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by J. Christian Andrews

December 29

But now that faith has come

It was dusk on a Sunday. There was a whopping cough epidemic ravishing the small rural town where we lived. Dad often walked the streets of town before our Sunday evening services handing out tracts and inviting people to church. On this particular day, I went with him.

Our town was divided into three parts by two small streams. We lived in the center section just north of the southern stream. We had walked the block to the city square, crossed the square, and had gone the block north to the foot bridge that crossed into the north side of town. A mom holding her bundled baby to her breast came running toward us. She was crying and began hysterically to beg my dad to do something for her baby. Typical to the effects of whopping cough, the baby had stopped breathing.

From there the memories are a bit foggy. I don't know if Dad told me to scoot on home or if I ran home afraid on my own. I don't remember what I saw or what I know from Dad's account later that night. I do know Dad gave the baby mouth to mouth and started it breathing again. He also asked the mom if the baby had been baptized. When she said, "No," he took the baby to the water in the stream below the bridge and declared the child God's through baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (For a discussion of a Biblical understanding of infant baptism, see my articles "A brief and common language explanation of what I believe" and "A Case for Evangelical Lutheranism" linked elsewhere on this page.)

Pastor Paul explored the coming of faith in his letter to the Christians at Galatia. Before faith, he said, we were imprisoned by the law. With the coming of Christ, with the coming of faith, however, we have been set free to become the children of God. And that faith has become active for us all, he said, in baptism. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

December 22

the exact imprint of His nature

When I was first introduced to fossils, I don't remember. I do remember standing next to Dad and "Uncle" Henrik listening to a discussion of alluvial plains as they looked across the Coaba Farm valley at the fan shaped plains that formed at the base of each wash. Uncle Henrik was explaining how those plains were formed by the receding waters of a world wide deluge like the one in the days of Noah. It was somewhere around Coaba Farm some years later that I found my first fossils.

The memories from 1968 are not always trustworthy, but I'm figuring it had to be April of that year. I seem to remember we were on an outing during our missionary annual conference to show my Grandma Andrews the area around Coaba, and that's why it had to be then. That was the year Grandma A visited us in Bolivia. We walked along the top of a shale outcropping to get a view of the valley below. Finding the fish vertebrae required good eyes as we knelt in the loose shale and sifted it through our hands.

It's not completely clear from the Biblical record how it is that the Andes Mountains at 9000 to 12,000 feet above sea level are replete with fossils of ocean creatures. Whether it was because they were covered in Noah's flood or they were once ocean floor uplifted in a cataclysmic movement of the earth's tectonic plates possibly brought about by the earth releasing its waters from below also part of Noah's flood is a matter of debate. What is known is that the fossils, both my first 1/8th inch in diameter fish vertebrae and Dad's two to three inch trilobites, were the exact imprint of aquatic creatures of a time long ago.

There is another exact imprint, one that is of infinitely greater import, that is the core of our celebration in what we call the Christmas season. A few hundred years ago the word used for a Christian religious service was "mass," so the service that was held to celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ came to be known as Christmas. I prefer to use the Latin "Navidad" and thus the Celebration of the Nativity. And this is what we celebrate in the Nativity: in these last days [God] has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power.

Because God loves us, He sent His Son, the exact imprint of His nature, so that His son could take on Himself the punishment for our sin. By doing so He has made it possible for us to have eternal life instead of the eternal death we deserve. This is what we celebrate when we celebrate His birth, when we celebrate Christmas.

December 17

January 25, 1966; I remember the day but had to go look it up in my memory book to get the details and the year. It was the day I turned eight. Mom included an excerpt from a letter she wrote on the 26th: "He had only two guests, but they had fun...I had prepared a treasure hunt in the yard with bags of candy for the treasure. When they finished that I guess they decided it was time to eat and they came in and plunked themselves down at the table."

It's the treasure hunt I remember, at least the end and the prize. Our little mutt dog had dug herself a den into the base of the compacted earth wall that separated the property where we lived from the neighbors. I suppose the reality is that the den was a foot or two deep, but my memory was that it was very much deeper; it was to this den that the clues of the treasure hunt lead us, and it was there that we found the bags of candy, our treasure.

Since then, I've always liked a good treasure hunt and have set some up myself. Creating the clues and hiding them is fun The mystery of the hunt is enjoyable, too, as is the discovery of the mystery prize or gift at the end of the hunt.

Our Nativity celebration is about the revelation of a great mystery that had been kept secret for long ages past. The eternal God commanded this revelation so that by faith, by believing, by trusting in His great promises of forgiveness and life, we can experience forgiveness of sin and and the restoration of the broken God/human relationship. Our response can only be, with Pastor Paul, to proclaim a doxology: 'Now to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.'

December 8

He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it

It was Advent probably my second or third grade year. The community kids had gathered for Sunday school in the room that tripled as living room, Sunday school room, and church narthex. Hoping the answer would be “Navidad,” Dad asked us which day was the most important day in December. The automatic and boisterous reply was “el ocho, el ocho!”

The town of Apolo, Bolivia, where I spent first, second, and third grades had its “definitive foundation” on “el ocho,” the 8th of December, 1690, by the Franciscan missionary Pedro Saenz de Mendoza. The community’s full name was Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of Apolobamba clearly linking the founding of the town with the Roman Church December 8 festival of the Immaculate Conception (a non-Biblical Roman Church doctrine that Mary the mother of Jesus was conceived without sin). To this day, “el ocho” is celebrated with dancing in the streets, “bull fights” where capes with money sewn to them are tied to bulls’ backs and the town’s “brave” young men try to grab the capes, and parades with a statue of the Virgin. It is truly a day of greater import to the “apoleĖos” than Christmas.

As important as Christmas is, it was hard, as a youngster, not to get caught up in the euphoria that engulfed this isolated town of 600 people during the “ocho” festivities. Dad tried to shield us from the drunken revelries that doubled or tripled the town’s population, but we wanted to see and be part of the goings on. We wanted to stand by the rickety pole fences that were erected around the town’s square to watch the “torreadores” despite the fact that the fences were often easily broken through by the running bulls that tried to evade the taunts of the town’s young men.

Somehow, through it all, we did find Christmas and the celebration of the Nativity. In our home at least the 25th took precedence over the 8th; and we learned that Advent and Christmas were more than celebrations of a birth 2000 years ago. We learned that while we celebrated the first coming of the Christ, we also looked forward to His coming again. This prayer became real: ‘Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.’

December 1, 2011

spotless and blameless

Patience is a virtue: it is a primary component of love and a primary ingredient in the fruit of the Spirit. Patience is also hard, especially for young ones waiting for Christmas. As I look back, I wonder if our anticipation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth wasn’t heightened by the pre-Christmas activities in our home. Two of these marked the approach of Christmas every year.

Beginning with the fourth Sunday prior to the Nativity, each day of our Advent season was marked with special devotions. My very creative mom came up with an ingenious and different Calendar every year. Hidden behind doors on a poster, in Christmas wrapped match boxes, or aligned with felt images that over the course of the four weeks when added on to the others recreated the Christmas story were Bible verses chosen to prepare us for Christmas Day. The devotions were accompanied by the lighting of an Advent candle, one of the four in the Advent wreath that graced the center of our dining room table.

I am not sure when during the calendar year the planning and rehearsals for the annual Christmas pageant began; but given the complexity of the pageants, preparations had to have begun well before the Advent season arrived. During my early elementary years, the pageant was held in a standing room only assembly hall at the elementary school. The kids and young adults in the congregation played the parts of the Holy family, shepherds, angels, and wise men. Elaborate costumes and the story told with slightly different twists each year brought the message of a savior come to us to our little country town.

It really is not surprising, then, that waiting for the arrival of the actual day was hard. As we children waited with great anticipation, we all are waiting for an ever greater day. The Lord will keep His promise, and the Day of the Lord will come. On that day He Himself will return to earth to take to heaven those who are his own. It may seem, at times, that He is taking an awfully long time to fulfill that promise. We are reminded, however, that there is a purpose for His delay. He is a loving and gracious God and does not desire that anyone die separated from Him and thus destined to eternal separation. Instead He trust that we will be patient, and that while we wait we will “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.”