Friday, December 25, 2009

The welcome I gave at our church last night's Christmas Eve service

Welcome to the First Seventh Day Baptist Church of Alfred! This is perhaps the one-hundred-fifty-fifth time that Christmas has been celebrated in this building. The entire community has not always met here on Christmas Eve, but at least this congregation has celebrated it here on the Sabbath before Christmas Eve, every year since the building was completed, back in 1854.
The tradition of celebrating Christmas is apparently quite long in our family and, of course, goes back about two-thousand years. One of our earliest ancestors who lived on this continent was a man by the name of Joseph Clarke, and he was known as “The Immigrant”. His elder brother, Dr. John Clarke, founded the town of Newport, R.I. in 1639 and became the pastor of the first Baptist Church in the American colonies. Although John Clarke apparently had no children, he spent twelve years back in England lobbying for a new charter for Rhode Island colony, and the one he secured from King Charles II in 1663 was probably the first to ever grant such complete religious liberty for the inhabitants. His younger brother, our ancestor, was a solid citizen of that colony, and his descendants are many.
I can only assume that Joseph’s parents gave him that name to honor the earthly father of the one whose birth we celebrate tonight. He and his children thought so much of it that there was a Joseph in each of the next three generations, and several more since then.
So it is that our family, and each of your families, honors that tradition with your presence here. We gather tonight to consider the events of that night so long ago, to ponder what thoughts may have come to Mary, and to Joseph, and to all who witnessed those events. May this shared experience of reflection and celebration bring you new and deeper meaning for Christmas, the satisfaction of love shared among family and friends, and joy in abundance.


Let us pray:

Dear Heavenly Father, we gather this evening to remember a night long ago when one was born who would later ask his followers to love one another, and to love even their enemies. We find ourselves in a world very much changed while two millennia have come and gone, yet it is very much the same. We are still in need of that admonition to love one another.
There are now, as then, wars going on elsewhere, and we think of those whose duty it is to wage them. We think also of those who are trying to build peace between the families, tribes, and nations of the world.
We consider the awesome obligations of those who wield political and economic power in our nation, and in all the nations circling the vast oceans. We consider the fearsome duties of those with little apparent power, whose only occupation is simply to survive, and to help their families and friends to live another day. Guide each person who hears your voice, to lend a hand to another, across the Earth.
We ask that your wisdom might be granted to the greatest and the least, that all might benefit from it, and this world be made more peaceful. Let our hearts be so full of your love, and our minds so full of insight, that we might all live as did that babe, born in a manger, so long ago.
In His name,
Amen

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I've been a number of things over the years: husband, father, environmental technical specialist, college instructor, carpenter, volunteer firefighter and ambulance driver, student of Lakota and Japanese languages, technical writer, process engineer, research technician, IT technician, emergency dispatcher, etc.