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Advent Hope

Have you ever seen Christmas decorations go up so early? As soon as November 1st hit the calendar, people in my neighborhood were already putting up Christmas lights and trees! I'm always happy to see people decorating for Christmas, but why so early?

Could it be that many people are searching for sense of hope? Could it be that people wearied by our current pandemic are desperately searching for something to look forward to, something hopeful? Many of us, if not all of us, are tired, fatigued and exhausted from the past nine months of uncertainty, isolation, mandates and shutdowns.

Multiple studies show that the rate of depression has tripled during our current pandemic. In late June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that forty percent of adults in the U.S. reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse. Recent CDC data reveals that almost one in five teens across the country have seriously considered attempting suicide. And sadly, actual suicides and drug overdoses have surpassed the death rate for COVID-19 among high school students.

Children of all ages are struggling mightily with isolation and remote education. Parents across the country are worried that their children are falling behind or failing in school. Small businesses are closing a rapid pace. Forbes Magazine predicted that sixty percent of restaurants nationwide will close permanently. A new Pew Research Center survey finds that one in four adults have had trouble paying their bills since the start of the pandemic. This, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the awful 2020 news and statistics. To say that people are searching for any sign of light at the end of this pandemic tunnel, searching desperately for any sign of hope is an understatement!

As we enter the season of Advent, we enter a season filled with hope; hope that is grounded in the One who came and who is coming again! Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming.” The whole season of Advent has to do with our Lord's coming.

Traditionally, Advent focus on the threefold coming of Christ: (1) Christ's coming in the flesh to be our Savior; (2) Christ's coming again to be our Judge; and (3) Christ's coming to us now enfleshed in His Word and Sacraments.

Advent is a season of sober repentance mixed with holy joy as we prepare to celebrate aright the Nativity of Our Lord. It is a season of preparation, expectation and hope as we await our Lord's coming again to judge the living and the dead. It is a season of prayer and devotion, hearing and meditating on the Word of God and the wonder of His love come down to us and for us in the Christ child.

While the world around us desperately searches for any glimmer of hope with very little on the horizon, the Word of God in the season of Advent directs our hearts and our lives to the only place where true hope is to be found; the One who is born of the Virgin Mary “in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). He is our hope, our life, our joy and our glorious salvation. Even in the darkest seasons of life, His light shines bright as we wait “for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

Ironically, the Advent season comes during one the darkest times of the year. The days are short and the nights are long. And yet, Advent is a season of light, increasing light that leads us to the light shining in the darkness of Bethlehem in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). As Isaiah once foretold;

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined … For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:2, 6).

Advent points us beyond all the secularization and commercialization of Christmas, beyond all the Christmas lights and decorations, to the True Light that has come into the world (John 1:9). Advent is a season of hope because it points beyond itself to a time that is coming, to the One who is coming again as we pray and sing:

Come, Thou long expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us;
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art,
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart. 1

As we continue to journey through these gray and later days, through a very dark 2020, take heart and comfort this season in your Savior Jesus who has come to set you free, to give you life, to give you rest, and to give you Advent hope, “coming” hope, in His coming again for you!

Blessed Adventide and Christmas,
Pastor Nettleton

  1. Charles Wesley, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” in Lutheran Service Book (Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 338.

Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at or at 970-305-2420.

The Word of the Lord Remains Forever

All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.Isaiah 40:6–8

The letters VDMA (often pictured around a Greek cross) is an acronym that stands for the Latin phrase Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum (The Word of the Lord Endures Forever). This important phrase was the first evangelical confession and thus became the motto of the Lutheran Reformation and the logo VDMA its official symbol. Based on the words of Isaiah 40:8 and 1 Peter 1:25, VDMA is a confident expression of the enduring power and authority of God’s living and abiding Word.

While the origin of the VDMA motto and logo is unknown, its first known use occurs in 1522 when Fredrick the Wise, Elector of Saxony (Luther’s prince), ordered the logo be sewn onto the courts official clothing worn by prince and servant alike in support of the evangelical faith. The motto/logo was also used by Fredrick's successors, his brother John the Steadfast and his nephew John Fredrick the Magnanimous.

The motto appears on the title page of Luther's first German Bible translation in 1534 (Gottes wort bleibt ewig). VDMA also became the official motto the of Smalcaldic League (1531–1547), an alliance of Lutheran cities and territories formed as a way of defending Lutheran areas against the Emperor and his armies. The VDMA logo “was used on flags, banners, swords, and uniforms as a symbol of the unity of the Lutheran laity who struggled to defend their beliefs, communities, families, and lives against those who were intent on destroying them” and the Gospel teaching and preaching of the Lutheran Reformation. 1

VDMA was a strong reminder to Luther and all who confessed and defended the faith during the Reformation that even if the Emperor was able to overthrow them, he could not snuff out or destroy God’s Word which remains and abides forever! No pope, prince or emperor can ever silence the eternal gospel (Revelation 14:6).

The enduring motto of the Lutheran Reformation remains a confident reminder of God’s abiding Word of truth for His people whose lives are always lived amidst fleeting and transient days. While the Church remains under attack today from hostile enemies on the outside and false teachers on the inside, God's Word cannot be thwarted, it shall remain forever!

Even as a large part of our culture seeks to silence and eliminate the church’s voice within the public square, within our communities, within our neighborhoods and our circle of relationships, the immutable and eternal power and authority of God's Word gives His people an unshakable confidence and certainty to stand upon in the midst of volatility and futility.

Whether the church is free to believe, teach, and confess what the Holy Scriptures teach and confess or whether it endures suffering, persecution or sword (Romans 8:18, 35) like God's Word it too will endure forever because Jesus promises that even “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

Unlike the fleeting faithfulness of humanity and the brevity of fallen creation, God's faithfulness is unchanging, His Word of truth and promise stands, remains, endures forever. What is true of the verbal Word of God is also true of the incarnate Word of God. Jesus Christ was crucified, died and buried, but is now risen from the dead forever never to die again (Romans 6:9) and in Him God's people shall endure, abide, live with Him forever!

The grass withers and flower fades, but the Word of the Lord remains forever and in the Word made flesh Jesus Christ so will His Church, so will you.

VDMA,
Pastor Nettleton

  1. Concordia The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord (CPH, 2006), 2.

Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at or at 970-305-2420.

Christ and Calamity

If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.Psalm 139:9–10

Lord, do you not care if we perish?

That’s what the frightened disciples shouted to Jesus as he slept in the stern of a storm-tossed boat. In the midst of suffering and uncertainty, we’re all prone to think that God has forgotten us, he doesn’t care or he’s powerless to do anything. That’s certainly true of us in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

In Christ and Calamity, Harold L. Senkbeil speaks pastorally to our suffering and uncertainty. Senkbeil shows God’s constant and faithful grace to us. Calamities come in many different sizes, and God addresses them all in his word and by his Spirit. Even when we don’t see or feel it, God is always faithful.

The disciples’ faith in the midst of the storm may have been weak, but Jesus was mighty to save. And he will save you, too. No matter how small your faith, you can count on him to hear your anguished cry and to answer.

You can find Rev. Dr. Senkbeil’s Christ and Calamity: Grace and Gratitude in the Darkest Valley at Lexham Press or any bookseller. If you’d prefer to order a copy through the church office, please contact Tom at 482-5316 or .

The One Unchangeable

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
Earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.Henry F. Lyte, “Abide with Me”

The words of this beloved hymn ring true in several ways, but maybe the most applicable these days is change. Change is a part of life; a part that few of us like if we're honest with ourselves. I'll admit, I don't like change very much. I like routine. I like order. I like normal. And I don't very much care for these things being upset by change. Of course, if you are like me, this is due to the fact that we often find some sort of comfort and security in routine, order and normal daily patterns.

While this is not necessarily a sin problem, it can certainly be a temptation for us to turn things like routine, order, and normalcy into idols that bestow what only God can give, namely comfort, security and peace.

We've seen and experienced enough change and decay for one year maybe more! It seems as though the carpet of routine, order and normalcy has been yanked right out from underneath us. Some of us may feel as if we've had to push the pause button on our lives. Many of us are waiting for our lives to get back to some sense of “normal.” Maybe our lives will get back to the way they were, maybe they won't. Only time will tell.

One thing is for sure; “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) and “Thou who changest not” abides with us always! The God of history is only Unchangeable and He is our ultimate source of comfort, security and peace—not routine, order and normalcy.

Professor emeritus of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Robert Kolb put it best:

God is not pleased when we try to find the stability and security of our lives in maintaining or returning to doing things the way we always have. He wants to be our only ultimately stable, security, and shalom … He is also displeased with us when try to make our customary way of doing things the anchor of our lives and do not find our anchor in His Word and His presence. 1

Unfortunately, we all have a way of anchoring our lives in things that were not meant to hold, sustain or anchor us. Unfortunately, we have a way of fearing things above or more than God, loving things above or more than God and trusting in things above or more than God. God's good gifts (even routine, order and normalcy) are for us to enjoy, but not to worship, cling to or rely upon for what only God Himself can give.

Luther reminds us in The Large Catechism:

As I have often said, it is the trust and faith of the heart alone that make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true one. Conversely, where your trust is false and wrong, there you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God. 2

Change has a way of upsetting our lives that none of us really welcome whole heartedly. And yet, change in our lives always brings the opportunity for us to reflect on where our faith and trust really lie. Change, challenge, trial and struggle may or may not be from God, but He will always use these to draw us closer to Him and His Word (Romans 8:28; 2 Corinthians 12:8–10).

Reframing the First Commandment in a positive way, Luther reminds us that God invites us to trust, look to and cling to Him always especially in times of challenge and trouble.

“See to it that you let me alone be your God, and never search for another.” In other words: “Whatever good thing you lack, look to me for it and seek it from me, and whenever you suffer misfortune and distress, crawl to me and cling to me. I, I myself will give you what you need and help you out of every danger. Only do not let your heart cling to or rest in anyone else.” 3

As those who have been born again by baptism into a living faith we know who to look and cling to for all things, especially our salvation. And yet, how easy it is to look elsewhere for comfort, security and peace.

Thankfully, “Thou who changest not” changes not His grace and mercy toward us in Christ. As the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed and rejoiced in, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22–23).

Change and decay are indeed all around us, but Thou who changest not, abides with us now and always with His grace, with His Word and presence. "Jesus Christ, who gives a peace no human system or institution, custom or practice can give, is here for us, at our side, on our side, in every contention with every new normal." 4 Thanks be to God!

Serving you in Christ,
Pastor Nettleton

  1. https://www.1517.org/articles/back-to-the-new-normal
  2. Martin Luther, The Large Catechism, I, 3.
  3. Luther, I, 4.
  4. https://www.1517.org/articles/back-to-the-new-normal

Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at or at 970-305-2420.

God is our Refuge and Strength

Six months in and 2020 seems like it will be a year most of us will never forget, though we wish we could. A global pandemic, daily death tolls, government mandated shut downs, months of isolation, millions of people unemployed causing much fear, anxiety and uncertainty. Then the tragic and senseless death of a man caught on video that enraged a city and a country. Righteous calls for justice and protests against violence were quickly hijacked by vast mobs of opportunists who seized the moment as an excuse to riot, loot, deface, burn, destroy anyone or anything in their path causing more fear, anxiety and uncertainty. Debates rage over mask wearing, government overreach, police reform, racism and cancel culture with voices calling us to take sides! More fear, anxiety and uncertainty!

What are we to do? Where are we to go? With St. Peter, we know where and to whom to turn; “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). I can't think of a better Word of God for this moment than Psalm 46.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.Psalm 46:1–3

The psalmist paints us a picture of cosmic disaster and utter chaos. Mountains, symbols of security and stability, are being shaken. They are trembling and crumbling into heart of the sea. Waters are roaring and foaming, destroying whatever lies in its path. This picture screams of God's good creation coming undone.

In the midst of the chaos and the upheaval of creation, the psalmist is bold to proclaim “we will not fear,” we will not be shaken, we will not give way! Why? Even in the most dire of circumstances in our world or in our own lives, “God is our refuge and strength.” God Himself is our place of cover, of shelter and He protects and shields all who take refuge under Him. He is our rock, our stronghold, our strength whose security can be trusted. He is “a very present help in trouble” (literally, He is “much to be found, easy to find,” in trouble). God is our help in trouble who is always there, totally available, 100% accessible whenever, wherever and for whatever.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.Psalm 46:4–7

In the midst of roaring waters, there is a peaceful stream the makes glad the city, the people of God. This stream brings calm, peace and security because God is in the midst of His people. Everything else around them may tremble, crumble and come crashing down, but God's dwelling and His inhabitants will stand and will not be moved. This stream is His Holy Word and Holy Sacraments that pardon sin, calm fears and anxieties and give living waters to the thirsting soul.

The Lord “will help her,” His people, His church “when morning dawns.” Indeed, when the morning dawned that first day of the Resurrection Christ rose up from the grave having kicked chaos and death in the teeth! This is God's consummate victory over chaos and death for you! Nothing in this life can separate you from Him and Christ's victory for you! A good friend asked me last week, “Where is this world going?” He knows and you know. It will end with the resurrection of all flesh on the Last Day!

Nations may war and rage against each other and against God's people, but the kingdoms that attack Zion, the Church, will “totter” and give way. Why? All God has to do is speak His all powerful Word and His enemies are no more! He is the LORD of hosts (Sabaoth), literally “Yahweh of armies.” He is General Yahweh who leads His heavenly hosts against cosmic and human foes for the sake of His people.

Even though the very fabric of creation is coming undone, even though God’s Word and truth are under attack, even though fear, anxiety and uncertainly rule the day, we as God’s own beloved need not fear or be dismayed for the LORD is in control and He, the God of Jacob, our Mighty Fortress, is always with us!

Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. "Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.Psalm 46:8–11

The psalmist invites us to come and see the “works of the Lord.” He, and He alone, brings wars to end by destroying the weapons of war. Yahweh of armies could have called down a legion of angels to fight for Him (Matthew 26:53). But instead He defeated the prince of darkness and all the evil he insights with a love that could not be destroyed by hatred or violence. His victory didn't look like one through worldly eyes, but a few saw it through the eyes of faith. The thief on the cross said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). The centurion at the cross said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). This is why St. Paul says, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Exalted among the nations on the cross, the Lord of heaven and earth disarmed and dismantled the enemies of His people (sin, death and the devil) by the shedding of His own blood and the laying down His own life (Colossians 2:15). He is now exalted over all things and all things are now under His feet until the last enemy (death) is destroyed forever (1 Corinthians 15:24–26).

“Be still and know that I am God,” is not a call to quiet spiritually, but to know that the battle belongs to the Lord and to trust in nothing else in this world but Him! This psalm is clear that the Lord God alone and nothing else is our Mighty Fortress. When we put our trust in princes, in earthly governments and rulers, in any man or man-made movement, these things become idols. And idols always fail us and always break because they cannot hold our lives. The God of Jacob alone is our refuge, our help, the only One true God who holds our lives under His gracious and protective care.

Hence Martin Luther could write in his great hymn, “Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us, We tremble not, we fear no ill, They shall not overpow’r us. This world’s prince may still Scowl fierce as he will, He can harm us none. He’s judged; the deed is done; One little word can fell him. … And take they our life, Goods, fame, child and wife, Though these all be gone, Our vict’ry has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth.” 1

There is much chaos and upheaval in our world today, maybe even in our own lives. There is much to be concerned about, to pray about and to grieve over. Fear, anxiety and uncertainty abound. But fear not, people of God, for our great God is always our refuge and strength, our ever-present help in any trouble, even now. He is in control and come what may He will see us through these challenging days. He promised and He will.

Serving you in Christ,
Pastor Nettleton

  1. “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” in Lutheran Service Book (Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 656.

Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at or at 970-305-2420.

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