Advent candles were lit and we proceeded through 4 weeks of the sermon series called Aniticpation, on how to have Hope, Peace, Love and Joy during a time of waiting or during seeming disappointment....
The huge rugged cross was taken down and chairs of all varieties were strung from the church's rafters in its stead to signify the turmoil that often comes with waiting. Guest speaker, elder Craig Dahlberg started us off with a sermon on "Peace" with Readings from the Book of Zechariah Chap 9:9-10. Craig spoke about not letting the devil steal your peace, how to keep your peace during the storms of life and how to help others find their peace(be peacemakers). He extolled us to remember that Jesus is the Prince of Peace and that we should be honest with God like a child with their parent.
Then Paster Joseph continued on weeks 2-4 with "Hope When It's Hopeless" with Readings from the Book of Micah 7-1-7 then "Joy" with Readings from The Book of Isaiah Chap 12 and amazing blue-grass, stomp and praise sounding guitar(thanks Greg Jong, Aaron Ballard) and violin/fiddle (thanks, Mike Cioni) versions of gospel songs like "I Saw the Light" .
And the following Sunday we had the sermon "Love When I Feel Abandoned" from Lamentations 3:19-24 all of which were very much spot on for me. My mother was in town visiting and she really enjoyed Joseph's take on the feeling of abandonment and industry rejection that being in L.A. sometimes brings to newcomers almost like expressed in Lamentations. He reminded us that Ecclesia was our family while we are away from home which was very conforting to my mom : )
I saw my Mom and family off on the shuttle to the airport then headed to church later than usual. I arrived as Pastor Scott Nassau was rounding out week 5 of the Advent Anticipation sermon series with "Light When I Fear Darkness" with Readings from Isaiah 8:19- 9:7 which transistions from King Ahaz and the Israelites in darkness and going away from God to the fortelling of Jesus' birth as the Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace and light for a dark and lost world.
Then Scott sent us home with a parting prayer and a Jewish Believer's humorous reminder when he wished for us to enjoy New Years' Day, "the day that Jesus would have been circumcised". This reminded me of how the Jewish Believers in choir jokingly teased us that "Hallelujah" should be pronounced with the harking, throaty Chet sound in the same way "Hanakkuh" is pronunced. We all chuckled at Pastor Scott's joking reminder because New Years' was the 8th day after Christmas Day and then we hugged and wished each other a "Happy 2013" as we left.
Advent Season Devotional Podcast:
Along the way there were also encouraging devotional podcasts posted with healing words and scripture readings by Matt Yeoman, Pastor of Spiritual Development with background guitar music by the very gifted musician, Dennis Davidson. The devotionals have a video of a lonely empty chair waiting on the shore as the waves roll in and are available at the church's website. You can check Dennis out HERE www.dennisdavidson.bandcamp.com.
Also, check out the video testimonies of various church members of how they experinced joy, hope and peace during what should've been impossible times. http://vimeo.com/ecclesiahw/videos
As we pray for those affected by the Sandy Hook shooting of preschoolers and their brave teachers we surely know that these are indeed impossible times so it was especially touching to hear the stunning details of journalist, photographer and musician, Dave Torstenson's testimony about how he experienced joy amongst the death of a colleague and death threats to him and fellow teachers while he was teaching at a Christian school in Iraq. But God!
The Alternative Christmas Market was a hit!
Despite a locale change to the rear parking lot along Cahuenga, the turn out was good. I missed it because of my choir commitments but my friends are already making plans for next year. I'm still praying and laying claim on the garden as next year's site as it is on Hollywood Blvd so the tourist traffic is higher thus the oppurtunity to share the gospel is greater and the oppurtunity to aid the various missions and causes paticipating is greater, too. I'm believing God for the same and we have the gardening interests and know-how at church to see the garden space transformation done.
Our last two practices were very technical and long but we made it through. Dion Ramos , our choir director this year, had selected some very challenging songs for us so I admit I was getting performance anxiety. One of the songs selected is the proverbial Christmas choir standard, "Handel's Messiah", with every vocal acrobatic leap and crescendo possible and I had heard it sang by choir greats so I had reason to be afraid. The other is latin called, "Ave Corpus Verum" or "Hail, The True Body of Christ" which at first seemed more about Christ's mournful crucifixion than His joyous birth then I realized that that's exactly what Christmas is about! There is no joy or salvation in celebrating Jesus' birth without his death/sacrifice on the cross for us! Amen and Hallelujah!
I don't read or play music so I'm challenged in that reguard but I learned how to read the sheet music instructions for volume of singing and intensity from our acompanying choir pianist and organist, Jeff, Dion and Greg Jong, our Praise and Worship leader and all-around singer and musician.
Many of us battled colds and bronchitis like last year due to this unseasonably cold L.A. winter and from the coldness of the rear stage so we prayed a lot for each other to stay well. All the cold of the rear stage was worth it when we did our first performances the morning of Sunday Dec 16 th. Now all I can say is, Wow! A trio of talented production folks (Mike and 2 others) filmed us digitally on the rear stage then projected us to the front stage on the large screen there for the seated church to see.
We did both the 9:30 and the 11:15 morning services then did a repeat rear stage performance for Ecclesia's Christmas on the Blvd. event, where we also sang more traditional carols like "O Come All Ye Faithful, "Silent Night, Joy to the World" , on the front stage with Greg Jong and the Praise band and then in the lobby with Jeff on keyboards. Everyone said we sounded angelic and they couldn't believe it was just 23 of us because it sounde like a full choir backstage! See for yourself!
Ave Verum Corpus http://vimeo.com/56060342
Mid-way through the night was the Children's Christmas program where they read and re-enacted Bible scripture of the manger story from the shepherd, the wise-men and the angel's persepective. Most of the kids were aged 7-11 and did a wonderful and heartfelt job with their lines. After 2 and a half years of attending Ecclesia, I recognize most of the kids by name or parentage and it has been fun seeing them grow as beloved and churched children of God.
At one point there was even a note submitted to Pastor Joseph's eldest while she was speaking onstage. She pulled out dark rimmed speckles with mimed maturity, cleared her throat and read the note which was an alert of budget cuts to the production and that there was no funding for the extras for the angelic hosts spoken of in the Gospels account of Jesus' birth. So we, the audience, were instructed to look under our chairs to find decorated cardboard angels on a stick which we waved around happily when we read the angels' lines posted on screen.
Then a video of the church's pre-schoolers played showing the Christian instruction the kids get weekly. I smiled when the kids talked about how God loves them and talks to them about doing the right things. Then I nearly cried it when a few kids pointed at the camera and asked us, "What is Jesus asking you to do?
We ended the the program with the choir on stage singing with the church singing and standing with lighted candles in hand. We closed out the evening with a dessert buffet of all things chocolate and every baked sweet imaginable and we hugged and laughed with fellow Ecclesians as the kids ran about afoot. Then we went back into church and watched, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and listened to the children as they giggle with delight at Snoopy's antics and sang along with the Peanuts gang to the Christmas carols. Us adults mouthed all the words and had our distinctive dance to the funky jazz dance music (I do the Franklin dance myself). Then we sobered to Linus' Bible soliloquys... such fun! God bless Charles Schulz!
THE Wrap Up:
I am in constant thought of and prayer for those lost or suffering from the tradgedy at Sandy Hook and I can't imagine how or when they'll start healing. But in the face of that sadness, Ecclesia's church services, the Children's program and the entire night of the Hollywood Blvd. event gave me great hope and joy that they will be on that journey soon. And I vow to keep believing Father, Son and Holy Spirit for the best for children and Believers everywhere.