31 December 2008

A Little O.P. for New Year's Eve

Sanctuary at Midnight

The last candle burned gently on the altar... Beyond the dark windows the midnight was already alive with bells and whistles, but here they seemed now like sounds from a lost world... In a sudden wind from the sacristy door the candle flickered forward and threw into bold relief the face on the crucifix... Shadows played over the red wounds, and in the eyes in which pain had been a prisoner these nineteen hundred years there was darkness... At the foot of the sanctuary steps stood the tree and the manger... The place of His birth was in the gloom, the place of His death was in the light... All the years of His way from the Manger to the Cross were in the brief steps up the sanctuary, up to the Everlasting Altar... Here were beginning and end... Not by the years could His Life and Power be measured, nor by the dust of centuries, but only by the wounds still red against the white dominion of His throne...

Was it the darkness or the hour which seemed to move His patient face in pity?... Surely no sculptor had caught the moment of "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do"... That was so very long ago... The bells and whistles beyond me in the dark were marking the end of another year between His heaven and my world... There had been many of them now - almost twice as many as the number of His days before the eyes of men... Strange that all our years should be measured by His days and all the time of man by one day when, in darkness and pain, God was making eternity ready and history was preparing for B.C. and A.D.... Strange, too, with the wonder of heaven and hope, that I can repeat His prayer tonight... "Father, forgive."... Forgive me - for the lost but unforgotten hours of the dying year, for the erring way and barren heart... The pivot of the year is too brief to say more than the one word which makes the years an altar stair and the time of life the lifting of the angelic trumpets... Midnight is lonely now with lonely bells, and my candle of prayer burns low... There is only one cross on the altar tonight... On the hill there were three, but the children of the man on the cross to the left are blowing whistles tonight, and the children of the man on the right are in sanctuaries the world over... His time was short, perhaps shorter than mine, but his prayer was good, much better than mine... Remember me... Make my failures Thy victories and the years of my sins the eternity of Thy grace... Remember me... Thy footsteps grow brighter as the years grow dim, and no calendar can limit Thy power... Remember me... This moment, not of yesterday nor of tomorrow, is Thine just as the years are Thine...

There are other voices in the sanctuary now, the waiting saints made perfect at last and the great multitude past human numbering who have been remembered at altars in heaven and on earth... In a little while we shall be wise as they whose wisdom is a song: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing."...

The Pilgrim, pp. 23, 24

+ Bishop Andrew Elisa

Bishop Andrew Elisa has fallen asleep in Jesus. The story of this remarkable servant of Christ can be found here:

click here

My dear friend, Pastor Randy Asburry, spent some time with this fledgling Church in Sudan a couple years back and spoke of Bishop Elisa in glowing terms.

Rest eternal, grant him, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon him!

30 December 2008

The Greatest New Year's Eve Hymn of All

Across the sky the shades of night
This New Year's Eve are fleeting;
We deck Your altar, Lord, with light
In solemn worship meeting;
And as the year's last hours go by,
We raise to You our earnest cry,
Once more Your love entreating.

Before the cross subdued we bow,
To You our prayer addressing;
Recounting all Your mercies now,
And all our sins confessing;
Beseeching You this coming year
To keep us in Your faith and fear
And crown us with Your blessing.

We gather up in this brief hour
The memory of Your mercies;
Your wondrous goodness, love, and pow'r,
Our grateful song rehearses;
For You have been our strength and stay
In many a dark and dreary day
Of sorrow and reverses.

We now remember, as we pray,
Our dear ones in Your caring
Who brightly shine in endless day,
Past death and all despairing.
At our life's end, Lord, as Your own,
Bring us with them around Your throne,
The joys of heaven sharing.

Then, gracious God, in years to come,
We pray Your hand may guide us
And, onward through our journey home,
Your mercy walk beside us
Until at last our ransomed life
Is safe from peril, toil, and strife
When heaven itself shall hide us.

LSB 899 - Hymn of the Day appointed for New Year's Eve

Homily for New Year's Eve

[Isaiah 30:15-17 / Romans 8:31b-39 / Luke 12:35-40]

As another civil year draws to its close, the Word of God speaks to us tonight about the way we pass the time of this failing age until we reach the Age that never ends. The first reading pointed the way: “In quietness and trust shall be your strength.” The Israelites, however, were panicking and thought that if they were to get out of the pickle they were in at the moment (war was impending with some pretty nasty neighbors to the north), they’d have to use their own smarts. What pickles are you in or are you anticipating this year? Whatever they are, God’s message remains the same. Your strength does not come from your fretting and fuming, your anxiety and fears. Strength comes to you as the gift of quietness and trust.

But quietness and trust in what? For that we turn to tonight’s Epistle. What can give you the gift of quietness and trust? This: that your God is for you, not against you. That He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for every last one of us, He can be trusted to give us with that most precious Gift of all every other gift besides. Trust that God is the one who justifies you – He’s declared you not guilty in His Son and so who is there to level an accusation against you, to condemn you? No one. For Christ Jesus is the One who died for you, who is raised for you, and who right now and throughout this coming year does not cease to intercede for you at the right hand of God His Father. You are ever on His mind and heart. And that is why we know that nothing can separate us from His love.

What will the year hold? Who knows! Paul gives what sounds to be a rather frightful list: trouble, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword. Let it come on, he seems to exult. Whatever it is, it has no power to destroy us. How can such meager things triumph over a people who have been given an unending life in Christ? They can’t! As Martin Luther once preached so beautifully: “All that is ours passes away and lasts but a short while. For what are forty years or fifty, or even a hundred? But with a man who belongs to an everlasting kingdom all is well, and it is fitting that he should dance through life forevermore.”

Dance through life forevermore. This we can do when quietness and trust are our strength because we know that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. How can we not be dancing indeed?

And today’s Gospel reminds us that living in that secure loving embrace of our God through Christ, we are also a people who wait. Time is for waiting. And what we’re waiting for is the return of our Master. We can’t wait to throw open the door and welcome Him back. For this Master is unlike any other. When He comes and knocks, He isn’t asking for us to wait upon Him. Rather, He begs entrance that He might wait upon us, dressed for service, seating us at His table and coming and serving us. Already we have such a rich foretaste of this in the Holy Supper. The Eucharist accompanies us all the days of our journey, and each Lord’s Day our Savior is there, knocking at the door, and asking us to let Him come in that He might be our servant – giving us ever and anew the promise of His unshakeable love for us in the body and blood that He once offered upon Golgotha for the blotting out of all sin and the bringing in of all righteousness. He would serve us such rich gifts – pouring into us forgiveness and His own undying life.

But that’s only the foretaste. For the Feast itself will arrive at the moment when time is through and the Son returns in glory, and we are welcomed visibly into His home and made to sit at His Father’s table and the Blessed Trinity will delight to serve us the gift that He has always wanted to give us – the blessedness that never ends.

And so Jesus also warns us to beware of the thief. The thief who would come to rob us of this inheritance, to snatch it from us and deprive us of it eternally. If we need have no anxiety about our earthly life – trusting as we do that the Father who gave us His Son will not fail to provide for our every need, and the Son who never ceases to pray for us and to present our needs before His Father, and the Holy Spirit who never ceases to pray within us at times with groans too deep for words – if we need have no anxiety about this life, yet Jesus bids us to watch and be wary of the thief who would take all this from us if he could.

There’s only way the theif can do that. And that is if he can destroy the quietness and trust that are our strength. He has but one goal: “How can I cut them off from the source of their faith – from the Words and promises and Sacraments of God?” That is where the enemy concentrates all his effort, and just as he worked on you that way in the year past, so he will seek to work on you that way in the year to come. It’s his only chance. He knows that if you abide in the Word, there is no way he will ever be able to destroy your trust, your quietness, your peace. For that Word will keep you in repentance and in faith. It will keep you dissatisfied with yourself and seeking your life only in communion with the Blessed Trinity. So the thief seeks ever to separate you from the Word that your trust in God’s unshakeable love in Christ might grow dim and die.

But we are not ignorant of his devises. We know what he’s up to. And so we’re on guard against the thief, even as we enter the New Year. Our prayer is that God would help us stay vigilant and eagerly waiting to welcome our Lord into our hearts as often as He comes knocking in Word and Meal. “Come Lord Jesus” is not just for table prayer – may it be the prayer of our whole lives. “Come, Lord Jesus, into this home.” “Come, Lord Jesus, into this broken relationship.” “Come, Lord Jesus, into this trying situation.” “Come, Lord Jesus, into this damaged heart.” And His delight is always to answer that prayer – for that is why He stands at the door and knocks.

In quietness and trust shall be your strength. More than conquerors through Him who loved us. He will dress Himself for service and have them recline at table. If the master had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready.

Grant us such readiness, O most Blessed Trinity, for to You alone we give all glory on this New Year’s Eve– to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages, to which may we all attain by your great mercy and love! Amen.

29 December 2008

Reminder

I've been asked about what happens if you fall behind in reading your Treasury of Daily Prayer. I want to stress this: DON'T SWEAT IT. Don't try to make it up. Simply pick up on TODAY and go forward. The gift of Daily Prayer is not meant to be a burden, but a joy. If you missed a reading this year, next year you can have new joy in it. It took me years to learn this simple lesson, but I was happy to see that Pr. Kinnaman simply spelled it out on page 20. The joy of the Office is that if you miss a prayer time, the CHURCH hasn't, and you can rejoice that the chanting of psalms and reading and prayers went on - for you! Simply step back into the Office and don't allow Satan to heap up guilt upon you. Our pilgrimage is too short to waste on such!

Commemoration of David

From our Synod's Website and Treasury of Daily Prayer:

David, the greatest of Israel's kings, ruled from about 1010 to 970 B.C. The events of his life are found in 1 Samuel 16 through 1 Kings 2 and in 1 Chronicles 10—29. David was also gifted musically. He was skilled in playing the lyre and the author of no less than 73 psalms, including the beloved Psalm 23. His public and private character displayed a mixture of good (for example, his defeat of the giant Goliath, 1 Samuel 17) and evil (as in his adultery with Uriah's wife, followed by his murder of Uriah, 2 Samuel 11). David's greatness lay in his fierce loyalty to God as Israel's military and political leader, coupled with his willingness to acknowledge his sins and ask for God's forgiveness (2 Samuel 12; see also Psalm 51). It was under David's leadership that the people of Israel were united into a single nation with Jerusalem as its capital city.

The collect for this day begins: "God of majesty, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven, we give thanks for David who, through the Psalter, gave Your people hymns to sing with joy in our worship on earth so that we may glimpse Your beauty..."

Epiphany House Blessings

The Lutheran Service Book Agenda reminds us "Homes may be blessed annually. Usually this is done during the season of Epiphany due to the connection of the visitation of the Magi to the home of the infant Christ." (p. 313)

If any member of St. Paul's would like for me to bless their home during January or February, please let me know as soon as possible, and we'll schedule the blessing.

"Drive from here the snares of the evil one and send Your holy angel to guard, protect, visit and defend all who dwell in this home. Mercifully hear their prayers and, when their last hour comes, grant them safe haven in Your heavenly mansions; through Jesus Christ our Lord!" -- Lutheran Service Book Agenda, page 319.

New Year's Resolutions

* I will make at least one delinquent call per month (and have a list for each elder to make one each month as well)
* I will read one work by Luther that I haven't yet read each month
* I will reread the Loci Theologici of Chemnitz from start to finish
* I will say "no" to any invitations to do further conferences
* I will make it to confession at minimum with each change in the Church's seasons

And I think if all that gets done, I'll be shocked yet very happy!

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Now all who believe in Him share in His divine nature. They are renewed in His image and they receive the Holy Spirit. -- C. F. W. Walther, *God Grant It!* p. 81

Patristic Quote of the Day

Of His own will He was born for us in time that He might lead us to His Father's eternity. -- St. Augustine, Sermon (Christian Prayer, p. 1964)

Busy yet Good

Coffee maker going off (grinder) woke me at 6:15; coffee with Matins (hey, it's the holidays); off to Y for a GREAT workout (burned 600+ calories on cardio alone, and did weights); back home, changed, communed Carl; checked in with Joanie about bulletin; wrote Bible Study for Sunday and shipped it to Joanie; quick lunch (yummy leftovers); hospital call in Greenville, shutins in Alhambra, Wood River, Maryville, Glen Carbon and Edwardsville (being relatively warm - in the 50's - had roof open on car for much of the journey and boy did that sun feel GREAT); home for half an hour and so Vespers; off to dinner with Cindi (wanted to eat at 54th Street Grill, but not willing to wait for 35 minutes; ended up at Red Robin and had their 5 alarm burger on salad while Cin feasted on the Royal Red Robin); quick trip to Dierberg's for some otherwise hard to find goodies; home for the night. Whew!

Tomorrow I hope to see Julian, meet for a while with Pastor Gleason, and write a homily for Wednesday evening. Three such choice texts is making the decision about what to preach rather difficult!

Open House Pics 3




Open House Pics 2



Open House Pics 1



28 December 2008

Patristic Quote of the Day

The children die for Christ, though they do not know it. The parents mourn the death of martyrs. The child makes of those unable yet to speak fit witnesses to himself. See the kind of kingdom that is his, coming as he did in order to be this kind of king. See how the deliverer is already working deliverance, the savior already working salvation. -- Quodvultdeus, Sermon (Christian Prayer, p. 1961)

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

It is well known what is meant by giving birth. Mary’s experience was not different from that of other women, so that of the birth of Christ was a real natural birth, Mary being his natural mother and he being her natural son. Therefore her body performed its functions of giving birth, which naturally belonged to it, except that she brought forth without sin, without shame, without pain, and without injury, just as she had conceived without sin. The curse of Eve did not come on her, where God said, “In pain thou shalt bring forth children;” otherwise it was with her in every particular as with every woman who gives birth to a child. Grace does not interfere with nature and her work, but rather improves and promotes it. -- Blessed Martin Luther, Church Postil, Homily for Christmas Day (Lenker I:140) [HT: Brother Latif Gaba on SSP's Blog]

27 December 2008

What's up for the Open House

Let's see. Cindi's prepared: ham and various crackers... sugar cookies... molasses cookies... peanut butter cookies... cheeses of various sorts (Havarti, pepper jack, colby-jack, muenster)... spiced nuts (thanks to Darlene - again!)... "Marianne Roarick's Candy"... salted and buttered baked pecans (another Marianne Roarick recipe!)... almonds... peanut butter/almond bark candy... chips and french onion dip... cheese ball... iced tea... wassail... rye bread and dill dip... peanuts and candies... veggie platter and ranch dip... garlic summer sausage... oh, I don't know what else. But you KNOW you want to eat some, so come on by!

Homily from Yesteryear

In honor of the Holy Innocents:

When we hear that Gospel, I suppose there’s not a one of us who doesn’t ask in his heart: “Why, God? How could you let such an awful thing happen? We’re so thankful that Jesus wasn’t killed, but what about those others, those little boys? Didn’t You care about them? What about their poor mothers and fathers, refusing to be comforted because their children were dead – butchered before their eyes – and without a clue as to why? O God, did it have to be that way?”

Such thoughts show that our faith has trouble coming to terms with some very important truths that God teaches us in His Word. From start to finish the Bible reminds us that this life is not permanent, that this world is not our home, that we are a people on pilgrimage.

Further, the Bible bears abundant testimony – and we experience it in our own lives too – that God does not guarantee anyone a certain length of time for that pilgrimage. Some have a very short journey through this world – their breath snuffed out like that of the Holy Innocents. Others live to gray hair and see great-grandchildren. Many end their pilgrimage somewhere in between. But this much is true: the pilgrimage comes to an end for all, and that end can come at any time and in any way.

Neither to you, nor to your parents, nor to your children, nor to your grandchildren, nor to any relative or friend, has God promised anything about the length of pilgrimage or the manner of death.

“You’re being rather morbid today, pastor” I hear you say. No. Just being realistic. I think it was the same realism that inspired the Church to set the feast of the Holy Innocents just three days after the Nativity of our Lord – a poignant reminder of why our Lord took on flesh and blood.

You see, if life in this world is a pilgrimage and it has an end, it does not at all follow that that is the end of us. Rather, the Bible reveals the startling truth that like it or not, every last one of us is going to live forever. And the Bible reveals that we will live forever either in eternal joy and bliss, or in never-ending regret, sorrow and pain. That is, we’ll all end up in either heaven or in hell. What makes the difference?

Not how you live during your pilgrimage. Those who spend their pilgrimage trying to be good people, thinking that by keeping God’s laws they will curry his favor so that he will have to let them into his heaven – they haven’t got the first clue.

The Law of God, when we really hear it, demands of us a perfection we simply cannot come up with – no matter how hard we try. The Law doesn’t tell us that if we give it our best shot, God will pat us on the head and say: “Good try. Come on in!” The Law cuts no deals; compromise is foreign to it. The Law demands that we love the Lord our God with every ounce of our being and that we love our neighbor as ourselves. That we do so from the heart – that means, wanting always what brings glory to God and blessing to our neighbor. That we do so without fail. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” James 2:10 And “All who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’” Gal. 3:10

The Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth through Jesus Christ! Jesus took our flesh and blood, was born of Mary for us. Because every last one of us was by nature headed toward never-ending sorrow and pain, eternal separation from God, the endless regrets of hell. Because God never wanted a single soul to know the agony of an eternity without Him.

He came among us as the true Holy Innocent. His conception was holy. His birth was innocent. His life was without sin. HIS heart never deviated once from all His Father’s law demanded. He kept it whole and He kept it for you and me. And then on His cross He suffered the punishment that was our due. Thus He secured a perfect redemption. When His Father raised Him from the dead, He declared that His Son’s sacrifice offered only once, availed now for all time and for all people. Jesus rendered hell needless; no one ever need suffer it. The only way to get into hell is by stepping over the dead body of God’s Son – by telling Him: “No thanks, I don’t need your blood or your forgiveness. I can handle my sins on my own.”

That is unbelief – the refusal of the gifts of God. It’s opposite is faith, being given to, receiving from Christ what He would give (as Brody Wayne does this morning). And it is precisely such faith that makes the difference between landing in heaven and hell.

The Holy Innocents were called that not because they didn’t have sin. No, they would have confessed had they but a little older, exactly what the Scripture says: “Behold, I was conceived in iniquity and in sin my mother bore me.” They were holy innocents, not by nature, but by grace. Enfolded into the covenant God made with Abraham when they were circumcised on the 8th day of their lives, wrapped in the promises of God, they were put into a life of faith, waiting for the redemption of the coming Savior. Thus, when their pilgrimage ended, they left as “sweet flowrets of the martyr band.”

And you too get to be holy innocents in much the same way. They had the Old Testament sacrament of circumcision and looked in faith to coming Redeemer. You have the New Testament sacrament of Baptism, and you look in faith to the Redeemer who has come, who has kept the Law for you, who has thereby secured for you and all people an eternal redemption. As you simply believe it, it’s all yours. Thus, you are holy and innocent with the holiness and innocence of Another.

Such holy innocence He reaches to you at the altar in the gift of His body and blood – the very same body and blood that fully kept the law on your behalf and that answered for all your sins upon the tree. He reaches to you what He offered on your behalf as His pledge and guarantee, as you trust it, that when your pilgrimage is ended, He will bring you to the place of overflowing joy and blessedness, the home He has prepared for you. He reaches it to you that even now it might begin to work in you obedience and love toward God. Thus God quiets our unrest and fears.

This life is after all, only a pilgrimage; death ends it for each of us at a time we can’t guess and sometimes in ways that are ghastly. But our Jesus has opened a Kingdom beyond death; He has prepared for us an everlasting home – and for that to Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit be all glory and honor, world without end. Amen.

I wavered quite a bit

on what to do this Sunday. I finally went with the Lutheran Church Orders, which seem invariably to observe the Sunday after Christmas and take scant recognition of Holy Innocents. But I forgot to inform the ladies who do the altar, or the organist who prepares the music for the cantors. The cantors' music is easily fixed by just doing what's in the bulletin, but our paraments tonight were red. Fitting, I supposed. We do use the collect for Holy Innocents after the Collect for Christmas I, and they figure largely in the Prayer of the Church as well. The best of both, I suppose. Simeon, Anna, the Holy Innocents, and THE Holy Innocent (who alone truly is) who escaped to be the Life for all His people - His appointment with death would come later, though Simeon foresaw that too.

Homily for Sunday in the Octave of Christmas

Did Simeon’s aged feet dance a little as he held the child? While he looked into those sleepy eyes and let the tiny hand wrap itself around one of his gnarled fingers? Did he lift his eyes to heaven when he prayed, or did he just look into the eyes of heaven’s Lord as he held him? Did he bend down his gray beard and let his rough lips kiss the soft hair? Did he drink in the smell of the newborn? Did he fall to his knees as he held Him? Did he hug him close?

And what was in the Blessed Mother’s mind and heart when she noticed the old man making his way toward her with his arms outstretched? Arms that would not be denied? Did she recognize in his eyes the same wonder that had filled the eyes of the Shepherds forty days before? Did she realize that here was another of God’s saints who had been let in on the secret? One who knew who and what she was carrying?

And Joseph, faithful Joseph, standing by and watching. What went on in his mind as he watched first Simeon and then Anna start spreading the word about the Child? So close to Herod, jealous Herod. How terrifying to be protector for the Lord of the universe when he couldn’t even lift his head on his own! And how Joseph loved him – even though not his own. And yet, truly born for him as much as for anyone.

This meeting in the temple had long been foretold by the Prophet. “The Lord whom you seek shall suddenly come to His temple.” And while many watched for that day, their own ideas about God’s glory and splendor blinded them to it when it actually took place. They expected something grander than this! But not Simeon or Anna. They knew who had come to the temple that day and they worshipped in awe and reverence. They were not put off by the lowliness of His appearing.

And Simeon – what was that look in his eye when the old seer handed the child, ever so reluctantly, back to his holy mother? He looked at her and his eyes filled with tears as he saw what this Child, this most holy Child, had come to do. He looked down the long corridor of the years and saw the tree, heard the cries of pain, saw the grief written on Mary’s face: “A sword will pierce your own soul also,” he whispers to her.

For it would be by suffering and dying that He would indeed become the “salvation” which God prepares before the face of all people. He is the light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Israel precisely when the fire of love consumes Him as He sacrifices Himself on the altar of the Cross – carrying in his body the weight of the sin of mankind and offering Himself in perfect obedience to the heavenly Father “on behalf of all and for all.”

The Light that burns and shines in Him is the light of the Father’s love for a lost race . Simeon and Anna stare at him and are now ready to die, for they know now that the Lord has truly kept all of His promises, for He has given His most precious gift of all. His Son. “What more could God have given, tell me, what more did He have to give?”

We sing the song of Simeon after the celebration of the Eucharist every Sunday. We say with Simeon and with Anna: “It’s okay, Lord. We could die now and it would all be okay. We’re ready to go home. We’ve seen our Savior. We have touched, handled the flesh of Your Son, we’ve touched and seen the face of Love Incarnate. We can go home now. Glory to God in the highest!”

And like Simeon and Anna of old, we will not be put off by the meanness of His appearing, by the lowliness of His coming. Bread and wine, so ordinary, so plain and simple. And yet hidden in them the flesh and blood of God incarnate, of Emmanuel, the God who is with us, who is for us.

And like Simeon and Anna of old, we who have seen and known Him here cannot keep silence. Our words cannot but burst forth in two directions. First and foremost, thanks to the Father for such a gift, and how could we ever be worthy of such a gift, of such love Praise to heaven’s Lord for wrapping His love up for us in so tiny a package and delivering to us with a great big: “I Love you!” on the tag. And after the praise and glory and thanks to God, then too the telling to others, the speaking to those who do not yet know, who could not in their wildest imaginations even dream that God has so loved and favored them. We cannot not be telling them of the greatest gift ever given? We cannot not be calling them to come and share with us the feast of love, for there is a place at the Lord’s table for everyone for whom He gave the sacrifice and the sacrifice was given for all!

And as the Child grew and became strong in spirit and filled with wisdom and the grace of God resting on Him, so He would go on growing in us. Becoming strong in us and filling us with His wisdom and showering on us the grace of God.

And when the time comes for us to depart, we who have held him in our hands and in our hearts will go to His arms in peace and He will hold us and welcome us to the home He has prepared for Simeon, Anna, the Holy Innocents and us; to the Feast that never ends. Amen

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

"The grace of God...bringing salvation" did not appear to all pious men or to all penitent men or even to all believing men. It appeared "to all men," without exception. There is no one in the whole world - from Adam, the first created, to the last person born - who is shut out from God's grace. -- C. F. W. Walther, *God Grant It!* p. 77

Patristic Quote of the Day

And so Christ is born that by His birth He might restore our nature. He became a child, was fed, and grew that he might inaugurate the one perfect age to remain forever as he had created it. He supports man that man might no longer fall. And the creature He had formed of earth He now makes heavenly; and what He had endowed with a human soul He now vivifies to become a heavenly spirit. In this way He fully raised man to God, and left nothing in him, neither sin, nor death, nor travail, nor pain, nor anything earthly, with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, now and forever, for all the ages of eternity. -- St. Peter Chrysologus, Homily upon the Incarnation (Christian Prayer, p. 1957)

Reprieve

It's not to last long, but you know it felt absolutely wonderful to be running around outside with shorts and t-shirt today. 64 right now. Remember how COLD that feels when fall begins? Right now it feels like "take off your shirt" weather!!! Well, not quite. No sun. Gray, overcast, rainy, but warm. I'll take warm.

26 December 2008

The Divine Service for The Nativity of Our Lord - Christmas Day

Here is our Christmas Day liturgy replete with bloopers and such (including, at the beginning, the one for which I am responsible and wrote about below...). The Service, though, is not a performance. It is a humble offering of prayer and praise by poor sinners in response to the Most Blessed Trinity's gracious giving of Himself. Pastor Gleason's fine homily [printed below] is here preached; you can discover how blessed we are to have him with us at St. Paul's!

Patristic Quote of the Day

For the Father and the Son together with the Holy Spirit are one nature, one force, one essence, and one kingdom. -- St. Ephraim the Syrian, *A Spiritual Psalter* #15

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Reverent hearts, it is an old, laudable custom to commemorate St. Stephen on the second day of Christmas. For just as the innocent children were the first martyrs after Christ's birth, so also St. Stephen was the first after Christ's ascension to praise our glorious King Jesus with his blood. Our predecessors used to say, Heri natus est Christus in munda ut hodie Stephanus nasceretur in coelo. "Yesterday Christ was born in the world, so that today Stephen could be born in heaven." This is speaking rightly and truly of the fruit of Jesus Christ's birth. -- Valerius Herberger, *Treasury of Daily Prayer* p. 1057

Reminder: Christmas Open House

at the St. Paul parsonage this Sunday from 1 to 4. Hope to see many of you!

Christmas Midnight at St. Paul's

25 December 2008

So....

David and I decided to practice his song last night at home. He was singing "The Promise" as part of the pre-service music to the Midnight Divine Service. David is a mega-bass, so I had to transpose the Clavinova down three steps. We finish up and I walk away from the Clavinova, leaving it on.

In a bit, I hear Cindi fussing that her guitar has gotten so out of tune. She just can't understand it. She's playing her guitar for some preservice music with the Diane, our organist, on her flute. The obvious doesn't occur to either of us...

Then as Cindi is practicing with the Bekah and Robyn before the service, David and I look up at the balcony puzzled. The guitar is just wrong. The girls can't sing that low. We don't know what's the matter, but it sounds like the guitar. THAT'S when Cindi realized what happened! She had retuned to the transposed Clavinova!!!

Time it ticking away now. She desperately attempts to retune, and of course! Breaks a string. She sends David to the house for the classical guitar just in case the 12 string can't be used. She does manage to get it back into tune right before time for the preservice music to start. So she's a bit rattled as the music starts.

And she's not the only one. I'm oblivious. I'm sitting at the Clavinova, ready to begin David's piece, and I *thought* he gave me the signal: "start." But it was instead the signal: "don't go." Red light, green light? Whatever! I plow into it. David's music is all out of order, and he loses his place, and well, an interesting bit of scat before he finally comes in with the words, and finishes the piece flawlessly. WHEW. He was embarrassed, but so I was. I had totally thrown the lad off. Sigh. End of story? Of course not.

I left the Clavinova on last night. Never thought about it. So....when Pat sat down at the Clavinova this morning to do the preservice music with the BELLS, she's three steps lower than they are for "Joy to the World." YOUCH! Cindi suddenly realized what was wrong; Millie holds up the bells; David rushes to Clavinova and transposes up again; and then with a second try, the bells and Pat do an absolutely bang up job on the pre-service piece (and their piece in the liturgy too).

The long and short of it is: don't let Pastor touch the Clavinova at Christmas; or at least, be sure and turn it off after each time he plays. Okay?

Christmas 2008







24 December 2008

Break Forth

















Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light,
And usher in the morning.
Ye shepherds, shrink not with affright,
The day of grace is dawning.
This Child, though weak in infancy,
Our confidence and joy shall be,
The pow'r of Satan breaking,
Our peace with God now making.

O dearest Child, whom I adore,
Whose grace surpasses measure,
My Brother, whom I cherish more
Than earth with all its treasure:
Haste from Thy manger to depart,
O come and dwell within my heart;
With joy will I receive Thee,
A cradle there will give Thee.

All blessing, thanks, and praise to Thee,
Lord Jesus Christ, be given:
Thou hast my Brother deigned to be,
Thou Lord of earth and heaven.
Help me throughout this day of grace
To praise Thy love and seek Thy face;
And when I stand before Thee
Forever to adore Thee.
LSB 378

From the Roman Martyrology

In the year 2015 from the birth of Abraham, in the year 1510 from the exodus of the people of Israel out of Egypt, in the year 1032 from the enthronement of David the Prophet and King, in the sixtieth "week" of the prophecy of Daniel, in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Augustus, in the thirty-third year of the reign of Herod, when the staff had gone from Judah has had been prophesied by Jacob the Patriarch, at a time when the whole world was at peace, it pleased God to send His only-begotten Son and Eternal Word to the world to become Man and to teach us God's love, to suffer, die, and rise from the dead for our salvation.

At that time, the Lord Jesus was born in a humble cave in Bethlehem of Judah, and no one knew of it but the immaculate Virgin Mary his Mother and Joseph her spouse. No one heard of this miracle surpassing all miracles but a few humble shepherds who had been told by angels in the sky that sang this hymn: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men." Then the Magi came from the East, led by a star in the heaven: they found their way to where the Divine Infant rested, and they adored Him, and opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts of gold, incense and myrrh.

To God Incarnate, to the suckling Infant who humbled Himself and took our form, becoming one of us to make us divine; to the One who later walked among us to teach us the way of salvation and who loved us so much as to give His life for it: to Him be glory, honor, and adoration forever and ever. Oh, come, let us adore Him! [At St. Paul's, we read this prior to the Processional Hymn on Christmas Day: "O Come, All Ye Faithful."]

Pastor Gleason's Homily upon the Christ-Mass

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

It seems that every year we spend so much time and energy celebrating a day before it comes.

Right after Thanksgiving we start. We get out the Christmas lights and ornaments. We decorate our lawns, our houses, our living rooms, dining rooms and bedrooms. We put up a Christmas tree about the same time.
Then we party. We have office parties, family parties, caroling parties, and whatever kind of Christmas party we can think of.

We also shop. We shop for our loved ones and friends. We wrap their gifts and place them under the tree. And while we eagerly wait for that hour when we open them, we eat, drink, and generally make merry.

Then comes Christmas eve—a day and night that ought to be a vigil of prayer—and we round up the children and corral them into Christmas plays and cantatas, after which we all go home to party again around the Christmas tree. We open our gifts, we drink our wine, and we eat our Christmas treats.

So it is that when December 25th comes around, Christmas day, the beginning of the Christmas season, the celebration of Christ's birth seems so very anti-climactic. The high point of our hopes and dreams, the so-called “reason for the season,” Christ's nativity, has been pushed to the back of the Christmas tree, obscured by the wrapping paper, and ribbon, and all the other seasonal trappings in which we are immersed.

I think that this anti-climactic attitude is best illustrated in the erroneous idea that the twelve days of Christmas begin on December 13th! I've heard it many times. Stores and malls push last minute shopping, the Red Cross has blood drives, radio stations play Christmas songs each labeling it under the title “The Twelve Days of Christmas;” and it's all carried on the week and a half before the holiday!

Of course, we know today is the first day of Christmas. Today we begin the twelve day period that ends on January 6th, Epiphany Day. In fact, the Church may celebrate Christmas through February 2nd, the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord, which was 40 days after His birth. However long we celebrate, though, today is the day that we begin our Christmas season. Yesterday the Advent season ended, and today the Christmas season begins.

And the real joy of Christmas should be our focus today. All that happened when Christ was born should be the light that enlightens our minds until the “morning star rises in our hearts” and Christmas hope lights our souls.
Ask yourself this Christmas morning, just what is your real treasure? In other words, what is the high point and true focus of your heart today?

This Holy Day, God would have us focus on the light that shines in the darkness, the true light that enlightens everyone. Today we look to “the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus is and always shall be the highlight for you this day and at any time of the year; for in Him Christmas is anything but anti-climactic.

There certainly was nothing anti-climactic about Christ's birth for Mary and Joseph. It was a day they long waited for. The promise of the angel had been born. Now they had many years before them to cherish and care for the very Son of God.

There was nothing anti-climactic about Christ's birth for the shepherds. This was a day they also looked for. The promise of the Father spoken through the prophets had been born. Now they had the age of the Christ to live in, to find new hope in their Redeemer.

There was nothing anti-climactic about Christ's birth for the angels. The promise of the Creator had been born. Now the mystery into which they longed to peer is come into the world for heaven and earth to rejoice over.

And we may say that there was nothing anti-climactic about Christ's birth to the Savior Himself. He had come to take on the flesh of man so that He could redeem all flesh. He came to take away the sin that killed man, and to restore man's holiness through His Incarnation. He came as the fulfillment of all the promises. And He looked longingly for that climactic event when He would suffer and die on the cross for all the world’s sin. Then to be raised again that all who believe in Him may never again die.

Finally, it must be said, that there need be nothing anti-climactic about Christ's birth for you and me. For whether you begin celebrating today, or began December first, or began last January, this is the day we long for. The promise of the Christ Child, with all of His grace and truth, is given to you this day. The promise is for you—“the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The real high point of Christmas is the birth of Christ, and the star of hope that now glimmers in the dark night of our souls. Such a gift we may treasure! Such an event we may ponder anew in our hearts! Amen.

Words from Christmas Midnight

All my heart again rejoices... Sweetest angel voices... Come, then, banish all your sadness! One and all, great and small, Come with songs of gladness. We shall live with Him forever There on high In that joy Which will vanish never... When all was still and it was midnight, your almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne... Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy, Lord, have mercy... Glory be to God on high! (welcome back, old friend!)... O God, You make this most holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light... we may also come to the fullness of His joys in heaven... The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light... The Lord has made known His salvation... For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people... Let us worship and bow down! Let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!... In those days a decree... And she gave birth to her firstborn Son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn... Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people... And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying... (kneeling) and was made man... And while the angels in the sky sang praise above the silent field, To shepherds poor the Lord Most High, the one great Shepherd is revealed... Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation... We come to You, holy Father, with praise and thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ, Your Son... In the mystery of the Word made flesh You have given us a new revelation of Your glory, that seeing You in the person of Your Son, we may know and love those things which are not seen... Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth... Our Father... Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed... The peace of the Lord... O Christ, Thou Lamb of God... O holy night... Nails, spear shall pierce Him through... How silently, how silently... The body of Christ, given for you... (in the candlelight) Lord, now let Thy servant depart in peace... A light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost... the mysteries of that light on earth... The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace... Radiant beams from Thy holy face With the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

A Most Joyous Feast of the Nativity!

To all visitors to this blog, let me wish you one and all a joyous celebration of our Lord's nativity in the flesh! The celebration begins at twilight this evening and the joy runs for all the 12 days of the Christmas Feast and then we step forward into the bright light of Epiphany. None captured better the spirit of the Church's celebration during these days than Pope St. Leo the Great:

Dear beloved brethren: Unto us is born this day a Savior. Let us rejoice. It would be unlawful to be sad today, for today is Life's birthday; the birthday of that Life which, for us mortal creatures, takes away the sting of death and brings the bright promise of an eternal hereafter. It would be unlawful for any man to refuse sharing in our rejoicing. All men have an equal part in the great reason why we are joyful for our Lord, who is the destroyer of sin and death, finding that all are bound under condemnation, is come to make all free. Rejoice, if you are a saint, for you are drawing nearer your crown! Rejoice, if you are sinner, for your Savior offers you pardon! And if you are a pagan, rejoice, for God calls you to life! For when the fulness of time was come the Son of God took upon Himself the nature of man so that He might reconcile that nature to Him who made it; hence the devil, the inventor of death, is met and conquered in that very flesh which had been the field of his victory. Let us give thanks to God the Father through His Son in the Holy Spirit, who for His great love wherewith He loves us has had mercy on us and has quickened us together with Christ even when we were dead in sins, that in Him we might be a new creature and a new handiwork. Let us then put off the old man with his deeds, and having obtained a share in the sonship of Christ, let us renounce the deeds of the flesh. Be conscious, O Christian, of your dignity! You have been made a partaker of the divine nature; do not fall again by a corrupt manner of life into the beggarly elements above which you have been lifted. Remember whose body it is of which you are a member, and who is its Head. Remember that it is He who has delivered you from the power of darkness and has transferred you into God's light and God's kingdom.


You have been loved with an eternal love, and that love has shown forth from the pure Virgin - so rejoice one and all! A merry Christmas to you!

23 December 2008

Kitchen Smells

Cindi's been working in the kitchen all day. Yummy smells. Almond cookies and almond thins and a bread-less pudding, and peanut butter pie (for us low-carbers); peanut butter cookies, spritzer sugar cookies, a chocolate pie, and Christmas Kringler for everyone else. And for everyone, some spiced nuts (we're addicted, Darlene) and some roasted pecans.

Planning for Lent and Easter?

You might find Lenten and Easter homilies by moi that CPH has offered as part of a packet with numerous other Lenten/Easter helps to be of use. Unless I miss my guess, Asburry did the Bible Studies and Stuckwisch the worship helps. Cwirla wrote companion volume for daily devotions.

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

What can compare with this supreme miracle: the Word of God became flesh? -- C. F. W. Walther, *God Grant It!* p. 75

Patristic Quote of the Day

[Sent to me by Paul McCain moments ago - a MUST for the PQOTD]

“We know that Jesus is the Son of God and that the Father has sent him to be the Savior of the world. And we believe in the love which God has for us, the same love which he has for his only-begotten Son, because God did not want His son to be an only child. He wanted Him to have brothers and sisters, and so he adopted us in order that we might share His eternal life.” (St. Bede, the Venerable. PL 93:110).

Well, it's been almost

four months. So far, I've not missed a day of the three days a week routine at the gym. As Cindi said, I just had to schedule it in and work other things around it. It's also been three months of eating solely at meal times (low-carbing, of course) except for an apple in the afternoons, and then on Sundays allowing myself to eat snacks as well. Alcohol intake has been a single glass of wine a day, again with Sundays as an exception. I've lost weight which I didn't really think I needed to lose, but now I'm wondering if perhaps I did. Started at 159 or so, I believe, and this a.m. was down to 146. According to BMI, I could go down to 140 and still be solidly in healthy range. I'm not trying to go further down, but I'm sticking to the workout routine and eating regime and we'll see what happens. Meanwhile, feeling great, good deal of energy. What's utterly weird, though, is being in clothes sizes I've not seen since high school. I am yearning, though, for a nice relatively warm day so I can go for a walk outside. The exercise is great, but it doesn't satisfy that itch to be out in the sun. Anywho, fabulously fit by 50 is still on track.

P.S. Cindi's also been doing fantastic. She's exercises most days (rather than the 3 day a week thingy) and she's seen some solid weight loss too.

22 December 2008

It was a joy

last night to have dinner with Meaghan's family. Meaghan and David prepared the food, and the Weedons sat down to feast with the Barringers on pot roast, green beans, salad, bread, and some fruit. Tasty indeed! David and Meaghan did a fine job with the cooking. Meaghan's father, Larry, is due to be a delegate to our upcoming District Convention, so I suspect we'll get in more visiting at that event. As is the way of the Synod, we ended up knowing many of the same folks and finding connections all over the place. A most enjoyable way to wrap up a Sunday evening.

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

It was as if heaven had descended to earth and taken up and enclosed the earth within itself. -- C. F. W. Walther, *God Grant It!* p. 72 (in reference to the angels appearing to the Shepherds)

Patristic Quote of the Day

Thy blows are filled with love. Thy punishments burn with compassion. In accordance with Thy love, even when Thou punishest Thou strivest only for good. -- St. Ephraim the Syrian, *A Spiritual Psalter* #124

21 December 2008

Welcome, Yule!

1. Welcome be thou, heaven-king,
Welcome born in one morning,
Welcome for whom we shall sing,
Welcome for whom we shall sing,
Welcome Yule.

2. Welcome be ye, Stephan and John,
Welcome Innocents every one
Welcome Thomas Martyr one,
Welcome Thomas Marty one,
Welcome Yule.

3. Welcome be ye, good New Year,
Welcome Twelfth Day, both in fere,
Welcome saints lef and dear,
Welcome saints lef and dear,
Welcome Yule.

4. Welcome be ye Candlemas,
Welcome be ye, Queen of Bliss,
Welcome both to more and less,
Welcome both to more and less,
Welcome Yule.

5. Welcome be ye that are here,
Welcome all and make good cheer;
Welcome all, another year,
Welcome all, another year,
Welcome Yule.

Couple More




For years I've been frustrated with trying to capture the inside of St. Paul's during the Christmas holy days. My camera just couldn't do it. Bryan brought along a special camera designed for dealing with such darkness and the picture in this post and the one prior are the result. Still not exactly the same as being here, but it gives a feel for the room.

Some More St. Paul Pics

- these courtesy of Bryan! Enjoy.



Wow! It's 59 Degrees...

...IN OUR KITCHEN!!! We were telling Cindi she needs to be baking something to warm the place up. :)

Creche

Picture courtesy of Philip and Darlene:

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

This is God's comfort and His surpassing goodness, that man (if he believes) may glory in such a treasure that Mary be his very Mother, Christ his Brother, and God his Father. For all these things have happened that we might believe in them. See, then, that you make this birth your own and change with Him, so that you may be rid of your birth, and may take over His, which comes to pass as you believe it. Thus you surely sit in the Virgin Mary's lap and are her darling child. -- Blessed Martin Luther, Sermon for Christmas Day, 1522

Patristic Quote of the Day

And Mary was called the Mother of God by His Son in the flesh, Who was undivided from the glory of His Divinity. For one is God, Who has appeared to the world in the flesh. -- St. Ephraim the Syrian, *A Spiritual Psalter* #15

Festival of St. Thomas, Apostle

On this day, in addition to the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the Church commemorates St. Thomas. The Treasury of Daily Prayer notes:

All four Gospels mention St. Thomas as one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. John's Gospel, which names him "the Twin," uses Thomas' questions to reveal truths about Jesus. It is Thomas who says, "Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" To this question Jesus replies, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:5-6). John's Gospel also tells how Thomas, on the evening of the day of Jesus' resurrection, doubts the report of the disciples that they had seen Jesus. Later, "doubting Thomas" becomes "believing Thomas" when he confesses Jesus as "my Lord and my God" (John 20:24-29). According to tradition, Thomas travelled eastward after Pentecost, eventually reaching India, where still today a group of people call themselves "Christians of St. Thomas." Thomas was martyred for the faith by being speared to death.

Prayer: Almighty and ever-living God, You strengthened Your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in the resurrection of Your Son. Grant us such faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that we may never be found wanting in Your sight; through the same Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

In today's Prayer of the Church, our Synod prayed: "O Lord God, through the life, death, and resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, the revelation of Your salvation mystery is now revealed and made known to all the nations. Grant that this mystery of salvation, as confessed by St. Thomas and all those who now rest from their labors, may continue to guide Your Church on earth as we wait for the day when You come from heaven one last time and usher in the new creation."

The Quiet Before

From now until Wednesday night, things are fairly quiet in the Church. After the late service today, we put the Advent wreath away. The Church will soon be made ready for the Christ-Mass. We have no regularly scheduled services until that day, though the Church's daily Matins and Vespers still go on. The children practiced on Saturday for the Children's Service (Wednesday at 7) - a service featuring Luther's classic hymn "From Heaven Above." School is out of session until January 5th. It is the quiet hush of the Church before the joy of that mysterious night when we celebrate the Word Made Flesh first showing His sacred face.

Pastor Gleason's Homily for Advent 4

Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 1:39-56

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

We heard in the Gospel lesson that Mary, the Mother of God, was and shall be from generation to generation called “blessed.” She is hailed as “blessed” because she believed in the Word of God. The Word, which had been proclaimed throughout the ages, now was spoken to her directly by the angel Gabriel. He announced to her the fulfillment of the age old promise: that the Son of God would be born from her womb. Mary believed that word, and now all generations call her “blessed.”

Today, however, I want you to reflect upon the joy that filled Mary’s soul and caused her to sing, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” This joy is what every Christian possesses and to which Saint Paul referred when he said, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Every Christian possesses this joy because, like faith, Christian joy is a gift of God.

When Elizabeth declared, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” she pointed us to the source of Mary’s blessedness: her faith. Mary voiced her faith when she responded to Gabriel’s Good News, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” The content of that Good News is found in her majestic song, “He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.” And, “He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His offspring forever.”

Faith in God’s mercy moved Mary to exult and sing, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Her joy was a fruit of the Holy Spirit who fills with joy everyone who trusts in the mercy of God. Elizabeth experienced the same joy when God took away her reproach by giving her a son named John. St. Paul wrote about the same joy in Romans 15 when he said, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Indeed, it was Abraham’s joy, too, as Jesus said of the Patriarch, “Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” Our faith is full of joy because God remembered His mercy that He spoke to the fathers and to Abraham and his offspring.

What was the mercy spoken to Abraham and his offspring? It is the promise of the Messiah who would redeem the world from sin and death. From the first Gospel promise made in Eden, and proclaimed through the prophets thereafter, God swore to send the Seed of the Woman who would crush Satan and destroy his evil power. John the Baptist was the final prophet to proclaim this promise. But now that promise is fulfilled as that holy Seed became incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. Jesus, the Word made flesh, came down from heaven in deepest humility to take the sins of the world to the cross. This was St. Paul’s message to the Philippian Christians when he wrote, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

St. Paul had promise of mercy in mind that when he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” He wrote that joyful admonition to help the Philippians hold fast to the faith in the midst of the suffering and sorrow of this world. His word is for us, too: “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

Yet, if we are to rejoice always, we must repent always. This is essentially what Martin Luther wrote in the first of his 95 Theses, “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent’, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of penitence.” The penitent sinner confesses that, far from being overjoyed in the Lord, he is overly annoyed with the Lord. The sinner’s hostile annoyance with God stems from our lack of true fear, love, and trust in Him. The penitent sinner recognizes his miserable condition that hungers for the mercy and righteousness of God. To such hungry souls God gives good things. The Scriptures declare, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” God forgives all who come to Him confessing their sins and seeking His mercy in Christ. God covers the unrighteous with the righteousness of Jesus. So St. Paul professed to the Philippians that he wanted to be found in Christ, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

For the sake of Christ, God forgives the humble and contrite sinner and raises him up to the heights of joy in His love. Therefore, says St. Paul to his beloved brethren, “stand firm in the Lord” and “Rejoice in the Lord.” Now joy is a fruit of faith; it is like blessedness because they both have at their root gladness in the Lord who delights in His people. But Paul says that a gentle, forbearing spirit is also the fruit of faith. This Christian “reasonableness” is that which he wrote about in chapter 2 when he said to have the attitude of Christ, and “Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world holding fast to the word of life...” The Word of Life, which first took hold of us in our baptisms, is our salvation and our strength.

Now we can let our “gentleness be known to all men” because “the Lord is at hand.” Our life of penitence, faith, joy, and gentleness comes from knowing that the Lord is near. Not only near in the sense that He will come again soon at a time when we might not expect Him, but also in the sense that He is near to us in His Word and Sacraments. One of the ways to let our gentleness be known is by drawing near to God in worship where we confess our sins, receive His forgiveness, and profess His Holy Name. This gentleness of faith is especially found at the Lord’s Table where God’s nearness comes right into our mouths in the Body and Blood of Christ. Here at the Altar of God our fears are dispelled in the forgiveness of Christ and we depart in His peace.

It is in this context that Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” The word that is translated “thanksgiving” is eucharist, which is another name for the Lord’s Supper. The connection to the Sacrament, if not direct, surely is implied. At the Lord’s Table, God draws near to us and we draw near to God. In His forgiveness, we may truly be anxious in nothing, as we give thanks to Him for His mercy, and depart in His peace. And clearly, by means of His Word and Sacraments, God would guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. For in these holy Gifts we find the source of our hope and joy in Christ, who is our Peace. In Him we say with Paul, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”Amen.

20 December 2008

O Rejoice!

O rejoice, ye Christians, loudly,
For our joy hath now begun:
Wondrous things our God hath done.
Tell abroad His goodness proudly,
Who our race to honor thus,
That He deigns to dwell with us.

Refrain:
Joy, O joy, beyond all gladness,
Christ has done away with sadness!
Hence, all sorrow and repining,
For the Sun of Grace is shining!

See, my soul, thy Savior chooses,
Weakness here and poverty,
In such love He comes to thee.
Neither crib nor cross refuses;
All He suffers for thy good,
To redeem thee by His blood. Refrain.

Lord, how shall I thank Thee rightly?
I acknowledge that by Thee
I am saved eternally.
Let me not forget it lightly,
But to Thee at all times cleave
And my heart true peace receive. Refrain.

Jesus, guard and guide Thy members,
Fill them with Thy boundless grace,
Hear our prayers in ev'ry place.
Fan to flame faith's glowing embers;
Grant all Christians far and near
Holy peace, a glad new year. Refrain.
LSB 897

Creche

Tonight we blessed St. Paul's new creche. It is absolutely beautiful - given in memory of Paul Steinmann by his family. Kenny labored long and hard to make a stunning setting for it. It is so truly Palestinian that I was amazed. The stable is a cave. Karen added her own artistic hand to Kenny's setup and the result is arresting. No picture yet, but I'm hoping to have one to post soon. Bryan got some pictures tonight, I believe.

Still to Do

Pastor Gleason and I split up the shutins. I hope to finish up the ones I will visit this Monday. A homily for next Sunday still to get done and the homily for New Year's Eve. Also a Bible Class for the Sunday in the Octave in Christmas. Then I *hope* to take some time off to enjoy the Holy Days with family and to relax a bit. Joanie (Wonder Secretary!) already has the bulletins well in hand (Christmas Eve Children's, Midnight, Day, and New Year's Eve and Day already run off, folded and ready to go). Cindi has the menu for the Christmas feast in hand too. Remember our open house on Holy Innocents (Sunday in the Octave) from 1 to 4 - all blog readers are more than welcome to stop by the parsonage and enjoy some holiday cheer.

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Woe to the congregation whose preacher wants to be faithful in administering to the church the discipline that Christ prescribed, but wants to know only about the releasing key and not about the binding key. Woe to the congregation whose preacher wants to remain faithful by making no distinctions among his parishioners, but which demands that he have regard for them. Finally, woe to the congregation whose preacher wants to remain faithful in a Christian, God-pleasing life, but which seeks from him perfect angelic holiness, having no forgiveness for any weakness in him, or merely wants him to be good company and to serve the world and the flesh. -- C .F. W. Walther, *God Grant It!* p. 54

Patristic Quote of the Day

Luke traces his parentage backward step by step to the actual father of mankind, to show that both the first and the last Adam share the same nature. -- St. Leo the Great, Bishop of Rome (Letter, cited in *Christian Prayer* p. 1950)

I told McCain

and I meant it, that I've been enjoying a taste of heaven with the wonderful music on CPH's "Heirs of the Reformation: Treasures of the Singing Church." I have it playing these days a lot. What a fine collection this puppy is! I'm eager to encourage the congregation to pick it up: I'm sure that our people will be truly blessed by the faith sung in this lovely manner.

A Homily for the Midnight Christ-Mass

[Isaiah 9:2-7 / Titus 2:11-14 / Luke 2:1-14]

Running through all three readings on this holy night is the same theme: a Light shines in the darkness. And in each case, it is ultimately the same Light that shines: the Light that was with the Father before time began, the Light that is the everlasting joy of the holy angels, the Light that in the fullness of time became incarnate in the womb of the pure Virgin, the Light she gave birth to on this holy night. With St. John we confess that this is a Light that no darkness can overcome or ever snuff out. Behold, the Light that God shines upon us this holy night!

For darkness there is aplenty - outside and in. Isaiah spoke of the darkness as being deep and he indicated that the darkness was oppressive, burdening, and enslaving. What is this darkness the prophet speaks of except the darkness of sin, evil, death? All that weighs down the human family and causes us to weep. But look: into the darkness where we sat, chained in shackles of sin, shackles that we ourselves forged and willingly put on and now sit betrayed as slaves to our appetites and wayward desires, waiting helplessly for death to come devour us, into that darkness Light dawns.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given!” A human child and a divine Son and one and the same! This is shown by His name: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Father of the Age to Come, Prince of Peace. And the promise that goes with this Child is that His kingdom will have no end, but grow and grow until time in endless time be lost.

But you might wonder: how can a child set me free from my darkness? How can a child break the chains forged by my long habits of sin? How can a child drive the pain of grief and sorrow from my heart? Is it possible?

Yes, people loved by God, it is possible. This Child can do it! For in Him the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people! He comes to train us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions – to see them for the cheats they are and to turn our backs on them – so that by His Spirit’s power we come to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age that is coming to an end, all the while waiting for the blessed hope, the appearing of that Child, grown to manhood, our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. He gave Himself into our flesh to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His very own, His people, then, who are zealous for good works.

If you have tried to walk this way before and failed miserably, know that the Child comes to you anew this night, to give you the gift of a new beginning. A new start. He didn’t come so that you could stay stuck in the old life, the old way; what good would that be? He came to give you salvation – deliverance from that old bondage and to bring you into His new life. For the mess that your life has been, He comes to give you love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faith, and chastity.

And that is why the angels are so excited tonight. That is why their song rings out over the hills and startles the Shepherds. They can scarcely contain their joy at what this Child has come to do. He has come to bring this fallen race of man back to the home they share with the Blessed Trinity forever. He has come to be the Savior.

Savior, for what we need isn’t help. What we need is salvation. We don’t need someone to help us cope with the darkness, to learn how to manage it. God forbid! We need someone to shatter the darkness with the light of His own presence and love. And that is what the Child has come to do. This is the good news of great joy! God didn’t drop down to us a self-help kit from heaven. He sent His Son into our flesh, to assume that flesh into the unity of the Godhead. He sent His Son into our flesh that that flesh might be cleansed, healed, restored, and raised up. He sent His Son into our flesh that in that flesh He might bear all sin to death and leave it behind in the grave. He sent His Son into our own flesh that He might raise that flesh from death in total incorruption and bring it glorified to the Father’s right hand, ruling triumphantly over all. In the flesh that the Child appears in tonight, a whole new race has begun! There is a world in the Child bigger than all the universe outside Him!

This is why the Angels sing on this holy night: the lost race of man that had wandered in the darkness NOW has a way back home. The Light in which the angels ever rejoice shines in the darkness of a world gone wrong so that being joined to Him, to His light, the children of men might become the very children of God in Him. Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth among those with whom He is pleased! The Child opens the way back to paradise and raises us higher than ever we fell!

As you come and kneel before Him, the Child of Bethelehem, the Man of the Cross, your Risen and reigning Lord, comes to you as silently and wondrously as He came to our race that first Christmas night. Under the mystery of bread and wine, He reaches to you the very flesh and blood that He assumed from His holy mother and in which He wrought salvation. He says to you: “I am YOUR light. I will drive away the darkness! I will break the chains of sin! I will make you a people prepared for the joyous Age that already is full in me and will be full in you. Learn to live in Me, child, and let Me live in you! And then in you will be the light that no darkness can overcome. Not the darkness of sin – for I am sin’s Forgiveness; Not the darkness of death – for I am death’s Defeat. Open your mouth wide and I will fill it!“

To such an invitation we can but join with the Shepherds and Angels, as we fall down before the Holy Child and worship Him and permit Him to pour into us Himself as living Light, the Light that was before time began and the Light that will be when time is no more – our Jesus, our Emmanuel, our Lord, our God, and our Savior – to whom be glory with His unoriginate Father and all-holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

The Light Eternal, breaking through,
Made the world to gleam anew;
His beams have pierced the core of night,
He makes us children of the light.
Alleluia!
[LSB 382:4]

19 December 2008

Children from Unity Lutheran School

in East St. Louis visit Trinity-St. Paul for the day:

I think my favorite

Christmas piece on CPH's new *Heirs of the Reformation: Treasures of the Singing Church* is the Praetorius "Born is a Child". They have it in English (as below), but here it is from the Mass for Christmas Day, serving as the Introit (save it uses the Puer Natus instead of We praise You Jesus as the hymn:



Born is a Child in Bethlehem
Therefore rejoice, Jerusalem.
Alleluia!

Singing and rejoicing let us praise our heavenly Father:
Glory in the highest!

Three kings from Sheba saw the star;
Frankincense, gold, and myrrh brought from far.
Alleluia!

Singing...

My dearest Christ Child, my heart's desire,
My dearest Christ Child, O Jesu.

Praise Him with singing, O all ye Christians,
Praise Him with singing.

We praise You, Jesus, at Your birth
Clothed in flesh You came to earth;
The Virgin bears a sinless boy
And all the angels sing for joy. Alleluia!

The Light eternal, breaking through,
Made the world to gleam anew;
His beams have pierced the core of night,
He makes us children of the light. Alleluia!


Praise God the Father for His love;
He sent the Savior from above.
Alleluia!

Singing...

Praise to the Holy Trinity,
Now and forevermore shall be.
Alleluia!

Singing...

My dearest Christ Child, my heart's desire,
My dearest Christ Child, O Jesu.
Praise Him with singing, O all ye Christians,
Praise Him with singing.

All this for us our God has done,
Granting love through His own Son.
Therefore, all Christendom, rejoice
And sing His praise with endless voice.
Alleluia!

The Problem of Day 19 at Matins

If one is using the monthly Psalm chart for praying Matins, a problem arises on this day each month. What to do about Psalm 95? One has already chanted most of it for the Venite at Matins. My suggestion? Pick up after the repeated invitatory with the remainder of verse 7 to the end and treat it as a Psalm by itself. That way nothing is lost, but nothing is repeated.

A Matter of the Heart

I've written about this before, but Philip's query below about favorite Christmas carols brings it to the fore for me again. It is amazing how the favorite hymns (and not just at Christmastide) of our people have culturally shifted. Not always a bad thing, I'm not saying that. But it seems that by and large the English carols have all but driven out the German carols from our people's hearts and minds. Yet I'd pit the theological richness of: "All my Heart," "O Rejoice Ye Christians Loudly," "From East to West," "We Praise Thee, Jesus," and "From Heaven Above" against ANY of the English carols. Musically too, these tend to have greater interest. But you can't dictate to the heart. I just hope that as time moves on, these hymns of Christmas, so beloved to our Lutheran forebears, are not relegated to the dustpan of history. And I say that as a fellow who delights in the English carols too - don't get me wrong - but hates to see the entire Lutheran corpus of hymns replaced with an English/American one. Thoughts?

18 December 2008

Great Litany

from our own Concordia Mequon:

Ratrow...

Ice just cancelled our choir's last [scheduled] practice before Christmas...YOUCH!

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

God's Advent call, "Prepare the way of the Lord," admonishes us poor sinners and makes us desire to celebrate the joyful season of Christmas. Not the one who is full, but only the one who is tormented by hunger and thirst can rejoice from his heart when food and drink are offered to him. Not the one who is well, but only the one who painfully feels his sickness can rejoice from the heart when he is assured that he will soon be well. Not the one who is free, but only the one who knows he is a prisoner can rejoice from the heart when his freedom is announced. Not the one who is rich, but only the one who is oppressed and frightened by his debts can rejoice from his heart when he hears that those debts have been paid. In the same way, only the one who vividly recognized that he is a poor, lost sinner can rejoice from his heart when he hears that the Savior of sinners is here. -- C. F. W. Walther, *God Grant It!* pp. 48, 49

Patristic Quote of the Day

Blot out our sins with Thy forgiveness, that we might praise Thy name because of Thine acts of kindness. Vouchsafe all of us, O Lord, according to Thy grace to glorify and worship Thy divinity! - St. Ephraim, the Syrian *A Spiritual Psalter* #106

Yesterday's O Antiphon

O Sapientia!

17 December 2008

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

The old sinful nature strives daily to live anew in thee; and daily must thou destroy it that Christ may daily begin to live in thee. -- Blessed Johann Gerhard, *Sacred Meditations* LI

Patristic Quote of the Day

Vouchsafe that we may stand before Thee with one soul, a clean heart, and in harmony may we offer praise to Thee, O Lord, and to Thy Father and Thy Holy Spirit. -- St. Ephraim the Syrian, *A Spiritual Psalter* #97

Peaceful Way

to end a hectic day: Lessons and Carols. Pure Anglican schlock, I know, but it is peaceful to hear the Words of God and sing the music of the season and listen to the choirs and school children. Lessons and Carols is a joint-service between St. Paul's and Trinity. Pastor Curtis mentioned to me how fine the children are singing since we began assigning a "hymn of the month" and they truly are. And you should hear them sing Matins!

For Philip

Philip suggested an excellent blog post query: What's your favorite Christmas carol? Have at it, folks.

I'll go first: Of the Father's Love Begotten!

16 December 2008

December Ember Days

- traditional days of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving for Western Christians - fall tomorrow, Friday, and Saturday.

Bayberry

Cindi gave me a bayberry candle - a bit of an early Christmas gift. I have it burning on the family altar. The other day it was lit and David asked: "Have you been burning incense?" I told him he smelled that candle. He said: "Well, it smells wonderful." It truly does. It reminds me of my childhood home, for we always had bayberry candles come Christmas - was one of my mother's favorites. It's been increasingly hard to find, though. Funny how smell is such a strong evoker of memory, isn't it?