Christmas Fund

St. John’s United Church of Christ will accept your donations to the Christmas Fund through the end of the month of December 2014.

The generous gifts of UCC congregations and individuals to the Christmas Fund enabled the Pension Board’s Ministerial Assistance program to provide some form of assistance to impact the lives of hundreds of persons during the past year.
• MONTHLY PENSION SUPPLEMENTATION for 408 lower-income retired UCC clergy/lay employees.
Our retired clergy/lay employees relied on this income supplementation for basic needs such as food, utilities, and living and medical expenses. Since needs exceed the amount received through the Christmas Fund Offering, assistance was also supported by Our Church’s Wider Mission and legacy gifts to
Ministerial Assistance. The amount of pension supplementation totaled $1,342,000 in 2013.
• QUARTERLY HEALTH PREMIUM SUPPLEMENTATION for 239 lower-income retired UCC clergy/lay
employees. These funds subsidized premiums for the UCC Medicare Supplement Plan with Rx so that individuals could afford and receive quality health care. Assistance totaled $508,000 in 2013.
• CHRISTMAS “THANK YOU“ GIFT CHECKS given to 543 retired UCC clergy/lay church employees.
This special gift at Christmas time reminds these Veterans of the Cross that they have not been forgotten and that the Church is grateful for their service. Gifts totaled $235,800 in 2013.
• EMERGENCY GRANTS for 65 active or retired UCC clergy/lay employees. Sometimes those who serve the Church need our help, and emergency funds are available to assist in covering costs that arise unexpectedly – for example, large medical expenses, or home damage resulting
from natural disasters. Emergency assistance totaled $57,000 in 2013.

Let’s cut Santa some slack

Around Christmas time Christians start bashing Santa Claus and get apprehensive if not aggressive against the good old Saint because he is presumably not part of the “real reason for the season”.
Humbug!
In many ways Christians are called to be Saints. Like here by the Apostle Paul:
“May the God of peace sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
(1 Thessalonians 5:23 – Watchword for the Week of Sunday 14 December 2014)

Santa is what Christmas is all about. Just keep in mind how we got him in the first place:

1. Santa Claus is named after St. Nicholas of Myra, the historic 4th-century Christian Saint and Greek Bishop of Myra (Demre, part of modern-day Turkey). He is the patron saint for children and the stockings we have on our mantles are derived from the boots that children in Europe get stuffed with little presents on St. Nick’s day, December 6th. Just they put them outside the front door so the original St. Nicholas does not have to invade homes. That’s what he looked like:

2. Father Frost is the Slavic personification of winter. He gave our current Santa his fluffy coat and heavy stature. He has all the warmth cold Russian winters lack and he brought presents to Russian children while Stalinism did not allow for St. Nicholas to make a religious appearance. Now the Russian church is having to wrestle with the fact that people have merged St. Nicholas and Father Frost in their hearts and minds. His coat for the most part was pictured green:

3. Even though there have been earlier attempts to bring a red version of this newly merged Turkish-Russian winter-spirit Saint to America, it took the marketing power of Coca Cola to ultimately give our modern day Saint his red coat and bring him fully into the center of American Christmas culture.

That’s what Christmas is all about:
1. A Saint helping poor little children
2. A resilient spirit keeping hope alive in hostile winters
3. A blending of different cultures and traditions that makes the holidays bright for everyone whether they call them Christmas, Chanukkah, Kwanzaa or just Holidays.

Cowboy God

When we have family and friends visiting we like taking them for a tour of George Ranch Historical Park. Going through the four different residences of this huge complex is a wonderful invitation and introduction to our local history. Right when you come into the welcome center there is a permanent exhibit that blew my mind challenging my perspective of cowboys. I grew up with those classic western movies where cowboys were gun-toting, boot-wearing, white men – like John Wayne, or Clint Eastwood. But here on this most Texan ranch I learned that most cowboys did not look the way I thought they did in the 1800s: It is thought that, on some Texas trails, a third of cowboys were Mexicans and about a quarter of cowboys were former slaves: They were black!

In the ancient Middle East the most prominent livestock was sheep. Now again: My perspective of what shepherding looks like is fundamentally challenged: Who hasn’t heard of the good shepherd and Psalm 23 and all that biblical imagery portraying God as a shepherd? Here is another one:
“He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.”
(Isaiah 40:11 – Watchword for the Week of Sunday 7 December 2014)

I always thought the shepherd’s crook was used to shove the sheep in the right direction. And I would have never thought that shepherds go around hugging the entire flock maybe exchanging a few friendly words like people whispering words of affection into their pets’ ears. We are talking livestock business after all, aren’t we? And “leading them gently”, really? Isn’t it more like unleashing the German Shepherd dogs that bark and bare their teeth in order to get the sheep in line?

Well, it seems like reality is always more complex than anticipated: Those rough tough cowboys were slaves once, just like the Word of God became a lowly human being and has come to us and shared our common lot. Or in biblical context: The shepherd put down his staff, abandoned his power and embraced the power of love because he knows what the whip feels like from own experience.