If you missed “Part One” of this pastoral letter, you may want to skim through that first.
THE WORD OF GOD THAT SHAPES US
When I was growing up, my dad told me, “Brian, you can do anything you want, if you want it bad enough to work hard enough for it.” Dad also said, “Brian, you can put up with anything for a while if you know there is light at the end of the tunnel.” When he said those things, my dad wasn’t a follower of Jesus. Later, I would learn some biblical modification was needed.
It starts with a promise from Jesus. With God all things are possible.
Paul, who was lead follower and enthusiastic promoter of Jesus, applied this teaching: “I can do all things through Christ Jesus who gives me strength.” That comes directly from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippian church (Philippians 4:13).
Paul knew that God is at work in all things, to bring good out of them (Romans 8:28). And Paul was confident that God will complete in your life the good work he has started (Philippians 1:6).
As life–changing as those verses are, perhaps the passage that turns utterly my dad’s advice utterly upside down is this one: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it (a thorn in the flesh) away from me.” Isn’t COVID-19 a whole thorn bush in our side? But God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness….” And Paul learned when Paul is weak, then Christ is strong. When Christ is strong, then Paul is strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
It turns out that it is not I who can do anything I want to if I just set my will to do it.
It turns out that it is not me being tough enough that makes tough times like our COVID–disrupted Christmas bearable.
It turns out that it is GOD who is tough enough, strong enough, wise enough, good enough, loving enough, and full of more than enough GRACE. That God is with us in and through Jesus Christ.
And as we live in God’s abundant life through faith in Jesus, then we can do all things in his power. As we do that, we become overcomers in Jesus. COVID-19 does not have the final word, God does. And in the end, COVID-19 is just one more enemy that is defeated by the surpassing power of Christ.
As we choose to believe and live according to God’s truth, then suddenly the tunnel is not so dark. Now the light of Jesus, who is the light of the world and the light of life, is shining so bright in the darkness (see John 1:4-5, 9).
And isn’t that the good news of Christmas? The people walking in darkness have seen a great light (Luke 1:79; 2:32). Jesus is the light of the world and the light of life and light in our times. Whether we are together as a great gathering onsite, or connected spiritually as we are at home in our living rooms, Christmas Eve has not been canceled, it is simply being celebrated in different locations and different ways. And maybe even celebrated a little more like Mary and Joseph celebrated the very first Christmas.
COVID-19 has actually given us a great opportunity to share the message of Jesus with joy and creativity this Christmas Eve.
Earlier this fall, our team knew that no matter what COVID-19 would be like in December, we would have our largest audience online and not onsite. So, we knew we had to make our online Christmas Eve service warm and personal, and full of celebration, connection, and compassion. And we wanted it to be for all York County. After all, this is where we live. York is our home. Our place. This is where we celebrate Christmas.
So, our team prayed and dreamed together, and slowly a vision emerged that grabbed our interest and guided our preparation. No, it won’t be the same as a large gathering in our auditorium to celebrate Christmas. We will have that again in 2021. But for 2020, we needed something that would connect with individuals, families, or friends gathered together in homes, to experience Christ the newborn Savior and King.
For the past few weeks, we have been hard at work on our online Christmas service we are calling “Merry Christmas York.” Our team how worked incredibly hard together on this online service so we can share the message and hope of Jesus with our community.
Here is what you can do. Tell your friends. Invite your friends to join us online. You may have already seen our 30-second video invitation you can share with your friends. Post it on your own social media. Send it to friends.
You can also share the home page link that has all the service times. (If you go to our home page, click the large box that says “Merry Christmas York” for all the options and times.) Take the role the shepherds did after they saw Jesus. They went and told everyone what they had seen (Luke 2:20). In our case, let’s tell everyone how they can enjoy an hour of spiritual reflection and experience the love of God through Jesus. And let’s pray that our many family and friends who do not yet know the love and forgiveness of Christ will have that experience for the first time in our 2020 COVID-19 disrupted world. Because that is exactly what God wants. Christ the Savior is born.
To all our friends and church family of Living Word, as I am personally missing you, as I am with you grieving the loss of experiences that are so precious, and as I along with you are trusting Christ to visit us once again, my prayer is this will be…
A very merry, joyful, and love-filled CHRISTMAS!
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Brian Rice