Come on an Advent journey and walk the rural roads and snow covered paths with Donna Frischknecht as she shares stories of God’s promises being fulfilled in the most amazing ways. These stories of “Emmanuel”—God with us—were gathered during her time serving as an accidental country pastor in a historic white clapboard church in upstate New York, right on the border of Vermont, from 2007-2013.
December 1: Gathering the Evergreen
It is I who answer and look after you.
I am like an evergreen cypress;
your faithfulness comes from me. Hosea 14:8
The first Sunday in Advent was approaching and apprehension and excitement filled my heart. This wasn’t just any first Sunday in Advent. It was for me my first Sunday in Advent of my first church as a newly ordained pastor who would be lighting the first candle on the Advent wreath with my first ever congregation.
Whew! There were definitely a lot of “firsts” taking place in my life and taking place all at once it seemed, as this was also the first time I was some distance from my mom and dad. A twinge of homesickness struck as I realized an impromptu cup of coffee with them was not going to happen as it once did. I looked around at the boxes still to be unpacked in my new “home sweet home”—an antique saltbox dating back to 1760-something—and as I did, I began humming the Christmas classic, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
My trusty roommate, Sullivan, an elderly eighteen pound cat who had come to me as a kitten when I was still an editor living in Manhattan and who had not-so-patiently endured the long drive to his new country abode, jumped on top of the table where I worked on the worship bulletin and nuzzled his head against my hand.
Please have snow and mistletoe…
The good news was my new home already had snow as the day after the moving van unloaded my belongings white flakes had fallen, covering the world in a peaceful beauty that only newly fallen snow can do. And mistletoe? Well, that was also in abundance. All I had to do was walk into the woods and fields and rolling hills surrounding me to get myself some festive boughs of any and all kind.
I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams…
The first Sunday in Advent was approaching. Apprehension, excitement and a wee bit of homesickness filled my heart.
“Sully,” I said to my trusty feline companion. “I know just what we need.” On went my coat and my mittens and off I went to explore the woods and fields and rolling hills to gather greenery of all kinds to make an Advent wreath for my new home. This would ease my apprehension. This would take away the twinge of homesickness.
As a child, making the Advent wreath was a much-awaited tradition that came after the last of the Thanksgiving turkey was eaten. But being we lived in a congested area in New Jersey, we often had to go to a nursery and buy an armful of evergreen for our wreath. Here, though, in what was known by locals as “God’s country” there was evergreen to be had right at your fingertips.
The walk in God’s country turned out to be the healing balm I needed for as I walked in the crisp air and heard nothing but the crunching of snow beneath me, I was reminded of why we deck our homes with evergreen in this barren time of year.
For just as God reminded his prophet Hosea, God reminds us all that He is like an evergreen cypress or a flourishing juniper or a tall fir (depending on which Bible translation you read). Our faithfulness and our hope come from God and God alone. With each evergreen bough I placed in my arms, I held on to the truth that God’s great faithfulness had never failed me. Nor would it ever. This was going to be one very special Advent wreath that would get me through the many firsts happening in my life.
That night as I opened a can of soup for my dinner for one, I decided to prematurely light the first candle on my newly created Advent wreath. Perhaps I did so because I needed the promise of hope to shine now rather than to shine later. And so I lit the candle. Sully jumped up on to my lap and together we watched the one flame dance a dance of joy made ever more joyful with the drafts that blew through the many cracks and gaps in the windows of the old saltbox. As it danced, I wondered…
What would my first Sunday in Advent at the first church I was pastoring with my first congregation be like? What would the music be like? What would the attendance be? I wondered about those I would meet and come to know in the days and months and years to come. And all of a sudden, I wondered what would their Advent wreath be like? Would fake evergreen be used? Would there be no evergreen in favor of just a wrought iron ring?
My Sunday morning of firsts finally arrived. As I entered into the quiet sanctuary an hour before worship began, I noticed something that took away my apprehension and replaced my twinge of homesickness with the most reassuring “welcome home.” There before me was the church’s Advent wreath that looked oh so familiar. The wreath featured the same evergreen of every kind that I had just picked out in the woods, the fields and the hills of my new home. I soon learned that each year the wreath was made by the loving hands of those who knew what I had come to know—there is a healing balm out in the woods and hills and fields that God has blessed us with. And it is there in the simplicity of life, like gathering evergreen from your own backyard, that one can see more clearly that with God there is always an abundance of beauty to gaze upon, of daily bread to eat, and of grace to receive.
The first candle in Advent was lit on the first Sunday as an installed ordained pastor in the first church I was pastoring with my first ever faith family. And the candle danced with hope and with joy around a wreath of evergreen that reminded us all—God is like an evergreen cypress, a flourishing juniper…God’s faithfulness never ends.
May today you gather evergreen for your home and may it not be just some holiday decoration. May it be the reminder we need reminding of always—God is forever faithful.