Lutheran Magazine

The Lutheran

The Lutheran magazine belongs to the people of the ELCA in all our diversity. The magazine nurtures awareness of Christ's presence in our lives and the world, shares stories of God's people living their faith, connects us with the global Christian community, provides an open forum for discussion and challenges us to bring God's grace and care to all.
  • One Advent about 20 years ago, Fred Boettcher sold hundreds of wrapped gifts for $1 each in the narthex of Calmar (Iowa) Lutheran Church. Known as “Fred’s Gifts,” Boettcher supplied shoppers with novelties he had found at garage sales and thrift shops while raising hundreds of dollars for Lutheran Disaster Response.  And a Christmas mission tradition was born.  This year, with the help of his daughter, Susan Boehm, Boettcher, 90, had hoped to meet his goal of raising more than $350. In past years, his gifts have generated more than $500 — at $1 per gift, that’s a lot of shopping and wrapping. “He talks about it as his mission,” said Phillip Olson, pastor of Calmar. “He has a heart for mission and clearly wants to feel useful regardless of age.” The Fred’s Gifts display appears after Thanksgiving, and members shop through the last Sunday in Advent — or until the gifts are gone. Preparation is a yearlong endeavor that Boettcher, a retired high school history and drama teacher, has recently relied on his daughter to help accomplish.  “Now that he’s in assisted living, I have become his shopper,” Boehm said. “I bring him the gifts, cut the wrapping paper to size, and we spend some wonderful father and daughter time together wrapping.”  His daughter also serves as the relay person for those who supply him with donations of wrapping paper, tape and gifts. Last year she helped a woman from out of state continue a tradition started by her mother of giving every family member one of Fred’s Gifts. The church secretary had forwarded the woman’s call to Boehm after learning it would be the family’s first Christmas after their mother’s death. Boehm helped her get the gifts in time for Christmas.  “She was so happy to be able to continue this special tradition on behalf of her mother and support the mission fund,” Boehm said.

  • Zion Lutheran Church in Ferndale, Mich., is practically the poster child for decorating on a shoestring budget. In fact, The Lutheran featured Zion in an article headlined “From trash to treasure: Liturgical arts committee shows what can be done with — or without — a budget” (August 2010). Advent readings are full of prophecy — and there was even some in that article, in which committee member Mark Rubino said, “The feedback from the parishioners is what makes this so rewarding. They have to wonder what we’re going to do next.” That “next” was their most popular project of all — “Stars in the Advent Sky.”        Charles Senseman was a driving force of this arts committee known for consistently making something out of nothing. He died earlier this year, but he had been instrumental in preparing Zion’s sanctuary for Advent for years — and in being in touch with The Lutheran about this latest decorating scheme. Of course, it all begins with an idea. Committee members had one when viewing a $2 million remodel at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 2007. The institute paid $7,000 for a display company to mount mirrors from the main gallery ceiling. Zion asked the company if it could rent the display. But, as Senseman explained with a bit of “tone” to his email, “they declined, opting to keep it in their warehouse for some unknownfuture event.” Left to their own devices, this 230-member congregation in a Detroit suburb created their own — for $180. The Advent and Christmas visual “program,” as they call it, includes 300 discarded CDs from members. A holographic silver film covers the label side of the CD. The committee ran monofilament lines across the 55-foot ceiling about 15 feet apart, then hung CDs from the lines. They varied the number of discs on a line, giving the illusion of how stars look in the night sky. “The effect is mesmerizing and makes for a beautiful ‘starry night’ in our sanctuary,” Senseman said.

  • Shishmaref, Alaska, is often used as an example for those wanting to tell the story of climate change in the Arctic. But Marvin Jonasen, pastor of Shishmaref Lutheran Church, says the city is about much more. On Christmas Eve, children of this Inupiaq Eskimo village on Sarichef Island some 120 miles north of Nome, will gather as they did last year in this photo. Instead of a village whose surrounding Arctic tundra makes the pages of National Geographic, Jonasen said the focus will be something else: “A living photograph of 164 children and 10 teacher/helpers gathered in front of the sanctuary, bringing together the community in a moment of faith, hope and love that truly reflects a culture that has faced tremendous challenges” — and an uncertain future. The service will end with “Silent Night” sung in Inupiaq with a “serene beauty that cannot be described in words, but only felt in its awesome depth of wonder and grace,” Jonasen said.

  • In Tom Taylor’s house growing up, the Christmas tree went up the day after Thanksgiving and came down only when it was so dry the needles fell off. As a kid, it was exciting to have the colorful lights and festivities continue for months, but now as pastor of St. John Lutheran Church, Lindenhurst, N.Y., Taylor emphasizes the importance of a simpler, more religious and less secular focus on Christmas. He advises that people celebrate the 12 days of Christmas and attend an Epiphany service, which exemplifies the true meaning of the season. “We try to simplify the concept so people can focus more on the religious aspects rather than the secular,” he said.Instead of starting Christmas preparations right after Thanksgiving, he said, “acknowledge the Advent season and what it means. If you put up a tree early, for example, don’t decorate it until Christmas Eve. The secular world thinks that the Christmas season ends on Dec. 26. It doesn’t.” Taylor and his family aren’t the only ones trying to be more mindful of Christmas as the hectic consumerism of the season — evident in stores right after Halloween — overwhelms. People are seeking ways to spend less on gifts, eat fewer fattening cookies and, in general, “de-stress” Christmas. They’re also seeking to make Christmas more meaningful and sustainable, said Gerald Iversen, an associate in ministry and founder of Simple Living Works!, a volunteer nonprofit educational organization that advocates for simple living.  Iversen has embraced the concept of simple living and sustainability for more than 40 years, since first working with Alternatives for Simple Living, the precursor to Simple Living Works! “Our mission is to equip people of faith to challenge consumerism, live justly and celebrate responsibly [year-round]. These three come together especially at Christmastime,” Iversen said. Simple living also helps us meet God’s call to care for creation. The ELCA’s social statement “Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope and Justice” ( defines this as a call “to pursue justice for creation through active participation, solidarity, sufficiency and sustainability, and states the commitments of the ELCA for pursuing wholeness for creation,” Iversen said. Using an artificial tree or assuring that a real one is properly recycled cares for the planet.   “Everything is connected,” he added. “As we in America overspend and overconsume, it has a negative impact on others, especially in developing countries.” Iversen also recommends turning to alternative gift-giving ideas, such as supporting hunger and evangelism projects with global companion churches through the ELCA Good Gifts program ( Giving handmade gifts and food that is consumable or a present that has special meaning is another way to simplify the holiday and continue to care for each other.   Kim Winchell, a diaconal minister at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Saginaw, Mich., likes to give gifts of her nature photography, such as note cards that showcase her photos. People who live simply, she said, are often more mindful and notice the little things.

  • Earlier this year, The Lutheran invited readers to submit reflections on their favorite Bible characters and stories. We chose to share this collection in Advent as we ponder the Word becoming flesh to be among us. From the Hebrew midwives who risked everything to protect baby Moses to the story of the bronze serpent, the Bible characters and stories readers chose weren’t what we expected. Yes, there were some classic stories and characters, but where were Peter, Jonah and Martha? What about the story of the great flood or, my personal favorite, the story of the prodigal son?  No two entries were alike. Instead, this was a kaleidoscope of carefully selected biblical people and stories that reflect the diversity of the body of Christ. And the submissions were highly personal, often weaving Scripture into everyday realities. The responses were so powerful that rather than pull out snippets and highlight trends (which would have been near impossible), we selected a handful of complete reflections to edit and publish.  We are grateful to readers for their responses and regret that we can’t share all of them. We hope these selections and the artwork that appears alongside them will comfort and inspire you this season.  The surprising nature of this collection of reflections is fitting for the season. May they, and the art that accompanies them, remind you of the many ways God’s Word comes into the world and challenges us in unexpected, uncomfortable ways. Could this tiny newborn in a lowly manger really be our savior? Yes. Astonishingly, yes. Such is the heart of our life of faith.  Erin Strybis is an associate editor of The Lutheran. MaryLuke 1:26-38 In December, when the chill of winter begins to blow through my door as I retrieve my morning paper, young Mary haunts my reveries. Mary doesn’t barge into Advent with a shout in the desert and the scent of locusts and honey on her breath. She, a newly betrothed teenager, arrives quietly. Martin Luther thought she may have been doing housework when her life changed — something ordinary, like sweeping the floor. “Greetings!” says the angel with all the subtlety of the pesky neighbor who knocks on your door too early in the morning and asks, “Is this a bad time?” Of course it’s a bad time. It’s a bad time for a teenager who has barely known her first kiss to be told that she, of all people, has been chosen to bear God’s own child.  A shudder runs through Mary’s heart. “Do not be afraid,” the angel Gabriel says, and those words make all the difference. She does not fear. She wonders. In an age plagued by fear and skepticism, Mary wonders at this gospel.  Could there have been other homes Gabriel visited? Could there have been other Marys whom this light-robed messenger urged not to fear, only to have the door slammed in his face? But this Mary wonders and then says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Terry L. Morgan attends Christ the King Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, and is supply preacher for Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Germantown, Ohio. Moses at the Red SeaExodus 14 One of my favorite Bible stories is Moses and the Israelites at the Red Sea. Faced with a seemingly impossible situation with nowhere to turn, Moses tells the people: “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today” (Exodus 14:13). If you trust in the Lord and “stand firm,” God will deliver you from seemingly impossible situations. I love that promise and reassurance. Moses continues: “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still” (Exodus 14:14). Wow. What a comfort to know that the Almighty Creator of the universe is fighting on our behalf. Turn your cares, worries and concerns over to God — trust in the Lord to deliver you in the time of your greatest need. George M. Brickley attends First Lutheran Church in Malden, Mass.  Parable of the widow and the unjust judgeLuke 18:1-8 When I was young I used to race sailboats. The only way to win was to keep my eye on the mark and get there first. The wind, tide and other sailors worked hard to get me off course. Sometimes I won, sometimes I lost, but I always tried. There was great satisfaction in trying. Today I live in quiet desperation. I am unwell and often in pain. My goals are different now. Winning is when I get the daily newspaper sudoku right or make good banana bread.  My body is not much use, but believing that love is even greater than life itself, I pray for my family, for those in pain, and for justice and healing in our broken world. When I am weak and feel like giving up, when the wind is just too strong, I remember a verse from the parable of the widow and the unjust judge, where Jesus tells of the need to “pray always and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1). That widow in Luke’s parable had no status or power. She must have been unimaginably desperate to not only confront a judge who notoriously cared little for other people, but to continually return until he gave up and heard her case. Today I return again and again to God, a just judge, with my petitions. Sometimes I see my prayers answered and sometimes not. Unlike the widow I’m lucky to have a wonderful husband, children and friends who care, but my struggles are all mine. No one else can take on that burden — except God. There’s great satisfaction in praying. Jane McKinley attends Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church, Lakewood, N.J. Joseph Genesis 40 In a society that judged one’s intrinsic worth on social status, Joseph’s career went up and down like a yo-yo. He was the No. 1 son and then sold into slavery. He became his master’s right-hand man and then went to prison. He later found himself as Pharaoh’s right-hand man. Perhaps Joseph’s life informed Jesus’ teaching about each person’s unchanging, infinite worth: “The last will be first” (Matthew 20:16) and “whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26). Throughout his life, Joseph maintained continuous awareness of God’s presence and grace toward him, and so managed to excel at every task to which he put his hand. Above all, he let go of the many serious injustices he had suffered and lived as one without any grievances. Thus, for example, he had sufficient presence to reach out to other prisoners in need (Genesis 40:6-7). For 30 years I prospered working in various professional capacities before becoming homeless. I’m still homeless. But Joseph’s example encourages me that, through grace and presence, God can and will continue to use my gifts, regardless of my circumstances. I can still be light to the world. William Tell lives in Baltimore and blogs at Bathsheba 2 Samuel 11 Was she the innocent victim of rape by a king? Or a bored soldier’s wife deliberately tempting a bored king who was ordered not to go into battle? Of course, we’ll never know. But over the years there have been movies, books and much speculation about King David and the beautiful Bathsheba, his eighth and last official wife.  Her beauty and charm must have really enthralled him from a one-night stand to marriage and the promise that their second son Solomon would be king instead of his firstborn Absalom. I admire Bathsheba’s boldness to inform King David of the results of their brief encounter, knowing at best she’d become part of his sizable harem and at worst ignored. Amazingly he married her after first deviously ordering her husband, Uriah the Hittite, to be put in the front line of battle to ensure his death and her official widowhood. Did she grieve for her husband? Or was she too overwhelmed by her good fortune to care much? Was she happy? Content? God only knows. But she upset the royal genealogy and Bible history. Or was it God’s plan all along? Patricia M. Kenning is from Littleton, Colo.