Monthly Archives: December 2012

Advent Reflections Available as downloadable e-Book

Fourteen area pastors, rectors, and priests contributed a wonderful collection of Advent thoughts and reflections based on the theme, “Advent as an Antidote to Acquisitiveness or Consumerism”. Their thoughts were so powerful, individually and collectively, I want to share them with a wider audience. They have been collected in a PDF mini-book which is available for download below. They are presented in the same order as published on this blog.

I would like to express my extreme gratitude to each contributor for taking the time to proffer their thoughts on this theme in such a timely and complete fashion. While I did not receive responses from some of the pastors I approached, some returned their response almost instantly such as Rick Benjamin, former Abbott Loop Community Church pastor. Rick sent me his fine thoughts within minutes of my request.

Pastoral Advent Reflections – Download


Merry Christmas!

Wishing all Church Visits readers a blessed Christmas Day. After the bustle of the extended Christmas season stretching from Halloween to Christmas Eve, it must be nice to take a break from the commercialism, advertising, and selling of the season.

If you truly observed Advent, you probably experienced significant relief from these hassles. As Pastor Bob Mather of Baxter Road Bible Church observes, “Whose birthday is it anyway?” His church is once again dedicating 100% of their December giving to local missional work. Last year they gave over $50,000 this way. This month they are well on their way to exceed this number.

God bless you all!

It’s Fourth Advent Sunday 2012

[img_assist|nid=159096|title=Fourth Advent Sunday 2012|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=272]It’s Fourth Advent Sunday and churches that follow the Advent calendar know this is the week of Christmas as Advent ends Christmas Eve.

The previous three candles in the Advent wreath are relit, and the fourth candle, the candle of love, is lit to join them. On Christmas Eve, the fifth candle, the Christ candle, is lit to join the other four. It’s a beautiful tradition full of meaning where the other candles, representing hope, peace, and joy, are joined by the candle of love.

Narrative Lectionary readings for today are Luke 1:26-49, the announcement of Jesus’ birth to Mary; and the news He will receive the throne of David, and be the Son of God. Psalm 113 or 113:9 are also read.

May you enjoy Fourth Advent Sunday as the entire observance of Advent draws quickly to a close. I urge you to worship at a church that observes Advent, as there are many in Anchorage.

Advent Reflection: Rector Michael Burke

I’ve asked a cross-section of Anchorage pastors to comment upon Advent as an Antidote for Acquisitiveness or Consumerism. Our final pastoral contribution is from Michael Burke, rector of St Mary’s Episcopal Church.

On Second Advent Sunday, I spoke about the “irony, humor, and tragedy” of the fact that “Christmas” (meaning the commercial season stretching from Halloween to December 25th) has eclipsed not only Advent, but the celebration of Christmas as well.

We live in a culture that does not know what to do with Advent, as it seems to “be in the way of” this secular or commercial celebration of “Christmas.”

While Advent was originally practiced as a relatively austere time of “much space” for introspection and the preparation of one’s own heart for the coming of Christ, the busy-ness of the season has crowded that out.

So I wonder… Has the celebration of “Christmas” become the single biggest obstacle to the celebration of … … Christmas?

Attached* is some of what I shared with our congregation regarding how one family responded to this situation, and the different approach they took.

I have since had a couple families report back to me , that this is what they are choosing to do for this Advent / Christmas.

* See attached document available for download below.

[img_assist|nid=163107|title=Rector Michael Burke, St Mary’s Episcopal Church|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=462]

Baxter Road Bible Church’s Extraordinary Giving Continues: What a Story!

I’ve been captivated this Advent season with the ongoing story of giving by Baxter Road Bible Church (BRBC). Under their December theme of “It’s not your birthday”, they are giving 100% of church income to local community charities, and smaller ministries. BRBC Sr. Pastor Bob Mather has been graciously sharing news of their progress with Church Visits. This church of some three-hundred (300) has been giving in an unbelievable fashion.

Pastor Bob has shared their membership contributed close to $14,000 this past Sunday, December 18, bringing the December total of giving to almost $35,000.

BRBC is planning on sending funds to a number of local groups this week.

$4,000 – Love INC
$2,000 – Rescue Mission
$1,000 – Seafarers Mission
$1,500 – Haitian Christian Mission
$1,500 – Northern Frontier Ministries
$1,000 – Roger Huntington (Native Youth Camp)
$1,000 – Crisis Pregnancy Center
$2,000 – Alaska Family Council

I applaud BRBC’s commitment to those less fortunate than themselves. To date, no other church in our local community has come to my attention with such a unique focus to their neighbor.

If you want to be a part of this endeavor, I’m certain Baxter Road Bible Church would not turn down a contribution in support of this massive act of faith, emphasizing giving to others than ourselves. Their website is here and their phone number is 907-337-5222.

Advent Reflection: Pastor Stephen Vicaro

I’ve asked a cross-section of Anchorage pastors to comment upon Advent as an Antidote for Acquisitiveness or Consumerism. Our next pastor featured is Stephen Vicaro, pastor of Hillside O’Malley Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Gift giving is a challenge. The perfect gift is one that is wanted, needed, and unexpected. Satisfying all three of these criteria is uncommon, but sure to bring excitement to both the giver and receiver.

When God gave His Son to Humanity, few people were excited about the Gift. Jesus was wanted by some, needed by all, but most were not expecting Him. This is not to say that those who called themselves followers of the Creator were not “expecting” a Messiah. Indeed, they were waiting for Him, though not exactly.

God’s people were expecting one who would redeem them from poverty, save them from their enemies, deliver them from the Roman authority that was over them, and give them their heart’s desire, along with many other expectations.

Yet the Father arranged that His Son would be born in an animal shelter, raised by peasants, self-employed as a skilled laborer, without any formal education, and with no military training. Jesus was certainly not what His proclaimed people were expecting. So when Christ came the first time, they missed out on the joy. But He was so much better than what they were expecting: love, forgiveness, righteousness, purity. Only shepherds and foreign travelers, along with a few others who were true in heart, knew when he arrived. God’s perfect gift was only appreciated by a few.

As we celebrate Christ’s first advent and await His second, let us not miss out on the blessing that God has already given to us. Simplicity rather than extravagance, the spiritual rather than the material, giving rather than getting: these are some of the lessons that God gave us through His Son.
[img_assist|nid=163105|title=Stephen Vicaro, Pastor – Hillside O’Malley SDA Church|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=350]

Advent Reflection: Pastor John Dodson

I’ve asked a cross-section of Anchorage pastors to comment upon Advent as an Antidote for Acquisitiveness or Consumerism. Our next pastor featured is John Dodson, interim pastor of St John UMC (2009-2010). He is also a church consultant.

Advent is a time for preparation and expectancy. It is a good time to take stock, to reflect and consider what are the best things in life. Most people if pressed would not say that the latest fashion item or a plastic wrapped doll or space man were among the best things in life. Advent is about what is the best thing in life! Life is made up of small good things that result in a great life. Like kindness, friendship, family bonds, love between persons and respect for each other. If we took these as meaningful experiences in our lives, we might want to fashion our gift giving after those values.

Give the gift of yourself this Christmas. Think of ways you can give a gift that has deeper meaning. A fishing trip for your grandson, a treat to a ballet for your granddaughter, a picnic for the family in the spring time to a favorite place, an offer to give some baby sitting time to a young couple and perhaps you can begin to create some events that are unique to you. Why follow the depressive route of gifts soon discarded and the discouragement that often comes with over spending and feeling like you want to do something different? Now is your chance! Do something different this Christmas!

[img_assist|nid=163101|title=Pastor John Dodson, Interim Pastor St John UMC (2009-2010)|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=276|height=490] <image coming as soon as possible – the editors>

Bach Chorale Concert Tonight – Anchorage Lutheran 7:30 p.m.

On December 21st, Friday evening at 7:30 pm, Central Lutheran Church Choir will join a community choir singing J.S. Bach’s magnificent Christmas Cantata “Gloria in excelsis” at Anchorage Lutheran Church (1420 “N” St.).

The concert will be accompanied by a chamber orchestra. Musicians from Central Lutheran will be featured vocal soloists, and Tai Wai Li the conductor.

Freewill donations will be much appreciated. Don’t miss this special event, and bring your families and friends to come celebrating Christ’s birth through joyous, wonderful music.

Advent Reflection: Pastor Mark Goodman

I’ve asked a cross-section of Anchorage pastors to comment upon Advent as an Antidote for Acquisitiveness or Consumerism. Our next pastor featured is Mark Goodman, Senior Pastor of Rabbit Creek Community Church.

He spoke in extremes. “No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon”(Matthew 6:24). No wiggle room there! The Lord Jesus chose the Aramaic word “mammon” in reference to riches because the word’s root is associated with the act of trusting. His message is clear. Each person who would follow in the Jesus Way cannot simultaneously trust in God, the Provider, and riches, the stuff on earth. You and I, however, live in the world of Black Friday, zero % interest loans, endless credit card offers, and the American Dream. Considering that stores opened before the Thanksgiving turkey meal was digested, most of us find it difficult to count our blessings without doing the math to figure how soon we can buy and therefore count higher. It is time to trust in Who rather than What.

I delight in knowing that I will join with my church family on the 24th to sing praises to God for His gift of Jesus. I look forward to ripping wrapping paper and reaching into my gingerbread man-adorned stocking. I smile in anticipation of watching my daughter and sons bolt down the stairs on the 25th. I pray that my wife likes what I picked out. Eagerness for Christmas, however, should not overshadow Advent. The season of Advent helps us to avoid the trap of Mammon. It helps us focus on what really matters, to trust the only One worth serving.

December 2nd marked the first Sunday of a four-week observance of Advent (a coming). Christian believers look forward to that day that the Apostle Paul referred to as “the blessed hope – the glorious appearing” (Titus 2:13). On that day the great God and Savior, Jesus Christ will appear. While Christmas reminds us of Jesus’ first arrival, Advent declares the promise of His return, His second arrival. Christmas without Advent is a reflection on an historical event alone. Advent, while allowing time to look back, draws our attention forward so that we can look forward to God coming to set all things right. No matter how much we buy, even if everything in your shopping bag is 40% off, we will tire of the gifts sooner than we think. How many shoes do you really need? How many rifles does it really take to bag next year’s game? Do you really just have to have the newest iPhone? If you must, go ahead and buy it. But don’t count on any purchase to bring you happiness. I am no Grinch. I will buy and open as you do. Yet, I sure hope that I will remember to count my blessings before I do and not pout if the number, as it increases, does not include that certain “must have.” Join me, won’t you? [img_assist|nid=163082|title=Sr. Pastor Mark Goodman, Rabbit Creek Community Church|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=250|height=390]

Blue Christmas/Longest Night Services – 12/21/12

Tomorrow, Friday December 21, 2012 is winter solstice. A few Anchorage churches are having Blue Christmas and/or Longest Night services.

The purpose of such services is to bring solace to those grieving or challenged in other ways this time of year. Services can be accompanied by music, quiet, appropriate readings, and a time to recognize or speak the name of the loved one of concern. Grace Chapel in the Boston area skillfully uses this graphic to carry the theme of this evening service.[img_assist|nid=163096|title=Blue Christmas Theme as Conveyed by Grace Chapel|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=4000|height=247]

St Mark Lutheran is offering such a service at 6 p.m. Their announcement in ADN noted: This service will include readings, music, candle lighting & silence and will focus on the hope and healing God offers to each one of us. For those dealing grief or illness, the holidays can be anything but happy and a painful reminder of what has been lost.
More information about this service can be viewed by clicking HERE (Link content has been updated since the original post) .

St Mary’s Episcopal Church is also offering a Blue Christmas service at 7 p.m. but did not offer any details about their service at the time I published this post.

St John UMC has a Longest Night service and bonfire scheduled for 7 p.m. this evening.

Turnagain UMC had a notice in the Anchorage Daily news of a Longest Night service scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight but there was no mention of it on their website. I’d call the church to confirm first.

There may be other Blue Christmas or Longest Night services in Anchorage but I was unable to find them through searching. If it’s not mentioned prominently on a church’s website, Google is unlikely to find it. I think Blue Christmas and Longest Night services are appropriate linking the solstice, and the longest physical night of our year, with the darkness we all seem to feel in our hearts at various times in our lives. Churches offer spiritual solace during solstice. I’m glad a few Anchorage churches do.