Written by Rev. Emilie Wierda - All Saints Anglican - Holland, MI
Today marks the 88th birthday of my dear mom.
She has outlived my father by more than 25 years and counting.
This is a particularly significant year to count our blessings.
There has been much news and divided opinions over counting votes.
We are taught in Psalm 90 to count our days:
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (v.12)
One rabbi took this directive seriously. As the story is told, he bought a jar and filled it with marbles for each day of a life span of 80 years. Each day he took out one marble and put it in his pocket to remind him this day was unique, just as each marble was unique, and it would soon be over. The marbles in the jar continued to deplete. Each day he would ask himself the question, “How am I fulfilling God’s purpose for me today? What will I have to offer for another day God has put me here in this 80 X 365 day life?”
According to the psalmist, we have 70 years. Only 80 years, or 29.200 days, are promised to the strong (v.10).
The pandemic has made us all question, “Who are the strong?” There are seemingly healthy people well under the 70 year mark who are struggling to survive the COVID19 virus. And there are those well past the 80 year mark who are breezing through a bout with virtually no symptoms.
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
As we celebrate Advent, a new beginning once again, we are counting the days until Christmas and the celebration of the birth of our Lord. Our grandsons, aged 3 and 4, are counting the days with an Advent calendar filled with chocolates, anticipating each day closer to the day of celebration. On our advent wreathes, this is the Sunday we light the pink (or rose )colored candle, the day that symbolizes joy. James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, tells the believer in the first few verses of his epistle:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing (v.2-4)..
We pause as we are counting and wonder at these words. Do we want to discuss Christmas and joy and suffering all at the same time? Can we really count trials with joy? What do we really mean by “joy” anyway? Beloved theologian Henry Nouwen defined joy this way:
Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing--- sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death--- can take that love away.
So we count our trials as joy when we remember that God loves us so fiercely, he came as a humble, dependent baby, lived as a child and died as a man just to prove his love for you and for me. Nothing can separate us from this Love.
Count your remaining days and make them count.
Count your blessings.
Count it ALL joy because-
Joy to the World! The Lord is come!
Written by Laura Strack - Heartland Church of Fort Wayne
‘Twas the day before Christmas, and while lying in bed,
I found myself praying, many thoughts in my head.
I thought of God’s mercy, His goodness and grace.
I thought of His love for the whole human race.
I thought of so many who were in great need,
Of how God was the answer; yes, the answer indeed.
My mind it was racing, the thoughts going fast,
And I thought to myself, “How long can this last?”
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a vision of God and of Him drawing near.
His eyes were like fire, His hair white as snow,
His robes were so bright with a radiant glow.
And as He drew near, His gaze so intense,
It pierced through my soul, breaking down all defense.
His smile was so loving, so gracious and kind.
It quickly pushed out all the fears in my mind.
He reached out and touched me and just as He did,
My life flashed before me, not a single thing hid.
I wanted to hang down my head in such shame,
For I knew no one else but I was to blame;
For the things I’d thought and the things I had done
Were sins all my own. It wasn’t much fun.
He lifted my head and gazed into my eyes,
He showed me His scars, saying He was my prize.
His blood that was shed was the gift that He gave
So that I could have life and not be enslaved
To all of the things that held me in chains,
To all of life’s sorrows and all of life’s pains.
To endure what He did for my sake was His pleasure
So I could find life. He said, “You are my treasure.”
I wanted to cry, for all through the years
I had questioned and doubted, but He wiped away tears.
He leaned in so close and spoke into my ear.
He whispered so gently, “I want you to hear
The truth of My message.” He said, “I forgive.”
Then He breathed into my soul so that I might live.
And then it all vanished, this vision I had;
But it didn’t end there; I was not sad.
My hope was awakened, my heart was so full.
My joy was restored, my ears were not dull.
My eyes once again saw the goodness in life;
My heart was not troubled, no longer in strife.
You see, on this day I was given a gift
Not wrapped in paper, but one that would lift
A soul from depression, a mind from its grief,
A gift that brought pleasure, release, and relief.
As I reflect on this Christmas Eve,
I ask you a question, “Do you believe
That God came as a baby, but lived as a man,
Died on a cross and then rose again?”
For your sake, He endured all the sorrow and pain,
So you could have life and enjoy all the gain.
So freely He gave, so freely receive
Just confess with your mouth, in your heart you believe.
His grace is sufficient, He’ll make you brand new,
This gift is eternal and it is for you.
He’ll fill you with joy, He’ll bring you such peace
If only your heart to Him you’d release.
May His angels surround you on this Christmas night
To speak of His grace and show you His light.
And now as we’ve come to the end of this story,
May He bless you and keep you and show you His glory.
Photo credit: Pixabay
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!