To do or not to do

Nov. 30, 2011

Isaiah 7:14

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

On my to-do list this week is to make a list of all the things I want to accomplish before Christmas. As I’ve been thinking about this list, I’m truly pondering what will “make” it and what won’t.

I ordered a picture Christmas card tonight, so that will make the list. Walgreens is running a great sale through Nov. 30. I had to make a decision. A little shopping, mostly for the grandkids. But I’m re-thinking about people I usually get a gift for. Maybe I won’t get them a gift this year. I hope they understand. I’ve decided that Christmas cookies aren’t on the list this year. I know – almost sacreligious! I’ve decided that I really need to be disciplined about what I put in my mouth before Christmas to avoid becoming the next likely candidate for “The Biggest Loser.” Vegetables have to have a higher priority than peanut butter cups or cut-out cookies. We’ll see if I break down and make the famous “Deaton Santa Claus cookies” right before Chrsitmas or not. Decorations: I’m sure we’ll put some up. I ordered a new set of LED lights for the tree but that’s the only “new” decorations I’m buying this year.

According to the National Retail Frederations, as of 2010, adult consumers spent an average of $830 each on holiday food, decorations and presents. In a two-parent family, that equals about $1,660.

We wonder why Christmas has been hijacked and exploited. Too often, Americans, including Christians, profess alligiance to Jesus but celebrate his birth with an orgy of materialism.

Think about what $1,660 might mean to a charitable organization. Or $830. I know the non-profit that I work for would benefit greatly from either of these amounts … even 25% of the $1,660.

Many years ago, Michael Slaughter, the lead pastor of the Ginghamsburg UMC in Ohio challenged families to take the amount of money they were spending on their family Christmas and spend an equal amount of money on either a needy family or a non-profit donation. If you were spending $1,000 on your family Christmas, then give $1,000 away. I remember mentioning this in church the Advent I heard about this. There were some raised eyebrows and but probably no takers.

The miracle of Christmas doesn’t relate to what presents we buy, who has the coolest Christmas card or whether or not rosettes get made. It’s not even deciding which house looks like the Griswalds. The miracle of Christmas is that a teen-aged virgin gave birth to God’s Son and that he was called Immanuel – God with us. God decided that the world needed redeeming and the only way it would really work is if God’s Son did the redeeming. I’m not quite sure why that was the only possible solution. This was God’s decision and I’m in no position to question God’s solution.

The prophet Isaiah tells us the sign comes through the virgin’s baby. Imagine the responsibility for a teenaged girl to carry and give bith to God with us. Talk about intense and overwhelming! But Mary did it seemingly with respect, humbleness and tact.

Even though the birth took place 2,000 years ago, Immanuel – God with us, continues to be with us today. He’s the reason why we even celebrate Christmas. He’s the miracle of the season. Nothing else. Anything I put on my to-do list before Christmas is measureably insignificant to this miracle. What I need to put on my list is how I might assist in allowing a miracle to be part of someone else’s Advent. More on this tomorrow.

Blessings –




Lighting a Dark World

Nov. 29, 2011

John 1:4-5, 9

In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.

A day or two before Advent began, my Mom had a ritual with us. We’d go into the woods of our farm and gather low-growing evergreens, bring them home and make two round wreaths. One wreath would be used for the Advent Wreath at church; the other for our family’s Advent Wreath. She was continuing a long-standing tradition from her family of making the special ever-green Advent Wreath. This circle of evergreen boughs reminds us of God’s forever love, a love that has no beginning and no end. Four candles – three purple and one pink – stand amid the greenery. A white candle stands in the center.

Advent happens during the time of year when daylight hours are shortening. In the few weeks before Christmas, we have the least amount of daylight of the year. In contrast, each week of Advent, we light an additional candle, bringing more light into the world. On Christmas Eve, we light the white candle in the center, the Christ candle, which reminds us that Jesus came as the light of the world.

While Advent Wreaths are common in churches, it’s a personal Advent Wreath in your home that I think can have great significance. It’s a way to share with your family the messages of Advent and Christmas. My family has always had one. Many years ago, my Mom gave my sisters and myself an Advent Wreath for Christmas so we could continue this tradition within our families. On the outside of the Advent Wreath we received are four words, the four words that traditionally the purple and pink candle represent: hope, peace, joy and love. Before mealtime on the Sundays of Advent and on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, it’s a big deal who gets to light the various candles.

Does your family have an Advent Wreath? If not, why not put together a simple one this Christmas? It need not be any more complicated than five votive holders, each with the appropriate colored votive candle. A little bit of artificial greenery on a plate with the candles is all it takes. (Yes, we no longer continue the tradition of the real evergreens of my childhood days. By Christmas Day, we had to be very careful that the greens didn’t get a spark on them!)

Another idea is an Advent Calendar of Kisses. Roll out a long strip of plastic wrap and line up 25 chocolate kisses one inch apart. Fold both sides of the plastic wrap over the chocolate. Cut 26 pices of curling ribbon (about 6” long each) and tie a knot between the kisses. Tie a longer ribbon at the top and hang from a doornob or hook. Beginning on December 1, exchange one kiss from your child or other family member for a “kiss” from the Advent calendar as you count down the days until Christmas together.

As the days get shorter and shorter until the winter solstace, an Advent Wreath reminds us that even in a dark and challenging world, Jesus is the light of the season and the light of the world. An Advent Wreath on your table is a wonderful reminder of who brings the best light into our world that so desperately needs it.

Blessings –


Creating Your Christmas List

Nov. 28, 2011

Luke 4:18-21

Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

So, today I’m going to date myself. When I was growing up, every November we’d get the big Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalog in the mail. Now, these catalogs aren’t like the slim Lands’ End or Eddie Bauer catalogs sent out today. This catalog was about two inches thick!

My family did not get a daily paper, only had three TV channels and really, we didn’t go shopping very much. So, the Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalog is where we kids did our Christmas “shopping.”

I would sit down with this catalog – some 1,000+ pages – and look through page after page. I’d make my Christmas list on a piece of paper, noting the page, item number, color (if necessary), size, etc. And then, I’d post it on the refrigerator or give it to my Mom, as did my sisters.

I put together this list, knowing full well, that I wouldn’t get many of the presents off the list. I’d get a couple, maybe a few. But I could dream. And the Sears & Roebuck catalog allowed me to dream.

As a child, did you put together a Christmas list? How did you come about what went on your list? If you have children or grandchildren, how have they historically put together their Christmas list? Do today’s kids put together a Christmas list different than you did?

In this passage from Luke, Jesus is speaking. It’s at the beginning of his ministry. He has just been tempted by the devil after spending 40 days in the wilderness fasting. Now, Jesus returns to his hometown ofNazareth. He’s going to publically explain to folks who he really is. On a Friday night, he goes to the local synagogue – the house of worship for Jewish folks – and stands up to read. He quotes three passages of Scripture from the prophet Isaiah, reads it, sits down and proclaims that today; these words of scripture have come true! But Jesus’ neighbors don’t like what he has to say. How could this neighborhood boy make such strong statements? He reminded them of how often prophets aren’t accepted in their hometowns. The local people are so disgusted with Jesus; they try to throw him off a cliff! Talk about a nice welcome home!

In this passage, we find at least part of Jesus’ Christmas list. What would Jesus like for Christmas? Let’s look again:

  • Proclaim good news to the poor
  • Proclaim freedom for the prisoners
  • Recovery of sight for the blind
  • Set the oppressed free

These aren’t things that can be purchased out of a catalog. These aren’t wishes that can be put on a list and crossed-off with a visit to an on-line shopping sight. These aren’t things that we normally think of as being on a wish list for anybody.

But they are Jesus’ wish list.

I know that I can’t accomplish all of these things this Advent. But I can do one or two things to help someone. Rick and I choose not to make Christmas lists. In fact, we have never exchanged presents at Christmas. Instead, we give gifts to others in honor of each other. We purchase items for kids from needy families. We identify a family or two that we know are struggling and give groceries, a gas card and/or cash. And we pick at least one charity that we want to support with a contribution. These are what we find most meaningful for our Christmas lists.

As Advent begins, what would you put on your Christmas list? How might you and your family intentionally change how you “shop” and “give” this year? None of us can eliminate all the things on Jesus’ wish list. But we can each do one or two things to help along the way.

Blessings –


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Advent Begins today

Nov. 27, 2011

When I looked at our paper on Thursday morning, I was shocked. Someone said that it weighted five pounds! For real? It could have taken hours for someone to scour through all the ads and find the best deals.

The last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about how Christmas and all the preparation just seems to pull us away from the real meaning of Christmas. Even in my own life! In fact, I came home from church today, thinking that I’d go do a little shopping after Rick left for work. But after thinking about what I shared in worship today – how we spent too much time on shopping and preparations and not enough time looking for a miracle that we could be a part of this Advent – I decided shopping was not what I should do this afternoon. I want to be intentional about what I do – and don’t do – this Advent.

Today is the first day of Advent. When I was growing up, I fondly remember this as a special time of the year. Unfortunately, Advent is an almost forgotten time of the year today. Somehow, we are missing out on the true message and joy of Christmas, caught up in the “things” of Christmas.

Advent matters. Advent is the way the church prepares for Christmas. Advent means “coming.” It’s the time of the year that we prepare for the coming of the Christ child as well as prepare ourselves for Christ’s return to earth.

And so, that’s why I’ve decided this Advent to put together daily writings about why I think Advent is important. So, I’m beginning tonight and plan to add a daily devotion every day through Advent. I encourage you to journey along this Advent. Take a few minutes every day and discover what Advent and the coming of the Christ baby means to you. Invite a friend to join the journey. If you miss a day, just catch up a couple days at a time, or continue these devotions after Christmas. Let’s think of inch-ways we can restore the “coming” of Christ into our Advent together!

Blessings –


Welcome to Simple Words of Faith!

I never really imagined becoming a blogger. I’m not really sure what a blogger does. But this Advent, I wanted to publish a daily Advent devotional for people to read, ponder, explore. And so, I thought the easiest way to do this might be through a blog.

I’m a Christian woman who happens to be a United Methodist pastor. Certainly, I don’t have all this Christianity stuff figured out. I just ask that we journey together and explore our faith in a new way.

Be patient with me as I learn how to blog. Please don’t get frustrated if things aren’t showing up like you think they should. If that is the case, please e-mail me and let me know! And I’m going to work hard to post a new Advent devotional every day so together, we can explore Advent through a new lense.

Thanks for journeying with me this Advent.

Dianne D. Vielhuber