Meditation on Luke 21:25–36
First Sunday in Advent
The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH
Pastor Karen Crawford
Link to live-streamed service with messages for children and adults:
Link to bulletin:
On this first Sunday in Advent, our readings speak of the growing darkness and chaos of our world living in these in-between times. We light a candle on the Advent wreath for our hope in things to come and in the Spirit that is with us now. We are waiting for the Coming of the Lord, not as a humble baby whom we celebrate at Christmas, but in power and glory, to reign as our King of kings. We are invited to look for signs in the sky—the sun, moon, and stars—and on earth, distress among the nations.
Jesus has talked about other signs earlier in Luke 21—wars and insurrections, earthquakes and famines, plagues and persecution of believers. He urges us to pray for strength, for all these things will help grow the Kingdom because they will provide opportunities for us to testify to our faith, to shine His light in the darkness.
I ran across the inspiring story of one of God’s faithful servants this week.
Diet Eman was an “ordinary, shy woman” in the Netherlands in 1940, when the Germans invaded. She would later write, “When there is danger on your doorstep, you want to act almost like an ostrich burying its head in the sand.”
“Yet Diet felt God calling her to resist the German oppressors,” writes Alyson Kieda (Our Daily Bread, Nov. 26). “This unassuming young woman became a warrior for God.”
Diet’s NY Times obituary says that for 50 years, she remained silent about her role with the Dutch Resistance in World War II. She moved to America after the war to escape her past and the memories of “friends and families lost, of unspeakable barbarism, of spineless collaboration, (and) of the moments her religious faith was tested to its very limit.”
She became a nurse, learned Spanish, worked for Shell Oil in Venezuela, married an American engineer, divorced and moved to Michigan, where she worked for an export company.
It wasn’t until 1978, after she heard fellow Dutch Resistance fighter Corrie ten Boom speak in her Michigan hometown that she began to think that it was time to speak—that she had an obligation to reveal her story about saving Jews, ferrying Allied pilots to safety and escaping the Gestapo.
Then she met Professor James C. Shapp of Dordt College at a conference on suffering and survival in 1990. He persuaded her to write a memoir with his help, the 1994 Things We Couldn’t Say.
Her story is also included with five other Dutch Resistance survivors in a 2007 documentary, The Reckoning.
The tomboy daughter of an interior decorator grew up in the Dutch city of The Hague. When she was 9—in 1929, a severe depression hit the Netherlands, just as it did the United States. People no longer had money to buy wallpaper, lace curtains or drapes or have their furniture upholstered, so the family’s income melted away.
In 1937 when she was 17, her family took in a young boarder for additional income. Eighteen-year-old Hein Sietsma worked at Shell Oil.
He became part of the family, even attending church with Diet and her family. Hein was immediately interested in her and asked her mother how he might win her over. She thought he was boring. They went on bike rides and he grilled her with questions. She preferred climbing trees with her friends. She changed her mind about him after he moved out a year later and was drafted into the Dutch military service. She missed him. He wrote to her and asked to see her when he was home on leave. She agreed and during those visits, her heart beat wildly; she realized she was in love with him.
When she was 20 in May 1940 and still living with her parents and bicycling to work at a bank, the Germans invaded the Netherlands. Diet later wrote, “This happened only hours after Hitler had assured us that we in the Netherlands needn’t worry!” Her sister’s fiancé was killed on the first of five days of fighting. A brother died later in a Japanese prison camp.
Some of her neighbors, fellow churchgoers, argued at the time that for whatever reason, God in his wisdom must have willed the German invasion. But Diet, so deeply religious that she couldn’t take another life, lie, or commit sabotage, could find no justification for such evil.
Diet and her boyfriend, Hein, joined a Resistance group, coincidentally called HEIN, an acronym translated as “Help each other in need.” They began by spreading news received on clandestine radios from the British Broadcasting Corporation. Later, they smuggled downed Allied pilots to England by boat across the North Sea or through Portugal.
A plea for help from a Jewish co-worker of Diet’s at the bank prompted her Resistance group to focus on stealing food and gas ration cards, forging identity papers, and sheltering hundreds of fugitive Jews avoiding deportation to death camps in Germany and German-occupied Poland. Diet said of the German occupiers, “It was beyond their comprehension that we would risk so much for the Jews.”
In May 1944, Diet was arrested on a train while carrying false identity papers. She was sent to a concentration camp in the southern Netherlands. “At the camp, she was assigned to wash the bloody uniforms of Dutch prisoners who had been executed…. She was in constant fear of recognizing her fiancé’s uniform…” She was released 3 months later, immediately rejoined the Resistance, and remained with it until May 1945.
She learned in June 1945 that Hein had been captured a month before she was and tortured to death at Dachau in Germany—barely four months before the camp was liberated. By some miracle, a letter he had written on a single sheet of toilet paper found its way to her. He had tossed it from a train as he was being transported to the camp.
“Darling, don’t count on seeing each other again soon,” he wrote. “Even if we won’t see each other on earth again, we will never be sorry for what we did, and that we took this stand.” He signed off with the Latin phrase that was engraved on the gold engagement ring that he had given her: “Omnia vincit amor.” Love conquers all.”
The question that always arises in my heart at this time of year especially, the Sunday after Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, is what we who live in the growing darkness and chaos of this world should be doing in these in-between times while we wait and watch for our Savior.
Our prayer is that when Jesus comes back in a cloud in great power and glory, he will find us faithful.
The Advent passages remind us that the Lord could come at any day—and that isn’t a frightening thought for believers; nor is it one that should cause us to shrug our shoulders and do nothing—for what’s the point? Jesus is going to come back and fix everything. The Lord himself urges us not to be passive and inactive, wasting our time with the two d’s —dissipation and drunkenness—and the one that gets me every time: the worries of this life. Isn’t that the biggest waster of our time? Worry? We need to be alert to the signs of the Kingdom of God breaking into this world and ready to do God’s will. For the power of the Spirit is with us now. And we are empowered by His words that will never pass away.
One theologian challenges us with, “What if the symbolism of Jesus’ depiction of hopeful chaos is not about some distant time of ultimate endings? What if Jesus is snatching us out of our desire for another world by asking us to face the jarring details of this one? I see Jesus making a case about the fragility of life and the fierce need for people of faith to show up each day with stamina and courage.” –Willie Dwayne Francois III in Christian Century.
Diet’s story stirs us to respond to Christ’s call today, a response that may involve risking our very lives to help others so that we will be ready to stand up and raise our heads when he is coming in a cloud, knowing our redemption is drawing near.
In 1982, President Ronald Reagan hailed Diet Eman in a letter for risking her safety “to adhere to a higher law of decency and morality.” In 1998, Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel, granted her the title of Righteous Among the Nations, given to non-Jews for risking their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust; she was cited for her leadership in sheltering them. In 2015, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, during a stop in Grand Rapids on a promotional tour for Dutch businesses,” lauded Diet as a national hero.
She became a U.S. citizen in 2007.
Though Diet went home to be with the Lord in September 2019 at the age of 99, her testimony of the goodness of the Lord and her call to serve God with all heart, soul, mind and might during these dark, in-between times lives on in her memoir.
And it’s not just Diet’s testimony that moves me. My heart is touched by the story of her courageous fiance, Hein, who taught us, even after his death, with a note on a sheet of toilet paper, that “Love conquers all.”
May their story help you be ready to stand up and raise your heads when our Lord is coming in a cloud in power and glory, knowing your redemption is drawing near.
Let us pray.
Holy One, thank you for our hope and your promise that you will come back to gather your Church. And that your followers needn’t be afraid in these dark, troubling in-between times or on that great and glorious day. Help us to resist temptations and distractions or fall into passivity or inactivity or lose ourselves in busyness throughout the holiday season. Stir us to release all the worries of this life to you. Fill our hearts with courage to serve you, even to the risk of our lives. May you find us faithful at your return. In Your Son’s name we pray. Amen.