A Little White Church Advent
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 minister in a historic white clapboard church in upstate New York, right on the border of Vermont, from 2007-2013.
There’s a figurine of an angel sitting on one of my many 18th century antique finds—an old farm table that I now use as my writing desk.
The angel is kneeling with her head slightly bowed and her hands folded in prayer. In between the tasks occupying my time while at that desk—writing, texting, emailing, making and returning calls—I often find myself gazing at her. And with each gaze I give her, she in turn gives me something back: the resolve to hold on to faith whenever my faith is wavering.
This serene, prayerful angel who restores my faith, though, is no ordinary angel. She is an angel that has been put through the ringer.
It was days before Christmas when I found her sitting on my still-covered-with-snow porch. She was nestled in simple brown tissue paper and gently placed in a just as simple brown paper bag. There was no card or gift tag on the bag, but the beautiful sprig of holly told me who my secret Santa was. I recognized the holly from the Christmas tree farm that was just down the dirt road from my house. And so I knew at that moment this gift was from my neighbor who probably thought I, a busy pastor made even more so due to the Christmas season, could use a little cheer—and perhaps, some extra prayers.
When I took the angel out of her paper bag home, she revealed her heavenly wings to me made out of wire and a wire halo as well. She was the picture of perfection. My bumbling Bernese mountain dog, Sofie, then a puppy, thought this angel was perfect, too. That is, a perfect gift for her.
While I was at Bible study that evening, Sofie decided to play with her new toy, the angel. By the time I came home, wire wings all twisted up greeted me on the floor of the front door and I knew this didn’t bode well for what was to come. Into the living I went and there on the couch was Sofie holding the angel in her two front paws and looking up at me with her big brown eyes, never stopping for one second the enjoyable licking she was doing on top of the angel’s head.
How could I be mad at this puppy? It looked to me as if Sofie, too, love this prayer angel.
I gently pried the angel from her paws and gave her a feeble, “bad, dog,” that didn’t do much good in the puppy training department as it was topped off with a loving kiss on top her head.
I placed the angel up high on a shelf feeling sad for her as it now looked as if she had been through a war. Her hair was licked gone and her wings and halo stripped from her.
As I finally made my way to bed later that night, I passed by the figurine and stopped and stared at her. I know it was just my imagination, but she seemed to glow with joy. Her wings were gone; her halo missing; her brown hair licked away and chewed up and scratches galore; and yet, she was still the picture of perfection with her head gracefully bowed down and hands folded in prayer.
She was the picture of perfection for the perfection she now spoke of was her resolve to never stop praying no matter what. It was in that moment the angel became even more precious to me than when I took her out of the simple brown paper bag decorated with sprigs of holly, because now I saw in that angel a reflection of myself, a reflection of those who called the little white church their home and a reflection of all humankind. We are all battered and bruised. But that doesn’t mean we give up on praying and praising. We keep on lifting our voices to God who always hears us.
While the multitude of the heavenly hosts sing this time of year a soaring chorus of “Glory to God in the highest!” my battered prayer angel sings another song I need to be reminded of at Christmas. A song I need when I begin falling into the trap of thinking my prayers, my sermons, my pastoral visits, my gifts I buy for others, etc., all need to be perfect.
The song my battered angel sings is the old spiritual that goes like this, “some times I feel discourage, and think my work’s in vain, but then the Holy Spirit, revives my soul again.”
I wish everyone had battered and bruised prayer angel sitting on a desk or shelf or a fireplace mantle, especially this time of year.
For Christmas is a time we need to let go of the elusive idea of perfection. (Reminder to all, there is no such thing as a perfect family or perfect children.)
Christmas is the time of year we need to bring our battered selves to the side of the cradle where the Christ child is. We need to pour out our ardent prayers and let the Christ child take our battered and bruised lives and turn them into something beautiful. We, in return, need to keep on praying. Always. No matter what condition we are in.