xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: December 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Time Draws Near

The time draws near the birth of Christ;
The moon is hid--the night is still;
The Christmas bells from hill to hill
Answer each other in the mist.

Four voices of four hamlets round,
From far and near, on mead and moor,
Swell out and fail, as if a door
Were shut between me and the sound.

Each voice four changes on the wind,
That now dilate and now decrease,
Peace and good-will, good-will and peace,
Peace and good-will to all mankind.

Rise, happy morn! rise, holy morn!
Draw forth the cheerful day from night;
O Father! touch the east, and light
The light that shone when hope was born!

“The Birth of Christ”
by Alfred Lord Tennyson

On behalf of the staff and lay leadership of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, I wish you and yours all the hope, joy, and love of the Christ child, born anew in our lives.

Merry Christmas!


The Rev. Magrey R. deVega
St. Paul's United Methodist Church
531 W. Main St.
Cherokee, IA 51012
Ph: 712-225-3955

Despite the blizzard, tonight’s Christmas Eve service will continue as scheduled for 5:30 this evening. Please use your best judgment in deciding whether to come, and be safe as you travel. For those of you unable to attend, we will re-broadcast the service on DVD after the service this Sunday, down in the Fellowship Hall.


Magrey and his family will be traveling after Christmas, so the Mid-Week Message will resume on Wednesday, January 6. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Jon, and Kate, and Tiger! Oh, My!

December 15, 2009

Dear Advent Stargazers,

This is the time of year when many preachers become cultural critics. American consumerism is a common target, mixed with the occasional rant against “Happy Holidays.” But lately I’ve thought about a more recent, subversive threat, exhibited in the names that fill our airwaves and our newsprint: Jon and Kate. Paris and Britney. Brad and Angelina. And, of course, Tiger.

We are addicted to celebrities.

The latest Newsweek magazine has a photo of Tiger Woods on the cover with the compelling headline: “Why We Can’t Look Away.” Inside is a cover story by Neal Gabler, titled “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Among his arguments is that our fascination with celebrities now goes beyond the art that they produce. Rather than being entertained merely by their character portrayals (as actors) or their thrilling victories (as athletes), we crave something more real: the lives of the celebrities themselves. We novelize them into a narrative that not only captivates us, but draws us together. In a time when we are deeply polarized along a myriad of cultural lines, tabloid stories have become our shared reference, our “modern denominators,” as Gabler calls them:

In the past, television, movies, music, even books were sources of national cohesion. Dramatically lower ratings for broadcast television, reduced film attendance, and plummeting CD sales have all loosened the national bonds. We have become a nation of niches. Celebrity is one of the few things that still crosses all lines. As disparate and stratified as Americans are, practically all of them seem to share an intense engagement, or at the very least an acquaintance, with the sagas of Jon and Kate or Brad and Angelina or Jennifer and whomever, which is oddly comforting. These are America's modern denominators, and in some ways Jon and Kate are our Fred and Ginger—not, obviously, talentwise, but in the way they provide escape and give us something we can all talk about. [1]

Gabler offers a serious indictment against American culture. We look to fallible, fame-addicted performers and transform their sordid narratives into sources for meaning. And when that happens, we can’t enough of them. We’ll read their tweets, Google their latest photos, and post updates on FaceBook. We embed them into our collective consciousness, preferring to follow their sensationalized lives rather than stories that contain any real value.

So when a story of genuine significance comes along, like the one about a God who became human so that we could learn true love, we don’t know how to respond. We treat it like ancient history, package it into something more marketable, or, worst of all, ignore it altogether.

This is a troubling trend for people of Advent, for we too are bound by a story replete with scandal. Jesus was born of a dubious pregnancy, under the jealous gaze of a paranoid king, in the midst of a people crushed by political and economic oppression. He was greeted by shepherds, not dignitaries; among animals, not royalty. If you want tabloid-grabbing headlines, then turn to the gospels.

But make no mistake: the story of Christ’s birth is no celebrity narrative. It is not a tale we construct to reflect our deepest desires for fame and fortune. It is not a tragic story of an ordinary man ascending the heights of notoriety, only to watch it all come crashing down. You won’t find this on Access Nazareth or E! True Bethlehem Story. Instead, this is a subversive tale, about a God who tossed aside the trappings of fame, in order to become ordinary like you and me. It is about God’s downward, not upward, mobility. And it doesn’t get more meaningful, or more real, than that.

So forget about Tiger, Jon and Kate, and Paris and Lindsey. Instead, focus on the only story that really matters. The story of a celebrity who became one of us. And if you need a reminder of how the story goes, then join us for worship this Sunday. The Chancel Choir will be presenting a lovely cantata titled, “Rise Up,” a musical retelling of the birth of Christ. It will be a wonderful way to detoxify yourself of the clashing cultural narratives around us, and help us focus on the only Celebrity that really matters to us.

Hope, Peace, and Joy,


The Rev. Magrey R. deVega
St. Paul's United Methodist Church
531 W. Main St.
Cherokee, IA 51012
Ph: 712-225-3955

[1] For the full text of Neal Gabler’s article, visit http://www.newsweek.com/id/226457/page/1)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Allison's Gift

December 8, 2009

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

When one of our youth, 12-year old Allison Van Vactor, thinks about her grandfather Jerry Sorensen, she beams with memories of fishing trips, building little wooden airplanes, and plenty of good times. But mostly, she remembers the big hugs. Not just gentle pats or courteous cuddles, but giant, cumulous cloud hugs. The kind you lose yourself in and forget all the cares in the world.

So when Jerry died of cancer last October, Allison was devastated. She had lost more than a family member, she lost a close friend, and the warmth of those hugs.

Then, weeks later, a baby sitter for Allison and her sister Alea brought some old fleece blankets and taught the girls an interesting new craft. After cutting off the finished borders, the girls cut the edges into strips and tied two blankets together. The result: Allison’s first tie blanket.

Feeling the warmth of the blanket’s embrace, Allison knew who needed to be the recipient of her first creation. She gave it to her grandmother, Mary Beth Sorensen, still grieving herself over the loss of her husband Jerry. The hug of that new blanket became for the two of them a vivified reminder of Jerry’s deep love.

Allison then had an inspired idea. What about sharing this special gift with more people, as a way of honoring her grandfather? She got right to work, securing more fleece blankets from the Hy Vee Drugstore, where her dad Jason is the manager. And after several weeks, she had created an impressive stack of twelve blankets. Believing she could make a difference in the lives of those who fought cancer just like her grandfather, she gave all of them to the oncology department of the Cherokee Regional Medical Center.

Last Thanksgiving Eve, Allison presented her blankets to Rita Comstock and other hospital personnel. They expressed their deep gratitude and said how impressed they were by this young lady’s thoughtfulness and generosity. But to Allison, this kind of benevolence should be the norm, not the exception.

“It’s always more important to give than it is to receive,” she said. [1]


I think about Allison in relation to a recent story in the New York Times, in which scientists have determined that cooperation and helpfulness are innate, not learned, human traits. [2] Michael Tomasello, a developmental psychologist at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, writes in a new book titled “Why We Cooperate:”

One of the great debates in Western civilization is whether humans are born cooperative and helpful and society later corrupts them (e.g., Rousseau), or whether they are born selfish and unhelpful and society teaches them better (e.g., Hobbes). As with all great debates, both arguments undoubtedly have some truth on their side. I will argue and present evidence that from around their first birthdays – when they first begin to walk and talk and become truly cultural beings – human children are already cooperative and helpful in many, though obviously not all, situations. And they do not learn this from adults; it comes naturally.

If Dr. Tomasello’s theories are correct, then families play a critical role in fostering, not diminishing, a child’s natural sense of cooperation. And the same can be said of the role of the church. Otherwise, children can be corrupted by cultural forces that would convince them otherwise.

It is in that spirit of care for our children that you can be proud of the youth and children of St. Paul’s. In addition to Allison’s example, other kids are actively engaged in putting God’s love into action during this Advent season. Last Sunday, 16 of our youth gave up part of their weekend to serve the boys at the Midwest Christian Children’s Home in Peterson, Iowa. Using the money they raised at their cinnamon roll sale a few weeks ago, they purchased and delivered a microwave oven, a DVD/VCR player, and numerous books, toys, games, and videos. They then spent an afternoon socializing with the residents, playing games and bringing good cheer. Many of the boys and all of the staff expressed their gratitude for all that the St. Paul’s youth did to brighten the spirits of these boys.

This Sunday, you’ll be able to witness the joy of the Christmas message through the words and singing of our children’s ministry, who will be offering a program called “The Not-So-Silent Night.” It promises to be a creative, engaging addition to this Advent season, and you won’t want to miss it.

I can’t help but remember this Advent oracle from the prophet Isaiah: The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. (Isaiah 11:6) As we continue our journey to the Child who leads us to new hope, let us follow the lead of our own children, who can show us how to put God’s love into action.

Peace, Hope, and Love,


The Rev. Magrey R. deVega
St. Paul's United Methodist Church
531 W. Main St.
Cherokee, IA 51012
Ph: 712-225-3955

[1] To read the Cherokee Chronicle’s story about Allison’s gift, visit: http://www.chronicletimes.com/story/1590441.html
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/science/01human.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1
[3] Tomasillo, Michael. “Why We Cooperate.” Boston: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2009.