Dear Friends ~

As I write, we’re a month away from the Winter Solstice ─ the longest night of the year. We’re coming into a season of darkness. The days are short, the nights are long ─ and the season’s dark-ness brings challenges. This always was “the flu season.” Now it’s both the flu season and a sea-son of rising COVID-19 infections not just here in Vermont but all around our country. If Seasonal Affective Disorder were not already a challenge to many of us, COVID fatigue puts another layer of burden on our isolation. Those who live with SAD at least can find broad-spectrum light boxes on the market that go a long way towards mitigating the missing sunlight.

But, how do we manage the challenges that this year ─ the year 2020 ─ has raised up? These days have been a challenge to faith. December and the holidays that actually begin with Thanks-giving in November are, more than ever, a time of deep sadness and grief. If we haven’t lost loved ones to the pandemic, we’ve lost regular social interactions, the company of friends and family. Many in our community have lost jobs. Parents struggle with “hybrid” educational models that rely on the internet ─ with spotty and often non-existent coverage. Parents lose income when they must stay home with their children. Food insecurity becomes even more problematic right here in our own little rural communities. For some, the holidays only magnify the loss. Sadness can feel sadder, and loneliness yet more lonely, hunger more gnawing, poverty more bleak.

The prophet Isaiah ─ speaking to his people in exile ─ offered words of encouragement to them that may resonate for you as they do for me. Speaking in the voice of God, Isaiah pro-claims,

“I live on high, in holiness, and also with the crushed and the lowly, reviving the spirit of the lowly, reviving the heart of those who have been crushed.” (Isaiah 57:15b)

Scriptures of the ancient Hebrews dare to proclaim that the Holy One is closest when we are most in need of that Sacred Presence. And, I dare say, that is what I’ve seen time and time again. I hear your stories of those who have reached out to you when you most needed it. I see how you and many others have reached out to lift up. In every instance ─ God is present. You are the folk who reached out early in the pandemic to offer monetary resources for me to share with those whom I knew to be most in need. God is there.

Now we face a renewed challenge. In light of the Governor’s restrictions, we have suspended in person worship for the foreseeable future. But that doesn’t mean that we are helpless to reach out to each other and to the community we serve for Christ’s sake.

You are invited to support the Star Tree ─ in a different form. With your support, we will sup-port thirty children with Christmas gift cards so that their parents may purchase a small toy and an item of warm clothing. We’ll deliver them to NewBrook School within a beautiful card with a photo of last year’s Star Tree and a note wishing them well for the Holy Days. Your contributions in any amount can be sent to Newfane Congregational Church. Please write “Star Tree” in the memo line.

And, more than ever, let us pray for each other and our communities. Read scripture; pray dili-gently, reach out by phone or email or “facetime,” or any other way ─ just to keep human connec-tions vital and alive. Time and again I hear your longings for healing and wholeness of our com-munity, our state and nation as a readiness to embrace the hurt of others and to lift up those who are in distress. Thank you for your ministry. Thank you for being Christ’s Good News in the world.

The Church’s season of Advent nurtures that spark of hope, of expectation, of longing for peace, of waiting for Birth. In the silence of the lengthening nights there is, far off in the shadows, the sound of breath being held, listening for Emmanuel. The ancient faith of our an-cestors lives still in our midst, if we listen. Listen, even as people of faith still wait for promises to be kept and for prophecies to be fulfilled. Wait expectantly for the light to be revealed. The revelation came in the person of Jesus. Christmas came to earth on that day. Light dawned that day. The Word became flesh for all who waited with baited breath.

And so people with Christmas hearts sing the songs of the Season. We sing of hope, peace, joy, love and Light. We sing of healing. We sing of Birth, of God-with-us . . . . . . Emmanuel! We sing of following in the Way of Jesus, learning to see and love the world as God does.

May you continue to live in to the Holy One’s dream in this time of making ready for Christ-mas. And, may you be lead in joy as you follow in the Way of Bethlehem’s Child.

In the Peace of the Manger Child,