Upon You Now
and Throughout the New Year
A few days after Christmas, now some twenty years ago – while our little family was still living in Bozeman, Montana – I read the closing line from an obituary in the local newspaper: “On June 10th, 1939, she married. … And the couple lived together in Bozeman their entire lives.”
Her name was Anne Dornbos. She had been a widow for many years, living alone in a little house, without any family. In recent years, it had become something of a tradition for Cathy and I to pack the kids in a small sled and pull them “over the river and through the woods” … across town … to deliver Christmas cookies and cinnamon rolls to Anne. But this year, Anne was Home (among the heavenly host) before we were able to make our delivery to her house on South Willson Ave. “And the couple lived together in Bozeman their entire lives.”
For some reason, this closing line from Anne’s obituary still strikes a chord deep in my heart, with the abiding warmth of the true Christmas Spirit. Perhaps it’s because Cathy and I had come to cherish the calm, cradling mountain majesty of the Rockies over the chaos of The Big City (our former Chicago life) and all of its supposed “culture” … the sense of simplicity that transcends complexity … or enjoying, as we do again in Sioux Falls, the open prairie land of the Dakotas and the down-to-earth folks who reflect the honest humus of our humanity. Like a Per Hansa or Beret of an O.E. Rolvaag novel. Yes, such giants in the faith who still roam the earth.
Deeper still, this homing, warming “comfort and joy” has to do with the sense of being wrapped once again in the serene serendipity of swaddling cloths spelled-out in, of all places, an obituary: “And the couple lived together in Bozeman their entire lives.”
Isn’t this what the God-named-Emmanuel finally reveals most fully to us in the Christmas event and let’s shine into the upcoming season of Epiphany Season? For you see … the baby Jesus couldn’t get into an inn (Luke 2:7c) – not even the Holiday Inn? This comes from the Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah who says: “Who am I? Am I just a traveler on this land who stays at an inn?!” … Jesus couldn’t get into an inn, you see, because he’s not a traveler. He’s not just movin’ on. He has to be born on earth because he’s not going to pack-up and leave the next morning. This is a permanent presence – a gift of God in person, con carne, “God deep in the flesh” (Martin Luther; cf. Luke 2:7; John 1:14; Colossians 1:15-20), for all our human frailty and need.
Yes, indeed … in person! … here’s the good news of the Gospel (cf. Mark 1:1)! There will be no walking out of God’s promised presence, no walking out of the covenant. There will be no abandonment – for all who feel lonely, left behind, outcast. This is not some tourist. This is One who is born on earth. And the reason that Jesus – the Christ Child – couldn’t be born in an inn is because the only people who stay in inns are people who move out. They stay a night and then they leave. But “this, this” (v.1 of “What Child Is This?”) does not leave. And we have God’s personal, incarnate Word on it – from cradle to cross. O, heav’n and nature are still singing! “And the couple lived together in Bozeman their entire lives.”
In the Spirit of this Christmas and Epiphany Season … wherever you are, wherever you may go in the New Year … may the light of Christ “SHINE ON YOU” and be gracious to you (Numbers 6:25) – knowing that you are never alone (Psalm 23:5; Matthew 28:20b; John 14:18f). For the One named God-with-us, Emmanuel is always with you. “And they lived together in Bozeman [Bridgewater, Beresford, Bogota, Berlin, Bergen, Bangladesh, Bethlehem …] their entire lives.”
As a family of faith, among the people of First Lutheran Church, and beyond … our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, calls us to share his life and light (John 1:1-5; 8:12) … which breaks into a resounding song: “Joy to the world!”
A Blessed Christmas and Hope-filled New Year,
Dr. John Christopherson