Advent Devotional: Tuesday, December 18

Theme: Making Room for Hope

Written by Rev. Ara Guekguezian, Community United Church of Christ

Isaiah 9:1-7

“For a child has been born for us.”

The birth of a child, any child, brings a spark of hope. The birth of the heir to the throne, the ruler, starts a fire of hope in an entire people. This poem of Isaiah sings of this hope in the birth of the heir to the throne of David. It underscores the Promise of the Davidic covenant for a despondent people. “But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish.” The Prophet has my attention.

Every winter, as the nights lengthen, the light shining from this great word brightens my world. The lights of the Church shine brighter through the month of December. More evening activity, especially more special worship throughout the season of Advent.

Life is sweeter in just hearing these words, before any one of them is fulfilled. All the bad things are destroyed, consumed by fire. And every good thing will be ushered in with the new ruler, once the ruler grows into the role. Power, Justice, Peace Forever! For a moment it is all good.

Christmas allows us an extended moment of relief for the ordinary stresses of our lives. As we celebrate the fulfillment of this promise during the extended season of Advent, our trust in the new Promise of the end of the age with the return of Jesus is strengthened.

Prayer: It has been awhile, O God of the Covenant. There are moments when our hope ebbs, when the promise seems false. The gloom settles in, because the reality before gives rise to anguish. May the Spirit renew in us trust in the Promise of the new age ushered in by the birth of Jesus. Amen.

Advent Devotional: Sunday, Dec. 2

Theme: Hurry Up and Wait

Written by Rev. Ara Guekguezian, Community United Church of Christ

Jeremiah 33: 14-16

The days are surely coming…

Remember when…Nine years old, the Sears, Toys R Us, or Target Christmas catalog would arrive in the mail. I would snatch it immediately from the pile of mail that starts arriving mid-November. I would race up the stairs to my bedroom and start dreaming. What should I hope for in the way of gifts for Christmas? Inspired by the offerings in the catalogue, I would create a wish list. I would pray, then write it down and leave it on my dresser. The secondary hope was that my mom would find it and share it with my dad. And the waiting would commence. The Christmas season would be described in one phrase: Hurry Up and Wait.

Then if things went well (according to God’s will), when my bachelor uncle and my bachelor eldest cousin would ask one of my parents about my hopes for Christmas, they would respond with one of the items on my brief but bold wish list. Unfortunately, my parents had a different understanding of God’s will for my life, for I would receive great books and warm clothes on Christmas morn. Thanks be to God that my cousin was closer to God, for on Christmas afternoon we would go to his mother’s home for Christmas dinner and I would receive this final gift for Christmas: Hot Wheels!

God’s people in Judah at the close of the seventh and beginning of the sixth century, BCE, were very aware of their weakness relative to the increasing power and scope of the Babylonian empire. Their political leadership by the king was flawed, as deals were made with Egypt and unfulfilled. The near future looked grim, not hopeful. Into this place and among these people comes the word of God through the prophet Jeremiah.

The day is surely coming, when a righteous leader will rise up, leading with justice and righteousness. Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. Jeremiah offers a word and deed (literally) of hope in a hopeless and worsening situation. But the word was to hurry up and live righteous lives even during the most difficult moment, waiting hopefully and patiently, for the word of God to be fulfilled.

Prayer: We await patiently for the culmination of our great season of Advent. Even in our present circumstance, O God, we remain hopeful, for we have seen and heard of the advent of our God in the flesh. We endeavor to live faithfully as we wait the fulfillment of the Word that is Jesus. Amen. 

A message from Pastor Ara

It has been my great joy to serve with others throughout the world during 34 years of pastoral ministry. I took my first trip to Armenia in 2003. I thought it would be my one trip, but here I am at trip No. 15.

This one is different: little work and a lot of celebration.

Usually, my group works on a house in the village of Lusaghbyur. We have finished 16 houses in a village destroyed by the earthquake of 1988. There were only four habitable structures remaining, out of 240+ after the ground stopped rolling.

My former congregation established a sister church relationship with a church in Gyumri. Over the years, we purchased chairs, refinished hardwood floors, equipped a computer lab, donated a projector, replaced lighting and purchased a piano.

We have started several businesses. We have purchased cars for pastors. We have encouraged several young people to go to college and pursue advanced degrees, in word and deed ($).

I have done weddings, baptisms, preached, celebrated communion. This trip I celebrate the fruit borne of over a decade of nurture.

On Sunday, Sept. 30, we dedicate a new sanctuary and community center in Gyumri. The following Sunday, we attend the wedding of a young woman we encouraged through college. I have known Anna since she was 8 years old. It will be a great party.

Finally, a bit of work, several Fresnans are sending the resources to buy a delivery van for Grand Hope, a ministry that takes donated goods from the capital to the border villages of Armenia.

Please pray for me and the 11 fellow travelers. See you on Sunday, Oct. 14, in worship at Robinson Park for our congregation’s second annual Blessing of the Animals (more details to come).

Please allow me to introduce myself

I am Ara, Pastor Ara. I have served as a pastor for over 34 years, most recently as interim pastor/head of staff at First Congregational Church

Prior to Big Red, I was pastor/head of staff at Pilgrim Armenian Congregational Church, a multi-staffed ethnic and long-established congregation in Fresno, CA. I also serve part-time as the chaplain for Bright Horizon Hospice.

I love what I have been called to do. This is my second interim position, so although I will touch things, I am very aware of being gentle so I don’t break anything. Pray for me, please.

I am a YES person. I say yes, then do all I can to do it. “Can we, pastor?”  Sometimes I take a moment to think, if I or we haven’t done it before. Then “Sure,” say I.

Being a lifelong Presbyterian and a long-serving pastor in a congregational church, it is easier to say YES, for there is a council or session to say wait, … And a strong group to make the Yes talk a reality.

I am a Mission person. I talk a lot, a part of the job, sure. Ask my family, I am rarely at a loss for words.

Talk is easy, action is hard. I endeavor to match my deed to my word. By the grace and power of God, I have been able to live an integrated life.

I have been to many places, rarely as a tourist. There are always siblings to relate to and work with as we seek to reflect the love of Christ. I look forward to the places we will go in 2018 and 2019.

I serve on the board of directors of the Armenian Missionary Association of America, the mission arm of the Armenian Evangelical Union of (mostly UCC) congregations of the Americas. I have a couple of ongoing projects in Armenia and Buenos Aires, Argentina. I hope to visit South Korea again in 2019. This time to Daejeon, South Korea, where a friend and colleague is establishing a great work, I pray.

I am vice moderator and Stewardship Committee chair of the Presbytery of San Joaquin. There I am planning a local mission project and a week-long project in El Salvador. Again, I solicit your prayers.

Finally, some fun stuff. I am, along with Diane Wieble (our conference minister) and millions of others, a St. Louis Cardinal fan, have been since 1967.

I am a 58-year-old grandfather. I am not a rational, reasonable person around the grandson, Zekiel.

I wear interesting socks. No gifts of socks, please (unless you clear it with Vivy, my wife). My rather large sock drawer is overflowing.

The music here is exceptional. I appreciate most genres of music, but my personal non-worship playlist would include the Clash, Peter Gabriel, the Ramones, Rage Against the Machine and Radiohead.

I enjoy film. I go to the movies on my day off and I was able to attend the most recent Fresno Filmworks Festival for the first time this past year, Great Joy.

I am available. This call — as the four previous — is my priority (that is why no film festival before). Call, text or email me. My cell number is 559.862.3874. I put my phone on vibrate around 10 pm and back to ring around 7 am. Occasionally I forget, because I am a forgiven sinner, a broken creature, restored and occasionally put to good use by his creator, redeemer and sustainer.