Blog Space of Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D, pastor at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, Ellicott City, MD

Monday, December 18, 2017

Advent Love

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, we lit a candle for joy and witnessed our annual Christmas Pageant. Always a fun time!

On this coming Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we will light a candle for “Love.” This year it is also Christmas Eve. It's going to be a busy day for services with Morning Worship at 10:00 am, a service of Lessons, Carols and Candlelight at 7:00 pm and a Midnight Communion commencing at 11:30 pm in our historic Hebron House. Anybody and everybody is welcome to join us if you are in the area.

There is a carol by Christina G. Rossetti that pictures the reason for season, in this way;

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.

I suspect that, be we religious, skeptic or unbeliever, we are all looking for love to be born into the different situations that we pass through in our lives. The coming of winter reminds us that life can be cold and dark, and that warmth and light are always welcome.

Acknowledging the darkness, we this year have a "Solstice Service of Remembrance" on Thursday December 21 at 7:00 pm. This will be a time to reflect, listen to some music, light a candle and seek God's strength to guide us through the blues of the season.  Again, anybody and everybody is welcome to join us.

There are so many aspects to the Christmas story that often go overlooked. It's not just about Jesus, but also involves the love of a young couple, an unexpected pregnancy, an unanticipated journey and discovering yourself homeless in an unwelcoming town.

As we follow the story through we see glory being revealed to working folk out on a hillside; a message that bypasses the local dignitaries, yet is later revealed to foreign stargazers. We will witness the anger of a despot King called Herod and the status of a young family becoming refugees as they flee to Egypt to escape persecution.

We also hear of angels and dreams, of prophecies fulfilled and proclamations being made about future peace and hopes as yet unrealized. It's an amazing story, and one that the biblical authors are keen to relate to the character of a God whose eternal nature is that of love.

However we celebrate.. or observe this season... hopefully we will take time out to consider whatever is good, pleasing and wholesome about our lives and the world that we share with our neighbors. It's been a hard year for many people. A lot of people need a helping hand.

Can our hands be those hands? Can the light we share help lift another persons dark clouds? Can we allow our reflections on love to prompt us to reach out to folk who feel unloved? Surely it is our actions that enable love to come down at Christmas... and any other time of the year.

Listen to the stories. Sing some songs. Celebrate the season in ways that mean something to you. And maybe, in that way, you can enter 2018 refreshed and ready to take on a New Year!

I am an unapologetic and unashamed fan of Christmas. Feel free to wish me a Happy Holiday, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas... or even to bellow “Bah Humbug” in my general direction. It is hard to take offense when you are celebrating love.

One of the things I truly enjoy is the glorious music of the season. Here's a performance of the classic song “O Holy Night” by Andrea Bocelli & David Foster. Allow me to take this opportunity to wish you and yours every blessing for the season and the New Year!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D

Monday, December 11, 2017

Advent Joy

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we continue to travel through the Advent season. Last Sunday we lit a candle for peace and heard a message about John the Baptist, titled “Make A Straight Path.

On the upcoming third Sunday of Advent we light a candle for “Joy.” Advent 3 will also be the Sunday that the Sunday School children and the Mount Hebron Presbyterian youth present their annual Christmas pageant. This years program is titled “A Christmas Window” and invites us to consider some of the secular and religious traditions we associate with the season.

As a person who has been involved in more Christmas play rehearsals than he cares to mention, I can testify that one of the true miracles of Christmas is when the Nativity play actually turns out to be a great success!

Along with the Christmas play we will be receiving a Christmas Joy Offering. This is one of the annual opportunities for giving that is offered to us through the larger Presbyterian Church. The gifts we offer will be used to support Presbyterian-related racial ethnic schools and to provide critical financial assistance for Presbyterian Church workers who are passing through a time of need.

Despite all the good feelings that the season evokes, this time of year can be a difficult one to travel though if we have suffered loss during the year. Memories of loved ones, no longer with us, can really sap the joy out of our attempts at celebrating. Bereavement may not be the only sense of loss we feel. Life circumstances can change in both the public and private arena of our lives. Many are concerned with the current state of the life of our churches and with the combative atmosphere in the nation.

This year we have added to our opportunities for worship a Winter Solstice Service of Remembrance, that will take place in our sanctuary, 7:00 pm,on the evening of Thursday, December 21. This will be a time to light candles, listen to reflective music and readings and seek the comfort God offers, to lift us from any darkness we feel. Hopefully such a time will allow our often frayed and fragile hearts to recognize the joyful embrace of a God who promises to walk with us through the changing seasons of our lives.

Surely that is the message of every Christmas play. In Jesus Christ, God comes to where we are. He takes on all the vulnerability of being a human on this sometimes hostile and unfriendly planet. We see the One through whom the world was created being told that there was no room for Him to stay. We witness a revelation of glory that comes to a selection of working folk in the fields as well as to wise dignitaries from far off lands.

For some music, a beautiful version of the traditional carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” performed by Dan Fogelberg. As we light a candle of joy this coming Sunday let us pray that the light of God's love will penetrate the darkness of many hearts... including any difficult places that may exist in our own lives.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D

Monday, December 4, 2017

Advent Peace

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we lit a candle for hope and reflected on a message titled “Restore Us O God.” On the second Sunday of Advent we light a candle for “Peace.”

Our reading will be from Mark 1:1-8. The second gospel opens abruptly. No birth narrative. No childhood stories. After quoting Isaiah and briefly introducing “John the baptizer,” the reader is left expectantly hanging on to the hope that an even “more powerful” character is coming!

From these first verses we are well aware that Mark is telling us a story. We are at the “Beginning” of that account. His story will tell of “Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” It will be “Good news.” In Rome such terms were used exclusively of the emperor. The emperor was a “Son of God” and his decrees alone were described as “Good news.” So begins the dramatic tale!

From John's mouth come the words of a great prophet who came before him. "In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” (Isaiah 40:3-4)

This highway that John and Isaiah speak of is a highway towards peace. The people have strayed from the path of obedience and blessing and landed themselves in a desert like situation. Their lives are not being refreshed. Every step seems to be a struggle. Molehills have become mountains and valleys have become canyons that threaten to swallow them up.

“No more!” declare Isaiah and John. God is at work. Doing something new. Doing something unexpected. It was time to get with the program. It was time to “turn around” (or “repent” as John would phrase it.) And just so everybody knew that something awesome was taking place, John requests that you let him dunk you in the river and immerse you beneath the waters, to mark the fact that this was a time of “Good news” beginnings.

Neither John, nor Isaiah, are to be the One to fulfill the promise. They are just preparing the way. As John says, “I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." (Mark 1:8). During Advent, we prepare our hearts to follow the Christ. We hear Him described as “The Prince of Peace” prophesied from days of old.

We light a candle for peace and we pray, that in this world where “Peace” is still a dream to be fulfilled, our lives will manifest the peace that Jesus offers. Maybe during this season we will have the opportunity to sing that wonderful carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and reflect on Christ's birth, as we sing “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” Here is a gentle version of the carol performed by Sarah McLachlan from her album “Wintersong.”

Fears. Terrifying canyons to cross. Impossible mountains to climb. They can arise in all of our lives. So we pray that “The peace of God that passes all understanding will keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Last Sunday we lit a candle for hope. This Sunday we light a candle for peace.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D