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DECEMBER 2017 NEWSLETTER

ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS ARE JUST AROUND THE CORNER

Christmas (along with Easter and Pentecost) is one of the three major holidays of the church year. It lasts twelve days, from December 25 through January 5, and is followed by the Epiphany. In order to prepare for Christmas, we observe the season of Advent, which begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas. This year, Advent will be extremely short because the last Sunday of Advent will be Christmas Eve Day.

At First Bethlehem we will mark the Advent and Christmas seasons by the following:

  • Evening Advent services will be held on the first three Wednesdays of Advent: December 6, 13, and 20 at 7:30 p.m. The Advent services will replace the weekly Wednesday Vespers. Also, unlike the weekly Wednesday Vespers, the Advent services will be held upstairs in the sanctuary, in the corner near the baptismal font.
  • The theme for the Advent services this year is “The Three Advents of our Lord.” Advent means “coming” or “arrival,” and we will examine how Christ came two thousand years ago, how He still comes to us today, and how He will return in glory.
  • On Sunday, December 17, we will have a party for the children at 12 noon. That is a major event each year and we would appreciate it if you volunteered to help us. See the article below about how you can help.
  • The Sunday morning service on December 24 at 10:45 a.m. will be a regular Sunday service, with the Scripture readings appointed for the Fourth Sunday of Advent. That is because Christmas begins at sundown on the evening of the 24th, not before.
  • The Christmas Eve service will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, December 24. It will be a service of carols and lessons.
  • The Christmas Day service will be held at 10:45 a.m. on Monday, December 25. It will be a service with Holy Communion.
  • There will be no weekday services or Bible classes between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
  • Advent devotional booklets are available in the narthex.

CHILDREN’S CHRISTMAS PROGRAM ON DECEMBER 17

Once again we will have a party for the children of the neighborhood and give them gifts on Sunday, December 17. Like last year, we will have a full house: 93 children and their parents. Last year we had an excellent Christmas party and I would like to duplicate it this year. Here is how you can help:

  • Purchase some gifts for the children. (A list will be available in the narthex.)
  • Plan on staying after the worship service and talking with the children and their parents.
  • Volunteer to get some of the food ahead of time.
  • Volunteer to serve the food and/or clean up afterwards.
  • Lead the children in Christmas carols.
  • Help distribute the gifts.

We will have a special training session on December 10 after church, one week before the event. This year we will divide all volunteers into three crews: a kitchen crew, a gift crew, and a serving crew.

We have also changed the menu from sloppy Joes to pizza. This means we won’t have to cook up the ground beef the day before, as we used to do, but we will be popping pizzas in and out of the oven on the day of the event.

ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS DECORATING

On Saturday, December 2, beginning at 10 a.m., the church (including the narthex and the basement) will be decorated for the Advent and Christmas seasons. The decorations will be taken down on January 20, 2018, also at 10 a.m. The more people we have helping out, the easier the work is, and so we would appreciate as many volunteers as possible.

If you are interested in helping decorate the church, talk to Pastor Kellerman.

BIBLE CLASS SCHEDULE

The Bible classes meet year round, but even so we still make a few concessions to the holidays:

  • The Sunday Bible class will meet as usual on December 3, 10, and 17.
  • The Thursday Bible class will meet as usual on December 7, 14, and 21.
  • There will be no Theology Today this month. It will meet again on January 28.
  • There will be no Sunday Bible class on Christmas Eve (December 24) or New Year’s Eve (December 31). Also, there will be no Thursday Bible class between those two days, namely, on December 28.

IN OTHER NEWS

  • The food pantry will be open every Wednesday in December, including December 20 and 27.
  • The church office will be closed from Christmas through New Year’s Day, aside from the food pantry operation.

Some Questions and Answers about Advent and Christmas

From last December through this past spring we ran a series in the newsletter answering many questions about the church year. Here is a shortened version of some questions we asked last December, when we explored the meaning of Advent and Christmas.

What is Advent? Advent is a season consisting of the four Sundays before Christmas and the weekdays that follow them. Depending on whether Christmas falls early or late in the week, it can be as short as 22 days (as it is this year) or as long as 28 days (as it was last year).

How does Advent help Christians prepare for Christmas? The main way Christians prepare to celebrate any great event in the church is by focusing again on repentance and faith. We repent of our sins by first discerning that we have them, then by confessing that we were wrong to do them, and finally by stating that we wish that we would not do the same sort of things in the future. This needs to be accompanied by faith in Christ as our Savior, or else our repentance is nothing but a resolve to improve ourselves. To help us grow in repentance and faith we intensify our study of the Scriptures and our prayer life.

It sounds as if Advent is a bit more somber than the secular season being celebrated at the same time. Yes, it is. Or, perhaps better put, it is a more sober season than the drunken revelry common at this time. Or it is not a saccharine sweet season, as in the secular observance, which leaves us sick of candy canes and gingerbread men by late November. But it is not meant to be a gloomy season, either, but one of joyful anticipation. It’s meant to be very much like the time before a big holiday meal. You’re not allowed to nibble on anything quite yet, but the delicious smells are stimulating your appetite and making you look forward to the meal.

What are some customs that help us celebrate Advent? In addition to extra worship services and a renewed emphasis on daily devotions, there is the use of blue in the paraments (altar cloths) and vestments, and the Advent wreath, to name two.

Why is the altar (and the pastor) decorated in blue? It has been said that “the church marks time by color.” That is, we tell what season it is by looking at the colors used on the altar and from that we can tell if we are in a festive season (as when white or red is used) or in a penitential season (as when violet or black is used) or just an ordinary time (when green is the color). Blue is the color of hope—not quite the festive white of Christmas, but not a somber color either.

What is the Advent wreath? The Advent wreath contains four candles. Each week a new candle is lit, as well as the candle(s) from the previous week(s).

I’ve noticed that we don’t sing Christmas hymns during Advent. Why is that? For the same reason we don’t sing Lenten hymns on Easter or vice versa. Each season has its own emphasis. Advent prepares us for Christmas but isn’t quite Christmas.

So how do I keep Advent in a society that has been celebrating Christmas for a month already? Realize that you will have to live with that tension. You will be hearing “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” countless more times in various stores in the next few weeks. You may even set up some decorations in your home. But realize that while the world will be throwing the gifts and the dried-up Christmas tree into the trash on December 26, you will be continuing to celebrate the birth of Christ. In fact, you will enjoy the peace and quiet, now that the world has stopped its clamor, and be able to think more about His birth. And so the most important thing to do in the Advent season is to prepare by taking the Scriptures to heart all the more.