Advent: Initiating Our Countdown to Christmas

In the rural church of my upbringing, we didn’t observe Advent. We jumped directly from Thanksgiving to Christmas. In our close-knit congregation, the non-negotiable liturgical dates on our church calendar other than Christmas and Easter were Church Conference after worship service on the first Sunday, Gospel Singing on the fourth Sunday night, Revival during the second full week in August, and Homecoming the last Sunday in July. Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Passover, and Pentecost were nowhere to be found.

Later, as a young minister, I was introduced to the colors and candles of Advent and my journey toward Christmas changed drastically. Today, I am convinced more than ever that as mission-driven Christians who live in a market-driven culture, we need the reflective disciplines of Advent to keep us alert to stealth forces like materialism, busyness, and greed, illusive grinches who would love to steal away the real message and gifts of the season and replace them with superficial slogans and glamorous counterfeits.

For the Christian, the season of Advent is like a countdown to Christmas. For the past 35 years, Dick Clark has hosted or co-hosted a version of “New Year’s Rockin Eve,” a high-energy, star-studded countdown with nonstop entertainment until the ball is dropped in Times Square christening the beginning of the New Year. For a Christian, Advent is our progressive, contemplative countdown, our nonstop journey of anticipation that culminates when the Christ candle is lighted and the Christmas Star shines over the manger in Bethlehem.

This year in our church, we will count down the days until Christmas by re-visiting the prophets, singing the carols, re-reading the gospels, and lighting the candles that refuel our peace, hope, love, and joy. Then we will be better equipped to empathize with the anxiety of Mary and Joseph, to feel the labor pains of God, to celebrate the birth of the world’s most pivotal newborn, and to hear both the singing of angels and sobs of Rachel weeping.

If we dare to count down the days and recount the biblical stories from Advent to Christmas, we may find ourselves ready to follow Christ from the cradle to the cross, and beyond.

Our Countdown to Christmas

The journey from Advent to Christmas is one of the most festive and meaningful seasons of the year. As we begin our Countdown to Christmas, let us be transmitters of the hope, peace, love, and joy of Christ.

Let our worship of God resound with the music and symbols of the season. Accompanied by a broad range of instruments, voices of all ages will lead us in singing the hope-filled hymns and joy-filled songs that announce, “Christ, the Savior is born.” From the lighting of the Advent candles, to the singing of the carols, to the messianic prophecies and nativity stories of Holy Scripture, our worship opportunities during this season will warm the heart and stir the soul.

Let our hearts “ROC” with glad and generous giving. Again this year we will participate in Operation Christmas Child, Angel Tree, and other local holiday projects. Your faithful and cheerful giving during December will support our comprehensive program of missions and ministry, and your designated gifts will help build the ROC.

Let us joyfully support global missions. On November 29 and on December 7 we will hear stories from our global missionaries. Our goal for the World Missions Offering given in honor of Lottie Moon is $100,000. Your holiday mission offering will provide livelihood and resources for our partnering missionaries during the coming year.

Let us make quality time with family and friends a priority. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of holiday activities, I encourage you to designate quality time to be with family and friends. Plan to enjoy a meal, attend a concert, participate in a holiday mission project, plot your charitable gift giving, read the Christmas story, attend a sporting event, or visit a retirement center.

As we launch our Countdown to Christmas, we echo the invitation of the hymn writer who heralded “Come and worship, come and worship; Worship Christ the newborn King!”

As You Celebrate Thanksgiving…

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks unto him and bless his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
(Psalm 100:4-5)

Thanksgiving provides a time to be with family and friends. Thanksgiving allows time to celebrate the richness of relationships. And most of all Thanksgiving is a time to express gratitude for the bounty of God’s blessings and to recommit ourselves to being good and generous stewards of those blessings.

As you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, make plans for a meaningful and festive holiday that will strengthen your faith and your relationships:

  • Attend a community or area Thanksgiving service.
  • Take inventory of your personal blessings and give thanks.
  • Invite a person who would otherwise be alone to be your guest for a meal.
  • If you must travel to your Thanksgiving destination, use the traveling time as an opportunity to highlight the things for which your family is grateful.
  • Especially give thanks for our freedom and pray for our service men and women, our nation, and our world.
  • As you begin holiday shopping, exercise Christ-honoring stewardship.
  • During the busyness of the weekend, spend some quiet moments reflecting on the specific ways God has blessed you and how you can employ those blessings in the service of the Lord.
  • In response to God’s blessings in your life, prepare your financial gift for missionaries through the World Missions Offering in honor of Lottie Moon.
  • Complete your Thanksgiving celebration by participating in worship and Bible study on Sunday.

    As we continue our series, “Songs That Come To Life,” this Sunday we will be asking, “Where In This World Is Beulah Land?”

O Brother…..

The air is cool and crisp affirming that autumn is in full swing. The sky is a deeper blue and the fields of opportunity are white and ready for harvest in Pensacola.

As a part of our series on “Songs That Come to Life,” our worship services this Sunday morning will accent the spiritual message and music that comes to us from the popular movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou? Critics described the movie as “a comedy film about three stumblebum convicts who escape to go on a quest for treasure and who meet various characters while learning where their real fortune lies in the 1930s Deep South.”

From the saga of Cain and Abel in Genesis to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, we are taught to look after the interests of our brothers and sisters, especially the poor, the disadvantaged, and the wayward.

As we explore the biblical text, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” from Genesis 4:9, I will highlight some of the more memorable and meaningful quotes from the movie. Do you remember what the characters said? The following quotes from the movie and the music will be mentioned in the message. How many blanks can you fill in between now and Sunday?
“I am a man of ________ _________.”
“I’ve seen _______ all my days.”
“We’re in a ____ spot.”
“He’s in the ______ ______ now.”
“The _________ you seek shall not be the ______ you find.”
“It’s the_______ and _______ from here on out.”
“In the ________ and _______, I’ll be somewhere working for my Lord.”
“I guess I’m the only one that remains _________.”

There is no greater time than now to invite others to join you in exploring and experiencing faith.

What Baptists Believe: A Review of Historic Baptist Principles

I am often asked “What do Baptists believe?” I have learned that Baptists are an extremely diverse group of Christians who usually hold a cluster of principles in common. On Sunday evenings and Wednesday evenings in November, our discipleship messages are focused on these Historic Baptist Principles. As our faith is anchored in Christ, our practice of faith emerges out of our Baptist convictions.

What factors shape the authentic Baptist identity of our congregation? Putting the word “Baptist” on our church sign does not make us Baptists. Giving to a certain state or national Baptist mission entity does not make us Baptists. Doing missions and ministry according to historic Baptist principles makes us Baptists.

Last Wednesday we began our series by highlighting the Baptist belief in the “The Authority of Scripture.” On Sunday evening during our Deacon Ordination and Commission I shared a brief explanation of the doctrine we call “The Priesthood of the Believer.” During the remainder of November we will explore the following Baptist principles and doctrines:
November 8 “Salvation by Grace”
November 12 “Baptism by Immersion”
November 15 “The Lordship of Christ “
November 19 “The Autonomy of the Local Church”
November 21 “Cooperative Missions”
November 26 “Religious Liberty”

On Sunday mornings, we are engaged in the series “Songs That Come to Life.” This Sunday morning we will ask, “Are These the Days of Elijah?”
There is no greater time than now to invite others to join you in exploring and experiencing the mystery of worshiping and serving God.