Beliefnet
Everyday Faith

I used to believe that I would find happiness in isolation. All I wanted was to be alone. I pictured myself living in a little cabin in the mountains far away from anyone else.

All of that changed when I moved to Breckenridge, Colorado and got involved in my church.

The more I became involved in my church, the more I reciprocated when someone reached out with a greeting or a kind word, the more I wanted to come back to church. I began coming to church on Thursdays for silent prayer, then I became a Lector, and joined a monthly discussion group.

I love my church and the people who have created a community there. It has had an important impact on me. Rather than moving farther away, I want to move closer to my church, because they have helped me to move closer in my walk with God.

Saint Paul, an early church leader and writer of many epistles of the New Testament, wrote often to the early churches about the need to create communities of love, trust, and support so that the church would grow stronger.

This passage from the fourth chapter of Ephesians is one of my favorites and a prime example of Saint Paul’s desire that we follow Jesus’ admonition that we love others as we  love ourselves and work together to build a stronger church community.

I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

– Ephesians 4:1-6

 

Seeking Peace in the Whirlwind of Christmas

Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson

How did you manage the crowds on Black Friday? Did you finish your shopping on Cyber Monday? Is your tree up and decorated? Are the outdoor lights trimming the house? Did you order the personalized Christmas cards with the photos of your kids? And will your presents be wrapped in color-coordinated paper to match the theme you’ve chosen for the tree this year?

Now to bake those cookies for the swap, and plan your menu for Christmas Eve, you’ve got guests coming in to ski over the holiday. Oh, wait, you better check the calendar and make sure the concerts you’re attending don’t conflict with the parties you’ve been invited to

It’s only December 3rd and you might already be longing to sit down and catch your breath.

By the way, does anyone remember the reason for this season?

What you need to get through the rest of the month is a strategy. And I’ve got it.

Say this with me: “Peace.”

As you say the word you sigh and your shoulders release the tension that has been holding them up around your ears. We need to make peace a daily priority this month.

Because this season, this time we call Advent is the prelude to the most important date in history and we don’t want to miss it because we were too frazzled to stop and notice that child wrapped in humble swaddling against the night chill, with only hay for a bed, and a sky full of stars flung across the heavens to welcome him.

This beautiful precious baby will grow up to save the world. Look what they said about him even before he was born…

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

We don’t want to miss his arrival. No, we need to use these next three weeks to prepare for such a special guest in our midst.

Every day, between now and Christmas, will you commit to spend ten minutes preparing for his arrival?

Each day, spend a few minutes reading a page from an Advent devotional. You can find free resources by typing “advent devotional” into your web browser, your library catalogue, or yes, Amazon. My three favorites this year are: Advent and Christmas by Henri J.M.Nouwen, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy by John Piper, and The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp.

After the Advent reading, quiet your mind so you can speak with God, and listen for His reply. Allow yourself to bask in God’s love, his tender embrace, and know that the small babe whose birth we will celebrate in a few short weeks, will re-define what it means to be loved without end.

That’s it. Two simple tasks. Less than ten minutes each day and I promise, by the time Christmas Eve arrives you will be ready to welcome Jesus. Your heart and mind will be filled with the true Spirit of the season, and “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

Gospel Reading for the Second Week of Advent:

John the Baptist Prepares the Way (Matthew 3:1-12)
3 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”[a]
4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with[b] water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

 

This morning as I scrolled through my Facebook feed, I came across an opinion piece that featured two Christians discussing why they voted for either Trump or Clinton. Not surprisingly, neither seemed inclined to see the other’s point of view.

If this sounds like your Thanksgiving dinner with friends and family, you have my sympathy and understanding. In fact, it was a relief to know that everyone around our table had either voted in the same way or would not be inclined to discuss politics.

But it also saddened me to think that as we enter Advent and approach Christmas that we, as lovers of Christ, are still so sharpely divided.

I want to change that starting today.

Let’s begin with this very important advice from St. Paul to the Ephesians:

4 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

 

We are “one body, called to one hope….one Lord, one faith, one God and Father, who is over all and through all in all.”

During the coming month, let’s walk together toward that manger in Bethleham where the baby Jesus was born, bringing us a life filled with love, hope, and salvation.

Let us become united in Christ, through Christ, and for Christ.

With love,

Suzanne Elizabeth

dinner

God Has Not Forgotten You

 

Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson

 

On Tuesday evening while a gentle snow fell, twenty volunteers gathered in the small kitchen and community room of Saint John’s Episcopal Church and set out slow cookers containing soup, set up tables, covered them with red gingham covers, filled baskets with fresh bread, fruit, cookies, and cakes.

By the end of the evening, two hundred meals would be provided to appreciative young men and women, most of them employees of the ski resort, living on a budget.

In a corner of the dining area, Terese was finishing up the last of the Thanksgiving grocery bags that would provide 250 families throughout Summit County with a Thanksgiving meal this year. And like the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Terese had a few bags leftover, which she said she would save for any families who hadn’t signed up in time but still needed a meal.

Last year, Thanksgiving had been provided at a local restaurant. This year, the Summit County Inter-Faith council and local churches decided to ask our community to grab a bag and a shopping list. They wondered, would enough bags of food come in to meet the needs of families in our area who might not enjoy a Thanksgiving meal otherwise?

The answer was a resounding ‘yes’.

Generosity is the beginning of hope

On Tuesday night, volunteers served bowls of soup, cleared tables, and made ready for the next group of young people who sat in pews in the church sanctuary, patiently waiting their turn at one of fifty seats at the table.

I stood at the kitchen sink next to MJ. She patiently dried while I clumsily tried to figure out the quickest system to wash silverware for the next round of kids.

We talked as we worked. I’d only met MJ that evening, but she knew me because of my columns. She asked about my mother, and nodded when I shared a bit of news, and I had the impression she already knew me well. I felt blessed to have met such a lovely new friend.

Three hours later, when tables and chairs and tablecloths were folded and put away, we were all tired but happy.

When Pat and Verne dropped me at the base of my steep driveway, I kissed Pat on the cheek and said, “Thank you. I’ve been having my dark days, but I feel better now.”

Serving others is the beginning of hope

Because depression seems to come as easily as breath, my dark days are ruminations of past failures and future worries. This week it was knowing I have to move out of my rental home in six months, but if don’t sell my land in Evergreen, I won’t be able to buy a house here, in this town I call home.

As I was driving to the post office the other morning, I was thinking about this and in my mind’s eye, I saw myself standing in the yard of a house, an elderly man handed me keys to the front door, hugged me and said, “God has not forgotten you.”

It was a passing moment, a waking fantasy, except for that sentence. Because I had felt forgotten by God. And so, I held onto it like a prayer.

When that is all we have, that is what we must do and then we must surrender the prayer to God.

After we have given thanks, given of ourselves, given our talents and treasures, the final and most difficult thing we release to God is the burden of worry that we carry in arms crossed over our hearts.

When we have given all of that to God, our hearts and hands are open to receive His goodness, His blessing, but most importantly the gift that can heal us and make us whole.

Gratitude is the beginning of hope

This weekend begins the first of four weeks of Advent culminating on the fifth week with the celebration of Christ’s birth.

The meaning of Advent is twofold. We celebrate the beginning of hope we received when God joined us as a baby, who became man, and taught us the meaning of love so big it could not be contained by this world. And we celebrate the anticipation of His return.

It’s perfectly appropriate that the beginning of hope begins only a few days after our celebration of thanks.

God’s Love is the beginning of hope

Please join me as we celebrate Advent and Christmas over the next four weeks.

Advent Gospel Week One of Four

Matthew 24:37-44New International Version (NIV)

37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Books to Deepen Your Advent Joy

The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp

Advent and Christmas Wisdom by Henri J.M. Nouwen

The Dawning of Indestructible Joy by John Piper

 

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Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson is the author of “God Loves You, Chester Blue” and other books. You can reach her at Suzanne@suzanneelizabeths.com or facebook.com/suzanneelizabethsGod

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