“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Dear church family and friends,

What a strange year it has been and how vitally important it is for each of us to be encouragers, not critics. How essential to all of our mental health and well-being that we exhibit patience and understanding. How absolutely critical to the vitality of the church and the growth of the Kingdom of God it is for each of us to build one another up, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ, but truthfully all of humanity. Because we are called to love ALL.

I chose that verse because I know that I am disappointed at the realities that we are facing as we head into my favorite season of the year.

Already, we have been informed that we cannot host US Coast Guard recruits at our home this year for Thanksgiving and Christmas, which has been our family’s tradition for more than a quarter of a century. As Megan said the other day, ‘It can’t be Thanksgiving without the Coast Guard kids!’ Due to quarantine rules, we cannot see our extended family members who live in Florida and in Virginia. Every time we talk about either of those two dates on the calendar we all get sad, but we are thankful everyone is still healthy.

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up!” AMEN … AMEN!!

A week or so ago, Denise and Molly told me that they had spotted the sheet music to the song ‘BETTER DAYS’ in my office. This song from Buffalo’s contribution to 1990s rock and roll, the Goo Goo Dolls, is one of my favorite Christmas songs and I keep the sheet music right in front of me at work next to the photos of friends of mine from the street.

Their noticing of the sheet music reminded me of one Christmas Eve service from my last church where BETTER DAYS was one of the special music presentations. The kicker was that we had planned to have me … PD/Pastor Dave … sing John Rzeznik’s lead vocals with our praise team. I thought, if the kid from South Buffalo who wrote it could sing this song, so could I, the kid from Williamsville on the north side of the City of Good Neighbors.

We practiced and practiced … I thought I was doing really well singing lead. And then four days before Christmas Eve I came down with the worst laryngitis of my life. I could hardly speak. So we had the praise team’s lead singer take over for me, because there was no way I could sing. It was God telling me,‘DON’T EVER RUIN A CHRISTMAS EVE SERVICE by SINGING LEAD on a special song for the church.’ J

But that night I could just barely preach … so my sermon was changed to “What if You Couldn’t Say Merry Christmas?” Thanks to the sound system, my whispered sermon could be heard for the two services, but it made me think about Christmas and what matters. Is it the greetings before Christmas Eve services? The lighting of the candles during the singing of Silent Night? My call out to the church family … MERRY CHRISTMAS to ALL and to ALL a Good Night? Or the presents under the tree? I realized, hopefully not for the first time, that Christmas is a day on the calendar that we humans have created with a variety of pageantry and celebration and food, but Christmas is about God’s gift to us in Jesus Christ.

Only two Gospels even mention the birth of Jesus, because truthfully it is in the life of Jesus that we find our faith walk, and in His death and resurrection we find our salvation. Not in Christmas Eve services where if the pastor preaches too long people get angry … not in the missing people around this year’s table … Christmas is a reminder that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies and is the Messiah promised of God.

So this year when our Christmas Eve is not what our traditional plans anticipated, perhaps we can each pause and worship God and Christ, not the lights outside. Let’s truly emphasize God’s gift, not the jolly elf in red whose beard rivals my COVID-beard. Perhaps this year people will miss worshiping in a church, rather than just missing the socializing together on the night before Christmas. Maybe in not lighting candles, the meaning of Silent Night will ring true again.

I know for me, for Donna, for Megan, and for Colleen and her family, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 2020 will be days to treasure for years to come because they will be days that make us focus more on Jesus and less on what we do each year.

We will have more for you in the coming days as to what Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day at St. Paul’s will be like, but we will be worshiping God and Jesus Christ!

JOY TO THE WORLD … the Lord has come!

‘Cause I don’t need boxes wrapped in strings and designer love and empty things. Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days. So take these words and sing out loud because everyone’s forgiven now. ‘Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again!’ BETTER DAYS AHEAD …

Blessings,

Pastor Dave

© 2017- St. Paul's United Methodist Church, West Deptford, NJ