A Message of Encouragement from our Bishop

Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set. And Joshua defeated Amalek…(Exodus 17:8-11)

Dear People of God,

Covid fatigue. 

The phrase is working its way into public and private conversations as we enter the third year of walking the coronavirus wilderness. The symptoms of covid fatigue are also working their way into our public life, into our individual and family lives, and into our life together as the body of Christ.

We are tired of all the twists and turns, like eating out or going to school or worshipping in-person one week, one day, and then rushing back to “virtual” life the next. We are weary of wearing masks, deciding which masks, keeping distance, and washing hands. We are exhausted by having to make complicated and quick decisions about in-person, virtual, and hybrid worship, communion, and other aspects of our life together as the body of Christ. And, in our exhaustion we are turning on one another, crying out at our leaders and others with exasperation and blame borne of exhaustion, much like our ancestors in faith did on their weary way through the wilderness, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” Some of us, like those ancestors, even cry out in the silence of our weary hearts, “Is the Lord among us or not?” [See Exodus 17:1-7]

Covid fatigue: weariness borne of walking the wilderness, fighting the seemingly indefatigable virus, living in limbo, losing sight of hope’s horizon again and again. It is so tempting to lower our hands like Moses, to stop doing what has been so important in winning this battle, and to live as if the virus were not spreading at record rates and pushing medical facilities beyond their limits yet again.

But, dear people of God, we cannot do that, not if we are going to make it to the other side of this wearing wilderness with as many of us as possible. It’s time to let go of bickering, bellowing, and berating and to be Aaron and Hur for one another.

It’s time for us to lift each other’s hands by reminding each other of God’s powerful, promised presence – by being God’s loving, compassionate, humble, hopeful presence for one another. We hold each other up when we support each other in making (again) the pivots in our personal lives and in our life together as the body of Christ that will protect the most vulnerable among us, including our children. We are Aaron and Hur for one another when we remind each other of how, by God’s grace, we’ve done what we’ve needed to do before and that, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can do it again and for as long as need be…because we hold each other up and go forward together.

We lift each other’s hands when we wear a mask, get fully vaccinated if possible, and, like Jesus, who for the promised joy that was set before him endured the cross, accept the limitations and losses that increase the chances that we will win the battle against the virus itself as well as its insipid determination to rend our life together.

Beloved people of God, as we lift each other’s arms in this wearying wilderness, we join Aaron and Hur and generations of God’s people (like those listed in Hebrews 11) who in times of peril and challenge entrusted themselves to the God of promise and gave themselves to assisting others to get through and beyond.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2) 

Peace be with you,

The Rev. Dr. William O. Gafkjen, Bishop

Worship for Sunday, January 16, 2022

Isaiah 62:1-5

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.
The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 36:5-10

Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens,
and your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the strong mountains, your justice like the                 great deep; you save humankind and animals, O Lord.
How priceless is your love, O God!
All people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.
They feast upon the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the well of life,
and in your light we see light.
Continue your lovingkindness to those who know you,
and your favor to those who are true of heart.

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.   Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

The Gospel of our Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Being a wedding guest can be a lot of fun. You see the beautiful bride in her gorgeous wedding dress and the handsome groom in his debonair tux. You admire the flowers. You witness the happy couple professing their love and faithfulness in their vows and celebrate the glorious blessing of love.

At the reception you chat and laugh with great company. Maybe you enjoy a slice of yummy cake. You toast the happy couple. You celebrate love – life – and happiness.

Being a wedding guest is fun and relaxing and just plain delightful.

But when it is your wedding or your child’s wedding – I have noticed weddings tend to be less fun. Being the boss of the wedding is serious work. It is often downright stressful!

Take my own wedding for example. Our wedding was beautiful. And almost 25 years later I remain incredibly thankful I was able to talk Jason into marrying me. But there were a couple of hours during our rehearsal dinner that were just plain stressful.

The wedding rehearsal at the church went off without a hitch.

And then we all headed for Jason’s parents’ house for the rehearsal dinner. As we pulled up to their house everything looked perfectly perfect. The June weather was glorious. The lawn was perfectly manicured. The flowers were gorgeous. My in-laws’ yard isn’t a yard – it is a garden oasis right out of Southern Living.

Everything may have looked perfectly – perfect. But EVERYONE was not perfectly perfect. As we walked into the house – we quickly noticed Jason’s parents were wearing VERY fake smiles.

Then Jason’s sister Elizabeth mouthed an exaggerated “follow me.” So we casually followed her into the basement where she dropped the bomb. There was no food. Our caterer was a “no show.” We had hungry guests and no food to feed them.

We held an impromptu family meeting and decided Elizabeth would keep working the phones while the rest of us tried to dazzle and distract our guests with witty conversation – lots of smiley smiles – and drinks for another 30 minutes. And then we would just order pizza if we were still foodless.

Not exactly the menu we had planned – but Jason and I are not – nor have we ever been fancy – smancy people. And who doesn’t like pizza?

Just as Jason’s folks had started ordering pizza – the caterer arrived full of apologies – with most of the food. She had gotten the date wrong!

Something almost always goes wrong with a wedding – no matter how much careful planning you do!

In our Gospel reading for this week we heard about Jesus – his mom – and his disciples going to a wedding. It is early in Jesus’ earthly ministry. This was before most folks knew Jesus was the Savior of the world. It was even before Jesus had done any miracles.

It sounds like this wedding was joyful and fun. It started off smoothly – but then – there was a problem.   The hosts ran out of wine before the party was over.

Imagine being in the hosts’ position. They had invited all of their friends – family members – neighbors – co-workers – and everybody from their synagogue.   Plus they had invited the bride’s entire family and her neighbors – and her friends and everybody from her synagogue and even her mother’s best-friend since she was three years old. And now they had run out of wine before the wedding celebration was over.

It would have been so embarrassing. It would have been like announcing to their entire community that they were too poor to host a nice wedding feast. Or at the very least that they were really bad wedding planners.

It would have made them bad hosts. And no one wants to be a bad host.

Seriously – think about how we would react – if we ran out of food at a church dinner! Or at a Christmas party! We would be mortified!

When Jesus steps in and turns those six huge stone jars of water into wine – it is his first miracle and we learn so much about our Lord and Savior.

First – we learn that even the Savior of the world listens to his mom.   It was Mary who let Jesus know about the whole “wine problem.” And it was Mary who let Jesus know she thought he could most definitely solve the problem. Mary told Jesus she believed in him and that she believed it was time for him to make himself known.

When Jesus was a little reluctant – Mary encouraged Jesus.

Second – we see just how gracious and compassionate our Lord and Savior truly is. Running out of wine at the wedding feast they were hosting would have been a really embarrassing situation for this family.

Imagine having to stand up in front of all of your family – friends – neighbors – co-workers and your worship community and your brand-new spouse’s family – friends and neighbors and say – “Sorry folks – we didn’t buy enough supplies for the party. We are all out. We are just plain broke.   Thanks for coming. Have a nice evening.”

When Jesus turns the water in those water jugs into wine – it is an act of grace – kindness – and compassion.   Jesus didn’t want the groom and his family to suffer the embarrassment and humiliation of being seen as bad hosts. This is an act of mercy!

This miracle also reveals to us that the Lord and Savior of the world cares about every day ordinary people and their every day ordinary problems.

Sometimes – I think – we don’t believe our God could possibly care about the small stuff we worry about – not with the big problems in the world.   But this miracle shows us our Lord does care about what we care about – even running out of wine at a wedding reception!

And we also see in this miracle Jesus doesn’t do anything halfway!   Jesus’ first miracle was to make wine so good even a snooty wine steward commented on how good it was! Which means this must have been some seriously awesome wine! Jesus makes amazing wine!

When Jesus chose to begin revealing himself to the world as our Lord and Savior – he chose to do this through a miracle of kindness – grace – and compassion. It was a miracle that solved a pretty commonplace problem which reveals to us that our Lord cares about us and our common – every day – run of the mill problems.

Your Lord can do mighty and amazing miracles and your Savior cares. He gets it and he loves you. Truly this is Good News. Amen.

Very Merry Indeed!

Barely awake – but VERY excited!

Jason and I awoke at 5:00 AM on Christmas morning. We were surprised and delighted to discover that we were the only McFarlands who were stirring in our household. Both of our sons tend to be early risers on regular days – so we didn’t expect this whole sleeping thing to last very long.

We quickly and wisely closed our eyes and drifted back to sleep expecting to be reawakened very soon. So – we were even more surprised/shocked/just plain flabbergasted that Will slept until after 7:30 AM and had to awakened by Jack! Yes – our 18-year-old woke up our 9-year-old ON CHRISTMAS MORNING!?!?!

Waiting to wake up his brother!

Santa Claus had come!

But it would seem that Santa had his work cut out for him at our house. Because Jack and I didn’t get home from church until almost 1:00 AM on Christmas morning. And Will had a really – really – really hard time sleeping and claimed to be awake for most of the night. So – there was only a very small window of time when a McFarland wasn’t wide awake at our house on Christmas night/morning. Thankfully Santa Claus is wise and talented and was able to slip in and out during that teeny-tiny window of time when all 4 of us were asleep.

The Christmas stockings had been filled to the brim with good things.   Chocolate and more chocolate and trains for Will and Sweet Tart ropes in every flavor known to humankind for both Jack and William.

There were presents wrapped in red for Will. Santa must know that orange is Will’s favorite color and red is pretty close to orange. So red Christmas paper just makes perfectly perfect sense when you think about it (long enough).

And green wrapping paper for Jack – because green is Jack’s favorite color.

This year Santa brought Will lots of really impressive ships.   He got the Yamato and the Bismarck and the Hood and the Illustrious and some other seriously awesome additions to his naval fleet. And a wooden AmTrak train set too. Our Will can be both a navy admiral and a train engineer depending on his mood.

Jack’s favorite gift was a Saint Francis of Assisi bracelet. Saint Francis is the patron Saint of those who love and care for animals. (Jack is a devoted animal lover with plans to become a veterinarian.)

Jason and I were impressed with how well Santa Claus knows our sons!

The rest of Christmas Day was blissfully relaxed and quiet. Will played with his new toys. And then he played some more. I read and read and read and knit and knit and read while drinking tea – awesome! Jack did teenager-y stuff and then went to a movie. And Jason read too – but skipped the knitting which is fine. More yarn for me!

I loved every single minute of our “do nothing – totally relaxed Christmas Day.”

Monday – was our ever so slightly bigger family Christmas gathering.

Early (really – really early) on Monday morning we set forth into the December darkness for some family togetherness and a 9:00 AM hair appointment with Melissa. Melissa is a treasured family friend and the family hair-whisperer. Melissa has been tending and taming the McFarland/Markward family locks for decades. Melissa isn’t merely the person who knows and cares for my kids’ hair – Melissa is a family institution (in a very – very good way). We have vacationed together.   Her daughter was in my in-laws’ wedding. This isn’t a casual – she cuts our hair kinda relationship!

I think the only one of us who she hasn’t gotten her hands on is Jason.   No surprises there. His hair is longer than mine these days and I am sooooo jealous!

You may think that Jack’s hair looks effortless and easy-breezy. It is not!

This hair takes care and time! This hair takes road trips!

In our rather quirky defense – we know for a fact we are not the only Richmond ex-pat parents to return to Richmond to have their children’s hair done by Melissa. At least one of Jack’s classmates at Manual does the exact same thing. We may be riding the crazy train – but at least we have company!?!?!?!?! And we always get to see Jack and Will’s Mimi and Papa after a handsome-ification with Melissa. Who doesn’t want to see their Mimi and Papa? We ALWAYS want to see Mimi and Papa! Our Mimi and Papa rock like rock stars!

After the handsome-ification – it was time for the family bonding to begin. We were off to Mimi and Papa’s house to see our people!!!!!!

This is what Nic – Uncle – Auntie and Bella look like when they are behaving themselves for a photo!

The rest of Monday was a glorious blur of laughter and happiness and chatter and chatting and joking and jesting and eating and playing and delighting in the joys of being with the people you love most in the world!

And this is Uncle showing his real side! Such a GOOF!

We introduced Caitlyn to the extended family. (She survived!) We feasted. (My mother-in-law is a fabulous cook!) We opened presents! We played a rousing game of family Bingo. We talked and caught up and made plans. We laughed. We are big on laughing.

Caitlyn cuddling Craig the Cat wearing a hat knit by Kerri. Wow – does this lady fit in with our clan!

We gave thanks for laughter and joy and happiness. We gave thanks for the blessing of family. We gave thanks for one another.

We had a very Merry Christmas indeed!

This smile says it ALL!

Christmas 2021 was gone in a blur and a flash and a zip and a quick trip to see Mimi and Papa. Truly time does fly stealthily by – but I have my memories of the laughter and the joy and the people I love the most in this world.

What was your favorite Christmas blessing this year? What will you remember long after the decorations have been stored away for the season and your life has returned to its more normal patterns and routines? What was the greatest gift of the season for you?

These are the Bingo prizes! Yes – we take our Bingo seriously!?!?!?!?!

Reflections on Christmas Eve

Almost all families have Christmas traditions. Some families’ traditions are a bit more flexible.   Other families’ traditions are set in concrete – carved in stone – chiseled in granite and perhaps even tattooed on their forearms. (I can’t see their arms to confirm this suspicion right now. It is winter and we are all covered up. I will need to try to remember to check on this during the summer.)

People take Christmas very seriously. And their Christmas traditions even more seriously.

Do not try changing any Christmas-y traditions. Even the nicest of Christians will gleefully and gladly rip your soul out and dance on it if you are unwise enough to attempt such a change! (Nope – this has never happened to me . . . I am wise enough never even to consider such a foolish thing. But I have heard rumors about that other deeply foolish – truly silly pastor down the road . . . who now wanders the earth soul-less because she suggested a change or 2 to the Christmas Eve worship schedule! I pity her and pray for her daily . . . )

Our family has Christmas traditions too.

I work a lot!

Being busy during Advent does not come as a surprise. When I went to seminary and got that Masters of Divinity degree and then went on to seek ordination – I knew what I was getting into. Working for Jesus means – working on Christmas Eve and Easter.

I joke being troubled by this whole “working on Christian holidays gig” would be like a doctor being bothered by all of the sick people that keep showing up in her office! Or a lifeguard being annoyed by all of the water. Some things just come with the territory – like parenthood and barely controlled chaos (or maybe that’s just us/me?!?!?!)

Besides – I am a big fan of church-y stuff. I was a church nerd long before I was ordained. (I bet that surprises NO ONE!)

I may work a fair bit during December – but Jason and I do make sure we have plenty of special Christmas-y moments for and with our sons too.

Part of those traditions means hanging out with their mom at church even more than usual. Both Jack and now Will do a lot of behind the scenes work at church in December.   They prep and fluff and clean and light and serve and do and generally make my life easier and smoother.

At home the chocolate flows a bit more freely. And there are gingerbread houses. And Christmas crafts (I bet this too surprises NO ONE!)   I love a good Christmas craft or 8,000.   We have special Christmas cups and mugs and of course – we decorate our house for Christmas.

Christmas Eve itself starts casually at the McFarland house.   This year we had a lazy beginning to the day and then we opened presents with Caitlyn. And even better we played Clue together and laughed and chatted and teased and joked and ate silly snacks.

Then I was off to church. I love the quiet calm of the church before worship. The hush . . . The anticipation . . . The time to prepare . . . And Christmas Eve – well on Christmas Eve – it is even better – because the candles flicker and the trees sparkle – and the incredible joy of the Savior’s birth is about to be proclaimed. The only thing better is Easter! (I am such a sucker for the whole – “He is Risen! He is Risen! Indeed!” – bit.)

Christmas Eve worship is always such a joy and a delight. The Gospel readings – familiar and yet always so powerful. The music – so glorious! The Lutherans – so filled with smiles and joy and delight! Christmas Eve is good for our hearts and our souls – it knocks the dust and the rust off!

Back at home – between the worship services – I snuggled on the couch with our kitten and Will for a bit with a cup of awesome tea (thanks Markleys) and read and knit. And promptly fell asleep. I am soooooo totally NOT an evening/night person!

Then it was time for Will to write his note to Santa and leave Santa a glass of milk with a treat. This year Will decided Santa would prefer some chocolates over cookies. So – yummy – delicious chocolate candy was left for Jolly Old Saint Nick along with a carefully written note from our newly minted resident 9-year-old.

Loving the up-do!

I tucked our sweet boy into bed – bid Jason a Merry Almost Christmas – and set off into the balmy – surprisingly warm winter’s night to celebrate our Savior’s birth.

Will has learned to “kid” spell. And – of course – he included a train. Trains are Will’s current passion and joy!

Caitlyn and Jack joined me for the second “Great Christmas Eve candle lighting of 2021!” The sweet girl had a candle lighter slapped in her hand and was put right to work.   Hanging out with a clergy family (or this clergy family) often means laboring for the Lord! Caitlyn fits right in. She is an awesome helper-outer and pitcher-inner.

The faithful Lutherans convened. The carols were sung. The Word was proclaimed. And the Good News was very good indeed!

Christmas Eve quietly became Christmas Day as Rod Firquin and I blew out the candles and locked the church doors and turned off the lights.   Rod is an awesome helper-outer and pitcher-inner too!

Jack – Caitlyn and I walked through a quiet – peaceful – dark church one last time. Checking doors – thermostats and light switches. Enjoying the peace of the moment. The hush and the calm. The gentle – grace of a church well-loved and used.

And then we headed out into the night – early Christmas morning.   Home to Jason and a hopefully sleeping Will. . .

As Jack and I walked through the door – my beloved greeted me with a warm smile and a Merry Christmas. And as he hugged me – he said – “You did it! You made it to Christmas again this year!”

“No. . .” I said with a happy sigh. “We did it again this year. We did it.”

Every family celebrates Christmas Eve in their own unique way.   This is our way. This is what works for us and what we love and delight in doing. Lots of church-y stuff and candles and liturgies and carols and some casual family time and notes to Santa too.

When I am hopefully an even stranger and quirkier and odder and really – really – really old lady (I am just sorta old now) I hope I will remember these days with a smile and a laugh and so much joy. I do treasure these memories and these people in my heart.

What are your favorite Christmas Eve memories?   What do you treasure in your heart?   What and for whom do you give God thanks?

Worship for Sunday, December 26, 2021

1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26

Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy wearing a linen ephod. His mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year, when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the Lord repay you with children by this woman for the gift that she made to the Lord”; and then they would return to their home.

Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 148

Hallelujah! Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise God in the heights.
Praise the Lord, all you angels;
sing praise, all you hosts of heaven.
Praise the Lord, sun and moon;
sing praise, all you shining stars.
Praise the Lord, heaven of heavens,
and you waters above the heavens.

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
who commanded, and they were created,
who made them stand fast forever and ever,
giving them a law that shall not pass away. 
Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps;
fire and hail, snow and fog,
tempestuous wind, doing God’s will;

mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars;
wild beasts and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds;
sovereigns of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the world;
young men and maidens,
old and young together. 
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
whose name only is exalted, whose splendor is over earth and heaven.
The Lord has raised up strength for the people and praise for all faithful servants,
the children of Israel, a people who are near the Lord. Hallelujah!
 

Colossians 3:12-17

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 2:41-52

Now every year [Jesus’] parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends.   When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.   When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”   He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them.   Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

The Gospel of our Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Discovering that your child is missing must be something every parent fears.

Last week while I was out getting a few last-minute Christmas essentials – I heard a woman shouting – her child’s name – over and over again. You knew he was lost by the tone of her voice. It was one of panic. She was filled with fear. She was living what she prayed wasn’t her worst nightmare come true.

I noticed almost every parent and grandparent and auntie or uncle or person with a soul in the store was scanning the area around them for a little boy without a grown-up.

The store was full of people who were busy Christmas shopping – but soon many of them had stopped searching for bargains – and started searching for a lost little boy named Jeremiah. These folks knew what really mattered that December morning.

We may have all been strangers – but we all were united in our search for Jeremiah who was wearing a red sweatshirt.

Eyes scanned the aisles – under racks – and peered through stacks of sweaters searching out any place where a child might be hiding.

His mother kept calling his name. Fear causing her voice to catch – until the call – rang out – “I found him – I found him – I’ve got him. He’s fine! He’s right here!”

Jeremiah was found in the toy department looking at all of the wonderful toys.

We all know the world can be a hard – cruel place – and no child should have to face the world alone.   So – we care for the children in our lives and protect them and surround them with love.

Mary and Joseph certainly felt the same way about Jesus. They watched over Jesus – trying to protect him and to keep him safe and secure.

But no matter how well behaved the child is and no matter how careful the parents are – frightening things happen.

In fact – one of these frightening episodes took place in our Gospel reading for today.

After their annual trip to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover – Mary and Joseph packed up their family and headed home to Nazareth. But they made the mistake of assuming Jesus was with their traveling party. They probably thought he was just hanging out with his friends.   Because what self-respecting 12-year-old wants to hang out with his parents?

But when Jesus doesn’t turn up for supper that evening Mary and Joseph grow concerned and begin searching for Jesus.   They ask everyone they see – if they have seen Jesus. But it quickly becomes clear – Jesus is not with their group.

Once they realize Jesus was not with their traveling party – they head back to Jerusalem with fear in their hearts and tears in their eyes. After all – Jesus was not exactly a worldly boy. Jesus had spent most of his young life in a small town where everyone knew everyone else.

Even more frightening was the fact that under normal circumstances Jerusalem was a large city filled with thousands of people. But during Passover the city’s population swelled. Mary and Joseph must have wondered how they would ever find their beloved son in the midst of that huge – bustling city.

The Bible tells us they searched Jerusalem for three days without finding their child. By this time Mary and Joseph’s fear must have become terror.

Then finally on the third day of their search – they find Jesus in the Temple.

We can only imagine the great joy and relief Mary and Joseph felt when they finally found Jesus.

But as their elation at finding Jesus begins to wear off – Mary declares – “Son – why have you treated us like this? Look – we have been anxiously searching for you.”

We might expect Jesus – the sinless son – to beg for forgiveness or to shed tears of remorse. But rather than begging for their forgiveness – Jesus asks his mother – “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know I would be in my Father’s house?”

This seems sort of like the equivalent of the modern – “Well – duh – Mom.”

And you know – Jesus had a point – Jesus was in his heavenly Father’s house where he knew – he was safe. Jesus had been with God – where he knew he belonged.   Jesus knew he could never be really lost because God the Father was with him always.

This world can be a frightening place – filled with all sorts of scary things. There are times when we too can start to feel lost and alone in the world.

But just as Jesus told Mary he was never lost or alone because he was safe with his heavenly Father. The same is true for each of you. Even when you are confronted by the difficulties of this life you are not alone. God is with you too. You are never alone. Because God has made you a promise. There is no place that you will ever go in this life that God is not there with you. And nothing in this life can separate you from God’s love.

The writer of Psalm 139 reminds us of this incredible promise when he writes – “O Lord . . . where can I go from your spirit?   Or where can I flee from your presence?   If I ascend to heaven, you are there.   If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day.”

God is with you always. God is with you every step of the way. You are never lost and you are never alone – because you are a beloved child of God forever. Truly this is Good News. AMEN.

Christmas Eve Worship 2021

The Angel Visits Mary: The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 1:26-35

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.

The Gospel of our Lord.

Joseph’s Dream: The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 1:18-24

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife.

The Gospel of our Lord.

Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem: The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 2:1-7

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The Gospel of our Lord.

The Angels and the Shepherds: The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 2:8-14

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

The Gospel of our Lord.

The Shepherds Worship Jesus: The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 2:15-20

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

The Gospel of our Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Wow – just – wow! What a year 2021 has been! Actually – what a couple of years it has been!

We started this year with so much hope. And some of us may have even started the year with a teeny – tiny spark of optimism. We started 2021 thinking this would be the year we finally put the pandemic behind us and waved a cheery good-bye!

But then . . . Well – reality has proven itself to be so much more real! And so much more complicated – hasn’t it?

Seriously – 2021 has certainly been one wild – weird – and not so wonderful – roller coaster ride. So many ups and downs. So many highs and lows. And all of those twists and turns!

Being human in this broken – messed up world has been hard on us.

After all – this year has been filled with a lot of bad news.   News that breaks our hearts and troubles our souls. News we   don’t want to hear anymore. But it just keeps coming and coming anyway!

The pandemic and the variants (so many variants). And wildfires and droughts and floods. Building collapses and ever-increasing violence in our community. School shootings and accidents and now the one of the worst tornado disasters in our state’s history.

And then there is the absolutely bizarre economy. So many open jobs and hiring signs and stores and restaurants with weird hours. And the inflation and supply chain issues. We are all noticing the cost of everything going up and up and up!

And now there are the questions around the Omicron variant.   We may be done with Covid-19 – but it clearly isn’t done with us!

All of this bad news can be absolutely – positively exhausting.

The bad news can quickly become all we think and talk about.   Soon our focus can be on the negative and the bad and the yuck. And on the disappointments and on what is wrong in our lives.

We can get lost in the mire of the bad news. We can become overwhelmed and cynical. And maybe even angry . . .

Until we end up – sounding like Ebenezer Scrooge with his “bahh – humm – bugs” or the Grinch who was so determined to steal Christmas!   And when we do – we miss out on so much joy and beauty and so much that makes life in this world just plain FUN!

I will be honest – Jason and I have been leaning pretty heavily into Will’s Christmas joy this year. Because the littlest McFarland just turned 9 and he knows joyful Christmas expectation! Oh – does our boy know joy! And Will has been bringing the blessed – glorious excitement of the season into our lives like it is his full-time job. Will reminds us daily – hourly (minute-ly) that this season is filled with light and promise and a whole lot of AWESOMENESS!

And then this evening something even better happens than a super-duper excited 3rd grader!

Actually – something absolutely – positively – amazingly – gloriously – miraculously awesome happens this evening.

We hear the best news in the world! This evening the news we hear is awesome and glorious. This news is so extraordinary – it is almost too good to be true.

But IT IS TRUE! It is absolutely – positively – awesomely TRUE! And the news we hear tonight promises to transform our lives for all eternity!

This evening the Good News of God’s grace – love – and mercy breaks forth into our lives with all of its radiant – glorious promise!

Hear again the angel’s – awesome – life-transforming declaration to the shepherds and to us – “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Do not be afraid. Your Savior has been born. Do not be afraid. Your Savior has come into your world. Do not be afraid. The Messiah is here – with you. Do not be afraid. Our Lord has come to save us from our sinful selves! Do not be afraid. Our Savior has come to transform death into eternal life!

Do Not Be Afraid! This isn’t a command or an order or an obligation. This is an invitation. An invitation to know the best news we will ever hear in our entire lives!

Our Savior has been born!

This year of all years – we all need to remind ourselves – why we celebrate Christmas. We celebrate Christmas – because of one incredibly special baby boy who changed the world forever.

The stars in the sky celebrated – his birth. The angels in heaven rejoiced on his birthday. Humble shepherds shared the great and glorious news of his birth and kings journeyed from afar to meet and worship this baby boy.

His birth has changed the lives of billions of people forever.

Because Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is our Lord and our Savior.

Jesus was born so that we might receive the greatest gifts of all – the forgiveness of our sins and the promise of eternal life spent with our Lord in heaven.

Jesus came to save us from our sinful – broken – all too human selves.

We celebrate Christmas because Jesus is our Savior. We celebrate because we have all received the gifts of God’s grace – love – and forgiveness.

We celebrate Christmas because Jesus opened the doors of heaven for us all.

Truly this is the Good News – AMEN.

The Coming of the Light: The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 1:1-9

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

The Gospel of our Lord.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The World Didn’t End!?!

By nature – I am a planner and a list maker. Oh – how I love a good list! Organizing things and cleaning make me happy. I keep calendars. I do not procrastinate. I am pretty neat and tidy. I delight in routine. I prefer to be prepared. Preparing is actually my happy place!

I am not a huge fan of surprises. (Jason knows a surprise birthday party [for me] or a surprise trip to someplace exotic would so totally NOT be my thing. I would STRONGLY prefer to be in on the planning and the decision making for such things. Okay – I would NEED to be in on all of that!!!)

In spite of this tendency to be just a teeny-tiny bit tightly wound – I learned long ago I needed to accept that life is full of twists and turns and all of sorts surprises. So – so – so many twists and turns and so many crazy surprises!?!?!?!

The single biggest surprise of my life arrived at 4:44 pm on December 21, 2012, and weighed just over 8 pounds.

This surprise came into our lives on the first day of winter and on the last day of the 5,126 year-long cycle of the Mayan calendar. Some folks thought December 21, 2012, might just be the END OF THE WORLD. It was being bantered about in some circles as the Mayan Apocalypse. Seriously – it was a real thing. Some folks were saying there would be a cataclysmic natural disaster like a massive volcanic eruption or an earthquake like we had never seen before or even a gigantic tsunami.

Others thought Planet “X” was finally going to reveal itself to us causing a gigantic black hole to develop which would make our entire solar system disappear into nothingness immediately!

None of these things happened. The world did not end – thankfully. BUT my world was turned upside down and inside out on December 21, 2012, by a very small – very noisy – very demanding surprise.

We named this particular surprise William Andrew! And yes – we were well aware this surprise was on the way long before December 21, 2012. . .

William may make the occasional mess or 800. And our sweet Will is one stubborn dude (he gets that from Jason – of course) – but he is not a wreaker of havoc or a harbinger of doom.

Rather our youngest son is a joy bearer and laughter machine! He is intense – wow – is he intense!?!?!   He is passionate and kind and chatty and extroverted in a family of proud – card-carrying introverts.

Will McFarland may have been born on the shortest day of the year – but he brings light into our lives.

William McFarland has been teaching me important life lessons from the moment we learned he would be joining our family.

What have you learned from the people in your life? So often we focus on what we old people have to teach our children – but what have the children in your life taught you? How have you grown or been blessed by your own relationships?

Will turned 9 on Tuesday. And our family celebrated in the way William wanted to celebrate.   Will made the plan. Will did the choosing and the thinking of the thinks and we simply executed it to the best of our abilities.

The morning started off with helping out at the church. Will actually likes hanging out at the church.   As a pastor’s kid – Saint Stephen truly is his second home. He and Jack helped me get ready for Christmas Eve. There were candles to count and prep. Worship booklets and communion needed to be placed on the chairs.   Ladders were climbed and then stowed safely away. The vacuum was run in the offices and cobwebs were attacked. There were errands to take care of around the building and countless things to do. The McFarland men and I were busy and happy and excited. Christmas is coming and it was Will’s birthday!!!!!!!!!

Next up was a trip to the model train store during Jason’s lunch break.   Will is in a “train phase” these days. And now our boy is the proud engineer of his very own “N” scale model train.   He is in love! Will and his train have been spending A LOT of time together.

And Will’s birthday party was all of his own planning and choosing and coordinating too. He invited Caitlyn – Jack – his dad – and me. (Will has clearly adapted to Covid-19 protocols better than some folks!)

First -Will opened his presents. He liked Caitlyn’s gift the best! She presented him with the board game CLUE!

He chose the menu. We dined on sushi.

Then we played CLUE! What a totally awesome game. It is so much fun. We played again last night and plan to play again every evening for the rest of our lives . . . (Caitlyn won the first round and Jack won last night.)

Then we sang the Happy Birthday song to our boy and devoured our desserts.

Meet Will and Jack’s friend Caitlyn!

Life is full of surprises. So far – my favorite surprise wears orange most days and inherited his dad’s hazel eyes. (Jack was so totally part of my 10-year plan almost 20 years ago now!)

What are your greatest blessings and favorite surprises?

Merry Almost Christmas!

 

 

 

The Questioners and the Clergyperson

I love to read. I enjoy studying. (Point of clarity – I enjoy studying certain subjects – but NOT math. Definitely not math! Math is SO absolutely – positively NOT my thing).   I delight in learning new things and uncovering and discovering and exploring. I have an inquiring mind. I have always found “thinking BIG thinks” – as Will used to call it when he was little – exhilarating.

Learning is fun!

Teaching Sunday school is a delight and a joy. I enjoy all of the time I spend preparing to teach. The research is fun. (I do quite a bit. I need to be prepared for the questions that folks like Pat Markley and Marilyn Mills are going to ask!?!?!?! Seriously – those 2 take no prisoners . . .) The studying and the reading are a treat to be savored.

I am thankful I enjoy this part of being a pastor – because I am constantly being asked questions I don’t know the answers to. Or sometimes I can’t remember the answer to . . . I have been out of seminary 20 years now.   Things start to fade. Many – many – many things are starting to drift from my memory.   (ALL of my Ancient Greek major from undergrad is long gone! So – so – so gone . . . Humiliatingly gone . . . Far – far – far away . . .)

Anyway – I love learning and researching. But no matter how much reading and thinking and researching and pondering I do – folks always – Always – ALWAYS – seem to ask at least one question I can’t answer.

So – long ago I made it my pastor-y policy to declare (with sincerity) – “I don’t know – but I will try to find out!” Although sometimes/okay really – really – really often I may suggest that folks “just ask Jason.” Because my beloved is a walking – breathing Google search/encyclopedia!

And I do try to find out. I write down on my to do list for the week – “Research the meaning of life for Pat Markley (again).” Sometimes/often I ask Jason. Other times I dig into my Bible commentaries.

Last Sunday – during the announcements – as I wrapped up – as I always do – I asked if anyone else had an announcement. And much to my sorrow and dismay and knee-knocking terror – a little – 8-year-old hand in the front pew shot into the air.

“No – not Will!” – I thought to myself. “I can’t call on Will during the announcements.   What will my youngest son announce to the ENTIRE Saint Stephen congregation?!?!?”

But I couldn’t ignore William either. To ignore Will would be to treat him as less than someone else in our Christian community. Will is a member of Saint Stephen. He deserves to be seen and heard too. This “treating children as equals” has been my policy with others’ children my entire ministry and now I needed to apply it much closer to home! (What an idiotic policy. Maybe – I should look into amending that particular policy – ASAP . . .)

Also – Will knew I had seen him. Jack knew I had seen his brother. I knew I had seen my son and the Triune God we worship knew I had seen him!   There was no getting out of it – I had to ask William Andrew McFarland what he wanted to share with Saint Stephen Lutheran Church . . . Holy bananas this could be very – very – very interesting!?!?!?!?!

But first – I prayed. Just a quick – popcorn prayer that I would still have a job when the littlest McFarland was done with his announcement . . . Christmas would be such a terribly stressful time to need to start working in retail . . . And I stink at math . . . (Just ask Pat Markley or Jason or Buddy Zimmerman or William or our kitten for that matter!)

After my prayer – I felt strong enough to face the challenge of entering the lions’ den/fiery furnace that was calling on Will McFarland to share his announcement.

And . . . William simply and sweetly inquired of his pastor/mom – “What’s a poinsettia?”

Honestly – I think I may have heard an angel chorus! No lengthy treatises about trains (his current obsession). No declarations that the sermon was too long or that his birthday was coming just a few days before Christmas, and everyone should come to our house for a party! (Please don’t – because Covid-19 and well – I don’t have time to get ready for house guests this time of year. I am too busy writing long rambling blog posts and boring sermons!) No family secrets revealed (not that we have any of those – of course)! No tales told. Nothing embarrassing or humbling or odd. Just an innocent question from an inquiring little 8-year-old mind.

“What’s a poinsettia?”

“A poinsettia is a red flower we decorate with at Christmas” – I told my sweet boy.

Thankfully – Rod Firquin had already delivered our annual allotment of poinsettias to the church – so I was able to show Will an honest to goodness poinsettia following worship.

But I know my child – Will wanted to know more.   He is the offspring of Jason and Kerri McFarland after all!   Will wanted to know the why?   Why do we make such a big deal about poinsettias this time of year? Why was his mom making announcements in church about these things called poinsettias and why did Mr. Rod order 20 of them?

And then – because I couldn’t quite remember the legend of the poinsettia – I did a little refresher research.

The Legend of the Poinsettia

About two hundred years ago poinsettias became a part our Christmas celebrations here in the United States.

The poinsettia comes to us from Mexico. In Mexico – the story goes like this: The Bethlehem star shone over the manger where Jesus was born. Its light was so bright and beautiful that the earth responded and mirrored that starlight with a beautiful flower. The flower was star shaped with pure white petals and golden star centers.   The people of Mexico called this flower “the Flower of the Holy Night.”

The poinsettia grew to remind people of the night Jesus was born.

Then came the tragic day when Jesus died on the cross and the blossoms changed forever. The pure white petals turned red to remind us of Jesus’ death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.

So – poinsettias can be more than a cheery – red flower. Poinsettias can remind us of God’s love – grace – and mercy.

Merry Almost Christmas!

Worship for Sunday, December 19, 2021

Micah 5:2-5

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return
to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth;
and he shall be the one of peace.

The Word of the Lord.

Luke 1:46b-55

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for you, Lord, have looked with favor on your lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
you, the Almighty, have done great things for me
and holy is your name.
       You have mercy on those who fear you,
from generation to generation. 
You have shown strength with your arm
and scattered the proud in their conceit,
casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
You have filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
You have come to the aid of your servant Israel,
to remember the promise of mercy,
the promise made to our forebears,
to Abraham and his children forever. 

Hebrews 10:5-10

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.”

Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’ (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 1:39-44

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.

The Gospel of our Lord.

“Oh Come, All Ye Faithful”

John Wade was a Roman Catholic priest caught in the middle of a war over religion. In 1745 strife between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church was horrible.   Catholics and Protestants were literally killing one another in God’s name -forcing John Wade to flee to France to avoid persecution by the British government and King George II.

Once Wade arrived in France – he was given the task of researching and identifying historical church music so it could be preserved for future generations to enjoy. Wade worked tirelessly to save as much music as possible. During his lifetime Wade discovered and reclaimed many old – sacred works of music.

Wade’s work also inspired him to write new hymns himself. In 1750, Wade finished writing his most famous tune, “Adeste Fideles” which translates to – “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful.”

Because Wade spent most of his life uncovering lost music – people simply assumed this hymn too had an older origin. It was not until the 1940’s that Wade received credit for writing “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful.”

“Good Christian Men (Friends), Rejoice”

Heinrich Suso was born in 1295 – the son of a prosperous German noble family. This was a truly difficult time in world history – but his family’s wealth sheltered young Suso from a world filled with poverty – disease – and despair. And thanks to his parents’ wealth – Suso received a wonderful education.

Eventually Suso felt called to serve God as a Dominican monk.

If Suso had behaved himself and quietly served our Lord as a parish priest he might never have been heard from again. But in 1326 Suso wrote the “Little Book of Truth.”   Suso’s book upset some very important people. In his book – Suso encouraged folks to interpret the Good News of Jesus Christ in a way that would bring hope and compassion to regular folks (like us).

Rather than lauding him as a man who truly understood the radical message of the Gospel – Suso was tried for heresy. In 1329 the Pope branded Suso a heretic and condemned him to death.   Eventually the German king spared Suso’s life and exiled him to Switzerland.

One night, Suso had a vivid dream filled with dancing – singing angels. When Suso awoke he quickly recorded “Good Christian Men, Rejoice.”

At the time it was written “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” was considered to be a radical hymn.   And it was years before it was widely accepted. Even then it wasn’t accepted by the Catholic church itself. But the German people eventually embraced this hymn with great enthusiasm. In fact – it is said to have been one of Martin Luther’s favorites.

“Silent Night”

In December 1818 a young priest named Joseph Mohr was making the final preparations for the Christmas Eve worship he had been planning for months.   Everything from the music to the sermon was ready. But as he made his final preparations, Mohr encountered a serious problem. The church organ was broken!

Realizing there was nothing he could do – Mohr prayed and asked God to show him a way to bring music to his congregation on this very special night.

Almost as soon as he finished his prayer – Mohr remembered a Christmas poem he had written two years before after a winter’s walk from his grandparents’ farm to the church. His poem was called – “Silent Night! Holy Night!”

That same evening a young schoolteacher named Franz Gruber was home in his drafty apartment over the local school when his friend Joseph Mohr hurried in. After a quick “Merry Christmas” – Mohr quickly explained his problem and then shared his poem with his friend.   “Franz,” he begged, “can you write music to these words that can be easily learned by a choir and played on a guitar?”

A few hours later the two friends met at the church. There in a candlelit sanctuary, Gruber shared his new music with Mohr. The young priest was thrilled with his friend’s inspired work. And they quickly shared the music with the waiting church choir.

Just after midnight – these two friends introduced their simple – yet beautiful song to their congregation. They could never have guessed that “Silent Night” would be sung by millions of Christians each Christmas season.

“Joy to the World!”

Two songwriters – who never met – created one of Christmas’s most beloved carols.

Isaac Watts was born in 1674, in Southampton, England. His father (also named Isaac) was a revolutionary Protestant church leader. At the time of his son’s birth the elder Watts was in prison. He had been convicted of teaching radical ideas that were not approved by the Church of England. At a very early age it was clear that the son was a lot like his free-thinking father.

Like lots of young people – Watts complained that the church music of his day was uninspired – monotonous and boring. So – his father challenged him to stop complaining and come up with something better. This challenge resulted in Isaac Watts composing more that 600 hymns!

For a while – most of his work was met with contempt and disdain.   Some even viewed young Isaac Watts as a heretic and as the tool of the devil. But Watts refused to give up.

Eventually through his hymns and theological writings – Watts became one of the best-known clergymen in England. Some loved him and some hated him – but most people living in England at the time had an opinion about him!

While studying Psalm 98 Watts was inspired to write his most famous hymn – “Joy to the World.” But it never caught on during his lifetime. And in 1748 when Watts died – few people had heard of the carol “Joy to the World.”

In 1792 Lowell Mason was born in New Jersey. Even though it was clear he was musically gifted from a young age – Mason did not see a way to make a living as a musician. So – in 1812 – he moved to Savannah, Georgia to become a banker. But he loved music and continued to study music in his spare time.

Eventually he wrote a book of music that had been inspired by the classical composer Handel and sent it to a Boston publisher. But his hard work was quickly rejected because people didn’t want classical music anymore. They wanted something new and different.

Mason decided to focus his talents on his work as a Sunday school teacher and organist. So – you can imagine his surprise when in – 1827 – he learned that his music had finally found a publisher, and that the Handel Society of Massachusetts had ordered 50,000 copies of his songbook.

He soon moved to Boston. For the next 20 years Mason was a trend setter in the world of music who was constantly battling the establishment with his revolutionary ideas.

In his 1839 songbook entitled Modern Psalmist, Mason finally linked Watt’s psalm-inspired lyrics to his own tune. And Americans quickly embraced “Joy to the World!” as a Christmas carol. Soon Christians all over the world were singing this joyful song as a part of their Christmas celebrations too.

Glitter – Gold – Gilding and Gab

These 2 guys keep Mr. Sean and Ms. Marilyn hopping!

Saint Stephen Lutheran Church was a happening place this weekend.   Christmas was in the air.   Holiday cheer abounded.   In fact – there was so much Christmas spirit flowing and blowing – we couldn’t contain it to just one activity or even to one day!

AWESOME jingle bell necklace Pat. He made it himself!!!!

This past weekend – it wasn’t just Saturday evening when the joys of the Christmas season could be experienced at Saint Stephen. We were rather Christmas-y on Sunday too. In fact – some of us participated in not one but TWO Christmas activities on Sunday morning in addition to worshipping our Lord!

We kicked off Sunday’s Christmas-y festivities with a Christmas crafting extravaganza.

OOOOOOHHHHHH! Inspiration!

Oh – how I love a good crafting session or 8,000. No day is complete (for me) unless I make something.   I am always ready and willing to do a spot of making – crafting – or creating.

That’s Amazing Grace! (Sorry – I couldn’t help myself . . . )

As I write this my knitting sits next to me. My current knitting project is my constant companion – “just in case.” I always – Always – ALWAYS have emergency knitting with me just in case I need to do a spot of knitting. I write blog posts with knitting. I hike with knitting. I grocery shop with knitting. I go to ALL appointments with knitting. I read and knit. Making and being creative is a way of life for me. I am never – ever bored – because I can always knit or plan and plot my next creative endeavor!

Sisters crafting!

And I love sharing (evangelizing) about the joys and delights of being creative. Not as much as I enjoy evangelizing about God’s love – grace and mercy – but A LOT!   It is simply amazing to be able to share how much fun being creative can be with others.

Father and son crafting!

It is so much fun to assemble a table FULL of craft supplies and then to invite some folks to dig in and have fun and get creative! And that is exactly what happened on Sunday morning.

And WOW – did the creativity flow! I merely supplied the craft supplies and a few ideas and thoughts on what folks might do with some of the supplies. BUT the Lutherans supplied the creativity and the imagination and the laughter and the conversation and the chatter and the inventiveness and the total genius!

Besties crafting!

I was dazzled and delighted and amazed and thrilled by what my sisters and brothers in Christ created. It was seriously cool to see what folks came up with. There were so many awesome – unique creations. No one made the exact same thing. No one approached his or her project in the same way.   Everyone had their own take on what to do with the supplies.

Grandma and granddaughter crafting!

There was a dazzling variety of Christmas creations when all was said and done. Saint Stephen is blessed with some seriously gifted and talented folks. Artists abound. Creativity flows. All folks need are a few supplies and the time and the freedom to create and amazingly wonderful creations are created!

Brothers crafting!

I love watching makers make and creators create and artists do their thing!

More Lutherans busily crafting!

Creativity is truly a joy and a blessing and a gift to be a part of and to witness.

A church secretary busy making a gorgeous Christmas garland!

And following worship – the joys and blessings of Christmas continued to flow for those folks who stayed to help decorate Saint Stephen for Christmas. (Sorry but – elves – fairies – and pixies – do NOT decorate our church for Christmas each year. A dozen or so faithful – dedicated Lutherans do!)

The Christmas trees came out of the storage closets. The ladders were hauled out too. The hoisting and piecing together and plugging in began.

Fingers were crossed and silent prayers were said that the lights would work again this year and that no one would descend any ladders too quickly!

Once the Christmas tree puzzles were solved – the tree fluffing commenced in earnest. The fluffy – fluffing always taking a while. Christmas trees don’t take kindly to being shoved in a box or into a storage closet for 11 months of the year. It is funny how all trees (even artificial ones) need room to spread their branches and breathe!

Finally – the ornaments were unboxed. The hangers were located. The trees were adorned with their golden decor of balls and the names for our God (Emmanuel – Savior – King of Kings – Lord of Lords – Jesus). The fragile Chrismons made their annual appearance too. Crosses – a phoenix – a crown.   Circles and a snake!

The candles were placed in the windows and hung in the windows.   They are ready to light up the nighttime darkness and to remind us that Jesus is truly the Light of the World.

There was much chatter and chatting and even some shouting (but not angrily – just trying to locate a misplaced Lutheran or two who had wandered off).   There was laughter and joy and fellowship too. We joked and teased and enjoyed the great blessing of each other’s company.

I give our Lord thanks for the blessing of this Christian community. I give thanks for friendship and fellowship and chatter and conversation and communion and laughter and JOY. I give thanks for those folks who show up and help out – again and again and again!   I give thanks that I don’t have to do this alone!