Joy to the World
By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: Luke 1:26-45
When Britt and I lived in Gary, we had a Doberman, Eirene. She was a wonderful dog, although prone to give speeches. Britt was finishing up his PhD. He would go in one day a week and spend the entire day attending classes, doing research in the library, meeting with other students or his faculty advisor. Since he worked from home the rest of the week, Eirene missed him on those days and, around mid-afternoon, she would plant herself on a bench in the living room positioned in front of a big window. From there should would wait and watch for doggy daddy to come home. The only problem was her attention was also captured by anything that moved outside that window: the mail carrier, other delivery people, children playing, teens walking down the street, people walking their dogs. You name it; she felt the need to make a speech about it. One December evening I had the Christmas lights and decorations up in the living room and wanted to enjoy them as I was reading. Eirene’s barking was driving me crazy. I’d scold her each time, she’d stop, but then, in time, something new caught her attention and another speech ensued. Finally, I’d had enough. I stood up and walked to my study down the hallway. The windows were high and at the back of the house. I firmly called Eirene’s name and she obediently came. Once she entered the study, I turned on the light and shut the door. About ten minutes later, I returned and opened the door. Head low, she trotted back to the living room but didn’t bother jumping up on her bench. She plopped down on a dog bed with her back to the window and let out a disgusted sigh.
That’s a cute little story because it involves a dog whose “punishment” was nothing more than a ten-minute “time out.” But it would not be so cute or humorous if it involved people. In fact, some people spend their lives anxious and on high alert, perhaps even frequently “barking,” for something they greatly desire that seems to keep eluding them. Their happiness depends on getting what they want. In their fixation, they become frustrated and miss out on other joys and blessings because they are so obsessed with that thing they want but do not have.
What Love Looks Like
By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: John 1:1-18; 1 John 4:7-16
I want to begin my message with a verse from Revelation 1:8: I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.[i]
During my sabbatical, as some of you may recall, I spent some time on retreat at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. At the conclusion of each prayer service, we affirmed our faith in the God who is, who was, and who is to come. We find this affirmation, this description, repeatedly in the Revelation of John[ii], our final book in the Bible. Jesus, Revelation affirms, is the witness, the revelation of the God, who is and who was and who is to come.
[i] New Revised Standard Version
[ii] John 1:4, 8; 4:8.
I Hope You'll Join Us
By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: Luke 3:1-6; Romans 15:4-13
None of us like to feel excluded. We want to belong.
When I was about ten years old, I almost drowned in the ocean because I wanted to belong. My family had gone to the beach with my aunts and uncles and cousins. I was the only one among my cousins who didn’t know how to swim. My mom had just eaten a sandwich and told me I needed to give her some time to digest her food before we went back in the water. But as my cousins headed to the water and my mom was absorbed in conversation, I followed them into the ocean. Long story short, had it not been for a tall teenage boy I did not know who grabbed my arm I very well might have drowned. But really I just wanted to belong.
Around that same time in my life, we lived in a house on a busy road. I had few kids my age around to play with. There were two girls my age not far from me. They liked to play horse. They would identify themselves as particular breeds, set up a horse ring with obstacles around the garage, and “gallop” about on all fours. I was terrible at it and I thought it was about the dumbest thing ever. But I did it because I wanted to belong.
Not really all that long ago I attended a retreat. One morning I over-slept and arrived late for breakfast. The tables where the other retreatants were sitting were all full. I sat down at an empty table but, frankly, expected that either someone would join me or someone would encourage me to pull a chair over and they’d make room for me at their table. It didn’t happen. My mind began to swirl with negative self-talk… “I don’t belong here. No one really wants to sit with me. I’m not a part of them.” Good grief, I was a ten-year old again who just wanted to belong.
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