Written by Katie Ahern, Office and Communications Administrator
Along with thousands of others on Black Friday, I purchased a few Christmas gifts online. Knowing that many more people may opt for online shopping this year, it was a surprise when I received my packages within a few short days of ordering. For my sister, Meghann, I had picked out a special gift. When the packages arrived, I knew exactly which box was for her. It was the box that had the words “Handle with Care” printed on the outside. Inside the box was a 4-inch by 4-inch white porcelain tile that sits on a small black wooden easel. Printed on the tile in black ink is a quote from Mother Teresa. It reads,
Wash the plate
not because it is dirty
nor because you are told to wash it,
but because you love the person who will use it next.
Part of me picked this gift for my sister because she and her husband have 3 kids all under the age of 7. As you can guess, my nephew and nieces need all the encouragement they can get in remembering to clean up after themselves. But more importantly, I loved the message.
When we come from love in all that we do, I can’t think of a situation that isn’t transformed. The most mundane task, such as washing the dishes, all of a sudden becomes an opportunity to show an act of loving service to another. The everyday moments become special when we harness the gift of loving presence. It’s something that is completely free, innate to our human design, and simply asks to be expressed – not in grand gesture- rather, right into the experience that is in front of us. Isn’t this exactly what the spirit of Christmas is about? Doing whatever you do from a place of love, for no other reason than because it feels good to be a loving person?
I invite each of you, in this week leading up to Jesus's birth, to reflect on one small way that you can be the presence of love in your everyday doings. Be the person who lights up those around you in the checkout line because you radiate a special lighthearted joy. Share a compliment with the cashier at the drive thru. I promise it will put a smile on their face or lighten their mood. Express an extra “I love you” to your kids, spouse, pets, or family members in an unexpected moment.
There are so many different ways and opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus, but I encourage you to also radiate the heart of Jesus wherever you find yourself this Christmas, and in all the days after. May God shine His loving presence on each of you and those you love this Christmas season!
Written by Jenny Popp & Deb Wolterstorff
What have you been feeling this year? Anticipation? Uncertainty? Frustration? Uneasiness? Gratefulness? Desire for safety? Longing for other times? Joy? Loss? Disappointment? Calm? Hope?
We all desire normalcy. Yet, what does that even mean anymore? Just think, a year ago, we had NO idea what was coming. We gathered together...TOGETHER. That seems like such a magical thing right now. Since then, we have experienced and learned so many new things. Our kids, at a tender age, are now experts at wearing face masks, quarantining, Zoom meetings, social distancing, toilet paper shortages, stay at home orders, hybrid and distance learning, living with new disappointments, and at the same time learning to problem solve and be creative.
It was while watching a flag football game (while sitting 6-feet physically distanced) that we, Jenny and Deb, had a conversation about the upcoming Advent season and what we would miss. We talked about how we would miss seeing familiar family and friends at church. We would miss the music, the decorations, the connection with one another, and sharing of stories. We would miss being able to sing “Silent Night” by candlelight all together. We also felt sad and disappointed for our kiddos who would miss out on the joy of our annual Christmas Pageant and choral celebration. “What could we do that could still bring some joy?” we thought. “How can we think differently about how to do a Christmas Pageant? How has our community been affected by events this year? Could we reach other members who might be feeling similar things as well?”
We wanted to be able to come together in some way to bring to light concerns and struggles in our community. We also wanted to be able to tell the hopeful story of Jesus’ birth, even though it would be different. We might not be able to sing and act out things all together, but it didn’t mean that we couldn’t weave a new type of pageant together. We might have 3 different Gabriel angels, and 4 different people playing Mary, but we could still tell the story of Jesus’ birth.
We are so excited to share with you a story we all know. A story about hope, peace, joy and love. We want to thank everyone who played a role in bringing this story to life.
-Jenny Popp and Deb Wolterstorff
Part of my uneasiness, I discovered, involved grieving. We have been grieving so many things this year. Some of us more than others, some of us with very deep losses, and for various reasons. We have all probably felt some kind of loss. Yet, how can we be there for each other? How can Christ be our light and hope with us?
“Welcome to Our World” by Chris Rice, to me has been a prayer in this season, in our world that currently seems so sick and broken. In our world that can still continue to have light and hope.
Welcome to Our World
Tears are falling, hearts are breaking
How we need to hear from God.
You’ve been promised, we’ve been waiting
Welcome Holy Child.
Hope that You don’t mind our manger
How I wish we could have known
But long-awaited Holy Stranger
Make Yourself at home.
Please make Yourself at home.
Bring Your peace into our violence
Bid our hungry souls be filled
Word now breaking Heaven’s silence
Welcome to our World.
Fragile finger sent to heal us
Tender brow prepared for thorn
Tiny heart whose blood will save us
Unto us is born
So wrap our injured flesh around You
Breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sins and make us holy
Perfect Son of God
Welcome to our world.
Written by Pastor Peter Hanson, Lead Pastor
One of the writing projects I completed on my Sabbatical was for the online devotional D365.org. Writing in the end of March—two or three weeks into the “stay-at-home” order as the Covid-19 pandemic was just unfolding—I imagined the joy we would all feel when we were finally able to gather again, to sing together and listen to our choir, to share handshakes and hugs, to occupy the same space, even at close proximity. At the time, I imagined that this might happen around Memorial Day, or maybe as late as mid-June.
Nine months later, that all seems naïve, giving new meaning to the phrase “2020 hindsight.”
Folks, I don’t have to tell you that we are in this for the long haul. What we imagined might last a matter of weeks is about to enter its tenth month—with the hardest months, many experts say, still ahead of us. Advent and Christmas are shaping up to be much different than we could have imagined. We will not gather in our crowded sanctuary to sing familiar carols by candlelight this year. We will not travel long miles to be with family on Christmas morning. We will not bounce from one open house to another to ring in the new year. We have set aside many of our traditions in order to do our best to keep one another safe and healthy.
In a recent pastoral letter, our Synod Bishop, Patricia Lull, reminded us of some of the writings Martin Luther produced during his own 11-month quarantine. One such work reveals one of Luther’s core convictions, that “the God we have in Jesus Christ is a God who comes to us where we are.” Bishop Lull continues, “As Luther learned deeply from his own time in seclusion, announcing that venturesome faithfulness of God is the single message we have to offer others, speaking it in season and out. It is still God’s good news for us today. The kind of God we have in Jesus Christ is a God who comes to us where we are, even if that means coming to find us in all the messiness of 2020.”
I have long said that I believe that this ongoing time of separation and confinement, of innovating our ministries and refining our priorities, may just be preparing us for some yet undetermined new way of being church together. Convinced that God comes to us where we are, perhaps this season is a new and extended take on Advent. We are watching, we are waiting, we are preparing.
We are attentive to God’s word, listening for God’s voice, ready for God’s presence. We remain engaged—joining for worship over previously unknown platforms, connecting with one another via phone calls and email, holding each other more deeply in prayer than ever. We imagine what it will be like to be together again, even as we become more and more aware that it may still be quite some time before that happens. We give thanks for health care workers and essential service providers, and others who make this separation more bearable. We watch and wait for an efficient vaccine, continuing to do what we can to slow the spread of the virus in the meantime.
We are in this for the long haul. And so is our God. The God we know in Jesus Christ comes to us where we are, sits with us in our confinement, and walks with us along each and every one of these unfamiliar pathways.
Thanks be to God!
Covid Relief Funds Still Available.
As the long-haul effects of Covid-19 and related economic challenges continue, please know that CtK still has funds available to help members who are experiencing financial difficulties as a result. We are all in this together! If you are in need of some of these funds, please speak with any of the pastoral staff for assistance.
Written by Pastor John, Associate Pastor
I have written some version of these words many times throughout 2020, but here they are again: this Advent and Christmas season will be unlike any other we have experienced. With a newly issued executive order in our state, and hospital beds across Minnesota completely full, it's more important than ever that we stay put in our homes for the next few weeks. We hope and pray this will be the last time.
Even though we know this is the right thing to do, it's still hard. Especially at this time of year, as cold weather and darkness encroach. There's nothing that gets me through a long Minnesota winter more than gathering in warm, bright places with my community, singing carols and inhaling all the sugar, butter, and lefse my body can handle. There's nothing better for my spirit than lighting a candle, singing a prayer, and remembering the hope of Christ Jesus being born anew within our hearts, within this whole groaning creation.
This year, we won't get to physically do any of these things in the company of others. Which means, more than ever, we will each have to figure out a way to dwell and trust in the faith we carry within us, the faith we have in Christ. Simple words from a plaintive chant will ground and center our worship this Advent season:
In silence we wait, in darkness you come to us; bring us your light.
These words have already been serving as a kind of mantra for me this winter. Every other year, we have been so quick to buy into dualisms between darkness and light, despair and hope. "Don't let darkness snuff it out, I'm gonna let it shine!" we sing from an early age. But here, in the words of this chant, another truth breaks through: Christ comes to us in darkness. Darkness, in this sense, is not at all equated with "bad." Darkness is a reality of life sometimes, and God consistently shows up most powerfully in dark places:
Daniel is entombed in a lion's den, and God protects him there. God's Spirit hovers over the deep darkness and is present there before those first words of the Creator usher forth: "Let there be light." A new creation begins to grow within the darkness of Mary's womb. When this baby grows up and faces death, something happens within the darkness of that tomb - the grave - that has laid the foundation of our faith for millennia.
This has been a hard year, but there really can be a gift in hard things. God meets us in suffering and in darkness just as powerfully as God meets us in joy and in light. Church, let this be the year where we find the power of God in the beautiful darkness. Next year, by God's grace, it will be all joy, all carols, all brightness.
In silence, we wait.