Those in Exile

An Accidental Country Pastor’s Advent Journey 

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 and unexpected ways. 

Advent Day 1:

O come, o come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.

Advent is a season that begins in a puzzling way for our culture. It begins not with the festive “ho, ho, ho’s” and bright twinkling lights. Advent begins with the dark still hovering over the land, with people yearning to see light.

It’s a season that begins with the invitation for us to listen to the voices of those in exile. To really listen to the mournful voices who cry out to God to be delivered from suffering. The voices who beg to be heard. The voices who simply want to be “home.”

We’re in a season where that ache to be home is very real for so many. The ache could be the desire to be physically home. My sister knows that ache. She and her husband moved to Florida a few weeks ago and are having to live in an extended-stay motel as the completion date of their house has been delayed. Her hope to have been in their new home for Christmas will probably not happen this year.

The joy of beginning a new chapter is not quite what she had envisioned. She had envisioned a glistening Christmas tree standing in her very own living room. But here she is. Right now. Not home. Yet.

Then there is the ache that I think is the more common this time of year. One we know all too well, especially as we get older. The ache to return to the home of one’s childhood. There you can once again smell the warm sugar cookies mom is taking out of the oven. You can see dad teetering on the ladder positioning the faded plastic reindeer just right. You can see the faces of all you love gathered at the dinner table. Their faces are glowing in the light of the candles on the Advent wreath.

We’re in the season of Advent and it’s a time to take note of those who long to be home. It’s time to hear their voices and offer them a listening ear, an understanding heart, the patience of a saint to perhaps listen to a story of Christmas past you have heard many times before. It’s time to offer a tissue to catch the tear from the eye of a friend who longs for a loved one who has gone home.

Advent is about the promise that is coming. The promise that no matter what exile you find yourself in there will be rejoicing again. The light of Christ will break through the darkness.

I know a little a bit about being in exile.

This time last year I was longing to be home again in Vermont. I knew God had a plan for me. I knew God had ministry for me to do back home. I knew it. But God knew I also had some things to learn while away from home. I needed once again to trust in the darkness. I needed to wait for the rejoicing to come. I needed to continue loving God, worshipping God, seeking God, even when it seemed God had checked me off the “nice” list and was making sure I wouldn’t get my Christmas wish list fulfilled.

I was tempted to give up, give in. There were days in which I had to face the reality that perhaps I couldn’t go back home. Then, as it was to the children of Israel so long ago, their time of waiting ended. It was time to go home. God heard in the most unexpected ways and God led me back.

And here I now sit back at my farm table writing, in my role as “an accidental country pastor,” traveling country roads dotted with cows and back to the way of life that those in the little white church I once pastored invited me to be part of—a life filled with an unwavering hope in the future, no matter how dark the days get, because they have seen how God has never let the down.

As we begin our Advent journey, may you remember that God never lets you down either. God always hears the cries of those in exile and leads us back to the place in which we will once again find ourselves rejoicing.

Scripture to Reflect On

Jeremiah 33:14-16

The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called:  The Lord Our Righteous Savior.

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A candle of hope burns on the sill of my kitchen window. 

Day 19—Holy Silences

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 19

What did I love most about being an accidental country pastor?

Many things, but if I had to mention one it would be the holy silences I often found myself immersed in during the season of Advent and Christmas.

Silences?images

Holy?

In the season of Christmas?

I know, I know. You’re probably wondering what in heaven’s name am I talking about, especially now in this the final mad dash to the BIG DAY, when there are very few moments of silence to be had.

Christmas music plays nonstop in the background of malls and grocery stores, reminding you to hurry and shop for time is a wasting. Then there are the churches with their cantatas and choral societies with their concerts tugging at your time. Let’s not forget schools as well have their schedules of winter concerts to attend. On top of all the noise of musical offerings filling up the Christmas airwaves, there is the chatter of all the Christmas parties, both work and family, edging out any opportunity for a moment of holy silence.

And yet my time at the little white church there was always the beauty of the holy silences of Christmas all around me that I treasured.

There was the holy silence in the early morning walk to the chicken coop to say good morning to Drumstick, BBQ, Red, Chick, Sam and Fido. Don’t ask. The kids at the church named my chickens for me.

There was something so healing to my soul to greet my feathered friends and give them fresh water and then peek inside the coop to see what gifts they had waiting for me.

In that quiet moment, all anxious thoughts as to what to preach Christmas Eve melted away into a peaceful assurance that the words would indeed come.

While the coop was a ways from the house and not equipped with any electric, thus, my daily routine of chipping out the ice in their water dish and replenishing it with fresh water, I never minded the walk even in many feet of snow to trudge through.

When I was done tending to them, I would turn back towards the house only to notice how beautifully the sun was coming up over the field. Many times I would find myself standing there in the snow besides the coop not believing God had actually given me this life.

There I stood in holy silence, interrupted only by an occasional cluck, cluck from Drumstick—or Fido—they both sounded the same. There I stood allowing the holy silence to fill my heart with a song of never-ending praise that began my day in the most perfect way.

There was also the holy silence of the season of just sitting on the back porch in the late afternoon before dinner was ready and then heading out to my nighttime commitments at the church.

I would sit on the porch swing and look up at the tree line on the hills of the property. As the sun was setting its beams would peek through the bare trees in such a way that it always formed the image of a cross.

I tried as often as I could to make sure I was sitting on the porch swing at just the right time so I could be blessed by the sun’s gift of an illumined cross appearing, reminding me once again, the best gifts are not from a store. The best gifts are the ones God gives to us that are all around us.

I would swing gently back and forth. No Christmas music, no chatter, not even the sound of car going by…just a sweet stillness and a cross to mediate on.

And then there was my most favorite holy silence. The one that came on Christmas Eve when I would enter into the sanctuary of the little white church yet to be filled with holiday worshippers. With only the light of the setting sun coming through the multi-paned clear windows, I would stop and stare at the beauty of a heavenly warmth washing over the sanctuary’s colonial décor of cheerful yellow walls and wooden pews painted white.

The strong smell of evergreen wafted in the room as there was always a big tree given to the church by a local farm. The holy silence of an empty sanctuary before the doors would open for Christmas Eve worship was for me my time of worship. My time to be still before God and to receive the gift of His blessed presence.

Holy silences are important in our lives. They are especially important at Christmastime for it is in the quiet moments when we finally stop “doing” Christmas that we actual begin to experience Christ with us. And that’s what Christmas is really all about.

And yet we feel there is still have so much to do to make Christmas what we think it should be. Here’s a gentle reality check if your Christmas list still has many items yet to be crossed off.

Jesus came that Christmas so long ago into a world that was not quite ready for him. Mary and Joseph were making a road trip to Bethlehem, thinking they probably would have time to get that darn census taking care of before Mary gave birth. But the baby came before Mary and Joseph were ready. There was no room at the inn. There weren’t any baby clothes or blankets or crib waiting. It’s safe to say there were items left undone on Mary’s list at that first Christmas.

And besides a heavenly host of angels and some shepherds swinging by to see baby Jesus, the world didn’t really do anything extraordinary for our Savior’s birth. Jesus came into a world that was simply going about its business.

We need to remember the lesson in that. So often we look for God in the extraordinary moments of life when in fact God is right there in all the mundane routines—and unfinished tasks—of life. And sometimes the best realization of Emmanuel, God with us, happens when we simply stop running around and allow the holy silences to speak to us.

As the Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” sings “how silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given” we are reminded the wondrous gift is still given in the silences we need to either seek or carve out in a busy, loud world.

So if you are looking to create a magical Christmas, start with the holy silences.

I am enjoying one right now as I sit here and type and listen to nothing but a soft snore coming from my bumbling Bernese Mountain dog, Sofie, who is sleeping in the glow of nothing but the Christmas tree lights on in my living room.

I know this holy silence will not last. I have things on my Christmas list still to check off, but I am not going to stress over it. For now I have been given the gift of God’s presence and in this, my holy silence, I whisper my thank you to God.

The countdown to Christmas has begun and with it comes a flurry of last minute items to attend to, but try to make it a priority to create or find some holy silences.

For while the wondrous gift is given in silence, it is also in the holy silences the wondrous gift is truly received.