Born anew

www.brethren.org/yya
Photo by Glenn Riegel

By Emmett Witkovsky-Eldred, Brethren Volunteer Service volunteer for Youth and Young Adult Ministries

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2:1-4).

I’ve always been shy. Just thinking about gathering with dozens of strangers and getting to know them makes me anxious and bashful. I never expected to spend a year in Brethren Volunteer Service helping plan that sort of event. Well, actually, three: Christian Citizenship Seminar (April 27-May 2), Young Adult Conference (May 24-26), and National Junior High Conference (June 12-14). During my service in Elgin, Ill., with Youth and Young Adult Ministries of the Church of the Brethren, I am responsible for shepherding people and wrangling details that allow these events to succeed.

Each event promises to kindle the flame of community that fills us with warmth and light. As all who attended a powerful denomination-wide event know, there’s something special about being gathered together to worship God under one big roof. Our hymns sound the richest, our prayers feel the deepest, and God’s spirit is the most palpable when we cross boundaries of race, gender, theology, and geography to simply be together.

As I’ve learned through summers in outdoor camping ministry, the potential for transformative community-building is amplified by the youthfulness and hopefulness of the people who go to these events. Because of their energy, their generosity of spirit, and their capacity for fun and friendship, youth and young adults are natural community-builders. This makes youth and young adult events of the Church of the Brethren ripe for interactions that resemble God’s beloved and sacred community.

Simply put, youth events like CCS, YAC, and NJHC are the moments when Pentecost comes alive—not a moment in the liturgical calendar but a revelation of what community looks like when anointed by the Holy Spirit. When we gather, we build our community upon love, free ourselves of jaded inhibition, and embrace diversity to foster unity. We find ourselves enflamed with love for God and each other. We develop an uncanny talent for speaking to one another in a language we can all understand.

I sometimes wonder how a shy person like myself would have fared at that first Pentecost. Could I have come out of my shell enough to speak to my neighbors in their own language? Could my energy sustain tongues of fire upon my head? Then I remember my own National Junior High Conference and my first Young Adult Conference. Those were moments when I felt enveloped by the community of God. This happened, not in spite of my quiet nature, but because in God’s kingdom, there is plenty of room for both extroverts and introverts. I belonged.

My hope for these events—much more than every detail being in its place—is for a spontaneous outbreak of community. May it spread like wildfire, and may it burn in each person’s own unique way. And may we be present in that moment to watch with wonder the church born anew in another generation.

Learn more about Youth and Young Adult Ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/yya or support them today at www.brethren.org/givediscipleship .

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Greetings from Rwanda!

Photos by Josiah Ludwick

 By Josiah Ludwick, Global Mission worker in Rwanda

Muraho and greetings from the Church of the Brethren in Rwanda!

Since August 2018, Global Mission and Service made it possible for my family to live in the beautiful country of Rwanda and to be a part of the budding ministry God is blessing here. The Church of the Brethren in Rwanda is nearly four years old. In that short time, God has worked mightily and there are already four congregations in the western part of the country.

More recently, however, the government has imposed strict guidelines for churches, which has been a significant challenge. Every week, hundreds of churches are being closed throughout the country. In response, the people of our churches gathered last November and gave sacrificially to raise nearly $3,000 (exceeding their original goal of $2,000) to begin improving their properties. Inspired by this act of faith by the Rwandese Brethren, many brothers and sisters in the US also have chosen to support these efforts.

As a result of this faithful giving and partnership, our churches in Gasiza and Mudende have been able to improve their worship spaces (above, left). The Brethren in Gisenyi also purchased land in hopes of building a denominational headquarters. This will be very important as we work to be recognized as a denomination by the national government. The recognition process has been arduous, but we have made progress and moved to the regional level. Praise be to God!

God is blessing the church in Rwanda through the teaching of Brethren beliefs. Even though new ideas are generally met with skepticism, the people have been really open to Brethren theology. We have assured them that our beliefs and practices aren’t new, simply new to them. Several leaders from each church have been trained with the help of Brethren Beliefs and Practices, authored by Galen Hackman in collaboration with EYN (Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria– Church of the Brethren in Nigeria), which recently was translated into the local language of Kinyarwanda. These leaders were trained so that they can lead small groups from their congregations through the book (top right).

As a result of these teachings, we have had two occasions for baptisms at Lake Kivu, which include multiple people from each congregation accepting Jesus, embracing the new way, and experiencing trine immersion. We are also planning the first Brethren love feast in Rwanda, one for Gisenyi and Gasiza and another for Humure and Mudende, to take place near the Easter holiday.

We also celebrate the ability to send three young Batwa men to university. The Twa are typically an underserved group, but the congregation in Mudende has taken great efforts to make them feel part of the faith community, to share how God loves them and we love them, and to reveal how they can accomplish anything with God’s help. Most Batwa don’t dream of finishing primary school, let alone secondary school, so for a few to go to university is truly a miracle. The three were recognized by pastor Etienne Nsanzimana, founder and overall leader of the Church of the Brethren in Rwanda (bottom right).

In the great tradition of being “blessed to be a blessing,” the village of Batwa has gone to another indigenous village to encourage them with the gospel of Jesus Christ and the love the Brethren have for them. This new group of about 20 Batwa has started attending the Humure congregation. This is what kingdom building is all about!

Through the ministry of Global Mission and Service and with God’s blessing and grace, all these things have been possible. Thank you for your continued support of all the Lord is doing globally through the Church of the Brethren. On behalf of myself, my family, and our Rwandese brothers and sisters, thank you!

Learn more about the work of Global Mission and Service at www.brethren.org/global or support it at www.brethren.org/givegms.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Letting go

By Wendy McFadden, publisher of Brethren Press and Communications

In an essay about lost gloves, Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich passes along the story of a woman who exited a train car and discovered that she had only one of her gloves. Just before the doors closed behind her, she tossed it back inside. “Better someone had two, if not her,” the storyteller recounted.

I know I couldn’t have acted so quickly, and I’m not sure that my first impulse would have been so generous. But with little hesitation, the woman leaving the train shifted from thinking of herself to thinking of someone else, from regretting the lost glove to giving her pair to another traveler. How does one learn to let go so easily?

There are people who give something up for Lent, but this month I’m thinking more about letting go. These are different, but not completely. Giving something up is about sacrifice; letting go is about freedom. Both clear space for what matters. Both can provide spiritual focus.

What shall we let go of?

  • Stuff that weighs us down—single gloves awaiting lost mates, unused dishes, clothes that don’t fit. I recently let go of the heaviest thing in the house, an upright piano that was too big for our small living room. (I thought someday I might take lessons, but let the unfulfilled idea go out the door with the piano.)
  • The compulsion to acquire more. It’s bad for us, our neighbors, and the earth. And someday we’ll have to haul that stuff to the second-hand store.
  • The need to be in control. We’re not. Go ahead and make long-range plans, but hold them lightly.
  • Resentments and complaints. Grudges are easy to nurse, but they eventually poison our hearts. Resentment can actually shorten our lives.
  • Fear of what might happen. We are not our best selves when we are afraid. Sometimes fear is a weapon used against others; sometimes it’s a cancer that attacks its own body. Either way it’s too violent for those who want to build peace.
  • Outrage. Sometimes it’s justifiable and sometimes it works, but it’s caustic. We would do better replacing outrage with lament and compassion and action.

That’s a lot of letting go, but if we keep practicing it will become easier—even second nature. When the doors are closing, we can turn losses into something good. We can be the stories that are passed along to others, who happily hold them as warm gifts in cold hands.

This reflection was originally featured in the March issue of Messenger magazine. Learn more or subscribe to Messenger today at www.brethren.org/messenger.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Moving on, but not letting go?

By Lisa-Marie Mayerle, Brethren Volunteer Service Unit #319

This year, I decided to be a part of Brethren Volunteer Service, and trust me… it was not easy to make that decision. For me, joining BVS meant not knowing where I would end up, which project I would be going to, or how I would be living for the next year. But, it was the best decision I have ever made. Of course I had a lot of insecurities during the process, but in the end I knew that this was my best opportunity to serve for a year, to explore another culture, and to make a difference.

I would say that the worst part of the transition was saying goodbye—leaving everyone I love behind. All my friends and family in Germany would continue their lives without me, but my life would continue on as well. It felt like I needed to move on and let go. So, I left with a face full of tears and a heart full of sadness and happiness mixed together. I knew it was time for a new chapter of my life.

The moment I arrived at my project in Hagerstown, Md., everyone welcomed me with open arms and a big smile on their face. In that exact moment, all my concerns and doubts were gone, and I knew that it was the right decision. I also realized that I had never left someone or something behind. Despite missing Germany, and even though I could not see or hear my family and friends every day, I can remember that they are always with me.

I enjoy every minute at my project and I love to share about it with my loved ones. The people I work with are amazing and support me. I feel like I am a part of a bigger family, and the thought of leaving them one day brings tears to my eyes. Every single minute with the kids, my co-workers, and my friends is precious, and I am so glad that I can be here. I am thankful for this journey and the relationships I am creating.

Learn more about Brethren Volunteer Service or read the most recent issue of The Volunteer at www.brethren.org/bvs. Support the ministry of BVS today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

More than we can imagine

A theme interpretation written by Chuck Blaisdell for the 2019 One Great Hour of Sharing

“Now to God be the glory, who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

Imagination.

It may seem like a weak word compared to all the need we see every day in the world. We hear “imagination” and we may think “fantasy” (“Imagine you are on a beach…”), of something that escapes the reality of the world as it is. We hear “imagination” and we wonder if it is truly helpful when some would say we actually need clear-eyed “realism” to address the challenges that we face.

Imagination.

Yet far from being a light or weak thing, far from being an aloof or escapist notion, far from being un-real, imagination is actually among the most powerful engines for change that human beings have! Long ago, the philosopher Aristotle said, “Thinking itself begins in wonder, begins in imagination,” and he was right. Imagination, particularly when fueled by a vision of God’s hopes for all humankind, can keep us energized, seeking to do good, and striving to better the lives of those whom we encounter.

Imagination.

The theme for the 2019 One Great Hour of Sharing is “More than we can imagine!” It is rooted in Ephesians 3:20 and reminds us that we are not alone in our imagining a better world for all of God’s children. Indeed, it is God’s imagination that fuels and empowers ours! You see, God imagines a world where:

  • No one is left to face the wreckage of natural disasters alone.
  • Each person has their daily needs of food and water met.
  • Every individual receives the respect and dignity that they deserve.
  • Families displaced from their homes are able to build new lives.
  • Disciples of all ages grow in faith and share the love of God with others.
  • Pastors and leaders are equipped to care for the needs of their communities.
  • Churches serve as beacons of hope for all to see.
  • AND far more than we could ever ask or imagine!

God also imagines Christians all over the world coming together to help make these things ever more a reality for more and more people.

Our imagination of what could be is founded and grounded in that for which God envisions and hopes. And we can help! Through our gifts of treasure and talent, prayer and presence, we can make this world ever more like the way God would wish it, ever more the way that God would imagine it.

Find this and other worship resources for the 2019 One Great Hour of Sharing at www.brethren.org/oghs or give to the offering today at www.brethren.org/giveoffering .

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Ambassadors of Christ

Photo by Glenn Riegel

A reflection by Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors,
as though God were making his appeal through us.”
~2 Corinthians 5:20, NIV

Even though we’ve entered a new year, I still find myself humming Christmas hymns. One chorus in particular has stuck in my mind:  “Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. Go, tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born!”  The message of the song is simple, but in its simplicity is a strong call to action for the church. It is a call that challenges us to tell everyone about the transformative impact that Jesus Christ has in their lives and in our world. We are challenged to share the good news with all who will hear it, even shouting it from the mountaintops.

In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, he calls them to the work of serving as ambassadors of Christ. Prior to verse 20 in chapter 5, Paul mentions that our love for Christ should compel us to no longer see anyone from a “worldly point of view” but, instead, to see each person as a new creation in Christ. “The old has gone, the new is here!” (2nd Corinthians 2:17, NIV). And as “new creations,” we inherently become ambassadors of Christ. We are now called by Jesus to be his messengers.
“Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere!”

In the Old Testament, being an ambassador for the king was a significant responsibility and honor. When ambassadors entered another country, they were treated just as if they were royalty themselves, and not just simply representatives. Being ambassadors today may not be exactly the same, but they still have the responsibility of sharing a message of the one whom they represent. While we may not be thrilled at the idea of being compared to government officials, it is important for us to remember that we represent Jesus and the kingdom of God in a very similar way.

I believe we are on earth at the right time for the right purpose to fulfill God’s greater plan for all people. We are here right now to fulfill God’s will, to speak as “new creations” in Jesus, and to welcome the new creation ordained by  God’s kingdom. Some of us are called to be ambassadors within the communities where we live, work, serve, and worship. Others are ambassadors at the district level, where the message of God can be extended further through the ministries supported by congregations.

Through denominational ministries, staff work diligently on behalf of the larger church to be Christ’s ambassadors, where the message reaches across the United States and out into the world. Through Brethren Volunteer Service and the Office of Global Mission and Service, some are called as missionaries who accompany brothers and sisters to nurture budding churches in places like South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Venezuela. Others witness to God’s message of peace and justice by speaking with local and national representatives with support from the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. Some hear the call to grow in discipleship or to revitalize and strengthen local ministries, and respond by attending events hosted by Discipleship Ministries. While these examples only scratch the surface of the work coordinated by Church of the Brethren staff, they reveal the importance of serving as Christ’s ambassadors.

Each of us, in our “new form,” have been blessed with gifts and talents that allow us to uniquely represent God where we are. Whether you volunteer your time and talent, pray for our ministries without ceasing, or support the work of the church through financial gifts, you are serving as an ambassador of Christ. Come, let us  “Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere” that Jesus Christ is making all things new.

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org or support them today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Stitched with hope and love

By Matt DeBall, coordinator of Mission Advancement Communications

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for [God] has looked with favor on the lowliness of [God’s] servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.” ~Luke 1:46b-48

Do you have a favorite blanket? Mine is a purple, gray, black, and white afghan that my wife made for me years ago, right after we started dating. I was on a mission trip at the time, and it was carefully crocheted with the hope of my safe return, and with love.

As experienced during Advent, Mary’s song is a beautiful stitch in the larger, intricate blanket of God’s story. God’s promise to bless her and to save Israel filled her with joy, and she sang a new yet familiar song, testifying to what God had done and would do.

The song of Mary echoes the sentiments of an earlier song. “Give thanks to the LORD….Sing praises to the LORD, [who] has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy… for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 12:4-6). Mary and Isaiah both offered praise to God for past faithfulness, current presence, and future promise. Their eyes could not behold the fulfillment of God’s promises, but through faith, their hearts perceived God’s work as already complete. Their words are great for us to read (and sing) now because of all that God has done, is doing, and will still do in our midst.

As we reflect on this past year, God has surely done great things among us. Youth and advisors gathered at National Youth Conference to be challenged in their walk of faith. Church planters and others gathered at the New and Renew Conference for professional development and encouragement for the work of nurturing new disciples. Josiah and Christine Ludwick and their children began a year of service in Rwanda to preach, teach, and demonstrate a Brethren way of living. Brethren in Spain continued to add new congregations and expanded their membership. In Nigeria, Global Mission executive Jay Wittmeyer was present at the commissioning of a new EYN congregation at the Gurku Interfaith Camp for displaced people.  These are just a few examples of how your gifts helped add to our larger community blanket in 2018.

As you reach for your favorite blanket this winter season, please sing a song of thanksgiving for all that God has done through the Church of the Brethren, offer a prayer for the continued work of our ministries, and make a gift with hopeful expectation of what God will do. God surely has great things in store for us, and with God’s help and through your partnership, 2019 will be wonderfully stitched with hope and love.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Continuing the work of Jesus into 2019

By David Steele, general secretary

Greetings in the name of our Savior born for us—the Messiah, our Lord!

On behalf of our worldwide staff, volunteers, and the Mission and Ministry Board, I want to express our gratitude for the many ways you faithfully strive to live out the gospel—to simply try to do what Jesus did. The vital ministries of Church of the Brethren members and congregations, small and large, are at the heart of our denomination. Your witness is essential in our partnership as we together herald the Good News of the birth of Jesus Christ.

As we close the year, we celebrate that our Brethren witness is meaningfully extended into new places and in new ways. The Church of the Brethren is seeking to become a Global Church of the Brethren. Our growth around the world and our commitment to deeper and more meaningful relationships are helping this vision become a reality as we enter 2019.

In August, Josiah and Christine Ludwick and their children began a year of service in Rwanda to preach, teach, and demonstrate a Brethren way of living. Their appointment is vital to the efforts of establishing a peace testimony in the Great Lakes region of Africa as they host theological education and training, assist in the construction of church buildings, and deepen relationships.

In Venezuela, the Brethren witness is growing but economic turmoil has prevented the placement of mission staff at this time. Global Mission and Service staff and volunteers travel there when possible and work with Venezuelan leadership to broaden the understanding of our church’s theology and practice.

Brethren in Spain continue to add new congregations and expand their membership. Many are immigrants, but Spanish citizens are beginning to take notice and come to services.

Haitian Brethren have proved themselves faithful again this year by reaching out to the suffering when an earthquake struck in the north of the country.

In Nigeria, Global Mission executive Jay Wittmeyer was present at the commissioning of a new EYN congregation at the Gurku Interfaith Camp for displaced people. The Nigerian Brethren also commissioned their newest church district in Lagos, with EYN now numbering 55 districts. The Nigeria Crisis Response continues to bring healing and hope to thousands of families displaced by violence.

Embracing Jesus’ call to go and make disciples has been at the heart of our ministries throughout this year.

Youth and advisors gathered at National Youth Conference to be challenged in their walk of faith.

Church planters and others gathered at the New and Renew Conference for professional development and encouragement for the work of nurturing new disciples.

The Discipleship Ministries team provided resource leadership at congregational and district events, web-based learning opportunities, and collaboration with Bethany Seminary for an Urban Ministry intensive in Atlanta.

For Brethren Disaster Ministries, loss of Paradise Church of the Brethren and most of the congregation’s homes ended an intense year of responding to disasters—including a rebuilding project in North Carolina that closed during Hurricane Florence but quickly reopened to help people affected by Hurricane Matthew. In Puerto Rico, our disaster response expanded into the mountains around Castañer, where a long-term home rebuilding project will continue through next year.

Children’s Disaster Services supported families affected by floods, hurricanes, volcanoes, shootings, and the Camp Fire that burned Paradise.

Together, we have shared hope and God’s love. God has enabled us to extend Christ’s mission, serving those in need both near and far, growing disciples, calling and developing leaders, and transforming communities.  Thank you for your partnership, your generous support, and your prayers. May we together continue the work of Jesus.

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org or support them today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Transforming communities

Joshua Brockway speaking at National Youth Conference in July 2018.
Photo by Nevin Dulabaum

By Joshua Brockway, director of Spiritual Formation

When have you seen a congregation transform its community? We could point to grand stories of movements in the whole country, but what about a local congregation being an active change-agent in the local community?

In January I had the privilege of helping teach a course on urban ministry with Bethany Theological Seminary and the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership. We met for two weeks in Atlanta at a ministry called City of Refuge. Those two weeks were eye-opening for all of us, and they challenged me to imagine how the local church can have a profound impact.

City of Refuge started when Bruce Deal was sent by his denomination to close a congregation in the worst part of Atlanta. This small and aging church had witnessed the neighborhood become a statistic—the zip code with the highest violent crime rate in all of Metro Atlanta. One of Bruce’s first Sundays, a woman came in from the street needing help. Bruce simply did what anyone could do—he helped by showing compassion and treating her with dignity. It was not long before their house and the church building were full of people. What started as a congregation on the brink of closing has grown into a multi-million-dollar agency that is a one-stop shop for housing, job training, education, medical care, and case management.

My eyes were opened to the reality of how the church can become a place of holistic
transformation. At City of Refuge, and many other communities, the distinction between the needs of the body and the needs of the soul is erased. I long to see our congregations become a catalyst for this kind of transformation in their local communities.

Thanks to my experiences in City of Refuge and the connections we made through the class this January, Discipleship Ministries has partnered with the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). CCDA is a network of ministry leaders who have the same desire to see the church become a change-agent in every local community. Over the last two decades, CCDA has gathered the wisdom of church leaders who seek to transform both the church and their neighborhood. Thanks to the wise leadership of John Perkins, Wayne Gordon, and many others, CCDA is providing resources and support for countless ministries like City of Refuge.

The Church of the Brethren is now the first denominational member of the Christian
Community Development Association. With this membership, we can connect every Church of the Brethren congregation and district with CCDA resources. It is our prayer that this partnership will help us—not just to dream about transformational Christianity, but to lead us towards the vision of reaching more young people, more diverse people, and more people in general with the gospel of Jesus. We pray that it will inform how we plant new churches and renew existing congregations so that each mission point across the country can minister to the body and soul of each person.

Your gifts have made this partnership and all of the ministries of the Church of the Brethren possible. Thank you for generously joining us and, in doing so, writing a testimony of transformation in your community.

Learn more about Discipleship Ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/discipleshipmin or support them today at www.brethren.org/givediscipleship.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Joy: Giving thanks to God

A scriptural exegesis of Isaiah 12 written by Emmett Witkovsky-Eldred, youth and young adult ministry assistant, for the 2018 Advent Offering

We’ve all been told “patience is a virtue.” And we’ve all heard that “good things come to those who wait.” Waiting isn’t always pleasant, but we often regard waiting as the price we pay for some ultimate payoff. We wait those excruciating 90 minutes in line at the amusement park for those magical sixty seconds on the rollercoaster. We wait those exhausting nine months to meet the newest member of our family. It’s easy to find joy in the things that are “worth the wait.” It’s much harder to savor the wait itself, to find joy in the very act of anticipation.

Isaiah spoke to a people in waiting. His prophetic ministry spanned an age of anticipation, transition, and anxiety for the people of Judah. He came into ministry during shallow prosperity—speaking above the noise of false peace and security to expose the deeper rot of corruption and injustice beneath the surface and a looming foreign threat beyond the horizon. The bubble was about to burst. Isaiah bore witness to the gathering cloud of the Assyrian empire’s raiding army—once distant, now on the doorstep, now ransacking the kitchen and rifling through the drawers. At last, the book of Isaiah tells the story of Babylon’s deliverance of the Judeans from Assyria. But trusting in political deliverance only gave way to new subjugation and oppression. The people of Judah were left to wonder who will deliver us from Babylon? They waited.

Waiting can be unbearable enough when we know that what comes next is worth waiting for. It’s much harder still when the future is uncertain: Waiting for the Hail Mary pass to come down, the lost dog to come home, the medical test to come in. This was the sort of wait that plagued Judah. How are we to know that deliverance will every truly come? When it does come, how are we to know if it’s truly better than what came before?

It’s not difficult to see how seeds of bitterness and fear can be scattered, especially when we’re powerless and afraid, and we have nothing to do but wait. But Isaiah invites those who wait to respond with the hymn of thanksgiving and praise found in Chapter 12. It’s not just a litany of what to say when deliverance finally comes. It’s a liturgy for how to wait for God: with joy, with faith, and with praise.

Isaiah’s poem recalls the resplendent joy that God’s people have experienced in the past when God comes through for them. Isaiah 12:2 quotes from the hymn that Moses and the Israelites sang after crossing the Red Sea, “The Lord God is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation” (Exodus 15:2, NRSV), a verse that echoes again in Psalms 118:14, a song of victory. The imperatives in Isaiah 12:4 recall psalms of promise (Psalm 105:1), wonder (Psalm 148:13), and above all praise. These are songs that echo across scripture and that resound in our hearts. We shouldn’t just sing them anew when the next glorious day arrives. They never faded away; we can—we should—sing them while we wait.

If only it were that easy. While Isaiah directly quoted the soaring praise found in the beginning of Exodus 15, the end of that chapter describes how we really tend to relate to God. No sooner have the sounds of the Israelites’ praise and thanksgiving faded when their grumbling and complaining sets in (Exodus 15:22-27). Facing exile in the desert, their trust in God waned. Their gratitude for God’s deliverance subsided to anxiety about what would lie ahead.

Isaiah sang of a better way to live with God. His hymn admonishes us to joyfully “draw water from the wells of salvation” (12:3) to beat back the scorching fear found in the desert. Centuries later, Jesus employed the same metaphor while speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob (John 4: 1-42). He offers life-giving water that forever quenches our thirst and never runs dry.  He doesn’t deliver us only to subjugate us. He delivers us to set us free.

We may not be under the thumb of Assyria or Babylon. We may not be wandering in the desert. But we face the same temptation to turn to temporary solutions that will crumble beneath our feet. We have that same urge to drink of worldly water that will only leave us thirsty again (John 4:13). We think that the next election, the next fad product, the next airstrike or sanction, the next stock market boom will scratch the itch, though it never does. We’re waiting for God, and we’re getting antsy.

Isaiah reminds us that we won’t be waiting forever. We will be awake once again to God in our midst (Isaiah 12:6). And in that day, we will “give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted” (Isaiah 12:4). Better to sing joyfully now than to be rusty, out of practice, and out of pitch when the wait is finally over.

Learn more and find worship resources for this year’s Advent Offering at www.brethren.org/adventoffering.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)