“A New Season, An Ancient Season”

Rev. Pam Brokaw, Sunday, December 27, 2020

First Sunday After Christmas

Isaiah 61:10-62:3, New Revised Standard Version

10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.

62 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.
The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.


Last week our Season of Advent concluded as Christmas arrived, and we celebrated the birth of the baby Jesus Christ. It has been a season of traditional preparation, but also, for safety sake, from a physical distance. For many it has felt like a time of exile like the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah talked about but with a present time twist. A painful twist of exile from family and friends. Exile from restaurants and movies. Exile from co-workers. From touch. From sharing meals in person.

And now, there is hope for a new season. Hang in there, we tell one another. A new season is coming.

Even as we say those words, the fatigue is there. We are weary. We yearn for things the way they used to be. We want an instantaneous New Year with the snap of our fingers heralding that moment when 2020 becomes 2021. We are ready but also running on empty and wondering how to soldier on until the new season is here.

But the season that is coming is really an ancient season. It’s a season the Prophet Isaiah spoke about as he encouraged the exiled Israelites to think of their return to Jerusalem like people joyfully preparing for a wedding celebration.

“As a bridegroom decks himself with garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels,” Isaiah states as he inspires the exiled people to think of their return to the impoverished and destroyed city of Jerusalem.[1] God will help you build something new.

Two days after Christmas Day, I wonder how we are all doing. How are you doing blessed people of the church? I can tell you my heart is full as I think about the blessings in the new season that is coming. I also, perhaps like many of you, have little in reserves. My tank is empty. And so, the idea of thinking about coming out of exile as like planning for a wedding makes me even more fatigued. There is so much to do. Aside from my own, I have helped plan two major weddings in recent years. Both were for my daughters. I look at photographs of those days and I remember how beautiful my girls were and are now.

I also recall those preparations did not always bring out the best in our planning efforts. There was stress. Things didn’t go well. Expectations were sometimes over the top.

When my eldest daughter was married the day of the big event was emotionally charged and full of expectation.

We had all assembled at a hotel and my husband Don and I were laying out our clothing. When we opened the box of Don’s rented tuxedo and other accessories, it was clear that the pants were for someone much shorter than he. Don is 6 feet 4. The cummerbund was grey velvet instead of a conversative black and the shoes had rounded tops and were shiny patent leather. They really looked like clown shoes in Don’s size 14 feet. When I called the rental place to get things fixed, I was told there was nothing they could do.

It was one of those rare times where I lost my composure. When the immediate and regrettable phone call was over…I think Don might have removed the phone from my hand at some point…dear friends figured out what to do. One whipped out a sewing kit and turned the pants from peddle pushers to acceptable high waters. Another took my youngest daughter out to buy her a dress. (My youngest daughter had arrived at the last minute after saying she wasn’t coming. In jeans, she needed something to wear and my friend bought her a dress. She did, however, insist on wearing her heavy Doc Martin boots under her new gown.)

In the end, the wedding was most amazing, and it happened despite all kinds of issues and a very frazzled mother of the bride. So, when I think about the new season ahead for all of us, I know we’ll need to be rested from the turmoil of 2020. Especially if we think about planning for the new season as if it is a wedding.

That’s why I am taking several weeks off to rest, repair and prepare for the new season ahead. It’s not an unusual thing for pastors to do after the rush of the Advent Season. But this feels different and so much more needed after such a tumultuous year. I am grateful to have this time away.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven,” Ecclesiastes tells us. This rings so true for me.[2]

We all have our stories of 2020. In my family, we lost my Dad in March and youngest brother shortly afterwards. Memorial services have been delayed until we can gather to celebrate their lives and reflect on the magnitude of what has happened. We are down to two siblings, now, my brother Mark and me, and in the past months we have spoken more on the phone than before. We have drawn closer out of this.

The past year has made us think about the importance of things we took for granted. In 2020, we endeavored to find ways to celebrate the seasons of our lives and continue the traditions of family and faith. Like the exiled Israelites, we did our best to make a home in the new place we found ourselves. Now we ask ourselves and our Creator, “Are we really going back home? Is it safe to be hopeful for a change in circumstance?”

As Isaiah heralds the coming of the Messiah, he reminds us that God is about doing new things in the most desperate of situations and for the relief of suffering people.

Celebrating the birth of the baby Jesus, is not complete until we assume our roles in the breaking through of a new season. We are to be people of hope summoned to build the kingdom in our hearts, minds, families and communities. Psalm 126 speaks joyfully: “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.”[3]

In what we have been through and what we continue to go through, there is solace and inspiration when we trust in the power of a living God who walks among us and is leading us to a new season of life.

From Old Testament to New Testament and the Now Testament. God is with us.

Katherine C. Calore says this about these passages in Isaiah: “The passage foreshadows its Christian proclamation when one considers that even before the birth of Christ, God’s word was made flesh in those laborers who rebuilt temple and city, in those worshipers who sang and prayed, in those prophets who proclaimed the living Word, and in those families, who lived and loved in trust that the word of God already dwelt among them.”[4]

Just as we approach Christmas with great expectations for the Son of God, Jesus arrives with expectations for all of us.

The coming days, weeks and months will require our trust in God and love for one another. We also must care about ourselves by reflecting on how each of us is doing. This has been a traumatic and fearful year that required us to keep on going, figuring out how to live in this hard season often taking little time to rest. Putting food on the table, keeping businesses going, coping with divisive words of divided people, have taken their toll.

How then, do we move forward into a new season as God’s bruised and weary people? There is inspiration in Isaiah’s words that encouraged the people to make their way back to Jerusalem as if making joyful preparations for a wedding and new life.

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
My whole being shall exult in my God;
For he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
He has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”[5]

God has placed in us the power of the Holy Spirit to take us into the coming new season of life.

And God has given us instructions to rest and to treat one another with love. There is divine preparation in this.

We are to joyfully prepare ourselves as participants in a celebration excited about the new season ahead. As people fully committed to a new relationship with one another and with God.

As the church inspired by the Advent celebrations of the baby of hope, peace, joy and love.

In all these things, we begin preparations for the coming new season. May it be so. May our whole being exult in our God.

[1] Isaiah 61:10, The Bible, New Revised Standard Version
[2] Ecclesiastes 3:1, The Bible, New Revised Standard Version.
[3] Psalm 126:5-6, The Bible, New Revised Standard Version.
[4] Katherine C. Calore, Feasting on the Word.
[5] Isaiah 61:10, The Bible, New Revised Standard Version


“Humble Altar”

Rev. Pam Brokaw, Christmas Eve, December 24, 2020

Luke 1: 26-38 and Luke 2: 6-7, 8-16

It is a story of humble people in extraordinary circumstances…of divine angels, Cosmic Creator, and brilliantly good purpose. And tonight, we celebrate the birth of the star of this story…the baby Jesus.

His bed a manger, a feeding trough for animals, the baby’s makeshift cradle personifies one of the names Jesus will be known by, “the bread of life.” In fact, he is born in Bethlehem, a name translated in Hebrew as “house of bread.”

Everything we will need, this humble bread of a baby, rests there in the night. Chaos may abound elsewhere, but here he is, the Son of God, in a humble bed of an altar bringing hope and promise for something new.

While the baby sleeps and dreams and grateful parents look on, we are reminded of our role in this story. We are to carry it into the world. To tell this story of a humble birth and sacrificial life and what it means to us and all.

Pastors have many Christmas Eve stories. One of my favorites is the church Christmas Play when we forgot to bring a doll to portray the baby Jesus. That night, a congregation member had given me a freshly baked loaf of bread as a gift. We wrapped the still warm loaf in a dish cloth and Mary carried him in and laid him in the manger.

At the end of the service, the animals, the shepherds, Mary (holding the baby) and Joseph were supposed to file out. But Jesus was accidently left behind. I have a sweet memory of the diligent shepherd who stayed behind kneeling in his bathrobe to keep watch on the baby. He wouldn’t take his eyes of the little loaf until the service concluded and he carefully handed it to me after the service.

I’ve told this story before, so forgive me if you have heard it, but I’ve often thought about that moment when the bread of life appeared in a humble setting.  God is like that. You just never know what God will use as a place of worship and then appear.

I feel that way about tonight. Last year, when we worshipped inside the warm and beautifully decorated Sanctuary, we had no idea a year later we would be outside in our cars on a numbing December night with battery operated candles, a DJ with a sound system and the service transmitting through and FM Station.

But here we are in a less than perfect setting and yet it is a beautiful, humble gathering around an altar built of what was available. As a makeshift nursery was so long ago. Anything to tell the story. To carry the dream into the world as people have done for more than 2,000 years.

And this is what we do tonight in this humble setting. We huddle together to worship the baby in the cold evening air and pray for the world. The church lawn still crunches from the heavy morning frost that looked like snow earlier today. The people come anyway to our humble altar.

We remember other Christmas Eve stories. When soldiers sang Silent Night in frozen fox holes in a foreign place. Of people today without homes, who huddle under tarps along highways and under bridges. Of sick people battling a virus and those tending them. Of families and friends who worry. Of estranged people yearning to reconcile. The baby comes for all.

Tonight, we remember the moment the baby arrived who would tend to all who suffer and encourage everyone to be their better selves…their humble, loving and hopeful selves.

If we are faithful to the deep and transformative message of this moment, we will remember tonight as a Christmas Eve we saw the baby. We’ll catch a glimpse of him in something or someone. In the candles we lit symbolizing the light of Christ. In the neighbor in the car next to us singing praises to the little bread of life.

Or perhaps, you will feel something different deep inside…a warmth that transcends the December chill and damp…a feeling of gratitude for a humble altar and the spectacular message it embodies and invites you to share.

Glory to God in the highest heaven,

And on earth peace among those whom he favors!

Merry Christmas Church!




“Witnesses to The Light”

Rev. Pam Brokaw, Sunday, December 13, 2020

Third Sunday in Advent

 Gospel of John 1: 6-8, 19-28

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.”[a] 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said,

“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”

as the prophet Isaiah said.

24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah,[b] nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.


In the bookcase of my home office, I have a small bottle of water from the Jordan River. It was given to me by congregation members who had traveled to the Holy Land. On the bottle are written the words: “This water is for religious purposes only. (Not for drinking.)”

I’ve had the bottle for several years. I’ve used it to baptize people. But looking at it today I can see some particles floating around in it and I suspect it is probably time to return its contents to the earth. The point is the bottle of water has a memory attached to it. It reminds me of John the Baptist baptizing people in the Jordan River more than 2000 years ago. John took action. He led by example. He is more than a story we read about or contemplate. Just as that bottle of water is not meant to sit on a shelf.

In my message last week in Oakville, I spoke of John the Baptist, the scrappy prophet whose divine mission was to announce the coming of the Messiah. According to the Gospel of Matthew, it’s John the Baptizer’s preordained job to let people know Jesus is coming and they must make ready.

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near,” John cries out in the wilderness as people gather to be baptized in the river.[1] The long-awaited Savior is coming but the people have a role to play, too. Preparing to meet Jesus means preparing themselves. They must turn toward God and make an honest accounting of themselves. They must repent expressing sincere regret for wrongdoing and harmful ways.

Today, we also prepare for the coming of the Messiah. We prepare to celebrate the birth of the baby, Jesus, who transforms the world through just and loving ways. We also prepare ourselves for his return. We do not know when that will be, but Scripture tells us we must be ready.

Today’s Scripture reading from the Gospel of John, further defines the role of John the Baptist which prepares the way for us, too. He is a witness to the light. We are to be witnesses as well.

The Gospel tells us: There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.[2]

This Gospel presents John as a first witness to the power of the Good News. He is a courageous, passionate witness who shakes things up. There will be many who will follow as witnesses to the light—something all believers are called to do. We do this in our own ways.

Some witnesses are like John, fierce and fiery. Some quietly model the healing ways of Christ. Others are tenacious witnesses to Christ’s just ways as they peacefully march and advocate. Others faithfully continue to be the church during harsh times. All endeavor to point to the light of Christ. There is not just one way to be a witness to the light.

Professor Karoline Lewis observes that “John the Witness reminds us of the importance of pointing to even the tiniest light and saying “Look, behold, the Lamb of God!” [3]

She goes on to question what witnessing to the light means this time of year, “In this season of Advent that is typically described as one of preparation, what does it mean to prepare? Maybe, preparation means simply adjusting our eyes to see light when there seems to be none. God calls us to be witnesses like John who point to Jesus and say “Look!” so that all might know God’s pastures of peace. Perhaps pointing and saying, “Look!” can be our preparing the way.”[4]

Sometimes, it seems like it’s impossible to be a witness. When we are suffering and down the light may seem so dim and almost impossible to comprehend. I’ve been there grieving and wondering how to put one foot in front of the other let alone point to light I cannot see or see “oh so dimly but need so desperately.” This is another reason we point to the light of Christ…we do this for others just as people did it for me and perhaps you as well.

We can get caught up in how we witness to the point that we don’t at all. And people need us to witness to the light. This is not just about us…you or me…it’s about others who need witnesses to the light who are unable to do so for themselves. When we joyfully point to the light of Christ it doesn’t matter where or how we do so.

The pandemic has darkened so much but Christ’s light burns all the while. Some people can’t bring themselves to gather safely outdoors, for example, in outdoor worship. “That’s not worship,” some say. “I just can’t do that.” But another way to think about outdoor worship or on-line worship or programs designed to help people that require masks and other safety procedures, is that these are ways to point to the light.

After nine long months of navigating through the pandemic darkness, we can all use some light. When our churches closed to indoor worship it was a hard stop, like taking a rough fall that takes time to get up from.

I remember when I was 10, I was riding my bike down at the school with my brother Mark. It’s important to note we did not wear safety helmets back then. We were zipping along the asphalt covered playground and I turned to say something to my brother. I looked away for only a moment and my head slammed into a tether ball pole. It was a hard and painful fall but fortunately I recovered after comfort from our Mother, some antiseptic and a promise on my part to be more careful. I still think about that moment, though, what it felt like to hit so hard, fall so hard and struggle to get up.

Our churches have been like that. When the pandemic hit last Spring, we were busily preparing for Easter Sunday. Announcements for membership classes were posted. A sermon series was under way. When we closed to indoor gatherings it was like slamming into a tether ball pole…and much worse. In many ways, we are still struggling to get up and wondering when things will return to normal.

But in the past months we have continued to be witnesses to the light. We’ve evangelized. We’ve shared the Good News. This is how we witness to the light.

In her Advent Devotional, Light of the World, Amy-Jill Levine quotes St. Francis and his understanding of evangelizing and witnessing. He said, “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.”[5]

And Levine says, “The best way of evangelizing is not to tell the potential convert, “Here’s what’s wrong with your tradition.” The best way to evangelize is to show that potential convert, “Here’s what’s right about my tradition. Here’s how it prompts toward action: here’s how it consoles.”

Last Sunday night, with the help of our Rochester United Methodist Church Trustees, we held a service outside as we lit up the church and outdoor Christmas Tree. Folks drove up in their cars to safely attend, honking and waving battery operated candles as we witnessed to the light.

That morning, we gathered outdoors at Oakville UMC for worship, lighting the Advent Candles of Hope and Peace and witnessing to the light. Next Sundays, we will worship outdoors at Drive-In Church on December 20 at Rochester at 11 a.m. We will witness to the light. Christmas Eve we will gather the same way at 6 p.m. for a candlelight service.

Just as John the Baptist was undaunted in his witnessing, we will continue to keep our eyes on what matters…the sacred light of Jesus. He has brought us this far…through nine months of scrambling to get up and worship and minister. But we are doing it. We are his witnesses. We keep getting up and pointing to the light.

Scripture tells us there are many ways to witness. As he preached in the wilderness, John the Baptist told the people that someone was coming and bringing the fire of the Holy Spirit. I see that fire in many places.

In the lights on our church. In the little candles people held in the darkness as the church lights lit up the night sky. In the vehicles and all of you in our parking lot on Sundays. In our new take-away dinner program first and third Sundays that is safely feeding people and providing fellowship until we can gather again in-person.

There is light in the prospect of our new program beginning early next year that will provide hurting people in our community with basic resources such as bedding and kitchen utensils, paper products and toiletries. In all of this, we are witnesses to the light.

This past year we have stumbled and been knocked down, but we never stopped witnessing. And you know how we become these witnesses? We are shaped and formed by those who came before…the people in our lives who provided examples to us.

I mentioned my mother earlier and how she held me in her arms after I took a bad fall. She showed me care and compassion. She would do this many times. Who is on your list? And if there is no-one, remember we have examples going back to ancient times…Mary, mother of Jesus and Elizabeth and Zachariah, parents of John the Baptist, John the preacher and first witness, and the light himself, Jesus the Christ. There are witnesses to the light here today. They cook for and feed people. They are preparing to stock the church with blankets and pots and pans, sheets and basic living needs to help people.  May Christ’s light burn within you and may we all find ways, each day, to be witnesses to his light. There are many, many ways. Amen.

[1] Matthew 3: 2, The Bible, New Revised Standard Version.
[2] John 1: 6-8, The Bible, New Revised Standard Version.
[3] Karoline Lewis, Commentary on John 1: 6-8, 19-28, Working Preacher, Dec. 11, 2011.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Amy-Jill Levine, Light of the World.



“Peace in the Wilderness”

Rev. Pam Brokaw, December 6, 2020

The Second Sunday In Advent

The Gospel reading the Second Sunday in Advent is a fiery message preached in the wilderness by a scrappy prophet whose divine mission is to announce the coming of the Prince of Peace. It’s John the Baptizer’s preordained job to let people know Jesus is coming and they must make ready.

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near,” John cries out in the wilderness as people gather to be baptized in the Jordan River.[1] The long-awaited Savior is coming but the people have a role to play, too. Preparing to meet Jesus means preparing themselves. They must turn toward God and make an honest accounting of themselves. They are to repent expressing sincere regret for wrongdoing and harmful ways.

Today, we also prepare for the coming of the Messiah. We prepare to celebrate the birth of the baby, Jesus, who will transform the world through just and loving ways. We also prepare ourselves for his return. We do not know when that will be, but Scripture tells us we must be ready.

John’s words ring true today: “I baptize you with[b] water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit and fire.”[2]

Today, one way we prepare for the coming of the Messiah is by contemplating those moments in the wilderness. John had provocative words for a divided community of haves and have-nots, powerful and poor. He shook things up. It didn’t matter who you were, then or today, what matters is a commitment to lives that bear divine fruit born out of each person’s commitment to sacred transformation. There were some at the river that day who were not honest about their motives. John had a warning for them and us today.

The Advent Candles remind us that Advent, which means “coming,” is about preparing for the coming of the Savior. It is an affirmation that hope, peace, joy and love are fruit of transformed lives. When we light the candles each week, we affirm our faith in a Savior who is working in our lives and in the world for good. We also affirm our commitment to Christ’s ways by changing our own.

There is a blessed promise of peace in this.

This time of year, the word peace is something we find often in Scripture and on banners and cards, ornaments and in song lyrics. But how do we find it in our own lives? Honest repentance is a start.

This past week, members of both churches I pastor in Oakville and Rochester, lighted candles for the on-line service we create each week as part of the South Sound Co-Op of churches.[3] At Oakville United Methodist Church, members also decorated the old Oakville UMC Sanctuary built in 1889. They hung banners and set up the Advent Wreath and they hoisted the “Peace on Earth” banner at the entrance of the Sanctuary. These gentle, worshipful acts have been repeated for decades as a testament to faith and tradition and the ways of Christ.

We all stopped for a moment and admired the banner of blue cloth with white angels and the words: “Peace on Earth Goodwill to Men.” We had paused earlier as Jim White lifted the Peace banner high above the pews. We looked up in appreciation as the sun filtered through the stained-glass windows. It was a moment to breathe, give thanks and be grateful.

“Peace,” the sign reminded us. I like to think we all had a moment of peace in the Sanctuary hanging the greens, lighting candles, and knowing we had not given up on these promises of the season.

In 2 Peter 3: 8-15. we’re told that with the Lord, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like one day.[4] We don’t know when the Lord will come again, but it’s vital that we live our best lives worthy of John’s message of how to be prepared by taking stock of our lives. We also have the gift of Christ’s loving examples of how to live while we’re waiting. Christ may return today or a thousand years from now. In the meantime, the Scripture says, we need to strive for peace without “spot or blemish.”

I have come to know that a state of peace is the dwelling place of hope, and joy, love and gratitude. All abide together in a place of wholeness God wants for us and gathers us to as he leads us still out of the wilderness of today.

We often think of peace as an absence of conflict…but it is a holy wholeness in which we become humble and thankful people who love God and one another despite differences and circumstances.

In our individual acts of repentance and commitment to Christ, we are lovingly bound to Christ and one another no matter the darkness. There is great peace in this that gives us strength come what may.

We will have wilderness times, as we have learned in the past year, but the peace of Christ, affirmed by lighting the Second Candle of Advent, burns as brightly as the fire in the eyes of John the Baptist. John knew someone was coming who baptizes us in the Holy Spirit and fire. We know that person was the Lord, Jesus Christ, whose return we prepare for even now.

While we wait for his return, Christ has given us a directive as he calls us to the peace of loving connection to God and one another. This is an act of repentance and sign of fruit.

A recent Upper Room Devotional reflects on the Second Sunday of Advent when we traditionally light the candle of peace. The devotional invites us to reflect on the words of the Prophet Isaiah 40: 1-11 who promises a divine road home.[5] For those of us weary of wandering, these are comforting words.

The prophet Isaiah is encouraging the exiled people of Jerusalem who have been without peace or a home for so long. Isaiah, who also predicted John’s ministry in the wilderness, speaks about journey and finding a way home. It is about how God always shows us the way and gently holds us as we make our way together.

Like a shepherd he pastures his flock: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them in his bosom…” Isaiah writes.[6]

We, too, are people on a journey, sometimes lost in a great wilderness of the world today…especially these past long months. Thankfully, the Advent Season, its traditions and Scripture of divine promise, help us find our way to the manger and what it means for all the earth: Peace.

[1] Matthew 3: 2, The Bible, New Standard Revised Version.
[2] Ibid, 3:11.
[4] 2 Peter 3: 8-15, The Bible, New Revised Standard Version.
[5] Isaiah 40: 1-11, The Bible, New Revised Standard Version
[6] Ibid, 11.

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