The Color of Christmas

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What are the colors of Christmas? Red and green, you might think. Why then, do we at the First Presbyterian Church of Easton decorate our sanctuary with purple in December?

The use of colors to differentiate “seasons” in a church year became a common practice in the Western (European) church in about the fourth century. The Reformation movement lifted up a great deal of criticism against many practices and teachings of the Church, including critique of the distracting ornate décor of worship spaces. Protestant churches which were born from the Reformation not only embraced certain Bible based teachings (grace, not works) but the new churches also sought a more simplified worship style.

Of course this reforming of worship happened in differing degrees; Lutherans emerged from the Reformation following a “liturgical” calendar and using colors to represent certain celebrations. But for Reformed churches (including Presbyterian) embellishments in the worship space were purged. But then during the 20th century, the ecumenical movement prompted the rediscovery of ancient Christian ritual. The feeling was that maybe we had thrown the baby out with all the bath water- some art and ritual could actually help us focus on God. Seasonal colors once again were used to help us focus on certain Biblical stories and about who God is to us.

So, why purple in December? Purple is used during our seasons of preparation: Advent and Lent. During the four Sundays before Christmas, which we call the season of Advent, we dedicate ourselves for the preparation of our hearts and minds for welcoming Christ. Purple is the traditional color of royalty. In ancient Rome, Adventus was a technical term for the ‘glorious entry’ of the King into the capital city. This often happened when the birthday of the royal leader was commemorated. The early followers of Jesus heard him preach about the contrast between the worldly empire of Rome and the heavenly kingdom of God. Jesus was the representative of God’s peaceable kingdom on earth. So we still use purple to remind us of the coming of the kingdom of God and the coming of our God and King, Jesus Christ, into the world.

Red can, traditionally, only be found on one Sunday during the liturgical year: Pentecost, where the church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit to the early church as tongues of fire. During most of the church year, which is commonly called "ordinary time", the color that you will see in the sanctuary is green. (Ordinary, related to ordinal or numbered.) Because green is associated with life, the use of green during the times when there are no big festivals or holidays reminds us that God is present among us, breathing life into us and into our church during ordinary times. We use white any time we are celebrating days that emphasize the divinity of Christ-- including on Christmas itself. Also, since white has come to symbolize holiness, it is also often used for the celebration of both baptism and communion.

In this season of Advent take notice of colors and the meaning we have attached to them. What do those colors tell us about who Jesus is? As your pastor, I will be asking you to think about the sacredness and stillness of blackness in a season of flashing bulbs and beeping screens as we wait for the coming of Christ. Also, please notice that we will have new paraments, fabrics with color, in our sanctuary. May the colors and symbols of these small, simple pieces of art help you in your worship.

Grace and peace,
Stefanie

Stewardship

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This past Sunday my heart and soul filled with joy as I witnessed so many of you come forward in worship to dedicate your financial commitment to our beloved church for 2019.

For many this act of promise to support the life of the church is not new. You have heard countless stewardship sermons. You have noted God’s generosity. Out of gratitude, you have given before and you continue to give. For your on-going giving, I can only say “thank you”. For some in our congregation, giving to the church is new. To you I also say: “thank you”. I wonder if terms such as pledges, tithe, first-fruits, even stewardship itself, sound like churchy lingo we use to avoid saying money, fundraising or donations. But words matter. Putting financial giving in the right context is important.

Stewardship language reminds us that “it” is not just about our money. First off, there’s that pesky possessive term “our”. Reminding ourselves that you and I are stewards (managers) of God’s gifts of life, of talents, of time and yes of all material treasures-- is humbling. It puts all our giving in perspective. When we give for the first time or for the 50th time – we are returning to God what is God’s.

Tithe is the Old English word for "tenth." Tithing means to give one-tenth of your income to the church. If you lived in the ancient middle east and followed the Law of Moses, then when your first 100 bunches of grapes were harvested the best 10 bunches went first to the Temple to support the priests and be distributed to the poor (Num. 18:24, Deut. 12:11, and 26:12). Today the exact % is not what I stress. You alone in prayer and discernment can know what amount of money constitutes an act of faithful giving on your part. Today concepts of first-fruit giving and tithing reminds us to set priorities. God should not receive only an after-thought of thanks or the left-over of our material resources. A tithe is a significant portion, one befitting of our generous God.

I’ll end my exploration of ‘churchy language about giving’ with a word about pledging. Your giving is an act of faith, so much so that we include a time of giving in our worship every week. But we ask for a pledge, a promise from you about your yearly giving, at the beginning of our budgeting cycle (around Harvest time) because knowing what level of income we can expect helps us be good stewards. We are committed to maintaining transparent and strong accounting and budgeting practices. So, if you have not filled out your commitment card and returned it to the church, please do so – for the first time or the 50th time. Reflect on what faithful and generous giving looks like for you and please challenge yourself to increase your giving as you are able. Set the church up as a biller in your on-line banking if giving regularly is easier for you that way. However you give, at whatever level you give, I hope that the act of both reflecting on the spiritual act of giving, as well as committing to giving as a discipline and practice of faith, will be meaningful to you. I hope you will find joy in seeing the gifts of God growing as we harvest them together and allow them to multiply under God’s gracious guidance.

Your pastor,
Stefanie

Harvest

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I no longer have a garden. I have some herbs and patio tomatoes all up on my deck away from the deer that think anything that grows out in my yard is for them. If it weren’t for farmer’s markets and farm stands, I would forget this is a season of harvest. But it is.

The leaves on the trees haven’t quite turned to their beautiful Autumn colors. Trees are still full of green leaves - some are just brushed with a bit of gold. The days haven’t grown too dark, but the last few nights were cool enough for a comfy sweatshirt. It’s a sweet spot between trees growing and sleeping, between long days and long nights. These in-between times are holy times to take stock of life and to celebrate the gifts of Harvest.

Harvest is a season of plenty, abundance, fullness. Scripture is filled with themes about harvest times. Jesus called God, the Lord of the Harvest (Matthew 9:38). The riches and abundance of God’s blessings to us are both material and spiritual. When we take the time to look at our harvest—all the ways which God supports and sustains us—how can we not feel blessed?

Here at First Presbyterian Church of Easton, each of us individually can be confident in the generosity of the Lord of the Harvest.

Walt Whitman offers a “Carol of Harvest” in his famous Leaves of Grass.

Loud, O my throat, and clear, O soul!

The season of thanks, and the voice of full-yielding;

The chant of joy and power for boundless fertility.

Times of Harvest remind us that God provides—not without our hard work and input—but God provides. So often today people live from a place and a perspective of scarcity and/or fear. Instead, I invite you to adopt a harvest mentality for your living. Look with joy and thanksgiving at your life now and as you think about your life in the future – you can trust in the Lord of the Harvest. You are enough. You can expect and hope for good times and good things in your future. This is what a harvest mentality is about.

Of course, having a bountiful harvest means great opportunities for feasting!! As always, part of the way we celebrate God’s generosity here at FPCE is with food and fellowship. I so am looking forward to our Kenyan Dinner on October 13th when I can feast with you. This year we intend to direct some of the bounty of this event not only to support this church but to share with neighbors in Kenya. Look out for more information about this in the future.

May you enjoy the changing of seasons and take every chance to give praise to God for the many gifts of life.

Your Pastor,

Stefanie