By God’s Side: December 23, 2020

Weekly Inspirational Reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles

December 23, 2020

The Reverend Dr. John A. DallesTomorrow is Christmas Eve.

In my many years as an ordained minister, this year is only the second in which I was prevented from celebrating Christmas Eve with my congregation in our sanctuary in worship. The other happened when I was the associate minister of The First Presbyterian Church of South Bend, Indiana. That year, we had to cancel Christmas Eve at the last moment, not because of snow (which you might have supposed, with South Bend being in the lake effect region), but because the temperatures had plummeted so low that a statewide emergency had been declared. Essential workers were the only ones permitted on the roads. The greatest fear was that people might get where they were going, turn off their cars, and, when they returned, be prevented from starting them up, and therefore become stranded, due to the frigid weather. It was a major public safety issue.

So we celebrated Christmas Eve at home, as we are doing this year. No, it isn’t the cold that keeps us apart; it is the coronavirus. But the precautions are similar. It is a major public safety issue. Our concern for the well-being of others eclipses our heartfelt longing to be together.

Please know that as you mark this Christmas Eve in a very different way, worshiping online instead of in person, you are part of a great company of believers. Please trust that the Holy Spirit connects each one of us to every one of us, in ways that transcend social distancing and sheltering in place.

And as you do, remember that, as earth-changing as it was, the first Christmas came silently, and intimately, to Mary and Joseph, who were also sheltering in place. They are with you, and you are with them, in Spirit, as the wondrous Gift is given.

The Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles
Interim Senior Pastor, Shadyside Presbyterian Church

About Dr. Dalles

Read more about Dr. Dalles.

Watch a brief video introducing a series of conversations with Dr. Dalles.

About By God’s Side

Shadyside Presbyterian Church publishes By God’s Side, a weekly series of inspirational reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles, to support you in your spiritual journey. These pastoral messages appear in the blog section of the church website each week. (Our weekly e-newsletter includes an excerpt to remind you to read along with us regularly; click here to subscribe to the e-newsletter if you do not already receive it.) We hope this regular feature will help you to draw closer to God’s side in your life of faith.

Read more reflections by Dr. Dalles from By God’s Side.

By God’s Side: December 16, 2020

Weekly Inspirational Reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles

December 16, 2020

The Reverend Dr. John A. DallesIt is a funny thing about Christmas trees. They are new and different every year, but they hold memories of every Christmas tree that came before them.

You know how it is. You manage to get the lights on and working, and then you begin decorating. Each ornament triggers thoughts of people and places that are dear to you.

I am told that Martin Luther, the great Reformer, began the whole Christmas tree tradition. The story goes that he was outside on a snowy, star-filled night, and came across an evergreen tree that sparkled with a luminous wonder. He chopped it down, dragged it home, and put candles on its boughs to simulate the starlight. And people have been crooning “O Tannenbaum” ever since.

Look around. Christmas trees are everywhere, aren’t they? From the tree by your hearth, to the Horne’s Christmas tree downtown. They are freshly cut, or freshly unboxed from the attic. They have handmade heirloom ornaments, or brand new ornaments you found to carry out a particular decorative theme. They all signal something special is now among us. Something that takes our lives from the ordinary to the extraordinary. And we know that something is the Babe of Bethlehem.

The trees are all in His honor. The lights remind us that He is the light of the world. The ornaments’ golden glow, and pretty workmanship, and quiet beauty all speak of things that are everlasting, like an evergreen’s boughs. As we deck our halls, may we also deck our hearts with the love of Christ.

The Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles
Interim Senior Pastor, Shadyside Presbyterian Church

About Dr. Dalles

Read more about Dr. Dalles.

Watch a brief video introducing a series of conversations with Dr. Dalles.

About By God’s Side

Shadyside Presbyterian Church publishes By God’s Side, a weekly series of inspirational reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles, to support you in your spiritual journey. These pastoral messages appear in the blog section of the church website each week. (Our weekly e-newsletter includes an excerpt to remind you to read along with us regularly; click here to subscribe to the e-newsletter if you do not already receive it.) We hope this regular feature will help you to draw closer to God’s side in your life of faith.

Read more reflections by Dr. Dalles from By God’s Side.

By God’s Side: December 9, 2020

Weekly Inspirational Reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles

December 9, 2020

The Reverend Dr. John A. DallesIn recent weeks, several of you have told me that, at some point or another since mid-March, you experienced a meltdown. I can relate. The pressures of coping as best we can, during a year which mustered forces to prevent that, have certainly yielded a range of feelings that we normally keep in check. So if you have had a meltdown moment, remember that you are not alone — that what you are feeling is understandable and appropriate. And it comes of a long time waiting, with no end in sight.

I am reminded of the children of Israel who had their own, literal, meltdown moment when they were out there wandering in the wilderness. Moses, their leader, had gone up the mountain and was a long time returning. Fear and worry and all sorts of gloomy thoughts got the better of them. What did they do? They gathered up every precious golden treasure they had and melted it down to form an idol they could worship.

You cannot be too harsh with them, even though you know it was wrong. They were at the end of their tether. The waiting was driving them crazy. And the meltdown happened.

The big difference between then and now is that we know for whom we are waiting. We know that He is on His way. We know when He will arrive. We know that it is just fifteen days more, till we joyously celebrate His birth.

So if you are having a meltdown moment, forget about idols, no matter how glittery and tempting they may appear. Remember that Christ brings salvation. Allow His coming to set you free of the worry that comes of uncertainty. His love is greater than your fears; His goodness is far grander than anything else you can name.

The Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles
Interim Senior Pastor, Shadyside Presbyterian Church

About Dr. Dalles

Read more about Dr. Dalles.

Watch a brief video introducing a series of conversations with Dr. Dalles.

About By God’s Side

Shadyside Presbyterian Church publishes By God’s Side, a weekly series of inspirational reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles, to support you in your spiritual journey. These pastoral messages appear in the blog section of the church website each week. (Our weekly e-newsletter includes an excerpt to remind you to read along with us regularly; click here to subscribe to the e-newsletter if you do not already receive it.) We hope this regular feature will help you to draw closer to God’s side in your life of faith.

Read more reflections by Dr. Dalles from By God’s Side.

By God’s Side: December 2, 2020

Weekly Inspirational Reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles

December 2, 2020

The Reverend Dr. John A. DallesIf you have been watching the national news and managing to wade through all of the seemingly endless reporting about the coronavirus and about the unusual political scene, you also may have seen what I consider to be just about the best news of the past several weeks.

When the giant evergreen tree from upstate New York made its 170-mile journey to where it now stands as the official New York City Christmas tree, it was not alone. Well, of course it wasn’t. In addition to the usual participants in such a trip – the rig driver and helpers – there was one more passenger that no one could have anticipated: a diminutive saw-whet owl.

You may have seen the photos of this little guy. Nothing could be cuter than those big yellow eyes and beautifully feathered face. Somehow or other, he managed to be a stowaway. As the tree was hoisted into place in front of the RCA Building, and as the workers removed the twine that bound the boughs, there he was, in all of his indisputable wonder. Maybe he had heard about the Big Apple and wanted to see it for himself. Or maybe, gently held and cared for by hands that folded round it almost like a prayer, this was a kind of Advent miracle.

Can something so small bring such a measure of joy? Can an unexpected surprise brighten a world that is feeling frankly glum? Can one living being enrich lives far beyond those who will ever see it in person, or hear its voice with their own ears?

Of course, those questions pertain to “Rockefeller the Owl.” But, even more, they can serve as a reminder to us that the Messiah, whose arrival is soon upon us, comes as a small child, yet brings immeasurable joy, brightens this world with a light that shines into even the darkest of places, and offers hopefulness. The one eternal God is coming to enliven hearts and minds.

This Advent season, look for the small things, for they are the matters of everlasting worth. May you find them in expected and unexpected places.

The Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles
Interim Senior Pastor, Shadyside Presbyterian Church

About Dr. Dalles

Read more about Dr. Dalles.

Watch a brief video introducing a series of conversations with Dr. Dalles.

About By God’s Side

Shadyside Presbyterian Church publishes By God’s Side, a weekly series of inspirational reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles, to support you in your spiritual journey. These pastoral messages appear in the blog section of the church website each week. (Our weekly e-newsletter includes an excerpt to remind you to read along with us regularly; click here to subscribe to the e-newsletter if you do not already receive it.) We hope this regular feature will help you to draw closer to God’s side in your life of faith.

Read more reflections by Dr. Dalles from By God’s Side.

An Invitation to Online Communion

Special Invitation: The Lord’s Supper During Advent

The Chalice, Flagon, and Plate used on World Communion Sunday, October 1, 2017, were dedicated to the glory of God and in loving memory of Momoko H. Mills. For decades, Momoko faithfully prepared the Lord’s Table in our Sanctuary with humble reverence and deep love. Commissioned by Shadyside Presbyterian Church, the Communion set was fashioned by Deacon Garret B. Smith. We give thanks to God both for Momoko’s caring service and for Garret’s talented craftsmanship. This set will be used regularly as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper during our midweek vespers. Also visible above in detail is the damask linen from Damascus which was a gift from Mark A. Anderson to Shadyside Presbyterian Church. Photograph taken by Rebecca D. Reeder.“Advent” means “coming” or “arrival.” During the season of Advent, we celebrate Christ’s coming into the world and watch with expectant hope for His coming again. One of the ways in which we remember Christ’s coming into our lives is through His abiding presence in Word and Sacrament. During the season of Advent, Shadyside Presbyterian Church will offer multiple opportunities to celebrate the Sacrament of Communion virtually.

In this unprecedented time, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has approved the online celebration of Communion (Communion in an Emergency/Pandemic), and, according to the Book of Order, it is the responsibility of the Session to authorize the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The Session of Shadyside Presbyterian Church has so authorized the online celebration of the Sacrament on Sunday, December 6, 2020, as well as during virtual vespers in Advent on Wednesdays, December 2, 9, and 16, 2020. In this time when we are separated by space, yet united in the Spirit, we remember that Christ is always at work, gathering us in unique ways.

Preparations

In preparation for the Sacrament, we invite you to look through your own kitchen to find “bread and beverage.” While there is rich symbolism in the elements we traditionally use to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the Church also has a long history of using the most fitting materials that are readily available in any given time and setting. So feel free to be creative and use what you have on hand.

Prior to our time of worship, please prepare your worship space. Have ready the device on which you will view the service, the bulletin (available online in the worship archive) which will enable you to more fully participate in the service, and the elements you will use for Communion. Have your “bread” ready on a plate and your “beverage” poured. Any vessels will do, but you might consider using special dishes to help you remember that this is a holy meal, set apart from our regular meals. If it is safe to do so, you also may want to light a candle and place it by your prepared Communion elements. Through the light, may you be reminded that Christ is present with us all in this meal.

During worship, you will be guided through the celebration and reception of the Lord’s Supper. Whether or not you are a member of Shadyside Presbyterian Church, we invite you to prepare your hearts to receive this Sacrament as a means of grace. For Christ is our host, and He invites all who seek Him to partake of this holy meal.

Some possibilities for bread:

  • any kind of bread
  • crackers
  • cookies
  • chips
  • tortilla
  • pita

Note: If you have time and want to involve your family with a meaningful activity in preparation for Communion, consider baking a special loaf of bread together. Please contact Ellen Allston, Director of Christian Education for Children’s Ministry, who has shared several recipes with families by email.

Some possibilities for beverage:

  • grape juice
  • any other type of juice
  • wine
  • water

Photograph: The Chalice, Flagon, and Plate used on World Communion Sunday, October 1, 2017, were dedicated to the glory of God and in loving memory of Momoko H. Mills. For decades, Momoko faithfully prepared the Lord’s Table in our Sanctuary with humble reverence and deep love. Commissioned by Shadyside Presbyterian Church, the Communion set was fashioned by Deacon Garret B. Smith. We give thanks to God both for Momoko’s caring service and for Garret’s talented craftsmanship. This set has been used regularly as we have celebrated the Lord’s Supper during our midweek vespers. Also visible above in detail is the damask linen from Damascus which was a gift from Mark A. Anderson to Shadyside Presbyterian Church. Photograph taken by Rebecca D. Reeder.

Advent Reflection: Dec. 25, 2017

Seasonal Devotions

Scripture: John 1:1–5  (Today’s Readings)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.  (John 1:1-5)

In the dramatic opening of his gospel, John the apostle boldly declares the identity of Jesus. Jesus is the incarnation of Almighty God. He is both fully human and fully divine. He is God. In Him exists creation, redemption, and salvation.

Jesus Christ is the light of life and salvation, yet He came to us as a humble Child, born in a stable. Despite the truth He shared and the healing He brought, we often deny Him, His Word, and our desperate need of salvation which only He can provide.

Yet, He loves us still.

The darkness of the world and the darkness of our own sin have not diminished the radiance of our Lord. His light shines in our darkest hours, illuminating His love, His mercy, and His invitation to us to come and live in His light.

What do you face this glorious Christmas Day? Amidst the celebrations of this day, are you facing illness or the loss of a loved one? Do you face joblessness or financial stress or severe marital discord? Whatever you face today, celebrate the brilliant light shining in our darkness: the light of our Lord, Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem!

Merry Christmas!

The Reverend Dr. Conrad C. Sharps and Mrs. Lauren Ford Sharps

Read more Advent Reflections on the blog of the Shadyside Presbyterian Church website.

Download the full booklet of Advent Reflections.

Artwork: Detail of No Between © Jan L. Richardson. janrichardson.com. Inspired by Isaiah 64:1: “O that You would tear open the heavens and come down … .”

Advent Reflection: Dec. 24, 2017

Seasonal Devotions

Scripture: Isaiah 60:1–6  (Today’s Readings)

Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.  (Isaiah 60:1-3)

Light is essential to biological life; light in life indicates vitality and prosperity. Light is essential to vision. In Genesis, God summons light — its creation is a direct result of God’s command. It is with light that the first day of creation is born. This occurs in the second sentence of the Bible.

One of the most dramatic passages in choral music occurs about eight minutes into the beginning of Franz Joseph Haydn’s oratorio, The Creation. The orchestra begins with an extended, wandering prelude depicting the earth without form and void. The narrator enters, still very quietly, with the opening words of Genesis. On the word “light,” the full orchestra and choir burst forth with a subito fortissimo. The oratorio moves swiftly from this defining moment.

What a marvelous image we have to usher in our journey through the Bible and our ongoing image of the Divine: Jesus, the Light of the World. “Thy Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” Echoing Isaiah, Matthew says of the arrival of Jesus, “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” The Psalmist speaks of the Lord being the “Light of My Salvation” T. S. Elliot has a stunning poem in his pageant play, The Rock: “O Light Invisible, We Praise Thee.” The poem/prayer is a meditation in and of itself.

In these days of winter, when darkness increasingly covers the earth, we all crave the coveted hours of daylight. We light lanterns and tapers; we cover our Christmas trees and cottages with colorful coruscations; we escape to places where we can soak in sunshine. We yearn for spring, when each day unfolds with more brilliance than the one before. With this escalation of effulgence we associate budding flowers and trees — the reassurance of renewed life.

Not only do we long for more light, we long for the warmth associated with its luminosity. And so it is with God’s presence in our lives. We have an inborn need for the radiance and warmth emanating from the Light of the World. What are the sources of light in your own world which illuminate the love and grace of the Divine?

Prayer: Dear God, we want to see your brightness. Clear sun of righteousness, shine on our path and show us the way to the Father. In you, O God, there is no darkness at all; the night and the day are both alike. The Lamb is the light of the city of God. Shine in our hearts, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Contributed by Mark A. Anderson

Read more Advent Reflections on the blog of the Shadyside Presbyterian Church website.

Download the full booklet of Advent Reflections.

Artwork: Detail of No Between © Jan L. Richardson. janrichardson.com. Inspired by Isaiah 64:1: “O that You would tear open the heavens and come down … .”

Advent Reflection: Dec. 23, 2017

Seasonal Devotions

Scripture: Luke 1:67–80  (Today’s Readings)

The journey leading to Christmas is filled with periods of waiting, and, in this passage, we find ourselves at the end of one such period and in the middle of another.

After not believing God’s promise, Zechariah waits mutely for months until the promise is fulfilled in the form of a son. Zechariah breaks his silence, praising God for His mercy and promises of the past, and prophesying about God’s future gift of Jesus, for whom his son John will prepare the way. This marks the beginning of the end of a wait that began ages ago.

God shows us mercy and keeps His promises even when we don’t believe that He will. As we await the coming of Christ, may we look both to the past and to the future, rejoicing in the blessings we have received and trusting that God will be with us.

Prayer: Loving God, thank You for showing us Your mercy and shining Your light upon us, even when we fail to believe in Your promises. Guide us as we walk through this Advent season so that we may grow to be strong in spirit.  Amen.

Contributed by Emma R. Balaan, Deacon

Read more Advent Reflections on the blog of the Shadyside Presbyterian Church website.

Download the full booklet of Advent Reflections.

Artwork: Detail of No Between © Jan L. Richardson. janrichardson.com. Inspired by Isaiah 64:1: “O that You would tear open the heavens and come down … .”

Advent Reflection: Dec. 22, 2017

Seasonal Devotions

Scripture: Luke 1:57–66  (Today’s Readings)

This Advent season looks a bit different in our family as we eagerly anticipate the birth of our third child, a son, this coming February. There is a lot to consider with the decision of what to name a child. In our case, our daughters both have rather traditional names that came from within our extended family. When choosing our son’s name, we have kept that in mind and are looking over our male relative’s names and deciding what will be the best fit. It is not an easy decision, and it is one the child will live with for the rest of his life!

In our Scripture passage, Zechariah and Elizabeth were in a similar scenario with their firstborn son. In Jewish tradition for that time, the baby would not be named until the eighth day upon his circumcision ceremony, and it was expected that a firstborn male would be named after his father. In an earlier passage, we learned that Zechariah had been visited by an angel proclaiming that he would be a father and the son would be named John. At the time, Zechariah doubted God’s gift to his family and was, as such, afflicted with dumbness. When it came time to name the child, the gathered priests and family assumed the baby would be named Zechariah, and were shocked when Elizabeth spoke out and said he was to be named John. This simply was not done in their culture, and when they turned to Zechariah for confirmation he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately, God rewarded Zechariah for his faithfulness by restoring his speech, and he began shouting praises for God.

This laid the foundation for John the Baptist to become an outspoken preacher and right-hand man of Jesus. In the end, a name is just a name. It is a collection of letters strung together to identify a person. In this instance, John’s name was so much more, because it represented the faith of his parents in God’s will. It broke cultural norms and set John apart to be a chosen follower of Christ and leader of the early Christian Church.

Prayer: Lord, we are in awe of You and of the many miracles of this season. We ask that You would walk alongside us during our waiting, and that we would have the faith of Elizabeth and Zechariah. Prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus, and give us voices to always shout Your praise.  Amen.

Contributed by Kathryn F. S. Geary

Read more Advent Reflections on the blog of the Shadyside Presbyterian Church website.

Download the full booklet of Advent Reflections.

Artwork: Detail of No Between © Jan L. Richardson. janrichardson.com. Inspired by Isaiah 64:1: “O that You would tear open the heavens and come down … .”

Advent Reflection: Dec. 21, 2017

Seasonal Devotions

Scripture: Luke 1:39–48a  (Today’s Readings)

Oh, my soul leaps with inexpressible joy.
Like a mother holding a newborn.
With great expectation, I wait for You.
You knew me before creation.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I believe, but cannot see.
Your promises are true.
You have chosen me.
A humble servant.

Prayer: Father God, with joy we praise You, for You have come to be with us, and You have called us as Your own. Guide us now, that we may love and serve You with all of our lives.  Amen.

Contributed by Charie E. Daviston, Deacon

Read more Advent Reflections on the blog of the Shadyside Presbyterian Church website.

Download the full booklet of Advent Reflections.

Artwork: Detail of No Between © Jan L. Richardson. janrichardson.com. Inspired by Isaiah 64:1: “O that You would tear open the heavens and come down … .”