THE MANGER

This cave, used as a manger for the cattle and other animals, is busy tonight. Food is brought in regularly and left in the trough by men protecting their most precious livestock. As usual, it is quite cold, damp and dark in here. Between the animals and their owners, foot traffic is very much the norm. On this night, with the census starting and so many travelers en route, this cave is bustling with God’s creatures, some of whom are weary after traveling far and carrying a heavy load. There is simply nothing glorious about this dirty place filled with rancid odors…at least, not yet anyway. Soon, there will be other and much more unique visitors. A young woman will give birth to her firstborn here. A young man will watch and worry, perhaps even feeling guilty for not being able to do better for her. Shepherds from nearby fields will be coming excitedly to visit the newborn and share their almost unbelievable story. Literally, the world will be changed here…but for now, the manger is silent with the exception of an occasional sound from the cattle.
Why, O Lord, must the Light that will pierce all darkness be born in here? What is it with You, O God, that this manger built into a cave seems like the perfect place from which to reconnect with humanity for all generations? How can it be that a dirty old manger can be the birthplace of Hope, and a terrifying dark grave can somehow be the beacon of New Life? Perhaps the darkest, dirtiest, and most disturbing places in this world are exactly where Grace is most evident to our otherwise distracted eyes. Truthfully, I need not know why. All that really matters is that this abhorrent cave is soon to be the site of the most beautiful moment our world has ever known. Thus, I am drawn here, on this night, to keep watch and to wait amongst these stirring creatures, as anticipation grows. Soon. Very soon… Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

A Young Woman’s Spiritual Call

In an instant, her life had been transfigured into something she could never understand. Mary had accepted her Call in a moment of wonder and fear, as she stood before the angel who had surprised her. Now, there was no going back for this young woman. She couldn’t have processed fully the words of the angel Gabriel. Mary humbly, and perhaps excitedly, simply agreed to fulfill this Calling for her life. But as she uttered those words of affirmation, could Mary really have anticipated how quickly and deeply she would be judged by those around her? Did she know that this might be too much for Joseph? Did she comprehend the loneliness that this Call would bring with it? Was she old enough to understand the heartache that comes with sacrifice? Mary, did you know any of this as you stood face to face with God’s messenger and answered without time to think?

Some 2,000 years later, it is easy for us to glorify Mary’s journey into motherhood. We celebrate her exchange with Gabriel and we re-enact her trip to Bethlehem with that ‘holy’ night in a stable. We are told that Mary pondered and cherished all these things. Of course she did. But this very young woman, just a teenager, also must have been terrified and lonely and distraught as her new life unfolded more or less beyond her control. It is Mary’s faith that I wish to emulate the most, although I may never truly comprehend such faith. Then again, she had little choice by now but to trust in God.  I, too, have sat in the darkness of a night feeling scared or lonely or distraught. I, too, have cried out from my heart to God with an unjustified hope – because it was all I had to cling to in that moment. I, too, have watched in wonder as I pondered and cherished new life unfold before my very eyes – sometimes my new life and other times the birth of new life in someone else. Perhaps, what I love the most about Mary, is that she lived in a deep despair as she gave birth to the Lord. Mary’s life was real, and not some glorious celebration. I can relate, because Mary – and so much more importantly her child – can relate to me. For the Incarnation of the Lord happened within the reality of our every day lives – and not removed from earthly struggle. Thus, tonight, yet again, I will sit staring at a stable, and my heart will wonder even as my mind wanders…Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

MOMENTS TO TREASURE

On a cold night, tucked away in a stable cut into the countryside, a young lady sits cradling her newborn son. Cattle wonder and watch, while loud sounds from the nearby Inn fill the crisp air. The sky is seemingly bright and active, as Joseph stands in the entryway. This journey has been harsh and difficult, and this is not how he and Mary envisioned the birth of their child. This child is the Son of God, at least that is what the angels said. How could they have wound up out here, amongst wild creatures in an unfamiliar town packed with strangers? And now, these shepherds come, approaching to visit the baby with this most unbelievable story of angels singing! Mary could do nothing else but treasure these moments in her heart…

As we make the transition in our everyday lives from Thanksgiving into Advent, what is it that we see? What moments do we treasure in our hearts? In this past year, some of us have embarked upon long and arduous journeys. Others have stood watch in worry as we feel helpless. In some cases, we have wondered at the miraculous as it revealed itself to us. We have had visitors who have become a part of our story. We have cradled those who are the love of our lives. We have braved hardship and celebrated joy. The sky above has lit up and it has been still and quiet. On so many days, our lives have mirrored the nativity story of Mary and Joseph in some metaphorical way. And now, we prepare again for our own journey to this manger, where we ourselves will keep watch at night with our hearts aglow.

Life can only be defined as repeated transition and transfiguration. At times, we are remarkably frustrated or hurt or sad. On other days, we experience the excitement of renewal and new beginnings. But God’s deep and beautiful Love is the one constant flowing through every breath we take. No matter where you may be today, take a deep breath and know that the air you breathe comes to you directly from God. Give thanks for the miracles that occur even in the midst of sorrow. Give thanks for the greeting of a stranger as you feel alone. Give thanks…because God’s Grace is acting in every time and place. Regardless of what they may bring, treasure these days in your heart. Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

TO EVERYTHING THERE IS A SEASON

On a crisp autumn morning, a grove of trees stand in community. Each tree adds to the community in its own way, and with its own beauty. Leaves of green, purple, red, orange, and gold mingle under the bright glow of the sun. They are a rainbow once again reminding the world of God’s glory and grace. As night falls, a stiff wind stirs in the air as the Breath of God blows upon these stately creatures. So quickly, their leaves come down and litter the ground beneath them. They are left standing bare and dormant, looking so meager. Where has their beauty and vitality gone?

Such is God’s wisdom in our world. That which was, cannot stay so perpetually. Change is inevitable. Death leads to resurrection and new life. The leaves that had been will fertilize the soil and roots, and spur new growth in a season to come. Branches will spring back to renewed life, with new limbs and new leaves. Yet, everything that is new has been born of that which was old. This is life in God’s creation. Resurrection and renewal are the greatest of all gifts, but their receipt requires us to let go first. My life today has been fed by my life as a child, but I cannot ever return to those days. They inform me and live within my memory, but they shall never be repeated. Nor, by the way, would I want them to be. In various seasons of life, we must let go to make room for that which God intends next. We must allow God’s breath of change to push us. We must allow what was to pass so that which will be may come. For to everything there is a season…and only a season. Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

PEACE

This old chapel at Augustana College (Illinois) has served as a gateway to so many souls through the generations, as God has molded and prepared them for service to our world. It can be both mystically eerie and magnificently beautiful simultaneously on any given night. This Wednesday evening is no exception. Tonight, I sit in the back and simply watch. The room is lit solely by dozens of candles, as their light cuts through the darkness. The piano has quieted to a silence, as calm has set in. Some students are gathered around the altar with their heads bowed, while others sit in the pews staring forward deep in thought. The emotions of us gathered seem almost physically palpable. Little candle flames flicker and shadows dance up and down the large walls. Over the altar, a large stained-glass window comes to life as the dark figures of the branches on an old tree just outside wave majestically, as if begging to be noticed by someone – or anyone. I am drawn to that image more than any other, as my soul also is longing to be noticed here – by God.
It is here, in this atmosphere, that I seek words for prayer. But on this night, for whatever reason, the only word that keeps resonating repeatedly in my heart is PEACE. There is nothing else but that one simple word. PEACE. Perhaps it is my unconscious hope for my family and friends. It could be my longing for this deeply divided world in which we live. Or this might be my desire for those I minister to. But on this night, I suspect instead that these are the primal cries of a weary and angry soul. PEACE! WHAT MORE NEED BE SAID!
In the hour to come, as silent souls gently wandered off, the moonlight was replaced by lightning, thunder, wind and rain. The storms of life lingering ever so close, even in such a moment of rest and sabbath. This is more than a metaphor for daily existence – it is reality. And so, with a deep-rooted sigh, I smile and remember that in and through it all, God’s moments of peace are always lurking somewhere within our reach, even if they are far too often fleeting. PEACE. AMEN.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

MOMENTS TO CHERISH

A house stands quietly. This past month or so, it has spent its nights alone. The only activity it has seen has been children emptying out room after room while visions of memories flood their eyes. For almost exactly forty years this house has stood at the center of this family. Kids have graduated here and weddings have been staged from here. Holiday parties pulled all the children back to the table here. The garage has stood guard over restored cars while the kitchen has filled with the scent of baked pies. A family has stood vigil in a bedroom over their mother’s final days, and then final hours. The laughter of grandchildren has filled the halls, and these same grandchildren have learned to play pool in the family room. So many of this family’s shared laughs and tears have occurred within these walls. But now their days here are numbered. Soon, adult children and grandchildren will stand in a doorway and take one last look at an empty home.
A new family will move in soon, with their grandchildren coming to spend the night upstairs and their presents standing under a tree in the living room. The mood of this house will once again swing back to joy. Not on this day, though, as rain drops roll down the red and yellow bricks of its exterior. Today is about closure for one family. Today is about saying ‘goodbye’ all over again. Cherished memories will live on in their minds, and love will burn brightly in their hearts in these final hours. God gifts us with these abilities. The memories will last a lifetime. The love will be passed down through the generations. For it is God’s desire that things of the heart stand eternal and cross all moments, whether sorrowful or joyous. So, on this night, their beloved home will stand empty and quiet…but the heartbeat of this family will continue onward to new life and brighter days. Thanks be to God for places we call home…and hearts where we can store that which we cherish most. Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

THE WEBS WE WEAVE

The large spider works through the night, weaving her web back and forth in a tedious pattern while swinging from post to post. By morning, she will have created a beautiful work of art for some, and a deadly trap for others. As I sit and enjoy the sunrise, she rests calmly a few feet away in her new home.

I marvel at this web, at the intricacy of its design. It is unique to her, and will never be exactly duplicated again. Should a gust of wind or a larger creature damage this web, she will simply go back to work tonight and resurrect her web anew. For this little lady is a creation of God, and as such she too has the ability to create. She has a gift, a talent, which in its own way adds beauty to this tiny corner of God’s universe. The spider will use her talent daily, persevering against all obstacles and setbacks while battling against the elements of nature. She will go about her business, hardly acknowledging my presence. Still, the spider’s efforts will not go unnoticed. I find myself truly amazed at the fruit of her labors. How could she have bridged such a large gap between posts? How did she create something so intrinsic and symmetrical? How did she do all this in one night with no architectural plans like I would need? Of course, the answers do not lie within the spider, but rather with the hands that created and molded her. The same hands that created and molded me. What glorious webs of beauty might I weave this day…

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

MOVEMENT IN THE DARKNESS

It is late on a summer night. The air is heavy and warm, while the moon shines down from above. Stars twinkle in the sky, creating a drawing on an otherwise blank canvas. Trees stand as immense shadows seeming to hover over me, occasionally swaying gently in the light breeze. All around I can hear crickets and frogs, their noise sounding like some great orchestra or choir gradually reaching a crescendo. Alongside me, a large spider is busy spinning her spectacular and artistic web. Suddenly, a bat flies past me, disappearing as quickly as he had appeared. Life busily proceeds, even in the darkness.

God’s creation never stops. Out here, growth occurs – even as the world goes dark. Out here, spiders create a masterpiece and frogs sing – even as the world goes dark. Out here, shadows that lurk are simply signs of life – even as the world goes dark. I find it amusing that as a little child I feared the darkness with such ferocity, and as an adult I see its beauty with an equal passion. Perhaps it is my appreciation for God’s glory which is reflected everywhere we take the time to look. Or maybe it is my faithful hope that God’s light shines brightest in our darkest hours. In any case, on this evening, I just take a deep breath. There is movement in this darkness. God is here. Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

PEACE, SHALOM, SALAM

On a sunny summer day, Lake Ontario was glistening. With each wave, the surface of the water would produce little sparkles seeming to dance in a calm and rhythmic pattern. The waves themselves moved up and down in such a coordinated way as to make it look as if the lake was a living body taking breath after breath. As every wave reached the shore after its long journey, the loud and yet peaceful noise of water crashing into rocks filled the air. Meanwhile, just above the surface, a cool breeze rode those same waves across the waters and onto the shore.

For several hours my wife and I simply observed the calming sanctuary that is God’s creation. Seagulls soared above the water, their wings spread wide as they surfed the winds, gliding effortlessly and calling out as if children at play. A beautiful maple tree emerged from a rock, proving once again that no obstacle can stand in the way of God’s desire to produce life. Large boulders and small stones stretched out before us as a canvass, having been carved, molded and shaped by the artist that is the waves of the lake. Finally, puffy snow white clouds floated across the sky in the distance providing a backdrop for an otherwise endless piece of art. God had sculpted this place on this day, and we could not bring ourselves to take our eyes off of the ever shifting scene. This was God at work before our very eyes. This was pure sabbath rest. Peace. Shalom. Salam.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

THE SPIRIT OF THE CANADIAN FALLS

I stand at its base, watching in awe as the waters race over the edge above and crash gloriously right beside me. I wonder at the thunderous rumbling that drowns out the voices around me, and at the constant shaking of the rocks – each of whom have endured centuries of such a remarkable current. One can see the erosion and the lines on the rocks – these waters have changed them.

The Falls roars by – the splash at its base exploding upward and outward in all directions creating a wind, a force, a Spirit of its own! Their power is deafening. The mist spreads as if acting of free will. At times it even seems to creep upward as some kind of living being attempting to climb back up the Falls from which it came. Sometimes the breeze lifts the mist and it cyclones around itself – forming what appears to be a tornadic storm engulfing all in its path, including me. For a moment, it is all that one can see or feel. At times, a rainbow even forms in the mist and hovers magically just above the water’s surface. In such a literal sense, the mist is breathtaking in its embrace, as it repeatedly changes the scene in which it exists.

The waters at the bottom of the falls swirl and churn around and around. Plants peek out of rocks worn down from the wear and tear of daily life here. This is where two great lakes converge, and where billions of seemingly independent streams come together to move as one – forming rapids flowing wildly like nothing I have ever experienced before. The water and the Falls are in so many ways their own living creature in constant movement, carving the landscape anew every day. Yet, soaring just above it all are flocks of seagulls simply gliding gracefully with what must be a miraculous overview. The contrast between the powerful rapids and its graceful residents is palpable. It can change one’s heart.

Here, in these moments, I am engulfed in baptismal waters, flowing with such force as to erode that which clings to one’s soul. These waters are life-altering, more powerful and chaotic than the world they help me to forget. For now, all I can see is glory and beauty and strength. I need not understand, but only fully experience, as I stand surrounded by that which God’s hands have crafted so perfectly. Here, the universe has been reduced to live-giving waters flowing through a corner of the creation I am blessed to be observing. In this place, time is no longer counted and humanity is no longer so large. Life is simple – as I release all cares and fully immerse myself in the thundering waters that cleanse all worries. I find myself thinking – ‘If only I could stay and dwell in this sacred moment for a lifetime!’ But then my soul reminds me that the sacredness of this moment will indeed dwell within me for all eternity – and my heart beats with joy again. Amen.

-Rev. Jeffrey G Mikyska