First Presbyterian Church Blog

A Prayer Story From Morf Morford

In mainland China, at least in 1999, they didn’t celebrate—or even acknowledge—Christmas. The lingering brutal winters fit that line from “The lion, the witch and the wardrobe” where Narnia is described as “always winter and never Christmas.”

I was teaching English for a major university in Beijing, China. It w as near the end of fall semester, and one of our sections was an overview of American holidays. We had a drab government issue workbook with inane Mad-lib style fill-in holiday related sentences that was somewhere between infantile and oppressive.

As we began the lesson on Christmas, I mentioned a few familiar Christmas traditions—including gift-giving and Christmas caroling. One of the students eagerly raised her hand with the obvious question “Can we do that?”

You need to keep in mind that in the People’s Republic of China, pretty much everything has been illegal at one time or another. In fact, during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and ’70s, Chairman Mao had compiled a list of “Social Parasites.” These were the categories of people who deserved no respect or legal rights. Teachers were between prostitutes and beggars.

The wearing of glasses had been suspect—if not criminal—as it was under the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia—because that meant that one probably—gasp!—read books—clearly a sign of a intellectually roving, difficult to control individual.

And I had heard a vague rumor that there was to be no Christmas Caroling in hotel lobbies, but I had naively somehow imagined that to be some kind of hotel-related policy.

As a typical oblivious and optimistic American I said, “Sure, let’s do that.”

What teacher, especially far from home, would not want their students to experience, first hand, an essential American holiday tradition?

I invited two of my classes to meet at the lobby of the “Foreign experts” apartment building where I was living. This place, at best, was a nearly one star hotel—with the added feature of two or three women at the front desk (who spoke no English) who were our “watchers.”

These were older women who were always baffled, if not annoyed, by their foreign residents. I was probably the only resident from the USA in the building—and was certainly the one that, unintentionally of course, generated the most discussion. One of the “watchers” found my comings and goings amusing instead of bothersome.

Among other things, the watcher’s job was to “monitor” us and sign in every visitor.

Another “watcher” was the woman in her early 30s who was the faculty advisor, guide and helper for the “foreign” teachers working for the university. She had told me that she was a member of one of the illegal “underground churches”—I invited her to join us Christmas caroling—she, of course, was far to prudent to join us.

On the appointed evening I found about 50 students packed in my lobby. The “watchers” were scared and horrified. There is nothing like a crowd in China when it comes to attracting official—and unwelcome—attention.

The front desk “watcher,” who was usually amused, was now in hysterics. Somehow she knew I had something to do with this.

I passed out about 20 candles and 30 copies of song sheets with the first verses of many familiar Christmas carols—Jingle Bells, Silent Night, O, Little Town of Bethlehem, O, Holy Night and a few more.

There were a few more people than song sheets, so the students clustered in groups of two or three as we sang the Christmas carols around the campus. It was a cold and clear evening and our voices softly echoed across the barren concrete campus.

These Christmas songs may be familiar to most of us, but these Chinese college students were seeing, hearing and singing them—all at once—for the very first time.

Even now, many years later, it brings chills to me to recall their faces glowing in fierce joy and discovery clustered around candles, with their passionate voices proclaiming the Christmas message under a frigid sky and to a sullen and silent campus.

“Silent Night” in particular stands out in my memory as a piercing hymn of hope in a world of frozen concrete monotony.

After singing for about 20 minutes, I was leading the group between two large buildings when a man rushed out and started yelling in Chinese.

I had to grab one of my students to find out what he was saying. He was with campus security and was irate that we had an unauthorized group (the authorities are overly sensitive about gatherings—perhaps for good reason) and that we had lit candles.

There was a fire hazard, presumably, on this all-concrete campus.

We stopped singing, and most of the group blew out their candles.

I suggested heading back to my apartment where we could have hot chocolate (which virtually none of the students had tasted before) and I had collected a large pile of wrapped cassette tapes and books for gifts.

As we turned toward my apartment, most of the candles were re-lit and many of the students were softly singing.

As we entered the lobby of my building, the “watchers” were yet again horrified—first of all because we were returning (among other problems, all guests were supposed to sign in, but this was impossible with such a large group) and, perhaps even worst of all, there was an important phone call—for me—from the head of campus security. He was furious—and spoke no English. I had to grab a student to take the call and interpret for me.

The head of security wanted to know my name, my department, my supervisor, and my apartment number.

I knew that I was in trouble—Chinese style.

I answered these questions as the rest of the students went up to my apartment where hot cocoa and gifts were waiting.

All the students were having a wonderful time when I finally made it back to my apartment. They each had a gift and their fill of hot chocolate. After about an hour they all left and a few students helped me clean up my apartment.

I was exhausted, but I knew that, for me at least, the party wasn’t over.

The next afternoon my phone rang. It was my official faculty “watcher.” She was laughing so hard she could barely speak.

She told me that I was in big trouble and needed to explain and document this “cultural experience” of Christmas caroling.

I was required to submit a copy of the song sheet we used and “proof” that our activity was merely a traditional American holiday tradition. I also had to give a reasonable estimate of the number of students involved.

Before she hung up she said, “You only have two weeks left on your contract, and I don’t think you’re going to make it.”

I compiled and submitted all that, and I am sure there is a bulky file somewhere in Beijing with my name on it.

The next evening, in the frigid darkness, I heard a faint echo of singing coming from one of the far corners of the campus. In a year living there, I had never heard any improvisational singing before.

I like to think I left a tradition of spontaneous joyful singing in the heart of their frigid winters.

About two weeks later my faculty “watcher” drove me to the airport. Long before this, she had called me her “little trouble-maker.” I could tell she wanted to make sure I got on my plane, but maybe, just maybe, she was a little sorry to see me go.

As I look back on this unlikely Christmas, I am reminded of the original Christmas, where Jesus left the safety and glory of the presence of God to bring a message of hope and restoration to a people who did not want to hear it.

And, in fact, were eager to murder Him to silence the voice of God in their midst.

I had travelled a few thousand miles, He had crossed eternity and stepped into our time and space.

He left His known world to leave us a legacy of peace and glory that transcends description and definition.

Isn’t that the most “Christian” thing to do? To risk it all to leave behind a living legacy of joy and shalom that redefines and shines hope on every seemingly grim circumstance?

As I look back on this experience, and realize how close I came to being arrested, deported or worse, I wonder…would I do it again?

Of course.



A Hospitable God Week 4 Begins on December 18

Read Revelation 19:6-9. A Heavenly Banquet

Read the passage slowly and prayerfully. Listen with the “ear of your heart” to the Spirit’s leading, receiving and savoring deeply in your heart the fruits of this communion of service and love.

 

Reflect

Jesus often alludes to the Great Feast in the Kingdom of God, both in parables and in direct comments. This gathering of the redeemed of the Lord in the presence of God on the Last Day is the culmination and fulfillment of the incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection. When we celebrate communion, Jesus is our host. Reflect on your place at the heavenly banquet table, assured by Christ’s broken body and shed blood that gives you the right to be called a child of God. Consider how, washed and purified by Christ, you become capax Dei, capable of perceiving the things of God. In this banquet, the wedding feast of the Lamb – we receive not just food and drink, but we receive God. Jesus Christ washes us, he makes us his guests, and he invites us to a communion of service and of love. The Heart of Christ is a spring, which wells up to eternal life (Jn 4:14). Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water (Jn 7:38), saying “Come to the Father!” In gratitude, what fruits of this communion of service and love do you want to flower in your life?

 

Respond and Rest

Let your prayer reflect your desire for the fruits of gratitude, service and love. Rest and Wait in gratefulness for the things of God.

 

Light the Candle

Record any light you received as you reflected on this week’s Scripture



Christmas Eve Candlelight Service @ Tacoma First Presbyterian

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Join us at 7:00 pm on Christmas Eve at Tacoma’s First Presbyterian Church for an awe-inspiring candlelight service featuring vocal choirs, handbell choir, soloists, an instrumental ensemble, and a pipe organ with more than 3,000 pipes! Held in our soaring cathedral-like Sanctuary, this wonderful service retells the Christmas story through Bible readings and a special message from our Senior Pastor, Dr. Eric Jacobsen. The service ends with the singing of “Silent Night” in the midst of hundreds and hundreds of candles. Everyone is welcome at this Tacoma-area tradition—and that means YOU! First Presbyterian Church is located at 20 Tacoma Ave. S at the corner of Division and Tacoma Ave. S. We’re just a block away from Wright Park.


FPC Adult Sunday School Class Schedule

ADULT SUNDAY SCHOOL

Continuing  1/8 – 3/5

 

FAMILY PROJECT

Facilitated by: Devon & Jen Duval    Location: Nelson Hall

A DVD/discussion study that explores God’s design for the family. Come learn what foundational truths and “tools you need to build the family God desires you to have.”  

 

New Class Beginning January 8th

1, 2 & 3 JOHN Navigators Life Change Bible Study

Teacher: Matt Pickard   Location: South Chapel

If you would like to do your own study of the letters of John to accompany what is discussed in class, you can purchase a study book for $11 from the church office or from Matt Pickard.

 



Coming Soon….ALPHA

COMING SOON….ALPHA

Beginning Thursday, January 19th Dinner at 6:30pm                                  
Alpha is an opportunity to explore life and the Christian faith in a friendly, open and informal environment. No pressure. No follow up. No charge.  
Typically Alpha has around ten sessions and includes food, a short talk and time at the end where you can share your thoughts. 

 

 



Christmas Season Dates to Note at FPC

CHRISTMAS EVE CANDLIGHT SERVICE
Saturday, December 24th at 7:00pm in our Sanctuary

Come celebrate the true reason for the season at FPC’s wonderful Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. Bring your friends and family.                                       

 

CHRISTMAS DAY SERVICE                                                                                                                                                                       Sunday, December 25th 10:30am Sanctuary

Come as you are, (even in pajamas!) for an informal service of worship.             
We will sing familiar Christmas songs and enjoy hot cocoa and talk about all of the gifts that Jesus gives us. We hope will be able to join us!

 

NEW YEARS DAY– ALPHA, WAFFLES, and JESUS                                                                                                                           Sunday, January 1st 10:30am Worship Service followed by breakfast & Alpha preview in Fellowship Hall.

 



Taproot Theater Christmas Play this Sunday!

TAPROOT THEATER CHRISTMAS PLAY

I’LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS

Sunday, December 18th 9:00am in Fellowship Hall

Nothing goes quite as expected in this Christmas comedy about forgiveness, calling and hope. All ages invited.

 



A Prayer Story From Justine Byers

Over the past few weeks as I have been thinking about what to write on prayer, the word joy keeps passing through my mind. Psalm 126:3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy! Joy is at the center of a life of prayer. When you are in constant communion with God, talking to Him when you first wake up, before your feet hit the floor, during the day, and then at night before you lay your head down, you will experience His presence, His love, and His joy. God wants us to call upon Him with our thanksgiving and praise, repentance and sorrows, and our requests.

Over my life I have experienced God’s answer to my prayers more than once, and I have had a chance to experience His presence, love, and joy. I have made it a habit to seek God through prayer first thing in the morning, throughout my day, and at night before I close my eyes. The answer I would like to share with you is the story of our third son, Jonah. I knew after the birth of our second son, Isaac, that our family wasn’t complete. My husband on the other hand didn’t have that same longing. I prayed routinely for two-and-a-half years for either my husband’s heart to change or for the longing of more children to leave me. I knew that God heard my request for a third child, and I also knew that God wanted me to honor my husband’s wishes, too. To say that my heart was in turmoil doesn’t even cut it. Near the end of that time, I was beginning to lose hope that a third pregnancy was in my future, so I decided to move forward and go through our baby things and maternity clothes and start to rid our house of these things—trying to have peace about the answer God had given me. But, shortly after that process, I began to learn to experience God’s peace and joy even though his answer wasn’t what I thought it should be. My husband’s heart was opened to the idea of a third baby!! So all along God had heard my heart’s desire and answered my prayer. Jonah was born nine months later. We are now a family of five, and I praise God every day for His answer! During that time of waiting, I learned to trust God and walk by faith.



A Hospitable God Week 3 Begins on December 11

Read Luke 2:8-20. God’s Welcome

Read the passage slowly and prayerfully. Note in your journal any phrase, which stands out to you. Listen with the “ear of your heart“ to the Spirit’s lead, paying particular attention to God’s welcome.
 

Reflect

How is God’s welcome made apparent even in the middle of a tent city of shepherds? What is the hospitable message of the angels and to whom is this welcome offered? Consider the significance of Jesus’ welcome in humble and ordinary circumstances among ordinary people, yet accompanied by the praises of angels. How does the imagery show God’s concern for people regardless of their social status or vocation? What does this suggest about God’s welcome to you and how highly he values you? How might it inform the hospitality we offer to the world? Consider the joy heralded and experienced with the good news. How does this joy relate to hospitality and welcome?
 

Respond and Rest

Let an attitude of quiet receptiveness permeate your response in prayer. Consider how Mary’s response depicts the wonder of experiencing the inbreaking of God in her life and how she pondered these things in her heart. Ponder these things in your heart.
 

Light the Candle

Record any light you received as you reflected from the week’s Scripture


Watch Our 2016 Christmas Concert on YouTube!

Our fabulous concert of Christmas carols was attended by several hundred people last week. If you missed it (or you want to experience it again), you can now watch it on video thanks to our worship intern Jesús Gomez. And plan to participate (and invite your friends) next year!
 

 



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