The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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December 23, 2012

Christmas blessings | Area clergy will bring tidings of God's love

Themes of Christmas cheer, God’s glory, God weeping and open doors will be in area Christmas messages.

 “The Best Way to Spread Christmas Cheer” will be the message at Flood City Church, formerly BCK Ministries, 1723 Scalp Ave., Richland Township, where Brad Westover is pastor.

“Our theme for the month of December has been ‘Home for Christmas,’ ” Westover said.

“We used clips from the movie ‘Elf.’ ”

Love of God

On Christmas Eve, the message will be about people who don’t fit in and the love God can give them.

“When Mary carried Jesus, she was with child out of wedlock,” Westover said. “In that culture, she didn’t fit in.

“Many people don’t feel they fit in for various reasons. Christmas has the highest suicide rates of the year. Forty-seven percent say it would help if December could be eliminated. It creates difficulties for them.”

Westover said he will reference the Scripture passage in Luke 2 about the birth of Christ in the church’s Christmas Eve service at 5:30.

Personalized message

At Oakland United Methodist Church, 1504 Bedford St., Johnstown, the Rev. Randy Bain’s Christmas Eve message will be “The Glory of God Comes to You” at services at 5 and 7:30.

Bain said the you in the title refers specifically to the shepherds, but also to everyone today.

“I wanted to personalize Christmas,” Bain said. “The whole theme is God comes to us.”

Bain will use five to six classic scriptural passages to illustrate his theme.

“This message is faithful to the Scripture message and the gospel,” Bain said.

“God comes to each person.”

Oakland’s Christmas Eve services will feature brass, dancing and children singing during the first service and music and a drama in the second service, ending with candle lighting at both services.

The theme for Bain’s sermon series stems from the verse used during the church’s recent capital campaign.

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.” Isaiah 60:1.

He extended the theme into Advent with messages on the glory of God coming to women and the wise men and educated elite.

A message for Dec. 30 will be on God coming to church, to Anna and Simeon at the temple.

‘Jesus Wept’

The Rev. Jim Farrer of Ebensburg Presbyterian Church, 200 N. Center St., will have a more unusual Christmas message, “Jesus Wept,” based on John 11:3.

“For our Christmas Eve service at 7, we do a lot of music and carols, so I need to keep it short,” Farrer said.

“And, this is the shortest verse in the Bible.”

Farrer said on that first Christmas, the angels were singing, the shepherds were praising and the baby was crying.

“We cry over the mass shootings and loss of loved ones not around our table anymore,” Farrer said.

“In this passage, Jesus cries over the loss of Lazarus. To the Roman world, it would have been unusual for God or the son of God to cry because their gods didn’t care about humans.”

Farrer said Jesus also was angry at the loss of his friend, even knowing he would raise him from death.

“Jesus was angry at what Paul calls the last enemy, death, which he will take away,” Farrer said.

‘Open the Door to Christ’

The Most Rev. Mark L. Bartchak, bishop of the Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese, is celebrating Christmas in the Year of Faith with the message “Open the Door to Christ.”

“The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem did not go well for Joseph when he knocked at the door of the inn and was denied admittance, but Christ’s entrance into the world was not prevented by that lack of hospitality,” Bartchak said.

“The word went out quickly, and the most unlikely characters, including shepherds and wise men, started to appear at the door of a stable to see the newborn son of God.”

Bartchak said they all came with fear, awe, curiosity and hopeful expectation and found for themselves that the door of faith is always open.

“Regardless of motives or excuses for not knocking at that door more often, do not allow anyone to distract or deter you from approaching that door at Christmas or at any time during the coming new year,” Bartchak said.

“The door of faith is always open to you regardless of your strongest fear, your worst sin or your unfulfilled expectation.”

Bartchak said the key is the word of God who became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, which is to be shared with others who are afraid, distressed, confused, lost, frustrated or just disconnected and at a loss to find the way to connect.

“Jesus comes knocking at our door over and over again, but he doesn’t come as a rude, obnoxious uninvited guest we would not want to see,” Bartchak said.

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