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

Monday, December 23, 2019

The After Christmas Exodus

It will be a busy week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian as we celebrate our Christmas services. Last Sunday we were thinking about the pre-christmas anxiety of Joseph. Our sermon from the day can be found here. This week are thinking about the after-christmas exodus of the holy family.

I am a big fan of Christmas. What a wonderful thing to celebrate. Light comes to the midst of our darkness. A child of hope is born. Angels sing, stars appear in the sky and shepherds and wise folk are drawn to celebrate the dawn of a new era. But then.... it's all over. Way too soon. The darkness, the confusion and the striving return.

Christmas was never an end in itself but a new beginning of epic proportions. And as with any time of new beginnings, there are always those who greatly fear change and will go to desperate lengths to try and return things to the way they once were. Nobody in Scripture exemplifies this more than King Herod, whose actions following the birth of Jesus, are recorded for us in Matthew2:13-23.

You may recall the story. The Wise Men searching for Jesus arrive at Herod's palace and inform him they are looking for the new born King. Herod (who is terrified of anybody usurping his position of power) tells them. “Oh, that's great! When you find him, make sure you come and tell me where he is!” After visiting Jesus and presenting their gifts, the Magi realize that Herod is up to no good and so return home by another route.

Then we read “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” (verse 16)

Thankfully, Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, has been warned about this impending tragedy and the family take on the mantle of refugees and flee from the impending persecution to the land of Egypt, where they find a safe haven. Such is the after Christmas exodus.

Christ has come to our world. Hallelujah! But now He is born in our midst it is time to recognize that change will not come easily. Christmas is a day of celebration. Now the hard work of continuing to be light in a world, that often prefers the darkness, has to continue.

We head into a New Year, not knowing what it may hold... for ourselves, our families, our friends, our churches and our nations. We must continue to dream. We must act upon those things we feel God is calling us to do. 

We must take care of our families and each other. We should lift up our leaders, both in church and state, in our prayers. We can encourage each other with the thought, that though circumstances change, the love of our God remains steadfast and true.

For some music, Don Moen sings “God will make a way” 
 A Happy New Year to all!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Ordinary and Extraordinary

Ordinary and Extraordinary

This past Sunday here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we celebrated the third Sunday of Advent with our children's Nativity play. We survived! And the kids did a great job. This week we are taking a look at Matthew 1:18-25 and the account of an angel visiting Joseph in a dream, convincing him to take Mary as his wife and to call their new born baby “Emmanuel” which means “God is with us.”

We are not told much about Joseph in the Scriptures. We presume that because Jesus became a carpenter he was involved in the same trade. We know that he loved Mary with a deep intensity, as he was not prepared to allow her to be shamed. We know he was a solid man of prayer and devotion.

We know that his namesake, in the Old Testament, was also a person who had his life interrupted by dreams. The hit musical “Joseph and His Technicolor Dreamcoat” has kept the story of that Old Testament Joseph in the contemporary imagination.

Dreams are such strange, intangible things. We all have them. But we don't all depend on them in the way that the dreaming Josephs' of the Old and New Testament are said to have done. As the result of a dream Joseph, earthly father of Jesus, takes Mary as his wife.

As a result of a dream he flees to Egypt just in time to escape the crazed King Herod's slaughter of innocent newborns. On the strength of a dream, he returns from Egypt to set up home in Nazareth. According to Matthew, all these dreams were related to biblical prophecies that took place long before he was born.

There is a saying in both the world of entertainment and sport. “The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is practice.” Joseph was a very ordinary man. Mary was a very ordinary woman. What made their lives extraordinary was the way they practiced their faith. Joseph could have divorced Mary or even acted as the law suggested and allowed her to be stoned to death because of alleged adultery. The Christmas story would have ended right there.

Instead Joseph turns out to be a person of vision. A person who could tell the difference between a dream that came from too much cheese after supper and one inspired by God's Holy Spirit. Have you ever heard people who described themselves as “Non-practicing Christians?” Joseph is nothing like that!

As God is God I am sure God can communicate with us in numerous wonderful ways. It is for us to practice our faith, so that if the unusual does come our way... we are ready and willing to follow. Being regular in worship, study, prayer and service is a great way to practice. The difference between ordinary and extraordinary really is practice.

Just in case you have already had enough of Christmas music to last way beyond the festive season, here is a song by Jason Donovan from the musical about the other Joseph... the one from the Old Testament with the colorful coat..."Any Dream Will Do .

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we will, of course, be celebrating the Christmas Season.
Join Us!

December 22, Advent 4 "Between Ordinary and Extraordinary" (Matthew 1:18-25) 10:00 am
December 24, Christmas Eve 7:00 P.M. "Lessons, Carols and Candlelight" 7:00 pm
December 24 "Christmas Eve Midnight Communion" (11:30 pm in Hebron House)
December 29 "The Nightmare After Christmas" (Matthew 2:13-23) 10:00 am.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Christmas Nativity Play

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we reflected on a well known Christmas carol. Our sermon, “Stumps and Shoots” can be found here. This coming Sunday we shall celebrate the third Sunday of Advent with our children's Nativity play. Hopefully all will go well. Back in my homelands in the U.K, the annual Christmas play featured as part of many an elementary schools annual calendar.

It seemed like every teacher had a story to tell about the Christmas Nativity play. There was the time the Innkeeper, when asked if there was any room in the Inn, answered, "Plenty" and ushered the startled Holy Family inside; the occasion when Mary dropped Baby Jesus, immediately bursting into floods of tears as the head of the large pink doll rolled off the stage and bounced along the front of the hall; the time that the Archangel Gabriel informed Mary that he had tidings of great joy to bring but had completely forgotten what they were.

Then there was the performance when the little boy playing Joseph strode confidently onto the stage and asked the small figure in blue, cradling her baby, "And how's our Jesus been today, Mary?" "He's been a right little so-and-so!" came the blunt reply. 

Another time, the six-year-old playing the Innkeeper was most disgruntled with his part, having wanted to take the lead as Joseph. When the Holy Family arrived at the Inn and asked for a room the Innkeeper pulled Mary through the door and told a startled Joseph, "She can come in, but you can get lost!”

In one Nativity play Mary cradled a large doll with a mass of blond curls but as she rocked it in her arms it suddenly began to speak in a tinny American accent: "Hi, my name's Tammy and I need my diapers changing. Hi, my name's Tammy and I need my diapers changing." The little boy playing Joseph came to her assistance and, seizing the doll, twisted it's head around, which promptly shut it up.

There is a saying in the world of theater, “Never work with children or animals.” Yet somehow the Christmas story would not be the same without it being retold with a whole cast of little ones. So we will we do our best to tell the old, old story in our own imperfect way!

At the core of the Christmas story is the birth of a child. A child, who when He grew up, said to His would be followers "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

As we rejoice at the achievements of our little ones, maybe we can also reflect that embracing life with innocence, wonder and “making it up as we go along” has always featured as a component of true discipleship!

For some music “Oh Holy Night” sung by little Claire Ryann Crosby at the annual Crosby's Christmas Concert.
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming.

Lo, how a rose e’er blooming, From tender stem have sprung,
Of Jesus lineage coming, As men of old have sung...,
Isaiah twas foretold it, The rose I have in mind...,

This familiar Advent hymn will feature as part of our service, here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, on December 8, when we take as our theme "Stumps and Shoots." The hymns popularity was boosted when it featured in the 1971 Academy Award winning movie "Love Story."

Of course, it's a lot older than the 1970's! The hymn’s origins can be traced back to the late 16th century, in a manuscript found in St. Alban’s Carthusian monastery in Trier. Its original German title was, “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen.”

The origin of the image of the rose has been open to speculation. One ancient legend has it that on Christmas Eve, a monk in Trier found a blooming rose while walking in the woods, and then placed the rose in a vase on an altar to the Virgin Mary. In Catholic theology Mary is compared to the symbol of the “Mystical rose” in Song of Solomon 2:1; “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.” 

Protestant theologians have interpreted the rose as being a reference to Jesus. Isaiah 11:1 reads “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” A third passage from Isaiah 35:1 suggests another biblical basis for such an image: “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.

The hope that things can bloom in even the most unlikely places is a common theme throughout Advent. Last Sunday we were thinking about “Feasting on Hope.” Our sermon can be found here. Who would have thought that in an out of the way corner of the world, known as Bethlehem (and in a stable of all places) the glory of God would be revealed through the birth of Jesus Christ?

God looks at our lives, which can be very ordinary and sometimes frustrated, and sees them as places where wonderful things can take place. Out of stumps, new shoots can grow! The birth of Jesus into the circle of this worlds life offers to us all new possibilities for peace, joy and love. As we travel towards Christmas Day, let us rejoice in the hope the season offers.

For some music Bonnie McMaken, Johannah Swank, and Marissa Cunningham sing a beautiful arrangement of this Advent carol “Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming.” (Thanks to my wife Yvonne for recommending this link.)

Prayer. “Lord, in Your good time, Jesus our Savior was born. Prophesied by seers of old, welcomed by shepherds and angels, His Spirit still finds a home in all who are open to welcome His love. Out of stumps, new shoots can grow. We pray that our lives may be places where Your love can 'blossom as the rose.' Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.