Christmas 2021

This article appears in the Stories edition of the Calvin Seminary Forum

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ:

It was in late November when I received a telephone call from my Aunt Edith. She was calling from back in Fulton, Illinois, where I grew up. I knew it was probably not good news.

She then told me that my Aunt Iola – the youngest of 12 children, the youngest sister of my father and one of only three siblings still living, was in hospice care as cancer had overwhelmed her body.

Aunt Iola was someone who was like an older sister to me and so many of her other nephews and nieces. She was now facing the end of her life on this earth and she had some specific requests.

Through my Aunt Edith, I was asked to conduct a graveside service when the time came. In addition, I was told to include the reading of Psalm 139 and have those present sing – “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” (I was also told to be short.)

And so on December 4, I gathered with around 25 family members at a small country cemetery near Fulton, Illinois, and we read Psalm 139 and sang – “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” – just like Aunt Iola requested.

I also had us who gathered together remember Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer #1, the Lord’s Prayer and closed with the Apostle’s Creed – where we confessed and professed our faith in the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the body.

On my trip to the cemetery, I drove by the Medenblik family farm where Aunt Iola had lived as a young child, which eventually becomes the farm my father and mother bought and where I grew up.

This trip was a “pondering” trip.

I wondered why Aunt Iola chose Psalm 139 and what caused her to choose out all of the hymns she had sang in her life - “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” I also thought that her “pondering” on Bible passages and hymns had given her strength in her last days on earth as well as hope for an eternal future with Jesus.

I concluded that in times of trouble, it is vital to remember the past to build up hope for the future.

I am not the first or only person to have such an insight. We see such an insight highlighted by Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, in the Nativity account found in Luke 2.

Before Luke 2 was Luke 2, it was a memory. Luke 2 contains the memories of people that Luke interviewed. He did his research and then he weaved together this story for people to remember. He wanted to tell us about what Mary pondered in her heart, so we could ponder as well.

Here is a key verse for us all from Luke 2:19 – But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

As we look back on 2021, we may still feel overwhelmed by a global pandemic and the sufferings and struggles that reverberate. The introduction of a new variant – Omicron – brings us to the edge of uncertainty - again. Where can we find hope?

It is so necessary and healthy in this time to remember that over 2,000 years ago, in a time of great disruption and even pressure, that God was present and was creating life.

Under the shadow of the Roman Empire who wanted to count people in a census with the probable goal of even more taxation on people who already felt oppressed, this truth remains - God was and is present.

Luke 2 tells us that God stepped out of eternity into time. Luke 2 tells us that what was on the surface a small moment in that time becomes central to history for all time and for our relationship with God.

A descendant of David with his pregnant wife relocated to Bethlehem so that the promise of God for us and our salvation is fulfilled.

This memory of how Jesus became Emmanuel – God with us – can still give us hope and there is even more to this story.

What are you pondering?

May we all ponder and treasure up the wonder of God with us and for us – still!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year –

From Jul on behalf of your Calvin Theological Seminary community

“What a Friend We Have in Jesus”
What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
And what a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer

Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer

Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer
What a Friend We Have in Jesus lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.