Unsung Saints Advent 2020

12th day of Christmas, January 5

Hebrews 11:32-12:2

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Jocelyn, 5th-grade music teacher


When you are ten going on eleven, even the younger school teachers seem so old. To this day, I don’t know if my elementary school teachers were taught to act old or if they acted old before they ever became teachers. Jocelyn (or Jo, as her friends called her) was our 5th-grade music teacher. When she died last August at 83, I was surprised at how young she was. Checking the math, she was 27 when she taught us.

Jo was extremely serious and could be downright scary if you crossed her, but you knew she loved her subject and wanted you to love it, too. I can still remember her playing the piano as she taught us songs out of our music textbook. She would play LPs (33 rpm long-playing albums) with music she wanted us to know and to recognize. When Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride showed up on Sirius XM this December, I flashed back to Jo teaching us how to listen and pointing out Anderson’s clever use of props like a manual typewriter in another of his works.

Jo was all-in on music appreciation regardless of genre. She taught us how to square dance and then invited parents in to watch us dance. I remember dancing with this one cute girl who I had such a crush on and being both embarrassed by and wanting to impress her parents when we square danced together.

One of the boys named Mike, who acted like he was quite a brawler, was already an accomplished pianist at ten. Jo knew his piano teacher well and had Mike play the Boogie Woogie number he had learned. Jo went over the top complimenting Mike’s playing, wanting to encourage him in the right path.

Jo was married to Denton, who turned out to be our 6th grade Social Studies teacher, and had two children. I remember thinking they were so old when they became parents. If you had asked me back then if I would become a father again at 53, I’m sure I would have looked at you as if you were nuts.

Our music textbook for the 1964-65 school year must have been brand new. It included a musical version of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” the poem he famously read at the John Fitzgerald Kennedy presidential inauguration. The way Jo taught it with such feeling, especially after the Kennedy assassination in Dallas, 70 miles away, during our fourth-grade year, made it one of my favorites of all time. I can still remember the tune composed for the poem and sing a line or two: “Whose woods these are, I think I know. His house is in the village though. He will not see me stopping here to watch his woods fill up with snow.”

Jo taught from 1959-1992 and earned a Master’s degree along the way. She knew that many of the kids had parents whose musical world was limited to church hymnody, country and western, and perhaps the Big Band music of her own childhood. She opened her students to a much larger musical world and encouraged those with natural musical abilities to hone and develop the talents God had given them. She was a Baptist, a member of my father’s church, and so when I began to sing there in my sixteenth year, Jo always had an atta-boy to share afterwards. She took great pride when I was selected for the All-State Chorus in my junior year of high school, and she knew that she had had a hand in my development.

JFK was a greatly flawed man, who in our day could likely never be elected. Everyone in my hometown remembered when Mr. Sam Rayburn died and the day JFK, LBJ, Ike, Truman, and a third of Congress came to little Bonham TX for the funeral. So, we took it very hard when JFK was killed in Dallas.

Jo taught me that Robert Frost line from JFK’s inauguration I have repeated throughout my ministry when duty called me away from too many more desirable engagements: “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.”

To Jo, faithful warrior in her life and work, rest came last August. Requiescat in pace, Jocelyn.

Dear Father, thank you for Jo and all who teach us how to live well. In Jesus’ holy name. Amen.

Place thirty-eight pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box out of love for neighbors in need.

St Matthew's Pastor Sam Zumwalt

Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, NC

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.