Dear Friends and Family,
We had too much to say and too little postage, so welcome to our Christmas letter to one and all!
This November 2022, we (Joel and Rachel) went over to England for Nathaniel’s (Rachel’s brother’s) wedding. While we were there, we had a chance to take a walking tour of the old city of London, centered on Christian history. What was booked on a whim (and last minute) quickly became the highlight of our trip and possibly our year.
We were unprepared for how moving it was to hear of regular people who had faith in God to do incredible things. People like William Tyndale, who was killed for translating the New Testament into English. Tyndale would never see the fruit of his labors. Others, like William Wilberforce, would see his life’s work accomplished (the abolition of slavery in England) only 3 days before he died. We heard about John Newton, who was formerly a slave trader, but by God’s grace, was completely transformed. In John Newton’s church (St. Mary Woolnoth), we stood, sang Amazing Grace (which Newton wrote), and Joel read the Bible from Newton’s pulpit. Newton also encouraged Wilberforce to stay in politics and encouraged him to work to abolish slavery in England.
Others, like Lord Ashley, Earl of Shaftesbury, we had never heard of. But, with the love of Christ, he campaigned for the poor, homeless, and abused in the city of London. He reformed child labor laws, and provided free schooling for the most destitute children they never could have had one otherwise. These schools would later become what we know as public schools.
In the British Museum, we saw artifacts from the time of the Old Testament prophets. We saw intricate art from the time of Abraham, bowls that Nehemiah likely held, and wall art that Daniel and Esther would have walked by on a daily basis. Just everyday things that were commonplace for them, but are historical treasures for us. Similarly, we visited the British Library and saw early manuscripts of the Bible that confirm the accuracy of the Biblical text we have today.
What moves us, then and now, is a story. Especially stories where the weak overcomes the strong, against all odds. We love to hear of the underdog being victorious and the unknown becoming the champion. We love stories of regular people who did incredible things because perhaps, maybe, we as regular people, have a chance of doing the same! These stories from the past give us hope.
That’s just a tiny slice of why the Christmas story has been the most enduring. A poor couple from a tiny city called Nazareth, would be chosen by… God? A shameful teen pregnancy… in reality… a virgin giving birth? A newborn king laid in… a manger? A baby… that saves the world? So much of this story is incredible, almost unbelievable. But why does it matter today? Why would people throughout history care about this insignificant event?
To answer that, we have to finish the story. We discover that this normal-looking baby grew into a normal-looking man. And that man, Jesus, died on a cross, in shame and humiliation. That appeared like the end, but three days later, to the shock of his own family and followers, he came back. Jesus rose from the dead and was seen by hundreds of people… alive!
Soon those nervous followers realized that the man they followed – had power over death itself. Through death he conquered death. Jesus truly is God. This gave them unbelievable courage to be witnesses of him to their countrymen, and beyond, and they told everyone they could tell. That message, that Jesus is the living Savior, is still spreading across the globe in the movement that we call Christianity. That message changed people like Newton, Shaftesbury, Wilberforce (and many others). It led to the abolition of slavery in England, led to hospitals, schools, and free education. But, even more so, the Savior gives great joy to each believer individually.
We see that the world today is still broken. We look around and see war and conflict. We can look closer to home, with the people we love, and find broken relationships. We look inside and see our own emptiness and hurt. We find wounds that don’t heal on their own.
That is why Jesus came. Jesus’ story is the ultimate story for all of us. The story where what is wrong is made right again. Where what is broken is made right. Where the weak are made strong. Jesus came to heal and restore people like us who are broken. Jesus can because he died and rose again.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
It's in the face of these struggles – and many more – the far-reaching hope of that long ago birth gives us solid expectation. Many call this gospel hope. That someday, the trials big and small in our lives will be memories. That because of that baby in Bethlehem, because of that man on Calvary, because of that empty tomb, there will be a happy ending. A victory over sins big and small, and a redemption of the world that is broken around us. That in the nitty gritty details of life, all have a purpose. And though we can be nervous, grieving people at times, if he lives, we have the courage to face today and tomorrow.
As we look over the past year, we have had some new challenges. Elise started attending Chinese immersion school, and we are thrilled she's at the top of her class. Adjusting to the new schedule and new school culture has been a struggle for her, though, and she is missing her friends. Maddie also started a new school and it too has been difficult – school assembly, gym and music class has proven over stimulating and overwhelming. She has started occupational therapy to help with this, on top of her speech therapy. As a family, we’ve had to be much more intentional about carving time out for each other… more so than in years past when everyone was home (work from home and homeschool). A real struggle when we’re out doing more, like expanding the English classes we used to do pre-pandemic in Livonia (a suburb of Detroit). We’re now, with others in our church, teaching and preaching here in Detroit in what is known as Mexicantown, and in online classes via Zoom.
The year hasn’t been all challenges though, don’t worry. We’re thankful that this blog has grown and continues to encourage many. We have so many hopes and dreams for it for the future! Joel has done very well at work and we were blessed to be able to attend Nathaniel’s wedding, something we would have never dreamed of years ago. Adele has been busy working on her design ideas (the basement reno providing lots of materials for her forts and castles – both lifesize and miniature). Hannah has somehow learned most of her letters and sounds and how to spell her name. We say somehow because she’s basically caught this information (4th child!). Maddie also learned how to spell her name (with no name tag!) a GREAT source of celebration and pride for all involved. Elise reads books faster than we can get them onto her Kindle and has a knack for tricky questions.
Yes, we’re renovating our basement and it is SO close to being ready to decorate. We’re enjoying our children coming to an age when family game night and family movie night is more fun for the grown-ups too. We loved camping with the girls and their friends in the summer and getting to the critical family size when buying a membership (to pretty much everything) is more economical than just getting entry for a day. This means repeat visits to Henry Ford Museum and the Zoo near and far that we never bothered with before but are thoroughly enjoying now.
If you read this far, thank you. We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. We appreciate each of you. Send us a message or an email when you have a minute to let us know how you are too.
With much love, the Holmes family.
Joel, Rachel, Elise (10), Adele (8), Maddie (5) and Hannah (3)