor who underwrote all our bills, we’d still need to return to this discipline, over and again. We give our money away not only because Matthews United Methodist needs it to flourish as a community (though we do), but also because we need this discipline in order to reorder our hearts. We need to give money away because when we hold on to our life (our cash and our resources and our ingenuity), then we are refusing to hold on to God.
Andrew Hayashi is a Law School Professor at the University of Virginia, and he says, “Giving is one way we profane one of the most powerful gods of our age: money.”
So with great joy and no inhibitions, I ask you to give to God’s work in and through Matthews United Methodist as we close out this year. I ask you to give enough so that it feels at least a little risky, that it requires at least a little faith. I truly believe our hearts need this. And if you find everything within you recoiling in fear, take a step…no matter how small. The combination of faith and trust is a beautiful thing. The amount is between you and God, but ask God this question: What would trusting you look like for me? What would having faith look like for me?
If you have not given what you intended this year or if you are able to provide an additional end-of-year gift, please consider contributing. You may contact Leigh Ann Fesmire here if you need an update on this year’s giving. If you have not yet begun to participate regularly in our shared responsibility for our community’s well-being, would you consider doing so now? You can still make your pledge for 2018 and it will be placed in the Joash Chest. Would you be willing to give in a way that is sacrificial, a way that helps to sustain our ongoing life together? And if you have already given what you’re able, would you pray for God to provide what we need?
In order for your gift to be considered a tax-deductible donation for 2017, you will need to postmark your checks by December 31, 2017. You may give any of these ways:
- Drop a check in the offering plate on Sunday, December 31.
- Mail a check to: Matthews United Methodist Church, 801 South Trade Street, Matthews, NC 28105. It must be postmarked by December 31, 2017 if you’d like tax credit.
- Give electronically (via your bank account, credit card or debit card), securely on our website here.
- Donate stock or mutual funds by emailing Beth Lynn (Beth@MatthewsUMC.org) for instructions.
Friends, God owns everything we need, and God, I believe, intends to provide whatever we need. God is generous like that.
We’ll be looking for you on Sunday (December 31). I’ll be preaching in all our morning Sanctuary worship services.
With much gratitude,
Dr. Charles (Chuck) W. Wilson II
Did you know 22 people were baptized at Matthews UMC in 2017?
Did you know 170 New Members joined Matthews UMC in 2017? 70 of these were young people who joined through Confirmation.
Did you know 3,775 people joined us in all eight of our worship services on Christmas Eve?