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Christmas Hope for the Future in Romania


When it comes to breaking the cycle of hunger and poverty, few tools are as important as education. In fact, the World Bank estimates that each year of additional schooling can increase a child’s future earnings by 8-10%. Ensuring that children have access to education and educational support, though, is a difficult goal to reach, and the COVID-19 pandemic has created even more obstacles for communities in need.

In Romania, the Evangelical Parish in Sibu has been hard at work adapting to these new challenges. The “Open House” Day Center of the parish has provided support to children and families since 2001, accompanying 30-45 children throughout the year with its many programs. The center’s mission is to help families with children between six and 16 years old who face high rates of poverty, domestic violence, social and ethnic discrimination, and exploitation. To support them, the center provides counseling, food, preventative health care, and a safe place for children to learn and grow.

The pandemic has made this work much more difficult. The parents who had jobs have lost them, and many families cannot afford food, clothing, heating or school supplies. Many children don’t have access to the internet or the equipment they need to participate in online schooling.

The center, though, is adapting to the new challenges and pressing on toward its mission. This year, with support from ELCA World Hunger, the center continues to provide school supplies and clothing for children to help meet the increased needs of families, including for children who do not have the equipment they need for online learning. “Open House” has also adapted by sending care packages home for families and providing social worker home visits to make sure children and their families have the support they need.

The children are also able to participate in fun activities, such as making crafts. As Diana Fruman of “Open House” shares, “More and more children are getting enthusiastic about handicrafts. Some of them are very talented and create beautiful works.”

The “beautiful work” of God through the “Open House” center is not limited to crafts, though. It can be seen in the new opportunities created by the staff, volunteers, parents and children who are working together at the center. As Diana says, “Every hour [the children] spend here…is another chance for them and their future.”

That’s one of the reasons that, despite the ongoing pandemic, Diana is hopeful for the future and grateful for the support the center has received. “Thanks to your help,” she writes, “we were able to carry out further aid measures this year…[Your] great willingness to help and your donations have made and will continue to make our work here at ‘Open House’ possible.”

Because of the ongoing work of God through the center and its participants, we can join Diana in her hopeful wishes for what is to come:

“On behalf of all our children and staff, we wish you a blessed Advent season, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”


ELCA World Hunger Christmas Sermon Starters

These reflections are a part of ELCA World Hunger’s Sermon Starter series which is published via email every Monday. You can sign up for the weekly email here on the right side of the page. Pastor Tim Brown is the writer of these reflections. Pr. Tim is a Gifts Officer and Mission Ambassador for the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and a pastor and writer out of Raleigh, NC. You are invited to use the Christmas messages below for personal devotion as well as prompts for sermon writing. 

December 24th- Christmas Eve

Luke 2:1-20

My favorite Nativity scene is sitting on our end table in our living room.

It’s made out of olive wood and the pieces don’t move.  Well, except for one.

That is because it’s a depiction of the stable, Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus in a manger, some shepherds, livestock scattered round and then there are the Magi traveling to see them. And in between the stable scene and the Magi is a huge wall.

It’s like a fence, but solid, and it’s smack dab in the middle of the manger scene.

I bought it from a Palestinian artist who makes these scenes as a real-life depiction of what would happen today if Magi tried to visit Bethlehem: they’d encounter the great wall in Israel that holds Palestine penned in on all sides.

But that wall means other things, too.

It’s indicative of this long spoken-of wall to be built on the southern border of the United States.

It’s indicative of all of the walls that are put up around your dinner table at your holiday gathering between family members who can’t speak to one another due to politics, old wounds, new wounds, perceived slights, real slights…we have many walls.

It’s indicative of all of the walls that the people in your assembly on this Christmas Eve have put up, or have had put up in front of them, which is why they only show up twice a year at best. The church is excellent at building walls, Beloved.

And it’s indicative of the walls of checkbooks we’ve set between us and those experiencing poverty around the world, choosing to send money rather than build relationships. Money is good and necessary; please don’t get me wrong. But relationships change minds and hearts.  And if we’re going to be a world that stops building walls between people, we need to be about building relationships.

In fact, one of the big walls that you, preacher, will have to hurdle on this Christmas Eve is the huge wall of familiarity that most in your pews have with this text!  How do you preach on the same text every year and pull something new from it?

Well, maybe we don’t have to pull something new from it, but, rather, just let it do its thing.

Because God showing up in the person of Jesus is a sign that God is not about walls, but relationships. And God will traverse the cosmos over space, time, and reality to prove it.

I mentioned that, in this Nativity set, there’s only one piece that moves…and it’s the wall.  You can pull it out and set it aside.

Because although we have put up all sorts of walls in our world, real and figurative, God is about breaking down such walls between us, between all creation and between the human and the Divine.

December 25th- Christmas Day

Titus 3:4-7

If, on Christmas Eve, you leaned into the entirety of the Gospel lesson for this festival duo, which I think you should because the majority of the people will only hear the Christmas Eve service, then Christmas Day is the perfect opportunity to do two important things: preach a shorter sermon and focus on the obscure offering from Titus that the Epistle gives us.

Because Titus, a small and largely underutilized Epistle that is shrouded in mystery, gives us a wonderful distillation of Lutheran theology on this Christmas Day.

This day, Christmas Day, is a day to highlight the oppositional nature of this whole Divine experiment that we call the Incarnation.

Human and Divine are opposites, and yet on Christmas, they are fused as one.

We have been trained by society to believe that rewards are given by merit, and yet on Christmas, and in this Titus reading, we are reassured that the gift of salvific love is not something we’ve earned but rather something just freely given.

We have been trained by our world to live off our instincts, instincts which are largely driven by fear.  It’s our evolutionary heritage.  And yet, we learn at Christmas that faith is the opposite of fear and that we need not think the shadows will overtake us because the light of the world is born to us on this day.

We have been trained by our laws that only those who are deserving receive an inheritance. And yet, on Christmas Day we hear that the inheritance of God is ours to have not because we deserved it but because we are so richly loved.

It all sounds so impossible.

As impossible as a baby saving the world.

As impossible as God showing up through the womb of an unwed mother.

As impossible as a tree growing in living rooms.

Christmas is full of impossibilities.  Christmas is full of opposites being forged together into new realities.

It is especially true that, at Christmas, we can conceive of a world where ELCA World Hunger would not be necessary. We have been taught by the world that there are “haves” and “have nots.” But in the promises and living example of a Christ who doled out healing with reckless abandon, who ate with those who couldn’t find a table in reputable society and included those who the world purposefully excluded, we’re invited to believe that just as we’re given God’s grace so freely, we can be agents of that free grace for a world in desperate need of it still today.

Advent Study Series: The World Is About to Turn


Week 4: The world is about to turn

 From the halls of power to the fortress tower,
not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for your justice tears
every tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more,
for the food they can never earn;
These are tables spread, ev’ry mouth be fed,
for the world is about to turn.
      -Canticle of the Turning ELW 723


Mary’s Magnificat in the Gospel of Luke, paraphrased in Rory Cooney’s 1990 “Canticle of the Turning,” is a powerful testimony of the fulfillment of God’s promise to those for whom the current state of the world just isn’t working. It is a striking testimony to the depth and breadth of God’s love and the significance of God’s promise, a promise that includes not only eternal salvation but also justice here and now.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that there are nearly 815 million people who are undernourished worldwide. This is a tremendously positive change from the early 1990s, when more than a billion people lacked access to sufficient food.

Change is possible. But so much more work needs to be done.

For the first time in a decade, famine was declared this year, with more than 100,000 people in South Sudan caught in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. One million more people in South Sudan were at severe risk of famine. That’s not even to mention the other countries where the risk of famine is imminent: Yemen, Somalia and Kenya. Access to this most basic of needs – food – is rapidly eroding for many of our neighbors. At the same time, many others have been driven from their homes by violence, drought and fear, their arrival in refugee camps and on coastlines and borders challenging the depth of our commitment to hospitality for the stranger.

In Advent, we focus a lot on waiting, expectation and hope for the future. But for our neighbors who hunger, thirst and flee now, the church’s witness cannot just be about the future. And as Lutherans, we know it is not. The world is about to turn, certainly, but Advent is also a celebration that the world has turned, that the fulfillment of God’s promise has already begun.

Mary’s Magnificat is more than a song of anticipation. It is a song of invitation, inviting us to “magnify” the One who has “done great things…shown strength with God’s arm…scattered the proud…put down the mighty…exalted those of low degree…filled the hungry with good things [and] helped God’s servant Israel” (Luke 1:49-54). Mary’ song recalls Isaiah’s prophecy and points forward to Jesus’ declaration:

“Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

The Christmas season that the end of Advent ushers in is just the beginning of the work of God through the church in the world.

In the first session in this study, we began at the end, and now, we end at the beginning. Mary’s song invites us to carry the promise of God forward, to take with utter seriousness the task ahead, with faith that the world has turned, is turning and will continue to turn as God’s promises unfold. It is an invitation to see Advent as preparation for both the bright dawn of Christmas and the work that lies ahead.

Theologian and poet Howard Thurman in his reflection on Christmas captures this sense of initiation in his poem, “The Work of Christmas.”

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among the people,
To make music in the heart.

We end at the beginning. Advent commemorates Mary’s preparation for a new life growing inside her, a life that represents the coming of a new era. This new life is a turning that brings hope to those who have lived in desperation – and brings anxiety to the powerful who have fostered injustice. Advent is also a story of God’s preparation of us, preparing our church to reveal the transformation of the world that again will offer hope to those who continue to live in desperation – and will again bring potent anxiety to those who continue to foster injustice.

Reflection questions

  1. What does Mary’s Magnificat mean for us today?
  2. Looking back on the past year, how has our congregation borne witness to God’s promise of hope for our world? For our local community?
  3. How can or has our Advent journey prepared us for “the work of Christmas” year-round?
  4. Reflect on each of the lines of the verse from “Canticle of the Turning” and Thurman’s poem quoted above. Which “works of Christmas” in Thurman’s poem highlight the church’s role in revealing the changes God is enacting in the song?


Merciful God, you have filled the hungry with good things, remembered your people Israel in your mercy, and lifted up all those of low estate. Grant that we may be filled, remembered and lifted up this Advent. May the work of your promise within us inspire our work of Christmas within our world. Bless our efforts toward justice, peace and wholeness for all creation. In your holy name. Amen.

Hymn suggestions

Canticle of the Turning ELW 723

O Day of Peace ELW 711

Hark, the Glad Sound! ELW 239


To download this entire study, or to see some of our other congregational resources, please visit

Advent Study 2017

Being the Gift

On December 6, St. Nicholas put presents in the shoes of Dutch children. On December 13, candlelit girls in Sweden brought their parents breakfast in bed. Eight days of Hanukkah gift-giving started at sundown on Tuesday the 20th. And we’re cruising into the gift-heavy Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Kwanzaa, and, on January 6, El Día de los Reyes Magos—Three Kings Day.

Gift giving is much older than Christmas. We’ve been giving one another gifts since time immemorial, anthropologists suggest, in order to establish bonds with one another or to show hospitality. Giving a gift can show honor and respect–or intimidate by parading wealth and power. Psychologists say it’s good for us, and that there’s as much pleasure in giving as receiving. Maybe more, said Jean Paul Sartre, who called giving an act of aggression, because it puts the recipient under obligation to the giver. If that’s true, Americans are incredibly aggressive. Don’t you sometimes feel like raising your arms to fend off that barrage of Christmas presents—especially the ones you don’t need or like?

In the days when I wrote and talked about simplifying Christmas, the aggression of shopping and giving bugged me. But no more. I’m in Christmas no-person’s-land – the long empty stretch after kids and before grandkids, when there’s no one around to delight. My decorations are in storage and there’s no tree. I left my musical responsibilities in Chicago and have no choirs to accompany or Christmas Eve services to prepare. Freelancers like me have no staff party. The people on my gift list don’t need much—just a few bars of goat soap and beeswax candles and, of course, a year-end World Hunger gift. This year the holidays are feeling a little too simple!

In the midst of this dullness an online article (which article? which magazine? I lost the link and can’t tell you) asked a startling question: How have we been gifts this year?

Ticking off to-do lists and measuring year-end accomplishments and “progress” feels natural to me. So does totting up what I spent and what I gave. But to reflect on my inherent giftedness—who I have been and what I brought to God’s world in 2011 just by breathing—that’s tough. And profound. Goodbye, gripes about gifts as commodities, braggadocio, and aggression; hello, holy and gift-filled weekend.  Jesus may be the miracle, but all of us are gifts. Blemished, kicked around, miles from perfect—but gifts to one another, even if we don’t know why.

But I do know something about the gifts evident in this blog. Thanks to David, for using scripture to illuminate the systemic injustices that surround us. To Mikka, for her cheerful, practical, I-can-deal-with-this-too optimism about 7 billion earthlings and a 99/1 percent schism. To Jessica, for her passion about ending malaria. To faithful blog readers and commenters and World Hunger network people, for your commitment to walking your talk—a huge gift in our spin-happy world.

Gifts, all of you. And no purchase necessary!

Anne Basye, Sustaining Simplicity


Sinterklaas, Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas

Like many Americans, I have long known the story of Santa Claus, the jolly white-bearded man who fills my stocking on Christmas morning. From the North Pole to Rudolf, I thought that I had my story complete. So I was intrigued when a Christmastime conversation with my Belgian boyfriend provided a new piece of the story.

In the US, depending on the Christmas jingle you listen to, you may refer to the man in the red suit as Santa Claus, St. Nicholas or even Kris Kringle. Well, as I recently learned, Santa Claus comes from the Dutch word for St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas. It turns out that St. Nick is a 3rd century Greek Bishop. He is the patron Saint of children and sailors and is venerated around the world. St. Nicholas is known for his good deeds, his holy life and is even regarded as the Wonder-Worker. Texts that I read often referred to his gift-giving and one described it in this way, “Nicholas gave in secret, alert to others’ needs, and expecting nothing for himself in return.” (

Fast forward almost a thousand years to modern day holiday gift traditions.

Today, in Belgium, children celebrate the feast day of St. Nicholas (or Sinterklaas) on December 6th. They place their shoes in front of the fireplace, or at the door, and hope to receive a gift from St. Nick in them. Unlike in the United States, where we hang stockings to be filled on Christmas Eve, many country’s gift traditions occur on the December 6th feast day.

As our American Christmas gift-giving has become more commercialized, I am glad to discover it has other roots. It is nice to learn about Santa Claus’s saintly ties in the midst of the miracle of Jesus birth. As a poem from J. Rosenthal and C. Myers reads:

“Santa Claus encourages consumption;

St. Nicholas encourages compassion.

Santa Claus, for some, replaces the Babe of Bethlehem;

St. Nicholas, for all, points to the Babe of Bethlehem.”

So as we celebrate the coming of our Lord, may we remember the foundation of our Christmas gift-giving in the kindness of a Saint, living out his love for the baby Jesus.

~Lana Lile

Consumerism and the Fall Through Christmas Seasons

As in my previous post this week, I’m still thinking about consumerism. My daughter is already asking for things for Christmas (the catalogs have begun arriving). And she loves practically everything she sees having to do with Halloween. Of course, Halloween things will be forgotten by Christmas and we certainly don’t need any of it. But that’s hard for a child to grasp while looking at all the glittery, cool stuff. It can be hard for adults, too.

So I found the following article helpful in this year’s copy of Who’s Birthday Is It, Anyway? from Alternatives for Simple Living. It is written by Sandi Baete from Henryville, Indiana, and quoted here with permission from Alternatives for Simple Living. Full disclosure: I’m on the board at Alternatives. If you like the message, I encourage you to order a copy of the publication. It’s full of reflections and ideas on how to keep the Christmas season simpler and more meaningful. And with the catalogs in my mailbox, I know it must be near December and time to start thinking about this.

-Nancy Michaelis

The Best Gift I Didn’t Get
by Sandi Baete

As Christmas approaches, I know I will be asked, “What do you want for Christmas?” Now, if I think about it, and look around on the Internet, check out magazines and catalogs, and window-shop at the mall, I am sure to come up with a long list of things that I really want. Most of which I probably didn’t even know exist until I started looking for things to “want.”

So last year, before the question was asked, I did a little soul-searching. And the truth that I found was this – I didn’t really want anything. On top of that, there wasn’t anything I needed either. So, this was my answer to the “What do you want for Christmas?” question. “I want you to take the money you were going to spend on me and find someone who truly has a need. I want you to help that person, and then on Christmas, tell me what you did. That will be my gift.” The more people I told, the more I meant it and looked forward to seeing what I “got.”

This is what I “received” – $50 donated to Habitat for Humanity, $20 given to a homeless woman looking in a dumpster for food, towing service paid for a stranger whose car had left them stranded, Christmas gifts provided for a Salvation Army Angel Tree, and a yearly gift made in the form of a monthly pledge to the ASPCA, a group dedicated to ending cruelty to animals.

Not everyone heeded my wishes; I still received some “real” gifts. But the funny thing is, I was more excited with what I didn’t get. I can truly say I was filled with joy, knowing that others have been blessed. I guess I had a small glimpse of what Jesus must feel when we do the thing He wants us to do.

I know that even as adults we can get caught up in the excitement of getting gifts at Christmas. I’ll admit it’s fun to get a present. But really, do any of those things bring lasting happiness and joy? If the truth be known, I bet most of us can’t even remember what gifts we received for Christmas last year. So what do you have to lose? Just give it a try. I bet you’ll find a whole new meaning in the season.

This year, I am praying earnestly that I receive nothing. After all, my Heavenly Father has already given me everything I need.