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Grace United Church of Christ, Houston Texas

Clerical Comments

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, Magi 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 we have come to pay him homage." Matthew 2:1

The Season of Epiphany reminds us that God's alluring star reaches to the far ends of the earth with God's message of love and peace for the world. Grace's Peace Pole was given in memory of Laura and Bob Bruce’s son John and dedicated on December 22, 2014. We are grateful to John's family for this wonderful gift to the church and community. As we enter into the season of Epiphany that begins with the Magi's arrival at the home of the Christ Child in Bethlehem, I am reminded of John Bruce's great intellect and his own thirst for knowledge. John would have fit right in with the wise ones who were on their journey to find the center of life's meaning, bringing their best.

There are over 200,000 Peace Poles in almost two hundred countries, with the words, "May Peace Prevail on Earth". This message is written on our Peace Pole in nineteen different languages, including Chinese, Spanish/Portuguese (Paz is peace in both languages), Arabic, French, Russian, Hindi, Swahili, Japanese, German, Urdu, Cherokee, Hebrew, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Tagalog, Navajo, Shona, and Bengali. Grace UCC is in the heart of Houston's International District and these languages have special meaning to the members. The languages connect members with their families who are close at heart, but so far in miles. It is our hope and prayer that all families of the earth will live in peace.

In the Epiphany Story, the Magi, after they have found the Christ Child are warned in a dream not to return to King Harod but take another road. When King Harod learns that the Magi did not return to tell him where the Christ Child had been born, he becomes enraged. Matthew records that he ordered the death of every male child in and around Bethlehem under the age of two. King Harod mirrored the atrocity of Pharaoh centuries before in the time of Moses. Today over eight thousand Palestinian children have been killed in the Israeli Gaza conflict and more children are being killed in Russia’s war against Ukraine. Children, the assurance of a future, tragically, are always being sacrificed by those who only travel the old roads of hatred and violence. There must be a better way to resolve our conflicts.

The Epiphany Story continues when an angel in a dream, warns Joseph to take his family and escape to Egypt. Matthew points us to the old stories of the dreamer Joseph, Egypt, Pharoah, and Moses. The God of the past is shaping the future. Once we have found the Christ, the old roads are too dangerous for us to travel. Now everything is different. The previous way of violence and war can no longer be used to settle conflicts when we worship the Prince of Peace sent by the God of Love. What road will we take in 2024? What language will we use to share the message of God's peace and love with Alief, the International District of Houston, and the wider community?

As we travel by God’s alternative road made visible by the light of God’s love, we experience the blessing shared by the Apostle Paul to the church in Philippi, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) This is the peace that the world can never give, or ever take away. May all the world travel God’s alternative road and peace prevail on earth in 2024 and all the years to come.

Yours in Christ, Pastor David

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Members: Pastor Lina A, Jane E, Perla F, Pastor Brenda, Mae Delle J, Nicholas K, Ayshea L, Esther P, Jay P, Marilyn R, Tatiana R, Jessie S, Martin W, Cynthia W.

Friends: Leah B (Laura B), Barbara & Milas D (Juli K), Rick J (Laura B), Billy P family (Sonny P), Dick S, Gary & Esther (Juli K), Dan W.

Our source of Light

January 6 marks the day of Epiphany, when the wise men (who were Gentiles) came to worship Jesus and bring him gifts. During the church-year season of Epiphany, we remember that God’s Son is the Light of the whole world.

Ponder the gifts of Epiphany with these two reflections, written centuries apart:

Your light, dear God, surpasses all other light, because all light comes from you. Your fire surpasses all fire, because your fire alone burns without destroying. The flames of your fire reach into the soul, consuming the sin and selfishness that lie there. But far from damaging the soul, your fire sets it ablaze with love. What moved you to enlighten me with your truth? The fire of your love was the reason. You loved me so much that you could not bear to see me confused and perplexed. Can I ever repay the burning love which you have given me? No, because I have nothing of my own to give. Yet you assure me that the love which you put into my soul is repayment enough. You desire only the joy of seeing me receiving your gift. What more perfect Father could there be!

—Catherine of Siena (c. 1347-1380)

Epiphany beckons us to come to the light of Jesus Christ. Epiphany calls us to stare into that light until our inner darkness is fully expunged. Epiphany then sends us out into a dark and weary world as women and men with shining faces, until we say with the apostle Paul, “It is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” [see 2 Corinthians 4:6].

—Jason Gaboury, campus minister in New York City

Missed a Sunday reflection? Visit the church website at

www.graceucchouston to watch the worship videos that are posted.

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A word for the year

Every January, some people pray and ask God to provide a word for their year ahead. Friends have shared theirs with me, but I was hesitant to embrace the practice myself. I’d love to receive a word like flourish; then again, I might be like the friend who heard health and then faced many physical challenges that year.

But I tried it for 2020 and heard prepare. My first reaction was that the word wasn’t very exciting, which possibly confirmed I hadn’t orchestrated it. Indeed, 2020 ended up full of significant, unexpected change for our family, with careers, school, church and friends. Prepare reminded me that amid chaos, God had prepared me for each moment and continues to prepare me for what’s next.

Give it a try! Regardless of the word you receive or what lies ahead, you can trust that God loves you and is ultimately in control for 2021 and beyond.

—Janna Firestone

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A prayer for the journey

The following prayer, almost 1,000 years old, was written for pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) — 500 miles across northern Spain.

God, you called your servant Abraham from Ur in Chaldea, watching over him in all his wanderings, and guided the Hebrew people as they crossed the desert. Guard your children, who seek to grow in you this year. Be their companion on the way, their guide at the crossroads, their strength in weariness, their defense in dangers, their shelter on the path, their shade in the heat, their light in the darkness, their comfort in discouragement, and the firmness of their intentions. Through your guidance, may they be enriched with grace and virtue, and be filled with salutary and lasting joy.

—from the 12th-century Codex Calixtinus

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The Wisdom of Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am convinced that love is the most durable power in the world. It is not an expression of impractical idealism, but of practical realism. Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, love is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. To return hate for hate does nothing but intensify the existence of evil in the universe. Someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and evil, and this can only be done through love.

—Martin Luther King Jr.

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A year that whispers Jesus

For author Nancy Tichy, a small holiday gift once sparked big-picture thoughts about Christian living. One December she received a kitchen towel with the message “I want a Christmas that whispers JESUS.” That prompted thoughts of what it’s like to have an entire year that whispers Jesus.

 

For starters, that involves daily quiet time, devotion and prayer. “Sometimes I wake with the thought of a person on my mind,” writes Tichy. “I’m quiet with this impression, interceding for the family member or friend until it has lifted. Could this be a whisper from our Savior?”

 

Many other daily occurrences are “worthy of [Jesus’] whispered response of love,” Tichy points out. That’s true whether we’re distracted by tasks and troubling thoughts or buoyed by encounters with contentment and joy. “For me,” she writes, “whispering is part of intimacy, and that is what I want to make a hallmark of the coming year. I want closeness with our Savior that enables me to hear from him, even when he whispers.”

 

First, contact

In Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality and Mortality, Richard Beck writes powerfully about Jesus healing a leper in Matthew 8:1-3. “What is intriguing about this story is the sequence. Jesus touches the leper first. Then the command ‘Be clean!’ is offered. That is, Jesus’ first move is into ritual defilement. By first touching the leper, Jesus … [is] standing in solidarity with the unclean.” Beck finds this “striking” because typically we expect purification before contact. But Jesus’ actions reverse the pattern: “Contact occurs first.”

 

How fortunate for us, too, that God didn’t wait to reach out to us until he had cleansed us of sin. God didn’t save us from afar and only then come to live among us. Rather, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, ESV). And continuously, Jesus loves us, comes to us and touches our hearts, even when we are at our worst — straying from God, trapped in sin, unworthy, unclean, unrighteous. For it’s not our righteousness or purity that heals and saves us, but Christ’s.

Two ships

The year like a ship in the distance

comes over life’s mystical sea.

We know not what change of existence

’tis bringing to you or to me.

But we wave out the ship that is leaving

and we welcome the ship coming in,

although it be loaded with grieving,

with trouble, or losses, or sin. …

 

The new ship comes nearer and nearer,

we know not what freight she may hold.

Hope stands at the helm there to steer her;

our hearts are courageous and bold.

Sail in with new joys and new sorrows.

Sail in with new banners unfurled.

Sail in with unwritten tomorrows.

Sail in with new tasks for the world.

 

—from “New Year,” Ella Wheeler Wilcox

THANK YOU to everyone who contributed to the Tree of Grace, shared Pointsetttas, and gave to the Christmas Fund

This month's potluck luncheon will be on Sunday, January 21, after worship.

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GRACE UCC ANNUAL MEETING WILL BE AFTER WORSHIP ON SUNDAY, JANUARY 28

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Advent meanings

During Advent, which begins this year on December 3, many churches and families use wreaths to symbolize watchfulness and increasing joy as Christmas approaches. Colors for the candles vary, with some traditions using blue (for hope or creation) and others preferring purple (for royalty, humility or penitence).

 

The four candles that each represent a week in Advent also signify hope, peace, joy and love. (The third candle is often pink.) In the center is the white Christ candle, representing Jesus as the light of the world. That candle is lit on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

 

The round, green Advent wreath has special meaning of its own. It symbolizes eternal life and the unending love of God, who sent his only Son to earth to die in our place.