Unsung Saints Advent 2020

The Baptism of our Lord, January 10

Hebrews 1:1-12

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say,

“You are my Son,
today I have begotten you”?

Or again,

“I will be to him a father,
and he shall be to me a son”?

And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,

“Let all God’s angels worship him.”

Of the angels he says,

“He makes his angels winds,
and his ministers a flame of fire.”

But of the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”


“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,
and the heavens are the work of your hands;
they will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment,
like a robe you will roll them up,
like a garment they will be changed.
But you are the same,
and your years will have no end.”

Emily Ann, Child of God Forever


On December 28, I wrote mostly about Sarah on her 22nd birthday. Today, I want to write more about Emily Ann, whose 19th birthday will be on Wednesday of this week.

Emily Ann was three and one-half years old when Laura and I came to St. Matthew’s. You could always tell when she was in the room. She would have a large bow in her blondish brown hair and always a frilly dress. She could work a crowd even as a little tyke, and she was the apple of her parents’, grandparents’, and godparents’ eye. Emily wasn’t going to shrink in any group. Big brother Jake had a playmate whether he wanted one or not, and he usually did. Like Sarah, Emily Ann was a memorable face and voice in the Little Luther Choir on Sunday mornings.

After I had been a pastor for nineteen years, I buried two children in Austin one week apart. Baillor, the five-year-old blond from a legendary Texas ranching family, died from a brain tumor one week. Hope, the three-year-old blond from an old line of Swedish Texans, died the next from leukemia. Those were my worst days as a pastor up to that point. When they were dying, an old childhood friend said, “How can you handle that?” I told her, “That’s part of my calling to walk with the dying and with their families after.”

Three years later when I was in conversation with Bishop Bolick in his office, he told me that he had never had even one funeral of a small child in all his years as a pastor. I said, “Bishop, I hope I never again have to be the pastor when little children die.” Two years later, first Emily and then Sarah were diagnosed just a couple of months apart. I hoped for a different ending. I prayed for remission and many more years for the children and their families. I dreaded the pain their families were going to face.

The first Saturday of every October, we gather weather-permitting in the courtyard for the blessing of the animals. So, on October 1, 2005, Emily Ann and her family brought Toby, their black Lab for a blessing. Emily was so excited, but her Mama confided that she was concerned that Emily was stumbling a lot. Later that afternoon they went to New Hanover Regional and from there it was a quick trip to Carolina Children’s Hospital in Chapel Hill. There were many nights spent at the Ronald McDonald House nearby. Laura and I made that trip and prayed that Emily Ann would receive the cure everyone wanted.

I remember her stay at New Hanover Regional when I popped up to see Emily. Her Daddy asked if I could sit with her a few minutes so that he could run downstairs to get a bite. I sat there watching Madagascar with Emily, and when it got to where King Julian of the Lemurs began to sing, “You’ve Got to Move It, Move It,” she giggled and said, “That’s my Daddy’s favorite part.” It was a precious moment. This little one with a brain tumor and already having gone through so much was able to be a happy little girl laughing at an animated movie. I marveled at the moment and thanked God for her.

We are people of hope, and we know that our hope in Christ is not for this life only, but we do hope for this life, too. If prayers alone and hope alone could have spared Emily Ann, she would have like Jairus’ daughter risen from her sickbed. In fact, just a few days before Emily’s death, that was the Gospel reading and preaching text. I remember praying as I read that text that Christ would restore Emily to her parents.

Early on the morning of Tuesday, July 18, 2006, Emily’s Daddy called to say he was sure this would be the day. I arrived in front of their home at the same time as her godparents. It was about 4 a.m. Emily Ann was in her Mama and Daddy’s bed the whole day. Her dog and two cats gathered around her and would not leave. It was the sweetest, most heart-wrenching scene in forty-five years of church work. If will alone could have restored Emily Ann to life, I do believe she would have gotten up and gone on. Late on that July afternoon, Emily Ann’s little body finally gave out. These bodies are not made for eternity. Our prayers for healing were answered but not at all in the way we had hoped. Emily Ann was free at last.

Dear Father, on this day of our Lord’s Baptism, we thank you that Emily Ann is your child forever. In Jesus’ holy name. Amen.

Please bring a check to St. Matthew’s (Unsung Saints) for $9.46, $47.30, or $94.60 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.