Part of a Series Highlighting the 2019 Harry Denman Evangelism Award Recipients

The Foundation for Evangelism reached out to the recipients of the Harry Denman Evangelism Award from each Annual Conference, encouraging them to share their story and ministry of inviting all people into a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. This is one in a series of responses that we hope will inspire you to share your faith story and the Good News of Jesus Christ with those you meet and know.

Carrie Thurmond-Argro

I am grateful to have been chosen as a recipient of the 2019 Harry Denman Award in our Annual Conference. I was surprised to know that what I enjoy doing on a daily basis is considered as a service within the conference, when all I set out to do is to let people know how awesome the God [is] who sought me out in my deepest, darkest and painful moments in my life. 

It is such an awesome experience to share my story with you and to acknowledge that my journey has not been easy but it indeed has been worth it.

In the sharing of my testimony I want to tell you that in June 12th of 1986 my mother was shot and killed by her husband here in the City of Chester Pa., just before my 21st birthday. I lost my way and I had no idea how to grieve. I’d buried my grief in medicating myself with drugs and alcohol every weekend and then during the week my addiction began to take control of me, until one day my friend ask me why I always got high and talked about God? I knew He was the answer to my troubles I just didn’t know how to get up from that dark place. Finally one night they asked me to leave and I refused and my friend had a seizure from doing the drugs. I clearly heard a voice say “this is not the life I  chose for you”. When the I left that place I went to Grace UMC requesting prayer after I confessed to the people where I had been and what I was doing, how my life was so out of control and I needed prayer for deliverance for God to remove the taste and to help me get up from that place of addiction that was seeking to destroy me. He heard the prayers, answered my cry and set me free from me, to follow Him in May of 1998 and I am forever grateful for this journey with Jesus that has changed my whole life. I owe it to Him to tell the world. What God has done for me He can and will do for others who desires a one on one relationship with Him. I’ve been blessed by the Best and now I am praying for the rest. My testimony is my story for His glory. 

How did I know that I was called to this evangelism ministry? The answer is that I was doing it even when I did not know what a calling really was. In my days of addiction I would always talk about God to those who were in my company and it seemed that I could never get away form acknowledging while needing help in my time of trouble. 

Who encouraged me? There were many along the way but most of all what I thought was my conscience then, I now know was the Holy Spirit speaking to me in my moments of sanity and convicting me at a time when I needed it the most, more than anything the change was slowing happening.

Were there obstacles? Most certainly there were obstacles called people, places, things, hurts, pain and weaknesses. I overcame those through prayer and prayer services. At 6am prayer on one Monday morning I stumbled into Grace UMC under the influence and I requested prayer for deliverance. Slowly and surely my prayers were answered.

What is one thing I wish I had when I started? I wish that I had the help and support that was needed to help those who were medicating themselves like me because we did not know how to process our grief.

What is the most important advice I could give to someone who is feeling that call to evangelism ministry? The most important advice I could give to someone who is feeling the call is to pray for and with them and encourage them to tell their story and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to work on them, in them and through them as they seek to reach out to the least , the last, those left out and those who feel alone. 

Thanks for the opportunity to share, knowing God gets all the glory and the honor because I never could have made it with out Him. 

Committed to Serve.

ESJ Professors of Evangelism on web conference

In January, eleven E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism gathered in a web conference in which they shared how they are expanding beyond changing and equipping new leaders to focusing on evangelism in the local church. These experts in Wesleyan-tradition evangelism logged in from the U.S. coast to coast, as well as from Germany and Russia.

While the professors have gathered on an annual or biennial basis in the past, this virtual meeting was a first for the group, and future gatherings like it are planned. The participants shared that it was great to hear what their colleagues were working on, and at several times during the conversation encouragement was given, connections were made, resources shared, and suggestions given for collaboration.

Common Themes

Several themes became apparent throughout the discussion. A need to equip small churches was voiced, especially in areas where attendance is declining.  Several shared of their experience with students eager to try new models of evangelism applicable to their context such as “Dinner Church” and “House Church” as well as church gatherings that take place in and address the needs of the community.  Most of the professors shared recent publications or those in the works. In April, Rev. Dr. F. Douglas Powe at Wesley Theological Seminary will release, The Adept Church: Navigating Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Abingdon Press).

Rev. Dr. Stephen Gunter, director of the E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism program for the FFE, reflected that it was good for the professors to be able to connect in this way. By seeing one another and sharing more frequently, it helped them to feel less isolated and part of a larger cohort .

Changes In the Classroom

Technology has changed the way many of the professors teach. Several cited that their seminary has multiple campuses or offers online courses for students working remotely. This use of technology has allowed better engagement with students and has in some cases been a bridge for church leader training outside of the traditional seminary track.

Rev. Dr. Mark Teasdale has been leading the “Evangelism for Non-Evangelists” online courses for several years now through Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Having helped Teasdale and other professors lead many webinars in her previous role as Director of Evangelism Ministries at Discipleship Ministries, Rev. Dr. Heather Lear noted that technology has enabled many second career pastors and local pastors to get the training in evangelism they need in an accessible way. Heather is now serving as Teaching and Research Fellow for the FFE and is working on more ways to engage the E.S.J. Professors in training the local church using media and technology as a resource. Last fall, she was able to engage three professors of evangelism (two of which are ESJ Professors) to expand on that webinar and explore the concepts more in-depth. “The E Word” webinar series was offered to previous participants in Teasdale’s webinar as well as a select group of church leaders, laity and Foundation for Evangelism partners and friends.

Connecting Church and Community

Increasingly, part of the work of the E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism is expanding to study and facilitate connection between church and community. Rev. Dr. Angel Santiago Vendrell at Asbury Seminary Orlando shared that he is working with a small parish near a difficult area of town to foster relationships between the church which is predominantly white, and the neighborhood which is predominantly Hispanic-Latino. Rev. Dr. F. Douglas Powe shared about his work with the Lewis Center for Church Leadership (he is currently the director in addition to his position as an E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism). There, he says, he works with students as well as church leaders, clergy and laity to help churches become more viable and engaged with their communities, taking the Gospel outside the church and not waiting for people to come to them.

The Foundation for Evangelism’s president, Jane Wood, shared that as a lay leader in her annual conference, it was great to hear the professors thinking beyond the academic institution and finding ways to prepare leaders – both clergy and laity –  for a culture of evangelism in the local church.

Collaboration for Greater Impact

The professors also discussed collaborative projects. Transforming Evangelism: The Wesleyan Way of Sharing Faith (written by Powe and Rev. Dr. Hal Knight) will be translated into Spanish in 2020 through a grant from the FFE. Rev. Dr. Santiago will be the reader on that project. The professors plan to share syllabi to help them shape their classes in evangelism to better equip students. Rev. Dr. Achim Hartner from Reutlingen Theological Seminary in Germany expressed his excitement about presenting alongside Rev. Dr. David Whitworth (Gammon Theological Seminary) and Rev. Dr. Daniel Shin (Drew Theological Seminary) at the 2020 Wallace Chappell Lectures tentatively scheduled for June at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Ga.

Throughout the conversations, it was apparent that The E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism are not just teaching in a classroom but are actively engaged in connecting to and equipping the local church through leadership training and resource development. Each one expressed a love for the local church and a desire to help equip them to be an authentic voice to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with their communities.

Learn more about the E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism or connect with some of the resources they have developed or contributed to on our Resources page.

The Foundation for Evangelism is pleased to announce that Rev. Allen Black was elected as the chair of the board of trustees at its annual meeting on October 29, 2019. Rev. Black is an elder in the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church and serves as district superintendent for the Harpeth River District.

Born and raised in Birmingham, Ala., Allen accepted the call to ministry at age 15. He served as Youth Director, Associate Pastor and Senior pastor of churches in Alabama while studying for his BS degree in Religion and Philosophy at Samford University in Birmingham. He received a Master of Religious Education (MRE) from New Orleans Theological Seminary and a Master of Divinity (M.Div) with honors from Memphis Theological Seminary.

Rev Black has served United Methodist Churches in Mississippi and Tennessee and has been a trustee of the Foundation for Evangelism since 2011. He is a representative to the World Methodist Council and is a member of the Order of the Flame and National Association of United Methodist Evangelists. He is married to Marjorie Black and they have five children and lots of grandchildren.

It began with just a converted camper trailer, three storage units, and a passion for reaching people with the good news of Jesus Christ. In the oil boom area of Watford City, North Dakota, much of the population works in the oil or services industry. Yet because of the volatility of the industry and transient lifestyle of some of the workers, there is often a need for support – both for physical needs like clothing, food, and household items, as well as spiritual support for those who live apart from family and support networks for months or even years at a time.

Through the Dakotas Conference of the United Methodist Church’s “Bakken Oil Rush Ministry,” one couple has made it their mission to share the Good News of Jesus with those individuals in the wake of these oil “booms and busts.” Jim and Kathie Konsor see their work providing the needed goods and support as a way to build relationship with individuals who are in need of not only the physical items to make their lives a bit better, but also a prayer, hug or laughter to encourage their spirits.

The Bakken Oil Rush Ministry has impacted the lives of thousands of people, thanks to the leadership of Jim and Kathie who have moved the program from an extension ministry of the conference to a self-supporting 501(c)3 organization. The ministry has moved from its humble beginnings and now includes a new retail center as well as a sorting and storage warehouse. Having gained region-wide support and endorsement, the ministry now has the capability of responding to local emergencies and assisting the community where needed – always with the intention of showing the love of Jesus.

Recently, the Dakotas Conference of The United Methodist Church honored Jim and Kathie Konsor with the 2019 Harry Denman Evangelism Award for their unwavering call to share the Love of Jesus with all they meet. We celebrate their devoted ministry, which, in the spirit of Harry Denman, makes personal connections to help bring all people into a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ.

On the morning of Sunday, May 26, at First United Methodist Church in Humble, Texas, Pastor Danny Hernaez was surrounded by family, friends, and his pastor when he was presented with The Foundation for Evangelism’s Distinguished Evangelist Award. The following evening, he was honored at the Texas Annual Conference Awards Banquet.

“Pastor Danny” is credited with the establishment of the first Walk to Emmaus in the Philippines (2012) where he continues to work with teams in the program as well as the Chrysalis and Kairos programs. He has also been a coach for the Vibrant Church Initiative, and has participated in Laity Unleashed and the Academy for Spiritual Formation in the Texas Annual Conference. Those who know him call him a prayer warrior and an inspirational writer and speaker. One nominator for the award stated that “God has given Danny wisdom and the power of discernment and has made use of his talents and skills in speaking, writing, organizing and relating with people; in spreading the Good News; and in advancing the Kingdom of God, wherever he finds himself.”

Upon presenting the award to Pastor Hernaez, The Foundation for Evangelism’s President, Jane Boatwright Wood, noted that, “We are excited to celebrate the ministry of Pastor Danny Hernaez and look forward to working with him to share his inspiration and expertise. Recipients of The Distinguished Evangelist Award, both present and past, remind us that as disciples, we are called to invite all people into life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ.” Pastor Danny humbly expressed his thanks on receiving the recognition and shared, “I look forward to serving through the Foundation for Evangelism in spreading the Word beyond this award. Only for Him!”

Rev. Dr. Robert G. Tuttle, Jr., met E. Stanley Jones at a Christian Ashram in 1969. Their lives intersected many times following this first encounter, and Dr. Tuttle would later relate that Jones’ writings profoundly shaped his view of theology, preaching, and his life. Based on personal conversations and insights, In Our Time: The Life and Ministry of E. Stanley Jones describes the life of this missonary-evangelist in sequence and includes interactions with Jones’ wife, Mabel, and daughter, Eunice, painting a reality of the whole family.

Reflecting on his relationship with E. Stanley Jones, Dr. Tuttle states,

I remember reading Brother Stanley’s last book The Divine Yes, when it was first released after he died in India…. He reminded me that bad theology puts the people in bondage whereas good theology sets us free. I wanted to set people free.

The Biography can be pre-ordered from The E. Stanley Jones Foundation. All proceeds go to the foundation to publish other works by E. Stanley Jones.

Today marks a beginning for The Foundation for Evangelism.

Today we have fulfilled the vision to be a Catalyst to Equip Disciples to Share the Good News of Jesus Christ for 70 years.

Dr. Harry Denman joined 4 passionate Methodists to establish the Foundation and named our chartered purpose on January 31, 1949.  They said it this way: The Foundation for Evangelism’s purpose is “diffusing the blessings of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ by promoting and supporting all phases of evangelism; [and] to promote evangelistic intelligence, interest and zeal throughout the Methodist Church, and throughout the nation and the world;”

Today, we have chosen the word CATALYST, an element that initiates actions and changes systems without changing its purpose or nature, to represent the vision of those who serve as trustees, staff, and partners.

Anniversaries are not about a moment in time.  They establish a time to remember and celebrate while simultaneously launching the next chapter. Throughout 2019, The Foundation for Evangelism invites you to join us as we revisit the stories of ministry that impacts lives, churches, communities, and the world.

We will not stop at remembering.  Every day we move forward to be a CATALYST.  You are invited to join us as we explore where God is calling us next.  We will continue to be a CATALYST for the creation of disciples so changed by their relationship with Jesus Christ that they cannot help but serve as he served or share WHY JESUS in every aspect of their lives.

– Jane Boatwright Wood

W. Stephen Gunter, Ph.D.
E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism Director

Part of a three-part Advent series. Previous posts: ADVENT 1 and ADVENT 2

Text: Matthew 2
[Listen to the Audio] – COMING SOON

Our approach in this Advent Lesson is a complete change of pace from the first two weeks. Our first and second talks were highly cognitive and required hard exercises in attentive listening. This morning we move away from the highly cognitive more intellectual approach to a style that is basically more story-like and perhaps even poetic in its framing.

My spring boards for the first two lessons were from the hand of the Anglican priest, Fleming Rutledge in New York. Today my inspiration is another New York woman, Donna Van Liere – the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Finding Grace, the Christmas Hope Series books, and The Angels of Morgan Hill, and most recently The Christmas Star (2018). Her books are small coffee table collectibles, and they are available on Amazon. I wish I had her gift of poetic and easy narrative, but as you heard in my first two lessons, I do not.

I wanted to do something completely different for this third Advent Lesson, so I turn to a woman whose poetic turn of phrase I deeply admire.

Christmas today is a full-blown industry.  Muzak fills malls and grocery stores with “Winter Wonderland” and “The Little Drummer  Boy” before the Thanksgiving turkey is picked off the bone.  Bell ringers take their places earlier each year and meteorologist forecast the mildest day to do that last-minute shopping. Cards with scribbled signature of someone you vaguely know in the family tree cram in your mailbox, and on TV a big haired woman wearing an impish elf skirt and Santa hat sits on the side of a hot tub and invites you to “buy one today” at rock-bottom Christmas prices. Where has the wonderment gone? Where is the sense that one plus one somehow no longer equals two, but rather adds up to more than a million on that dazzling, holy, and remarkable day?

With respect to the Christmas Story in Matthew 2, hear these words from Donna Van Liere:

They have to go. They have no choice. Emperor Caesar Augustus has issued a decree that a census will be taken of the entire Roman world to aid in military drafting and tax collection.”

The Jews do not have to serve in the Roman army, but since they are obligated to pay taxes in Rome, everyone will have to go register at the place of their ancestral home.  For Joseph’s family it would be over seventy miles,  and a four to seven day walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the town of his ancestors. It’s not going to be an easy journey either, considering the shape Mary is in. She is nine months pregnant and will have to make the trip that winds through wilderness, desert, and mountainside, sitting sidesaddle on a donkey and feeling every rock and bump along the way.

Joseph leads the donkey out of the village at dawn.  Mary’s eyes are heavy, as she spent a sleepless night and had been awake for hours waiting for the light. The smell of fish and eggs cooking on morning fires saturates the street with a misty fog as families prepare for breakfast. Joseph’s stomach rumbles and he packs the donkey.  He should have eaten more but is anxious to get on the road.  His eyes meet Mary’s as he helps her onto the donkey.  He nods and she smiles in the half-light. Joseph walks beside the donkey, and although he does not look at them, he feels the eyes of his neighbors as they pass. The chattering of three women drawing water ceases as he and Mary go by, and Mary keeps her head down. She has long known what they think of her. The laughter of two men mending a fishing net subsides to a whisper as the donkey approaches, and children stop playing in the street when their mothers clack their tongues and snap their fingers.

Joseph sets his jaw and ignores them, relieved to get away for a while. The angel of God had visited him and Mary about this baby, but he hadn’t visited everyone in town. Joseph has heard the townspeople ridicule Mary. He has seen them point and turn away, ostracizing her with their clenched teeth and cold shoulders. “Perversion” they had said.  “Prostituted under the nose of the father.”  The gossiped indictments and whispered innuendos have seeped under every doorway. The conception was not cloaked in anonymity. Everyone knew her name. They knew her father and mother’s name.

Joseph’s own heart has throbbed with a dull pain for weeks, and looking at Mary, he wonders how someone so young is able to bear the burden of such a stigma.

Mary lays her hands on her swollen belly. They baby dropped into the birth canal days ago, causing increasing discomfort. A chill clings to the shadows that stretch over the sleepy town, and Joseph places a thin blanket over Mary’s legs.

The morning echoes grow distant as they thread their way out of town, and Joseph’s tensions ease.

“Are you well?” he asks.

“I am,” she says, smiling, rubbing her stomach. “He is no longer stirring, but is heavy inside.”

Joseph forces a smile and quickens his steps.  What if she gives birth on the side of a mountain? What if the baby comes in the middle of the wilderness?  What would he do?  Who could help him?  Several families from Nazareth are traveling in caravans on the road ahead and behind them, but Joseph does not feel he can rely on them for help. He has never felt so isolated in his life.

They are quiet as the sun rises. There is so much to discuss, so many questions to ask, but neither of them is ready. Thoughts swirl in their minds as the donkey clop-clops his way over the terrain. The valley is a canvas of windblown grass swimming with wildflowers and fruit trees. Mary does not pick any fruit yet: there would be more opportunities on the journey. The smell of balsam fills the air, and Mary takes a deep breath, the scent reminding her of childhood playtime on the hills surrounding her home.

The road ahead is full of twists and turns as lush valley turns to chalky dirt and then rock. Mary is jostled about on the donkey, and flashing pain takes her breath. She reaches for her back, attempting to ease the hurt, but there it is again. She leans forward on the donkey and holds her breath till the ache passes. It seems so long ago that she was baking bread in her home, a young girl giggling with her mother and teasing her siblings. Was it only nine months ago?  Mary smiles, her mind swirling with sweet childlike noises from her parent’s home.

In a small village, Joseph helps Mary to the ground, where women are picking over fruit in the marketplace. He leads the donkey to a trough filled with water. Mary stretches and arches her back. “Are you hungry?” she asks.  “Always,” Joseph says smiling, taking off his sandals.

She moves her hand over her abdomen. There was no longer a plate set for her at her parent’s table. Her place of rest beside her sister was now empty. They would no longer whisper into the night, sharing girlish secrets and stories. She closes her eyes and breathes deeply. It is still too much to comprehend that the promise of God is enfleshed in her womb, dependent upon her for life.

She unwraps some bread and fish she brought from home. These foods always travel well, and she hopes she has packed enough for their trip. She reaches into a satchel for some figs and a pomegranate they picked outside the village.

“Do you want to sit?” he asks, pointing to the shade of a tree.

“No,” she says, laughing. He sits beneath the tree and pushes the bread into his mouth. Mary walks to the well in the center of town and draws water, filling a cup and taking it to Joseph.  He drinks it down and she fills it again. She hands the cup to him and leans against the tree. The noise of customers haggling over prices and clanking of merchandise in the marketplace drifts on the wind as Mary watches the donkey drink. “Are you frightened, Joseph?” she asks.

He looks up at her. Every illusion he had of starting a family with her ended months ago when she told him she was pregnant. Every conceivable dream of the village celebrating their wedding shattered when rumors swelled that his betrothed was a harlot. Swept away with those dreams were his plans and desires and every expectation he had for their new life together. He was torn from the privacy of a once-quiet life and shifted into one of public shame and ridicule. He is still trying to wrap his mind around all that has taken place in so short a time. He watches Mary as the corners of her mouth turn up in soft edges.  For months now, those she had grown up with, who have shared meals around her family’s table have been quick to brand her, but these well-mannered guardians of morality never ever cupped their ear to hear the truth or offered a word of compassion. The hourglass has been turned and eternity is fast approaching, but their thoughts have been consumed with how the law of Moses is unwavering concerning what to do with those caught in sexual sin. The very angel who came to Mary all those months ago must surely have guarded her life from the hatred and condemnation of the righteous bent on vengeance in the name of God. How else has her life been spared?  Is she frightened? He cannot tell. He hasn’t known her long enough to discern her emotions or fears. They are both so new to each other.

“The angel told me not to be afraid,” he says.

A breeze laps at her face and she remains quiet, thinking. “So then, you are not?”

He breaks the bread in two and hands her a piece. “I wish I could say that I am not, but I am. I am terrified.” He watches as others gather around the well. “What does that make me?”

She sits on the ground and reaches for a fig. ”As human as I,” she says. “I too am frightened. There is so much that I don’t know.” Her voice is faint. “So much that I will never understand.” He looks at her, and her eyes are deep, touching the far reaches of her soul. “Why was I chosen for this?  Why you?”

He shakes his head. “How will I teach him?”

“How do you teach any child?” she asks.

He turns his face to her. “Yes. But how do you teach him?” They eat in silence as the question fills the air around them. “How will I raise him?”

“With love,” she says.

He looks at her. “But is love from a common man enough?”

She traces her finger through the blades of grass in front of her. “It will be more than enough,” she says. “It is the very reason he’s coming.”

Their rest is short; they want to make the next town by nightfall. The donkey’s footing is unsure beneath Mary on the mountainside, and she urges Joseph to stop and help her to the ground. Her breath is shallow as she walks behind Joseph; she hasn’t been able to take a deep breath in weeks. Her legs begin to cramp, and she stumbles over rocks on the path, groping for the donkey’s back. “Joseph, stop!” she says, catching her breath. “I can’t go on.”  Joseph helps her sit on a rock protruding from the mountain. She wipes her forehead and pushed her hand over her belly; it is hard and no longer seems to be part of her. She winces at the pain of an early contraction, and Joseph loosens the straps of her sandals, slipping them off her swollen feet. He brushes caked dirt away from her toes and ankles.  She groans and rests her head against the mountain, gasping for air. There are no royal privileges for this birth–no attendants to help them over the mountain, no cooks to tend their meals or servants to soothe her aching back and feet. This baby would not be born into a soft-cushioned life. A pain knifes through her again, and she screams. Tears fill her eyes, and when Joseph sees her tears, every thought that has occupied his mind on the journey flees. He pulls her head onto his shoulder, holding her till the hurt subsides. “He will come soon,” Mary says between breaths. Joseph feels his heart race and he nods.

It is late on the firth day when they reach Bethlehem. The town is already crowded from the many pilgrims traveling for the census, all of them clamoring for a place to stay.

The westering sun breathes a final sigh, escaping with the last glints of light. Joseph’s nerves are on edge as he seeks lodging. His feet are blistered and sore and Mary is exhausted. The contractions started growing closer together hours ago, and she is nearing the end of her strength. Mary is jostled and bumped as Joseph inches his way through the congested street. The crush of the crowd pushes them forward at a pace that frightens Mary.

People are bustling outside the inn, and Joseph leaves her alone on the donkey as he presses his way to the door. A beggar reaches for Joseph’s arm, but someone pushes the old man out of the way. Joseph raps on the door and can hear commotion behind it. He knocks louder, and a harried man with a pale face opens the door.

“There is no room,” he says, before Joseph can speak.  Joseph peers around him and sees that the inn is so bloated with people that some are lying on the floor or curled up on the stairs. The innkeeper and Joseph stare at each other in clumsy silence before Joseph thanks him and turns to leave, shaking his head at Mary. Her face is stricken as she holds her stomach. Her water has broken, and it won’t be long before the baby comes.

“You,” the innkeeper says. Joseph turns to look at him. “You can stay there,” the innkeeper says, pointing to his stable in the hillside. “My guest’s animals are inside, but if you can find a space among them, you are welcome to it.”

Joseph surveys the busy street and realizes there is no place for them to go. He looks at Mary and she nods; they have no other option. “Thank you. We’ll take it,” he tells the innkeeper.

When Joseph opens the stable door, the stench of hot, sweaty animals and manure assaults them. He hesitates for a moment–this is no place for a birth–but Mary groans, her face twisting in agony. Joseph helps her off the donkey and holds an oil lamp the innkeeper has given them to guide Mary into the stable. The darkened barn frightens him; Mary might stumble and fall. The lamp he carries is barely enough light to read by let alone usher in the birth of Christ child.

Sheep scatter throughout the stable as he leads Mary inside; a disgruntled cow stamps her foot and lifts her tail to urinate. Donkeys kick at the stable wall and bray, their breath coming out in puffy clouds of mist.

Joseph spots an empty space against the back wall that will have to serve as a birthing room. Mary can rest there. He helps her to the floor, and she leans her head against the earthen wall, her back aching from carrying the weight of the world in her womb. This is a dismal place for a woman no older than a child to give birth to a child.  She hadn’t imagined this pain when she told the angel she was the Lord’s servant.

“May it be to me as you have said,” she had told him. She moans; the contractions are growing closer together now.  Outside, the shadows grow still and deepen more as the agony of life awakes the night.

As Joseph tries to keep the oil lamp lit, Mary grabs his hand. “Joseph, hurry! Grabbing the lamp, he leaves Mary alone in the darkness. He stumbles through the stable and spots a trough that could serve as a bed, and the hay that the sheep are sleeping on could do as bedding–but there are no blankets!

He whirls around, searching the pens and walls. What can he use for blankets? His robe would have to work for now. He pulls it off as a contraction seizes Mary. Her scream pierces the night. “Joseph, I need you! Please, Joseph! Hurry! She tries to pull herself in upright in a squatting position, but her legs tremble beneath her, forcing her on her back.

Another big scream brings Joseph running from the watering trough, cold water spilling over the bucket rim. The Light of the World pushes his way into the darkness as Joseph rushes to help.  As he sets the lamp down, Joseph’s heart pounds with uncertainty and his hands tremble.  He has seen the birth of many animals but never that of a child. Mary cries and she pushes her elbows into the ground. She grabs at dirt, straw, anything she can clutch in her hands. Joseph coaches as best he knows how: wiping sweat from her brow and guiding the baby out, but Mary is tired; her strength nearly gone. “Can you push again?” Joseph asks, holding the baby’s head in his hands. She shakes her head. “I cannot,” she screams. Her hair sticks to the perspiration on her face, and streams of sweat pour over her neck and chest. “You must,” he pleads. “You must try!”

She pushes with what seems to be little result, her cries rising above those of the animals. Joseph urges her to keep pushing, keep pushing. And with one final cry of anguish and a push, her labor is over.

Immanuel is here.

His skin is light. The olive color would appear slowly in the weeks to come. His head is misshapen from being pushed through the birth canal. His body is red, blotchy, covered with mucus. Is this truly the Son of Almighty God, screaming now as his earthy father smacks his bottom? Joseph uses some of the animals’ rags and wipes off the slippery fluid, then swaddles the baby in dry ones. Mary lies on the stable floor, trying to catch her breath. The Messiah’s cries are louder now.

Mary reaches for her newborn, and Joseph clumsily hands him to her. “Shh,  shh,  shh,” she says, laying him on her chest and guiding his tiny head to find what her was looking for. Is this the same voice that had spoken the world into existence… whimpering now at the breast of a maidservant?  Mary caresses his face and counts each finger on his tiny hand. And hands that once placed the stars in the sky and sculpted magnificent landscapes grasp her finger. Mary secrets away each movement and sound and scent in her heart. He looks up, and eyes that saw her before she was born strain to see his mother. She laughs as his tiny mouth turns up into slight crescent. The face of God smiling. Mary kisses his forehead and holds him closer. Deity swaddled in the arms of humanity.

Joseph sits in the silence and watches. His face is weathered and flushed. There was a time, at the beginning of the pregnancy that he wanted to walk away. But after the angel spoke with him, he knew he should stay, and now, looking at his wife and son, the depths of his heart swell to the surface and his eyes blur. This is he of whom the prophets spoke, seeking nourishment from his mother. Stretching before them is a new life, together as a family, filled with first words, first laughs, and first steps. He would teach his son how to plane a piece of wood and hold a hammer, just as his father had taught him. God’s Son would grow up with the smell of sawdust in his nostrils. Joseph’s chest pounds with the wonder and mystery of it all. He comes closer, holding Mary in his arms, and together they look at this baby… Jesus,  who opens his mouth in a yawn. The Savior is sleepy.

In an incomprehensible, humbling move, the Son of God left the majestic splendor of heaven and stepped down into our world to become an infant, to become a man. There were no royal robes or parades, no trumpeted arrival. At a birth where there should have been the finest marble and linens, there was only dirt, a few bales of hay, and the filthy rags of animals. Where there should have been a legion of angels, there was just a handful of bleating sheep, a couple of anxious camels, a few tethered donkeys.  And where there should have been a king and a queen and the pomp and circumstance of a royal court, there was only a frightened teenager and her tradesman spouse. Angels did announce the birth of the King but only to a few shepherds guarding their flocks. And that brilliant star was shining in the night; but with the exception of three foreigners, no one even bothered to notice it.


That brilliant star of Bethlehem still shines in the night, but only a few see Jesus for who he really is. Only a few paid any attention to Jesus on that miraculous Christmas Morn, and truly only a few “get it” in 2018. Advent is our chance to behold the Christmas Miracle in a fresh new light.


Mary, Did  You Know?

Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God

Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know?
Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know?

The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that our baby boy is heaven’s perfect lamb?
That sleeping child your holding is the great I am

Mary did you know? Mary did you know?  Mary did you know?
Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Oh

Mary did you know?

Songwriters:  Buddy Greene/Mark Lowry
Mary, Did You Know? lyrics @ Warner/Chappell Music. Inc. Capitol  Christian Music Group

W. Stephen Gunter, Ph.D.
E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism Director

Part of a three-part Advent series. 
Previous post ADVENT 1  |  Next post ADVENT 3

Text: II Peter 3:11-18
[Listen to the Audio]

I never fail to be moved by the poetry of Charles Wesley set to music, and “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” is in my top 5 all-time favorites. We should sing it, not just during Advent and Christmas, but all the year around:

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

(Charles Wesley, 1744 – UMH, p.196)

It is our natural tendency as Western Christians to read this as personal in the sense of individual (remember our lesson last Sunday?), but look at lines 5-8:

Israel’s strength and consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart.

When I first went to Europe to live at age 17, I was needless to say “in deep culture shock.” Holland is not East Texas, and I do not mean the flatland polders around Amsterdam in contrast to the hills and pine trees. From living also in Germany, Switzerland, and England and traveling extensively in Southern Europe, I learned that we Americans have a characteristic disposition quite different than most any European.

We are, as a general rule, “people of action.” We do not typically take long lunches like the French. I learned that in France when you eat and pay for lunch, you have bought the table to linger as long as you like. The meal is a social occasion. Unless it is a 3-Martini lunch with our favorite lobbyist, we do not linger at lunch. But notice, when we do linger over lunch, it is because it is a ‘working lunch.’ We are a people on the move getting things accomplished. Unlike the Swiss, a lot of us do not stand at the crosswalk and wait for the light to change. Seen a driver run thru a yellow-turned red light recently? Ruth Ann’s brother, Bill, was fond of saying, “We are burning daylight.” In other words, if the sun is up and we are just sitting there drinking a leisurely cup of coffee, we are wasting time. We need to be on the job.

Last week we discovered deep reasons as to why Advent is hard for us. Advent is about Watching and Waiting, and at some cultural levels for us, this sounds a false note. We are not comfortable sitting around watching and waiting. We want to speed things up; we must move things along. God is moving too slowly; we have been waiting 2000 years already. If God is not going to “bring in the Kingdom,” we will bring it ourselves. That is the American Way.

All kidding aside, in 2018 we need to ask ourselves seriously, what are we  going to do with this tiresome Advent refrain about watching and waiting. In traditional Advent liturgies that stretch over several weeks, we hear that The Bridegroom has been delayed and the wise and foolish virgins are waiting. In the Parable of the Talents, the servants are waiting for their master to return. And just how long have we been waiting for the last judgment when the promise of Christmas will be fulfilled? Advent is not just about the first coming in Bethlehem, because in the Biblical narrative that first coming can never be separated from the Second Coming.

Actually, to what extent do we any longer take the anticipation of the Second Coming with utmost seriousness? We say, “Yes, we do!”, but to what extent is this mostly lip service to what we were taught in Sunday School. [Here, I am really speaking of Baptist Sunday School where lots of time was spent on learning the Bible as literally true.] Here, I am confessing, and I am not convinced that this confession is good for my soul. It is certainly not good for my reputation as an evangelical theologian.

This first part of my confession is mostly harmless: I am an urban and perhaps even urbane Christian just like a lot of people in our society. The second part of the confession is more tricky: Do I really believe that Jesus is coming back . . . not just coming one by one to individual souls in their own hearts. No, I am asking the full-throated Biblical question: Do I really believe that Jesus will come to call the entire cosmos into judgment? Coming to bring history as we know it to a close? Coming to bring his everlasting kingdom to pass? That is what the New Testament sets before us – not a private, individualized, spiritualized coming . . . but actually a coming cosmic event that will be visible to everyone!? In another Charles Wesley hymn that we quoted last week (“Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending” – 1758, UMH, p. 718): Every eye will now behold him, robed in dreadful majesty.

This claim the Church makes is too serious to fool around with. If we do not mean it, we should put an end to Advent liturgies. Actually, a lot of contemporary worship churches are doing away with Advent observation and settling for the romantic Jesus in a manger. And while we are at it, should shorten the Apostles’ Creed and leave out the line: “He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead.” We could, of course, just omit the Apostles’ Creed altogether.

Our text for today from II Peter helps us to realize that we are not the first Christians to ask the questions related to “how long, O Lord, how long”? Why has so much time gone by? What has Christ not returned as promised? Is he really going to come back? Isn’t the creation just going to continue to rock along on its on? Read II Pet. 3:3-4). The Bible promises but offers no proof of any of this, and the entire apparatus of modern science would seem to undermine it so conclusively that we would be fools to go on believing it. It is “totally unbelievable.”

The book of II Peter is not an easy read but listen to II Peter 1:16: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitness of his majesty.” Eyewitness to the majesty of God. When we indwell the Christian Scriptures and they come to indwell us, our perspective changes. There is something different about the tone of the New Testament witness, something out of the ordinary. These men and women were staking their very lives, literally, on something that had been seen and corroborated by a large number of witness whom they, in turn, trusted.

Don’t read it as a modern romance about Jesus. Read it as a witness testimony. It is straightforward. It is full of real people with real faults, recognizably like ourselves, who nevertheless have a report to make: we are not following a myth, we were eyewitness to his majesty, we are testifying of His power and of His future coming. Thematic to early Advent liturgies is the Gospel truth: “Of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come . . . and what I say to you I say to all: Watch, Wait! Keep awake!” (Mark 11:32-33, 37; Matt. 24:42 and Luke 21:36). A related Advent image is that of the watchman who sits all night looking for the dawn. It all sounds very passive, as though there were absolutely nothing that we can do to hasten things along in connection with the phrase “waiting for and hastening.” How can you wait and hasten at the same time?!

It is at this juncture that Fleming Rutledge makes a turn in her sermon that I find stunningly brilliant. She says, “That, my fellow Americans, is the secret of the Christian life, knowing how to keep those two modes in creating tension, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God . . . [the new heavens’ and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”] She goes on to say, “This is so typical of Advent, the time of contrasts and opposites: darkness and light, good and evil, past and future, now and not yet. Finding the right balance between waiting and hastening is the challenge of our existence in the body of Christ until he comes again. We might call it action in waiting.” Let’s unpack this a bit in closing so that we can have something to take home with us – some Christian home work to ponder.

Since the 6th century the Church has been singing this Advent Hymn [not us Methodists, for the most part, but the Lutherans, Episcopalians and Roman Catholics]:

1 Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding;
“Christ is nigh,” it seems to say;
“Cast away the works of darkness
O ye children of the day!”
2 Wakened by the solemn warning,
Let the earth-bound soul arise;
Christ, her Sun, all sloth dispelling,
Shines upon the morning skies.
3 Lo! the Lamb, so long expected,
Comes with pardon down from heaven;
Let us haste, with tears of sorrow,
One and all to be forgiven;
4 So when next He comes in glory,
Wrapping all the world in fear,
May He with His mercy shield us,
And with words of love draw near.

Translated from the Latin by Edward Caswall, 1814-1878

We notice in this grand old hymn the tension between the already and the not. This is the tension to which Advent calls us and in which we Christians live. If only God can bring peace and good will, if only God can create “a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells,” then what is the point our doing anything. If there is nothing we can do to improve the situation, then we really might as well withdraw into a private world of gated communities, exclusive clubs, and personal privilege and enjoy it as best we can before we are overtaken by cancer or senility.

This is where the Advent “action in waiting” comes in, the “hastening.” It is all a matter of what we are pointing toward. Let’s look for a moment at another section of II Peter. Speaking of the promises of God, the apostolic writer says, “We have the prophetic word made more sure . . . . Pay attention to this as to a lamp in a dark place, until the day dawn and the morning star rises in your hearts” (II Pet. 1:19). That is the heart of the message of Advent:

Hark, a thrilling voice is sounding;
Christ is nigh, it seems to say;
Cast away the works of darkness,
O ye children of the day!

The Church of The Resurrected Lord, the one who is calling us into God’s future, responds to the “thrilling voice” by doing the works of day, the works of light: the ministry to the imprisoned, the soup and sandwiches for the hungry, housing for the orphaned and destitute, a place of health and safety for the low income,the birthday parties for the children who will have no parties. These are lamps shining in dark places. These are works that glorify Christ while we wait for Him. This is action while waiting to hasten the d”Day of the Lord.” These are small glimpses into God’s future breaking in upon us.

To be sure, lots of Christians do these things, but we have sadly let them devolve in what we call social action. How sad that we have taken divine embodiments of health, hope, and healing and turned them in mere social action. Government social agencies do all these things in an arms-length transaction. The question for the Church this and every Advent and all year round is this: How
different are we than a government social agency? To what extent do we come alongside the poor lost souls left behind in our headlong rush to personal power in the form of wealth and privilege?
In closing, here is one final illustration – a true Advent story from the past. It is a Hanukkah story, about darkness and light. No Supreme Court decisions issued from it, no mighty movements came of it, no commemorative events have happened around it. In comparison to the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre that took place recently.2 My story is rather small in scale, but it was not insignificant.

I need you to use your imagination here. Picture a tidy residential street in a tranquil American suburb, ending in a cul-de-sac, lined with ten or fifteen attractive houses. Most of them are gentile homes, but one is Jewish. It is December, and that house has a menorah in the window for the celebration of Hanukkah. One night, vandals smash the windows, remove the menorah, throw it
on the ground, and scribble a swastika on the side of the house. The next night, every house on the street had a menorah burning in the window – lamps shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in the hearts of all.

Dear friends … we all stand on the threshold of God’s kingdom. We never know from moment to moment when an Advent moment of decision will come our way. The church in its sinful past has participated in so much damage over the years: so much harm to blacks, so much prejudice against Jews, so much degradation of foreign immigrants of all varieties, implicit and explicit harm to all sorts of people labelled as “other” – unbelievers of all varieties, their mortal sin being that they are not like those of us in positions of power and privilege.

“But it is not too late to start, to initiate change. The Lord is still out there in front of us. His future still approaches, his future in which all will be made new. His promise is sure; he will come. We make ready for him, this Advent Season and every season, by lighting whatever little lights the Lord has put in front of us; no light is too small to be used by him, action in waiting, pointing ahead, looking to Christ and for Christ. Even the smallest lights will be signs in this world, lights to show the way, beachheads to hold against the Enemy [Beelzebub, the prince of the air],” until the Day of the Lord: the day that shall dawn upon us from on high, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:78-79).

This is Advent. Let us venture out in the name of the One who has come and will come again, so that in the anticipation of his first coming on Christmas morning, we will be lights of hope in a dark world that yearns for the New Creation of God’s design.


Read the previous post ADVENT 1

1 In its essential content, this Advent Lesson has its origins in a sermon preached by The Revd. Fleming Rutledge on the Second Sunday of Advent (1999) at Saint Michael and Saint George Episcopal Church in Saint Louis, Missouri.

2 The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting was a mass shooting that occurred at Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha Congregation in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on October 27, 2018, while Shabbat morning services were being held. Eleven people were killed, and seven were injured.