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.
  • While many of us are setting out one — or a few — nativity sets in our home this season, members of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Menomonee Falls, Wis., want you to know it’s always the season for a favorite crèche. In fact, they have nearly 500 of them housed in first-rate cabinetry in their roomy narthex. All are gifts from Bill and Susanne Gay, members of a United Methodist church but honorary Lutherans to be sure.  The Gays are retired language teachers who love to travel and learn about other cultures and traditions.  “We never intended to be collectors,” said Bill, glancing around the “Joy to the World” gallery. “We’d travel and bring these back as souvenirs.” And then, as sometimes happens, friends and family learned of their interest. Thirty-five years later the couple had a basement filled with boxes of 745 nativities they yearned to share with others. The Gays enjoy taking turns telling about how Bill’s “adventure days” with their grandson bumped the collection up by about 180. Grandfather and grandson would pore over catalogs and go to gift shops, but Bill assured Susanne they weren’t spending much or buying many .… Eventually the Gays needed to impose some rules: crèches needed to be from a country not already represented or from an artist or medium they didn’t already have.  This really started back in college, Bill said, when as a residence counselor he noticed nothing religious in the way of Christmas dorm décor. He went to Woolworths and for $16 bought his first crèche. After the Gays married, they put it under the tree every year. With their Methodist church unable to display the collection, they met a member of Holy Cross who promised to bring the idea back to church and put them in touch with Carol Jannke. Jannke now serves as the collection’s curator. Like the Gays, she gives presentations to outside groups and notes that this is one of eight permanent crèche collections in the country receiving four stars (must see) from the Friends of the Crèche (yes, there is such an organization). It took several years before housing it at Holy Cross became a reality, including fundraising for cabinetry built with white oak by a master cabinetmaker who is also a Holy Cross member. After letting family members choose favorites to have in their homes, the Gays donated the bulk of their collection to Holy Cross — described as “an honor and gift” both by Jannke and the Gays, who delight in seeing the nativities all in one place. Another 100 or so are in the church shared by Bethany Lutheran and Grace United Methodist in Norway, Mich., where they live part of the year. Beyond the ordinary There’s nothing ordinary about the number of nativities, nor about the crèches themselves. Many are handcrafted and some custom-made, representing more than 65 countries — Ecuador and El Salvador, Bangladesh and Bolivia, Israel and India, Poland and Peru. Many are made from material native to the area, with these topping the unusual list: orange peels, bread, bullets, coal, Coke cans, white chocolate, corn husks and banana leaves.  In some cases, animals surrounding the holy family depict the culture: a pig, elephant, rabbit, llama, horse, bison and eagle. Clothes on the magi are also a clue to ethnic traditions.  Every crèche carries a story: where or whom it is from, how it got to the Gays, sometimes what they had to go through to get it. For instance, Bill’s interest in nativities of Joseph holding the baby began when he learned about a life-size wood-carved holy family in a German church.  “A father myself, and soon to be a grandfather, I became obsessed with locating such a nativity,” he said. “I urged everyone I knew to be on the lookout and I’d reimburse them whatever the cost.”

  • Advent is a bridge — a bridge over which we cross from one year of grace into the next. It’s the ending of one church year and the beginning of another. It’s a bridge between who we were a year ago and who we are now. Advent is a bridge, both a beginning and an ending. Advent means “coming” and that coming is happening in the past and in the present and in the future. At the Last Sunday in the Year of Mark, just at the threshold of Advent, the lector proclaims a reading from Revelation: “ ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (1:8). Past, present, future. The Great I Am fills all time, all history, all seasons. Martin Luther highly esteemed Bernard of Clairvaux, mentioning the 12th century Cistercian monk or his writings more than 500 times. In his third Advent sermon, Bernard wrote that there are three comings of Christ in Advent: the coming of Christ Jesus, born in Bethlehem, crucified and resurrected (past); the coming of Christ in the human heart (present); and the coming of Christ at the fulfillment of all things (future). We step into these three Advents in the eucharistic prayer: “As often as we eat of this bread or drink of this cup (present), we proclaim the Lord’s death (past) until he comes (future).” And the congregation responds, affirming that we have crossed into kairos, God’s holy time, where all times overlap: “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” Past, present, future. Just as past, present and future exist together in the Lord’s Supper, these times coexist in the season of Advent. When we are children, all our focus during Advent is directed at Christmas and waiting for the Christ child’s birth, the first coming. That is enough, for children. On the First Sunday in Advent, as we hear the reading from Mark (13:32-33), we are reminded of what Bernard called the third coming at the completion of all things: “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.” Many have speculated about when this coming of Christ will occur. Mark admonishes us: “You do not know.”  But there is that second advent, the coming of Christ into the human heart. For the Orthodox Christian, the heart is where the whole person comes together: body, mind and spirit. How much thought do we give to Christ’s advent in the human heart?

  • This appealing drama illustrates the difference between a job and a vocation. As writer Kent Nerburn wrote in Letters to My Son (New World Library, 1999): “A vocation fills you with a sense of meaning. It is something you choose because of what it allows you to say with your life, not because of the money it pays you or the way it will make you appear to others. It is, above all else, something that lets you love.” Carl is a successful chef at a chic Los Angeles restaurant. But after a spat with a food critic, he loses his position. This gives him an opportunity to finally have some quality time with his 10-year-old son, Percy. They take a trip to Miami where Carl comes up with the idea of selling Cuban sandwiches from a food truck. He immediately gets Percy to help him clean and restore the truck. Soon the boy understands his father’s enthusiasm for really good cooking. During their drive back to L.A., he uses Twitter and other social media to promote the new business. This mutual assistance is what every father and son dream about but rarely achieve. It is beautifully illustrated in this movie. (Universal Studios, R — language, some suggestive references.) Now on DVD.

  • 'Thank you'Thank you for “The ELCA’s aging clergy wave”. The real shortage is in congregations that can pay a full-time pastor with benefits. Many retired clergy I know are quickly returning to do interim, pulpit supply or agency ministry because of inadequate retirement benefits. I’ve served lower paying congregations that couldn’t put much money into my retirement accounts. At age 60 I don’t see myself retiring in the foreseeable future. The Rev. David CoffinDeshler, Ohio   Seminary beckonsWhile some bishops and others say the ELCA doesn’t face an imminent clergy shortage, the facts indicate otherwise. Except for a brief period after the U.S. economy went into free fall, as senior seminarians are assigned to synods for their first calls fewer than half the number requested have been available. So come yourself or send your faithful fellow members to our seminaries, where those who respond to the call will be shaped and formed into the leaders tomorrow’s church will need. As for “retiring the all-star team,” the church indeed experiences loss each time a faithful pastor retires or dies. But as one who lives daily among the church’s future leaders, I offer the unqualified assurance: The church of the future will be in very good hands. Michael Cooper-White, presidentLutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (Pa.)   Column on targetAfter chuckling in agreement with the November cover (aging clergy wave — no kidding) I read Peter W. Marty (page 3). It was easily the best conversation on the topic of guns in our society I’ve ever read. The idea that Jesus would approve of the gun culture in America is unbelievable. Thomas M. CorriganDayton, Md.   Misses markAlthough Marty’s article is framed in a nonconfrontational manner, his position is offensive. To imply that those of us who love guns, a home, freedom and our country aren’t fully living up to the First Commandment is insulting to those of us who served our country to protect our freedoms. History tells us that Martian Luther carried a sword for protection when traveling German roads. What has really changed?  Vern SchweigertPhoenix

  • As Lent approached last year, Lissa Kahl, a pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Waverly, Iowa, invited members to share faith stories about a “life teacher” who had been important to them. They would do so by email, and their stories would help bring to life the Lenten theme, she said.  “Sign up for a date to share your story,” urged Kahl( But there was no rush to the sign-up list. These Iowa Lutherans, although mission-driven and normally eager to volunteer, didn’t talk about faith. Carla Janssen remembers Kahl urging, “Give it a try. God will provide inspiration and words to make it meaningful.”  Kahl wrote the first story, and a former congregation president then courageously shared how God meets him in nature. Redeemer’s other pastor, Dan Kahl, wrote about the teacher who changed his life. Stories began arriving slowly, but they arrived — allowing members to look into the heart of those who sit next to them in the pew. For those who weren’t computer savvy, the email string was also available in print at Lenten soup suppers. Will Rutledge wrote about a time when he felt like Job: “My dear friend passed away from a long illness at age 38. This was the breaking point for me; I sat in my usual spot one Sunday morning, back row, middle section, and while the kids were in Sunday school, I wept. I sat silently and asked, ‘What, God? What more do you want?’ ” Later, on a motorcycle ride in a downpour, Rutledge pulled over and sat facing east and the rains quickly ceased. “The sky filled with a sunrise like I’ve never seen — gold and red and blue and orange. It was the first time that nature moved me to tears. I sat there looking at the sun and heard two voices. One was my friend saying, ‘Choose joy’ and the other more of a whisper from God, ‘Your sadness is finished,’ and it was,” he wrote.