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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, December 23, 2010

Pastors choose their words carefully to lead their flocks at Christmas

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALBANY COUNTY — The joy of Christmas is universal, but the sermons to celebrate it are as varied as the preachers who give them.

“How do I do this — present the proclamation in a way that is really new” Jeri Dexheimer asks herself each year at Christmas.  Dexheimer is the pastor at the newly named Helderberg Lutheran Church, which now encompasses the congregations of both St. Paul’s and St. John’s.

Each week she is presented with the challenge of making her sermon relevant to parishioners, linking biblical principles to modern lives.

So, too, is Charlie Yang, who leads the Methodist church in Voorheesville.  Every sermon he gives is built on two principles, he said: The first is that it is biblically grounded and the second is that it is relevant to his parishioners.

This year, with a lingering recession, Yang plans to deliver a message of hope, he said, and, as always, he will weave a biblical message with people’s lives.

“Christmas is the reminder every year that God intervenes in our world,” said Reverend Tim Van Heest, of the Knox Reformed Church and the Thompson Lake Reformed Church.

Everyone’s lives are pocked with problems, he said, but Jesus is there for them.  That’s the theme for his Christmas sermon this year — intervention.

“When the fullness of the time came, God sent forth his Son,” says Galatians, a passage that Van Heest read not long ago that inspired him to consider how God knows when the timing is right, when to intervene.

In this era, he said, “We need the good news,” that something from outside is coming to intervene.  On Christmas it was a baby.

What God is doing in the world through that child is the focus for Dexheimer.

God’s unconditional grace “happens by God coming to the world as one of us,” she said.  As Jesus.  And he lives his life in the shadow of the cross, she said, “He lives his life in the shadow of what is going to be.”

The Christmas sermon is a continuation of the theme throughout Advent, Dexheimer said, “It is about the coming of the savior of the world.”

The pews are more crowded on Christmas and Easter than they are the rest of the year, but that doesn’t much change the way in which Dexheimer preaches.  “If there are people who don’t normally go to church, I hope they’ll want to come back for more,” she said.

Van Heest makes his Christmas sermon stand alone, rather than building toward it as the culmination to his Advent addresses.  That way, newcomers won’t get lost, he said, “They’re the ones that I don’t want to leave behind.”

The Thompson Lake service isn’t held in the usual place, though.  It’s become tradition to hold the Christmas service in a barn, sitting in the cold on bales of hay, Van Heest said.  The Knox church has a more traditional service, he said, but they always end it by singing “Go Tell it on the Mountain.”  It’s a way for people to share the good news with a reference to their hilltop home, he said.

“It is a good time to see many people who are not coming to church usually,” Yang said of the Christmas service.  He makes an effort to make people feel connected to the church.

“Christmas Eve is a good opportunity to have people go deeper in their relationship with God,” Yang concluded.

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