An Advent Message: Isaiah 2

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Here’s the Advent wreath I made, featuring greens collected on my early morning walk along the rail trail behind Sofie’s Hill. The first candle of “hope” shines brightly. 

 

 

Day 20—An Advent Prayer

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.

December 20

On this the fourth Sunday in Advent, I invite you to light the candle of love on the Advent wreath (or simply light one lone candle) and join with me in saying this prayer written by one of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen.

 Lord Jesus,

Master of both the light and the darkness, 
send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.


We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.

We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.

We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.


We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.

We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.


To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”

 Our advent journey has now become a holy walk to the stable. And so join in tomorrow for the countdown to Christmas Day with “A Little White Church Christmas.”

For now, many thanks for joining me this advent. It has been a blessing for me to share with you the heartfelt God moments that took place—and continue taking place—at the little white church.

And now  I have a candle to light and an Advent prayer to lift up. I hope you take time to do the same.

Till tomorrow.

Blessings and peace,

Pastor Donna (one very grateful “accidental country pastor”)IMG_1828

Day 8—Who’s Lighting the Advent Wreath?

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.

imagesDecember 8

Perhaps the lighting of the Advent wreath is a sensitive subject for me or maybe, just maybe, life’s circumstances have made me ultra aware of the “others” in our midst who we often overlook for one reason or another, especially in the season in which we prepare for Christ’s birth.

As a child sitting in the pew of the Congregational church my mom and dad took us kids to, I had to watch my church school nemesis be the star of the candle lighting liturgy every year, all the time wondering why I wasn’t up there doing it with my family? I never really did get an acceptable answer from my mom as to why and so I continued to wonder? Was it me? Was I not to be trusted with fire? Was it because my older brother had a disability and didn’t fit the picture of a family who should light the Advent wreath? Why weren’t we up there?

So when the time came for me as a pastor to help line up families to light the candles on the wreath I made sure I wasn’t going to fall into the trap many of our churches fall into. I wasn’t going to go for the ooh and ah factor of having the family with the cute little tots up there around the wreath. I wasn’t going to reinforce what the church thinks is hope in the future—young families with adorable token children in tow.

Christmas is a wonderful season for children. And, of course, it is a blessing to see families bringing up their children in the faith. But the message of Christmas is one that should remind us why God had to send His Son Jesus to us—because we are far from perfect.

We are broken. Families are fractured. Divisions are the norm and heartache seems to come more so than joy at times. Jesus had his own Christmas list of what to bless us with. That was to bring hope to the hopeless; to feed the hungry; clothe the naked; visit the lonely; comfort the grieving; welcome the stranger; etc.

So what better way to tell the beautiful story of Christmas than by inviting those who Jesus came to save and comfort to light the candles around the wreath?

And so as Advent approached I decided to present to the congregation what God’s picture perfect family of faith really looked like.

One year I asked those who are often forgotten at Christmastime to light the candles—men and women who were single and trying their best to smile even though the holidays accentuated the ache in their lonely hearts all the more.

I made sure the woman who was in her 40s and aching for a child of her own lit the candle of hope. I knew her struggle and so when the light of one flame shone on her face, I could swear it was God’s light kissing her tears away.

I made sure the one who was recently divorced had the chance to light the candle of peace, letting that promise of Advent enter into her heart and ease the discourse that had been in her life.

For the matriarch of the church whose feeble body made her feel as if she was no longer of use to anyone, she was the one who slowly walked up to light the candle of joy, a reminder to her and to all who watched that God was not yet done with any of us. And so the Advent line up of less than picture perfect families made their way to the Advent wreath each week to light the candles.

But perhaps the most powerful of all Advents was the year those who had recently lost loved ones were invited to the Advent wreath. Candle after candle was lit and the light of Christ’s Advent promises mingled with another promise—we are never alone. We have God and we have one another, a mish mosh of folks called together to be “family” to one another and who, in the sharing of our weaknesses, our struggles, our doubts and our insecurities, we find strength.

Who’s lighting the Advent wreath? The children of God who are telling the story beautifully as to why God sent his Son to us, that’s who.

 

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 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.

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The Advent wreath of evergreen collected from the woods and hills and fields all around the little white church. 

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.