Baptist Women of SC



In the Midst of This Imperfect World

by Rev. Jennifer Rygg, Senior Pastor First Baptist Pendleton

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

Matthew 1:23

Oh, Advent…a time of expectations, anticipation, and so much work to do!  In this busy time of year, I want to feel peaceful and joyful. I imagine sitting by the Christmas tree, watching a Christmas movie, and drinking hot chocolate…and then I look at my stack of unread commentaries for this week’s sermon, the pile of ornaments my two-year-old has not-so-gently removed from the Christmas tree, my growing list of errands to run, people to visit, and gifts to purchase, not to mention the “unwritten” list that never quite makes it from my mind to one of my multiple lists.  And I wonder, when did Advent become so overwhelming?

At our Wednesday night Bible study this week, we talked about how it is the church’s job to remind Christians of the true meaning of the Christmas season, the birth of Christ. And yet even in church, we often become distracted and overwhelmed by the many activities of the season. One woman commented “I loved Christmas, until I became in charge of it! And now I just feel relieved when it is over.” I can certainly relate to that sentiment. How easy it is to feel responsible for making Christmas happen. The pressure to create special moments and memories for our families, friends, and churches, from planning the perfect worship service, to finding the perfect gift, to preparing the perfect meal can distract us from what Christmas actually is – the celebration of Emmanuel, God with us.

God is with us not just in the magical moments of candlelight and music, but God is with us in the messy moments, the frustrating moments, the lonely moments. God is with us when nothing is going according to plan. God is with us when we are grieving, when we are frightened, when we are angry. God is with us.

To show us just how much God is with us in this imperfect world, God was born in the form of a vulnerable human baby. Jesus, Emmanuel, God With Us, came into the world without comfort and luxury. He was placed in a manger, surrounded by animals, and cared for by a young couple who were probably worried about how they were going to pay their bills, take care of this baby, and meet all of their responsibilities. Into this imperfect world, Jesus was born.

While we are busy trying to make Christmas happen, Jesus is already here. Emmanuel, God With Us, dwells with us in this imperfect world. This Advent season, may we look for signs of God’s presence in our midst. May we let go of the pressure to create the perfect Christmas, and may we encounter God’s presence right where we are, in the midst of this imperfect world.

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Awesomeness and Touchability

by Rev. Mary Frances Thompson, Ministry Assistant Greenwood First Baptist, Field Director for the State Committee for Epiphany

Some years ago, our church was given a beautiful crèche made out of ceramic pottery or some equally breakable material. Part of our Hanging of the Green service each year involves bringing crèche figures down a stone aisle and up a couple of stone steps. The year I was assigned to help bring in the crèche, I was more focused on not dropping the piece than I was on the meaning of the service. Did I mention I am clumsy? When I was growing up the ceramic crèche would have been a “look but don’t touch” item. Sometimes God seems like that, too. The awesomeness of God sometimes causes God to seem untouchable. How do I relate to Someone as great as God? How do I dare to approach the Creator of the universe, the Sovereign over all that was, is, and ever will be?

This year during our Hanging of the Green service, we made a couple of simple, yet profound changes to the way the crèche was brought into the service. We did not use the ceramic crèche. We used a variety of child-friendly Nativity sets from our children and preschooler area. Some of the choices were wooden and large in comparison to the other pieces. Other choices were made of durable plastic. The children were allowed to choose the piece they wished to carry. (Rumor is that there were two baby Jesuses.) Most of the children walked alone down the aisle. At least one older child escorted a younger child who was not her sibling. At least two families, who had dedicated their children during the year, carried those children down the aisle with crèche pieces. One toddler walked down the aisle on wobbly legs as his parents held his hands. Although our pastor had recited the Christmas story from Luke, the children conveyed the real meaning of the story through their actions, without words.

When our parents dedicate a child, the parents promise to raise the child in the knowledge and love of Christ. The church promises to support those parents and to pray for and help nurture the child. The very young children who participated in this year’s Hanging of the Green will not remember the service. Their parents and the rest of the congregation will not soon forget it. As the children grow older they will be told of how they helped lead worship.

Our older children often have opportunities to help our younger children. Years ago, when we first began having times when older and younger children met together, the older children complained about working with the “babies.” Now, most of the older children in our congregation have grown up being helped and then becoming helpers. I have never heard them complain about working with the younger children. What I have heard is reports of an older child helping one of the younger children at school. Our children “get” the concept of being brothers and sisters in Christ.

Most of the congregation did not see one young girl leave her parents and siblings as they walked down the aisle. She chose to give her grandparents a hug and to stay with them instead of approaching the crèche. The child’s action could be interpreted as choosing family over Christ, but I see her actions another way. This child saw someone she loved and chose to share love in a tangible way with that person. She felt comfortable enough during our service to make that choice. The symbolism of taking the crèche to the altar and even of hugging her grandmother were lost on the child. She shared love instinctively and innocently – like a child. Isn’t that how Jesus said we are supposed to come to God?

This year’s creche showed that Jesus came to be among us, in a way that we can touch. The awesome, indescribable God came as a baby, touchable, huggable, and familiar. All ages, sizes, shapes, and appearances were welcomed at the creche two thousand years ago and now. The children who needed help were given help. The children who could make the journey alone were trusted and allowed to approach the altar. I cannot help but think that one day, when these children are old enough to decide to make a profession of faith, the walk down the church aisle will not be intimidating.

Jesus is fully God in all of God’s awesomeness. Jesus deserves our respect and our worship. Yet, Jesus became fully human. Jesus chose to give up his place in Heaven to come to earth to be one of us. Jesus chose to be touchable. Sometimes we need a God who is great enough, powerful enough, insulated enough from our problems to be in control. We need a God we can look at and worship but not touch. At other times we need a God who understands us, who loves us, who accepts us. We need a touchable God. In God’s great mystery, we have a God who satisfies all our needs!

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Christmas Will Come

by Kendra Plating, Pastoral Care Minister at First Baptist Greenville

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.   Titus 3:3-7

Does anybody else out there feel like the holidays just bring out the worst in us? Like we’re all walking around with a fuse burning dangerously close to a bomb that’s about to explode. No, just me?

Especially working in the ministry, it’s a very busy season. We work, we do, we move fast. We visit. We hold the grief of many that seems to overwhelm us during this season. We decorate, we plan services, plan music, corral children, corral adults. We try to please many and give up in the process. We prepare, and plan, and move, and work, and do, and do, and do. 

Do you know what we need to do to make sure Christmas comes? Not a darn thing. Not a single darn thing.

Christmas will come. The Christ-child will come. The world will be in chaos and the savior will still arrive, just as he did 2,000 years ago: into the same crazy world, in a non-descript location, with unimportant people around him. Christ will be born and it will be something that we cannot alter, or rush, or screw up.

And then think of what that means—the Christ-child will take on this human body, in all its brokenness and splendor. Our God will walk among us, and know us. Let’s not miss it. 

So, perhaps I should clarify my earlier statement. There is actually one “darn” thing we need to do: look.

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Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

by Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Nance-Coker, an ecumenical historical/ liturgical theologian currently serving as Minister of Music at Northeast United Methodist Church in Columbia, SC

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”  Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)

During Advent, our hearts are given time to look and listen for God at work in the world. We are busier than ever, yet we make time to reflect, sometimes lamenting the circumstances of days which seem dark and uncertain. It is helpful to my heart to consider the heart of Mary. I see in Mary the looking and listening heart of one who praises, ponders and proclaims the holy work of the Mighty One.

Mary praises. Having just heard the incredible news foretelling the birth of her son Jesus, Mary goes hastily to visit her cousin Elizabeth – the Holy Spirit leads the hearts of Mary and Elizabeth in praise of God. I want to be like Mary, noticing and celebrating the things God is doing – and praising God with my people.

Mary ponders. Mary prepared her heart by pondering. We are told that the angels departed to heaven after they sang “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” The shepherds then made their way to Bethlehem, and found Mary, Joseph, and the baby, sharing with the family those angelic words of the one born in the city of David – a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.   I want to be like Mary, taking time to work into my heart the timely messages God sends my way.

Mary proclaims.  When Mary is praising God with Elizabeth, her words echo the proclamation of Psalm 146, prophesying the earthly ministry of Messiah Jesus, “who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry . . . The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow.” I want to be like Mary, with a heart to proclaim boldly.

“Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!” – Henri J.M. Nouwen

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