xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: December 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Atop My Wish List

December 22, 2010

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes
And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.
Flood waters await us in our avenues.
Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche.
Over unprotected villages
The sky slips low and grey and threatening.
We question ourselves.
What have we done to so affront nature?
We worry, God.
Are you there? Are you there really?
Does the covenant you made with us still hold?
Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,
Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope
And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,
Come the way of friendship.
It is the Glad Season.
Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.
Flood waters recede into memory.
Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
As we make our way to higher ground.
Hope is born again in the faces of children
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,
Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.
In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.

The word is Peace.

It is loud now. It is louder.
Louder than the explosion of bombs.
We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.
It is what we have hungered for.
Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace.
A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.
We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.


Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,
Implore you, to stay a while with us
So we may learn by your shimmering light
How to look beyond complexion and see community.
It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.
On this platform of peace, we can create a language
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.
At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
All the earth's tribes loosen their voices
To celebrate the promise of Peace.
We, Angels and Mortals, Believers and Non-Believers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.

Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul.

(Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem
by Maya Angelou)

On behalf of the staff and lay leadership of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas, and a Blessed New Year!

Peace, Hope, Joy, and Love,


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

We will gather to celebrate the arrival of Christ this Friday at 5:30pm for our Christmas Eve Service. It will feature carols, candlelighting, and our Chancel Choir. It will also include another “sermon in rhyme.” Join us, and bring a friend!

In observance of Christmas, the church office will be closed next Monday and Tuesday. Magrey and his family will be leaving after the service Sunday and will be visiting with family in Minnesota until next Saturday. The Mid-Week Message will resume Tuesday, January 4, 2011.

Help us end the year strong with your generous contributions to the church’s general budget. Just a reminder, to have your gifts counted toward your 2010 giving statement, they must be postmarked to the church by December 31.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Songs That Send Shivers

December 15, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

What music gives you chills?

Are there pieces of music that often manage to give you goose bumps when you hear them? I think of Puccini’s Nessun Dorma, and its exhilarating, swelling crescendos. Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium evokes images of God’s grandeur and majesty. From The Planets, Gustav Holst’s awesome Mars, the Bringer of War overwhelms with power and bravado. And nothing quite beats a chancel choir singing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. These and many other selections never fail to give me the shivers.

As it turns out, music-induced chills are scientifically measurable phenomena. A recent study published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science revealed that certain songs can trigger activity in a person’s hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for hunger, rage, and involuntary responses like blushing and goose bumps. [1]

But here’s the interesting part: these researchers claim that the style, genre, tempo, and volume of the music does not determine these responses. What’s more important is what they termed a person’s “openness to experience,” one’s willingness to be moved by the music (as well as other aesthetic and artistic experiences).

Now, I’m pretty sure that Luke the gospel writer knew nothing about brain anatomy and personality science. But he sure knew a lot about emotive music. My friend and former senior pastor Jim Harnish likes to say that Luke reads a lot like a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical: every time something great happens to someone, they break into song (consider Mary’s Magnificat, or Zechariah’s prophecy, or Elizabeth’s song in seclusion). And often, those songs emerge from a person’s deep well of emotion. More than their counterparts in Matthew, Luke’s angels are always telling people not to be afraid. (“Fear not!” “Do not be afraid!” “Do not fear!”)

Apparently, there are plenty of goose bumps to go around in Luke.

We might say that Luke’s gospel is written for people who are particularly “open to experience.” Open to the possibility of a surprising word of good news, open to a new song that will overwhelm cacophony and chaos, and open to the arrival of a God who brings harmony in the midst of dissonance.

How about you? Will you be open to the soul-stirring sounds of Christmas, and allow its music to give you shivers? Will you deafen the drones of deadlines and to-do lists, and listen for the overwhelming hush of a faint baby’s cry, and the glorious songs of sky-blazoned angels? Will you quiet the noise within your soul, and raise your antenna heavenward, for what hymn writer Josiah Holland called “a song in the air?”

There's a song in the air!
There's a star in the sky!
There's a mother's deep prayer
And a baby's low cry!
And the star rains its fire
While the beautiful sing
For the manger of Bethlehem
Cradles a King!

In the light of that star
Lie the ages impearled
And that song from afar
Has swept over the world;
Every hearth is aflame
And the beautiful sing
In the homes of the nations
That Jesus is King!

Join us as we continue our journey to Bethlehem. And let’s pay attention to a Song that will give you chills.

Quiet down… and listen up!


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

[1] http://bodyodd.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2010/12/09/5619731-messiah-give-you-chills-thats-a-clue-to-your-personality

There will be no better place to be stirred by the sounds of Advent than at St. Paul’s this Sunday, as the chancel choir offers its annual cantata. It will feature songs that tell the story of Christ’s birth, interspersed with readings from Isaiah, Matthew, and Luke. You will not want to miss this meaningful part of our Advent season. And as always, bring a friend!

Having a hard time finding the perfect gift for a person who has everything? Then give the gift of love in their honor this Christmas. For the first time, the Missions Committee is offering an Alternative Christmas Gift Guide, available in church this Sunday. Stop by their table in the narthex for more information.

We will celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas Eve, December 24, with a service at 5:30pm featuring carols and the lighting of candles.

Thank you to all those who have already turned in a pledge card for our recent “Together in Faith” campaign. We’re eager to share with you this Sunday the totals pledged so far. In the meantime, the Leadership Team is making calls this week to active members who have not yet turned in a card, which are available from the church office or in the pews this Sunday. Thank you for your support!

Help us end the year strong with your generous contributions to the church’s general budget. Just a reminder, to have your gifts counted toward your 2010 giving statement, they must be postmarked to the church by December 31.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I Hate to Break It to You, Virginia

December 7, 2010

Dear Advent Pilgrims,

The time is soon approaching when both our girls will drop their belief in Santa Claus.

Honestly, my wife and I wrestled when the girls were born with whether even to tell them about the white-bearded man in the red jumpsuit. We were troubled by the prospect of informing them that only the good children received toys, while the bad children received none. True, it was a convenient way to get them to be “nice” rather than “naughty.” But what do we tell them about the poor kids in town who don’t get gifts for Christmas? Wouldn’t the Santa myth suggest that those are “naughty” kids?

Eventually, we cowered to culture, and have been playing the Santa game for years: stuffing their stockings the night before Christmas, munching on the cookies and milk they set out for him, and even forging his signature when they left handwritten questions for him to answer. But I think those days are coming to an end.

Madelyn was the first to suspect the reuse, and it started with the Tooth Fairy. About two months ago, she lost one of her teeth at school and didn’t tell us. Instead, our clever gal tucked it under her pillow and wrote a note to the Tooth Fairy asking some personal questions (How do you know when I’ve lost a tooth? What do you do with all of them, anyway? And what’s your favorite food?)

Naturally, she woke up the next morning and found the tooth still packed in its plastic bag and her questions unanswered. Perhaps the Tooth Fairy was busy last night, she thought. So, once again without telling us, she tried it again the next night. (You’d have thought we would have noticed she was missing a tooth, but that’s another story.)

Suffice it to say, the whole experiment convinced her that maybe there’s something sketchy about the whole Tooth Fairy story. And if that’s true of the Tooth Fairy, then what about the Easter Bunny? And while we’re at it, what about….what about….

Well, they’re not quite ready to give up on Santa yet, but we know it’s coming. The closest they’ve come this year was when Grace said recently, “Well, we’re not sure if Santa is real. But we really like the idea of Santa.”

Her statement impressed me as a highly nuanced, post-modern meta-narrative to the Santa story. Child geniuses, these two. But then I thought: Heck, who am I kidding? They’re too smart to believe in Santa, but not dumb enough to lose out on the free loot.

When that time comes, I will mourn the moment our kids lose their belief in Santa. It will be a rite of passage, yet another reminder that our girls are growing up. More importantly, it will mark the departure of significant child-like wonder and imagination, essential companions on the Advent journey.

Without that sense of wonder, they will become like many of us, caught up in holiday duties and December deadlines. Lest we forget, Advent is less about what we can see and touch, and more about promise and expectation. It’s about discovering a surprising gift, in places where we least expect to find it. And it’s about realizing qualities in others that we might otherwise overlook. Archbishop Oscar Romero captures it well:

Advent should admonish us to discover in each brother or sister that we greet, in each friend whose hand we shake, in each beggar who asks for bread, in each worker who wants to use the right to join a union, in each peasant who looks for work in the coffee groves, the face of Christ. Then it would not be possible to rob them, to cheat them, to deny them their rights. They are Christ, and whatever is done to them Christ will take as done to himself. This is what Advent is: Christ living among us.

Yes, there is more to Advent than meets the eye. It is not found in a jolly old man from the North Pole, but in the arrival of Christ in the midst of those who are hurting and hopeless. Unlike Santa Claus, who rewards only those who are “nice” and implicitly indicts those who are poor, Jesus Christ comes to those who are the least likely to be blessed.

You might have lost your belief in Santa. But don’t lose your capacity for a Christmas surprise. Try finding Jesus where you’d least expect to find him: in the face of the hungry or impoverished, in the soul of someone who is grieving a loss, and in the heart of someone who needs to see the light of hope in their lives.

To that end, let me share with you two new additions to our Advent journey this year.


In partnership with Bethlehem Lutheran, Memorial Presbyterian, and Greenwood Funeral Home, we will be hosting the first ever Service of Remembrance and Hope tonight at 7:00pm in our sanctuary. It will be a chance for anyone who, for any reason, does not feel the light of Christmas in their lives. Perhaps you or someone you know is burdened by a year filled with personal tragedy, broken relationships, divorce, illness, the loss of a job, caring for a family member, the death of a loved one, or a sense of separation from God. This special service honors people’s darkness and provides each person the opportunity to meet their suffering in a safe place and to access some much needed hope.


Stop the madness of buying needless presents for people who have everything and give a gift that truly matters. For the first time, the Missions Committee is sponsoring an Alternative Christmas Gift Guide, which you can use to donate money to some worthy organizations in honor of someone else. Guides will be distributed during worship this Sunday, which contain detailed descriptions of the following agencies and programs: Heifer Project, Self-Help International, The Wilmot Wells Project (Iowa-Nigeria Partnership), Church World Service’s Blankets Program, and Stan Sitzman’s Cherokee Needy Children Project. You will be able to donate to these agencies and give an acknowledgment of your contribution as a gift to someone on your Christmas list.

It’s time recapture a sense of surprise this Christmas. In the words of Archbishop Romero, let’s remember what Advent really is: Christ living among us. Let’s look into the faces of those who are in need, and bear witness to Immanuel, a God who is with us.

Grace and Peace,


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

Join us for a fun, meaningful worship service led by our children’s ministry. They will offer a program called, “Operation Baby King.” Afterwards, we’ll gather in the Fellowship Hall for a soup and hot dog luncheon.

Attention St. Paul’s bakers! Save a plate or two of your holiday cookie creations and bring them to church Saturday or Sunday morning before 9am. The Adult Class will be assembling plates to sell before and after worship. Proceeds will support the Next Generation Fund and other opportunities in the church.

Thank you for the great response we have had so far to our “Together in Faith” stewardship campaign. Your pledges to both the General Budget and the Building Renovation will help advance our mission of putting God’s love into action well into 2011 and beyond. If you have not yet turned in your pledge card, please do so as soon as possible. Starting next week, members of the Campaign Leadership Team will be following up with personal phone calls to those who have not turned one in. Pledge cards are available in the church office or in the sanctuary this Sunday.

Did you miss viewing our fun campaign video at a home group gathering or in worship last Sunday? Do you want to show it to a family member or friend? Check it out on YouTube by going to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4w8-kiCEN8.