Unsung Saints Advent Devotions 2019

Feast of the Epiphany

Matthew 12:14-21

But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.
Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

Hildegard, Artist and Grateful Giver

Today we remember the magi, Gentile wise men who followed the star in search of the newborn King of the Jews. Upon finding Him, they offered extravagant gifts befitting a King: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Hildegard was a German-born in what is now Bosnia. As WWII was nearing its ending in Europe, the German army urged the ethnic Germans to flee their homes before the Soviets occupied and assaulted those whose ancestral land had been the cause of 20 million Russian soldier deaths. Only the oldest men, women, and children were left behind to flee. They carried their goods in ox carts, traveling by night to avoid being attacked by Allied fighter planes, and made their home in Austria. Hildegard was nine.

Boys and girls living in towns along the border between Austria and Germany often fell in love and married. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services brought relative newlyweds, Alfred and Hildegard, to America in 1956. They had a baby in arms and one suitcase. An American Jewish family in Brooklyn gave Alfred a job. When an opportunity to go to work for M&M Mars in New Jersey came open, Alfred grabbed it and the family moved to New Jersey. There, three children were raised. Alfred was such an excellent machinist, Mars sent him to Waco TX in the 1970s to open a new candy plant.

Alfred and Hildegard worked nonstop. She was an artist in the kitchen, baking and decorating wedding cakes that were in demand by the wealthiest families. They turned part of their home into a bed and breakfast, and the breakfasts were magnificent (fresh crepes, the best marmalade, sliced kiwis, strawberries, and bananas on the side). Hildegard was an artist in oils, painting beautiful landscapes. Alfred and another German immigrant operated a franchise on the side, selling and installing exterior electric roll-down shutters. He built a garage apartment I often used when commuting. They built a weekend lake house with boat dock for children, grandchildren, and pastors to enjoy. Hildegard made lace curtains. Alfred made a corner booth typical of Bavarian homes. He did what he called “chainsaw art,” making wooden soldiers and reindeer out of tree trunks for Christmas lawn decorations.

Hildegard and Alfred gave me a key to the garage apartment when I was commuting and said to use it whenever I needed it. If they were home, a late evening snack, glasses of wine, and an exquisite breakfast the next morning were offered to the pastor and happily received and treasured.

One night when I was extolling their virtues and their generosity to their pastor, they told me about how difficult it had been for them at 20 and 19 with only a baby, a suitcase, and no facility with English. They said they would always be grateful to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services for giving them a life they never thought possible. They were adolescents with native gifts waiting to be developed and a drive not to be poor and hungry. They received a hand up at just the right moment, and they exemplified for me the meaning of the American Dream.

Like my own immigrant grandparents and great-grandparents, Hildegard and Alfred assimilated into their new country. Their children were taught German, but they spoke English with only the regional accents where they grew up and later settled. There was a fire burning in Hildegard’s and Alfred’s bellies, and they were not interested in hearing tales about why people were victims instead of folks needing a hand up.

Hildegard’s diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease slowly stole her ability to use her considerable gifts. It was a mercy when she was able to leave the confines of her old body behind for the promise of a new body. I will always think of her with a big smile, a hearty laugh, a generous heart, and amazingly busy hands.

Thank you, Father, for Hildegard and Alfred and all those grateful givers who bless their pastors, their neighbors, and this world with beauty and an example of how to use one’s gifts to Your glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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.