JOHNSTOWN, Pennsylvania – The importance of Christ in people’s lives, the coming of Jesus, seeing the face of God and the story of Saint Joseph are some of the Christmas messages that will be heard in area churches .
Pastor David Streets, of West Hills Community Church, 2301 Sunshine Ave., Westmont, said throughout Advent he focused on hope, peace, joy and love.
“The first week we talked about hope and how the world is uncertain with everything that’s going on, so we focused on hope in our uncertainty,” he said.
Streets said the second week focused on peace in times of struggle.
“A lot of people have a lot of different struggles in life, and so how can we have peace in our life?” he said.
“After these two services, people said there was something relevant in their lives about feeling hopeless or feeling in dire straits.”
Streets said week three was all about finding joy despite despondency.
“We all have discouraging moments in our lives because life doesn’t turn out the way we think, so what do we do?” he said.
Focus on love, differences
The fourth week will focus on love and the differences between people.
“We all know this world is divided and it’s chaotic – be it political, racial or economic,” Streets said.
“We’re different, but we firmly believe that the answer to all this chaos is Christ, and that’s what we preached. If you follow the Bible and follow Christ and look at who came the first time and who comes back, a lot of that division will disappear.
He said the Christmas message will wrap Advent themes to say that what the world needs is Christ.
“He came to give us hope, he came to give us peace, he came to give us joy, and he came to give us love,” Streets said.
“He wants to change the world and change us. He came the first time humbly, and the second time he will return as king, so there is this great hope and something to look forward to amid the gloom and doom that is out there.
Hope in Jesus
He said that in Jesus there is hope.
“We have so many hurt people in our own congregation who have lost loved ones and jobs, who are worried about COVID and who are separated from their families, but I want them to know there is a reason for get up and get moving, and that’s what Christmas is all about,” Streets said.
“We don’t have to let the circumstances of life define us or bring us down.
“I want people to be drawn to the church and, more importantly, to the Lord.”
Christmas Eve services will be at 1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. The 3 p.m. service will be streamed live via the church’s website, Facebook page and YouTube channel.
“Christmas is one of the two highlights of the year, and it should be life changing,” Streets said.
“We need to carry that on into 2022 and show that Christmas makes a difference, it’s not just one day, but forever.”
Alliance pastor Walter Startzel of First Lutheran Church, 415 Vine St., downtown Johnstown, said during Advent people should look forward to the return of Christ.
“The first week we focused on God’s promise to bring a new creation, a new world,” he said.
“Even in speaking of the coming of Jesus as our judge, I tried to emphasize that God has a new beginning in store for us, not just an end.”
He said the second and third weeks of Advent focused on John the Baptist’s ministry of preparing the way for Jesus.
“I talked about how in our lives we can prepare the way of Jesus by living it, proclaiming it and showing his love to others, so that they recognize Jesus in us,” Startzel said.
He said the fourth Sunday of Advent will focus on Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus.
“Even though we are a Lutheran congregation, we believe very strongly that it is important for us to remember that God chose this young woman, a human being, to bear his son into our world,” Startzel said.
“I will speak of this fact because she was willing, obedient and faithful to bring Jesus in his body to the world, so we are privileged to be grateful and obedient to bring Jesus to the world in our flesh as we live our des lives.
“We can all be like her in that we can carry Christ. We can bring the word of God into our flesh and show God’s love into our lives, just as she did when she carried it in her womb.
He said his Christmas message will focus on Jesus.
“In the child God sent to us, God himself came to Earth,” Startzel said.
“Christmas should always be about God choosing to come into the world and unite God with human flesh despite all that would cost him later in life on the cross. He remains faithful to us and teaches us and shows us how to love one another as he loved us.
Christmas Eve services will be at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., both ending by candlelight. The taped service will air at 8 p.m. on December 27 on Atlantic Broadband Channel 9.
Throughout the holiday season and into the new year, Startzel said he hopes the congregation will continue to believe that God is present in their lives and in charge.
“We must trust God to guide us in how to act, to treat each other with love and not to give in to selfishness,” he said.
“As Christians, we should love and care for each other as God loves and cares for us.”
Pastor Carol Hickman, of Grove Avenue United Methodist Church, 501 Grove Ave., in the Moxham section of Johnstown, said the Advent theme focused on what God calls people to do.
“Should we give up good things to do better things? she asked.
“And how does God call us to be in community, not just with ourselves, but in our community, and how can we be of service to others?
Meaning of Advent
Hickman said that, throughout the season, she focused on the coming of God into the world through Jesus Christ.
“That’s what Advent is for, but Christ comes back all the time,” she said.
“We look for ways to see how Christ comes each day, how we see Christ in others, and how we see Christ in ourselves.”
The Christmas message centers on an unstable time when Jesus was born.
“God didn’t expect everything to be perfect. He sent Jesus into this mess of the world, and I really see connections to us and our time now,” Hickman said.
“The whole theme is seeing the face of God and God being with us, and that’s the message of Christmas. We need to ask God to be shown and to be connected to him in a powerful way.
The Christmas Eve service will be held at 5 p.m. and will be streamed live on the church’s Facebook page.
“My hope for the new year is that people will be renewed, revived and restored,” Hickman said.
History of Saint Joseph
The Christmas message of Bishop Mark L. Bartchak, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, focuses on the story of Saint Joseph as it is integral to the story of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Barchak said Saint Joseph was a righteous man who wanted to do the right thing by following God’s commandments.
“He could have ‘divorced’ Mary by calling off the wedding when he found out she was pregnant,” Barchak said.
“But Joseph learned in a dream that he had nothing to fear from taking Mary as his wife. Everything that happened was to show that it was God’s plan to see the Savior born.
He said Joseph always inspired him with his sense of justice, his prayer, his honor and his commitment to his obligations to others.
“St. Joseph reminds me of so many men and husbands I’ve known who are calm, but not withdrawn,” Barchak said.
“They are like Saint Joseph, who was strong and decisive. He did not hesitate to listen to the angel who told him to take Mary and the child Jesus immediately because the jealous Herod was looking for him.
He added that “Joseph got Mary and baby Jesus through difficult times and circumstances, suggesting that while Christmas may still be a little ‘off’ this year due to the pandemic, the way to make it all work out is to follow Joseph’s lead,” Barchak said.
He said that at this time of year, eyes and hearts are focused on images of a child asleep on hay in a manger.
“It’s a picture of calm and rest,” Barchak said.
“From the tradition of Saint Joseph having heard an angel share God’s plan in a dream, there is an image of Saint Joseph lying down, asleep.”
He added that Pope Francis has observed that it is difficult to sleep when life is turned upside down, such as during the time of the pandemic.
“Pope Francis has a statue of Saint Joseph lying down, asleep, and every night he writes a prayer intention on a piece of paper and places it under the image,” Barchak said.
“It helped the Holy Father find a place to go with the burdens he carries for the good of others in the church and in the world.”
He said Pope Francis does not hesitate to describe how he can sleep more peacefully knowing that he has entrusted these questions, challenges and burdens to Saint Joseph, who is the patron saint of the universal Church.
“Thank God for the mother of God, the one called the Immaculate Conception,” Barchak said.
“How many Hail Marys did last year. And thank God for Saint Joseph, who slept well and lived so well because he shared all his questions, challenges and burdens with the Lord in the prayer, and it is the same Lord that Joseph watched over in the stable in Bethlehem.”
He added that as people move forward on their faith journey into a new year, he encourages everyone to find in Saint Joseph a person who understands the worst and the best in life.
Barchak will celebrate Christmas Eve Mass at 7 p.m. at St. John Gualbert’s Cathedral, 117 Clinton St., Downtown Johnstown, which will air live on WWCP FOX 8.
Mass will be rebroadcast at noon on Christmas Day on WWCP FOX 8.