Writing this time of year is tough.  This devotion will not publish until December 14, but I am writing it the day before Thanksgiving.  Of course we can be thankful times other than Thanksgiving Day.  Following that incredibly obvious if not clunky segue, I’ll start with thankfulness.  Fasten your seat belts, this could be a bumpy ride!

Belinda and I just returned from a trip to Europe.  As many of you know, our daughter, Stephanie, and her family live in Vienna, Austria.  While there, to avoid an overdose of family time, we took a side trip to Lithuania.  We had travelled to the other two Baltic States, Latvia and Estonia, on a previous trip, so we decided to complete the set.  All three have been occupied in the past, most recently by the Soviets, gaining their freedom around 1991.  We flew into Vilnius, where we found Uzupis, an artist colony, or for those of you old enough to appreciate the term, a hippie colony.  Uzupis has its own history, and is a fairly friendly place, a quality we did not find in much of the rest of Lithuania we visited.  Let me clarify that.  The people were not unfriendly but appeared sullen.  Virtually no one spoke as we passed on the street, even as we spoke first.  We wondered why.  Yes, there’s a language difference, but everyone understands, “Hello.”  We rented a car and drove through the Lithuanian countryside to visit the Hill of Crosses.  More on that later.  As we traveled, we decided to jump off the thoroughfare and see what a Lithuanian small town looked like.  We found a group of small houses and nearly always a five or so story concrete, industrial, apartment building, of the architecturally non-aesthetic Soviet era.  Bleak.  There was no downtown area, really, just a grocery store, with no brand markings.  I needed Google Maps help to figure out that was indeed what it was.  Bleak.

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.”  Exodus 3: 7-8

Our supposition concerning the Lithuanians was that, while their oppression by the Soviets ended thirty years ago, it ended ONLY thirty years ago.  That’s just a generation.  Are they still affected by the fear of their oppressors?  Likely so.  Did they spend more than fifty years trying to “keep their heads down” in order to survive?  Likely so.  Did the Israelites burst into gleeful song the moment they stepped out of Egypt?  Likely not.  It takes time.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  I Thessalonians 5: 16-18

More on the Hill of Crosses.  Out in the middle of nowhere, a few kilometers from Siauliai, Lithuania, is situated a hill covered with crosses, at least 100,000 of them.  As the story goes crosses started appearing on this particular hill in the early 1800’s.  In 1961, the Soviets destroyed some 5000 crosses.  They burned the wooden ones and took the steel ones to be melted down and used for other purposes.  But the next day, more crosses appeared.  This same scenario played out several times during Soviet occupation.  Faith does not give up.

I am fairly certain that most of those who will read this have not suffered the wholesale oppression endured by Lithuania and the other Baltic states, Poland, Slovakia, Eastern Germany, and the list goes on and on.  We can most certainly be thankful for that.

By the time this is published, Thanksgiving will be in everyone’s rear view mirror, and we will be in the middle of Advent.  Let us be thankful that we can celebrate, or not, the birth of Christ in peace, without fear, and need only to “keep our heads down,” to render thanks.

“Heavenly parent we thank you for our wellbeing.  We thank you for our abundance.  We thank you as we anticipate celebration of your greatest gift.  Amen”

Bob Bullard