Where is Jesus on Your List?

Where is Jesus on Your List?

by John Partridge

It is the time of lists. We have all sorts of lists. We have chores that must be done, decorations to put out, cookies to bake, gifts to buy for the kids’ gift exchanges at school, gifts to buy for the gift exchange at Sunday school, or Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions Club, bridge club, train club (actually we don’t have one), open houses, bowling team, things to do before our visiting relatives arrive, packing that must be done before we leave to visit other relatives, last minute projects that need to be completed for school or for work, and of course a list of gifts to buy for family, friends, your letter carrier, newspaper person, lawn service, fitness coach, more gift exchanges, employees, pets, neighbors, and who knows what else.

But amid all the busyness of the season, and among the lists of things we have to do, and gifts we have to buy, where is Jesus?

Will coming to church on Christmas Eve or Christmas, be the only time that you remember to check Jesus off your list?  Will you put a few dollars in the offering plate at church, or a few coins in the red kettle at the drug store, and check that off your list too? 

As we spend time with family, friends, co-workers, and parties for clubs and other activities, how much time will you spend with Jesus?  If we made a list of all the places you spend time this season, where will Jesus rate on that list?  As we spend money, and buy gifts, where will our gifts to Jesus rate? Will our gifts to Jesus match what we spent on our spouse or our children? Will he be measured more closely to the tip we give to our letter carrier? Or will our gifts to Jesus rank closer to what we’re spending on gifts and outfits for our pets?

I’m not saying that you should, necessarily, give those gifts to Christ Church, but when the season is over, how will Jesus rank?  How much time will you spend with him?  What gifts will you bring him?  How will you honor him?  Will you feed the hungry?  Clothe the naked? Comfort the troubled?  Heal the wounded?  Love the unloved?

Before we get too wrapped up in our busy-ness let us seriously consider…

…Where is Jesus on our list?


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The Purge

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The Purge

December 04, 2022*

(2nd Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

Matthew 3:1-12

There is a movie series which originated in 2013 with a film entitled, The Purge.  The premise of that movie, and of the entire series of movies, is that once each year, for a period of twelve hours, no crimes are against the law and the use of all weapons, other than explosives, are permitted.  As you might expect, this causes significant death, destruction, and mayhem and is used by the government as a covert form of population control that also boosts the economy.  And, if you ever watched Star Trek, the Original Series, you can’t help but notice that the premise of the movie is exactly the same as an episode from the first season called “The Return of the Archons.”

But what if I told you that the purge was real? 

I don’t mean that we need to worry about a day when all crimes are legal.  What I mean is that there will be purge where there is a housecleaning of all humanity.  A day that God cleans house and purges from the planet every person that doesn’t measure up. 

But what does that mean?  John the Baptist explains it in Matthew 3:1-12 as he prepares for the arrival of Jesus.

3:1 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

During this season of preparation, we are reminded that Jesus didn’t just come to love people and to save the world.  Jesus’ coming is also a reminder that he will one day stand in judgement of all humanity.  He will separate the wheat from the chaff, the useful from the useless, the fruitful from the fruitless.  Posers and pretenders will be sifted out.  Religious leaders who used the church to benefit themselves but who did nothing to grow the kingdom of God, will be sifted out.  And anyone who doesn’t measure up will be burned in the fire like chaff.

John’s message is as much for us today as it was two thousand years ago.

Let us prepare the way for the Lord and make straight paths for him.

And the first, best, place for us to start, is to repent and make sure that we are straight paths.  Let us do all that we can so that we are counted as wheat, and not chaff.


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com .  All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

The Demands of Hope

The Demands of Hope

November 27, 2022*

(1st Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 2:1-5                Matthew 24:36-44                 Romans 13:11-14

When we read from the books of the prophets, we often mislead ourselves into believing that God’s prophets were important, or powerful, and even well liked during their lifetimes, but often, the experience of God’s prophets was just the opposite.  Often the words that they carried were messages of God’s displeasure, news of punishment, impending disaster, doom, and death.  And as a result, the prophets of God were often disliked, unwelcome, beaten, imprisoned, or banned entirely from the temple or from the king’s palace.  In 1 Kings 18:16-18, Ahab the king of Israel went to meet Elijah on Mount Carmel and “when he saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?””

But sometimes the messages of the prophets held good news.  Sometimes their messages contained guidance, blessings, and hope.  And as we begin this season of Advent, those are the messages that we find as we read from Isaiah 2:1-5 that says:

2:1 This is what Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
    as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
    and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob,
    let us walk in the light of the Lord.

The message of Isaiah is a message of hope.  God says that there will be a day when God’s people are not afraid to hear his words, a day when they will seek him out, listen to his voice, learn from him, and accept his judgements.  And in that day, wars will end, soldiers will come home, and the world will at, last, know peace.

But God’s promise from Isaiah comes to us from almost three thousand years ago.  Since then, we have seen the coming of Jesus Christ, but our modern world is still far too familiar with suffering, pain, disease, disaster, and death.  God’s people, from that time until now, have asked the same question, “When?”  When will Jesus return?  When will we see the end of famine, disease, violence, pestilence, and war?  When, O Lord, will we see the peace that you have promised?

And the answer to those questions is the same today as it has been from the time that Jesus’ own disciples asked the same question in Matthew 24:36-44.  And Jesus said:

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

The simple answer to the question of ‘when’ is “We don’t know.”  But what we do know is that the arrival of Jesus in at the second coming will look much as it did at the time of his birth in Bethlehem.  Even though his coming was repeatedly foretold by God’s prophets through the ages, and even though the people of Israel were intimately familiar with those scriptures, and even clung to the promise of those words, no one was ready.  Almost no one was watching for his arrival and, although there were some, few people recognized the birth of Jesus for what it was. 

And the warning of Jesus is that when he returns, things are likely to be similar.  No one will know when he will arrive but because his arrival will be so unexpected, like a thief in the night, we must live expectantly.  We must keep watch and live as if he might return any time at all, even today. But in Romans 13:11-14, Paul explains that living expectantly demands more of us than just keeping watch saying…

11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

As his followers, hope demands that we do more than just wait and watch for the return of Jesus Christ.  The time has already come for us to get busy with our preparations for his return because the world is already two thousand years closer to his return than it was in the time of Paul.  But how do we prepare?  What is it that we should be doing?  And Paul’s words still ring true with us today.  Setting aside the deeds of darkness means we should not just stop doing evil, but also stop encouraging and supporting the people that do. 

That means that we should stop doing evil but should also stop doing things that are morally and ethically questionable, or that otherwise can be found in the grey areas of ethics and morality.  Stop watching television shows, going to plays, and paying to see movies, which glamorize immorality regardless of how popular and funny they might be.  Stop rationalizing your behavior by saying that it’s just a little harmless entertainment.  Stop supporting politicians that do a few good things, but live as if morality isn’t important.  

Instead, live lives that are good, decent, ethical, and moral.  Be known withing your profession as someone who won’t cut corners, or behave immorally or unethically, even if doing so costs you something.  Don’t go places and do things just because they feel good, do things, and go places that are good.  Rather than just waiting and hoping for Jesus to do it, we should work to end famine, disease, violence, pestilence, and war.  As you make your everyday choices of how to live your life, where to spend your money, and how to spend your time, consider whether you would invite Jesus to go to those places, and do those things with you.  If you would feel uncomfortable going to that place, or watching that movie, doing that thing, or making that decision with Jesus standing next to you, then don’t do it.  Clothe yourself with Jesus Christ and live as if he was walking beside you in everything that you do.

Because he is.

God’s message of the promised messiah, given through his prophet Isaiah, is a message of hope. 

Knowing that Jesus could return at any moment, fills us with hope.

But hope demands something from us.

If we have this hope, if we believe that these words are true, then we must live lives of expectation.

And doing that will change the way that we work, the way that we play, the way that we spend our time, and the way that we spend our money.

If our hope is real, then we must live our lives as if it is.


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com .  All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Who Wants a Raw Christmas?

Who Wants a Raw Christmas?

A Message for Advent 2022

Imagine that you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner and what’s passed around the table is a big raw turkey, a bowl of dirty, cold, fresh out of the ground potatoes, a loaf of stale bread, some bullion cubes, and a few bowls with flour, sugar, cocoa powder, and butter. Sure, all the ingredients are there to make a fine meal, but there’s clearly something missing and that thing is…

Preparation.

We can buy all the ingredients for a Thanksgiving feast, but without investing the time and the care that it takes to adequately prepare them, they aren’t anywhere near as good as they should be, or as good as we expected them to be.  Preparation is the thing that puts the pieces together, measures out the ingredients, mixes them, and warms them to precise temperatures for a measured amount of time.  Without that preparation, we end up with raw meat and stale bread instead of a succulent roasted turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and dessert.  It is the preparation that makes the house smell so good, and drool with anticipation.

It seems so obvious when we think about Thanksgiving and food.

So, why does it seem so hard to understand when we think about the season of Advent?  These four weeks are a time that has been deliberately set aside as… a season of preparation.  It is a time for us to set out the ingredients, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, hope, faith, joy, love, prophets, shepherds, angels, and everything else, measure them out in the right proportions, mix and season them, and warm them in the love of our community of faith.  And then, at just the right time, it all comes together, and what is served is just what we imagined and just we needed to fill our souls to overflowing. 

During this season of preparation, we invite you to come into the kitchen with us.  Join us as we set out the ingredients, measure, share news of family and friends, mix, season, and warm it all, and us, in the love of faith and community.  The result, on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, will be much more satisfying and fulfilling than raw turkey and bowls of uncooked ingredients.  Like Thanksgiving dinner, the thing that makes us drool with the anticipation of Christmas, and so deeply satisfies our souls, is found in setting aside the time to prepare it, together.

Won’t you join us for this season of preparation?

Blessings,

Pastor John 


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Bone Grafts in Far, Far Away

Video of this worship service can be found here: https://youtu.be/YOV2uT1u5u4

Bone Grafts in Far, Far Away

January 02, 2022*             

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 60:1-6 Ephesians 3:1-12 Matthew 2:1-12

Merry Christmas.

Of course, you’re thinking that Christmas was more than a week ago, but that’s only because our tradition, that was handed down to us through the Protestant and Catholic churches, celebrates the birth of Jesus as the appropriate time for celebration.  But today, the first Sunday of the new year or, more specifically January 6th, is Epiphany, the celebration of the arrival of the Magi, or the Wise Men.  In the Orthodox tradition, Epiphany is the day that is celebrated as Christmas.  And, if we’re honest about our theology, there’s a good case to be made in favor of the Orthodox tradition as, perhaps, a better choice.  At the very least, Epiphany is a day that is worthy of both remembrance and celebration.  But before I dig too deeply into theology, let’s begin with the story.  It is a story, like many of our stories, that began in the Old Testament with the words of the prophet Isaiah where we hear these words in Isaiah 60:1-6:

60:1 Arise, shine; for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
    and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
    and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around;
    they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
    and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
    your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
    the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
    the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
    all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
    and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Isaiah tells of the Messiah that will one day come to rescue Israel, just as he does in other passages that we have read over the season of Advent.  But in today’s reading he speaks of how other nations will be drawn to the light of Israel’s messiah.  Not only will the coming messiah be a king for the nation of Israel, but Isaiah says that he would also be worshiped by other kings and other nations.  Gifts of gold and incense would be given to him from nations in southern Jordan, the Sinai Peninsula, Israel’s southern neighbors, and Saudi Arabia and they would bring so many camels, that thousands of them would cover the hillsides of Israel.

And those stories were remembered as an entourage of magi from far, far away entered Jerusalem along with what was most likely a significantly sized, well-armed, military security and logistics force that would have been sent along to protect, and care for, these important government officials.  The magi were, after all, at least ambassadorial level officials, if not what we would think of as presidential advisors or even cabinet level officials.  They would certainly not have traveled through wilderness and potentially hostile countries without adequate protection.  This is, in my opinion, why we hear Matthew say that King Herod, and all of Jerusalem, was frightened.  Reading from Matthew 2:1-12, we hear this:

2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?  For we observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people, Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.  Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.  11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage.  Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

It’s a story that has become familiar to us after years of repetition, but we still have questions.  Did the magi come from the East, or did they see a star in the East, which would mean that they came from the West?  Were these emissaries from far, far away ambassadors from nearby Egypt to the West or were they, as is often supposed, the philosophical and scholastic descendants of Daniel from the Persian Empire and this from the area of modern-day Iran or Iraq to the East?  Honestly, I don’t know and, as far as I know, there isn’t a definitive answer anywhere in scripture.  But what we do know, is that these scholars came bearing gifts from a land far away and became the first Gentiles, the first non-Jews, to worship the newborn Jesus and that is the most important part of the story and begins to tell us why today’s celebration is a big deal.  In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul explains it this way (Ephesians 3:1-12):

3:1 This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power.  Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; 10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him 13 I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.

Paul says that by God’s grace, he was called to reveal a mystery of prophecy, scripture, and the workings of God among his people on earth.  Although it had been hinted at in moments of history, like the one that we saw with the coming of the magi, many, if not most, of God’s people missed what God was doing.  But with the coming of Jesus, and the calling of Paul who had once hunted and persecuted Jesus’ followers, the mystery was finally being revealed and explained to everyone, and that mystery is that the Gentiles, people who are not now, and have never been, Jewish, were not only being invited into God’s family, but were being adopted as family members, becoming not only sons and daughters of God, but heirs of his gifts and of his kingdom. 

Now, anyone in the world, whether they were Jewish or not, or came from a Jewish family or not, could hear the good news of Jesus Christ and become a part of his family, kingdom, mission, ministry, and join him in his eternal home.  The revelation that Paul received, and was called to proclaim, was that this was God’s plan all along.  This is the message that God was revealing to the world with the coming of the magi.  At that moment, God threw open the doors of heaven and invited the Gentiles, invited us, into his family.

And that’s why today, Epiphany, is a big deal worth celebrating.  Certainly, the birth of Jesus was big deal because the Messiah that had been promised to the Jews had finally come to rescue them.  At the moment of his birth, Jesus was a Jewish messiah for the Jewish people.  But with the coming of the magi, God reveals that Jesus was not just a Jewish messiah for a Jewish people but was instead the savior and rescuer of the entire world.  The coming of the magi is the moment when… we… were invited in.

Although Paul says that this was God’s plan all along, it was at that moment, at least symbolically, when we were adopted by God and grafted into the family of Abraham so that we, the people from far, far away, could become, in the words of Samuel, God’s own flesh and bone.

And that is definitely something worth celebrating.

So…

…Merry Christmas everyone.


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/.  All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Out of Darkness

The video of this service can be found here: https://youtu.be/TF7bDRrEhMY.

Out of Darkness

(Christmas Eve)

December 24, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 9:2-7             Titus 2:11-14              Luke 2:1-20

Scripture Readings

Isaiah 9:2-7

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
    and the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
    and all the garments rolled in blood
    shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
    and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
    He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Luke 2:1-20

2:1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.  This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.  All went to their own towns to be registered.  Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.  He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.  12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.  17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.  19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.  20 The shepherds returned, glorifying, and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.


Out of Darkness

(Christmas Eve)

December 24, 2021

By Pastor John Partridge

Eight hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah told of a messiah that would bring light to a people who walked in darkness, a savior that would bring light, joy, freedom, and the end of violence, a child that would bring endless peace, justice, and righteousness that would last forever.  After hearing Isaiah’s words, generation after generation watched for the coming of the Messiah.  The promise of God’s rescuer and redeemer was ever-present in the minds of the people of Israel, and even more precious, during times of hardship and suffering.  And so, after a civil war that divided the country, and the arrival of an occupying Roman army, as well as a burden of taxation and mistreatment at the hands of the Romans and their (often corrupt) tax collectors, the people were starved for good news and dreamed of the day when the Messiah would rescue them and change the world.

And then, as we heard in the story of Luke, on a dark hillside, probably in the springtime (because that’s when shepherds and their flocks would have been in the mountains), darkness is overcome by the light and the glory of God.  It isn’t difficult to imagine that in a world where candles and oil lamps were the state of the art, the lighting of an entire hillside was a terrifying experience.  But the message that they shepherds heard was, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”  The light had come.  Darkness was being overthrown.  The Messiah had arrived. 

And when the angels had left them, even without instructions, the shepherds knew exactly what to do. 

The people had been hoping and praying for this to happen for eight hundred years.  Especially now, with the Roman occupation, the people needed to hear, they needed to know, because this was indeed “good news of great joy for all the people.”  The shepherds knew that they couldn’t keep this news to themselves.  They needed to go, immediately, with haste.  They hurried so that they could see this miracle for themselves and so that they could share the good news with everyone that they could find.

But what does it mean for us two thousand years later?  Of course, it is still “good news of great joy.”  It is still news that gives us hope for a future, and an eternity, filled with light, joy, freedom, and peace.  But what else?  As Paul writes to Titus in Crete, he describes the arrival of Jesus this way (Titus 2:11-14):

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Paul says that the arrival of Jesus brings salvation and rescue to all people, but that Jesus also came to train us to turn our backs on sin, immorality, vice and worldly passions and instead live lives that are filled with self-control, righteousness, and godliness.  The Messiah, Paul says, sacrificed himself so that we could be rescued from sin and made into a nation of people who are purified and eager to do good.

Every year, we meet at this time to remember.  We spend weeks celebrating the season of Advent, singing Christmas carols, watching Christmas specials on television, listening to Christmas music, decorating our homes, and whole neighborhoods, having Christmas parties at work, at home, at school, and at all sorts of clubs to which we belong.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  This is, of course, good news of great joy for all the people.  There is every reason to remember and celebrate.  But let’s not forget God’s purpose.  Let’s not forget the reason that Jesus came was not just to rescue us from sin, but to train us to turn our backs on sin, immorality, and the worldly passions that our culture passes off as normal.  Instead, Jesus calls us to live lives that are filled with self-control, righteousness, and godliness.  Jesus sacrificed himself so that we, the church, could be transformed into a nation of people who are eager to do good.

Let us never forget that the angel said that this was “good news of great joy for all the people.”  Not just the Israeli people, not just the Jewish people, not just the Christian people, but for all the people.  And so, our mission, the mission of the church and of every person in it, is to remember the shepherds; to go out from this place praising God, sharing this good news with everyone that we can find, and doing everything that we can to become a people who are eager to do good.

Merry Christmas everyone.


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/.  All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Christmas after Lockdown

Christmas After Lockdown

The last year and nine months has been, and continues to be, a long, strange, whirlwind of constant changes, news stories, changes, adaptations, and continued hope for a return to something approaching the “normal” that we remember.  Because of the threat of the coronavirus, and the statewide lockdown, we were unable to meet in person for Christmas Eve and so we did the best that we could to “meet” one another virtually.  Due to the hard work of our church staff and volunteers, and the amazing video editing of Bob Wallace, we produced a Christmas Eve video that I think surpassed almost any other similar attempt.

But as good as it was, it just wasn’t the same.

No matter how well we celebrated the arrival of the Christ child individually, there was still something missing.  Christmas wasn’t the same without being together.

Families are like that.  When we are apart, we can mail our gifts to one another, but it isn’t the same as being together.  In fact, for many of us, giving and receiving gifts has lost the urgency and the sparkle that it had when we were children.  What’s important, and treasured, now is just being together, seeing one another, sharing our stories and our lives, and just spending time together.

And Christmas Eve is all of that, and more.  Because the Spirit of God dwells within each one of us as the followers of Jesus, when we are together, we feel the presence, not only of other people, but also the presence of God himself.  That’s true every Sunday, and any time that we meet in groups that are large or small, but if you are like me, we feel that sensation of closeness to God most keenly only a few times each year and one of those times is on Christmas Eve.

This year, many of us will, once again, meet together, in person, for Christmas Eve, but we will also be livestreaming that worship service for anyone who is unable to attend or who still feels uncomfortable being around a crowd of people.  Rest assured, however, that we continue to encourage mask wear for everyone in attendance and remember that there is ample room to find seats with plenty of “social distance” between you and others.  In fact, if this year looks like others in recent history, you can probably have the balcony all to yourself.

But, whichever, option you choose, I hope that you will join us.  Moreover, I hope that each one of you will invite at least five others to join us.  Christmas Eve is easily one of the most attended worship services of the year in almost every church in North America and, for that reason, is a time when friends are most willing to accept an invitation to attend. 

Christmas Eve and Christmas are a time when we draw close to one another, and draw close to God, in a way that is both special and memorable not just because of the people, but because it is a time when we encounter the Spirit of God in a special way.  Of course, we will share the extraordinary experience of hearing our choirs, bell choirs, pipe organ, and singing traditional and meaningful carols of Christmas together.  But most importantly, we will remember the story of God’s invasion of the earth and the arrival of the Christ child, who would become the rescuer and redeemer of all humanity.

I hope that you will join us as we draw closer one another, and closer to God, together.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Good News of Great Joy?

Good News of Great Joy?

As I write this, Thanksgiving is just a few days away and Sunday we will begin our celebration of the Advent season.  During that season we will constantly be looking outwards, at others, and at the world.  We will look at Mary, Joseph, John the Baptist, Caesar Augustus, shepherds, wise men, angels, as well as a few other characters with smaller roles.  We will think about the coming of the Messiah and what that means to the church, to the world, to our calling as evangelize and share the good news, and other important lessons.  But, despite the value of doing all these things, we might also want to spend some time looking inwards. 

Looking inwards means asking what the story means to me, what the story is calling me to be, and to do.  When we see the shepherds, we should ask ourselves, “What would I have done if I were among them?”  Would we have stayed behind with the sheep?  Having heard the angels, and having seen the baby in a manger, would we have gone throughout the city rejoicing and telling everyone that we could find?

When we hear the story of the wise men, we might wonder how willing we are to hear the calling of God.  Would we drop everything, based on our best research and study, to spend months of unpleasant travel, just so that we could witness a miracle, bring gifts, and then spend months traveling home again?

After every story, there is a moment for us to look inward and ask God what he is calling us to hear, not just about a two thousand year-old story, but how God wants that story to change our lives, us, today.  Is God calling us to be more faithful, like Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Simeon the priest, Anna the prophetess, the shepherds, or the Magi?  Do we hear the calling for the church, and us, to evangelize the world in the story of the shepherds and the Magi?  And there is more.  In every story that we read in scripture God calls to us.  If we listen, our souls can feel the pull of God’s leading us in a new direction.

And so, as we celebrate the season of Advent and Christmas, I invite you to open your hearts, and take the time to reflect. Ask yourself, “What does God want me to do with this story?”  What is it that God is trying to tell me?  How is God asking me to change?  What kind of a person is God calling me to be?  Is God calling me into something new?

Every day, God is calling us to be transformed and renewed into the image of Jesus Christ.  Our regular prayer on Sunday morning is to become more and more like Jesus and the person that Jesus created us to be.  And so, when we hear the angels proclaim that they bring “Good news of great joy for all the people” we might ask ourselves if the same is true for us.  When people hear that Christ Church is coming, is that good news?  Or what do people think when they hear that we are coming?  Is the arrival of _(insert your name here)_ “good news of great joy”?

The stories of Advent and Christmas are wonderful and inspiring, but they aren’t just there to stir wonder and bring inspiration.  The stories are intended to transform us.  The stories of Christmas, and all of scripture, are intended to change us so that we become less like Saul and more like Paul, less like Satan and more like Jesus, less like we once were and more like God intends for us to be.

As we plunge into Advent, I hope that we will do more than splash around in the shallows or swim along the surface.  This year, I invite you to…

…dive deep.

Blessings,

Pastor John



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Advent 2021

Advent 2021

Do you have a friend that always ruins new television shows, movies, or books for you by telling you the ending?  Online, the word that everyone uses is “spoiler.”  If an online conversation is going to talk about a big surprise, or how a movie or television show end before everyone has a chance to watch them, then the beginning of the conversation is often labelled “Spoiler Alert” so that you can choose to stop reading those posts and ruin the surprise for yourself.

Avoiding spoilers is sort of the same reason that I encourage everyone to attend church and participate in all our Advent worship services between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Skipping Advent and showing up at Christmas Eve is a lot like buying a new book and reading the last chapter first, or fast forwarding and watching the ending before you watch the rest of the movie.  Sure, the story is the same either way, but by starting at the end rather than at the beginning, and by skipping the character development, the plot twists, and the natural growth of the story we miss much of the excitement and anticipation as the story evolves.

All those reasons are a part of why we celebrate Advent.  It isn’t because we don’t already know how the story turns out, but it’s a lot like rereading a favorite book, or rewatching a favorite movie.  A week or two ago, Patti and I were re-watching Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” movie, and there were several times when one of us would say, “Oh, I didn’t remember that part.”  But each of those parts made watching the whole movie even better. 

Christmas is like that.  Christmas Eve is the last chapter, the denouement, the conclusion, the finale, the big ending.  It’s a great part of the story, but there’s so much more to it that we often forget from year to year and the story is so much stronger, and the anticipation greater, if we start at the beginning.

And so, once again, I invite you to join me as we journey through the Advent season, as we remember the whole story, dig into the character development, plot twists, and the natural evolution of the story.  Trust me, just like reading a good book, or watching a favorite movie, starting at the beginning will make the ending even more awesome.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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A New Dawn

A New Dawn

January 03, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 60:1-6                          Ephesians 3:1-12                   Matthew 2:1-12

We don’t often take the time to sit and watch the sunrise but when we do, we are often rewarded bountifully for our patience.  This is especially true if we are in a place where there is an unobstructed view to the east.  Recently, Patti and I went to South Carolina to attend our nephew’s wedding and on the way, we stayed at a hotel in Myrtle Beach in a room that faced the beach.  Getting up just a little bit early, making a cup of tea, and sitting on the balcony watching the dawn was almost as memorable a moment as the wedding.  The beauty and serenity of the sunrise, combined with the sound and movement of the surf, was a life-giving moment that fed my soul.

It’s a little odd that a sunrise can be so staggering because it happens every day.  Every day, for millions upon millions of years, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.  It seems as if it should feel as ordinary as every other moment of every other day.  But every sunrise is different, and every sunrise, just like every New Year’s Day, is meaningful to us because it represents a new day, a moment filled with possibilities, a moment saturated with our dreams and filled with hope.  It is for exactly that reason, that dawn is often used in literature, biblical and otherwise, to represent hopes, dreams, and new beginnings.  And that is what we find as we read Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming messiah, a vision for the future that would, for hundreds of years, fill God’s people with hope.  (Isaiah 60:1-6)

60:1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

“Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip.
Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

Isaiah describes the coming of the messiah as if the entire world had been living in darkness and was now experiencing the dawn for the first time.  But rather than seeing the rising of the sun, the world would stand as witnesses as the Lord himself would rise over them and the light that they would see would be the glory of God.  Kings would be drawn to that light and they would bring gifts of gold, and incense as they bring praise and worship to God.

And hundreds of years later, we see Isaiah’s vision fulfilled in Matthew 2:1-12 as the Magi see the glory of God in the heavens and follow his star to the house in Nazareth (not Bethlehem, because this was a year or three later) where Mary and Joseph and Jesus lived.

2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magifrom the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Just as Isaiah had said, the future ruler and shepherd of Israel had been born in Bethlehem, and after Mary, Joseph, and Jesus had returned to Nazareth, the Magi found them and again, just as Isaiah had foretold, they recognized Jesus as a king, worshipped him, and brought gifts of gold and incense.  But look at how they arrived there.  First, they stopped in the capitol, assuming that a king would have been born in the palace.  From there, they likely started toward Bethlehem, but we don’t really know that Jesus was there.  Since Joseph’s home had been in Nazareth, it seems reasonable to assume that they returned there after the census was over. 

But even if they had chosen to stay in Bethlehem, we would be right to ask how the Magi found them, but Matthew’s answer leaves us with even more questions.  Matthew says, “After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.”  Listen to that again, “the star they had seen… went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.”  That’s the only explanation that Matthew offers.  But clearly, since stars, and even planetary conjunctions, simply do not, and cannot, guide us from one town to another, and certainly do not lead us to distinguish one house over another, we have no idea what it was that the Magi were following.  Except that in some way, they were following God.  And we see that every step led them to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies.

And the arrival of the Magi fulfilled one more prophecy that is a little less obvious, but which is of vital importance to you and me.  Paul recognized its importance, and explains it to the Greek church in Ephesus this way (Ephesians 3:1-12):

3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

The arrival of the magi signifies the fulfillment of God’s promise to break out of the confines of Israel, to break out into the world, to adopt the Gentiles into God’s family as well as the Jews, and to become the rescuer of all humanity.  Paul says that the miracle that is revealed in the gospel is that the Gentiles have become heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers in the promise of Jesus Christ.  The arrival of the magi is indeed the moment of a new dawn, the beginning of God’s new work in the world.  It is at this moment when our families, and we ourselves, were invited into, and indeed adopted into, God’s family.  And, with the adoption of the Gentiles, we can easily visualize the vast number of nations, kings, presidents, prime ministers, and others around the world who have, and who now worship Israel’s king.

But why?  As impressive as it was, and as impressive as it still is, why did it happen and why does it matter?

And Paul provides the answer to that as well saying, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”

His intent was that now, through the church, the wisdom of God would be made known because it is in him, and through faith in him, that we have the freedom and confidence to approach God, to share our joys, our troubles, our sorrows, and our prayers with him, and to become, and to participate, in our new family. 

It is a new dawn.

And today our mission remains the same.  God intent, God’s mission, is for us to make the wisdom of God known to rulers, to authorities, and to everyone that has not heard the Good News.

Because it is, indeed, good news, of great joy… for all the people.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/t-yzH9sS9xs

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.