Dear Advent Pilgrims,

As we approach the half-way mark of our journey to Christmas, we have some special events this Saturday and Sunday that will comprise a joyous, festive weekend. We hope you will make one or more of these events a part of your holiday preparations.


We are grateful to host the Florida Wind Band, a premier non-profit wind ensemble in the Tampa Bay area. They will be in our Sanctuary performing a concert of holiday classics, under the direction of Matthew McCutcheon (Director of Bands at USF) and guest conducted by church member Heather Lundahl. Our own Colleen Schmitt will be narrating the program. The event is free.


This Sunday morning, we will continue our worship series “Songs for the Waiting” with music presentations by our Contemporary Band (9:30, Harnish Center) and Vocal and Handbell Choirs (11:00, Sanctuary). The service will feature beautiful Advent and Christmas music, scripture readings, and the lighting of our Advent wreath. Our online service will include a sermon from me centering on the Advent hymn of the week, “People Look East,” described below.


On Sunday afternoon, you are invited to join United Methodists from across the Florida Conference in our Sanctuary for a farewell gathering for Bishop Ken and Rev. Pam Carter. He has served as our bishop for ten years, and has been reappointed to exclusively serve the Western North Carolina Conference starting January 1. Join us for a program of remembrance, joy, and profound gratitude for their ministry among us. A reception will follow in the Harnish Center.


For my online sermon this Sunday, I will offer some reflection on the spiritual preparations we can make as we journey through Advent. It will be guided by the great Advent hymn, “People, Look East.”  

Dr. Michael Dougherty, our Direction of Traditional Music, offers these compelling insights into the text of the hymn:

“People, Look East” is a joy-filled and expectant Advent text by the 20th Century English author Eleanor Farjeon.  She is better known in England as an author of children’s books, having won several distinguished awards.  The Children’s Book Circle established the Eleanor Farjeon Award in her honor upon her death. “People, Look East” is included in our hymnal with Farjeon’s text “Morning Has Broken.”

The hymn’s four stanzas step through the Advent-Christmas story with an eye on the future.  In addition, each stanza ends with a refrain-like statement, but each of these statements has one different word that relates to the preceding stanza to a specific image of Christ, who “is on the way.”

  • The first stanza uses the imagery of preparing the house and the table. “Make your house fair as you are able, trim the hearth and set the table.”  “Love, the Guest, is on the way.”
  • The second stanza calls on all creation to prepare, “Furrows, be glad… Give up your strength the seed to nourish, that in the course the flower may flourish.”  “Love, the Rose, is on the way.”
  • The third verse foreshadows the story of the Magi when it calls “Stars, keep the watch, when night is dim, one more light the bowl shall brim.”  “Love, the Star, is on the way.”
  • The fourth verse shines the light on the ever-present Christmas angels as the “Angels announce with shouts of mirth him who brings new life to earth” and in a backward allusion to the prophecy in Isaiah 40, “Set every peak and valley humming with the word, the Lord is coming.” “Love, the Lord, is on the way.”

The title of the carol comes from the line that starts each refrain: “People, look East and sing today” and brings to the fore the traditional thought that, like the literal rising of the sun, the Messiah will come from the metaphorical East.   

This is, indeed, a joyful hymn of expectation as we “look East” for the gift of love this is on the way.

See you Sunday!




Check out our website for information on all our Advent and Christmas Services. And be sure to sign up to volunteer to provide hospitality for thousands of guests who join us on Christmas Eve. Your act of warm welcome can be the spark that offers the joy of Jesus to people that night.   




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