xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: December 2014

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

"So Hallow'd and So Gracious is the Time"

Christmas Eve, 2014

From “Hamlet”

by William Shakespeare

Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
And then, they say, no spirit can walk abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm;
So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.

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

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 the celebration of Christ’s birth for our annual Christmas Eve service at 5:30pm.  It will feature a rhyming sermon including many favorite characters from classic holiday films.  For the first time, an overflow live video feed will be available in the dining hall to make room for people no matter how large the crowd.  As an act of hospitality, we invite you to park your car as far away as you are comfortable in walking in order to accommodate the hundreds of guests we will have tonight.

We appreciate your generosity to help us close the remaining gap between income and expenses by the end of the year.  To have your contribution count toward your 2014 giving statement, please postmark your gifts by December 31, 2014.

In observance of the Christmas holiday, the office will be closed on Friday, December 26.  Magrey and the girls will be out of town visiting family in Florida from December 30 to January 5, so the Mid-Week Message will resume during the week of January 11. 

To view past editions of the Mid-Week Message, visit  http://mdevega.blogspot.com
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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My Advent Prayer for You

December 16, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

To round the corner and head down the home stretch toward Christmas, we have to pass through December 21.  That is the date of the winter solstice, when the sun is at its lowest point in the sky in relation to the northern hemisphere of the earth.  This means that December 21 has the shortest period of daylight, and the longest period of night, in the entire year. 

That’s the astronomical explanation; the reality is that many of us have been encountering many long nights throughout this Advent season.  It is hard for many to begin to experience the “happiest season of all” when we are immersed in more stressors than we can count. 

Many of those difficulties emerge out of our frail and bruised relationships with others.  The holidays, for all of their festivities and good cheer, tend to amplify our most deeply hidden fracture lines with others, and intensify the sore spots that we try to conceal throughout the rest of the year. 

We remember that even Jesus himself was born into a dysfunctional family. His mother bore the scandal of a pregnancy out of wedlock, and his father was the subject of public scrutiny. Even Jesus’ ancestry is a roll call of the scandalous and malfeasant, including a foreigner, a liar, a prostitute, and an adulterer. We might even come to the conclusion that when it comes to the Christmas story, there is no such thing as a “normal” family at all!

It is in this context that I once again offer a pastoral prayer for you and for any one struggling with long nights and weary souls.

An Advent Prayer for Healthy Relationships

O God, in whom we live and move and have our being, and who fashioned us in your image to be in relationship with you and others, we thank you for the coming gift of Jesus, whose Advent we anticipate once again. 

As daylight dwindles and the darkness grows, we acknowledge to you the frailty of our relationships with one another.  We confess that, despite your desire for wholeness and health, we have not been kind to one another.  We are far too prone to anger and bitterness, rather than peace and joy.  We are an imperfect reflection of your self-giving love.

As Advent people, we yearn for healing, and long for hope:

·      For every household filled with chronic anger and endless disputes, illumine neglected faults, in a spirit of new understanding and peace.

·      For every gathering of family and friends that bring to light concealed dysfunctions, and verge on eruption because of the fault lines of past hurt, pour out your spirit of confession and forgiveness.

·      For every family dealing with the haunting influences of addiction, substance abuse, and mental disease, grant your spirit of courage and compassion, to be bold in truth and generous in love.

·      For every marriage troubled by unfulfilled expectations and chronic miscommunication, grant your spirit of understanding and empathy. Rekindle within them an awakening of boundless, unconditional love.

·      For every set of siblings long plagued by resentment and unhealthy competition, rather than mutual encouragement, grant a new spirit of peace and cooperation.

·      For every parent disenfranchised from their children, distanced by resentment and wounded by past scars, grant new insight and the power of reconciliation. 

·      For every person whose ongoing grief for lost loved ones skews this season of joy into a time of sorrow, grant the comfort of your constant presence. Remind these persons that in your being, the bonds of love never end.

·      For every young family adjusting to new life with a child, and negotiating new ways to relate as a family in the midst of transition, grant a spirit of child-like wonder, and a desire to mature.

·      For every couple struggling with infertility, in the midst of a season based on the birth of a Child, grant a spirit of hope, and the reminder that they are not without ability to provide other enduring legacies of love.

·      For those who face this season alone – widows and widowers, divorcees, single adults, and the elderly - grant a spirit of companionship, and surround them with new friends and cohorts on their journey.

·      For those who live in the shadow of their own mortality, in fear of their own death and disease, offer a reminder that you are the source of all life, encouraging them to embrace their lives and the lives of others with courage, unafraid of joy and pain, sickness and health. May your love be made real in our care for others.

O God of hope and promise, you revealed your power in the self-giving love of Jesus, whose birth in lowly means exemplifies your call to servanthood and humility. May we, in the strength of your spirit, receive the gift of your son, living out his image in all that we say and do. May this season truly be one of preparation, that our hearts, minds, and souls may be awakened to a hope that brings holiness, for ourselves and the people we love. Enliven us by your spirit, that we may live in the fullness of your reign.

In the name of Immanuel, your presence among us, we pray,



The Rev. Magrey R. deVegaSt. Paul's United Methodist Church
531 W. Main St.
Cherokee, IA  51012
Ph:  712-225-3955
Email:  mdevega@sp-umc.org

To view past editions of the Mid-Week Message, visit  http://mdevega.blogspot.com
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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

John the Baptist in Rhyme

December 9, 2014

Hello, and Good Day, St. Paul’s Family,
How are you doing, in this Advent Week Three?

How’s your shopping been going, your gift-buying lists
Have you checked it all off, or does it give you fits?

The new socks for Sally, pajamas for Tim,
You hope she likes pink, and the PJs fit him.  

Were you crushed by crowds shopping on last Black Friday
Cruising for deals while dodging pepper spray?

Have you scanned all the flyers, the coupons, the ads,
To find the best bargains on all of the fads?

Then there’s parties to go to, and people to host,
You have trees to light up and some wreaths soon to post.

Your to-do list is long, and your attention is short
“Just get me to December 26,” you might snort.

Is that the way, really, you think Advent should be?
A horse race?  A contest?  Who can be most busy?

Your hunch is correct, if you think that there’s more
To preparing for Christ than the deadlines galore.

Maybe in God’s word today, a new voice will rise
That will help you see Advent with more focused eyes.

So, come, let us go, to a land far away.
Let us meet a strange person, let us meet him today.

We whisk back in time, to a time long ago.
To a far away place.  Where we are, we don’t know. 

It seems we are now in the middle of nowhere.
The air is quite dry, and there’s sand everywhere.

It’s hot and it’s muggy, with a blazing, bright sun
Dick Point says, “You didn’t bring us to Florida, did you son?”

No, I say, sheepishly.  This ain’t Florida, no way.
There’s not enough traffic to be the Sunshine State.

True enough, we’re alone, in this sparse wilderness,
Wondering how we’ve gotten into this mess.

“I’m hungry,” says one of you. “I’m thirsty,” one says.
“I’m on it!” says Sherry Held, and she dashes away.

Before she runs off, we see someone appear.
There, at some distance, we see someone draw near.

He comes closer, we notice, this person’s a guy.
But he looks quite unlike any you’ve seen, nor have I.

The first thing we notice is how he is dressed.
He’s wearing a furry, old camel-hair vest.

“Who are you?” he says to us, “What are your names?”
I say, “Funny, we were going to ask you the same.”

“My name’s John,” he responds, with gruff, raspy haste.
His leathery voice was like the belt on his waist.

“What are you doing here in the midst of this dessert?”
To which someone yelled, “Whoa, did he just say dessert?”
“Ah, you’re hungry, huh?  Well, I don’t blame you.
“Out here in the wilderness, I get hungry, too.

“Where are my manners?  Let’s all have a snack.
So pulls out some food from a ratty knapsack.

He spreads out a tablecloth, and on it he lays
What seems like a joke, we can’t eat this – no way!

The first thing’s a honeycomb, all sticky and sweet,
But next to it’s something that’s just too gross to eat.

“I think they’re bugs!” someone cries out, dismayed.
“Eww!”  says another,  “They are crawling away!”

“What, these are locusts.” John says, “Delicacies!”
“Maybe to you!” Sherry says, “But they’re not to me!”

“Well, suit yourself.  This is who I am.
“What were you expecting?  Green eggs and ham?

We’re all a bit queasy, with no appetite,
As we watch John eat bugs.  It is quite a sight.

So, we sit down with him, as he munches away.
Silence drifts by, then there’s something to say.

“Tell us, John, sir, what is it you do?
“Why do you dress in the way that you do?

He looked up and said, “Wanna know about me?”
“Why I look like I do, from my head to my feet?”

“Okay, I will tell you my whole life’s story”
“All the way back from when I was a baby”

My mom is Elizabeth, my dad’s Zechariah
He works in the Temple, so he’s no pariah.

He was promised one day by an angel, you see,
That he and my mom would soon give birth to me.

My parents are old, though, like, maybe 103?
Anyway, they’re members of AARP

So when they found out they were pregnant with me,
My dad laughed and laughed, ‘cause it was all so silly.

So for nine whole long months, the angel struck him dumb
(Meaning he couldn’t talk, not that his mind was numb)

My mom said those days that my dad couldn’t talk
Were the most joyous months she could ever would want.

Anyway, nine months later, when my time of birth came
I popped right on out and they wanted a name

Some folks said, “Zack, Jr.,” of course makes good sense.
Let’s name the kid after one of his old parents.

But my dad, still quite mute wrote, “No, his name is John.”
“Like the angel told me, from nine months now long gone.”

Suddenly, my dad could speak out, clear and loud.
His voice had come back, once he obeyed the Lord.

“Wow,” we all said, “Your name came from an angel?”
“Was there anything else that was to make you special?”

“Why, yes,” he said, digging at one last locust.
“There were other things that my parents had promised.”

“To show that I’m chosen to serve God’s good delight,
“They vowed to raise me as a good Nazarite.”

“Meaning three, things, really, that I couldn’t do.
“The first is cut hair off my lustrous hairdo.

“For all of my life, no blade gets near this head.
“I know, ZZ Top’s who I look like instead.

Second, I’m not allowed to touch any dead corpse.
Which means I can’t work for Boothby, of course.

Finally, and you might think here’s the real kicker.
I cannot drink beer, or wine, or any liquor.

Half of you gasp when he says that last vow
You know who you are, you’d like wine about now.

“My goodness,” we say.  “That is quite a big list.”
“Of things that the angel made your folks promise.”

“But what we don’t get is why you live this way?
“Out in the wilderness, day after day.

“Why the vest made out of camel hair, why?
“And why the weird meals made of insects that fly?

“Tell us,” dear sir, “The big question for you”
“Is what your job is.  What is it you do?

“Are you a performer, an artist, or such?
“Are you a hermit, do you see people much?

“Are you a shepherd?  If so, where is your sheep?
“Or maybe you’re jobless, outside do you sleep.

“Oh, tell us, good John. Please us, do inform:
“What is the service to God you perform?

He smiled, then he said, “There’s just one thing to do.”
“Rather than say, let me just now show you.”

He started to walk, so we followed behind,
What would he show us?  Would it blow our minds?

Over hills and past trees, through thickets and creeks
What was John looking for, so eager to seek?

Suddenly, past a small ridge, there were some folks.
A small crowd had gathered, maybe forty or so.

They were gathering some food, just some berries and such.
It didn’t look like they were up to too much.

But, lo and behold, when they looked up and saw
This John guy approach them, they all dropped their jaws.

His outfit, his hair, was all too much to shake
So they walked straight toward him, a beeline did make.

Then, John, with the people all gathered around,
Started to speak, with his gruff, grumbly sound.

“REPENT!” were his first words.  He shouted them loud.
“AND BE BAPTIZED!” he said at the stunned crowd.

Whoa, we all thought, this guy’s making no friends.
I bet they’re all thinking, “When’s this gonna end?”

But then he kept going:  “You’re a big bunch of snakes!”
“There’s doom that’s approaching you, for heaven’s sake!”

“Don’t rely on your ancestors, your past, and that stuff.”
“Don’t say, well, we’re Israelites, and that’s good enough.”

“’Cause God’s got an ax, and will strike at the root.
“Of any old tree that is bearing no fruit.

“And the best I can tell, no one’s good here, not one,
“And you should all fear God’s wrath that will come.

“But what should we do?” some of those folks say,
“How can we flee from this wrath of today?

“What you should all do – listen everyone:
“Is share of your goods with those who have none. 

“If you have two coats, and your neighbor has none
“Then go to your closet, and then give him one.

“And be fair in your business, like you tax collectors.
“Take only what’s yours, and give folks their fair shares.

“And if you’re a soldier, and bearing a sword,
“Then be honest and noble, and do keep your word.

We were stunned by his words, and all that he said.
Maybe his job was to make people upset!

He’s no politician, that’s for sure, we could see
That no one would elect him for his policies.

He was telling folks things they wouldn’t want to hear
About stuff in their lives that they needed to clear.

What would these folks say, this crowd that was here?
Would they jump out in anger, with sneers and with jeer?

We looked at their faces, and much to our surprise:
They were silent and stunned, some with tears in their eyes.

“We want forgiveness!” one said with a shout
“I confess all my sins!” said one, “I’ve been found out!”

“I want to be clean, and to start new, from scratch”
“I want to be free from my gross, sinful past!”

We couldn’t believe it.  One by one they stepped forth
To John they confessed, full of pain and remorse.

These strangers responded to John’s stern rebuke
With hope in their eyes, and with trust in their look.

John said to them, “Well, there is one thing to do.”
“One thing that now is required of you.”

He walked to a river nearby, then got in.
He told them, “Jump in!  And be free from your sin!”

He dunked them down deep, in the cold river stream.
And brought them up free from their sin, and so clean.

“I baptize you now,” he’d say to every one.
“But just know, after me there is coming someone

“Who will baptize you greater than I ever could
“Not with water, but fire, and the Spirit of God.

“He’s coming, you see, to right all of your wrongs
“Unworthy for me to untie his sandal’s thong.

“He’ll raze every hill and each valley he’ll raise
“Each rough patch he’ll smooth, each crook he’ll make straight.

“I’m hear just to tell you on this special day
“That all of us now should prepare him the way.

“A way to draw near and to enter your heart
“A way to be cleansed from our sinful, dark parts.

“A way to be free from our darkest of pasts
“A way for new joy to be born that will last.

“He’s coming, you see, and you must be ready.
“For salvation will be here, for you all to see.

John the Baptist was done, he turned and walked off
And left us alone, to our feelings and thoughts.

We were stunned by this scene, and all that we saw
How John’s job was simply to be the voice of God.

To get people ready for a blessed Advent
The coming of Christ, the one heaven would send.

His message was clear, to us, simple and plain.
It took little for us to get, and to explain.

Be fair with others, and share with them all.
Give of yourself, gifts no matter how small.

In the midst of your shopping and holiday stress,
There’s one gift to give that will beat all the rest.

It’s the gift of yourself to others in need.
Through service and love, through word and in deed.

Not fancy toys, or with fads that will fade.
Not gift-wrapped in paper that will be ripped away.

Give the gift of yourself that no money can buy.
Give a coat, or ring bells, or give heifer a try.

But most of all, know that the way to prepare
For Christmas to come is to all be aware

Of the ways that your heart can be cleansed of its sin
Repentance, forgiveness, will let Jesus in.

All God wants for Christmas is your attention
For you to be free from the burdens of sin.

So slow down your life, be released from the stress
And focus on all of your spiritual mess.

Pray, and be silent, and draw near to God
Who comes to bring you a new hope from above

Hope that is born in a back manger stall
Hope that will come soon for you and for all.

Hope that you’ve prayed for, desired for so long
Hope that will come through the birth of a son.

Jesus Christ, God with us, Immanuel,
Will come to you soon to proclaim “All is Well.”

The world needs Christ now, you, me everyone,
So prepare ye the way for the Savior to come.

In the name of our God who created the heavens,
And redeems us, sustains us, we all say, Amen.

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

Luke 3:1-17

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
   make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
   and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
   and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’

 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’

 And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’

 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

Join us this Sunday as our Children's Sunday school shares the story of the birth of Jesus in our annual Christmas Program.  Following the service, you are invited downstairs for a soup luncheon, with a free will offering.

Attention, cookie bakers!  Be sure to save a batch or two of your cookies as you bake them this week and bring them to the church by Sunday morning, in time for the Adult Sunday School Class to package them for our annual cookie sale.  Proceeds from the sale with fund campus improvements and projects by the Adult Class.

To view past editions of the Mid-Week Message, visit  http://mdevega.blogspot.com
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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Giving Tuesday

December 2, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

One of the signs of how consumer-driven our culture has become is the way we have allowed retailers to holidize the act of gift giving.  We have used the term “Black Friday” since the 1980s to prompt the busiest retail day of the year.  Since then, we’ve added “Cyber Monday,” “Small Business Saturday,” and most recently, “Gray Thursday.”

I’m reluctant to add yet another “day” to the mix, except this one is really worth bringing to your attention.  Today only – December 2 – the United Methodist Church Board of Global Mission is sponsoring “Giving Tuesday,” and you can give a gift in honor of someone that will make a real difference in the world.

If you visit www.umcmission.org/give or click here, you can choose from over 2,000 missionaries and missions agencies that are putting God’s love into action all over the world.  You can make a contribution of any size as a gift to someone on your list, but here’s the best part:  For today only, the Board of Global Ministries will be contributing up to one million dollars in matching funds contributed to these various Advance projects.  That means that the impact of your gift will be multiplied to help people in need.   

After the girls and I discussed it, we have decided to give a gift in honor of you, the people of St. Paul’s UMC.  It is one small way we can thank you for the amazing privilege it has been to be your pastor, in gratitude for the deep love and support we have felt from you over this past year.  So, we will be making a contribution to a project called Literacy for All, sponsored by the organization Alfalit.  They teach people around the world to read, write, and do basic arithmetic, and our contribution will fund an individual’s entire year of education.

I hope that, in the midst Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping frenzies, you will pause for a moment today to give a gift that really matters.  Visit umcmission.org/give or click here, and be sure to designate your membership at St. Paul’s UMC.  That way it will get credited toward our Rainbow Covenant Missions effort.  And you’ll want to let Carolyn VanAmberg, our Missions Committee chairperson, know about your donation so she can include it in her figures for this year. 


I’m grateful for the response from many of you from our current Advent sermon series.  Every week, we will be analyzing a classic Christmas movie through a biblical lens, and welearned a great deal last Sunday from the timeless classic It’s a Wonderful Life.  This Sunday, you’ll want to join us as we follow the boyhood adventures of Ralphie, who dreamed of getting that special BB gun in A Christmas Story.  Rest assured, I’ll be practicing how to say “Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle.”  And I’ll try not to shoot my eye out!

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

To view past editions of the Mid-Week Message, visit  http://mdevega.blogspot.com
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