Weekly Bulletin


Sunday morning’s reflection below….
THIS WEEK (Thirty-Nine)+ of pandemic restrictions
Tuesday December 8
USFW meeting by Zoom, 7:00 PM
Wednesday December 9   
Prayer Soup supper, 5:30 PM @ parsonage
–Welcome Class by Zoom, 7:00 PM 
–Chiming choir practice, 7:00 PM @ meetinghouse
 –Fabulous Friends/Parsonage classes by Zoom, 8:15 PM
Sunday December 13   
–Third Sunday of Advent
                          –Meeting for Worship-Sharing, 10:00 AM, both in person at the meetinghouse and online by Zoom video conferencing
Wednesday December 16
   —Prayer Soup supper, 5:30 PM @ parsonage
       –Welcome Class, 7:00 PM by Zoom   
  –Chiming choir practice, 7:00 PM @ meetinghouse
USFW’s DECEMBER MEETING will be held by Zoom at 7:00 PM this Tuesday December 8.
SUNDAY SCHOOL QUARTERLIES for December-February titled “Hearing God” and covering I and II Samuel are available from the southwest parlor table or the church office.  That study by the Welcome Class will begin by Zoom this Wednesday December 9 at 7:00 PM — join us!
THANK YOU to everyone who contributed to the $445 offering sent last week to support Gideons International’s Bible placement ministry!
PANDEMIC GATHERING:  For Friends’ health and safety, combined in-person and online Meetings for Worship-Sharing (utilizing Zoom video/phone conferencing) will be held at 10:00 AM each Sunday until further notice.  Due to increased COVID-19 cases, M&O may at any time instruct returning to online-only Sunday services.  Those gathering in person are expected to arrive no earlier than 9:30 AM, and to honor hand sanitizing, facemask wearing, and physical distancing to help prevent COVID infection.  If you feel unwell or are experiencing any COVID symptoms (fever, persistent cough, shortness of breath, recent loss of taste or smell), please participate online or by phone.  To connect by telephone, dial 1-301-715-8592, then key in the meeting ID (249 900 7533) and meeting password  (162473).
PERSONAL ADVENT STORIES:  If you would like to tell (or retell) our fellowship this month how Christ first arrived (or continues arriving) into your life, then provide an ornament for the parlor Christmas tree that will remind us each year of what you said, please contact the church office so it can be scheduled during a December meeting for worship-sharing.
CHRISTMAS ENVELOPE OFFERING FOR OUTREACH:  If you sense God’s leading to make an extra contribution for missions and benevolence this Christmas season, please mark your gift “Christmas Missions” and submit it to the church office.  It will be used to help Friends United Meeting’s ministries in East Africa, plus local outreach ministries.  Thanks!
Winchester Friends Church           765-584-8276
124 E. Washington St.      Winchester, IN  47394


Third Sunday of Advent (arrival, entry into) 2020
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  (Isaiah 61:1-3)
The angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign to you:  you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”    (Luke 2:10-12)
Good News of Great Joy
In the cupboard above the microwave at the parsonage are two black coffee mugs with some colorful decoration on one side.  Closer inspection shows the image to be a snow- and ice-capped mountain with its sides covered in forests.  On the bottom of each mug is an imprint explaining that the mountain is Mount St. Helens in southwestern Washington state, and that the glazes used to create and then seal the artwork on the mugs is partly composed of volcanic ash collected after St. Helens exploded on May 18, 1980.
The volcano had begun rumbling and venting several weeks prior to the blowout.  Scientists hurried to various locations on the mountain to monitor and study the seismic activity.  Warnings were issued for people to evacuate the area, but a number of them chose to stay put.  When the north side of the mountain suddenly exploded that Sunday morning, a column of ash rose 80,000 feet into the sky and eventually was deposited in at least eleven US states plus two Canadian provinces.  The blast wave of the explosion leveled the forest of tall pine trees like matchsticks for over 15 miles.  An avalanche of lava, molten rock, huge boulders, and melted ice roared down the mountain and flowed to the southwest, eventually reaching the Columbia River 50 miles away.  At least 57 people died in the disaster, and over 100 square miles of Washington was reduced to wasteland.
About 200 miles to the east, Pam’s stepfather John Curtis was herding high school band members into buses that morning for their return to their small northern Idaho logging town where John was their principal.  The band had played in a competition in central Washington until late Saturday evening.  After a night in a motel, they set out Sunday morning on the drive back home.  As they traveled, the sky got progressively darker, and then ash started falling like heavy snow and driving soon became hazardous.  When the bus engines began stalling because their air filters were plugged with ash, the drivers decided it was time to get off the road.  Fortunately, they found a restaurant near the highway and managed to get the buses into the parking lot.  The ash kept right on falling and piling up.  The group ended up spending the night on the floor of the restaurant and had to wait for road graders to clear the highway on Monday before they could drive on to Idaho. 
We visited the Curtis’s later that year while on vacation from Kansas and heard the harrowing tale of that trip and the days that followed.  Clear over in Idaho, people were cleaning ash off their sidewalks with snow shovels.  Unlike snow, the ash didn’t melt, so it was a real problem getting rid of it.  When we saw the beautiful coffee mugs, we bought some for friends back in Kansas and kept a couple for ourselves as a reminder of that tragedy, and of the truth that beauty can indeed arise out of ashes.
When Isaiah was moved to write the words (above) to the exiled Israelites in what now is the 61st chapter of his prophecies, he obviously had been shown by God that the promised Messiah would arrive to Israel at a similar time of need.  Isaiah’s promise was that by his presence, his message, and his actions, Messiah would teach people a way to live with justice and truth that transforms ashes into beauty, mourning into gladness, despair into praise. He would enable them to live in his Spirit, aware always of his presence. 
When Jesus began his three years of public ministry by speaking to his home synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21), he read aloud those words from Isaiah 61 and told his friends he had come to fulfill that prophecy.  It was the “good news of great joy for all the people” of which the angel had spoken to the shepherds on the night Jesus was born near Bethlehem in Judea thirty years earlier.  Immanuel – “God with us,” the Savior “in whose presence is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11) – had arrived and promised never to leave nor forsake them.  Like trying to end a global pandemic, there were no instant solutions to the great problems in the world.  Solving those would require lifetimes of faithful, devoted effort.  Their joy in life and living would not depend on solved problems and pleasant circumstances, but rather on his promised presence (and their faithfulness to seek and experience it) through whatever circumstances life brought their way.
Joy vs. Happiness     That understanding of the source and origin of true joy is beautifully consistent with Paul’s description of the “fruit” or evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence and activity in one’s life found in Galatians 5:22.  In contrast to the selfish, harmful fruit of a life controlled by the sinful nature (5:17-21), Paul wrote that the fruit of the Spirit’s presence is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  We live in a world that considers joy to be the same as happiness, an emotion to be pursued or achieved, and people far too often are willing to cut corners, squander resources, hurt people, or break laws in order to be happy.  The problem is that emotions, like external circumstances, are fickle and fleeting, whereas the Spirit and the spiritual qualities of his presence are constant and abiding and are not dependent upon circumstances or feelings.  Think of the people you have encountered in life who have every material reason to be happy and content, yet are joyless and unfulfilled.  Hopefully, you also have had occasion to know people who are the opposite of that – who have every reason in the world to be unhappy and dissatisfied with their outward circumstances and hardships, yet live with quiet, irrepressible joy and purpose because of their deep inner life that assures them “God is with us.”  There is a reason the carol composer didn’t write “Happiness to the World.”
Joy of Salvation      One of the ways to deeply know the joy of being right with God is to know the horror of not being right with God.  In II Samuel 11,12,  King David committed adultery with his neighbor Bathsheba, then conspired to have her husband killed in order to cover up the first sin.  He soon was confronted with those facts by the prophet Nathan (to whom God had revealed them).  In his sorrow over disobeying God and harming so many people, David wrote Psalm 51 as a prayer of confession and repentance.  Verse 8 of that Psalm speaks of his loss of the joy of being right with God as being “like having his bones crushed,” before he prays in verse 12 for God to “restore to me the joy of your salvation.”  In Matthew 18:10ff, Jesus tells a parable of a shepherd who leaves his 99 sheep untended to go find the one that has wandered away.  When it is recovered, Jesus says there is more joy in heaven over the one that returned than the 99 that didn’t stray.  It’s not a comparison of the value of specific sheep, but a statement of the joy God feels when anyone accepts his invitation to receive “God with us.”
                   Friends founder George Fox described his “condition” resulting from Christ’s redemptive work as (1) the joy of being forgiven and restored to the spiritual cleanness of Adam before he sinned in the Garden of Eden; and (2) the joy of being empowered by the indwelling Spirit to live in the same life and power that the apostles and prophets lived in who wrote the scriptures for us.  Fox’s joy was in Christ’s overcoming for our benefit both the penalty of sin and the power of sin.  It’s why he came to earth.  If that doesn’t give you joy, it’s unlikely anything will.
Joy of Grace       One of my favorite definitions of grace is “God doing for us things we cannot do for ourselves.”  In The Road Less Traveled, author Scott Peck suggests that we all would be much more joyful if we could see all the things God does to bless and protect us, things we fail to notice as we rush through our busy lives.  Only people who have persisted and progressed in the spiritual life far enough to apprehend the purity of heart than allows the disciple to “see God” (Matthew 5:8) will begin to understand.  Pam and I have had hints of this experience along the way.  When she went to surgery for what looked like cancer, then a nurse came to tell me there was no cancer and she would be OK, I didn’t feel happiness – it was the joy of grace, of God with us.  When an escaped jail inmate invaded our home, held Pam hostage, tied her up, and stole our car, she described the sense of God’s presence she felt through that ordeal as the most powerful she’d ever experienced.  She was given the grace to see beyond the immediate circumstance to see God with her, at work on our behalf.   Such grace fuels joy that lasts.
Joy of Obedience       Hebrews 12:2 says that at the end of his life, Jesus “for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross….”  I’m pretty sure that the same could be said about his entire earthly life.  It would have been so much easier for him to stay in heaven, except “for the joy that was set before him” for seeing God’s redemptive intentions carried out.  After his spiritual restoration, King David eventually was allowed to bring the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem (I Chronicles 15) after it had been lost many years before in war.  He danced in celebration so vigorously that Michal “despised” him, but the joy of seeing God’s desire fulfilled proved a stronger motivation even than her criticism.  Happiness is about me getting what I want; joy is when God gets what God wants, and when I begin to desire that above all else.  During the December 6 On Being podcast, author Bryan Stevenson told the interviewer of his anxiety when rain threatened to interrupt or ruin the recent dedication ceremonies for the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.  Just as he began to give his speech, the skies opened and heavy rain poured down on the metal roof of the memorial.  As he fretted and listened to the raindrops, it suddenly dawned on him that maybe God sent that sound to represent tears of joy being shed by the thousands of lynching victims that justice finally was being done, that their lives and deaths were finally being remembered and honored – “gladness instead of mourning, beauty instead of ashes.”  In that moment, Stevenson caught a glimpse of “God with us.”
The joy of Advent is an eternal quality of the Spirit’s presence within us, not just happiness that is a temporary emotion.  It is the joy of being right with God, of being both forgiven and empowered to live free of sin’s power because of the work of Messiah.  Advent’s joy is the grace-infused life with eyes opened to see “God with us” all the time, not just at Christmastime.  And the joy of Advent is the joy that floods our souls when the Lord’s intentions are fulfilled, and our desires begin to look more and more like his.  This “good news of great joy is for all the people,” including you.  May the joy of “God with us” be real to you this Christmas.
–Ron Ferguson, 13 December ‘20
Queries for Reflection and Worship-Sharing
1) What are some experiences from your life in which God has “brought beauty from ashes”?
2)  What are your most useful ways consistently to seek and experience the Holy Spirit’s presence, “God with us”?
3)  When/how in this dark year of pandemic and trouble has the light of joy cropped up in your life?  The light of grace?
4)  By George Fox’s definition, do you think the joy of salvation is a one-time rush, or a daily life of spiritual growth?