The Vision of Peace is to be Pursued

The Christmas Angels announced God's vision of Peace of earth.

“Peace on earth…”

This morning’s message spoke of the dream of peace that began with the angel announcement to the shepherds on that first Christmas night.  Often in our warring world, that ideal seems so far away.  But it is up to us to put it into action anyway.   Here is a comment by famed Catholic writer Henri Nouwen on the same subject.

Henri Nouwen speaks to our time…

The marvelous vision of the peaceable Kingdom, in which all violence has been overcome and all men, women, and children live in loving unity with nature, calls for its realization in our day-to-day lives. Instead of being an escapist dream, it challenges us to anticipate what it promises. Every time we forgive our neighbor, every time we make a child smile, every time we show compassion to a suffering person, every time we arrange a bouquet of flowers, offer care to tame or wild animals, prevent pollution, create beauty in our homes and gardens, and work for peace and justice among peoples and nations we are making the vision come true.

We must remind one another constantly of the vision. Whenever it comes alive in us we will find new energy to live it out, right where we are. Instead of making us escape real life, this beautiful vision gets us involved.

Christmas Trains for 2014

How it started

One of my hobbies is model trains, specifically, O-gauge trains running around my Christmas tree. Yes we had a Lionel train which we three Jones brothers shared when I was a boy. But what really started me back in this hobby was the gift of a Lionel train much like the one we had which I received from Bill Quick while I was serving as Pastor at Kirkville Community Wesleyan Church.   I promptly ran it around the tree the next Christmas and I’ve been running trains every Christmas since on increasingly more complex set-ups.

The first evolution

One big evolution happened when I moved the trainsets upstairs to the remodeled living room at Kirkville.   I was already running two trains. I decided to build a second layer and started collecting ceramic buildings, little figures and antique car models. I had two long bridges too. Then I started inviting children from church over to see the trains.   I let them run them too.   Of course, they would wreck them occasionally, but I have only had to make major repairs on two cars in all the many years that I have been doing this.

Children in CT love it too

When I moved to Connecticut, God blessed us with a large parsonage living room and my set got even bigger.  In the gallery you can see the first two steps in building the multilayer setup. I found my first Dept. 56 buildings (the Cadillac of ceramic Christmas buildings) on a yard sale in our own neighborhood.  Again, I invited children from church to come and run the trains. They have so much fun and it is a joy to work with them.  This set has only one bridge but it has more room for vignettes.   In the gallery are pictures of Shannon and Sam playing with the trains. The Mandirola boys, Schantz family and the Griffin’s also stopped by to check it out but I didn’t have my camera going.

Sam went for hands on

My grandson, Sam, was much more interested in the train set this year too. But he had his own way of investigating it.   He wanted to get right in it and touch things. I learned from the preschool teachers that this is a preschooler’s tactile way of learning so I tried to facilitate it as much as possible. It was great fun.

New this year

This year I purchased my first engine specifically decorated for Christmas, a Lionel Santa Flyer. I also added a city block of stores that I made from Ameri-town parts. I started it years ago but this year a change in configuration of the upper track made room for it for the first time. In addition, I purchased new track for the inner lower loop.   Last year that loop was hardly operable. This year is was a star. The fastest engine did not derail on it even though it was the tighter loop. It was Lionel Fast Track. If it holds up to the wear and tear of being assembled and disassembled for a couple years I will be a fan for sure. Also new this year, and something I have been watching for, was a ceramic building train station.  At last I have a train station for the upper level too.

Sam Visits for Christmas

My Grandson Sam is a hands-on guy. He was not very interested in running the trains, though he did that briefly once or twice. He liked the whistle on the train a little better, which is the main reason he might run a train at all. But the main thing he wanted to do this year was pick things up and look at them.   So I tried hard to remember the story about the father whose wife kept complaining that he and the boys were destroying the lawn with their sports. The father had replied, “Right now we’re raising boys, not lawn.” So I let Sammie right into the middle of the trainset so he could touch some things. Of course, I had to supervise so he didn’t try to pick up things that were glued down or wired in.   But he found plenty of things to touch.

His favorite spot was the left side access alley. I can barely fit in there as it is made just as a place to access electrical switches, position village items and retrieve derailed cars.   But Sam found it a great corner, just a boy’s size with lots to touch. He loved the tunnel which he could reach from there.  He took one car from the train and pushed it back into the dark.   There was a little grade and it would roll back out.   He liked the imitation pine trees too.   It was pure joy having him visit, a highlight of the season.

Our manger scene has a history

"A Savior has been born to you."
“A Savior has been born to you.”

Our outdoor manger scene is an integral part of our family Christmas celebration.  JoAnne and I originally made it while pastoring at our first church in Bentley Creek PA.  Our church was having a live nativity that year.   The animals were staying in the little shed/stable we had constructed on the lawn in front of the church and parsonage for a couple days as there were two live performances separated by a few days.  I was the caretaker.   JoAnne and I thought it would be a shame to have the animals there with no representation of the Christmas story, the reason for the celebration.   So we made the manger scene to place in the stable with the animals when the actors were not present.   One corner of one of the figures still shows the marks where I set it a little too close to the donkey and he reached around and chewed on it.

JoAnne found the figures she used for models in a coloring book we had purchased for Keely.    She used projection to transfer the forms to the 4 by 8 exterior plywood sheets that I had purchased.    Then I cut them out with a jigsaw and we painted them.   I  then devised a simple stand system that holds them upright securely but can be dismantled easily with a screwdriver, hopefully an electric one.    The current manger is not the original one.

Since then, every year that they were not being used for their original purpose, we have put them up in our front lawn for our Christmas display.    In Kirkville, we almost never actually put the baby in the manger as there was so often much snow you wouldn’t have been able to tell if the baby was under it all anyway.   Now they are with us at our third parish and still helping us to spread the news of Jesus’ coming; God’s greatest gift to us all.

A child’s Christmas wonder is catching

17 22It happened in the middle of the children’s program at church — the moment that crystalized the essence of the Christmas sermons I have been preparing.   Little Parker, who is barely tall enough to see over the edge of the altar table,  stopped in front of the table and peered into the middle of the white ceramic manger set.  There was wonder written all over his face in that instant.   I was blessed in that moment with an inspiring insight.  Even if I don’t get any more this season, this one will make this Christmas memorable.  It distilled what I have been trying to say in my sermon series too.   I, and probably many of my readers like me, need to recover that sense of wonder at what God has done at Christmas.   Just as Parker in a child’s way was filling with awe at the beauty of the manger scene the children had just put in place as a part of the children’s program; so I need to think about the Christmas story and reflect on the life of Jesus enough to be filled with wonder once again at who Jesus is, how he humbled himself to be born in Bethlehem, what a wonderful life he lived, and how he died and rose again for me.  I need a refill of awe and wonder.  Then there will not be a danger that I am just going through the motions of Christmas; I will be truly able to worship at the manger this year.

Thank you to Nancy Collins for capturing the moment with her camera too.

A devotional for Christmases that are not the same as those in the past

Here is a very thoughtful and personally touching devotion for everyone facing Christmas in different or difficult circumstances this year.  It comes from the insightful mind of Shirley Mullen, President of Houghton College.  I think you’ll be blessed as you read it.

Not 500, but many good results

Setting a goal encouraged us to invite others

Some of you have asked me already, “Did we make 500?”   I almost don’t want to answer the question because I am so excited about all the great events that happened over our Christmas weekend.   Numerous family groups were here in force and I saw many new faces as well.   The Christmas Eve music was super inspiring and our children and teens put the weekend over the top with their Christmas musical.  But, the answer is, no, we didn’t reach 500 total attendance for our three Christmas weekend services.   In fact, we did not get very close to the number goal.   But having talked to families and friends as they gathered both on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, I am convinced that we had between 60 and 100 more people than we would’ve had if we had not set a big goal and stretched.    The actual total of 370 included many family and friends that had been invited because we had set a goal.   John Abbott  expressed what I heard from many.  He came with a friend that I did not recognize.  Knowing he was from a large family of brothers, I asked, “Is this one of your brothers?”   He replied, “It’s one of the men who works with me; you said bring a friend, so I did.”   That spirit seemed to pervade the congregation both on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning as there were many family members and guests who had been invited to celebrate Christ’s birth with us.   Other pastors who had services on Christmas day found their attendance on the low side.  But because of our children’s musical and our efforts to invite friends, our Christmas morning attendance (145) was significantly higher than our average attendance.  It was also a good thing that we had two Christmas Eve services because fitting everyone who came into one would have been extremely cozy (6 PM 160; 8:30 PM  65). 

A wonderful Spirit of worship and a great play

The most touching report that I heard concerning the Christmas services was Kim Ouderkirk’s report of the children’s prayer time as they prepared to perform their Christmas morning play.   One prayed something like this, “Dear Jesus, we have received so many gifts; now please help us give our gift to you.”  That is priceless.  Another prayed that someone would open their heart to Jesus because of the play.   The children’s’ prayers were so moving that some adults left the room to staunch their own tears.   Then they went out and delivered a nearly flawless performance, remembering all their lines and showing that they definitely know how to act a part.  The message of the play that God’s gift to us of his Son Jesus along with the salvation that he brings to us is the greatest gift of all was crystal clear.  Afterward the congregation gave them a standing ovation.   Our thanks go to Kim Ouderkirk for her leadership, to all who helped her, to the teens and children for their hard work, and to the parents who cooperated by adjusting home schedules on Christmas so that we could tell Jesus’ story and honor him in this important way on his birthday.    And they accomplished all this while also working around the 50th anniversary renovations of the sanctuary.