This past October I was privileged to sit through a workshop lead by our very own Pastor Lowell Nelson, a member of St. John’s, who was focusing on the topic of strategic planning. Presenting to a group of pastors from across the Grand Canyon Synod, Pastor Lowell put a calendar in front of each of us. This calendar wasn’t just for the month of January, but all 366 days in the leap year 2024. Just the sight of a full year in front of me felt a bit overwhelming and scary.
Pastor Lowell asked the group to highlight all the important church days on the calendar. These would include Holy Week, Christmas, Pentecost, and of course Reformation Sunday. Also included would be Camp Formation, our annual congregational meeting (January 9th at 9:30am), and any other events that were important to our community. Before this though, Pastor Lowell stressed, we should highlight in yellow all the days we are holding for family and rest, including vacations, days off, weekends away, kids’ baseball games, all yellow. “These days”, Pastor Lowell said, “these are your yellow days. Of course, they can change when things come up or a member dies, but no one will highlight them for you. This is your chance to schedule time for yourself and your family.”
Thinking back to this past year I did not follow this practice, taking time when I could but primarily focusing on work, even on “days off”. Admittedly I did not honor the sabbath and keep it holy. I know this to be true because more than ever I am resonating with John Lennon’s words that begin the song “Happy Christmas”,
“So this is Christmas and what have you done?
Another year over and a new one just begun.”
To follow Pastor Lowell’s wisdom, this December I put all 366 days in front of me to plan out the year. Serving both St. John’s and the Grand Canyon Synod, I even color coded each day using green for St. John’s and orange for the synod. But first I used the yellow highlighter to mark my family weekends, vacation, days off, and times we hope to travel to Montana, New York, or host family here in Phoenix. Just like that, with all the yellow filled in, I found the green and orange to fill the calendar with preaching, presiding, and congregational visits in Tucson, Flagstaff, Las Vegas, and across the valley. In scheduling this time, I felt something change. I went from looking at the 2024 calendar, overwhelmed with full of questions, to full of hope. I no longer was asking “So this is Christmas, what have I done” and instead was asking, “So this is Christmas, what can I accomplish in the New Year with so many opportunities to serve ahead of me?”
The song Happy Christmas has an alternative title; “War is Over”. John and Yoko recorded this song along with the Harlem Community Choir singing in the background “War is over, if you want it”. When the song was released in 1971 it was paired with billboards with the same line in big letters. The only catch, war wasn’t over. 16 years into the Vietnam War, the Fall of Saigon would not be for another 2 ½ years. The words “Happy Christmas, war is over” are words of hope. Looking ahead, John and Yoko were singing a prayer of hope for the world and for their own hearts. They knew war was a choice rooted in historical context and generations of trauma. They also knew that peace is a choice for those then, and those now.
Our world continues to be at war. According to the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland, over 104 armed conflicts are occurring right now across all 6 inhabited continents. And yet, we pray with hope for Ukraine, Haiti, Gaza, Israel, Myanmar, Sudan, Mexico, Ethiopia, and across the world we call home.
It is with hope in Jesus I look ahead into 2024, trusting God is at work in my yellow days just as much as my green days, in that all things are rooted in love. In the words of John and Yoko,
“Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Let's hope it's a good one without any fear.”
Pastor Dan Potaznick