An Astonishing Awareness
Luke 1:39-45 (KJV)

Dr. William S. Epps, Senior Pastor

Sunday, December 19, 2021
39And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; 40And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. 41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: 42And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 43And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.
Luke 1:39-45 (KJV)
Prayer: Lord we approach Christmas with bated breath, awestruck about the reality this season brings to mind. We embrace the hope, the love, the joy and the peace of the season which reminds us of the presence of the Lord of life in the person of Jesus, the Christ. May we continue to let the life that brought light into a dark world illumine our understanding of living in community with each other. Amen 
On the first Sunday in Advent we lit a candle as a symbol of expectation. We express our desire with the words of a traditional melody which says,
O Come O come Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear; rejoice, rejoice Emmanuel, shall come to thee, O Israel.
This request captures the essence of what we desire now and always. We are all looking forward to something expectantly anticipating the fulfillment of what we most desire.
O Come O come Emmanuel and save us from the destruction we cause ourselves. Save us from the apathy, bitterness, complicity, cruelty, greed, isolation, pride and selfishness which is so prevalent in our lives. 
On the second Sunday of Advent we lit a candle as a symbol of proclamation.
May the word sent from God through the prophets lead us to the way of salvationO come Emmanuel! O come thou Wisdom from on high, and order all things far and nighTo us the path of knowledge show, and cause us in her ways to goRejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel - Shall come to thee, O Israel. 
On the third Sunday of Advent, we light a candle as a symbol of joy.  May the joyful promise of your presence, O God, make us rejoice in our hope of salvation. O come, O come Emmanuel! O come thou Dayspring, come and cheer, our spirits by thine advent here; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death's dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel - shall come to thee O Israel. 
Consider what it means to embrace the hope, the love and the joy that the coming of the Lord evokes in the hearts of humanity.  
Monday, December 20, 2021
On the fourth Sunday of Advent, we light a candle as a symbol of peace
Our peace is found in God and in Jesus Christ. John the Baptizer, and all the prophets remind us, that to receive peace we must be prepared for it. We light this candle today to remind us that Christ is the Prince of Peace, the one promised from the beginning of the world. We thank God for the hope we are given and the peace that has been bestowed in Christ. I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)
This is the fourth Sunday of Advent: We light these candles with peace in our hearts for the promise of the nearness of God. Even when we forget to listen, to lean into that presence, God is as close as our own breath. This, in a confused and confusing world, is a peace that passes all understanding. It is the peace that knows that company is coming. O Come, O Come Emmanuel
During each Sunday of the Advent season, we focus on one of the four virtues Jesus brings us: Hope, Love, Joy and Peace. Others consider the lighting of the first candle to symbolize expectation, while the second symbolizes hope, the third joy and the fourth purity. The Christ candle is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day reminding Christians that Jesus is the light of the world. The order and exact wording vary among churches, but we are continually reminded of what we are called to be as followers of Jesus.
A scene is recorded after the announcement by the angel Gabriel to Mary. Mary visits her cousin, Elizabeth, who is miraculously pregnant with John, the one who would prepare the way of the Lord. As soon as Mary’s greeting reaches Elizabeth’s ears, the baby in her womb “leaped for joy,” and she was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” We should remember that Elizabeth and Zechariah are described earlier in St. Luke’s Gospel as “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly” (see Lk 1:6). We know that when Gabriel visited Zechariah as he was ministering in the Temple to announce the news of the birth of John, Zechariah’s faith failed him. He did not believe that the impossible could happen, and he lost his ability to speak. Elizabeth immediately recognizes Mary as “the mother of [her] Lord.” There is no disbelief here in this Spirit-filled woman. Elizabeth blesses both Mary and the fruit of Mary’s womb in her Spirit-led greeting: 42And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 43And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. Luke 1:42-45

What an astonishing awareness with implications for us during this time of the year! 
Consider what it means to be in the company of persons who are astonishingly aware that something miraculous occurs in surprising ways.  
Tuesday, December 21, 2021
Christmas is one of those times, in the midst of the early darkness and late sunrises, when we get a bit reflective. It's this time, when there is more dark than day, when we remember all over again the hole in our collective lives. This year that hole has gotten deeper, dimmer and darker with all of the tragedies that have occurred:
the protracted uncertainty of the pandemic, disinformation, divisiveness, threatening violence, continual contentious conversation and subversion, and you name it.   
See how Elizabeth praises Mary’s faith: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Elizabeth knew, of course, in a very real way the difficult test of faith that comes when we are asked to believe the impossible. Her husband’s long period of being mute was a daily reminder. So, what do we learn from this scene as we draw near to the celebration of the Lord’s First Advent and wait with patience for the Second Advent? 
An astonishing awareness affirms that which is amazing, astounding,
and marvelous!
Elizabeth reminds us that no matter how long it takes or what transpires in the history that moves us through time, God will keep all the promises God makes to us. In her thankful humility, she gives us an example of the proper posture for people as we anticipate the Lord’s visitation. We know we aren’t worthy to receive Jesus even to enter under our roof, but we are full of gratitude that He chooses to come and visit us. In her praise of Mary’s faith, she encourages us to do what Mary did at the Annunciation—she believed and accepted God’s promise and went “in haste” to fulfill her calling to share Him with others. Mary and Elizabeth both had an astonishing awareness. 
Elizabeth has experienced what was considered to be impossible. She was past child bearing years and yet she conceived. And now Mary has experienced the impossible also. 
We are not told why Mary went to visit Elizabeth. All we know is that when she was told what would happen to her, she was also told that "her relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God" (Luke 1:36-37). Then Mary responded, "here am I, a servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38)
Maybe it is instructive for us during this special time of the year to seek those who will affirm our expectations and hopes about the possibilities rather than the negativities about humanity’s plight.   
People gather to affirm their belief in the amazing activity of God in their lives. Mary went where she received affirmation about God's goodness
Families gather at Christmas to celebrate the goodness of the Lord in their lives with expectation and hope.   
Notice how Elizabeth and Mary both embodied the hope, the love, the joy and the peace represented symbolically as the virtues that we do by the candles we light. Hope replaced their hurts, love replaced their limits, joy replaced their doubts, and peace replaced their conflict.  
Consider what it means to be in the company of those who affirm the amazing,/ astounding, and marvelous activity in life despite the negative aspects of existence. 
Wednesday, December 22, 2021
An astonishing awareness acknowledges the extraordinary and unusual.
In a time of darkness, the people cry out for divine light. They have experienced divine absence and now plead for divine presence. In a similar fashion, on the verge of the winter solstice, the ancients feared that the darkness would swallow the light, and the world would be plunged into utter darkness. How they rejoiced as the days grew longer! Even in this modern age of technology and artificial lighting, the darkest day of the year forces us to ponder the importance of light in our lives. Then we realize that from the darkest day, light lengthens the days that follow.
The hope of Christmas is for light that exposes, heals and illumines. We have been in darkness too long. Fear has ruled us and we are in need of light to find our way. Let the light of your countenance shine upon us, God, so that we might find your hope, love, joy and peace for us all. 
Christmas is on the horizon. There is hope on the horizon and this hope is especially powerful among those who are oppressed, grieving, or living in uncertainty as they look toward the future. The Coming One engenders hope in all who believe, love in all who will receive, joy to all who want relief, and peace to all who want assistance.  Help is on the way. Something extraordinary happened with the birth of Jesus that continues to resonate with us as a reminder that we have been visited in a special way and are engaged in waiting for the visitation again. 
Consider what it means to embrace the visitation of Jesus, the Christ, as something extraordinarily marvelous and unusual that has
made a difference in your life. 
Thursday, December 23, 2021
An astonishing awareness applauds the incredible and remarkable
Christmas celebrates the coming of Jesus Christ into the world, which set in motion the greatest event in human history! What better time to stop and reflect on what God did for us by sending Jesus into the world.
Why is Christmas important? It's important first of all because it reminds us of our greatest need: to be forgiven and reconciled to the God who created us, and to one another.  If we could solve this need by ourselves, we would not need Christ. God did in Christ what we could not do for ourselves, because God loves us, and wants us to have hope, love, joy and peace, redemption, reconciliation and restoration. 
Christmas reminds us too of what God has done for us. We could never save ourselves -- but Christ came to save us from the destruction we cause ourselves. There is no better gift that God could give other than what God gave us in Christ.  
What the Lord provides in Christ are the virtues which make for well-being in life.  We need the hope that God gives in Christ, the hope of salvation, redemption and forgiveness. We need the love that God gives in Christ, a love that caresses and lifts. We need joy that swells in our spirits causing us to rejoice with singing. We need peace - peace of mind, peace of spirit, peace which passes all understanding, settling our troubled hearts. 

(the captivity of apathy, bitterness, complicity, cruelty, greed, isolation, pride, and selfishness).  
Consider what it means to have an incredibly remarkable kind of peace that Jesus gives to overcome our troubled hearts and fears.  
Friday, December 24, 2021
Christmas Eve
We hear the announcement of the angel Gabriel and witness the faith of Mary affirmed by Elizabeth. Visit us and fill us with your Spirit. Fill us with your grace and light. Bring your good news to life within us. Give us courage to carry your light into the injustices and shadows of this world.  Let us witness to the reality of your abiding presence which sustains and transforms our lives and worlds. Make room for the Lord of life in your life. 
Declutter your life from what leaves no room, no place, and no space for the Lord. Christmas is time to be reminded that there was no space for the Lord in the inn so he was relegated to a stable. 
In the ordinary events of our lives God is at work. God works miracles to be sure but God also works without them. God used what Caesar Augustus decreed to fulfill prophesy.  
God worked through the decree of Caesar Augustus to fulfill prophesy. God worked through the common place to do the uncommon. God worked through the mundane to do the majestic. God worked through the ordinary to accomplish the extraordinary. God worked through the secular to do the sacred. God takes us from vain expectation to true hope. 
Consider what it means that God is at work in all of the changing scenes of life faithfully sustaining us through the circumstances that wax and wane.  
Saturday, December 25, 2021
Christmas Day
Merry ChristmasBe sure to embrace celebrating this day in a way that makes room for the Lord, Jesus Christ in your life.
O come, all ye faithful, / Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him, / Born the King of Angels;
O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him, / Christ the Lord.
O Sing, choirs of angels, / Sing in exultation,
Sing all that hear in heaven God's holy word.
Give to our Father glory in the Highest; / O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him, / Christ the Lord.

All Hail! Lord, we greet Thee, / Born this happy morning,
O Jesus! for evermore be Thy name adored.
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing;
O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.
Consider what it means for you to be Persisting Everlastingly Against Captivity Endlessly as we live the protracted uncertainty of the pandemic, the political divisiveness and social unrest. 

With God (nothing's impossible)
~Yolanda Adams
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Los Angeles, CA 90011 
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