The wilderness can take many shapes. Maybe it’s the challenges of home, family and work. Or perhaps it’s illness, be it physical or mental, our own or those we love.

Or perhaps it’s the wilderness that arrived for people in Alabama, with the loss of home and life from recent storms that like so many others, have been made more extreme by climate change.

Or there’s the wilderness being faced by the people of Western Congo as they fight not only the Ebola outbreak that began in August, but the violence that has interrupted the work of healthcare folks who have otherwise successfully beaten back previous Ebola outbreaks.

The wilderness, in these and so many other forms, can bow our shoulders and foil, get in the way of our efforts to practice joy in life.

When and how does the light of Christ transfigure the ordinary, revealing the extraordinary loving work of God?

Perhaps it’s when a friend listens and cares.

Perhaps it’s when a church like Redeemer makes room in God’s building for survivor support groups and AA groups and more.

“But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”

As a child I was given a small wooden box in the shape of a heart. I’m not sure if it was for my birthday or for Christmas. I’m not sure if it came from my parents or maybe from my maternal grandmother. But I remember that it was beautiful, stained and polyurethaned, with vines stenciled on the front.

And I knew I only wanted to put truly special things in that heart shaped box. Such as the small garnet stones I had gotten in the Adirondacks or the baby tooth I had from when I was little (I was 8 years old by the time I received this box, after all, practically grown up in my own mind).

I treasured that box and I treasured and pondered the things it held for me, the treasures inside; what they meant in and of themselves, and what they meant to me, the one lucky enough to be entrusted with them.

Next year, in 2019, the world will mark thirty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. While many were surprised by this “breaching of a monument to division” (David Lose, Working Preacher 2009), it is important to remember that this event was preceded for several months by the peaceful protests of the citizens of Leipzig. They gathered by candlelight on Monday nights outside of St. Nikolai Church, first by thousands, and then with numbers swelling to over three hundred thousand - more than half the population of that city - singing songs of peace and hope and protest. And then the wall began to come down.

We should never underestimate the power of song.

There’s a story in this month’s Living Lutheran online and print magazine that tells about how Lim Forgey, the music minister at Christ Lutheran Church, Visalia, California, noticed children playing outside the dumpster by the church. Lim noticed that one of the children wasn’t even wearing shoes. (Living Lutheran, Nov. 2018)

Now there are many stories in the news about children in need in this country and around the world, stories of families stuck in hard times because of job loss or illness, because they’ve had to flee violence and are stuck in refugee camps or at borders. It can be easy to lose heart when we read or hear or watch about such stories day after day.