Author Archive for Pastor Gerardo Vázquez – Page 2

Times of Reflection and Meditation

We are going through very difficult times worldwide. It’s not only in the United States and in Mexico that we are suffering in this pandemic, living separated from our family, friends and loved ones. I think the whole world is enslaved by the pandemic.

Human and economic losses, bankrupties of small and large companies, and compulsory social isolation puts many people in a tremendous emotional crisis. Anxiety is leading many couples to divorce, since they are forced to be together for too much of their time. In the worst case scenarios both adults and children are affected if they share a home with other families. And problems multiply when people are thrown out of their houses for not being able to pay the rent.

Hope in Uncertain Times quote by Oprah Winfrey

Unfortunately, I have personally seen these situations when receiving calls from people in the middle of a crisis. Thankfully, I have been able to contact several social organizations to help me find support for these Hispanic/Latino families in San Jose. Organizations such as Sagrado Corazón (Sacred Heart), Friends of Guadalupe, Santa Clara County, and different family shelters have been able to supply the help needed to keep people from living on the street. Food for families has been supplied by the Segunda Cosecha (Second Harvest) food bank.

Those who are suffering in El Maguey are receiving help from SJ First Church and the Methodist women and also the leaders of Cristo Vive, all great warriors with noble hearts, who have been supporting the community. I have been able to see—in the middle of my time of prayer and meditation—the hand of God protecting His people. Of course, several people who I know from Atotonilco and El Maguey, as well as some relatives of our congregation members, have died. But prayer and faith keep us standing .

We have been going through Holy Week which, for me, is very special. One of my favorite days is Palm Sunday, when Jesus humbly made his triumphal entry mounted on a donkey. He was accompanied by the multitude of devoted people, who spread their cloaks on the road where Jesus Christ would be passing. More people joined this beautiful procession, waving branches of trees and full of hope that Jesus would save them. They shouted, “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”.

Another special day is Maundy Thursday, where Jesus invited His beloved disciples to the last supper that he would have with them. This event instituted the Sacrament of Holy Communion. He not only invited those who wanted to follow Him, but also the one who would eventually betray Him. He humbly washed everyone’s feet, teaching them service and the way they could serve the world. Jesus did it with humility, being faithful and obedient to God.

On Good Friday Jesus fulfilled his mission and the will of the Father. He died on the cross for the sins of the world, giving His life for us. He was charged with the sins of humanity, those of the past, present and future, so that we do not lose ourselves but instead have eternal life with Him. God gave us the spirit of life with his breath in creation. Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that we are not alone. He cares for us and protects us.

Through Jesus Christ we will return to the Father. He gave us the breath of life, and to Him we will return, thanks to Our Lord Jesus Christ. This resurrection Sunday we celebrate His coronation in heaven. He sits at the right side of the Father as heir of all that we see and also of all that which is invisible to us. He will be waiting for us, since, by believing in Him, we are saved.

Sisters, brothers and friends, for more than a year of pandemic caused by the coronavirus we have been living our life on our own cross. I imagine it as a very dark night; just like during the crucifixion of Our Lord, the world got dark at three o’clock in the afternoon. But we believe that we will soon come out of this crisis. The vaccination process is advancing, and little by little the economy is opening up. We are coming out of this gray cloud that is over our world.

My mother used to say that when the night is darkest it will soon be dawn. Let’s not lose hope. Let us meditate and reflect on everything that Our Lord Jesus Christ had to go through and came out triumphant. We will also come out victorious; we just have to believe, have faith, and put our burdens in the hands of God.

Happy Easter!
Pastor Gerardo Vázquez.

Times of Change

I remember a saying that my mother used to repeat: nothing is forever, everything has its time

My memory makes me look to the past, reviewing my call and the part of my life on August 17, 2007 when Cristo Vive began. I felt the call to unite my community in El Maguey, to eat together, to read the Bible, and to be one in Christ. My house was a very humble dwelling, made of dirt. The garage of my house was not covered, so we were out in the open. I was equal to, maybe even poorer than, my debt-ridden and hopeless neighbors. But I wanted with all my heart to do something for others, since I had been left alone, as you may know, and did not want to live without a purpose. My motive was and is to help my neighbors, wherever I am. Most importantly, I wanted God to walk with me to make things right.

In January 2010, my neighbors from the El Maguey and Atotonilco neighborhoods got together and officially registered the Iglesia de Cristo Vive with the Secretary of Foreign Relations of Mexico. Sometime later agents of the Social Services of the State of Jalisco came to approve the facilities of Cristo Vive and to ascertain that this church and its leaders were ready for this great project. Our aim was to help the poorest; however, the irony was that we didn’t see that we were very poor, too.

When the social workers arrived, they could not find the location of Cristo Vive, and they were going around in circles. The small group of people waiting for them—mostly women and children—were nervous, because we needed the registration. Without it the local church could interfere so that Cristo Vive could not be independent and Protestant.

I heard about a truck that was driving around the village, so I went out to see who it was. Here they were . . . these frustrated social workers who could not find us and were now in front of us. I told them, “Here it is! I am the president of Cristo Vive.” Astonished and with great respect they greeted us. I imagine it was a surprise for them. They visit other organizations, which are usually located in huge buildings and are run by entrepreneurs. What they had in front of them was a group of poor people in a humble house wanting to help the poor.

They entered the house and we shared with them water and fruit, which was all that we had to offer. They received it with much respect and gratitude. I apologized and told them to forgive me, because the house was very poor and had a dirt floor. But we wanted to help people, and we wanted the name of Cristo Vive for our organization. They told us not be ashamed. They said this type of project bears better fruit than others, because you have the intention and the courage to undertake something new. They also pointed out that later they would return, and by that time Cristo Vive would have its own building. They couldn’t say when, but only that it would happen, because they believed in us. They made their report and left.

A month later a small group of people from Cristo Vive joined me on a trip to the office of Social Services in Guadalajara, the state capital. The purpose of our visit was to get documentation which would provide recognition of Cristo Vive as a non-profit organization serving the community.

Since that visit, Cristo Vive has changed a lot with God’s blessing. It is located at the intersection of two streets. One is Columba Domínguez Street which extends to the main entrance of El Maguey. The local government has paved it, since it was in very bad condition. The school is across Ester Fernández Street, opposite the library side of our building. We’ve been holding our festivities and anniversaries on Ester Fernández Street for several years. But over the last 8 months we’ve had the generous support of San Jose First Church and the Methodist Women’s Group. We use that street, since it is spacious, but in the live broadcasts on Facebook it looked very neglected. With the help of God, I think that the local government felt sorry for how the street appeared as we carried out our activities. In the last three weeks they have been cleaning it and installing new hydraulic concrete there. Our neighbors and members of Cristo Vive are the most benefited, since when it is finished, it will be in better condition for our services and celebrations. The elderly will be safer, since chairs will be set on a firmer place. In truth, that street is our patio or esplanade for Cristo Vive.

There is no doubt that God chooses where He wants members of the community and neighbors to meet: at the corner of Calle Columba Domínguez and Ester Fernández in La Colonia El Maguey (and including neighbors from Atotonilco El Alto), as well as on North 5th and Santa Clara Streets in San José, California.

God’s timing is perfect. It only takes time, faith, and love for the neighbors to have a place to meet to worship Him. The social workers did not doubt that Cristo Vive is the right place for the neighborhood to meet and live in harmony. It works because of the hand of God and every one of those who participate with their financial support and volunteer work.

Changes are often sad and hard, but many times they are necessary. Nothing is forever, and everything changes. You just have to trust God’s timing and believe and live to achieve a dream of helping those who need it most.

God bless you.
Pastor Gerardo Vázquez-Padilla

A History of Immigrants in the United States

The North! When I was a child in my bed at night in the dark, I listened to my parents talk about The North (the United States). They talked about life here in the United States where many people emigrate to have a better life. They travel north to work, and they save money to return to their villages, buy a house, start a business, get married, and everyone is happy. In the morning when my mother awoke, I told her that when I grew up I would go to The North and buy a big house for everyone. She would get excited, but then fearfully she would tell me that in The North people get eaten, and that they no longer return to their villages. They get lost, as she lost her father when she was seven years old.

In Mexico when a person leaves his town for the border by bus, he begins to feel discrimination in his own country, since there are many Mexican emigration checkpoints with federal and customs agents. Adding to this discomfort is the danger caused by organized crime people who roam throughout the country extorting and assaulting men and women who travel. They go around looking for Central American centers or other places where immigrants cross the border looking for the American dream but end up being assaulted and abused. Victims are from many countries, including Mexico. I know this, since I was one of the many who experienced the expertise of those robbers and extortionists.

When immigrants finally arrive in this great country, they are dazzled by the wealth that is evident. Even bathrooms are beautiful, and one cannot escape the joy of knowing that there is immediate hot water for bathing just by opening the shower faucet. There are wide streets and so many parks and recreation areas. The first illusion is that one can find a job and earn money to pay for food and to send back to the family to pay debts caused by borrowing money to travel. Existing in poverty is the norm for many who live that way in their countries due to lack of opportunities.

Many times people arrive and cannot find a job. They do not speak English and only know how to work hard so that no one can say that they are lazy. Many immigrants are ashamed and proud and want to earn a living and pay their own way. Also there is a common belief that if someone is ever cared for by the government, he will not be able to become legalized. Or, if he entered the country without documents, employers may exploit him by paying very little for his labor and treating him like a slave who lives day by day and is poorly fed.

Many people do not know that immigrants pay federal and state taxes; yet, ironically, they will never benefit from a retirement pension, since they do not exist for the government. The IRS gives them a personal identification number (ITN) so that they pay taxes, and immigrants pay them to avoid getting into trouble. Many do not ask for any help from the government, since they live in anonymity.

So, the American dream is starting to get very difficult to achieve, since immigrants have to live in hiding from the police, gangs, and immigration agents (la migra). In addition, some of them suffer from racism, because some people think that they abuse the system. They are considered as criminals, because that is what is heard from some politicians in the media.

The search for the American dream stops. Many immigrants cannot return to their villages, because the years of looking for the dream have already passed. That reality does not arrive due to the low wages they earn. Individuals marry or get together with someone like them so as not to feel alone and to support each other. Children are born and raised here, and some yearn to return to their countries of origin.

Among groups of Latinos there is a lot of resentment due to profiling. Many Central Americans who crossed Mexico by road suffered from the abuses I mentioned earlier, and they think that all Mexicans are the same. They do not befriend Mexicans unless they know them well. There are some couples where the man is Mexican and the woman is Guatemalan or vice versa or from other countries where their children have 3 nationalities: Mexican, Salvadoran and American. If the father or mother of the family is detained by immigration authorities, one wonders where these children will be going. They also live in fear; they do not know how to explain that they don’t speak English, and they cannot say that their parents have no documents.

Many live in houses or apartments where there are more than two families living together in order to be able to pay the large rents. The parents live without health insurance for a variety of reasons: they cannot pay for it; they do not qualify due to their immigration status; or because, fearing discovery, they do not get registered.

In the countries of origin parents of these immigrants grow old and often die and do not have the opportunity to see their children who traveled North for a better life, one they could not achieve. Likewise, immigrants grow old, and their American citizen children grow up and do not want to return with their parents to their countries. They no longer know Mexican culture, they do not speak Spanish well, and there is no work for them. On top of this, they are stuck in a country where opportunities are limited by their lack of documentation, and they can no longer leave. I remember my mother saying the North eats people.

So, where can immigrants feel protected, not judged, condemned, or attacked?

Answer: in the churches since they are the houses of God. Well yes, but there are some churches where they cannot live their faith or participate in the traditions of the church. Many women are single mothers or live in a free union because they have not been able to marry. This is because they may live with someone who cannot marry because one of them is divorced. Or they are from the LGBTQ community. None of these groups can receive communion or the sacrament, because their theology says they live in sin.

Communion chalices and wafers and bible in rainbow colors

Being able to receive communion gives the recipient the confidence of being close to those who do not reject him or her, including Our Lord Jesus Christ. I like to visit churches to see the participation of the people. After looking into some Protestant and Catholic churches, I’ve found that some priests and pastors deny the sacraments to these people. What broke my heart one day was that during communion in a Catholic church in this area I saw women with the desire to receive communion lined up towards the priest. Before they reached him, knowing they could not take communion, they crossed their arms to at least signal to the priest that they wanted to receive his blessing. For me, looking at that is humiliation where the whole church can see that they do not take communion, because they are not worthy to do so.

The life of immigrants in the United States is not easy, and many times the American dream becomes unattainable.

My reflection on this story is that we are all immigrants in some way, since we, our grandparents, and/or our ancestors traveled to this great country looking for a better life. Jesus Christ invites us to open the door to our churches since He and many of the great characters of the Bible also were immigrants.

Blessings.
Pastor Gerardo Vázquez-Padilla

God’s Mission in El Maguey

The love for my call to the service of God is the best thing that could happen to me. For me, it is a privilege to serve God, since his blessings are immense.

During this pandemic, many very sad experiences have emerged with loss of work, education, family reunions, life of a family member, and the social contact that we need to live as humans. Fortunately, technology has helped us to be in touch with our loved ones and with the world.

With the grace of God, I decided to preach on Facebook to the Hispanic/Latino congregation of San José First UMC. The people of Atotonilco El Alto, Jalisco, were added to our broadcasts and were able to learn more about our church and Methodism. The addition of this group brings more love and solidarity with our neighbors, even if they are far from us and we don’t know them in person.

Pastor Gerardo leading worship service

With the love and kindness that characterizes our heavenly Father, He did the miracle of touching the group of Methodist women and members of our Church to express solidarity with the Cristo Vive church. In fact, the entire El Maguey community has been generously supported by them with grocery bags for the last 6 months.

I felt the need to go to El Maguey, not only to bring food to the tables of the families there, but I also decided to take my vacation time with them. In the midst of a pandemic I knew that it was not the safest thing to do, but I felt the security of God’s will. There were many people waiting for me to arrive, so that I could pray for them and reaffirm their faith on the second Sunday of January. Among those waiting was Luis Ramírez, one of the young people from El Maguey and a member of Cristo Vive. His mother, María Isabel, and his brothers have been attending Cristo Vive for more than 10 years. Luis was going through the terrible disease of leukemia, and every transmission day he connected and asked me to praise God and to ask for him to be well.

On December 10th he and his mother sent me a photo of the results of his medical exams. He was free of leukemia! It was a tremendous joy for them and for me to see that miracle. There was only one step left: Luis took his final week of daily chemotherapy in the mornings and afternoons to ensure that the cancer would not return.

He finished the routine, but after taking it he started to feel bad again. He knew that I would arrive on December 28th and he was waiting for me to pray for him again. On Saturday, December 26th, he gladly wrote to me that he was waiting for me with open arms. Luis’s condition began to get serious, so they took him to the hospital in Guadalajara. There they found that the last week of chemotherapy had resulted in the burning of his lungs, kidneys and the platelets that produce blood. Everything happened very fast. They tubed him so he could breathe. When I arrived at the Guadalajara airport, I decided to go to the hospital to see him; however, when I was renting a car I got the news from María Isabel that Luis had died.

I went to Atotonilco and spoke with María Isabel by phone, to get informed of the time she would arrive with her son’s body, so I could grieve with the family. They arrived at the funeral home at midnight with the body of 18-year-old Luis. I went there to see him and offer the praises to God, that—night after night on Facebook—he had asked me for. I could see in his face that he was peaceful, knowing that I was able to pray for him before he went to his grave.

It was devastating for his parents and for me. I am a man who speaks of faith and miracles, yet Luis died. We embraced each other and became stronger in dealing with the great loss. Both María Isabel and her husband, Javier Ramírez, in the midst of their pain, treated me with respect and love, since I shared the pain with them, with the family, and with all of Luis’s young friends. For me it was an experience that I still cannot explain. I watched hundreds of people, young and old, crying and suffering for the loss of Luis, while at the same time letting myself be led by me as a pastor and friend, singing praises and praying for the family. To me, a possible explanation is that God sent me to be with them to provide love and pastoral care.

Three Kings Day (Epiphany) January 6th

Holy Magi caravan with children gathered round

This was a special day which, for the first time in the community of El Maguey—and I dare say in the entire region—a caravan with the Holy Magi made its appearance. The Magi were represented in costumes by Juan Carlos Anaya, Eduardo Anaya, and Pedro Vázquez. To make this possible, these three and a huge group of volunteers toured the El Maguey neighborhood, (sections Pascual Rojas, and Madre Luisita) where the girls and boys went out to see this festive sight. They received sweets and soccer balls that filled the community members, both young and old, with joy. Christmas carols enlivened the night with smiles and hope, alleviating the stress that people carried during this pandemic. Also, with First Church’s donations, the blessings of God, and the leaders of Cristo Vive, we were able to distribute grocery bags to 200 families in El Maguey.

On January 10th, the day of the baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we began our healing and faith renewal service, scheduled according to the safety protocols in El Maguey with masks and antibacterial gel. On this very important day for Methodism and Christianity, children, youth, adults and the elderly—and without fail María Isabel Aguirre, mother of our angel in heaven, Luis Ramírez, and his family—appeared at this important service directed by Pastors Juan Carlos Anaya and Gerardo Vázquez. The pastors, their servants and the leaders of Cristo Vive all contributed to a service full of faith and love for our neighbors, and praying for the members of San José First, since we are one in God.

I want to express my gratitude in the name of God for all those who made this possible, since it is the call of God to love and respect each other, to cry, to laugh, and to celebrate in union, since that is how we grow stronger.

May the blessing of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit descend upon us. Amen.

Pastor Gerardo Vázquez-Padilla

Origin of Las Posadas

In Mexico the tradition of Las Posadas begins on December 16th and is carried out in a series of festivities that have been held in Mexico since colonial times. The origin of this tradition is of a religious nature, in which Joseph’s and Mary’s pilgrimage to Bethlehem is represented; however, since the end of the 18th century festivities have been part of popular culture, organized by families in their houses.

Before the arrival of the Spanish, the Aztecs celebrated the arrival of Huitzilopochtli, who was the god of war. These solemn festivals took place during the month of panquetzaliztli, equivalent to the month of December, and lasted 20 days beginning on the sixth day of the month. Festivities included honoring their god by putting flags on the fruit trees and banners in the main temple. This tradition was known by the name of “raising of flags”. The people congregated in the courtyards of the temples and waited for the arrival of the winter solstice. On the night of the 24th and during the course of the 25th there were celebrations in all the houses. Food was offered to the guests, and they also were given some small pasta statues called “tzoatl”.

The anthropologist Fernando Híjar tells us that the tradition of Las Posadas commenced with the arrival of the Spaniards in Mexico. The religious leaders in charge of the evangelization of the people replaced the cult of the god of war with the European practice of preparation for Christmas, focusing on Christianity. At first these festivities were called “Christmas Bonus Masses”, and since then they have been held from December 16th to the 24th in the atriums of churches and convents.

The celebration consists of proclaiming the mass together with Biblical passages and representations alluding to Christmas. Additionally, small gifts are given to the attendees, known as aguinaldos, or bonuses. The people congregate in the courtyards of the temples and wait for the arrival of the winter solstice. On the night of the 24th and during the course of the next day there are festivities in all the houses, in which food and some small gifts are offered to the guests.

Throughout time, the same people were adding more attractive elements to these celebrations such as candles, sparklers and piñatas. Ultimately they adopted these parties into their neighborhoods and houses. This transition from the temple to the streets was allowed by the church in order for these festivities to have a greater diffusion among the inhabitants. So the tradition has been transformed according to the culture of each zone or region of Mexico.

La Posada people in costume

Once the guests to this celebration have gathered, they prepare to represent the request for accommodation made by Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary on their pilgrimage from the city of Nazareth to Bethlehem. To symbolize this event, the guests make two groups. One group must leave the house accompanied by figures representing the pilgrims, Joseph and Mary, who ask for lodging at the door singing the following litany:

IN THE NAME OF HEAVEN I ASK YOU TO OPEN THE DOOR, BECAUSE MY BELOVED WIFE CANNOT WALK ANY FURTHER.

The people who stay inside must deny entrance at first, forcing the pilgrims to continue asking for an inn three more times. They play the part of the innkeepers and say,

THERE IS NO ROOM FOR RENT HERE.  GO ON, I CAN’T OPEN MY DOOR FOR YOU. DON’T PRETEND TO BE SOMEONE YOU ARE NOT. YOU ARE A SCOUNDREL.

To culminate this part of the tradition, pilgrims are granted asylum with the following litany:

ENTER, HOLY PILGRIMS. PILGRIMS, RECEIVE THIS CORNER, WHICH, EVEN THOUGH MY DWELLING IS POOR, I GIVE IT TO YOU WITH MY HEART.

It is important to mention that during the pilgrimage, all the members carry candles and a booklet with the litanies. Participants can read the litanies in one voice.

Once entrance to the inn is granted, the coexistence among the participants begins. It reaches its maximum splendor at the moment of breaking a piñata, which must be full of fruit, sweets, and snacks. The role of the piñata in Las Posadas symbolizes the triumph of faith over sin. It must have seven points on it that represent the seven deadly sins. Sweets and fruits symbolize the grace of God. The blindfold is faith. God is represented by the stick, and the people around it symbolize the church members who will show the way to overcome sin.

In these days of a pandemic, access to all the inns in many places such as our Church is suspended, closed for the safety of all. In a season without a pandemic, for many Hispanic and Latino children these are very special days, full of happiness and joy for all. During these days’ children receive many sweets and warm foods such as tamales and corn atole or hot chocolate at night. During the cold and dark of winter, with its candles or sparklers, people are happy, listening to beautiful Christmas carols while waiting for Christmas.

At San José First Church, in December 2016 we started this beautiful tradition so that the Latinos of downtown San José could remember their traditions and teach their children about Christianity. In their hearts they can revisit the stories about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in the way Latinos live it in their countries. These days are special for them and their children. The traditions are the same for many countries, cities, towns and villages in Latin America.

I have been thinking a lot about the children of the El Maguey neighborhood and how very sad Christmas time is going to be for them. It’s not that I feel like I can be a super hero and fix everything, nor am I a saint. I’m just a rural shepherd who wants all people to be happy—especially the children, since I was also a child. El Maguey does not have many traditions since it is a 17-year-old colony founded by the Mexican government. They decided to make small houses for some of the people of Atotonilco El Alto, a nearby 480-year-old city that became overcrowded.  They looked for the poorest people from different low-income neighborhoods and populated this colony with all these people. They are often discriminated against, since everyone knows that people were relocated there as a mode of segregation.

My house is located in this colony and serves as the headquarters of my church, Cristo Vive, which provides light and hope for the people who live there.

In consideration of the fact that I still have vacation time from church, and after much praying and asking God for direction, I have made the decision to go to Mexico. Besides taking care of some personal matters there, I can be in El Maguey in time to celebrate the first two services of the year, and broadcast them on Facebook. In this way Latino members of our downtown church can also have their time of worship on those days.

In the last 6 months, the Methodist Women’s organization and the members of First Church have made donations to buy grocery bags for the neediest people during this pandemic. This provides a way for children to have a plate with food at home. During my visit I will be helping the leaders of Cristo Vive to distribute the food. I am looking forward to greeting people with a gesture of respect and love from San José First and to pray for them and for the neighborhood.

I will also be able to carry out the celebration of the Epiphany or the Day of the Magi on January 6, 2021. My plan is to arrange to have three trucks with three men characterized as the Three Kings and to tour the entire colony, visiting all the streets. We will play Christmas carols and deliver sweets and toys to the children we meet on the street. Using this method will ensure that children do not accumulate in one place and will provide them with a surprise, making this a day that is happy and special.

I am very aware that we are in a pandemic, which is dangerous for them and for me. So I will be taking all the necessary measures to keep a healthy distance and follow security protocols. My faith is placed in God, so that I know I can stay well and return healthy and full of joy and have satisfaction in my heart for doing what God asks me to do. He wants me to love every human being with respect and solidarity. From my hometown I will be praying for you and your families so that next year is better for everyone.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2021, sisters and brothers in Christ!

Pastor Gerardo Vázquez-Padilla

Advent Study Week 4

Be Transformed this Advent Season!

In Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas, best-selling author Adam Hamilton examines the names of Christ used by the gospel writers, exploring the historical and personal significance of his birth.

A small group at the church is studying this book for Advent. We want to share the experience with others. Each week we will post questions from the previous study so you can follow along. Our prayer is that you’re able to find joy in this Advent Season in a time of uncertainty.

Blessings,
San Jose First UMC

Incarnation Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas book art

WEEK FOUR

Question 1:

“John records that Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12). … This is the point of Christmas. It is the celebration of light piercing our darkness, God’s light coming to us to enlighten our lives. We need not fear that we will stumble or become lost because we are no longer trying to find our way in the dark; we have the light of Christ by which we walk.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (page 130)

What Advent and Christmas celebrations most meaningfully convey to you God’s light “piercing our darkness,” and why?

Question 2:

“While Christians often speak about the Bible as the Word of God, the Word of God in its most decisive and definitive form came to us not as a book, but as a person. Jesus is God’s self-disclosure, God’s revelation of himself to humanity. God’s Word was incarnate in Jesus. All other words about God, everything else we read in scripture, must be read in the light of the Word of God that is Jesus. He incarnates the wisdom, reasoning, mind, and heart of God.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (page 134)

When has thinking about Jesus as the Word of God helped you understand other “words about God”?

Question 3:

We are God’s plan for changing the world. Let that soak in. … We are not just passive recipients of God’s love and grace. As we become children of the light, we cannot keep that light within ourselves. It is meant to spill out from us naturally and touch the lives of others. And every time it does, the light extends just a little farther, the darkness recedes bit by bit, the kingdom of God expands, and the world is changed.

“God sent Jesus to launch a revolution of the heart that ultimately leads us to take his light into the world. And how do we do that? It starts with watchfulness—paying attention to see where someone needs our support or our assistance.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (page 140-141)

How are you paying attention to the places and people to whom you can carry Christ’s light this Christmas?

Advent Study Week 3

Be Transformed this Advent Season!

In Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas, best-selling author Adam Hamilton examines the names of Christ used by the gospel writers, exploring the historical and personal significance of his birth.

A small group at the church is studying this book for Advent. We want to share the experience with others. Each week we will post questions from the previous study so you can follow along. Our prayer is that you’re able to find joy in this Advent Season in a time of uncertainty.

Blessings,
San Jose First UMC

Incarnation Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas book art

WEEK THREE

Question 1:

“I do not believe that God sent the coronavirus, but I do believe he is with us in the midst of this pandemic, doing what God always does—comforting, leading, consoling, and wringing good from the adversity and pain. There will be plenty of silver linings from this frightening turn of events. Even now, in the midst of the pandemic, the world has changed in so many ways for the better. There is tragedy and death, but there is life, hope, goodness, and love.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (page 90)

Where are you noticing God “wringing good” from the pain of the ongoing pandemic?

Question 2:

“This is what we mean when we speak of the Incarnation: God took on flesh and entered our world as a human being. It is clear in scripture that Jesus is not merely God wrapped in human flesh—God in a body. He became human in Jesus. He experienced what we experience as humans. In Jesus, God experienced temptation, love, hunger, joy, fear, friendship, grief, doubt, rejection, a sense of abandonment by God, and death. He wept, he bled, he suffered, he died. There is something profoundly moving about God actually knowing what we are experiencing as humans.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (page 102)

When was a time you found special meaning and comfort in God having become human in Jesus Christ?

Question 3:

“Matthew begins his Gospel telling us that Jesus is ‘God with us’—Emmanuel. At the end of his Gospel, he recounts Jesus’s final words to his disciples, ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20). It is not just that God was with us in Jesus, but that Jesus continues to be with us. He is still Emmanuel. And because I believe he is with me, I live differently; I have peace, I find strength, I live seeking to walk with him.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (page 109)

How do you live differently because Jesus was and continues to be “Emmanuel”?

Christmas Message from Pastor Gerardo

Winter is closer to us every day. The darker days affect people in various ways, some suffering from depression. I do not like short days, because it makes me feel that I have less time. But on the other hand, I like the cooler weather.

This year has been very difficult for many, and we already want it to end. This pandemic is affecting the world with death and worries. Many people are losing a family member or friend or we realize that a neighbor or a relative has contracted the virus. Also, the fight to contain the spread of the disease is greatly affecting economic affairs of many families and businesses. Both large corporations and small businesses have experienced layoffs of employees or closures of their companies. Many are bankrupt because of these closures. Many part-time and full-time employees have stopped working for months, and others have already lost their jobs. Rents, bills and debts do not wait, and many people are forced to get more loans to maintain their businesses. All of our lives are affected by the limitations imposed on hotels, restaurants, beauty salons, barber shops, gyms, shops, and even grocery stores. This is not just in America, it is worldwide.

Apparently 2020 has also been a very bad year for the planet. Fires have devastated at least 5 western states in our country and flooding has caused damage in the central states. Southern Mexico and Central America have suffered with the floods caused by Hurricane Lota. Results of these catastrophes have cost billions of dollars and further overwhelmed hospitals. Populations of many countries across the globe are divided by political and social differences.

Certainly it is a very dark and difficult year. One of my brothers posted a question on Facebook asking why do we celebrate Christmas if we are not together. That made me sad, and surely others think the same. My mother used to say that it is always darkest before the dawn, and that there is no evil that lasts forever; however, nobody can resist it.

christmas lights in the shape of a christmas tree

I have noticed that many people are already putting up their Christmas lights and decorations. I’m glad to see this, since we must not lose faith and hope that we will soon come out of this crisis. We have to start thinking about what we have done wrong. What does our planet want to tell us regarding the circumstances that we are going through? Also, we need to value our family more, since life is very short. We need to rethink our values, since living with vanity is useless; youth and money are fleeting. We must focus more on God, love Him above all things, and allow His will to enable us to love one another as He loves us.

This Christmas Eve we must prepare ourselves with prayer and meditation to do things better for ourselves while still thinking about others. We can ask God that on Christmas Eve, the Baby Jesus will be born in our hearts and transform us from within. We want to become more like Him, full of light, humility and compassion for others. But above all we pray that we never lose the hope, peace, joy, and love that God offers us.

Pastor Gerardo Vázquez

Advent Study Week 2

Be Transformed this Advent Season!

In Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas, best-selling author Adam Hamilton examines the names of Christ used by the gospel writers, exploring the historical and personal significance of his birth.

A small group at the church is studying this book for Advent. We want to share the experience with others. Each week we will post questions from the previous study so you can follow along. Our prayer is that you’re able to find joy in this Advent Season in a time of uncertainty.

Blessings,
San Jose First UMC

Incarnation Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas book art

WEEK TWO

Question 1:

“I’m reminded of someone who once said to me, ‘Why do Christians spend so much time talking about sin?’ For some people, it feels like sin is the only thing they hear about in church. I want to be clear: if all you ever hear about in church on Sunday is sin, you’re probably in the wrong church. But if you never hear about sin in church, you may also be at the wrong church. The good news of Jesus is not that we’re sinners, but that he is our Savior. But we can’t appreciate his role as Savior if we don’t know we need to be saved.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (pages 51–52)

How would you respond to someone who asked, “Why do Christians spend so much time talking about sin?”

Question 2:

“My experience, after forty-two years of being a Christian and attempting to walk with Christ daily, is that I am still tempted to think, say, or do things God does not intend. But when I turn to Christ, I sense his strength, his help, and his deliverance. He has transformed, and is transforming, my inner desires. We call this sanctification—the process by which the Holy Spirit changes our hearts and minds so that we become the people God intended us to be.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (page 59)

When was a time you were aware of the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work in your life?

Question 3:

“Love came down at Christmas to a stable in Bethlehem, to two poor parents and a handful of night-shift shepherds. That love would be evident in the way he healed the sick, forgave sinners, welcomed children, fed the hungry, and cared for his disciples. But nowhere was that love more clearly seen than on the cross as he hung there, saying, ‘This much. God loves you this much.’”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (pages 75-76)

Who has shared the message of God’s love for you in an especially meaningful way?

Advent Study Week 1

Be Transformed this Advent Season!

His parents gave him the name Jesus. But the prophets, the shepherds, the wise men, and the angels addressed him by other names. They called him Lord, Messiah, Savior, Emmanuel, Light of the World, and Word Made Flesh.

In Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas, best-selling author Adam Hamilton examines the names of Christ used by the gospel writers, exploring the historical and personal significance of his birth.

This Advent season church families will come together to remember what’s important. In the face of uncertainty and conflict, Christians reclaim the Christ Child who brings us together, heals our hearts, and calls us to bring light into the darkness.

Now more than ever, we invite you to reflect upon the significance of the Christ-child for our lives and world today!

A small group at the church is studying this book for Advent. We want to share the experience with others. Each week we will post questions from the previous study so you can follow along. Our prayer is that you’re able to find joy in this Advent Season in a time of uncertainty.

Blessings,
San Jose First UMC

Incarnation Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas book art

WEEK ONE

Question 1:

“This season puts into perspective all our political wrangling. … While our politics have divided us, Advent should bring us together, uniting us around the newborn King and his life, message, ministry, death, and resurrection. … Advent beckons all who consider themselves Christians—regardless of whether they are Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, or Independents—to come to the stable and there fall on our knees as the shepherds surely did, yielding our allegiance, our hearts, and our will to the newborn King.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (pages 17–18)

How are you experiencing unity among Christians, despite their political differences, this Advent?

Question 2:

“We live in that period between the triumph of Easter and Christ’s triumphant return when he makes all things new. We see a world where suffering still occurs, where darkness seems to reign, where the kingdoms of this world seem to have the upper hand. We continue to live as followers of the King whose kingdom is not of this world, but breaking into this world through his followers—through us.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (page 38)

How do you believe Jesus’s kingdom is breaking into this world through your community of faith?

Question 3:

“Today, nearly a third of the world’s population claims Jesus as their King. Far more have been influenced by the things he taught, the values he espoused, the life he lived. I don’t believe it is an overstatement to say that he is the single most influential person to have walked this planet. For those who count him as King, as I do, we awaken each day recognizing that our highest allegiance, our deepest devotion, and our greatest commitment is not to country or political party or even to family, but to Jesus the Christ, our King, whose kingdom is the climax of human history.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (pages 38–39)

What do you consider the most significant measure of Jesus’s influence on the world?