Advent Devotion 12


Dec. 12 is the saint day for the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico.  She may actually be the most venerated “Mary” in the Catholic Church.  And she seems to resonate even beyond Catholicism.

Just a brief encapsulation of her story:  An indigenous peasant, Juan Diego, was walking over a hill near Mexico City when he was stopped by a vision of the Virgin Mary.  After several visitations and the appearance of roses in his tunic in the dead of winter, Juan Diego convinces the local bishop to build a church where the Virgin asked for one to be built.  The church is there today, though it is not open to the public because it is no longer structurally sound.  But a beautiful new church was build nearby and today thousands of people will be at the church to venerate the Virgin of Guadalupe.

The incorporation of Guadalupe into the Catholic pantheon is important because she came through an indigenous person and appeared as an indigenous person.  She represents the incorporation of the indigenous veneration of the goddess into the Catholic faith.  Guadalupe is a beautiful example of the universalism of Christianity bringing together different cultures and traditions which all point in the same direction – a Divinity of love for all people.

 Of course this kind of syncretism is not new to the Catholic church or to any church.  Every church, in every setting, incorporates cultural practices, traditions, assumptions, and, yes, biases, into its identity.  The Christianity we know is rife with European and American influences.  Sometimes it is hard for us to see these influences because we are so familiar with them.  To us, they are like the air we breathe.  It’s easier to see them in Christian practices from other cultures like the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico or the Christian Church in Malaysia where God is referred to as Allah.

Remembering the Virgin of Guadalupe reminds us that God is present in humanity, all of humanity.  There is no human creature that is not created to be a bearer of Divine Love.  Our faith is intended to be universal.  And in order to be meaningful to all cultures and peoples, many different practices and rituals and customs and images are needed.

Our job is to make sure that our expression of Christianity is built on the solid foundation of the teachings of Jesus.  Advent is just the time to remind ourselves that “Jesus is the reason for the season.”  

Prayer We give thanks for the many expressions of Christianity around the world.  We give thanks that our faith is intended to bring light to all people in all times, all places, and all cultures.  May the universal light of God show us the way to valuing all people, treating all people with dignity, and  honoring the Divine image in each and every person.  Amen.  

Advent Devotion 11


crisis: 1 a :  the turning point for better or worse in an acute disease or fever    b : a paroxysmal attack of pain, distress, or disordered function    c : an emotionally significant event or radical change of status in a person’s life – a midlife crisis

2    : the decisive moment (as in a literary plot) – The crisis of the play occurs in Act 3.

3 a : an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending: especially : one with the district possibility of a highly undesirable outcome            – a financial crisis           – the nation’s energy crisis    b : a situation that has reached a critical phase            – the environmental crisis          – the unemployment crisis

This is what the Miriam – Webster Dictionary has to say about the word crisis.  It implies a temporary state of affairs, a state of transition.  Critical, yes, but a passing phase in a process.  

Recently in listening to the NPR program “Marketplace,” the commentator was talking about what is going on in the economies of Brazil and Argentina.  We were told that these two economies are experiencing “low levels of crisis.”  

A low level of crisis?  What is a low level of crisis?  Crisis by definition is an intense state of change or distress.  Low levels of crisis.  What is that?  How can crisis be at a low level when it is specifically a time that is critical?  Crisis is also a time of transition, a temporary state, and low levels of crisis somehow sounds on going.  Can there be a low level of crisis?

Well, while I can’t defend the phrase “low levels of crisis” I feel like this is what we are living.  It seems like we are in an ongoing low level of crisis.  With the natural environment unraveling around us and mass shootings an almost daily occurrence and the growing wealth gap and the escalation in hate crimes and prejudice, it seems like we are living in a continuous low level of crisis.  (I am not including the impeachment in this list because that is a genuine crisis.)

The celebration of the birth of Jesus is a reminder of a turning point, a radical change, a significant event.  With this birth we are given the way to peace, to wholeness, to joy, to meaning, to life in all its fullness and abundance.  We don’t have to live in low level crisis mode any more because Jesus has been born.  He has given us another way.  We are free to create our own reality of hope and promise.  We do not have to let ourselves be buffeted by the messages around us that seek to destabilize us and make us fearful so that we are easier to control.  May we embrace the temporary critical crisis that is Advent so that we may make the decisive change to living God’s dream of “Peace on earth, good will to all.”  

Prayer During these Advent days, may we live into God’s reality of life and blessing for all.  May we be part of dismantling the systems and power structures that diminish life.  May we give ourselves over to the way of love.  Amen. 

Weekly Update 12/11

This Sunday: Advent is a season for preparation and celebration.  The Song of Mary, the Magnificat, helps us to see what we are preparing for and what we have to celebrate.  See Luke 1:46-56.

Lakewood UCC Choir: Throughout the five Sundays of Decembers, choir rehearsals will begin at 9:40am instead of the usual 9:00am.

Advent/Christmas Season: “Come Home for the Holidays” season of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Please pick up a collection can to use for the Christmas Eve offering which will provide rent, utility, and other assistance to people in the congregation and the community.  This assistance helps people to have a home and to feel connected to others as family.  After all, we are one human family and everyone deserves a home. 

Joy of Singing: Each Sunday of Advent, the congregation is invited to join in singing favorite Christmas songs at 10:15 before morning worship. May the music of Christmas inspire joy this holy season.

Christmas Caroling: Join with others to bring the joy of the season to folks from the LUCC family who are not able to come to church. Everyone is welcome regardless of singing ability! If you aren’t feeling merry, being part of this ministry will bring joy to your heart! Please gather at the church Sunday afternoon Dec. 15 at 3:00p.m. Jim Andrews and Janet Blair will have the arrangements made and carolers will visit the homebound members of the church family.

Daily Devotions: Look for a new devotion each day in your email or at the church website to help inspire your reflection about what it means to “Come home for the holidays.” What does home mean? Where do we find it? How do we create a sense of home with others?

Sundays in Advent: Each Sunday, singing songs of the season at 10:15 and lighting the Advent wreath during worship.

Dec. 15      Christmas Caroling in the afternoon. At 3:00 followed by dinner at the Wells’ home. Dec. 22      A special intergenerational, interactive service that will end with lining the cradle in preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

Christmas Eve: 6:30      Music of the Season 7:00     Service with candlelight and communion. All ages welcome! Transportation provided. please contact the church office.

Straw Labyrinth: Come home for the holidays. There will be a straw labyrinth installed on the church grounds. This is an opportunity to reflect on what “home for the holidays” means to you through walking meditation. The walking will provide an image for making our way home to God in this holy season. The labyrinth will be open and available for use all the time. Come at your convenience. There will be printed sheets provided to guide your reflection.

During the Advent season there will be two opportunities to be part of a group-guided walk on the labyrinth. These will be held Wednesday Dec. 11th and Wednesday Dec. 18th at 3:00p.m. There will be a time for gathering, reading of scripture, reflection, and walking. All are welcome!

Maximo Elementary: Maximo Elementary’s Social worker  has  identified “sweat shirts, jackets, and leggings“ as a need  at Maximo as cooler weather arrives. This school has 80 homeless children. We can help keep them warm and healthy. Sweat shirts and jackets can be any color.  Leggings need to be navy or black.  The Education Ministry Team will begin collecting these items  or donations soon. Stay tuned!

The following expression of gratitude came today  from Ms. Jones after all the toys/gifts were delivered to the school:

Please let me start off again by saying that I am so elated and grateful for all of the toys that your church donated to the “MAX”. The scholar’s are going to be just as elated as I am once they have a chance to see all of the toys as well. Please let everyone know how much we appreciate their generosity.   

 Chelsea Jones  Family and Community Liaison Maximo Elementary

Letter Writing: A letter writing station has been set up at church. Look for opportunities to share your faith perspective on immigration, the environment, and gun safety with elected officials.

Operation Attack: Operation Attack is very much in need of clothes for men, boys, and girls as well as diapers and peanut butter and canned fruit. Donations may be placed in the shopping cart in the entryway to the sanctuary.

Operation Attack is an ecumenical effort serving families with children located at Lakeview Presbyterian Church, 1310 22nd. Ave. S., St. Petersburg. LUCC was a founding member of Operation Attack in the 1960’s!

Hearing Augmentation: Devices are available from the usher in the sanctuary during worship.

December Birthdays: Patti Cooksey 12/8, Becky Palmer 12/16, Amaiya Washington 12/18, George Diven 12/27, Melanie Moore 12/27, Someone missing? Contact the church office with birthday information.

Circle of Concern: Tony Rogers, Sherry Santana, Jen DeGroot, Carolyn Moore, Ann Quinn, Maggie Brizendine, Earl Waters, and Ann Rogers.

Recent Posts:

Weekly Update: If you are involved with an activity or event that you would like to share with the LUCC family, please send the information to the church office by Tuesday since the Update usually is sent out on Wednesday.

Advent Devotion 10

A reply

In Advent Devotion 9 I asked “Why is Christmas scary?”  After all, the figures in the story are being told “Fear not.”  So what might be scary about Christmas?

I got a reply from someone in the church family.  This is what Marg Radens had to say and she agreed to letting me share her response:  


Where do I start? Should I begin with the practical angles, such as work intensive preparation and expense that goes into the performing of holiday rituals: traditions requiring defined encounters with personal, physical and financial limitations? or with the extreme social biases implicit in the actual scenario of the fate of an underage, unwed, humble female pregnant by an unknown donor?       

The narrative of the Bible plays so heavily on the superior options of male vs female that it is hard to know how to address the irony of the question of fear.  My heart goes to Pete Seeger and the line in his poignant song:  “Had I a Golden Thread.”  He says, ‘I’d sing the bravery of women giving birth…’ 

Why do Kings visit the creche? No Queens. Why are angels and apostles so dominantly male and the advisors and supporters of Christ all male? except for the Mary of Magdala?  and what are we to think of the various portrayals of the roles Mary plays in Christ’s life?  Scary if you are Mary.

I like to think that Mary wasn’t scared because she knew things could and should be different.  And she was willing to be part of that transformation.  


Think about how you can make the celebration of Christmas less scary for yourself, your family, and for society.  Consider how you can make the world less scary – for yourself and others especially women.  Pray for all those who are raising children.  Together may we make the world a wonderful place for children at Christmas and all year round.  Amen.   

Sermon 12/8 Listening Together

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 11:1-10 and Luke 1:26-45
Sermon: Listening Together
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

Holiday spending among Americans was $1.1 trillion in 2018. [Tampa Bay Times
11/28/19] Does that number surprise you? Do you find it hard to believe? Do you
want more information about how that statistic was arrived at? When we receive
information that we are unsure about, we often look into verifying it, finding out
more, making sure we understand.

In the story we heard this morning from Luke, we are told of Mary being given
some information. The whole scenario is outrageous – an angel, a baby, a throne, a
kingdom, another baby. Doesn’t this angel know that Mary is a nobody peasant
from an insignificant village in a backwater province? We can understand that
Mary is perplexed and ponders. But what can she do to verify the information that
she is given? Mary is told that her elderly relative Elizabeth is pregnant.
Evidently, Mary did not know about this. Is it true? If that part of the message
from Gabriel is true, then maybe there is validity to the rest of his message. So,
after Gabriel’s departure, Mary makes her own hasty departure to visit Elizabeth
and see if there is anything to this vision she has received.

And what does Mary discover in the story? Yes, Elizabeth is pregnant. So there is
something to the message from the angel Gabriel. Not only that, Elizabeth feels
her baby stir in response to Mary’s arrival. So, as promised, Elizabeth’s child is
fulfilling the role assigned to him by God preparing the way for the one to come.
Another part of the message is validated. And Elizabeth is filled with the Holy
Spirit and declares that Mary will be the mother of the one God is sending.
Elizabeth offers a prophetic witness affirming that Mary has willingly offered
herself in service to God’s dream and so Mary becomes the first believer. Mary
looks for verification of the message she has received and she gets it.

God, seen as the supreme ruler of the universe, sends an angel, Gabriel, to Galilee,
a region in Israel, to a town called Nazareth, to a young woman, engaged to Joseph from the house of David, whose name is Mary. The will of the all powerful, all present, supreme one, filters down from the heavenly realm to a specific situation.
To a random every day person. And a woman, no less.

This is so unexpected that it has to be verified. Such important activities of God
would surely involve people of high status, with means, in the center of power. So
this strange thing, this intrusion of God, in an unlikely manner, must be validated.
And in this visit between Mary and Elizabeth, we see that both women have their
suspicions confirmed. Elizabeth’s baby begins his job of preparing the way right
then and there even before being born, and Mary is given the affirmation she needs
from Elizabeth who seems to know the whole story without having been told by
Mary. In this interaction the women come to see more clearly how God is at work.
It’s not that they were skeptical but no one expected God to use weak, vulnerable,
nobodies for such a grand scheme. In the interaction between Mary and Elizabeth,
God’s plans are verified and confirmed. Together they discern the validity of what
God is doing in their lives and in the world. They mutually reinforce the calling of
one another. With this validation, they can trust what is happening. They have
support from each other when perhaps others will question their actions and their
roles. When they are hesitant and need encouragement, they can count on each
other. They are given to each other, their destinies are intertwined, they are
mutually dependent upon one another as well as upon God, so that they can fulfill
their purpose in God’s dreams.

I want you to take a moment and look around at the people who are in this
sanctuary. Some you may know. Some you may know very well. Some you may
not know. It doesn’t matter really. Because in the church we believe that we have
been given to one another to be of mutual support, to be in discernment together, to
affirm and validate each other’s calling. We are here to help each other see God’s
way for our lives and to encourage one another on that journey of faithfulness.
Elder, younger, woman, man, child, new to the church, a person of lifelong faith,
wealthy, homeless, it really doesn’t matter. We have been brought together here to
be of mutual support and encouragement as we seek to discern our calling and live
trusting the presence of Divine Love within us and among us. In the church, we
are here to help and support each other. To be in the process of discernment together. We are here to confirm and reinforce the ways we experience God
working in our lives.

We need each other to help us see how we are being blessed. We need each other
to discern the nature of God’s call in our lives. Like the people of Bible times, we,
too, still want to define being favored by God in terms of wealth, good health, and
social standing. We want to see God at work in our lives manifest as prosperity
and comfort.

Here, the story of Mary and Elizabeth gives us a reality check. Mary is favored by
God. She is blessed. The story tells us that for her this means she will endure the
shame of having a child out of wedlock who will later be executed as a criminal.
It’s no wonder Mary and Elizabeth need each other for support and encouragement.
Experiencing God’s call in your life may not be a cakewalk.

So we, too, need each other to verify and validate God’s intentions for our lives
because what God has in mind may be a far cry from anything we were expecting.
It may be a drastic departure from what we have in mind for our lives. It may be a
radical break from our planned trajectory. So, we need each other to help us stay
open to God’s intrusions and to respond with faith and trust.

Sure, you may get zapped by some seemingly supernatural insight during a
worship service but it’s more likely that you may hear a word from God in a
conversation with someone as you are walking to your car. Or doing dishes after a
potluck. Or in the van on the way home from church. And in that interaction you
may be led to see more clearly who you are, what you are being called to, how you
are needed to serve, and which direction you are to go.

On Sunday a couple of years ago, the congregation was asked about why you
come to church. Why bother on Sunday morning? And I remember one of the
responses was, “One of the reasons I come to church is because someone may need
me. I may be needed.” That’s exactly it. We come here. With the awareness that
someone here may need us, may need to hear what we have to say, may need our perspective, may need our word of support, may need our direction, or help, or
encouragement. Someone may need us. And, the person we need, the message we
need, may be here. Waiting for us. To show us the way. To help us see. How we
are needed to help save the world.

The gospel of Luke tells us of a girl engaged to a carpenter in an insignificant town
in an unimportant province having a child that will be a savior of the world. And
her elderly relative is needed to help that story unfold. Here we are. Every day
people. Not kings, princesses, or Kardashians. Just ordinary folks, like Mary and
Elizabeth. Listening together. Reminding each other that nothing will be
impossible with God. Who knows what might just happen here. When we are
together. Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For
additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.