New Christmas devotional series features Texas Annual Conference clergy and laity

Date Posted: 12/10/2020


By Lindsay Peyton
 
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas – even in the midst of a pandemic. Holiday decorations and lights are adorning homes, and Christmas trees are up. Families are starting new traditions and finding creative ways to stay connected this season. Since COVID-19 has stopped much of the usual travel and get-togethers this year, many will be closer to home and closer to family. The Texas Annual Conference has created a new devotional series for the holidays, available online and on social media, inviting all to also draw closer to God.
 
The “A Closer to Christmas” devotional series kicked off with Bishop Scott J. Jones after Thanksgiving. He acknowledges that 2020 has provided its share of challenges, especially when it comes to gratitude and worship.
 
He starts his devotional by referencing 1 Thessalonians 5: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances. Really? In 2020?”
 
Bishop Jones says that pain and suffering has taken centerstage this year, as people battled the virus, lost loved ones and became isolated from each other. Churches shut their doors, and jobs ended.
 
“Add to that a heightened awareness of racism and a conflicted election season and we are experiencing a level of difficulty unprecedented in our lifetimes,” he writes. “We are all tired and many of us are not sure how best to serve Christ in these uncertain times. This is not easy.”
 
Still, reading Scripture reminds us that Christians have been through hard times before. “God is still God, and God will guide us through our current difficulties,” Jones explains. “Our foremothers and forefathers have done this before and so can we.”
 

The Bishop says that even in the midst of difficulties and uncertainty, there are opportunities and blessings. A number of churches in the Texas Annual Conference are leading the way, finding new opportunities for mission, evangelism and discipleship.
 
That innovative spirit can move closer to home, as families spend more time together. Some have started their own Bible studies and live-stream worship together.
 
Bishop Jones said without the usual travel and holiday gatherings, families may have more time to focus on the meaning of Christmas. “More reading of Scripture, more singing the songs of faith, and more focus on Christ can all deepen the spiritual impact of this season,” he writes. “It can be an opportunity to move in closer towards God -- a time for us to deepen our faith and connect in new ways with God’s sanctifying grace.”
 
The silver linings of the pandemic, the blessings that have risen to the surface, the creative opportunities discovered are all subjects of the devotional series.
 
For instance, the Rev. Jill Daniel penned, “The Role of the Ugly Donkey in the Nativity,” and Lead Pastor of Contemporary Worship at Marvin UMC wrote, “Isolation, Fear and Uncertainty, Oh My!”
 
Kip Gilts, Assistant to the Bishop, contributed, “Turn your eyes Upon Jesus,” and Senior Pastor Todd Jordan at Strawbridge UMC in Kingwood authored, “How the Grinch Got Christmas.” Nicole Brodie, pastor at Sabine Pass UMC and St. John UMC in Port Arthur wrote, “Testing Positive for COVID in a Negative 2020,” exploring her own diagnosis with the virus.
 


In all, there are 15 pieces contributed by pastors and laity, explained Director of Communications Shannon W. Martin.
 
“2020 has really been difficult for everyone, including pastors,” she said. “Bishop Jones starts off the series explaining how, in difficult times, we still have to give thanks and praise God. The devotionals continue with what has brought everyone closer to God this year.”
 
Staying closer to home this Advent and Christmas can add more meaning, Martin explained. “We can all take time to be closer to God, praying and spending quality time together,” she said. “This devotional series will add to that light.”
 
We began planning for the devotional series in October, Martin added, with a search for contributing authors across the Conference. “We wanted to get a variety of different people and different voices,” she said. “We incorporated small churches, larger churches, all types of congregations. We’ve got amazing writers in the TAC.”
 
The goal is to help others move closer to God in this uncertain time, Martin said. “There’s been so much creativity in ministry this year. Pastors and laity have had to think outside the box,” she said. “When we’re in times like this, we don’t know what to do or how to react. It forces us to turn to God and rely on our faith.”
 
The series will be published on the TAC’s social media outlets @txumc on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and online at txcumc.org/a-closer-christmas.