office@stjohnsbr.org      225-766-4594     230 Renee' Drive   Sunday Worship at 8:30 & 11 a.m. and Sunday School at 9:45 a.m.
 

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. —John 1:14

Would you believe that there are apps that actually count down the days, minutes and seconds until Christmas? No joke. If I want to know where I stand in getting it all done, I can merely click a button and there it is. Down to the nanosecond!

As I think of preparing for Christmas, lots of images fill my head. Not visions of sugar plums but lists upon lists, decorations that need to be pulled out and put up, dinners to plan, gifts to buy, more lists, the preparations seem never ending no matter how organized I think I am. And there are those precious seconds ticking down to Christmas day.

Deep breath. Deep breath.

As we walk into church my eyes are drawn to a beautiful evergreen wreath encircling candles in the center. This simple symbol quietly announces the season of Advent in preparation of our hearts for the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior. 

Memories wash over me of advent wreaths of my youth and of the simple advent wreaths my children made when they were small. As newcomers to St. John’s, we are here because Jesus is welcomed in this sacred place. Come, let us adore Him.

Lord Jesus, You are welcomed in this place. Amen.

Lynn Lohmann 

We have different gifts that are consistent with God’s grace that has been given to us. —Romans 12:6a

Soon after we moved to Baton Rouge I joined a First Presbyterian Church women’s Bible study that was held at a member’s house each week. The welcome we all received was warm, to say the least. The host always had a delicious snack, hot coffee and plenty of comfortable seating for our in-depth study of Scripture.

As it got closer to Christmas our host began to use her gorgeous Christmas dishes to serve the group. They were lovely and perfectly suited to the household including matching plates and bowls of various sizes, mugs, themed silverware and sparkling glasses. I coveted those dishes. I started looking online at Christmas dishes and perusing sets in stores, wondering if I should buy my own set.

But I remembered – I don’t host a Bible study. I don’t even host family meals for the most part. If I bought Christmas dishes they would be taking up space, and at the time we lived in a small one-bedroom apartment.

I don’t have the gift of hospitality that our Bible study host showed us week after week. Invitations to my home are few and far between, not because I wouldn’t welcome you in but because it’s not a natural reflex or habit.

God has given me other gifts with which to serve and connect. So far those gifts don’t include the need for a set of Christmas dishes!

Father, strip away our desire for more, more, more. Allow us to focus our attention on the coming of your Son and the beautiful miracle of His birth. Show us our gifts and teach us to use them well. Amen.

Mari Walker 

Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs. 

“Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come. —Matthew 24:4-14 (NRSV)

I am a physician, and I was recently notified by a patient that she was transferring all her medical care to Livingston Parish and would no longer require my services. She was not dissatisfied with me or my staff, but her reason was that she was “truly afraid” to come to Baton Rouge because of “the fast rising crime rate.” 

The Advent lectionary is full of apocalyptic scriptures like this excerpt from Matthew’s gospel. We look forward to Christ’s return as well as look back to Christ’s incarnation. I’ve often thought that apocalyptic scriptures cannot resonate with someone like me who lives in comfort and safety. These passages are meant to give hope to someone living under persecution. But my former patient teaches me that persecution or threat can be subjective. I confess that after Hurricane Katrina the rumors of roving bands of thugs from New Orleans caused me to delay lending assistance at the River Center shelter. I thought I needed to protect my family and home. Fear does not facilitate acts of mercy. 

Faith is not certainty; rather, greater certainty requires less faith and less certainty requires greater faith. Faith is the passion to proceed and persevere without assurance of a desired outcome. Perhaps these apocalyptic scriptures are meant to toughen us up. Perhaps they are meant to prevent us from interpreting failure or adversity as evidence that we are in the wrong. 

I think the words of this hymn well sum up the apocalyptic scriptures: 

This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet. 

Heavenly Father, grant me faith and courage in the face of adversity (perceived or real) so that I may say, “Thus would I have it!” Amen.

Ray Halliburton 

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” —Luke 10:42

Having company over was always hard work. Momma and us kids cleaned everything, from the windows to the sinks to the floors. Our house might not have been the fanciest, but it would be clean. We wanted to make our house look as nice as possible so that our guests felt welcome. Southern women have standards about hospitality, after all.

There’s an entire industry set up around cultivating hospitable homes. We watch hours of DIY shows about making beautiful centerpieces and seasonal decor. We spend thousands to have just the right dishes and cream cheese dips to impress our guests. We worry that our guests might see that one spot on the window pane or the mud that one cousin tracked in on his shoes. We stress so much about these outward symbols of hospitality that they limit our ability to develop our inward practices of hospitality.

What would it look like if we spent as much time cultivating hospitable hearts as we did hospitable living rooms? What if, like Mary, we stopped and listened to the guests in our homes and lives instead of worrying about if the situation was clean and respectable enough? What if we stopped worrying about “respectable” hospitality and started making room in our state, our cities, our homes and our hearts for those without shelter, those without safety and those without their own perfect wreaths and placemats?

Lord, Give us eyes to see ourselves and our hearts as You see them. Help us to be people who make room in our lives not just when we look our best or for those who won’t track mud on our floors. Help us to develop an attitude of welcome and hospitality, not just the symbols of them. Amen.

Kristine Isenhower

“He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” —Matthew 10:40

Another word for “receives” is “welcomes”—so, reading this scripture passage in a different way: whoever welcomes me as a follower of Jesus, also welcomes Jesus, as well as God, who sent Jesus to us all. I like this passage, because it establishes a bond between believers like you and me, Jesus and God. God initiated the bond by sending Jesus to us, and we make a decision to welcome Him and be a follower of Jesus. Then, anytime we take the step of going out—and we are welcomed by others—we are expanding that bond by giving others the opportunity to welcome Jesus and the one who sent Him, God. The circle is complete, yet goes on and on as long as we continue to step out in faith and offer the love of Jesus to others. 

Christmas time is the perfect time to show others that we are excited about welcoming Jesus into our lives. Anytime we are invited to a party and are welcomed into someone else’s home during this Christmas season, we should remember that whoever so kindly welcomed us also welcomed Jesus and the one who sent Him, God. This gives me a new purpose with each and every Christmas party I attend this season. I have a mission—to be God’s messenger and show my love for Jesus so that those who so kindly welcomed me will also be welcoming Jesus and God into their homes. In that way, others will have the opportunity to receive the blessing of participating in God’s Kingdom here on earth. What an awesome and profound responsibility we have as we “party” our way through this Christmas season. 

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for letting us know that each of us believers have such a valuable part to play in your kingdom work. Even when all we are doing is attending a Christmas party, help us remember we are always there as your messenger. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Theresa Sandifer

See, I will send my messenger who will prepare the way before me. —Malachi 3:1

In looking through old files recently, I ran across a letter tucked away that my mother had written to me. In it she was thanking me for their visit to our home in Houma, La., for Christmas 1984. Nothing out of the ordinary, except that I had not seen this letter in more than 30 years. There it was, coming back to me again, as though I was reading it for the first time. She wrote of how much she enjoyed unwrapping and putting the gifts out that we had given them when they returned home. Her favorite gift from us was the picture we had framed of John, Lane and me sitting on the front steps of our home. I know that picture well. Our copy is now on our dresser in the bedroom. Reading that letter and holding those handwritten pages was like a part of her coming back to me as we prepare again for a Season of Advent and Christmas 2017. She closed with these words, ‘We had such a good time being with all of you. It was one of the best Christmases we have ever spent.”

What made that Christmas so special? I cannot say exactly. Yet I think it is what we long for each year. We long to “make it so special, it will be remembered as one of the best ever.” When that happens, I sense it is not because of something special that was under the Christmas tree. Rather it is the way we came together as family, as friends. It is the way we opened our hearts to one another, shared with one another, laughed together, played together, sat at the table together. Will we remember 30-plus years from now what the gifts were? I doubt it. But there is something about celebrating the birth of the Christ Child that holds the potential to create and capture memories that will linger for a lifetime. Memories like those that appeared to me in her letter. This Advent carol calls us to this season of preparation for those coming to share it with us, and to look about, for Love, the Guest, is on the way.

People, look east. The time is near
of the crowning of the year.

Make your house fair as you are able,
trim the hearth and set the table.

People, look east.
Love, the Guest, is on the way.

By Eleanor Farjeon

Rev. Dr. Carole Cotton Winn


Home Worship & Advent Wreath Reading*
Week 3

Welcome Celebration

Read: Isaiah 35:1-10

Light: We offer the following reading as you light the first three candles on your Advent wreath. If you do not have an Advent wreath, we invite you to light a candle, reminding you of the joy that comes at Christmas. 

This is the third Sunday in Advent, and today we light three candles. The candle of Joy joins the candles of Hope and Love. May remember again God’s gift of Jesus to the world and know the joy his presence brings.

(Light the first, second and third candles)

Reflect: Christ came to lift people up, not tear us down. Christ came to save us, not to destroy. Christ came as a gift of love, and in response, we offer joy and celebration. This Christmas, we will be “welcomed home with gifts of joy and gladness” (Isaiah 35:10, The Message). 

Pray: Dear God, Thank you for the joy remembering Jesus’ birth brings to my life. Help me live in such a way that my words and my actions help others know of the joy You give and the joy of this special season. Amen.

Respond: There are people in our neighborhoods, in our church and in our community who need to know of God’s joy. Select someone to visit by phone or in person this week. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a visit to a home. Maybe there is someone you see in a place where you go to eat. Stop by and talk with that person. Tell the person you visit one way he or she brings joy to you.

* Adapted from UMC Discipleship Ministries 2017 Advent Home Worship

For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son! —John 3:16

Christmas time is a time for families to gather to show love to each other and others. Many people become servants to the less fortunate during the holiday times more than at other times of the year.

When you look up quotes about love online, there are more than 3,500 of them. In almost all of these quotes, love entails doing something. Love isn’t love until you give it away. Love the Lord with all your heart, all your mind and your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. God so loved the world that He gave his only son.

When my brother was in high school, he performed in a play, and one of the lines throughout the play was “Turn the lights off.” My brother is older than I and does not remember the play. I certainly do not even know the name of the play, but perhaps you do. It was finally explained in the play that every time you tell a person to turn the lights off you are telling them that you love them.

Often I try to be a servant, and it just does not work out the way I wish. I try to give a person a buggy at the store and they will not let me. I tell a person to go ahead of me in line when my basket is overflowing and they have only a few items. Sometimes I get thanked and other times I get “Oh, are you sure that you mean it?” I would not have offered to do it if I did not mean it.

Martha tried to show her love for Jesus by keeping a clean house. No one will ever accuse me of being a Martha. I have several excellent excuses for not being Martha. Dusting makes me sneeze. My back hurts. I would rather be doing something for someone else like writing a letter or buying your grandchild something useful.

In the big picture GOD is not going to judge me on how clean the house is or isn’t. God looks at how much I love others today, not tomorrow or yesterday. Every day I should dress in the most important garment of all, LOVE.

During this season and every day, “St. John’s, turn the lights out.”

Lord of all of us, please show us each day ways to love. Let us remember others daily and not only at Christmas by showing the type of love you show us. We ask these things in your name, believing.

Daphne G. Grady 


Keep loving each other like family. Don’t neglect to open up your homes to guests, because by doing this some have been hosts to angels without knowing it. —Hebrews 13: 1-2

Knock, knock, knock. I look through the front door window. On the porch stands a dirty, smelly man, tattered rags for clothes. His sock hat sits crooked on his head, and his socks show through the several worn holes of his shoes. “Mom, Emmanuel is here again,” I call down the hallway. 

My mom drops the laundry she was folding and comes to unlock the door. “Hello, Emmanuel. Come on in.” The homeless man steps in timidly.

“Hey, Ben,” he says, removing his hat as he steps inside. I am surprised he remembers my name. I first met him three weeks ago when he came to our door begging for money, not knowing what sort of response he’d get.

“Hi, Emmanuel,” I politely respond. I intuitively know Emmanuel is a kind, gentle, Christian man whose life simply fell apart. Mom invites him to sit at the table and goes to prepare our guest a meal.

I deliver the glass of orange juice my mom pours. I sit in the chair across from Emmanuel while he recounts stories of his last several weeks of living on the streets. He has a hard life, especially in these winter months. “Too many of us on the streets and not enough folks like y’all offering kindness...” his voice trails off. 

Mom brings in a sandwich and soup for him. He eats it slowly, savoring each bite as if it might be his last for a while. Even at 7, I realize this may be the only meal he will eat for the next few days. My mother and I sit and talk with him. 

He thanks my mother for the meal, complimenting her cooking. She offers him a shower and some time to rest inside our warm house. “Oh, Ms. Hartman, I would much appreciate that.” Mom ushers him to the bathroom. When clean, he dresses in his clothes Mom washed for him. The three of us load into the car, and Mom drives us to the local public transit station. Emmanuel climbs out of the car, thanking my mom several times over.

Mom offers Emmanuel some cash. “Oh thank you. God bless you all.” He closes the car door then climbs on the bus to pay his fare. 

This would not be the last time I would see Emmanuel. He visited our house on and off for a few years, as my parents exhibited the true Christian spirit of helping those in need. They recognized that many were less fortunate not because of their own fault but through unforeseen circumstances.

Loving God, Open my eyes, that I may be an innkeeper that offers those in need shelter from the cold and storm. May I recognize my own blessings and pass them on to others. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Ben Hartman 

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” —Matthew 25: 35-36 

First impressions are important! Sometimes people can welcome us into their lives or shut us out completely in just one simple encounter. Some folks seem to automatically radiate a sense of welcome in their smiles, or perhaps in their kind words upon meeting. Others project anger and unhappiness that in no way suggest welcome. Today more than ever we look for those people and places that make us feel safe and welcome. However, our fear of the unknown today has caused many of us to withdraw within our own worlds, unable to welcome anyone. 

“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” are words found in Romans 15:7. As we enter the Advent season we should remember that Jesus died for us so that we would come to know God. He is instructing us to be a welcoming people. Certainly there are persons who are harder to welcome than others. The strangers who are sick, poor or different offer a challenge to our hospitality. 

People have often described St. John’s as a warm and welcoming congregation. Is that true only within the safety of our sanctuary and campus, or does it extend to the world beyond our doors? Do we risk welcoming strangers? How we treat the bank teller, new neighbors on the block or the check-out girl at our grocery store reflects our own Christianity. The kindness we show or the lack of it is a reflection of how we feel about Jesus. By the grace of God we should dare to welcome everyone with whom we come into contact this Advent season and beyond. Perhaps your welcome might be the impetus that brings one more person to God. 

Heavenly Father, Let me never forget that something as simple as a smile or a pat on the back may be the only welcoming sign someone has received in a very long time. Let me share God’s message of hope to every person I meet.

Bobbi Marino

“Truly, anyone who welcomes my messenger is welcoming me, and anyone who welcomes me is welcoming the Father who sent me.” —John 13:20 (NLT) 

Thinking of my childhood years in Wisconsin, I remember welcoming my grandfather and a young uncle early every Christmas morning. There were seven children in my mother’s family, and my grandfather visited all of them on Christmas morning. He asked to see our tree and our gifts and made appropriate comments on all of them. He and my uncle always had something to eat and drink, so by the time they visited every family they were feeling very happy! This visit was a special part of Christmas Day, and I always remember it as a special time.

Other Christmas rituals I remember were associated with either going home or doing special things at home – lighting candles and having a time of family prayer during Advent, decorating a Christmas tree, caroling in the neighborhood, or hosting parties for friends, neighbors and family members. Christmas is about home and being welcomed.

Dear God, Thank you for your son, Jesus. Thank you for those in our world who seek to act for peace. Help us to look for ways to be welcoming and to be peacemakers at home, at church and at school. Amen.

Dawn Staves 


 

  Be Welcomed. Be Loved.

We are a Christian community called to share our gifts through worship, witness and service so that others will know God and become disciples of Jesus Christ.

 

Sunday worship at 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m.
Sunday school at 9:45 a.m.

 Contact Us
St. John's United Methodist Church

(Note New Mailing Address)
230 Renee' Drive
Baton Rouge, LA 70810

  Phone : 225-766-4594
  Email : office@stjohnsbr.org
  Office hours : Mon-Thurs, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Prayer Requests : prayers@stjohnsbr.org