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Encouraging gratitude

Encouraging gratitude | A5

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Christmas messages from around the Valley

For many of us this year, Christmas morning may look a little different.

The gatherings we’re used to may be a little smaller. The presents under the tree, a little fewer. And we might decide to stay home and stay safe instead of venturing out to a church service celebrating one of the most holy days in the Christian religion.

But the message of hope prevails. Read on for Christmas messages from church leaders from around the Midvalley and Upvalley.

Purity, innocence and peace

It was something that was quite unexpected. The shepherds were out on a night, just a night like any other night. It was probably cold. They were probably under the stars, just watching their sheep. But something extraordinary happened — the Angel of the Lord appeared to them and gave them these glad tidings, this good news that a Savior is born. He is Christ the Lord. You will find a baby in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, in a feeding trough for animals. And this is why that night was so unusual.

The Lord, from the very beginning, is showing the world that He has a different way of doing things. His wisdom is not the wisdom of the world, and it is something that we have to learn. We learn it by looking at His life, as well as listening to His words, and seeing how He lived, the example that He gave us. And we can also learn a little something about the mystery of this feast from the Angels. This must have been really incredible to see. We can’t even imagine what that must have been like — not only did the one Angel show up, but as soon as the announcement was made, a multitude of Heavenly Angels began to sing the praise of God right before the shepherds. The Angels knew what was going on.

The Angels had to burst into song: “Glory to God in the highest.” They were privy to this mystery and God allowed the Heavens to open for a little bit so that a few people on earth could see what a great thing was happening before their eyes — something that would forever change the history of the world.

Now, when we are faced with these great mysteries and the holiness and glory of God, we may fear to approach Him. We have suffered so much this year in our lives and we may be carrying a lot of anger, bitterness or some other kind of negative energy that we are stuck with. But the image of the baby in the manger should help us with our healing of those negative energies that might be in us. Because it’s pretty hard to stay mad when you are looking at a little baby sleeping — that picture of purity, innocence and peace — and God is inviting us to come and be with His Son.

I wish all of you a blessed Christmas and pray that the joy of this feast will fill your hearts with thankfulness to God for the love that he gives us in the birth of his Son into our world. God has given the gift of the very best, so now take him, open him and live with him. Christ is Born!

—The Rev. Nestor Iwasiw, Ss. Cyril and Methodius Ukrainian Catholic Church, Olyphant

You will be saved


Each year, the Christmas celebration recall the events described in the gospels written by Luke and Matthew. The texts center on the village of Bethlehem which today is located in the Palestinian occupied region of Israel. In that village, a basilica (church) stands over the place where the Nativity of our Lord, the Birth of Jesus Christ, took place according to the ancient tradition of the Church.

Today, for anyone visiting this shrine, whether as a pilgrim on a journey of faith or as a tourist just there to see the sights, one must pass through a low and narrow door that is just under 4 feet high. The space is so small that almost everyone must stoop down to pass through. It’s as if, whether one has faith in what is proclaimed here or not, everyone must bend down or bow to enter the traditional place marking the birth of Jesus. It is said that this door was deliberately made so about 500 years ago to make it difficult for looters driving their carts into the area.

As one visits the place of Jesus’ birth, everyone, knowingly or not, bends low in recognition. It’s as if the very gesture acknowledges the witness of the scriptures: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God ... and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us ... For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him ... If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved ... that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

As we celebrate His birth in this challenging year, let us make our prayer the fourth verse of the beloved Christmas carol, ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

O holy Child of Bethlehem,

Descend to us, we pray;

Cast out our sin, and enter in,

Be born in us to-day.

We hear the Christmas angels

The great glad tidings tell;

O come to us, abide with us,

Our Lord Emmanuel.

— Monsignor Patrick Pratico, St. Mary’s Visitation Parish, Dickson City

A sense of hope


As we approach Christmas this year it is vastly different from other Christmas seasons we have experienced.

Who would have thought that we would be wearing masks in church, if we even have in-person worship in our church. No visiting our shut-in friends to sing Christmas carols. No gathering in large family groups or traveling to be with loved ones. Our lives have been changed in so many ways and we have no way of knowing when we will get back to normal, whatever normal may look like in the days and months to come.

And yet as we read the well-known Scriptures of Advent and Christmas, we have a sense of hope, that God is still watching over us and wants what is best for us, whether we realize it or not. The coming of the Babe of Bethlehem is just as true today as it was 2,000 years ago and we should be getting ready to receive Him again into our hearts and lives.

As we hear the familiar carols and Christmas music, hopefully our spirits will be lifted beyond ourselves and we will experience the hope and joy of the coming of the Christ child.

— Margaret Hartmann, commissioned lay pastor, First United Presbyterian Church of Lackawanna Valley, Peckville

A quiet moment


If this year has taught us anything, it’s that sometimes life can take unexpected turns and land you in places you never planned to be. Many, if not most, of us are feeling the effects of that reality. Many have lost much this year. And maybe this Christmas you’re wondering what there is to celebrate.

First let me say, I hear you. This year has left many of us feeling disoriented, lost, even hopeless. Yet there is hope, and that’s worth celebrating.

Take a look with me at the Christmas story — a detailed narrative of Joseph and his soon-to-be wife, Mary. They found themselves on a road they never planned to be on, facing things they never could have imagined. An unplanned pregnancy, visits from angels, a hundred-mile road trip on the back of donkey, giving birth in a dirty stable, the list goes on. You and I might have tapped out even before the donkey ride, but Mary and Joseph stayed the course. What kept them going?

The answer is found in Matthew 1:20-21, when God promised to Joseph and Mary that their son Jesus would save people from their sins. It was this promise that gave them the hope to keep going.

Because of that promise, they knew that even though the road was difficult, they were not alone. They knew this baby would change the world, and that he would save humanity from the guilt and shame of every wrong turn we’ve made in this life.

Jesus didn’t come only to redeem our past, but to give us hope for the future.

If we place our trust in him, we can know that no matter what road we find ourselves on, when we get to the end of the journey, we will be safe in the presence of Jesus.

So, my friend, there is hope because of Christmas. And I think that’s worth celebrating.

If this hope is what is missing from your life, then let me encourage you to reach out to Jesus and invite him to your Savior and your leader. It won’t provide you with a life free from pain, but it will give you hope for when the road takes you somewhere you never planned.

Find a quiet place, a quiet moment and pray a simple prayer of faith:

Jesus, I believe in you. I believe that you came into this world to save me from my sin. Today, I turn from my sin and I give you my heart. Change me by your power and fill me with your hope. AMEN.

If you prayed that prayer, I’d love to hear your story and celebrate with you. Send us an e-mail at stories@parkerhill.org to let us know you took this step. I would love for you to join us for a service, either online or in-person in the new year. Visit our website at parkerhill.org for more information about who we are and how you can join us.

— Mark Stuenzi, lead pastor, Parker Hill Church, Dickson City

It takes faith


Over 2,000 years ago the Jewish people were looking for a Messiah, a political ruler, who would overthrow the Roman government’s oppressive regime. They needed to be saved, and they patiently waited for that Savior to come.

Little did they know their Messiah, their Savior, was a child born in a feeding trough in a cave, hardly the political ruler they were looking for, because that isn’t why Jesus came to this earth as a child. He was born to die for the sins of the people, on a cross on Calvary’s hill.

The first miracle at Christmas was his virgin birth. It’s naturally impossible for a woman to conceive a child without intimacy with a man as Mary pointed out to the angel Gabriel in Luke 1:34, when she said, “How can this be, since I don’t know a man?” “For with God nothing will be impossible” was the angel’s response, and that’s the message of the first miracle.

With God all things are possible. It takes faith to believe that no matter what you’re facing this Christmas season, be it a job loss, sickness, disease, whatever it may be, God can turn it around and bring you your miracle. We just have to believe, have faith, as Mary did!

The second miracle is Jesus is the Son of God! He is God in the flesh, fully God, yet fully man. Wow! What a miracle indeed! What’s the message of this miracle? We can come to Him today with all our baggage, no matter what we’ve done, if we just make room for Him in the inn of our hearts. There was no room for Joseph, Mary, or the soon to be born, holy child Jesus, but we can make room for Him today, by removing everything else that is taking up space in our hearts.

The miracle is Jesus came to die, and He did die a terrible death on the cross. The Bible says without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Jesus shed His blood for the forgiveness of your sins. We just need to ask Him for forgiveness this Christmas season. Romans 10:9-10 says, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

Receive the miracle of Jesus Christ this Christmas season. Make room in the inn of your heart for Him. He made room for you, so He’s waiting for you to make room for Him. We love to receive gifts don’t we? But there is no greater gift you’ll ever receive than the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ.

I pray you and yours will enjoy this miracle at Christmas. May God richly bless you and that you enjoy a most blessed and safe holiday season.

— The Rev. Jack Munley, lead pastor, Rescue & Restore Church in Olyphant

All is calm, all is bright


Seventy years ago, my Godfather, Jack May, was an American soldier in the Korean conflict.

On Christmas Eve 1950, he was feeling lonely and depressed. Although he did not typically talk about the war, my uncle Jack used to tell the story of how he once experienced a little Christmas miracle.

On Christmas Eve, at a very low point in his life when all seemed lost, the faint sounds of sung Christmas carols began to be heard in the distance. Making his way toward the sounds, one carol became clear: Silent Night. It was being sung from a Christmas Midnight Mass being celebrated by fellow American soldiers in a makeshift camp.

He previously turned down an offer to attend the Mass, saying he didn’t feel like celebrating anything at the time. But then he found himself being enchanted by the beautiful hymn of Silent Night and just sat in the snow with his rifle, reflecting on the meaningful words.

He was really being drawn to God’s consolation and peace by the fellowship of believers gathered in prayer and the presence of Christ at the Mass. For the rest of his life, my uncle Jack attended Christmas Midnight Mass and cherished the words of Silent Night.

Like most people, parishioners at St. Rose/Our Lady of Mount Carmel parishes in this year 2020, can resonate with the sense of being lost, lonely and isolated. So much has changed in the world and the COVID-19 pandemic has disoriented so much routine and altered our treasured rituals of faith.

Like at Easter, our Christmas Masses will be said privately. We are grateful, however, that our two Masses will be available to watch livestreamed and that parishioners will have Communion available after each Mass by driving to designated places where priests, a deacon, a seminarian and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion will offer the Body of Christ – Amen!

Today, our little Christmas miracle is to be drawn to God’s consolation and peace by the virtual sounds of prayer and song echoing from computers, laptops and cell phones, reminding us, as always, that Jesus came to us on a “silent night, holy night” and now “all is calm, all is bright!” The “holy infant so tender and mild” will continue to help us battle this virus, and be confident in the victory faith brings.

Although we may not feel like celebrating much of anything, Christians must always remember: “The Word was made flesh,” and dwells among us in our makeshift camps of 2020!

— Father Jeffrey J. Walsh, St. Rose/Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Carbondale

Joy and peace


“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and ransom captive, Israel.”

Perhaps at no other time have those words, that prayer, been uttered with more desperation, exhaustion and pleading as now. With all that we have endured and will continue to encounter, we long for God to rescue us, to come and ransom our captivity. The COVID-19 pandemic, and all that has accompanied its grip on us, has held us captive for months, and soon we will mark its first anniversary.

Despite the grief that has washed over us all, we have reason to hope and reason to welcome the joy—albeit tough to muster perhaps—and peace of Christmas. The serenity of Christmas and the Christ-child whose coming we commemorate has the potential to eclipse all of the misery and darkness that this pandemic has sought to envelop us in.

The words of Sacred Scripture which Saint Matthew utters as he draws from the prophecy of Isaiah (cf. 7:14) is that the Messiah will be named Emmanuel, God-with-us. This is the peace and the promise of Christmas: that what we celebrate today is not simply a commemoration of that singular, salvific event of 2000 years ago, but one that still envelops us in love, mercy and consolation. We are a people whose understanding of the prophecies of long ago are such that not only was God with us, not only will God be with us, but also and in a decisive way is with us. With us in every moment of life, its ups, its downs, everything.

The magi looked for Jesus and found Him in the manger of Bethlehem. We need look no further than our own hearts and feel Him, hear Him there consoling us, embracing us, healing us. He will ransom us still; for, God is with us. Merry Christmas.

— The Rev. Brian J.T. Clarke, Christ the King Parish, Archbald

Chiming church bells

Gretchen Muller was 5 feet, 5 inches tall and 23 years of age. She had blonde hair and was of slim built. Gretchen should have been a breath of fresh air in the small New England town of Beckford.

Instead, she was the most hated woman in the county. People crossed the street to avoid her, refused to sit in the same pew as her in church and often just turned their back to her.

Under normal circumstances, Gretchen would have been one of the most influential woman in town. She was married to a doctor, a war hero, newly returned from the Great War. Normally the doctor’s wife was invited to every women’s committee of any importance in town, but not Gretchen. Families stayed away from Doctor John O’Sullivan’s surgery, especially when they found out that she was an RN. Even the priest in the parish church turned away rather than shake her hand.

Gretchen Muller was not an acceptable person to know, or call a friend, in the town of Beckford. They all thought that they had good reason. Gretchen Muller was a war bride and she was a German.

Christmas was drawing near when Doctor John first fell ill. It was Spanish Flu and his condition was serious. He was confined to bed. Gretchen was forced to take the surgeries. At first, parents would not bring their children to her. Adults stayed away, but as the pandemic spread across the town, they had no alternative.

Gretchen worked long hours, even spending the evenings driving through the snow to outlining farms and homesteads. It was a wicked winter, but nothing compared to the nightmare of Spanish Flu as the cases built up and the deaths mounted. People were forced to wear masks and self-isolate in their homes. Businesses and factories closed and a state of emergency was declared.

Gretchen Muller worked on, often having to walk through deep snow, to reach a farm or ranch house. She spoke halting English with a heavy accent, but people did not notice, as the pandemic took hold.

She often returned home exhausted as the first light was beginning to dawn.

The church was empty that Christmas with few people venturing out. Only the chiming church bells spoke of the coming of the Christ Child. Gretchen made it to the midnight service with the handful of people who were able to attend. She walked home through the snow weary and sad. She slept soundly, more in exhaustion from the previous day’s work than anything else. Gretchen woke late on Christmas morning to the sound of Christmas carols and the door bell ringing.

She opened the front door and stepped out in boots and coat over her night things. A hundred townsfolk greeted her with a chorus of singing. They were wrapped in coats, hats, gloves and scarves. Around her doorsteps were dozens of carefully wrapped Christmas gifts. Dr. John looked down at the scene from his bedroom window, as one after another people greeted Gretchen with hugs and handshakes.

Christmas had come to the town of Beckford and Christian love glowed that morning as bright as the morning snow.

— Father Bill McGinty, Trinity Episcopal Church, Carbondale

Santa stops at YMCA

Santa stops at YMCA| A12