Connecting the Dots

If ever there was a season for sharing our stories with one another, it’s the season of Advent. Advent is a season for gathering stories—the narratives of our lives. Even better, Advent leads the way as it ventures to gather up the accounts of the Bible—which are our stories, too—and it aims them at Jesus.

I like that.

I like that Advent plays by the all-important rule that Jesus is the key to understanding the Holy Scriptures. If you don’t approach the Bible through the lens of the Gospel, you won’t be able to see the whole picture. Your connect-the-dot picture of a puppy will look like more like a tornado of scribbles.

A big part of being a Christian is being able to connect the dots that no one else can. It means beholding this world’s monsters stacking tragedy upon tragedy and knowing the deeper concern behind it all. It also means seeing our God laboring in the middle of all of it for our rescue through the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ. It means being able to see Him through the fog—to see Him when and where the world can’t.

Jesus said that would be the case for His believers. In John 14:19, He said that He was going away, and yet, even as the world wouldn’t be able to see Him, we would.

Now, you may be thinking that I’m carrying this toward Christians beholding God in the gentle display of a mid-summer rain shower or the majestic grandeur of an Appalachian mountain range in winter. But that’s not what Jesus meant, and so that’s not where I’m going. That’s natural revelation. Everyone, even unbelievers, can look to these things and know there’s a chance that a divine Someone is behind it.

I’m also not headed to where my confessional friends would expect, which is to the sacramental nature of the Lord’s words, being that He said them in context of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Yes, we see Him there, even as many can’t or just won’t. Still, that would be too easy, and that’s not what started this thread spooling in my head, anyway.

I’m thinking of something else. I have Matthew 18:1-3 in mind.

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’”

Perhaps one of the best ways to figure out what I’m talking about is to set yourself at the feet of a Christian child. Wind the child up for discussion by mentioning Jesus, and then let ’im go. Let the little one do the instructing. Of course, not just any child can do this, but rather, one who is actually being raised in the faith—a little one who is taken to church with devout regularity, a child immersed in the discussions of faith at home with family, a child who’d consider it bizarre to eat a meal without first praying, whether at home or at McDonald’s. These kids can connect the dots far better than most adults.

I’ll give you a very brief example.

This past Friday morning, my daughter Evelyn and I were making our way to school through the chilly darkness of a Michigan December. All the way there we listened and sang along to The Beach Boys.

California Girls. Good Vibrations. Fun, Fun, Fun. Surfin’ Safari. Little Deuce Coupe. I Get Around. All of our favorites were gushing from the roll bar speakers of the Jeep.

Winter was upon us, but our hearts proved a longing for summer. But then, right in the middle of it…

“If summer were Christmas,” Evelyn said, “these would be Advent songs.”

“Wha—?”

I was stunned, and I nearly drove off the road.

The ten-year-old girl was right. She could see a much bigger picture. She didn’t have to search for Jesus. She was proving herself attuned to Him, showing it was far too natural for her to know Him by faith in relation to even that very moment. In other words, she demonstrated her otherworldly eyesight by making the deeply intricate connection that Advent comes to us as people existing in the wintry darkness of Sin and Death. It sees us in our longing for rescue. And yet, it brings us along on hopeful melodies that look not only toward the warming sunrise of Jesus in Bethlehem, but to the full on summer of His second coming at the Last Day.

Evelyn had connected the dots. She could see Jesus where the world could not. By her leading, I saw Him, too.

My prayer for you is that you would see Jesus so easily—that you would know He is with you in each and every moment.

I’ll admit it can be a lot harder for adults in this regard. We’re carrying things children aren’t. Still, our Lord urges us to believe as they do, setting an even deeper plea before us: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

These are good words—just a few more dots in a design that sketches our kindly Advent King, Jesus.

I’d Like to Tell You a Story

I’d like to tell you a story. I’ve been given permission to tell it for your benefit. In some ways, many of you already know the tale’s beginning, because it is a telling of familiar things.

What I’m about to describe happened last Thursday. Even at 9:00 AM, the December sky was successfully holding back the sun’s exuberance, leaving a pre-dawn feeling.

Through my office window, I saw the counterpart to my morning meeting making her way from the parking lot to the church doors. I’d promised her the evening before following the Advent service that I’d have coffee ready and waiting when she arrived, and so I reached for and dropped a K-cup into my Keurig. A newly washed mug was already in waiting below. The reservoir was empty, so it took a quick moment to fill it. In an instant, the coffee was flowing. As it did, I was out and down the office hallway toward the darkened entryway searching for my guest.

I didn’t see her at first, although admittedly, I wasn’t wearing my glasses. Assuming she may have taken a sideway into the restroom, I stood near the door to the offices. The day school children—all but a few of the 131 of them—were already in the church nave, gathered at the chancel and practicing for the Children’s Christmas service only a few weeks away. They were rehearsing the final hymn, a masterfully orchestrated rendition of “Silent Night,” which, if you’ve ever been to this Office of Evening Prayer service, then you know there is little to compare. Because I’ve participated in it for more than twenty years, I can see it now as I think on it.

The air is cool. The pews are filled. Family and friends sit compactly, yet happily. The nave and sanctuary are dimly lit. The candles throughout are fluttering, each child holding their own light. The Advent and Christmas décor is twinkling. The voices of the children hover above all of it on the pipe organ’s melodies, as if the collective sound is coming from the heavens above, rather than the earth beneath.

It’s always quite moving. Even the rehearsals can carry a listener into divine spaces.

And then I saw my guest. Actually, no. I didn’t see her. I heard her. She was barely a step from the entryway into the narthex—and she was crying. When she saw me approaching, she quickly began wiping the tears away only to begin sobbing more deeply.

“I needed this, today,” she choked. “This is the first thing God gave me when I walked into this place this morning, and I truly needed it.”

I was gentle with my words, making sure there was no shame in the moment. What she was doing was well and good in such a place. The Lord Himself knows I’ve been in similar situations. It can be overwhelming to hear the Gospel wrapped up and delivered in a way that truly communicates its divine origin. Tears are sometimes the soul’s only reply.

We made our way down the hallway to my office. We spent the next hour sipping coffee and talking about a multitude of things. Amidst the confession of some harder histories, she noted there was no place she’d ever experienced like Our Savior. Having been raised Christian, she fell away in the years beyond her 18th birthday. But in these latter days, the need for something more had begun to overwhelm her.

She’d visited countless other churches—Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and mostly otherwise—still, she never found herself in a pew or stadium seat that actually communicated a station before eternity. She didn’t say it with the precision that I intend to share right now, but again, I’ve been given permission to tell this story.

Her words crafted a narrative of far too many churches that, by their practices, imply the selling of religion. They sought to draw her closer to their ranks in the same ways the world might try—rock bands, screens, you name it. But in the swirling confusion of their seat-filling stratagem, they never could quite reach that part of her insides that was suffering. Their Gospel of justification before God always seemed wired to her ability to produce good deeds (which, for the wayward, can only default into terror), or by making a personal choice (and yet, how can a spiritual corpse—someone who knows oneself to be dead in trespasses and sins—choose Jesus?). Their sacraments were symbols, bringing very little consolation or certainty to a broken heart in need of more than referring to Jesus, but actually meeting with Him—literally—and knowing He’s there for her.

But at Our Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hartland, Michigan, there was the sense of something unalike to these others.

“Our Savior is so different,” she said, repeatedly. “You’re not like the other places I’ve been.”

For her, the facility in which she was currently seated was different. For her, it not only had a sign that bore the title “church,” but once inside, it seemed to be a dwelling place for someone or something so much more—something holy. And over the course of the several Sundays she’d attended, of the people greeting and sitting beside her, none gave any sense to having been gathered by some sort of baiting impetus. None in the surrounding pews were there because of a lead guitarist with amazing skill. None were there because the pastors were stand-apart showman among a sea of humdrum preachers. None were there for a show.

And she wasn’t, either. She was in search of a place where the Divine might dwell, and her hope was that when she found Him, He’d take her back.

Stirring in this humble hope, she discovered herself sitting, standing, kneeling, praying, confessing, singing beside hundreds of others—acknowledged sinners, just like her—being carried along by a historic liturgy of solemnity and reverence. She was immersed in a service that, while strange in comparison to everything she’d collided with prior, she knew could only have been born from the same soil as countless generations of worshippers before her, a framework that began in the tiny house churches of the first century, built on the teachings of the Apostles and Prophets, all in place and sprouting up through the centuries to aim penitently grieving offenders to a gracious God who desires nothing more than to come and sit with them, to give them a Gospel of power that assures our deeds play no part in our salvation, a Gospel that takes hold of spiritual corpses and brings them to life, a Gospel that heals them and draws them close to the Son of God, Jesus Christ. This is a Gospel that heralds our God as one who holds no ill will for the sinner. He loves us. He forgives us. And He promises to be with us no matter how dark our days may be.

We left the conversation as only the Word of God could rightly describe, with the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7), and we made plans to meet on Thursdays at the same time in order to dig deeper into these things.

So, why I am sharing this with you, especially since in this post-modern, radically individualized age such situations happen frequently enough around here that they can barely be considered peculiar?

Chiefly, because I want to remind the members of my own congregation (and I suppose anyone else who may be on their tiptoes peering through the window of our seemingly mundane, but otherworldly, lives here at Our Savior in Hartland, Michigan) of two things in particular.

First, be glad that there are churches that still deal in the more reverential realms of “holy.” Be glad there are churches that keep the boundaries between the Church and the culture as crisply distinct as can be. Such places are in the divine business of building foundations for the long haul. Sure, people have the things they like, their preferences, their styles. To each his own, I suppose. “What works for some might not work for others,” we’ll hear said. Still, I wonder if perhaps that’s a somewhat loaded response for protecting a church formed to oneself, a worship community created in one’s own favorite and time-limited self-image. When you’re gone, what’s next? Whatever the next guy likes to do, I guess. True or not, at a minimum, be well aware that people know—they just know—when they’re being entertained as opposed to being led into the substantive presence of a divine Someone who is far deeper than the wowing experientials indistinguishable from the world around them could ever reach. Sure, the self-image ways may speak of Jesus, but do they really point to Him? Do they really give nothing else but Him? Do they make the introduction? And will it last? Will it survive wars? Will it persist even among the prowling monsters of this age and the next? I wonder.

The second reason I share this returns us to the tears being shed in the Narthex. There’s a reason Our Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hartland, Michigan continues putting our time, treasure, and back-breaking muscle into a tuition-free, preschool through eighth grade school. Not only is it an incomparable opportunity set before our community for getting kids out of the mind-bending education system that’s shoving ungodliness down their tiny throats, but most importantly, it stands as a beacon for immersing generations of little ones in the only message that saves. From this, it becomes nothing less than a longstanding avenue for others to hear that same message through those same little ones. All a person has to do is walk in the doors, and it won’t be long before the bright-beaming light of a Christian child will have its effect on the visitor. Children are the consequential emissaries of our school’s existence. And whether this work happens through the Children’s Christmas service, or it happens among their neighborhood friends, or it happens twenty years from now in a conversation with a fellow employee in the neighboring cubicle, what we’re doing here has limitless horizons that prove themselves as thriving in our children right now. And so we put everything into our efforts here. We give it our best. We teach and preach of Christ. We train in Godliness and reverence, learning the rites and ceremonies, the creeds, the prayers, the hymnodies sung by the early Church Fathers and their people before being fed to lions. And we gather all of it up and cherish all of it together as the wonderfully sturdy gift from a loving God that it is.

It becomes a home base for the kind of Christianity that doesn’t roll over, whether it’s before the next big distracting, anthropocentric, contemporary trend, or it’s an armed regiment sent by Caesar to snatch you away to your mortal doom.

Advent Recalibrates Us

We’ve arrived at the season of Advent. The Christian Church Year has begun anew.

Of course here at Our Savior, it’s a favorite time. This is true not only as we find ourselves brimming with excitement for Christmas—the bright-beaming décor and the colorful adornments—but because we’re conscious of the season’s purpose, and we know the deeper, recalibrating consequence Advent is in place to deliver into our lives.

It sets a very important pace for the whole Church Year.

If Advent were just about getting ready for Christmas, the season’s prescribed readings would betray such an inclination. But they don’t. They’re fuller than that. Advent’s very first Gospel reading—the Palm Sunday reading from Matthew 21—is proof. As was preached yesterday:

Starting off the new Church Year by going straight to Palm Sunday teaches that we live our lives as Christians in a perpetual Holy Week. Everything and anything we do and say from the First Sunday in Advent to the Last Sunday in the Church Year is in motion toward the cross of Jesus Christ.

Advent helps to join our hopeful anticipation of the evening long ago when the Savior of the world was born to the dreadful day on Golgotha’s hill when that same Savior went into the darkness of sin and was crucified, winning our confidence against the looming reality of the day when Jesus will return and the world will be judged.

Advent preaches both the first and the second comings of Christ.

With such preaching, along comes the Law and Gospel, sin and grace, real warning and real hope that humans need. I suppose many church-goers, like the world around us, might prefer we remain in the frothier upland of “Jingle Bells” and such. But Advent digs deeper than that. It’s honest. It doesn’t hold back on the harder news of our spiritual blindness. Advent more than remembers the sightlessness of the sin-nature. The Word of God is clear that without the recreating work of the Holy Spirit by the Gospel message of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, the Savior is unknowable to us (John 1:9-10). In fact, by default, according to the sin-nature, we’re not even the least bit interested in knowing Him (Romans 8:7). We haven’t the slightest morsel of interest for seeking the love that God is bringing. But that right there is perhaps a wonderful glimpse the beautifully balanced gilding of Advent’s. Shakespeare said it well. “Love sought is good, but giv’n unsought is better” (Twelfth Night, III, i, 170). We did not seek the Lord’s love, but He reached to us in Jesus and gave it anyway.

When this message has its way with us, it changes the nature of things. The blur of sorts remains, but now as believers, it isn’t one that doesn’t know what’s coming. It isn’t one that doesn’t know where to discover this hope that helps us see clearly. We’re waiting for Christmas. We can’t see it yet, but we know it’s coming. And when it arrives, we know the substance of the celebration. We’re waiting for Holy Week. We’re not there yet, but we know it will arrive. When it does, we know its innermost drive. We’re always watching for the Last Day. It hasn’t arrived yet. But still, when it does, we’ll be ready.

“Your light will break forth like the dawn,” the Prophet Isaiah says of these things. Paul speaks similarly when he describes us as looking through a dimly lit glass (1 Corinthians 13:12). Both Isaiah and Paul mean to say that even as we are waiting, by faith in Christ, each of these moments already sits at the edge of arrival—and we’re ready.

Believers know this stuff. It’s craziness to the world. But for us, everything is different now.

For those who were with us in the Adult Bible study yesterday, you’ll remember I mentioned that I feel bad for churches that don’t use lectionaries or follow the Church Year Calendar. Those churches are more likely to miss these imports of Advent. They’re more likely to get immersed in a pastor’s favorite topics, being fed anecdote after useless anecdote about anything and everything except a determined preaching of Christ crucified for transgressions—which is the heartbeat of the whole Church Year and its Lectionary, the first of its cadence beginning with Advent.

A four week sermon series on how to be a better tither at Christmas just seems to miss the mark.

By the way, since I mentioned Paul and his dimly light glass, and thinking on a church that knows how to observe Advent in comparison to one that doesn’t, all of this sort of reminds me of a scene from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass:

———-

“I see nobody on the road,” said Alice.

“I only wish I had such eyes,” the King remarked in a fretful tone. “To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance, too! Why, it’s as much as I can do to see real people by this light!”

———-

The scene above might not be the tightest fit, but it did come to mind while typing. Even if only slightly, it reveals that while we and the world might be seeing the same things, we have completely dissimilar interpretations.

And so, in the end, what’s the message here? I don’t know. Again, I’m just typing stuff. I guess boiling it down, consider this visitation with the topics of Advent, the Church Year, and the prescribed readings of the Lectionary as an encouragement to go to church. Don’t just make plans for Christmas. Immerse yourself in Advent, too. You need what the season offers—perhaps more than you might’ve been taught to know.

Advent is Bi-polar

The Gospel reading appointed for this Sunday, the First Sunday in Advent, is Matthew 21:1-9, which is also the Gospel reading appointed for Palm Sunday.

Jesus riding into Jerusalem. Strange, huh?

I think it’s perfect, primarily because the only other time in the Church Year that is as neurotically bi-polar as Advent is Palm Sunday. Like Advent, Palm Sunday is celebratory in that we shout hosannas and rejoice in the Lord’s arrival to the Holy City, but very soon thereafter, in the very same service, the tones of our voices change as we realize the dreadfully sad march to the cross. In the midst of all of it, we don’t know if we should laugh or cry.

This reading serves the season of Advent well because it combines hopefulness and final judgement. It looks backward in time to the Lord’s first coming while looking forward to His second coming—all at the same time. And in the end, by this reading, the lectionary’s designers knew not to begin the new Church Year without first dropping us at the doorstep of holy week, the shortest of all seasons of the Church Year, the one that truly pinpoints the heart of all of the promises of both the first and second comings of Jesus. Advent teaches that everything about where we’ve been and where we’re going lands at Golgotha, which is the singular event that launches its hopefully divine life rafts through the bloody mess of Christ’s death to all believers of all time both before and after the event itself. In other words, Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, all the way through to you and me, we’re all in reach of the Lord’s work on the cross. We saved by trust—looking forward or backward to the Messiah’s loving act—no matter who we are or where we are on the timeline.

So, as you can see, Advent is terribly bi-polar. It’s all over the place. But in so many wonderful ways. There’s a lot to preach on in this season.

With this, you should be prepared to strap on your spiritual seatbelt. This means going to church during Advent. Don’t wait until Christmas. If you do, you’ll miss a good portion of the best stuff that makes Christmas worth your while. Yes, you should make it a point to go to church during Advent. And you should listen carefully. You’re sure to be rewarded. You’ll learn of a love that begins and ends in the person and work of Jesus Christ born in Bethlehem, born to give Himself as your ransom on the cross. The preaching—if the pastor can manage the season’s neurosis well enough—will tell you of the Lord’s immeasurably loving desire to come in the flesh to save you through a most humiliating sacrifice. Simultaneously, the assurance is that you’ll be changed by that wonderful Gospel to know of Christ’s desire to keep His promises to you until the end of time. He promises that His victory train doesn’t end at the Ascension, but rather He will return again in glory to bring all things to completion. The end is no end. He comes to take all believers to Himself for all eternity, which is the time outside of time.

Advent is meant to be a time of blessings for you and your family. If your church isn’t celebrating Advent, go somewhere else. Go to a church that has her heart set on giving and clinging to those blessings. Insist that the outside-of-time wonder that Advent brings is a part of your family’s life right here at this moment on the timeline.

The Color of Advent

Advent is upon us, and with that, Christmas is just around the corner. Also, you probably noticed that we’re using the blue paraments again this year instead of the violet ones. We’ll probably do it again one more year and then switch back.

Violet is a great color for Advent, and it’s the more traditional one when it comes to LCMS congregations. When the guys in the confessional circles in which I swim begin to hassle me about it, I just start singing the Magnificat. I think it makes them itch. This is true because when folks see the blue paraments—especially Lutheran folks—sometimes they attribute the color to the Roman Catholic Church’s choices with regard to liturgical colors. I get that. Blue has sort of been hijacked to reference, among other things, adoration of the Virgin Mary. But if you were here in worship this past Sunday, then you know that’s not what we’re doing here by this selection. In fact, blue has been used by the church for a good long while. And one interesting fact is that since violet was the color of royalty, it was very expensive and harder to acquire by the poverty stricken Christian churches. Blue was more accessible. In a sense, it was a very pragmatic choice, and so naturally, it was incorporated.

But it wasn’t used without purpose. And as was preached yesterday, you’ll notice that the traditional blue of Advent isn’t the bright baby blue most folks associate with the Roman Catholic images of the blessed virgin mother of our Lord. Advent’s blue is a deep, dark blue. It is reminiscent of the deepest, clearest blue that can only be seen for those few moments just after the darkest part of the night and just before the sky changes and softens and begins to glow with the new sunrise. This midnight blue color symbolizes that while the light of dawn is coming, and in a sense, we are still in the dark, nevertheless, the rising sun is only moments away. Christ is coming—both at Christmas and at the Last Day.

In my opinion, the midnight blue does more to teach the two-fold heart of Advent than most other colors. That is, as long as you get the right color blue and you know why it’s the right color.

In the end, I think it’s grand that everything in the nave is designed to hone our senses and direct our attention to the One who has given His life that we would have life in His name. That’s pretty great. Even the color of the paraments plays a part in the proclamation of this wonderful drama revealed by the holy Word of God!

But God Won’t

Can you believe that the Fourth Sunday in Advent is already upon us? I sure can’t. The days seem to have flown by, and before you know it, the New Year will arrive. I wonder what the Lord has in store for us in 2017. I know one thing He’s planning: Word and Sacrament. That never changes. And that’s good, because we need Him to be consistent, predictable, steady and sure. Why? Because we aren’t. And neither is the world in which we live.

Sure, the sun keeps rising and shining, the seasons keep changing so predictably, and the whole world seems to be about its regular business. But remember, the Lord is the One maintaining these things. The fabric of the world—all that comprises its nature—has been corrupted by sin. With this, it is both unsteady and untrustworthy. The world and its mammonous things will fail us.

But God won’t.

The next time you have doubts about this, take a quick look at a crucifix. You might not feel anything in particular, but you’ll see something. You’ll see in the image a hint as to God’s current and future plans for you because of the giving of His Son for your salvation. You may even be reminded that while everything else was and is even now sometimes very unsure—even our own selves—God acted on our behalf. Jesus, Bethlehem’s infant champion, set His face like flint to the edge and then into an utter darkness from which no one could ever emerge. His death beamed brightly in that blackness. It shattered the unsteady swirls and the unreliable messes that we not only make for ourselves, but those that we endure at the hands of the unholy trinity: the Devil, the World, and the Sinful Flesh.

My prayer for you is that you will behold the light of Christ each and every day, that you will be reinvigorated by the Christmas celebration soon to be upon us, and that you will be made keen to behold and expect the simple and mundane, but saving and most powerful gifts God gives with such regularity day in and day out throughout the year. Word and Sacrament is where it’s at, my friends—Absolution, the preaching of the Gospel, the Lord’s Supper, Holy Baptism—all God’s Word given in wonderfully tangible ways.

2017 is sure to be a medley of completely different challenges, but thanks be to God that our Lord will never let up with all that’s required for navigating into the safe harbors of His wonderful grace.

You Belong Here

I pray all is well and that the Lord is blessing your Adventide devotion with the peace of Christ.

Admittedly and obviously, as the pastor here at Our Savior, I have a very different perspective than most when it comes to the Lord’s house. Now, I don’t mean that it’s better. I mean it’s different. For example, the view from the altar, pulpit, and lectern is very different than the view from the pews or the choir loft. Another example, and this one is bit stranger…

Maybe you knew and maybe you didn’t, but the last few years, with the ferocious weather we’ve endured, there were four or five nights when I found it necessary to spend the night here at the church in order to assure that the lights would be on and the doors would be open for Sunday worship the very next day. Pastor Pies, Sr. and Pastor Pies, Jr. made it a point that if a Divine Service was scheduled, it was going to happen, and the only thing that would be cause for canceling would be the Lord’s return in glory. I’m of the same mind, and so I don’t intend to let a cancellation ever happen on my watch. The problem is that I live considerably further away than the Pies family, and so with that, a sleepover is necessary.

Nevertheless, the point of this little narrative is to say that at 2 AM, when the lights are out and the snow is crackling against the windows, when the howling winds are creeping in and echoing in the empty halls, the church building becomes a very different place—almost alien. When it’s empty and dark and the voices of the day have all gone, this place is only half itself. Its guts are gone and you can feel it.

But when it’s bright and full—when the children are giggling in the school classrooms and corridors, when the worshippers are gathering together to sing their full-throated praises, when the sermon is booming and the organ is rattling the seams of the stained glass, when the study-goers are calling out in discussion and the whole group is learning and laughing together—this place becomes otherworldly in a different sense, almost heavenly. It becomes the fullness of its identity when its innards—you, the body of believers—return. And in this return, the Lord proves Himself to be at work by His Holy Spirit gathering His people to a place where He can be with them, where eternal life will beam because the gift of forgiveness through Word and Sacrament is being doled out with such plenty that you’d never think these hallways could ever be dark or that there could ever be silence in the rafters.

In the end, this place is what it is because of Christ and not us. And yet, Christ gathers people. And it is into people that Christ places His mercy—the light and life of His love—so that when the building’s rooms are dark and the noise is much less, we know that the true light hasn’t been extinguished. It’s simply gone out with those to whom God has given it (Matthew 5:14).

With that, know that you belong here. When you’re gone, you’re missed. Your light is a big deal to me and to the rest of your Christian family. I certainly ponder this while lying on the cot in my office in the middle of a blustery winter’s night.