Dear Members and Friends of St. John,
That very first Christmas, after the angels appeared to the shepherds, those shepherds went to Bethlehem to find Mary and Joseph, and to find Jesus. God tells us in Luke 2 that the shepherds shared with Mary and Joseph what they themselves had been told. Then, after the shepherds left Jesus and his family, there is an interesting sentence about what Mary did with this information from the shepherds. “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) Mary thought about the things that had happened. Mary purposely stored these thoughts in her memory. So, let’s ponder and treasure this past Christmas ourselves.
What was your favorite Christmas present you received this year? My wife and I did not buy presents for each other this year, again – sort of. I did buy Kathy a dated Christmas ornament again, for the 41st year in a row. But that ornament is not a large gift, and after 40 years she knows that this gift is coming. Kathy also says I have purchased her Christmas gift earlier this year in a number of ways. However, I don’t like to count those other gifts of love for Christmas. Anyway, Kathy and I planned to put our resources into giving gifts to others this Christmas.
I do have 4 grown children with 2 (almost) spouses. Each one of them did give both Kathy and me a nice personal gift, which I can tell they thought about before giving. In fact we have already used most of these gifts in one way or another. Truthfully, however, I believe I am even more thankful for the gift of family. On Sunday night we were blessed to worship together at the Children’s Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. (There is a picture link below from that service.) Then, on Monday night, after picking up my sister Martha and her husband Mark from the airport, we had a family Christmas gathering at our home with 16 people, including 6 grandchildren. We were able to catch up and visit and just enjoy one another’s company while watching the children open their gifts. When Kathy and I buy gifts for our grandchildren we often stay away from giving toys. We try to buy gifts that will last, gifts that have faith or educational value. We gave Josh’s children and Andy’s children each a telescope this year. One of my favorite moments at our family Christmas was when we asked the grandchildren to pull the blankets off the telescopes as a way of unwrapping these gifts. There was a group reaction from the grandchildren. “Woooo!” I enjoyed their excitement. But, again, even more than the gifts, the greater blessing was just the time to be family.
A 2017 Christmas blessing for which I am thankful is the worship we experienced on Sunday and Monday at St. John. Including Sunday morning worship, Sunday evening Christmas Eve services, and Christmas morning worship, the family of St. John gathered in one way or another 5 different times. Some expressed concern for me as pastor because I led all those worship services. But, I have developed a philosophy over the years. I try not to wish Christmas celebrations to be done and over because of busy schedules. I work to enjoy the worship and to receive the blessings of the reason for the celebration. Each worship service this Christmas had a different group of people. In each service someone attended who did not attend the other services. For me, Christmas worship was not a chore, but a gift from God, another gift for which I am thankful.
Part of the gift of Christmas worship is also the opportunity to spend time with our church family. Over the years we have worshiped and served our Lord with some truly special children of God. In many ways, especially here in Alaska, God’s people have become our extended family. When we get to enjoy the gift of God’s Son together, and when we encourage one another through worship and through the encouragement of just catching up, I receive the relationship of family with my fellow Christians as another wonderful Christmas gift.
As Kathy and I grow “more mature” I also become more thankful for our relatively good health. When I attended my 45th high school re-union in the summer of 2016 there was a list of over 80 classmates who are no longer with us. (Of course, my high school class numbered almost 1000 people.) Some of my classmates died by accident. But many of my classmates, including some good friends, were called home by cancer or other illnesses. Yes, Kathy and I have both spent time with doctors this past year. Thankfully, God has blessed the doctors in caring for us. A real gift we received this Christmas is the gift of health.
As I personally ponder and treasure this past Christmas, I feel guilty, in a way, to be so blessed. I know that some people, perhaps many people, have none of these blessings. But, there is one blessing or present that each of us have received, a blessing I haven’t mentioned yet. The angel told the shepherds, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11) God has given the gift of His Son as our Savior. Actually, all the Christmas gifts I mentioned above, the family gatherings, the worship services, even our health, can be traced to God’s love for us in Jesus. I am truly most thankful for the gift of my Savior, Jesus!
And, as the angel said, this good news of a Savior from sin and death, this gift of a Savior who brings us back to our Heavenly Father, is a gift to “all the people.” Receiving the gift of Jesus helps us to see all the other blessings which God gives! I am thankful that even those who did not receive a present or have family, are part of the “all people” to whom God gave His Son!
When all the parties are done, when the worship services are completed, and when the presents are unwrapped, the greatest gift this Christmas and every Christmas is Jesus. So, where do your ponderings and treasurings take your mind and your heart this Christmas?
A Child of God, Thankful for all the Blessings Surrounding Jesus’ Birth,
P.S. I was tempted to write this week about the upcoming wedding of my daughter, Mary, to our new son-in-law, Aaron Smith, this coming Saturday at 2:00 p.m. at St. John. I’ve been told, however, that sometimes my family stories may embarrass. So not today, maybe next week.
P.P.S. Here is a picture taken at Christmas Eve worship of our Alaskan Rockey family. https://photos.app.goo.gl/4wNzubLNi3lqezQR2
P.P.P.S. Here is a picture taken last Thursday morning of the sunrise as seen from my front porch. https://photos.app.goo.gl/Dsg4bghyj4azFdP93
P.P.P.P.S. It seems a long time ago, but last Wednesday was our last Advent Fellowship Meal. Here are some pictures https://photos.app.goo.gl/h6fDJQlYwcQWnkmh1
ABOUT ‘THOUGHTS FROM THE PASTOR’ - I am sending these e-mail messages, hopefully weekly, to all St. John members and friends whose e-mails I have. (I am regularly adding new names of friends and members – in case you are just receiving this e-mail for the first time.) However, if you do not want to receive this e-mail, please let me know, and I’ll gladly leave your name off my list for this message.