Dear Members and Friends of St. John,
We in Alaska are now in the darkest season of the year. This time, around the winter solstice, a person can leave for work in the dark and return home without sunlight as well. I find this darkness has an affect on my life. Physically, I think I understand hibernation; it is easier to pull the covers back when my eyes open and there are still stars in the sky. Emotionally, there are times of longing for the light. So, I find it easier to become down or discouraged by little things. And big problems can just seem bigger. Personally, that is one of the reasons I spend my days off ice fishing in the winter. It gets me outside into the light. (I’m not sure what my excuse is for fishing in the summer when there is so much light.) Darkness, physical darkness, affects the life of Alaskans and those living in the northern latitudes.
I confess to finding darkness recently in a meeting of local Lutheran pastors. We meet monthly for communication and support. When we gathered in December we had a special guest, Rev. Dr. John Nunes, the President of Concordia University, Bronxville, NY. As we discussed ministry and issues, President Nunes pointed out that, “Our students have never really known a world without terrorism. The majority of our students have no memory of the 911 events.” He went on to say how this dark issue of terrorism, and all it implies, is one that affects the lives of students at this Lutheran college.
Another pastor, younger than I, talked about living with the threat of nuclear war in his days of youth. He confessed that he firmly expected all out conflict between communist and western powers. This dark expectation of horrible destruction colored his attitudes about life.
Still another pastor shared experiences he has encountered with young people, specifically high school students. He said that, for many, their world is dark. They are angry with the world which they have inherited, and its issues and problems. Places these students visit on the internet often speak of war, and death, and sex. He said he has found that death is a common topic of conversation.
As we gathered, these church workers also spoke of issues that our denomination faces, actually issues that all Christian churches face in today’s world. There are a lot of questions, but there seem to be few answers that give the outcomes we might desire. And, there were many medical issues of great concern that we discussed and then prayed over.
What a BLESSING that during dark times we have good news that God has acted to bring light and love and life to our world of darkness. Listen again to the words of Isaiah 9:2, 6-7.
2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. . . 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
The people to whom Isaiah was writing faced national conquest, defeat, ill-treatment, and deportation. The northern kingdom of Israel had been conquered by the historically cruel forces Assyria. The southern kingdom of Judah was facing a coming, similar threat from Babylon. The nations would be torn apart and places of worship destroyed. Yet, the darkness faced by God’s chosen people was not only because of outside threats. Their own rebellion against God, an internal, personal failure, was the greater issue that led to their suffering. Times were dark, and looked to only become darker.
But, for this land of darkness, God sent “a great light.” Isaiah announces it in this way. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” That child promised is the Son of God Himself, born of Mary. That child is Jesus the Savior of the world. Jesus did not come because the people of Israel had earned God’s love. Jesus came because, in their darkness, Israel needed God’s love and forgiveness and life. Jesus comes into our dark world today as the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Jesus comes to a dark world of destruction and sin, of illness and death and brings light because 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. Jesus brings such light to a dark world when by faith, people receive the love of God, and receive forgiveness of their sins, and receive eternal life in heaven as God’s ultimate reality that obliterates the darkness of this sinful world.
There is a reason that Alaskans shoot off their fireworks in the winter rather than in the summer. It is hard to see the fireworks in the light of summer, but during this dark time the light of the fireworks really shines. Similarly, if you travel around to many neighborhoods you will find many displays of Christmas lights. When the leaves are gone and the sky is dark, these colorful lights bring some beauty and hope to our dark world.
I pray that in whatever darkness you find in your world, the Great Light, Jesus, God’s Son and the Savior of the world, brings the light of God’s love and life to you and your loved ones this Christmas.
A Child of God, Thankful that, “The People Walking in Darkness have seen a GREAT LIGHT,”
P.S. I’ll again share pictures from some of the many “Christmas Activities” of the past week.
· Here are a few pictures from Last Week’s Advent Meal.
· Here are some pictures from this year’s Confirmation Christmas Stockings Project.
P.P.S. I did go ice fishing on Monday. Here are pictures from that trip.
P.P.P.S. Please remember Ethan’s Commissioning and Installation Service will be held at St. John Sunday night, December 30, at 6:00 p.m. There will be a “finger food reception” after the service. (Ethan’s family will also be here for the service.) Please sign up to indicate you will be attending.
ABOUT ‘THOUGHTS FROM THE PASTOR’ - I am sending these e-mail messages, hopefully weekly, to all St. John members and friends whose e-mails I have. (I am regularly adding new names of friends and members – in case you are just receiving this e-mail for the first time.) However, if you do not want to receive this e-mail, please let me know, and I’ll gladly leave your name off my list for this message.