Monday, December 20, 2010


Christmas has changed over the years as our nation and its people have changed. We have become a much more prosperous nation in the last 50 years or so. These days we expect to have and do things that would have been luxuries back then - things like having a 32 inch, flat screen TV (or larger), eating out several times a week, owning enough clothes to over-run a good sized closet.

Long ago most children received only a stocking with things like a new pair of socks, a couple oranges and some candy at Christmas. When I was young we often got clothes for Christmas in addition to a few toys. The clothes were as exciting as the toys because we only received new clothes a few times a year -- Christmas, birthday, and back to school. Otherwise we kept wearing what we already had. But things have changed. Most of us buy new clothes when we need them (or want them). Most children already own lots of toys and games making it hard for parents and grandparents to find their kids that special gift at Christmas. We have plenty to eat all year round so nobody today wants to receive an orange and a few hard candies for the holidays.

What are the best gifts? For some families this year the best gift will be having a son or a daughter home on leave from the military. For others a great holiday would be having a clean bill of health. Two families in our community were able to move into an apartment in recent weeks - for them, having a home makes this Christmas special.

When we read the story in Luke 2 of Jesus' birth we remember that our Savior was born in a stable. His people were among those who worked every day to put food on the table; they had no luxuries. What toys he had as a child were probably made from scraps of wood by his father. Matthew's gospel tells us that shortly after Jesus was born the family had to flee to Egypt for safety. During his early years, then, Jesus and his family were refugees. At Christmas we celebrate Jesus' birth. What gifts are appropriate for us to exchange in honor of this baby?

Each Christmas my parents give a donation to charity in my honor. That is one of my favorite gifts; it doesn't fill up my closet or demand space on a wall and I feel great that someone's needs are being met. Here at Shepherd King we've been gathering furnishings for those two families who've just gotten an apartment - sheets, dishes, pillows, towels, mattresses. This kind of contribution can be made in someone's name as a "gift." Do you know someone who lost a loved one this year - a spouse or a child or a parent? Spending time with that person over the holidays would be a great gift to them and to yourself. Our quilters here at Shepherd King sold enough quilts this year to buy a cow, a sheep, several flocks of chickens and a goat for people in developing countries through ELCA good gifts. Wow - what a fantastic gift to give in honor of Jesus' birth!

The best gifts I have this year are a home in San Antonio with my husband and close proximity to my parents and siblings in Austin; I'll be able to spend Christmas with them and my nieces and nephews this year. The favorite gift I gave this year was to go Christmas caroling with people from the congregation last night to some of our elderly members who are confined to home. The singing is our gift to them; their smiles and kind words are a gift to us.

May you also give and receive some of these 'greater gifts' this year. After all, God started this tradition of gift-giving by sending God's Son who brought us peace, joy, love, hope and life.

Merry Christmas,

Pastor Kris

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Great Day

Wow! Wow, oh wow! We had a terrific day this past Sunday. Wow! On December 12th Shepherd King celebrated its 50th anniversary and what a tremendous party we had!

First of all, everything looked beautiful. So many people came out to help clean inside and out, plant new flowers, decorate, and set up tables for the lunch that the whole place was radiant. White roses on the altar and on each of the tables only made things more glorious. There were picture albums placed on the long, conference table for people to see; a harpist accompanied our meal. It couldn't possibly have been better.

Bishop Ray Tieman of the Southwestern Texas synod was our guest preacher (and he gave a fine sermon). He also led a Sunday school forum talking about some of the wonderful ministries in the ELCA. The nave was full of people as the service began with the handbell choir playing Vivaldi's "Gloria". Then we baptized the grandson of the first child baptized at Shepherd King 50 years ago and Peyton, the little one, was adorable. A dozen or more children came forward for the children's sermon and Pastor Braulick's grandchildren knew all the answers (imagine that).

The catered lunch was delicious! People had ample time to visit with one another and then we moved back to the sanctuary for the program. Council President Shirley Kearns introduced charter members, former council presidents and former pastors. Then we watched a wonderful slide show DVD of pictures from the past (thanks, Stephanie) which had people "ooo-ing," "ahhh-ing," and laughing. Pastor Huth, Shepherd King's founding pastor, spoke first sharing memories of the early days and provoking us to laughter many times. Then Pastor Braulick spoke, Pastor Kerns, and Pastor Jus. We sang hymns and heard stories of the good old days. Even when everything was over people lingered as though they couldn't bear to leave.

My thanks to everyone who worked so hard to put together this lovely 50th Anniversary celebration for the congregation. As we reviewed Shepherd King's history we were reminded that God is so good. When Pastor Huth arrived here in 1960 there was nothing but grass and some scraggly trees. Shepherd King originally met in a community hall at North Star Mall (which the mall manager, a Roman Catholic, arranged for us to use free of charge). From that small beginning God established a strong and faithful community of people where the gospel has been proclaimed, children have been raised in the faith, God has been glorified in music and prayer, the hungry have been fed, the poor have been clothed, and we have seen the grace of Jesus Christ alive in the world. What a wonderful day! Praise God for this fine group of people and for the life God gives to us all.

Pastor Kris

Monday, December 6, 2010

Advent and Anniversary

"O Lord how shall I meet thee, how welcome thee aright?" the old Advent hymn asks. During these four weeks before Christmas, the Church focuses on preparation. The world around us focuses on preparation, too, but secular preparation is mostly buying things, decorating, planning and fixing meals, and hosting parties. In the Church we ponder how to prepare ourselves for God's coming to earth. We take stock of how we are living and recommit ourselves to loving our neighbors as ourselves. We examine our hearts hoping to root out selfishness, pride, greed, envy, anger and embody God's kindness and graciousness instead. Each year this is our Advent project, making ourselves ready for the arrival of Jesus.

This year at Shepherd King the season of Advent includes a special event: our 50th Anniversary as a congregation. On Sunday, December 12, we will rejoice in 50 years of worship, learning, and service. The bishop of our local synod will be preaching, we will have a baptism, and after worship there will be a catered dinner followed by a program. The program will include a slide show of memories from years past, recollections from previous pastors, and hymns to sing. Shepherd King has been planning this observance for several years and soon the day will finally be here.

Along with our Advent preparations, then, we have been preparing for our 50th anniversary celebration. Last year we completely renovated the kitchen; last week we purchased new chairs for the fellowship hall. A committee has organized a "cross wall" on which crosses donated by members will hang. Others have spent hours going through pictures, transferring them to computer and adding appropriate music. New banners have been created to express our joy in God's goodness. With "company" coming this Sunday, members have come out to clean and decorate. New flowers were bought and planted in the front garden; floors and surfaces were scrubbed and cleaned; the sanctuary and fellowship hall were decorated for Christmas. We have been busy, busy, busy getting ready for the big day.

In some ways the preparations for our Anniversary mirror our preparations for Jesus' arrival. There is an aspect of thoroughness in each, of making ourselves spotless and beautiful for the grand occasion. There is humility in each - scrubbing bathroom floors on our knees and searching within for our own failings. Both are full of excitement and anticipation as the time approaches. And in each case we prepare with hope - hope for another 50 years of involvement in the ministry of Jesus, hope for genuine peace and wellbeing with Jesus' arrival. Indeed, our daily lives with their various occupations and responsibilities are intertwined with the story of God coming to earth as a little child. Jesus comes here, where we live, in the middle of our busy distractions, bringing us new life and everlasting love.

"O come, O come, Emmanuel," we sing during Advent, "and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear." The time is near, the time to "rejoice, rejoice." The holy child is coming; let us prepare to receive our friend and savior.