25 December 2012

Christmas Reflections

Midnight service: after Carlo's prelude on "O Sanctissima" (breathtaking at the end with 8th note runs in the pedals - his feet must have been veritably dancing!), with the ringing of the bell, the congregation stood and we sang together "On Christmas Night All Christians Sing" as the cross and clergy came down the aisle. Pastor Ball was was vested in stole, chasuble and maniple - yes, full euchaistic vestments. I was up in the choir loft and just before the bell, the sweet smell of the incense that burned beside the  altar wafted aloft. I have always loved this liturgy for its sweet stillness. The choir intoned the Introit: "When all was still and it was midnight Your almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne." After the Kyrie, what joy to welcome back the Gloria in Excelsis again. After the collect ("O God, You made this most holy night to shine..."), Pastor Gleason read the OT reading from Isaiah 9, the choir sang the Gradual and then the double-quartet offered "Farewell of the Shepherds." After the Epistle and the Alleluia, the Gospel was processed to the center of the nave and Pastor Ball intoned the announcement of the Gospel and its conclusion (but not the Gospel itself). Then we welcomed back the Nicene Creed, during which Pr. Ball and Pr. Gleason genuflected. The hymn of the day was "Lo, How A Rose" - again that reference to "deepest midnight hour."

Pr. Ball's homily was beyond words comforting. It didn't  matter what you brought you here tonight, he reminded us, the Lord Himself gathered you for this one reason, to give you forgiveness, to be your light and comfort. During the offering, Cindi and Carlo led a jaunty "Shepherd's Pipe Carol." Pastor Ball used the intercessions that Synod publishes for LetUsPray. I love the response: Lord, have mercy. It's like we cannot say it too much, too often. It summarizes everything we need ever ask.

Pr. Ball chanted the magnificent Christmas Preface and then we broke into a jubilant Sanctus (I think I'm finally learning the tenor for that - I'd always sung bass). Pastor sang the Our Father and we joined in the doxology and then came the solemn consecration. After each element was consecrated he elevated (to the sound of the three chimes) and then genuflected. After the Peace and Agnus, Cindy and Rachel Gleason sang a duet on O Holy Night while the rest of the choir approached the holy altar to receive the Lord's body and blood. During distribution we sang "Of the Father's Love Begotten" and afterward lit candles, and concluded with Nunc Dimittis, post-communion prayer, Silent Night (first stanza in German), and then salutation, benedicamus, benediction and finally a loud and joyous "Joy to the World."

Singing in the choir was a new kind of delight for me.  And it didn't stop there, for that was only the first Mass of Christ-Mass. Today at 9 the so-called Third Mass followed (we didn't have a second - but I've have gone if we did!). The bell sounded and we stood to hear the reading of the old Christmas Kalends from the Roman Martyrology, with its natural segue into Adeste Fidelis. As cross, torches and lectionary and clergy processed down the aisle the church was alive to the repeated call:  "O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!"

After the confession and absolution, the Introit was intoned by Choir: "To us a Child is born; to us a Son is given!" Then Kyrie and Gloria, salutation and collect. The first reading was Exodus 40, the finishing of the tabernacle. The bells played a "He is Born the Child Divine." The short epistle from Titus to remind us of Baptism's rebirth. Alleluia and Gospel: John 1:1-14. After confessing the Nicene Creed with usual ceremonies, Luther's hymn "All Praise to You" was belted out. Yet another powerful, powerful homily: inviting us to ponder the mystery of the Eternal Word and that from eternity the Eternal Word has seen and known our wretched state, and in love chosen to bear it and free us from it that we might become children of God with Him.

The choir sang Bach's sublime setting of Gerhardt's "Beside Your Cradle" as the offerings were gathered, Cindi singing stanza 3 as a solo. Then the Prayer of the Church, again from LetUsPay.

During the Distribution, the choir sang Tollite hostia and then the congregation responded with a mighty "Now Sing We Now Rejoice," and then the lovely Slovak carol "Let Our Gladness Have No End." We gave thanks and then marched out with a triumphant "Rejoice, Rejoice this happy morn." After silent prayer, Carlo offered a stunning postlude on "He is Born."

Putting it all together: it was overflowing joy, reverent and peaceful, beautiful and stilling. It's the first time since 1986 when I was not myself the celebrant on these feasts, and yet it was so utterly clear that in this liturgy first and foremost God comes to serve us and after that, we in the Spirit and through the Son, offer to the Father the sacrifice of praise, thanks, and adoration. That's not an offering by the pastor alone, but by the pastor, the people, the musicians, the reader, the acolytes and crucifer, the whole assembly. It was a merry Christ-Mass indeed, and I am so eager for the NEXT time we gather to receive His gifts and join in offering an acceptable sacrifice of praise through Jesus Christ, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name.

Hodie Christus natus est!

24 December 2012

O God

You make us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of Your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Grant that we may joyfully receive Him as our Redeemer so that with sure confidence we may behold Him when He comes to be our Judge; through the same, Jesus Christ, our Lord...—Collect upon The Nativity of Our Lord, Christmas Eve

23 December 2012


homily, Divine Service (III with these hymns: The Angel Gabriel, O Come O Come Emmanuel, Let the Earth, Come Thou Precious Ransom, The Infant Priest, In Thee is Gladness, Come O Long Expected Jesus), and Bible Class Pr. Ball serve up this a.m. Joys abounding as he pointed us solidly to Jesus AS our joy, our peace, and invited us to follow the lead of the Mother of God in magnifying the Lord for the great things He has done for us. Thank you, kind Master, for bringing us a faithful shepherd to feed and nurture this flock with Your holy Word and the Blessed Eucharist! Can't wait for celebration of the Christ Mass.

December 23: O Emmanuel!

O Emmanuel, our King and our Lord, the anointed for the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God!

You can hear Pr. Daenzer sing it here.

And so we come to the last Vespers of Advent. Tonight the great O antiphon will be "O Emmanuel" for tomorrow we will celebrate that the Child of Mary is none other than God Himself with His people. If you read the titles for the great O Antiphons backwards from this day, you have ERO CRAS: "I will be (here) tomorrow." Advent is nearly over, and the joys of the Nativity are about to begin.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

22 December 2012

December 22: O Rex Gentium

O King of the nations, the ruler they long for, the cornerstone uniting all people: Come and save us all, whom You formed out of clay.

You can hear Pr. Daenzer sing it here.

"You are a king, then" Pilate said. "You have said so" our Lord answered. He was always a tad reluctant about that title "King." The Gentiles have their idea of what it means and it didn't sit very comfortably upon the shoulders of the Man who reigns in triumphant love by shouldering the sin of the world on Calvary's cross and leaving death in pieces on Easter morning. And yet He is a King, and He is the King that the Gentiles long for, ache for, dream of and hope for. The King who will bring in true justice and who will put an end to all abuse of the poor and the downtrodden. The King who bring an end to all the "us" vs. "them" and unite humanity as a whole, as one family. In days when human divisions seem to be growing stronger and ever more bitter, the hope of the human race remains in the Child who comes to reign among us by serving, bearing, and dying.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

21 December 2012

Festival of St. Thomas, the Apostle

Today our Synod (together with Lutherans worldwide and Western Rite Orthodox and Anglicans) commemorates St. Thomas, the Twin, the disciple who doubted, and whose doubt was healed by Christ a week after the original Easter. The whole story is told in the wonderful hymn: "O Sons and Daughters of the King!"

When Thomas first the tidings heard
That they had seen the risen Lord,
He doubted the disciples' word. Alleluia.

"My pierced side, O Thomas, see,
And look upon My hands, My feet;
Not faithless but believing be." Alleluia!

No longer Thomas then denied;
He saw the feet, the hands, the side;
"You are my Lord and God!" he cried. Alleluia!

How blest are they who have not seen
And yet whose faith has constant been,
For they eternal life shall win. Alleluia! (LSB 471:5-8)

The collect rejoices that God strengthened Thomas with firm and certain faith in the resurrection, and asks that we may be given such faith also and so never be found wanting in God's sight. St. Thomas' Day, falling so close to Christmas as it always does, reminds us that in the days to come we must press beyond what we see to what God reveals about what we see. We see a Child, lying in the manger, nursing at his mother's breast. But faith, which is the certainty of what is not seen, assures us that this Child is indeed "my Lord and my God" - the One through whom all things were made and without whom nothing was made that has been made; that this Child is the Life and Light of men that shines into the darkness; that in Him we meet and embrace a Forgiveness greater than all our sin and a Life stronger than all our death.

And St. Thomas and the Nativity tie together in another way. For at the consecration when He comes to us again in the Body born of Mary and the Blood poured out on the tree - the very Body Thomas touched - it is an ancient and salutary practice to confess with St. Thomas at the elevation: "My Lord and my God."

Dec. 21: O Oriens

O Dayspring, Splendor of light everlasting, Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

You can hear Pr. Daenzer sing it here.

There is a darkness about this world. And this darkest day of the year is but an image of that deeper darkness. The darkness of our sin, which locks us in a prison of old habits and fears. The darkness of our death and the death of those we love, which brings a darkness into the soul that is palpable. Dylan Thomas urged his father to "rage and fight against the dying of the light" - but he went into that dark night all the same. For those in such darkness, there is no fight left. The people sit. They sit and wait and know they cannot fight it, overcome it, destroy it. It's far bigger and badder than they. But in the darkness they can still do one thing: they can pray. They can call to Him who is a Light that no darkness ever has or ever will overcome, and pray for His gracious visitation. They can ask for His presence to lighten the darkness and lead them to that place "where the angels singing with all His saints unite, sweetest praises bringing, in heavenly joy and light!" This the Church does on this darkest day, calling out:

O come, Thou Dayspring from on high
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh.
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight!
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

20 December 2012

December 20: O Clavis David

O Key of David and scepter of the house of Israel, You open and no one can close, You close and no one can open: Come and rescue the prisoners who are in darkness and the shadow of death!

You can hear Pr. Daenzer sing it here.

Revelation and Isaiah are dancing in the background of this name for our Lord. But the thought is clearly the opening of paradise, the door that was shut in the fall. Our Lord can set before us that open door and bid us come through, out of our death-bound prison into a life that never ends. For some reason I always think of the Last Battle, and the door to the stable. "In our world too a stable once had something inside that was bigger than our whole world," Lucy said. And that stable door which is opened for us at Bethlehem opens to a world where the "higher up and further in" never can be exhausted. This is the door that Christ opens for us. The door that He is. The door that He is the key to unlock. In HIM we find paradise restored and more. He lifts us higher than from where Adam fell. He invites us to step through the door with Him and become by grace what He is by nature: children of God.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav'nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

19 December 2012

One Year Prayer of the Church

Note that beginning with the January prayers, you can download a LetUsPray Prayer of the Church at this link.

New Lutheran Quote of the Day

The fact that only Jesus has the right to call God His Father is a critical ingredient in a right perception of the meaning of this entire prayer. His instruction to say Our Father is given to those who have been baptized in His name, and who therefore in His stead claim God as Father. This provides boldness of access, as we call upon Him, particularly at Mass, to provide us with the means of salvation.—Dr. Burnell Eckardt, The New Testament in His Blood, p. 37.

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Because of their sins, Adam and Eve and their children were locked out of paradise, but through the key of the holy cross, it will be opened once again to all repentant Christians. Crux Christi clavis Paradisi, says John of Damascus.—Blessed Valerius Herberger (cited in Treasury for this day)

Patristic Quote of the Day

I find that not only do the Gospels, written after the Crucifixion, proclaim the grace of Baptism, but even before the Incarnation of our Lord, the ancient Scripture everywhere prefigured the likeness of our regeneration; not clearly manifesting its form, but foreshowing, in dark sayings, the love of God to man.—St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Baptism of Christ.

December 19: O Radix Jesse

O Root of Jesse, standing as an ensign before the peoples, before whom all kings are mute, to whom the nations will do homage: Come quickly to deliver us!

You can hear Pastor Daenzer sing it here.

The Root of Jesse? Is our Lord not the flower of Jesse's stem? He is both root and flower, the Alpha and the Omega. As the Root of Jesse He stands as an ensign, a signal and banner, a rallying point for the nations. We, the Gentiles, come before Him and bow in silence as our King reigns in Triumph upon His cross, the Victor over sin and death. Jesse ties specifically to the promises of the kingship, and we see His kingly power displayed chiefly in showing mercy and pity.

Today the Head Gardener in the monastery might be privileged to give a special gift to the brothers and to sing the great O Antiphon.

O come, Thou Branch of Jesse's tree,
Free them from Satan's tyranny
That trust Thy mighty pow'r to save,
And give them vict'ry o'er the grave:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel! (LSB 357:4)

Ember Wednesday

Today is Ember Wednesday—traditionally observed as a day for fasting.

The readings include Luke 1:26-38 and Isaiah 7:10-15.

The collect:  Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God: that the coming festival of our redemption may obtain for us the comfort of Thy help in this life; and in the life to come the reward of eternal joy; through Jesus Christ...

The Brotherhood Prayer Book

18 December 2012

In working through Taft's book...

...The Liturgy of the Hours in the East and West came across this stunning quote, after noting how the huge burden of the care of parishes falling squarely on the heads of a limited number of presbyters made the long recitation of monastic hours in the parish churches utterly impractical and hence the move toward substituting private recitation for the clergy:

"The intelligent solution would have been to return the parochial celebration of the hours to its original cathedral dimensions, but intelligence has been only rarely an operative force in the development of liturgy." The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West, p. 299.

Priceless. Absolutely priceless. What he's referring to is that originally Christians tended to gather in their churches each morning and each evening. The service was relatively short and simple. For the morning, Lauds or Morning Praise:

Opening Psalm (either 51 or 63) with collect
[Maybe another Psalm
OT Canticle
Psalms 148-150 with collect
Hymn of light
Gloria in Excelsis
Intercessions and collect
Blessing and Dismissal

For Evensong or Vespers:

Hymn of light with opening collect
Psalm 141
[Maybe another Psalm
Intercessions and collect
Blessings and Dismissal

In other words, no driving force to get through all the Psalms, rather set Psalms that were used every single day and so memorized and well known. A relatively simple gathering that Christians thought of as their daily obligation of praise and intercession, that together with the Sunday Divine Service shaped their basic piety. Rather than return to this, the monastic office in its fullness was retained in Rome and made the obligation for private recitation of the clergy. To this day, the Daily Office hasn't returned to normal parish practice in the West.

I find it quite interesting that in Lutheran Magdeburg of the 17th century, the office still WAS held daily in the cathedral; and the Divine Service offered each Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. But no question that the heart and core of the daily gathering was the morning praise and evensong. These continued even when the Holy Mass was offered as well.

December 18: O Adonai

O Adonai and Ruler of the House of Israel, 
Who appeared to Moses in the burning bush
and gave him the Law on Sinai,
Come with an outstretched arm and save us!

You can hear Pastor Daenzer sing it here.

Tonight we will recall that not only is our Lord the Logos, the Logic of the universe, but He is at one with Yahweh, with Adonai. There is no discontinuity between the Old and Testament revelations. For the same Lord stands at the center of both. It was HE, the divine Son, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush announcing His determination to rescue His people from their slavery, for He had seen and known their struggles. And it was HE, the Eternal Logos, who gave the very Law of God, the Ten Commandments as a priceless gift to His people that they might understand what a life of love truly looks like, see how far they have fallen, and cry to Him for the mercy and salvation that is in Him alone. To this Lord, this Adonai, who spoke and who speaks through the words of the Old Testament, we join in the cry: 

"Come with outstretched arm and save us!"

Outstretched arm? We think of the infant in his mother's arms nursing, as his tiny fingers curl and uncurl around her finger. We think of the man who reached out his arm and touched lepers and raised the dead. We think most of all of the man who stretched out His arms on the wood of the cross that He might save us, opening His arms wide enough to embrace a world!

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai's height,
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

17 December 2012

A Question for Readers

My buddy Chris asked an interesting question about how many Lutheran parishes or people actually use the Daily Office. So I'm curious:

Do you use Treasury or PrayNow to pray the Daily Office or at least part of it?
Do you use Brotherhood Prayer Book to pray the Daily Office or at least part of it?
If so, what do you use and how do you pray it?

Anyone care to share a bit of the nuts and bolts of their personal use of these or other resources, and whether your parish offers any chance for regular participation in the Daily Office?

During the school year, Matins is sung on Wednesdays at Trinity-St. Paul Lutheran School and during Advent and Lent either Vespers or Evening Prayer is prayed on Wednesday evenings. At the International Center of the LCMS, either Matins or Morning Prayer is usually prayed publicly on Mondays and Fridays, and sometimes on other days. Evening Prayer is offered when there is a special group meeting there that late (and during Missionary Orientation we usually have daily Evening Prayer).

I personally pray Matins and Vespers from PrayNow or Treasury; sometimes, I pull out Brotherhood Prayer Book just for the joy of it, and use that too.

Your turn.

Commemoration of Daniel, the Prophet, and the Three Children

Today we commemorate the Prophet Daniel and his companions Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael. From theTreasury and our Synod's website:

Daniel the prophet and the Three Young Men—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—were among the leaders of the people of Judah who were taken into captivity in Babylon. Even in that foreign land they remained faithful to the one true God in their piety, prayer, and life. On account of such steadfast faithfulness in the face of pagan idolatry, the Three Young Men were thrown into a fiery furnace, from which they were saved by the Lord and emerged unharmed (Daniel 3). Similarly, Daniel was thrown into a pit of lions, from which he also was saved (Daniel 6). Blessed in all their endeavors by the Lord—and in spite of the hostility of some—Daniel and the Three Young Men were promoted to positions of leadership among the Babylonians (Dan 2:48–49; 3:30; 6:28). To Daniel in particular the Lord revealed the interpretation of dreams and signs that were given to King Nebuchadnezzar and King Belshazzar (Daniel 2, 4, 5). To Daniel himself the Lord gave visions of the end times.

According to the Apocryphal addition to Daniel's prophesy, from the flames the young men sang the hymn we know as Benedicite Omnia Opera, which we sing always at the close of the Service of Readings at the great Vigil of Easter:

All you works of the Lord, bless the Lord - praise Him and magnify Him forever!
You angels, bless the Lord, You heavens, bless the Lord; all you waters above the heavens, bless the Lord; 
All you powers of the Lord, bless the Lord - praise Him and magnify Him forever!
You sun and moon, bless the Lord; you stars of heaven, bless the Lord;
All you showers and dew, bless the Lord - praise Him and magnify Him forever!
All you winds of God, bless the Lord, You fire and heat, bless the Lord;
You winter and summer, bless the Lord - praise Him and magnify Him forever!
You spirits and souls of the righteous, bless the Lord; You pure and humble of heart bless the Lord;
let us bless the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, praise Him and magnify Him forever! (LSB 931)

We pray:  Lord God, heavenly Father, You rescued Daniel from the lion's den and the three young men from the fiery furnace through the miraculous intervention of an angel. Save us now through the presence of Jesus, the Lion of Judah, who has conquered all our enemies through His blood and taken away all our sins as the Lamb of God, who reigns from His heavenly throne with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. Treasury of Daily Prayer

New Lutheran Quote of the Day

The liturgy is the presentation of the culmination of all things, of the entire history of the world, because its heart is the Body and Blood of Christ.—Dr. Burnell Eckardt, The New Testament in His Blood, p. 57.

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Now where it takes root in the heart, the Holy Spirit is present and creates a new man. There an entirely new man comes into being, other thoughts, other words and works. Thus you are completely changed. Now you seek everything from which you formerly fled; and what you formerly sought, that you flee.—Blessed Martin Luther, Commentary on 1 Peter.

Patristic Quote of the Day

He was preeminent over those things that are under the earth, He Himself being 'the firstborn from the dead,' so that all things might behold their King and so that the Father's light might meet with and rest upon the flesh of our Lord, and come to us from His resplendent flesh, and that thus man might attain to immortality, having been invested with the Father's light.—Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.20.2

December 17: O Sapientia!

At Vespers tonight the Magnificat is framed by the first of the Great O Antiphons. 

O Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High,
pervading and permeating the whole creation,
mightily ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence!

You can hear Pr. Daenzer sing it here:  click.

Our Lord is Logos - the very logic of the universe itself is disclosed in Him, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The key to life itself is not found anywhere else but in the Exemplar by whose wisdom we were made: the Eternal Word and Son of the Father. Why are you here? What is the purpose and meaning of life? What sort of life is really life and not just vanity? These all find their answers in Him alone, in our Lord Jesus. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, a good understanding have all they that keep His commandments. His praise endures forever! 

It is said that on this day in the monasteries, the librarian might have a special gift to give to the other brothers. He was recognized as the Keeper of Wisdom. He got to intone this first of the Great O Antiphons, which mark the final tilt of Advent toward the great joy of the Christmas Feast.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high
Who ord'rest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show
And teach in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

16 December 2012

Overflowing joy today...

...as Pr. Benjamin Thomas Ball was installed at Pastor of St. Paul's. John asked me it were bittersweet, and I could honestly say: No, it was pure joy and relief. The senior pastoral vacancy at St. Paul's has remained the one piece of unfinished business about my transition that has weighed on my heart. I'm so very thankful to have Pr. Ball and family installed and welcomed.

Years ago, a friend (who has since become Orthodox) said to me that the sad thing in Lutheranism was that a man could labor for years strengthening a parish in orthodox Lutheranism and the next guy could come in and wreck everything you'd sought to strengthen. I know it CAN happen (and not just in Lutheranism!), but a well-catechized parish seeks out a man who will feed it God's precious Word and who will administer the Sacraments in accordance with that Word and our Church's Confessions. And that is exactly what St. Paul's did: they sought a faithful pastor, prayed for one from the Lord, and today rejoiced to receive him from the hand of our Lord Jesus.

Carlo gave us Bach's Prelude in Eb Major to start off. Then a powerful singing of "Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord" as the clergy processed in behind the processional cross and torches. There were a ton of them, including District President Scharr, LCMS Board of Directors vice-chair Michael Kumm, and Daniel Preus, one of our Synod vice-presidents.

After confessing our sins and being absolved by Pr. Gleason, the choir led the congregation in the Introit and despite some last minute absences hurriedly filled (thank you, Stephanie!), the bells rang out their joy at a new pastor with a piece "Jubilate!"between the Old Testament and Epistle readings.

Cross and torches and lectionary were processed to center of the nave and the Gospel was read in the midst of the nave: which for the John 20 Gospel is especially fitting. "And he stood in their midst."

The hymn of the day was "As Surely as I Live" and we sang ALL the stanzas with gusto.

Pr. Ball's brother, Pr. Joshua Ball, delivered a fine homily in which he stressed the incarnation, the communication of attributes, the institution of the office of the Holy Ministry. He tied together the impending Christmas feast with the joy of Christ's resurrection and what His death accomplished and His ministry delivers. "God in the flesh" was his constant refrain.

The installation, conducted by President Scharr, was long and solemn; so many brothers to wish their blessings upon St. Paul's new pastor. That concluded with Luther's "To God the Holy Spirit, Let Us Pray."

It was a particular joy to hear Pastor Ball lead the intercessions and assume his place as celebrant at the Lord's Altar, and to watch the reverent and careful manner in which he presided. Every action proclaiming the profound mystery that he was handling.  The timpani rumbled with the singing of the Sanctus. The gift of the Lord's Body and Blood was distributed amid loud singing of "O Lord, We Praise Thee," "Let All Mortal Flesh," "Preach You the Word," and "Send, O Lord, Your Holy Spirit."

There was a time of silence after the Nunc Dimittis as with great reverence the reliquae were consumed at the altar. After the benediction, the congregation sang a hearty "O Little Flock, Fear Not the Foe!" and then Carlo burst into the St. Anne Fugue. Altogether, the whole liturgy was the Congregation's loud "Amen!"and "Deo gratias!"  to the gift that the Lord bestowed this day: a pastor for His people in Hamel.

15 December 2012

Such a blessing

to have Jo home again. Things have just been discombobulated these last two months without having her next door. And today we were blessed to spend some time together playing our beloved Liverpool. I AM happy to report that Jo and Cindi lost both games. It was men's day: I won first and Dave won second. Sweet.

Seriously, though, we are so thankful that Jo is without the intense chronic pain since the surgery. She still is having a bit of trouble taking steps, but she is light years improved from her worst. Thanks be to God!

Good words in the middle

of the Advent fast. These are from Dr. Luther's wonderful commentary on 1 Peter, particularly the exhortation: "Be sober." Enjoy!

Sobriety serves the body externally and is the chief work of faith. For even though man has become righteous, he is not yet completely rid of evil lusts. To be sure, faith has begun to subdue the flesh; but the flesh continues to bestir itself and rages nevertheless in all sorts of lusts that would like to assert themselves again and do what they want. Therefore the spirit must busy itself daily to tame the flesh and to bring it into subjection, must wrestle with it incessantly, and must take care that it does not repel faith. Therefore those who say that they have faith, think that this is enough, and, in addition, live as they please, are deceiving themselves. Where faith is genuine, it must attack the body and hold it in check, lest the body do what it pleases. For this reason, St. Peter says that we must be sober.

But he does not want the body to be destroyed or to be weakened too much. Thus one finds many who have fasted themselves mad and have tortured themselves to death. Even though Saint Bernard was a saintly man, he, too, was afflicted for a time with such folly. He denied his body so much that his breath stank and he could not associate with people.16 Later, however, he came to his senses and also told his brothers not to hurt the body too much. For he realized that he had made himself unable to serve his brothers. Therefore St. Peter demands no more than that we be sober, that is, that we stint the body as long as we feel that it is still too lascivious. He does not prescribe any definite length of time for fasting, as the pope has done; but he leaves it to everyone’s discretion to fast in such a way that he always remains sober and does not burden the body with gluttony. He must remain reasonable and sensible, and he must see to what extent it is necessary for him to mortify the body. It does no good at all to impose a command about this on a whole crowd or community, since we are so different from one another. One has a strong body, another has a body that is weak. Therefore one person must deny it much, and another person must deny it little, in such a way that when this is done, the body remains healthy and able to do good.

But it is also wrong for the other crowd to come along and say that they are getting on well by not fasting and by feeling free to eat meat.17 For these people, like the others, do not understand the Gospel either and are of no importance. They do no more than disdain the pope’s command. Yet they do not want to gird the mind and the understanding, as Peter says. They let the body have its way, with the result that it remains indolent and lascivious. It is good to fast. But one fasts in the right way by not giving the body more food than is needed to keep it healthy, and by letting it work and wake, in order that the old ass may not become too reckless, go dancing on the ice, and break a leg but may be bridled and follow the spirit. It should not imitate those who, when they fast, fill themselves so full of fish and the best wine at one time that their bellies are bloated.

This is what St. Peter means by being sober.

13 December 2012

Saint Lucy

What joy! Last evening at Evening Prayer, Pastor Rick Marrs preached at St. Paul's and his sermon wrapped up with St. Lucy—the shining of the light that doesn't come from us but that we are blessed to shine before the world, the light that is Christ Himself. Today Pr. Steve Cholak led Matins at the International Center and he also commemorated this young virgin martyr of Christ.

From the Treasury:

One of the victims of the great persecution under the Roman emperor Diocletian, Lucia met her death at Syracuse on the island of Sicily in the year A.D. 304, because of her Christian faith. Known for her charity, “Santa Lucia” (as she is called in Italy) gave away her dowry and remained a virgin until her execution by the sword. The name Lucia means “light,” and, because of that, festivals of light commemorating her became popular throughout Europe, especially in the Scandinavian countries. There her feast day corresponds with the time of year when there is the least amount of daylight. In artistic expression she is often portrayed in a white baptismal gown, wearing a wreath of candles on her head.

Oremus:  O almighty God, by whose grace and power Your holy martyr Lucia triumphed over suffering and remained ever faithful unto death, grant us, who now remember her with thanksgiving, to be so true in our witness to You in this world that we may receive with her new eyes without tears and the crown of light and life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord... (Treasury, p. 1012)

Oremus: Almighty God, who didst give Thy servant Lucia boldness to confess the Name of our Saviour Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world, and courage to die for this faith: Grant that we likewise may ever be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us and to suffer gladly for His sake; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. (Brotherhood Prayer Book, Common of Martyrs, p. 316).

New Lutheran Quote of the Day

The two ingredients comprising the heart of the liturgy are the Lord's Prayer and the Words of Institution. Everything else revolves around them, since these are the only two formulae which the Lord Jesus specifically gave His Church and commanded her to use. His command to say the specific words of the Our Father is given in St. Luke 11 ("When ye pray, say..."), and His command to repeat the Verba is given within the Verba themselves ("This do.").—Dr. Burnell Eckardt, The New Testament in His Blood, p. 36.

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

To the ungodly and the unbelievers he will come as judge and punish them as his enemies and the Christians' foes, who have afflicted Christians with all kinds of misery. But to the believers and Christians he will come as a redeemer. This we should believe firmly, rejoicing in his coming and taking care that when he comes, as St. Peter says, we shall be found in faith and godliness, walking before him in peace and without blame. To this end may God grant us his grace. Amen, amen.—Blessed Martin Luther, Sermon for Second Sunday in Advent, House Postils I:51

Patristic Quote of the Day

Just as the holy apostle exhorts those who have received the faith to "shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life" (Phil. 2:15–16)—for indeed the lamp does not in itself possess light, but it is receptive of the light that comes to it—so also here the evangelist saw the churches as lampstands and not as lights.—Oecumenius, Commentary on the Apocolypse.

11 December 2012

New Lutheran Quote of the Day

Simply put, when we come to the altar we have arrived at the meaning of all the Scriptures. When we partake in the Sacrament, we partake in everything the Scriptures were written to reveal.—Dr. Burnell Eckardt, The New Testament in His Blood, p. 19.

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

We have no other reason for living on earth than to be of help to others. — Blessed Martin Luther, Commentary on 1 Peter 1.

Patristic Quote of the Day

Our soul, my brothers, is unlovely because of our iniquity. By loving God it becomes lovely. What a love that must be that makes the lover beautiful! But God is always lovely, never unlovely, and never changeable.... He loves us not to leave us foul; no, but to change us, and from unlovely He makes us lovely.—St. Augustine, Homilies on 1 John

06 December 2012

Yesterday I heard two fine homilies...

...here's one. By Pastor James Lee, Assistant Pastor at Trinity Lutheran in Worden:

In the Name ✠ of Jesus.

In the history of the Church, particularly in the early and medieval periods, we see Christians who spurned the contours and comforts of every day life. They went without having family and friends, refusing to get married, or have children, choosing to lead a life of celibacy. They didn't have jobs, or watch sports. They didn't take vacations or mess with their DVR. They didn't invest or prepare for retirement.  They fled the cities, not to take a breather from the hustle and bustle of work, but to live a life of isolation, to escape the confines of daily existence. Many lived a harsh and austere life: fasting relentlessly, praying for hours, going without sleep, and when they would sleep, it would be on the floor. They would discipline and chastise their own bodies, aware of the sinful desires that resided there.

What motivated these Christians to live, what we would estimate to be, a ridiculous and an overly-harsh life? They sought to follow Christ. To be his disciples. To take up their crosses, to deny themselves, and to follow in the path of their Lord. They recognized that, to follow Christ, requires everything.  All of you. Nothing is left. No part of you remains to be given over to something else.

But surely, we think, these Christians over did it. They were overzealous. They didn't realize that being a Christian doesn't require you to change your life or give anything up. It was easier for them. They did not understand how demanding life can be. How many things I have to attend to. It was so easy for them to give up everything, but life is different now. Christ doesn't ask this much from us.

REPENT. For in the life of these Christians, those whom we label "radicals" and "extremists," we see a love, a desire, a willingness to be with Christ, that we on our best days, don't even begin to approach.
"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. [...] And of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple."

What do you do when Jesus says this to you? Do you feel uncomfortable? Does it make you uneasy? We attempt to comfort ourselves by saying that he is speaking in hyperbole. But what if Jesus is serious? And what he says is true. And so, with these words, Jesus is opening up your heart and revealing where your true treasure is.  His words cut to the heart, because where we place our heart, there is our god.

Christ's words are extreme, radical, exclusive. And so, in them, we see that: to follow Christ, to be a Christian, demands our entirety. Even our death. And that we take things in this life, the gifts given us from God, and rather than receiving them from God as gift, we elevate them over God, and turn them into idols. We give our hearts to them, rather than to God, and in so doing, we make these our gods.
The great Christian lie that you hear people say all when faced with this crisis is that "you need to do a better job at making God a priority in your life. You have to make God number one." God: the creator of heaven and earth, who dwells not in temples made of hands; the redeemer of the world, by his own life and death—a priority? Exercise and reading, spending more time with your family—these are priorities. But our attempt to assign God a number and stand Him in line next to all our other priorities, is absolutely ridiculous—the creature imposing upon the Creator a number of value and worth; more than this, it's idolatry.

Christ unmasks us for who we are: worshippers of false gods; ungrateful children, unwilling to leave behind our beloved things—which we did not even make, or have a claim to—in order to follow Christ. How fallen are we: God gives gifts, and in gratitude, we cherish them more than the giver. We are baptized into his death, we make vows at our confirmation to be faithful, even to the point of our death, just don't ask us give up the things in life that bring us comfort and happiness. No matter who you are, be you rich or poor, whether you own much or little, you have things in this life, people, possessions, even  your own self-love, before whom you kneel and adore as your god.    

Mourn your sins my friends. Flee from you idolatry. But have courage and take heart: For you have a God whose love knows no bounds. Who is willing to do that which we are unable: to give Himself over entirely, completely. To give himself to you. He is like a man, who when planning to build a tower, saw what it would take, what it would it cost, and his desire for this tower was so great, that he would give everything to have it, even his life.  

This is the heart of the mystery of the Gospel. When blessed St. John sees in a vision the lamb on his throne, that was slain from the foundation of the world: before creation, God had purposed to give himself for you, entirely, completely, into death, that He might have you as His possession, as his children. To have you means to give Himself for you. And so God does. Such is the utterly profound depth of the Triune God's love for you: that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, whose love for each other is pure, perfect, complete, lacking nothing—deigns to have you live with them, the one true God. And to love you as the members of the Trinity love themselves. A love willing to endure, separation, hatred, scorn, death, and even divine wrath, to have you forever, to bring you into the life of God.

Tonight we find ourselves, again, at the cusp of Advent, in which we prepare for our Lord's return, His coming to judge the living and the dead, to bring us to Himself; and His weekly advent here, in His word of forgiveness, in His body and blood. Let us then examine our hearts, and see where they are divided. Let us  flee from our idols, and take refuge in Christ. He has freed you from your slavery to idols and false gods. Let us then not fall back to our former ways of our corruption. Our Lord has renewed our heart, freed it to love Him, to be united with His. Let us fight against our old Adam, who desires our bondage, our servitude to our false gods.

You are Chris's beloved. He has created you, redeemed  you, made you His disciple, brought you into His body, the Church. He has held nothing back. Your Lord gives to you abundantly. You are His. And what you still lack now, Christ completes it. All of it.

God knows your weaknesses. Your heart that wanders where it ought not. A love that is fickle; that fades. And He dies for it. He forgives it with His own life-giving blood and innocent suffering and death. Where we are faithless, He is faithful. We who have hearts that wander, have a Lord, whose heart is steadfast and resolute. He does not turn from us, even when we turn from Him. When we reject Him and deny Him, He does not forsake us to our idols. He calls you, He goes after you. Is born of flesh and blood: He becomes like you, so that you might become like Him.

Come soon, Lord Jesus.

In the Name ✠ of Jesus.

05 December 2012

Evening Prayer in Advent

I love the quiet and the peace of this liturgy. From the Phos Hilaron to the Magnificat, from Psalm 141 to the great Ektenia litany. Yet it is the Collect of Peace itself which I think expresses the very heart of the vesperal prayer of Christ's Church.

I am always struck by what it doesn't ask. It doesn't ask to be delivered from our enemies. Rather, to be delivered from the fear of our enemies. The peace for which we pray doesn't come from an external fix that would leave us no longer fretting only so long as the external fix held (and no external fix holds for very long in this sad and fallen age). It comes rather from the fretting being removed from our own hearts, so that we no longer fear our enemies (meaning, of course, those who hate us, not vice-versa - we're not given that "luxury").

So as Christians used this prayer in the evening in the days of the Vikings, they admitted it wasn't the terrorist marauding at night and bringing havoc upon them that was the problem; the problem was that their heart would fear that. So they prayed for deliverance from the fear of their enemies so that their hearts could be SET on the obedience to God's commandments: to love all, especially those who mistreat and abuse us, and to trust always in Him whose love for us works...finally, fully, lastly...to our good, for He is indeed a great Lover of Mankind!

Walther's Hymnal

Matthew Carver is one amazing man. Not only has he given us scads of Herberger to enjoy, but now he offers us THIS:

Yes, here is the original hymnal of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, presented to you in ENGLISH! Matt has done a boatload of excellent translating. It is truly a feast. Not only do we have so many hymns we've never had in English before, but gathered into this volume are prayers for the Christian's worship life, the Synod's original Divine Service liturgy, the Passion narrative, the Destruction of Jerusalem and even more.

Some teasing tastes of the goodies therein:

Since Adam's age, so long have we
Been cursed in our iniquity,
Corrupt in body, soul, and mind,
With nothing living left to find.

When God beheld our sickness sore
That no physician could restore,
He thought upon His kindness vast
And kept His Word from first to last.

He said, "I will display My grace
And give My Son to save this race,
To them as their Doctor true,
To bless them, and to make them new."

The Spirit's pow'r on Mary came,
And took her virgin blood to frame
The pure and blessed Crown of youth,
In whom are found all grace and truth.

O Christ, Thou Fruit forever blest,
Conceived in manner wholly chaste,
Bestow Thy blessing, set us free,
Our Savior, Salve, and Comfort be.
#42:1, 5, 6, 11, 12

My faithful Savior paid the cost
In Him I find completion,
And nothing in Him shall be lost
Except my foul transgression,
For this is sunk beneath the sea,
Beyond the Father's memory,
And I have life eternal.

Almighty and everlasting God, who by Thy dear Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, didst command us to pray that Thou wouldst send faithful laborers into Thy harvest: grant, I heartily beseech Thee, unto my minister so to handle Thy holy Word that, as becometh it, he would fearlessly open his mouth to oppose every false doctrine and abuse, proclaim the mystery of Thy holy Gospel, and instruct and edify Thy Church, that I and all my brothers and sisters assembled with me in the Church, being strengthened by Thy Holy Spirit, may live in true obedience here in time, and be saved hereafter in eternity; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. (p. 365)

Almighty, everlasting God, I praise and thank Thee that of Thy divine generosity Thou hast again fed me with the saving Body and given to drink of the saving Blood of Thine only Son Jesus Christ, my Lord; and I humbly pray Thee to work in me by Thy Holy Spirit, that, having now by mouth received this Holy Sacrament, I may by firm faith receive and ever hold fast Thy divine grace, forgiveness of sins, unity with Christ, and life everlasting, all of which Thou hast so graciously offered and delivered to me in this Thy Holy Sacrament; through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, our Lord. Amen. (p. 368)

Order here.

04 December 2012

New Lutheran Quote of the Day

How then can we be sure that the Spirit is at work in our worship? We can be certain of the Spirit’s inspiration and operation when God’s word is faithfully used as the means of the Spirit. This may be why all the classical ecumenical orders of service consist almost entirely of scriptural material. We absolve and bless with the word; we preach and meditate with the word; we baptise and perform the Eucharist with the word; we pray and praise with the word; we offer ourselves and our gifts with the word. Through the right enactment of God’s word we participate in the descending and ascending operation of the triune God in the assembly, the work by which the Spirit not only brings God the Father to us through his Son but also brings us to God the Father together with his Son. Whatever is done with the word and by faith in the word is done with the Spirit.—Dr. John Kleinig, http://www.johnkleinig.com/index.php/download_file/view/136/59/

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

For we really need such purging and affliction every day because of the coarse old Adam. It is characteristic of a Christian life to improve constantly and to become purer. When we come to faith through the preaching of the Gospel, we become pious and begin to be pure. But as long as we are still in the flesh, we can never become completely pure. For this reason God throws us right into the fire, that is, into suffering, disgrace, and misfortune. In this way we are purged more and more until we die. No works can do this for us. —Martin Luther, Commentary on First Peter (1:9)

Patristic Quote of the Day

In honor of St. John of Damascus, whom we commemorate this day:

We hold, moreover, that Christ sits in the body at the right hand of God the Father, but we do not hold that the right hand of the Father is actual place. For how could He that is uncircumscribed have a right hand limited by place? Right hands and left hands belong to what is circumscribed. But we understand the right hand of the Father to be the glory and honour of the Godhead in which the Son of God, who existed as God before the ages, and is of like essence to the Father, and in the end became flesh, has a seat in the body, His flesh sharing in the glory. For He along with His flesh is adored with one adoration by all creation.—St. John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith, Book IV

01 December 2012

A Prayer before Coming to the Holy Sacrament

by our beloved Dr. Luther:

Lord, it is true that I am not worthy for you to come under my roof, but I need and desire your help and grace to make me godly. I now come to you, trusting only in the wonderful words I just heard, with which you invite me to your table and promise me, the unworthy one, forgiveness of all my sins through your body and blood if I eat and drink them in this sacrament. Amen. Dear Lord, I do not doubt the truth of your words. Trusting them, I eat and I drink with you. Do unto me according to your words. Amen.

AE 42:174

The Advent Fast

begins this evening (at least for those of us following the Western calendar). Like Lent, Advent invites us to repentance. The collect for this Sunday reminds us precisely why we need Advent: "rescue us from the threatening peril of our sins and save us by Your mighty deliverance."

Truth is, we don't think our sins ARE threatening. Advent comes along each year to remind us how damaging, yes, how damning, they truly are, and hence how damaged and damnable we ourselves are.

John the Baptist soon captivates our attention, with his universal call:

But here comes the fiery angel of St. John [Revelation 10], the true preacher of repentance. With one bolt of lightning, he hurls together both ‹those selling and those buying works›. He says: “Repent!” [Matthew 3:2]. [31] Now one group imagines, “Why, we have repented!” The other says, “We need no repentance.” [32] John says, “Repent, both of you. You false penitents and false saints, both of you need the forgiveness of sins. Neither of you know what sin really is. Much less your duty to repent of it and shun it. For no one of you is good. You are full of unbelief, stupidity, and ignorance of God and God’s will. But He is present here, of whose ‘fullness we have all received, grace upon grace’ [John 1:16]. Without Him, no one can be righteous before God. Therefore, if you want to repent, repent rightly. Your works of penance will accomplish nothing. As for you hypocrites, |who do not need repentance, you serpents’ brood, who has assured you that you will escape the wrath to come and other judgments?” [Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7]. [33] In the same way Paul also preaches, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10–12). [34] And God now “commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). “All people,” He says. No one is an exception who is a human being.  McCain, Paul Timothy (2009-06-01). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, Second Edition (Pocket Edition) (Kindle Locations 5868-5872). Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition. 

As we enter into the season of the fast, we face the added challenge that the world around us is in full tilt celebration of that buying frenzy it calls "Christmas" - rather designed to distract us from the fact that we're dying and helpless to do squat about it. Into that darkness, let the light be kindled: the light that is Christ, our Lord, who comes to us in His Word and in His Eucharist to renew within us the gift bestowed in Baptism. The gift of His life to be our life, His peace to be our peace, His joy to be our joy.

In the days ahead, find time for the extra services at Church; observe the fast (see here); renew your commitment to read the daily readings (Treasury is always a big help); gather the family to sing hymns of the season—the Advent hymns are among the most beautiful in the Hymnbook; begin or renew the practice of reading Scripture and singing together at your table as you light the candles of the Advent wreath; make time to do some diligent soul searching in light of the Holy Ten Commandments and then go to confession and hear that joyous absolution ring in your ears; remember the poor and the suffering not only in your prayers with a special gift during these days (here's a couple good places:  LCMS World Relief or the Augustana Ministerium in their support for Pastor Dan Chambers and others in need); go to the holy altar as the poor, miserable sinner you are and allow the Coming One to come to you even now in His body and blood and bring you more forgiveness than you've got sin, more life than you've got death.

In all these ways, the Church prepares you for the greatest Gift of all that is celebrated at the Nativity and in its 12 day feast, when our Lord came among us to rescue us from the threatening peril of our sins and to save us by His mighty deliverance. Maranatha!