Winter Cold & Warm Hearts

Merry Christmas! This isn’t a belated Christmas wish, but a reminder that not everyone celebrates Christmas on (our) December 25th. For those on the Julian Calendar, such as our brothers and sisters in the Ukrainian Lutheran Church, today is Christmas Eve and tomorrow is Christmas. According to the Julian Calendar, today is December 24th.

While I was living in Ukraine, I had a blessed opportunity to preach at the church in Ivanivka during December, not long before Christmas. The weather was bitterly cold. Their church, which had been a theater under Communism, had been returned to service as a church. Pastor Serhiy Somin led his Bible class in a hymn and later led his congregation in worship. It was such a joy to be there with them.

Yet the Winter weather was very cold (dusha colodno), not only outside (notice the snow) but also inside the church. So after the Bible class when a church member gave me a cup of warm milk, it was gratefully received. I’ve never been so cold. I wore a sweater and wrapped a mylar “emergency” blanket under my robe but by the end of the worship service I was shivering and my feet were numb.

Yet my heart has never been so warm. Here in sub-freezing weather (inside and outside) was a sizable gathering of worshipers. Undeterred by the weather, they gathered with coats and shopkas (fir hats) to hear the good news about Jesus. They sang the hymns with their whole hearts, beautifully. I was moved by their dedication and zeal.

After the worship service, two ladies came up to me, wrapped in their coats and hats, apologizing for the “poor conditions” and invited me to their home for lunch. No apology was necessary. I felt so blessed to be there.  Lunch consisted of soup – chicken broth with potatoes – and a piece of bread. By the way, Ukraine – which is the bread basket of Eastern Europe – has wonderful bread! The soup was hot and delicious (dusha smachno). I was very grateful for their hospitality.

As we approached the celebration of the birth of Christ together, we shared the love of God in Christ that gives hope and warms human hearts.

Merry Christmas to our brothers and sisters in Ukraine. God bless you.

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Lent

This week marks the beginning of a season in the church year called “Lent” (from the Anglo-Saxon word for “spring,” when it takes place). The first holy day  (from which we get “holiday”) in the early church was Sunday as a commemoration of the resurrection of Christ. Before long there was also a commemoration on March 25th of Jesus’ conception, birth, death and resurrection. When a separate day for the birth of Christ was later added, Christmas was commemorated on December 25th (nine months after March 25th). In the Western church, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (in two days) and continues for forty days until Easter, not including Sundays. In the Eastern (Orthodox) church, Lent begins on Clean Monday (today) and continues until the Friday before Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter), including Sundays. The number “40” has special significance in the Bible as a time of pilgrimage, such as the Israelites’ 40-years in the wilderness, Moses’ 40-days on Mount Sinai and Jesus fasting in the wilderness for 40 days.  For Christian it is a time to remember our sins and our need for God’s forgiveness in anticipation of Jesus’ suffering and death upon the cross on our behalf on Good (God’s) Friday. In the western church, Ash Wednesday can be any time from February 4th ago March 10th, so it comes fairly late this year. Easter can come any time between March 22nd and April 25th (this year it comes on April 20th). Originally  Ash Wednesday was a time when penitents who had strayed from the church were readmitted and their repentance was signified by ashes applied to their foreheads in the shape of a cross. Later, since all of us are sinners in need of God’s mercy, the custom was expanded to include others who wanted ashes upon their foreheads, and is common in many kinds of Christian churches today. Historically, Lent also served another purpose. In the early church it took three years as a “catechumen” (student) to become a member of the Christian church, a journey of some three hundred hours of preparatory instruction. The final 120 class hours took place for three hours each morning during Lent, after which the catechumens who had not yet been baptized received baptism on the night before Easter (Holy Saturday or Easter Eve) or if their instruction was not quite complete, on Pentecost Eve. This is a good reminder for each of us as believers in Christ to especially make use of this Lenten season to pick up those dusty Bibles and spend spend extra time reading God’s Word, and to make use of the extra opportunities for worship that are provided.