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Trail Notes: 12/25/2016

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Why do we come to church on Christmas?
Some of us are regular church-goers, but many are here only occasionally. Or this may be your first church experience. So why do we come, to do what so many human beings have done for so many centuries - to worship God? Why do so many of our paths and trails lead us to this place of prayer and celebration? 
Looking for Spirituality
Of course, we have many reasons. Some of us may be here to please our parents, spouses, or others.  All of us, I think, are seeking something - a connection with God.  This is at the root of the tremendous resurgence of interest in spirituality. We are looking for spiritual roots, a spiritual home where we can experience a deeper dimension of life, a deeper sense of meaning - whether we call that "God" or not. 
The Christmas event is so compelling because Jesus' birth marks God's entrance into human life - bridging the divide between human and divine. God comes very close to us - as close as a baby's cheek to his mother's.  In Jesus, God enters into human life, so that we might enter into God's life.
Looking for Community
We also come to church looking for community - a family.  We may (or may not) have a satisfying family life at home.  But in any case, we need a family of friends, of souls with shared values and purpose in life.  We want to walk the trail with others, to stretch and grow into full humanity, to live a life of meaning. 
Looking for Tradition and Ritual, Hope and Peace
We also come to church - as humans have done from time immemorial - looking for ways to speak and enact the deepest truths of life.  The beautiful atmosphere, beloved music, and ancient rituals of Christmas take us beyond what mere words can say.  Through the sacramental elements of water, bread, and wine, we express our need for cleansing, nourishing, and spiritual renewal.  When we light our candles, we profess our belief that a light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it. 
Whatever reasons have brought you to St. Dunstan's this Christmas, you are welcome here.  Christ welcomes all who come to his table to partake of the bread and wine of Holy Communion. God bless you on your spiritual journey.  We hope that St. Dunstan's will continue to be a part of your journey in 2017. 
Many thanks to all who have made our Christmas celebrations so joyous -
the Flower Guild, Altar Guild, and all who helped decorate the church; our many dedicated musicians & their director, Dr. Michael Austin, Sue Von, Christian Formation Coordinator; Kimberly Matthews, Parish Administrator; and Solutions Services, our janitorial service.
We thank the many who contributed to the success of the new Children's Christmas Musical. 
We are grateful also for the ministry of lectors and chalice bearers, acolytes, trail guides, greeters, and hospitality coordinators. Your tithes and offerings at year's-end are much appreciated, and we thank you for your pledge of support to St. Dunstan's for the year 2017.



Trail Notes: 12/18/2016

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“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way….” 

Matthew’s Gospel gives us the stripped down version of a nativity story – “Just the facts, m’am.” In Matthew, we hear none of the glory and pageantry of Luke’s story, full of angels, shepherds, lovely songs, a stable, animals, and a manger. Luke’s story belongs to the women – Mary is central, but her cousin Elizabeth (pregnant with John the Baptist) also plays a part. 

Matthew’s story is more masculine, and more muscular. Joseph leads the way, guided by dreams from God.  Jesus is born in Joseph’s house in Bethlehem. It is Joseph who names the child “Jesus,” which means “God saves.” In Matthew’s account, it’s the Wise Men who visit the babe, not the scruffy shepherds.

But the core of the story remains: a most unlikely birth takes place in Bethlehem, an insignificant town in a backward province of the Roman Empire…and God is behind it all. This child will be the means, the instrument, of God’s saving grace in a trouble world. It was true then, and it is still true now. 

And Matthew tells us that Jesus will be sought after, for good and for ill. The Wise Men (or Magi) will come from foreign lands to worship him. King Herod will seek Jesus to exterminate him, a potential rival for Jewish allegiance. That also remains true today. Some seek Jesus to learn of his grace and forgiveness. Others despise him because he does not conform to the world’s view of “greatness” or “power.” As the Feast of the Nativity approaches, we are asked to choose how we ourselves will receive this child of God.  JBM  



Trail Notes: 12/11/2016

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In recent cancer treatment, genetic markers guide doctors in designing a custom treatment for each patient. When we travel, we look for signs and markers to lead us to our destination. In business, we look at markers to see how we are progressing toward our goals. If we “miss the mark,” we re-evaluate and adjust course in hopes of a better outcome. 

As God’s people, we look for the markers of the Kingdom of God, breaking in to this world in this present moment. Reading and watching the news, we may feel there are precious few signs of God’s Kingdom today. (I struggle with that, so I’m limiting my news intake rather drastically.) But we are Christians, following Jesus, seeking the light piercing the world’s darkness. So we must look for the markers of the Kingdom, and celebrate them…shout them from the housetops. 

Jesus’ time wasn’t any more peaceful or hopeful than our own. First century Palestine was under military occupation, onerous taxation was bankrupting the peasant class, and violence was the norm, not the exception. (Sound familiar?) Yet John the Baptist came announcing, “The Kingdom of God has come near!”  How could he know that?  Somehow, he knew that God was doing something new, and that new thing was Jesus, God’s Messiah. In today’s Gospel, John is in prison, and he sends word to Jesus asking for some encouragement. Jesus responds by listing the markers of the Kingdom:

The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear,
 the dead are raised, and the poor get good news. 

Those are markers of the Kingdom – God’s will breaking in and overcoming human greed, sickness, blindness, and even death itself. Much as we bemoan the state of the world today, we are seeing these markers if we look: dramatic cures to disease, a huge reduction in world poverty, exploding knowledge and insight, extending healthy lifespans. We have a long way to go, but God’s Kingdom is clearly breaking in and transforming our world. We need to shout that from the housetops.  JBM


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