Unsung Saints Advent Devotions 2019

First Monday of Advent

Matthew 21:1-11

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”


Oiva, Jr., was the son of a Finnish farmer, whose family, like ours, were related to no one else at St. James Lutheran Church. Oiva, Sr., or O.K. as most people called him, had relocated his family from the Midwest to Texas where he had acquired land for cheap. Junior was a year older than me, and so we shared acolyte duties during my first year of Confirmation instruction. I visited often at their home.

Junior’s family had a potbellied wood-burning stove on which a coffee pot sat most of each day in winter. They had no indoor plumbing, and water was drawn from a well by handpump in the backyard. They heated bath water on that wooden stove in winter and bathed in a large washtub on Saturday nights. They had an old wooden barn with a hayloft, chickens running around in the backyard that provided both eggs and Sunday dinner, As best as I can remember, they had milk cow that provided their milk and butter. Almost everyone in that congregation had an outhouse.
It was always charming to visit at Junior’s house because it was a window into a Texas rural culture that was rapidly passing away.

St. James, a German Lutheran congregation in Allen’s Chapel TX, was formed in the 1870s, about forty years after the Texas Revolution, and was officially founded in 1884. In my childhood, the oldest church members still spoke German at home. Except for ours, the whole congregation were farm families. The baby boom children and those born during the war had their eyes on better-paying jobs in the Dallas area. The boys would go off for military duty, and few came back even to farm part-time. Most of the church kids went to school in Honey Grove, a community said to be named by Davy Crockett when he discovered beehives in a thicket of native trees by a creek on the black land prairie. Many went on to college and only returned for festival days. Campbell’s Soup opened a factory in Paris, twenty miles to the east, and farming became more of a sideline for many.

Junior and I saw less and less of each other as we grew older. When I was sixteen, a handful of Lutheran families started a new mission in my hometown. Thereafter, no one from our family worshiped at St. James until my sister Donna moved nearby in retirement after marrying her high school boyfriend. By the early 1970s, the worst of the turbulent sixties found their way into rural and small-town Texas. Even some of the farm boys in their blue Future Farmers of America jackets took up smoking pot and popping pills. Their older siblings had made their own homebrew or had traversed the nearby Red River to buy 3.2% beer at the Oklahoma honky-tonks. The simple, hard-working farm culture lost its hold on the many.

I don’t know the particulars of Junior’s death, but he died at the age of 61. I heard he had a hard life. When I think of the world of my childhood and the world in which my daughter is growing up, I am convinced that the notion of progress is one of the devil’s damned lies.

Thank you, dear Father, for Junior and all those who are called away too soon. Grant him peace and full restoration. 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.