Staying Focused on the Christmas Message
at the End of a Challenging Year

 by Randy Zielsdorf
December 24, 2020 — Christmas Eve

Heb. 3:1
1.Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest.

Do you ever try and focus on something, but can’t due to all the distractions around you? You may be trying to watch a movie, but someone near you is talking. While at a concert someone is loudly paging through their program. Working on a project at home and the children are noisily playing. Distractions can be really annoying.
Life can be very distracting towards the things of God. 
Too many things to do, so many places to go, friends and family making too many demands on you. Job projects you just have to finish, or family and guests you need to serve.
Remember Luke 10:40?
40. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
In the next verse, basically, Jesus told her she was distracted from the important thing, Him.
In the past, Christmas may have been like that for you. I’ll bet they were, I know they were for me. 
Christmas 2020 is quite different. In fact, you may think it is depressingly different.
Very few family and friends, if any, are coming over. Church will be different. No children’s programs. No office Christmas parties. You may have even decided not to decorate your home because no one would be coming by. Some of you may really be isolated due to the COVID restrictions.
When I was a kid, going to that Christmas eve program was very much looked forward to. We opened presents on Christmas eve, but first we attended Church and performed our children’s program, then we received our Church’s very special Christmas stocking. Shortly after we were home in front of the Christmas tree with presents piled high all around due to the large family of five boys, and mom and dad. That was a crew! That is a great memory.
The changes in 2020 are very real, most, if not all of the changes are disturbing, and many of the changes have required a change in our behavior.  
You probably received this devotion on Christmas eve, so I’m going to make this short and to the point. There is good news. During this pandemic, and due to all of the restrictions, there are not as many distractions. For that reason, it should be far easier to place our complete focus on Jesus this Christmas. Placing your focus on our Savior, will turn a tough time into a blessed time.

Philippians 3:13-14
New Living Translation
13. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14. I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Enjoy this quiet time celebrating the birth of our Savior. God bless our congregation, God bless our Pastor, and God bless our Nation.

O Come O Come Emmanuel.

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Christmas Eve 1938
by Pastor Paul Wietzke

December 23, 2020

     Christmas Eve 1938, in Chicago, is indelibly etched in my mind.  It was that time of the year when I would normally have been jumping with joy.  But this year, it was different.  In May of 1938, at the age of twelve, I was confined to bed or to the living room couch, the victim of chorea, also known as Saint Vitus’ Dance—a condition that affects the nervous system.  Dr. Klein made this diagnosis, and he then prescribed bed rest—with a long period of recuperation to follow– along with twice daily doses of pea-green, chalky, terrible tasting medicine.  He also informed me that I would be missing the next year of school.  “IT WAS THE WORST OF TIMES!”

     Frustrated and unhappy, I knew that I would be spending Christmas Eve alone and missing out on the eleven o’clock candlelight worship service, surrounded by friends—both elderly and young—exchanging Christmas greetings.  It didn’t help that I was able to hear my Aunt Loretta playing familiar Christmas carols and hymns on the organ, as our parsonage was next door to the church, where my father would be delivering his Christmas sermon.  I would also be missing the beautiful sight of the congregation holding lighted candles while singing “Silent Night, Holy Night.”  Mom, Dad, my sisters Lois and Ruth, and my brother Wally had already left; there I was—alone on the couch on the second floor of the parish hall/parsonage.  Our Christmas tree was lit and the presents were under the tree.  But that did not lift my melancholy mood.  This is not what I wanted to remember about Christmas Eve and early Christmas morning—when another worship service would be held.

     I was shocked when I suddenly heard footsteps on the staircase.  My first thought was that we were going to be robbed. But when the door opened leading into the living room, I discovered—to my surprise—that it was my dad! With the few words, “Paul, how are you?”, he picked me up, wrapped a blanket around me, and carried me over to the church (at that time, I was still unable to walk).  He placed me on a chair behind his pulpit, and my spirits were lifted by this act of a loving father.  I believe this was a turning point in my recuperation.  Suddenly, “IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES!”  But there is more to this Christmas message. 

      Because I am a child of the Heavenly Father, who loves me and who invaded our planet in the form of the Christ Child, Immanuel—God with us—I have the assurance that I am never alone, and that I am safe in His arms—even as I was wrapped securely and carried by my own dear earthly father.  It was many years later, as I was ready to board the train that would carry me off to college, that my dad said goodbye.  His closing words, as he embraced me, were these:  “Remember whose child you are.”  He had no doubt that I understood:  I was not only his child, I was—first and foremost—a child of our gracious Heavenly Father.

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Marlene Anderson


Christmas Story #6

What if….

What if

We discovered that Christmas really was more than holiday get togethers, calculated gifts, and the compulsory visits to relatives we otherwise would not speak to?   Would we truly experience Christmas? 

What if

We really got it; that Christmas is about the birth of a Savior? Would we realize our need for Him?     

What if

            We stopped trying to live perfect lives, pretending we had it all together?

            Would we become real?

What if

We made our own pilgrimages into the soul, laying bare our sins and shortcomings before a loving God?  Would we discover grace and peace? 

What if

            We forgave ourselves.

            Would we be more forgiving?

What if

We were willing to share our talents, abilities, and skills, our tattered love, vulnerabilities, and incompleteness with those around us.  

Would others discover Christmas?  

May the God who was willing to allow His son to come to this earth as a vulnerable baby, transform your life as He continues to transform the world; and in that transformation, may each of us truly experience Christmas for the first time.


Marlene Anderson

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December 20, 2020 PM                                                          Christmas Story #5 

A Child’s Memory of Christmas

Elsie Wietzke

            Throughout these days anticipating Christmas, nostalgia tugs at the heart. My remembrance of a Christmas Eve worship service in Kenosha, Wisconsin, with all who were dear to me—parents, sister, grandparents—remains a gift to this day. I was a young child, perhaps five or six years of age; I was filled with awe at the sacredness of that time and place and all that seemed to imbue the church with the wonder of the first Christmas. And then—oh, what joy!—the traditional little brown sacks of goodies were gifted to each child as they left that holy place and that holy moment in time. I try to recapture it all with language, but that night is just beyond the reach of words.             

                                                 I remember crunch of snow beneath footsteps

                        That led me to wreathed doors flung wide,

                        Wrapping me in sweet strains of carillon—

                        Cloaking me in scent of candle-wax and orange


                        As I stepped inside…


                        There to steep my senses in the sacredness

                        Of moment…of all time…of gift of Infant mild:

                        Candlelight and  Holy Night, pungent straw-filled crèche

                        Reflected  in our love that night: in family and


                        In me—a little child.


                        At door once more, brown bags—filled and fragrant;

                        Hearts skip a beat as small hands receive the treasure.

                        Under falling snow, breathless, I peer inside:

                        Jeweled candies…burnished nuts…aromatic  orange.


Gift beyond all measure!


                        I hold that Christmas close within my heart—

                        Recall my near-tear wonder

                        As Love poured forth one snowy night:

                        Bright orange above a blanket white.


        Every Christmas Eve candlelight worship service enkindles this memory—deepened in significance with the layers of time. Is it not strange that, although we may not find ourselves in the warmth and glow of our sanctuary—radiant with candlelight down the center aisle and on the altar, to which it leads, yet will we discover ourselves to be wrapped in the warmth and assurance of God’s love—His Gift beyond our comprehension:  the Babe of Bethlehem, the Word made flesh, our Redeemer. Consider this near-miracle: our parking lot transforms to sanctuary, and our vehicles to pews. And we become as shepherds who have heard the angels sing, as we seek to draw near to Him and celebrate His coming. The glow from the Christ candle, I am sure, casts a hint of orange from its flame! 


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Christmas Story #4 
December 21, 2020 AM
Sandy Schreiner


                                                THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER


Christmas 2019 – one I will never forget…

You’ve heard my story about 2017 – 18 and 19. To describe it politely, I was a basket case. Gary hadn’t been gone a month yet, my folks were gone and I was flat on my back on an air mattress, pretty much 24/7. Usually, I didn’t even try to get dressed.

And here were the holidays – like nothing I could imagine in my worst nightmares. 

Not only was I in horrific pain, I couldn’t even look forward to attending a Christmas Eve Worship Service and being with people. Home alone. Isolated. My family, what was left, had their own Church activities they were planning to attend. Yes, my brother was going to pick me up and take me to their house Christmas day, for dinner about 2 pm – didn’t know how that would work out because sitting hurt so bad – in a car was the worse – I usually got sick to my stomach – a couple times, violently sick. And once at their house, I would have to stand almost all of the time because I couldn’t sit without increasing the pain 100-fold. I’d have to watch my pain med’s carefully……

So, for that week before Christmas all I had to look forward to the loss of all my Christmas traditions – no setting up the Nativity on green tablecloth, box-covered terrain in front of the fireplace, no Christmas cross on the front door, no Christmas tree, no candles, no shopping, no twinkling lights, no berry ropes for the birds, no baking Christmas treats, no almond roca for Blaine (he wasn’t talking to me), no response from him or Brian (step-sons), no Christmas Day dinner preparations – list goes on… All I could see was loss, after loss, after loss, after loss.

Then the next hardest, to Gary being gone, was that my folks were gone too, so, no parents coming to the house for dinner on Christmas Eve, attending Worship Service together then coming back home and sharing a toast and playing cards. Bright and early the next morning (Christmas Day), it was opening gifts and getting the final dinner prep done before guests arrived – none of that in 2019… When my folks were both gone (in 2018), Gary and I did all those things except having company with us and playing cards. We sat with only the tree lights on and a couple candles lit, planning and dreaming what 2019 would bring.

Christmas 2019 – everything was gone! Didn’t even have any hope left. The thought of Christmas festivities was as painful as my back and leg. 

Then, Connie Ronning called and asked if she and “the kids” could come over and visit me on the 23rd. Three generations of “Ronnings” showed up – they needed 4-5 cars to get everyone here, 12-15 people and a baby! They brought in a plate of goodies – Erik brought his guitar. And, they sang Christmas carols for well over 30 minutes. They sang most songs in English but also shared music in Norwegian and Hungarian! It was the most incredible Christmas song fest ever – and they did it just for me! Best Christmas present ever! I got a glimmer, last Christmas, of what heaven’s choir will be like!

Were they angels disguised as the Ronning family?  I decided they were Spirit-led, caring people who saw someone desperate and hurting, and reached out to soothe my broken heart. Words will never be enough to say thank you to them for showing me, in a tangible form, that God never stops taking care for me. I’ll never forget that “worst Christmas ever” – when God brought angels to my door!

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Do you hear what I hear?
by Marlene Anderson
December 16, 2020

“Do you hear what I hear?”

Do you hear the baby Jesus cry, born in a stable so long ago on a cold winter’s night? Do you hear his Mother, little more than a child herself, soothe him with words of love? Do you follow his wandering gaze around the stable where cows and sheep stare back at this unknown intruder? Can you feel the warm sticky breath of these animals as they moved closer to have a look?   

Do you hear what I hear?

The Angels sang. His mother and father and shepherds heard. And years later thousands of people listened to the message He spoke as they gathered on mountainsides and by the sea and in the little Galilean towns to hear His words of comfort, healing, hope and understanding.  

Do you hear what I hear? 

It is God’s voice speaking through the ages, calling His people to come and see, come and listen, come and worship. “My Son is born!” He has come to save you from your sins.      

As a counselor, I listen to people share their hurts and pains. Spouses attack and defend, slowly tearing the fabric of their relationship apart; because they do not know how to express or hear the need of each other. Fears of rejection run deep in the spirit of our subconscious, keeping them safely hidden because we do not know what to do with them. We allow our hearts to become full of resentment because we do not know how to forgive.   

Jesus came to bind up the wounded. As people begged him to heal their physical ailments, it was their hearts that Jesus “heard” and responded to – the internal pain, anxiety, and fear.  And in hearing, told them that love was the answer – not murder or hatred or revenge. Love your enemies. Love your neighbor. Love yourselves.

He understood their pain. And he taught us that God loves us so much that He, Jesus, was sent to earth to show us that love through his death.  His love is unconditional – we can’t earn it by following rules or through sacrifice; it is a gift He gave that night as a tiny baby in a stable long ago. With mud and spit and simple commands, Jesus healed physical bodies; but it was the healing of their hearts that made the difference. Healing starts when we put our injured lives at His feet and reach out for His healing love.  

Do you hear what I hear

I hear people silently crying. I hear the wounded in spirit fearfully and with anxiety reach out to friends and family to be heard, loved, and accepted instead of judged, dismissed or ignored.  I hear the wounded lash out in anger. I hear the words of Jesus tell us to go out and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” to clothe the poor and look out for the disenfranchised.

 Do you hear what I hear?

I hear a world crying to “hear” the words of Jesus through the actions of his followers. I hear the angels sing joyously. I hear the awed silence of simple and uneducated shepherds who somehow knew that something special had just happened. I hear God whispering to us to listen to His son and to reach out and listen to those around us.   

Marlene Anderson


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Harvest Patience

By Elsie Pritchard

December 15, 2020



Advent is comparable to “seed time and harvest”, as referred to in Matthew 13:3 RSV, “And he (Jesus) told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow…”

The prophetic word (seed) was spoken (planted) from the time God revealed the messianic promise to Adam, Eve and the serpent in the garden. Gen. chapter 3. RSV

Satan tricks Eve which allows sin to enter. To the serpent He (God) said, “…I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.” Gen. 3:15



The promise of a redeemer would be made known by God. However, no time element was revealed.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 RSV





The water of the “Word (seed) Promise” was spoken (planted) and watered by the prophets and faithful servants through the generations.


Mary and Joseph experienced Advent challenges as they waited for “when the time was right” to birth Jesus.

Simeon and Anna were selected by God to greet the Savior. There was never any doubt in their hearts, as they waited for the Holy Spirit’s revelation.



Many believers were faithful followers of Jesus, building a strong foundation of LOVE for their heavenly Father, Jesus, their Savior and for one another.

“This I command you to love one another.”  John 15:17 NIV

“Through scripture, study and prayer, we speak God’s ‘Word (seed) Promise’ of eternal life back to Him.

“Our Redeemer, The Lord Almighty is His name. “Isaiah 47:4 RSV

“O Worship the Lord in the Beauty of His Holiness.” Psalm 96:9

God calls us to the blessing of an Advent time with Him. What a joyful, fulfilling time to grow our spiritual roots deeper and deeper into the fruitful soil of His presence and promises.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust IS THE Lord! He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream…”

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Miracle in the Lights!

By Mary Wolff
December 2018


It had been a busy day. We were exhausted but wanted to watch a DVD to unwind before bed, but first I wanted to get into my nightgown. I was in the other room when I heard a crash…and then heard “Mary”. I rushed to the living room to find Vern on the floor. 
“Are you OK? I asked.
“I Dunno”
“What happened?”
I Dunno”
“Can you get up?”
“I Dunno”
“Should I call 911?”
“No…let’s call Marlene”
Daughter Marlene (who works at the Warm Beach Camp) and her husband Phil, were at an all-staff dinner theater at Warm Beach Camp next door. So, I called her cell phone. No answer. I left a message to call home. We waited. Since Vern had hit his head again, we thought he should go to the emergency room to be checked out. I could call 911, but then I’d have to follow in the car, and I don’t see well to drive at night. But the phone didn’t ring.
Finally, although it was dark, I decided to drive next door and find her somehow. The annual Lights of Christmas show was about to begin, and everything was lit up in beautiful but almost blinding displays of colored lights, winter scenes and signs pointing to “Toyland”, “Santa’s Workshop”, “Victorian Singers”, etc. Nothing looked familiar and in my stress the lights reflecting off the white snow were a bit disorienting. 
I was pretty sure I should turn left to get to the dinner theater…but…the road was blocked with white sawhorses. What to do? I spied a road off to the right…so not knowing where it led…I took it. More lights. More displays. But WHERE was the dinner theater? I had no idea where I was or where to go. I was lost! I drove on. “Lord,” I prayed…“I don’t know where to go…don’t know what to do. Please…HELP!”
I turned left under an archway of lights and on ahead. Suddenly…on the right was a building. That was it! I had arrived about three feet from the front of the door! That was handy, because I have a little trouble with balance and can’t walk very far! “Thank You Lord!”
I went inside, and there coming to meet me was one of the camp staff. I told her I had an emergency and needed Marlene Smith. She knew Marlene and quickly got her. Husband Phil came too…with his coat.
When we got outside to the car parked in front of the door, Marlene laughed and said “Mom, you’re on the sidewalk…but people [camp staff] drive there all the time”. Well…how was I to know? The sidewalk was the width of a car and had no curb. Besides, the Lord got me there!
We got Vern into the car and Phil drove us to the ER. After all kinds of tests, x-rays, and even a CT scan, the Dr. said no damage appeared and released Vern to go home. 
Bed never looked so good, but the way God led me in the dark when I was so disoriented by the lights is amazing…I still get goose bumps thinking about it.

Happy Birthday Jesus,
I’m SO glad for who You are!