with gallery: Churches spread messages of hope and strength this Christmas season
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In the wake of the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut, many local churches are using this year’s Christmas sermons to spread hope and strength.
Pastors across Washtenaw County said this year, among the familiar stories and songs, their message is that God is everywhere, even amid periods of uncertainty.
“In the moments over the past week when we have all witnessed darkness at its worst, God is still in the business and habit of providing his light, and in his light we find life,” said Pastor Ken Gilmore of Keystone Church in Saline. “Just as there was darkness on display, we also cannot escape the light carried by all those who responded and continue to respond to the darkness.”
Gilmore said, like an annoying mobile phone that lights up in a movie theater, even a little bit of light is enough to overcome darkness.
“We should not only celebrate the light we have received in and through Christ, but we are also called to be light bearers in dark places,” he said. “Our celebration ought also to be our motivation this Christmas. If we consider ourselves followers of God and of Jesus, we ought to be about the work they have been doing since the creation.”
Like Gilmore, Dr. Matthew Hook, pastor of Dexter’s United Methodist Church, said his sermon is also about overcoming difficult times through Christ.
“People should reflect on the radical act of God coming to earth in the form of his son, Jesus Christ, and what his message throughout his life was and is for our world today,” he said. “We can now have hope in the midst of the chaos, darkness, and brokenness.”
Pastor Mark Porinsky of Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church in Dexter said he is going to discuss the song “Away in a Manger” and the significance of the birth of Christ as not just a baby, but God himself with the role of bringing people with him to heaven.
He said, though Christmas is usually a joyous occasion, it’s important to be aware of those who are struggling this season, especially in the wake of the Connecticut shootings.
“It is a time when we need to be sensitive to those who have experienced loss, or for some other reason are not able to celebrate joyfully,” he said. “Still, I believe that people need the same message as always - the birth of God’s son is to provide a better life to look forward to and to provide strength to live this life.”
The Rev. Jim McDougall of Ann Arbor’s St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church said people are more open to each other this time of year, and Christmastime provides a “thin place” where it is easier to see God in one another.
“The key is to see it all the time,” he said. “That’s the thing to remember, to give us life and hope.”
For Pastor Michael Ryan of Ann Arbor’s King of King’s Lutheran Church, his Christmas message is less about finding God in the “thin places” and more about finding God in everyday places.
“I think people should reflect upon the nearness of God in our very daily, mundane, and ordinary lives and moments as well as how much God loves and celebrates who we are as human beings, even the goofy and over-the-top stuff that tends to happen each year around this time of the year,” he said.
The Rev. Dr. Fairfax Fair of Ann Arbor’s First Presbyterian Church said the theme of her sermon is making room for God in our lives.
She said, this Christmas, it’s important to remember that God is with people through both the good times and the bad times.
“On this holy night -- and in the days to come -- we all need to reflect on the strong truth of God coming to dwell with us - the wondrous reality we celebrate at Christmas -- that God is with us through not just the joyous times when angels sing but also in the dark moments of our lives,” she said.
“God never leaves us alone in the darkness but is with us, lifting us up, sustaining us, giving us strength and hope.”