Reflection: When We Need God Most

by | Dec 17, 2018

God proves God’s love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

Even though Christmas is a week away, I don’t experience the loud clamor of Christmas cheer.  I’m not sure if it’s because I don’t spend much time shopping in decked-out stores, or watching the Hallmark TV channel.  I live near a mansion that drew many people because of their over-the-top Christmas decorations, but now they only turn on the lights around Christmas Eve.  

Or it might be hearing news that reminds me of the fragility of human life.  We experience tragedy even during the Christmas season, and it’s even more poignant for families who face the joyous celebrations with reminders of the ones they’ve lost.  I continue to ask for your prayers for the family and friends of Maha Hakim of Arabic Evangelical Church, and now I ask your prayers for the family of Zac Bright, one of our Presbytery members who passed away last Thursday, and for Margarita Reyes, whose mother passed on to the Lord yesterday.

There is a poignancy in Advent, as we wait for the hope of redemption that the Christ baby brings.  Songs like “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” or the anthem “We Wait for Thee” by Victor C. Johnson (“Come, Thou Prince of Peace . . . come and set Your people free”) remind us that Jesus did not come for those who are fully satisfied with wealth, health, and love.  Jesus came especially for those who seek God’s help to save the lost, to heal the sick, to welcome the outcast, to raise up the oppressed.

As we witness families fleeing violence and poverty in other countries, we are reminded that we are not so far from such suffering.  In our midst are homeless people trying to make it through every cold night, people fearful that they cannot get health coverage to help them through medical crises, victims of domestic violence trying to weigh the risks of leaving their home with the danger of staying in it.

And some decades ago, the Great Depression impacted millions of Americans.  Those who were already poor, in areas like Appalachia, which is still one of the poorest regions in the United States, suffered even more when the whole country’s economy collapsed.

In the midst of the Depression, composer and song collector John Jacob Niles came upon a poignant scene in rural North Carolina.  Here are his words describing it:

The place was Murphy, North Carolina, and the time was July, 1933.  The Morgan family, revivalists all, were about to be ejected by the police, after having camped in the town square for some little time, cooking, washing, hanging their wash from the Confederate monument and generally conducting themselves in such a way as to be classed a public nuisance.  Preacher Morgan and his wife pled poverty; they had to hold one more meeting in order to buy enough gas to get out of town.  It was then that Annie Morgan . . . stepped out to the edge of the little platform attached to the automobile. She began to sing.  Her clothes were unbelievable dirty and ragged, and she, too, was unwashed.  Her ash-blond hair hung down in long skeins. . . . But, best of all, she was beautiful, and in her untutored way, she could sing.  She smiled as she sang, smiled rather sadly, and sang only a single line of a song.

The girl sang “I wonder as I wander, out under the sky, how Jesus the Savior did come for to die.”  And based on that snippet, Niles wrote the carol we know now.

There is always a hushed moment on Christmas Eve, when we Christians remember a humble setting, with a temporarily homeless couple giving birth to a little baby in a small country occupied by a powerful empire—and yet in that baby was the fulfillment of God’s promise to go to any lengths necessary to save us.  God went so far as to come as a baby born in these poor circumstances, as a holy man confronting and being confronted by church and civil authorities, and as an outcast himself facing execution.  All for love of this world.  All “for poor on’ry people like you and like I.”  God gives us love and grace beyond words; God gives us in Jesus love and grace in the flesh.

Because we will not send another Monday Morning Update until January 7, let me highlight a few things coming up in the new year, some of which help us continue Jesus’ ministry of love and grace:

  • The annual Homeless Count will come up January 22-24, with mandatory orientation January 16-17.  Take a look at the information flyer and register now!  I hope to join Wendy Gist, Ken Baker, and Areta Crowell, who did it last year and will do it again in 2019; Angelica Michail and Deidra Goulding will represent Shepherd of the Valley in Rowland Heights. 
  • There will be a short Presbytery meeting on January 15 at Knox in Pasadena.  You can come register and hang out starting at 6:30, and the meeting will start at 7 pm.  We will install our new moderator and vice moderator, Roberto Ramirez and Karen Sapio, and celebrate our ongoing relationship with the House of Rest, who are again funding our Chaplain for Retired Presbyterian Church Workers program, now to include Monte Vista Grove Homes.  Congratulations to Lauren Evans for her faithful and innovative work in this area.  And we will collect an offering for East San Gabriel Valley Coalition for the Homeless, which provides multiple services including a cold-weather shelter in the area from El Monte to Glendora.  You can learn more about them at
  • Board of Pensions is offering a pre-retirement seminar at Westminster Gardens in Duarte February 13-14.  This will be one of the last in-person seminars, as future seminars will be on-line.  Registration is limited but all Board of Pensions members are welcome; go to BoP to register on-line.
  • And don’t forget to register your church groups for WinterFest, which will be held February 2 at Northminster in Diamond Bar.  Groups of 5 or more receive special additional resources! And even if you’re on your own, you will be inspired and empowered with keynote speaker Alexia Salvatierra and others.  Register and get more information here.

May you have a warm and joyous Christmas.  Let us thank God with all our hearts for coming down to be with us, all of us, bringing hope even to those who have every reason to despair.  And as the body of Christ for this place at this time, may we, too, be agents of God’s love for the hurting around us today. 

Emmanuel—God with us,