Written by Bishop Grant LeMarquand - Temporary Bishop of ADGL
Not Too Blue Advent
In recent years, some church communities have switched the Advent liturgical color from purple to blue. I’m not really a liturgy geek, so I don’t really know the (no doubt) technical theological reasons behind this shift. In fact, I’m always a little wary of liturgical fads. This one in particular seems too trendy to me – I suspect a conspiracy launched by the ecclesiastical haberdashery big wigs to create a market for blue vestments!! But my paranoia about capitalist conspiracies aside, purple is the traditional color for periods of fasting and repentance, so why change to blue in Advent? Some ecclesial communities actually call Advent the ‘Little Lent.’ Purple seems fine.
This year, however, blue seems somehow appropriate – at least in the sense that most of us have the blues.
In most years the waiting of Advent seems like a joyful anticipation. We know what is coming – Christmas is on the way. And for most of us in the western churches, Christmas is the superstar of the Christian calendar. None of us wants to be in the category of the Grinch or Scrooge (let alone Herod) so the excitement of the anticipation of Christmas is probably the most fun any of us usually have waiting for anything.
Then along came 2020. Many of us feel like Easter was already stolen from us (some will blame the virus, some will blame the lockdown). A lot of us feel like a perfectly good summer was wasted worrying about getting sick or about making someone else sick, or about racial tensions, or about political turmoil. Ok, well, that’s how I feel anyway.
And now Advent is upon us. Advent, of course, is largely about hope. I could spend some ink talking about the hope generated by the possibility of vaccines being available soon or the hope that some feel with the coming of a new government (although for others this will be a matter of disappointment and dread) but, for the Christian, these temporal issues are actually all transient. Governments come and go. Epidemics even come and go. They are important and our Christian (or less than Christian) responses to these issues matter.
Still, for the Christian, these temporal issues are not matters on which we can rest our final hope – even our final hope for this world that God has made and which God loves. Advent is about a lasting hope, THE hope.
Advent reminds us that the world is not as it should be. But, since the world is God’s world, Advent reminds us that the world will be redeemed, will be rescued. Advent reminds us of what all the major Christian feasts remind us – Jesus is Lord. Because Jesus is Lord, the purposes of God for his creation –
including we frail and fallible human creatures – cannot be thwarted. Advent says Jesus is coming back to bring his reign.
A number of years ago, a friend of mine was at a Christian conference. After the day’s meetings, a group of attendees were sitting in a common room when my friend entered to discover a vigorous conversation taking place concerning the ‘last things,’ and especially about the events that they thought would happen around the second coming of Christ. At one point there was a lull in the conversation and one of the combatants turned to my friend. Knowing my friend to be an Anglican, he said, “Arthur, what does the Anglican Church teach about the second coming of Christ?” After a short pause, my friend Arthur responded, “He shall come again in glory to judge both the quick and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.” “Is that all?” said one. “That’s enough,” Arthur said. “That’s refreshing,” said another.
He will come again. He will make all things right. He will reign forever. That is more than enough. Have a blessed and safe (and not too blue) Advent.
+Grant LeMarquand, Temporary Bishop
Written by Kathryn Whitcomb Kircher - Heartland Church of Fort Wayne
Nick and I are savoring a leisurely walk through the retreat center meadow, leaves crunching beneath our feet, autumn colors feasting our eyes, and the calls of birds in the surrounding forest filling our ears. “Cuk-cuk-cuk!” Pleased that I could identify its cries, I tell Nick, “I recognize that bird: it’s a flicker!”
As we continue our stroll, we hear it again: “Cuk-cuk-cuk!” That’s awfully loud for a flicker—it’s as if he’s learned to project his cry with a booming bass voice. And when we hear him pecking on the trees in the woods around us, it resounds powerfully. That must be a really big flicker!
It dawns on me that I might not be as familiar with the flicker’s voice as I thought. Could this be one of his woodpecker relatives? Then we see him fly across our path: huge black wings with distinctive white bars—definitely not a flicker! “Pileated woodpecker” pops into my head. I open my bird app to look at the description: “In flight, look for prominent white underwings.” I listen to recordings of the pileated woodpecker’s calls. It’s a match: a cry that’s like the flicker’s but an octave lower!
Holy Spirit catches my attention. It seems He’s saying, “Learn from this. Don’t assume you already recognize what you’re hearing from Me. Listen a little more. Wait a bit longer. Pay closer attention. There’s more I want to reveal to you. You can’t fully understand if you think you already grasp what you’re hearing.”
The following afternoon, I’m resting on a bench along a forest path at the retreat center. Just sitting. Listening. Observing. Speaking to the Lord in my heart. The flap of wings catches my attention: the pileated woodpecker is back! This time I have a clear vantage point: brilliant red head with a crest that looks like a hairdo from the 50’s, massive beak as big as his head, huge black body the size of a crow. I watch him for ten minutes or more as he hammers away at one tree, then swoops to another to bang on that one. He’s fully exposed, fully revealed.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20 ESV).
If we accept our Savior’s invitation to open the door and take the time to sit down to the table with Him, it’s easier to grasp the fullness of what He’s saying. Similar to the way I sat watching the pileated woodpecker that day in the woods, when we quiet ourselves and linger at the table with Him, Jesus often has more that He wants to reveal to us.
Lord, help us to recognize Your voice as you invite us to open the door and spend some time with you to share a meal, listen to You, and grasp more of what You’re saying to us.
Photo credit: Image by Bryan Hanson from Pixabay
Written by Allison Gardner - Heartland Church of Fort Wayne
Depths of despair
Try to swallow me whole
Leading me down where I
Don’t want to go
Sickness, pain, death
Hearts filled with anger
Pulling so strong
A very real danger
It seems I’m alone
Darkness closing inside
The very breath I need
Only He can supply
So lead me to the Rock
See it rise above the tide
He will never leave me
He will always be my guide
Even as waves
Rush over me still
I will stand on the Rock
My Hope in His will
Powerful and unwavering
Majestic and strong
My Rock rises above
All that seems wrong
He’s steady, unchanging
Firmly planted and secure
In Him will I stand
And through Him, endure
“From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2 NIV).
Father, from the depths of our souls, we cry out to You. Thank you that You always hear, and You make a way for us. Be the solid Rock on which we stake our claims. Let it be so!
Written by Kate Krumreig
Are you a person who remembers dates? Like, specific calendar dates when important and/or memorable things happened in your life? I weirdly remember specific dates for A LOT of things that have happened to me, some of them incredibly joyful and happy to recall and some of them just the opposite.
I have struggled emotionally this week as today approached. I was an absolute whirlwind of weepy, cranky, tired, angry, quiet, contemplative, back to weepy...you get the picture. October 31st holds two very memorable events for me.
On October 31, 2010, I moved into my first apartment after having lived with my best friend and her son for four months. My now ex-husband and I had made the decision to divorce, I was alone, and she didn't even blink and I when she graciously allowed me to live with her as I figured out what to do next. In time, I found this great upstairs of a duplex house in town and, now that I would be living solely on my part-time teaching salary, the price was right (still is, for that matter)! Moving day came and the closest members of my church family at the time moved me in. It was an exciting, scary, overwhelming day yet full of so much love and support. I remember two of my friends thinking that we needed a few "first week" supplies - dish soap, sponges, TP, etc... - and they made a quick Target run. They came back with all of that and then WAY TOO MUCH more, including a baker's rack for kitchen storage. I remember sitting on my kitchen floor once they all left and just crying, beyond grateful for the love they showed me that day and the support I knew I'd always have from them. Today marks 10 years that I have been in this apartment of mine and, despite the quirky habits of some of my downstairs neighbors over the years, I love this place. I am incredibly grateful to call this tiny spot my home and, sometimes, cannot believe that I have spend an entire decade here.
On October 31, 2013, I got in my car on dark and stormy night to go on my first date since my divorce. I met up with this guy I had known for years for a cup of Starbucks decaf tea and began the most beautiful relationship of my life. I will never forgot thinking that I had completely biffed this date because, after an hour of what I thought was an amazing conversation, he said he was tired and needed to get home to bed. Umm...what? It wasn't until he walked me to my car under his umbrella, gave me a hug and a very intentional kiss on the cheek, that I knew I had to see this man again. I later learned that he was tired from his earlier chemotherapy treatment and I was honored that he chose to spend that hour with me. I was beyond blessed to spend the next eight months of life with him. Our relationship did a number on my heart, healing and strengthening it from my failed marriage, bringing me laughter and joy that I didn't think I could experience again, and giving me hope that he and I would grow old and live the rest of our lives together. That, unfortunately, was not meant to be. Glioblastoma (a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer) took him quickly. I was alone again. 7 years have gone by since that first date and I find myself wondering, "How? When? Why?"
Approaching today, my brain has made me incredibly aware of my loneliness. I miss my people. I miss him. I miss hugs, and kisses, and having someone to come home to, and Saturday morning coffee together, and making meals with and for my friends and family, and lazy weekends, and impromptu road trips, and...the list can go on and on.
I have been reminded though, from that small, quiet, Holy Spirit voice in my heart, that I am never alone. No one is alone who is in Christ Jesus. He is always with me and I cannot be more grateful for that. Deuteronomy 31:6 says, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
If you are one who loves a musical connection (I am!), the Stephen Sondheim musical, Into the Woods, provides a beautiful one. The song below, No One is Alone, takes place just before the finale of the show, as the four remaining lead characters try to understand the consequences of their personal wishes, and begin to support others' wishes over their own. The song serves a dual purpose, showing that even when life brings you its greatest challenges, you do not have to face them alone, and also that life never guarantees us a "happily ever after".
No One is Alone from Into the Woods: https://youtu.be/5xaxP_kErTU
Father, thank you for the many, many blessings you have given me and continue to bring me every single day. I ask that you make yourself known to me today, reminding me that I am never alone, even if I may be feeling lonely. Encourage me to reach out to my family and friends when I am feeling this way and help me to find my strength and courage in You. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.
Written by Fr. Dale Minor - The Reclaim Ministry
I assume that most of us have had an experience like looking for our glasses only to discover them resting on our forehead. Recently I read of a lady who was talking to a friend on her cell phone and was telling her that she was at wits end trying to find her cell phone.
We may be guilty of a similar thing as we struggle with the concept of a living, loving Lord. We can read the scriptures, involve ourselves in Bible studies, search writings from noted authors, etc. and still feel that we are far from God. We may find ourselves asking, “Where are you?” or even, “Who are you, Lord?” And the reason may be that we are looking in all the wrong places. We may be looking far away, while He is very near.
There is a quotation attributed to several authors, from Voltaire to Mark Twain, which says something like, “God made man in His image, and we have been trying to return the favor ever since.” In other words, rather than to embrace the greatness of God, we try to reduce Him to our image. For we can’t envision a God who is larger than ourselves.
Anselm, early 18th century Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote; “God is that, beyond which nothing greater can be conceived.” This basically testifies that if we took the accumulated knowledge of the greatest minds on the earth, and if we could extract their absolute best perception of God, it would still be far short of who He truly is. For God is immensely greater than anything we can conjure up.
We take this even further when we begin to think we know better than God; when we turn away from Him and rely on other authority. St. Paul spoke to this issue in Romans 9:21 as he chastised Israel for their rejection of God’s truth. “Does the potter not have power over the clay?” he asked. This rather echos Isaiah 64:8 “But now O Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay and You our potter; and all are the work of Your hand.”
The question of just who God is has been asked from the beginning. In Exodus 3:14 as Moses encountered God in the form of the Burning Bush and was instructed to rescue the enslaved Hebrews in Egypt, Moses asked, “Who shall I say has sent me?” And God responded. “I Am who I Am. Tell the people, I Am has sent me to you.” This is a mysterious statement in itself but is understood to be a revelation of God’s nature; that He is the very unique, eternal, and uncreated God. He is the ultimate truth and is beyond anything we can conceive.
Later, as recorded in John 8:58, Jesus would echo these same words when faced by questions and accusations by those who opposed Him and was asked, “who are you?” He responded, “I Am; before Abraham was, I Am.” This was immediately recognized as a statement in which Jesus identified himself as the Son of God. This, of course raised the ire of his accusers, causing them to plot His end.
Even as the question of “Who God is” persists since ancient times, it need not remain a mystery for us. In the Gospel of John, there are seven statements of Jesus which begin with “I am.” These can be found in chapters 6 through 15 and include familiar words such as, “I am the bread of life.” (Jn, 6:35) “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” (Jn. 14:6) and “I am the true vine.” (Jn. 15:1,5) This last being a statement of the necessity that we stay connected to Jesus if we are to be sustained in life, as a branch will thrive only when connected to the vine.
A search of all these “I Am” statements is encouraged as, if you are feeling a bit estranged from the Lord, or if the circumstances of your life is causing a strain in your faith, we encourage you to listen to the Lord as He speaks to you through His word, through prayer and meditation, and through God’s revelation of Himself in the power of the Holy Spirit. The answer is very near you, even as close as the glasses on your forehead.