Thursday, February 8, 2018


Smoky Mountain Reflections #188

            Sometimes things line up in very unique ways, and you find yourself scratching your head, saying, “Isn’t that interesting?”. We have such an occurrence this year, and it will reveal where people’s priorities lay, when the differing calendars of the world and the church clash.

            It begins this month on the day that we celebrate romantic love. February 14th (which many know as Valentine’s day) is a day filled with heart-shaped with red boxes full of fancy chocolate, not to mention the flowers, balloons, cupids, and other pink and red reflections associated with romantic love. The traditions now associated with Valentine's day were first written of in Geoffrey Chaucer's “Parlement of Foules” published in the late 1300s. They were set in the fictional context of an old tradition, and did not really even exist before Chaucer! Prior to that, the church simply celebrated him as a martyr for the faith. We as Lutherans (and for that matter, most Christians) who celebrate saints do not even consider this a feast day, but simply a day of commemoration in which we remember his sacrifice for the gospel as a reminder for us to be strong witnesses for the faith. That being said, Ash Wednesday is a much more important day in the church’s calendar, and this year, it falls on February 14th! Ash Wednesday is almost certainly one of the top five most important days in the year for most Christians, even though many American Christians do not even know what it is. So while most of our society will be swimming in pink hearts and chocolates, the faithful will be attending church to have ashes applied to their foreheads and being reminded that they are created from dust, and to dust they shall return. I am not saying, however, that this is an “either/or” proposition; you can celebrate both on February 14th this year, just not at the same time.

            Next, the very highest day on the church’s calendar, Easter, will fall on the day that many Christians joke is the holiday for atheism, April 1st. That is right, April Fool’s Day and Easter come together this year. But don’t worry, I do not think atheists will stop hiding eggs or petting bunnies on Easter (which of course we know is what Easter is all about…wink, wink, nod, nod). No! Easter is about Jesus and his resurrection from the dead, in which he proved his victory over sin, death and the devil, and there’s nothing foolish about that.

            Finally, if I told you that many protestant Christians would be canceling their worship services on a Sunday this year you might accuse me of being ridiculous. However, it is true; thousands of churches will close their doors this year on a Sunday in December, canceling their services so their members can stay home and celebrate our national day of materialism. You guessed it, Christmas day falls on a Sunday. We here at Saint Paul will have our regular 8:30 & 11 AM services on that day, but sadly, many churches will be closed entirely. In fact, many churches do not have Christmas day services even in other years, because it is regarded as “a day for family” (as if gathering to celebrate the holy family and the birth of our savior precluded that).

            Worry not, however; 2018 will not be good or bad based on calendar conundrums. The Lord is faithful; he will be with you always, and He will continue to care for and nurture God’s people whenever they gather around His gifts of word and sacrament. So have a worry-free, blessed 2018.

In Christ,

Pastor Portier

#187 sorry for the late post

Smoky Mountain Reflections
December 2017 #187
            (Warning: German contained in the following sentence:) Advent, Advent, ein Lichtlein brennt. Erst eins, dann zwei, dann drei, dann vier. dann steht das Christkind vor der Tür.  Translation: Advent, Advent, one candle burns. First one, then two, then three, then four. Then stands the Christ child before the door.  Translation is not one of my better skills, so I will claim poetic license in my translation.  This is a poem that is often heard about this time of year in Bavaria.  It really is quite a nice poem and harkens back to the region’s strong Christian heritage.  Bavarian children do not see the Christmas tree in their home until Christmas Eve.  The ringing of a small bell signifies that the Christ kindl or engel (Christ child or angel) has delivered the tree, the decorations and all the presents.  Their living room has been transformed into a small haven where the family gathers around the solemn occasion commemorating the birth of the Christ child.  These are wonderful cultural traditions that bring Christ to the center of the Christmas experience.  All the candles on the Advent wreath are lit. The warm glow of candle light fills the room as children read the Bethlehem account, and Christmas hymns round out the experience.  The sights, smells and sounds of Christmas and its importance fill the hearts and minds of all who gather for this grand family event. 

            The retailors bypassed Halloween & Thanksgiving this year and kicked off the Christmas shopping  before fall even arrived.  The full commercialization of Christmas on an American scale has never taken a complete foothold in the European culture.  But there is a sad reality in the backdrop of this beautiful cultural story.  Europe with its rich Christian heritage is referred to by most experts today as a post Christian society.  By some estimates, less than 5% of Europe’s population attends church on a regular basis.  Why do I share this sad truth with you at such a joyous time of anticipation?  As we prepare for Christmas during this Advent season, we should keep all of God’s creation in our prayers.  There are some scary similarities between the America of today and the Europe of only 20 or 30 years ago.  If you look at Europe’s church attendance numbers from the 1950’s, you will find over 50% attended church regularly.  Currently a little over 50% of Americans claim to attend church somewhat regularly if you include the CME's (Christmas, Mother's Day & Easter). The actual numbers float under less than 20% of Americans attend church on any given Sunday.  But we, like Europe, are on the decline and reasons for the decline are many and various.  However, we need not fret over these sad truths—just be aware and pray about them. And remember that God is in charge.

            Advent is a time of preparation, and prepare we will this year.  We will enjoy an Advent series produced by Pastor Dettmer Beginning November the 29th @ 7 PM with the theme of Hope and Colossians 1:3-14, Then Dec the 6th Peace and Isiah 66: 1-14, Then Dec 13th Joy and Isaiah 55: 1-11, and Finally Dec 20th Love and Micah 6:6-8. Make time in your busy schedule to attend this year. As we venture back in time to celebrate the birth of our Lord and savior.         

            So, as you prepare your hearts during this blessed Advent season, make use of some form of daily devotion.  It will enrich your Advent experience.  During your daily devotion, pray that your family, your friends, your neighbors, our fellow citizens, and people of all nations, who don’t know and who linger in darkness, that the scales which block faith would fall from their eyes and they would be blessed with the promise that the Christ child came to fulfill, and be filled with the assurance of eternal salvation that only faith in the promised Christ Child can provide.

            For anyone who reads this reflection outside of a certain understanding of your eternal existence, I invite you specially to receive this Christmas, the gift that the Christ child came to give you.                         

In Christ, Pastor Portier