31 December 2005


A quick trip this morning up to Grafton to see the eagles - we must have seen 30 or 40.

All in the family...

30 December 2005

The End of a Beautiful Week

Many thanks to God for this wonderful week.

Christmas with Dave and Jo... Cindi struggling to sing on Christmas eve and succeeding... Anna, Cindi, and Lauren singing "Dona Nobis Pacem"... Singing carols around the piano... Playing taboo and sevens and liverpool... Lunch at the Bottleworks with Dave and Jo and visits to Archangels' bookstore... The joy of seeing David's face with his new car... Sean and Bekah, Dean and Lauren... David happy as can be returning from the "big date"... Vicar's facing beaming with joy as he preaches the Gospel of Christmas eve... The boar's head carol... Saints gathering in the dark to pray Matins on St. Stephen's, St. John's, and Holy Innocents and then to receive the Supper... Meeting Tom and seeing Daina again... Sleeping in on December 28 and 29... Celebrating Elsie's heavenly birthday with her favorite carol... Cindi suggesting we really need to buy the beautiful ikon of the nativity... Discussions about the faith with the family... The awesome CD the Akathist of Thanksgiving... Opa fixing the vaccuum cleaner!!!... Opa fixing the curtain rod... Thanks be to God for Opa!... The sadness of seeing Opa and Grandma leave tomorrow... And reigning through it all: the joy of the Savior who delivers us from death and forgives our every sin. Glory to thee, O God! Glory to thee!

Homily for New Year's Eve - 2005 (Luke 12:235-40)

Two things to be watching for; two things to be prepared for. The arrival of the thief, that is the devil, trying to rob us of our inheritance, and the arrival of the Master, our Lord Jesus, when he comes at an unknown hour. Thus a double vigilance is required of his people. This is a worthy text to meditate upon in the waning hours of 2005.

A year is almost done. It contained numerous sorrows and countless joys. It brought us opportunities both seized and missed. But the Lord is not tonight inviting us to ponder with either sorrow or pride the time that is past. Rather, he is reminding of the time which He always wishes for us to be concerned with: the present and our final future.

The present, where God has placed you now, in the situations God has given you now, these are where he calls for vigilance: against the thief and with eager waiting for the Master.

The promise of vigilance for the Master’s coming is great: He himself will come to SERVE His servants. Incredible as that may sound, they will find themselves not serving, but being served by the Master a banquet beyond all imagining – a gift of love utterly transfiguring – something that has never entered into the hearts of fallen men, how greatly God loves them.

But there is one who would rob you of the Master’s hospitality; there is one who would persuade you to live your lives in the present merely for the here and now and NOT for the future that is surely coming. That one, our Lord tells us, is the thief. And there’s no better name for the devil than that. He’s the one who comes to us to take from us everything that God in His mercy and love toward us would give us: health of body and soul, joy in the kingdom of God, love toward all, and peace that passes understanding. He would snatch all of that away. He doesn’t want us to have ANY of those things.

Watch against him constantly, the Lord Jesus exhorts us, so that in the end we are not deprived of what the Lord’s good things – the bounty He died to win for us.

But how does one watch against the thief, the devil? In the self-same way that one watches for the Lord! With constant and vigilant prayer.

A few years ago a rather obvious thought dawned on me: when the Lord said, stay awake and watch, he meant it! You see, people loved by God, nighttime is not just for sleeping. You know that. Because there are those nights when you put your head on the pillow, but the sleep doesn’t come. There are those nights you end up pacing the floor, and how long and dark are those hours then! So it was for me too until I realized what was happening.

Do remember when God called to Samuel as he lay sleeping? “Here am I,” he ran to Eli to say. But Eli had not called him. Again and again this was repeated until old Eli realized that God was calling the lad. So Eli said: When he calls, say: “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.” So let it be with us, my friends. When in the middle of the night the Lord calls, let us get up and answer and say: “Speak, O Lord!” Let us waken to prayer and vigilance, and watch through the dark hours with prayers of expectation, with thanksgiving, and with eager longing for the moment when our Lord and Master will appear. And especially in those hours let us guard against the wretched thief who would come to take away from us our joy in the Lord. Let us call out to the Lord: “Come, Lord Jesus!” and “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” Let us seek His mercy and pray for ourselves, our loved ones, our enemies, and all people.

Are you the type given to resolutions on New Years? If so, might I be bold to suggest that the one resolution you make this year will be that when sleep is taken from your eyes at night, you will spend some time in vigilance and prayer? Reading the Word of God, reflecting on God’s promises and waiting with eager longing for the promised coming of the Master? Look up the stars in the skies and remember His promise to return.

It was at midnight that the Christ was born into this world, according to the Wisdom of Solomon: “When the night was half spent Your Almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne.” It was during the hours of night that Angels announced the Savior’s birth to Shepherds on Bethlehem’s hills. It was at night that the Magi followed a star from Jerusalem to David’s City and found the great Desire of Nations, and bowed before Him in worship, with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It was during the hours of night that that holy Child, grown to manhood, spent time in prayer to the Father. It was during the night that He was transfigured and began to shine as bright as the sun before His astonished chosen three. It was during the darkness of night that He broke bread and fed His own with His body and blood; at night that He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was during the darkness of night that He was betrayed and handed over in order to give life to the world. Nighttime and prayer and Jesus – they just go hand in hand together.

And so we are gathered here in prayer tonight, ready to bid farewell to 2005 and welcome in a new year, 2006, the year of our Congregation’s 150th birthday. And again we shall pray and He shall come in answer to our prayers in a way beyond all our understanding, to serve us with His body and blood, taking away our sins and giving us His life – the Lord of Calvary and Easter, the Lord of that glorious Last Day – just as He has always done for His people since that first Lord’s Supper and will do to the end of the world.

We feast with Him and He serves us and bids us eat and drink, and watch and wait. Wait for that glorious day when it will not be by faith, but with our very eyes we shall see Him and join the saints who have preceded us with all the holy angels in falling down before Him, giving endless praise and honor to Him, and to His Father, and to His Spirit, the Blessed and Most Glorious Trinity, to whom shall be praise and honor unto the ages of ages! Grant us this, O Lord! Amen.

Patristic Quote for the Day

My Savior cries out to me, to His disciple: Do not despair of thy salvation; I will restore thee and forgive thee thy sins. I have found thee and I will not leave thee; for I have redeemed thee with My very own Blood. - St. Ephrem the Syrian, *A Spiritual Psalter* #26

29 December 2005

Patristic Quote for the Day

If He who comes from the uncircumscribable Father is uncircumsribable, then obviously He who comes from a circumscribed mother is circumscribed - unless we are to understand that the begetting is true but theh birth false. But if both are true of the one Christ, the He has also acquired the properties of both origins, and is uncircumscribable and circumscribed. - St. Theodore the Studite, *On the Holy Icons* Third Refutation, Par. 39

China and Christianity

A quite fascinating story on when Christianity arrived in China, with implications for Christian iconography:


28 December 2005

AND sometimes a daddy...

...has to hold ALL his little babies - no matter HOW painful it may be!

26 December 2005

Every once in a while...

...a daddy just HAS to rock his baby girls.

On the Feast of Stephen...

Yesterday we celebrated the birth in time of our eternal King. Today we celebrate the triumphant suffering of his soldier. Yesterday our King, clothed in his robe of flesh, left his place in the virgin's womb and graciously visited this world. Today his soldier leaves the tabernacle of his body and goes triumphantly to heaven... And so the love that brought Christ from heaven raised Stephen from earth to heaven: shown first in the King, it later shone forth in His soldier. Love was Stephen's weapon by which he gained every battle, and so won the crown signified by his name. - Fulgentius of Ruspe (468-533), cited in *For All the Saints*, vol. 1, p. 140

25 December 2005

NO question

the Advent fast is over. The amazing Cindi prepared an astonishing meal for us today. We had tenderloin roast (with hollandaise) and roast chicken, home-made light rolls, cranberry sauce, sweet potato sufflé, mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh broc, carrots, and peppers, and then pecan pie and/or pumpkin pie and coffee. Fabulous - and we were blessed to be joined by Lauren's friend, Dean, and Vicar, not to mention Opa and Grandma. The day included not just the feast, but singing around the piano, a few tickle episdoes and ice down assorted backs, some back scratches (not nearly enough!) and lots of chit-chat. And no limit on the wine today. Yippee! Merry Christmas to one and all!

Patristic Quote for the Day

We confess one and the same individual as perfect God and perfect Man. He is God the Word which was flesh.

For if He was not flesh, why was Mary chosen? And if He is not God, whom does Gabriel call Lord?

If He was not flesh, who was laid in a manger? And if He is not God, whom did the angels who came down from heaven glorify?

If He was not flesh, who was wrapped in swaddling clothes? And if He is not God, in whose honor did the star appear?

If He was not flesh, whom did Simeon hold in his arms? And if He is not God, to whom did Simeon say: Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace?

If He was not flesh, whom did Joseph take when he fled into Egypt? And if He is not God, who fulfilled the prophesy: Out of Egypt I have called my Son? - St. Ephraim, *A Spiritual Psalter* #23

24 December 2005

Just so you know...

...this boy is doing the happy dance! In-laws (who have ZERO in-lawish quality, if you know what I mean) will be joining us today, God-willing, and with us for the upcoming week. We always have such a good time together and we don't get to see them anywhere near as much as we'd like. The kids are home, Dave and Jo will be with us, and NOW the weatherman is even hinting that we MIGHT have some snow come midnight. Glory to God in the highest!

A Homily for Christmas Eve

(from several years ago)

Is it not astounding that no matter how well we know the Christmas story, no matter how often we hear it, it still is as powerful and moving as when we first learned it as little children? I have heard this story preached on from the perspective of the shepherds, sitting out with their flocks on the hills of Bethlehem. I have heard it preached from the perspective of the Blessed Virgin who listened in astonishment as these rough strangers from the hills broke into the silence of the stable and knelt to adore her child. But it was not until I was at seminary that I heard the story from the perspective not of earth, but of heaven. The story about what it meant to God the Father and the holy angels who sang out that night. And the story wasn’t in a sermon, but in a poem. I’d like to share it with you. God the Father is speaking to the angels of heaven, giving them last minute instructions before they soar off to Bethlehem. Listen:

Before the marvel of this night
Adoring fold your wings and bow,
Then tear the sky apart with light
And with your news the world endow.
Proclaim the birth of Christ and peace
That fear and death and sorrow cease.
Sing peace! Sing peace! Sing gift of peace!

Awake the sleeping world with song.
This is the day the Lord has made.
Assemble here, celestial throng,
In royal splendor come arrayed.
Give earth a glimpse of heavenly bliss,
A teasing taste of what they miss.
Sing bliss, sing bliss, sing endless bliss.

The love that we have always known
Our constant joy and endless light
Now to the loveless world be shown,
Now break upon its deathly night.
Into one song compress the love
That rules our universe above.
Sing love! Sing love! Sing God is love!
Sing love! Sing God is love!

Isn’t that awesome? Before the marvel of this night, adoring fold your wings and bow. The marvel of this night: the Holy God, the Mighty God, the Immortal God, had become man, born of a Virgin in humility. Before their very eyes the angels saw the Creator who had made himself a creature. They knew, always knew, that He was love, but now they get a glimpse of how measureless beyond all measuring is the love he bears for the children of Adam and Eve, his love for you and for me.

Did they know the full story - those angels of Bethlehem? They sang of a Savior. Did they know HOW he would save? Did they see already the shadow of nailprints in his tiny infant hands? For the marvel of this night is not only that God has crossed the impossible distance between Creator and creation. The full marvel of this night is that the Word was made flesh so that He might bear our sins in His own body and die with them. So that He, the sinless One might be full of our sin and so destroy our death. So that He, the Immortal One who cannot die, might by taking our flesh die in our place.

Marvel indeed, before which nothing is appropriate but adoration. “Venite Adoremus!” Oh, come, let us adore Him. It is the call of the angels, each to each on this holy night. “Oh come! Let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!” For tonight He is given to the world to be its Savior, bearing the gift of peace.

Peace? I know that it hardly seems to us as though his coming brought peace. Twenty centuries of creulty and bloodshed and mean-spiritedness seem to belie the angel’s words. Was it just a hope? Were they wrong?

No! For though they proclaim peace on earth, it was no earthly peace they proclaimed. These messengers of light proclaim the peace of heaven as it captures the hearts of men on earth. Peace. Peace between God and man. Peace, not the absense of war and strife, but the joy of living together with God in harmony. Peace that comes through the Child, who is named Prince of Peace. The angels, looking down from the heights see this. The Child will be the one through whom the creation would be reconciled to God. The Child will be the One through whom a warring, divided, hate-filled people will become one, filled with the light of love. It wasn’t a pipe-dream. The angels do not lie. They proclaim the birth of Christ and the gift of peace.

And God commands them “Give earth a glimpse of heavenly bliss, a teasing taste of whay they miss. Sing bliss! Sing bliss! Sing endless bliss!” The Child has come not quench the joy of life. That is the impression that people often receive. They think that our holy faith is just full of unpleasant “dos” and even more filled with “don’ts.” Oh, how little we understand this night if that is what we think. The Child was born and the angels sang and the bliss, the endless joy of heaven, was tasted upon earth. A teasing taste of what we miss. What the angels offered the shepherds that night, and through the shepherds, offer you and me, is joy. There is no joy on earth that can compare with knowing that this Child was born for you, to take away your sin, to destroy your death. There is no joy on earth that can rival the joy to be found when your heart is the manger for the Christ Child and he is welcomed in. When you come forward to receive Him in the body that the Virgin bore, in the blood that he poured out for you, what you are entering into is the joy of the angels: fellowship with God in Christ. No wonder the angel said to the shepherds: “I bring you good news of a great joy which will be to all people.” Jesus is that Great Joy!

“Into one song,” says the Father, “compress the love that rules our universe above. Sing love! Sing love! Sing God is love! Sing love! Sing, God is love!” The love that is God - this is what fills the angels hearts to overflowing so that their song rings out over the earth, and it echoes still. May it echo in your heart forever. Amen.

Light from East and West

Kontakion for December 24 from the Eastern Liturgy

On this day the Virgin
cometh to a cave to give birth to God the
Word ineffable, Who was before all the ages.
Dance for joy, O earth, on hearing the
gladsome tidings; with the Angels and the
shepherds now glorify Him Who is willing to
be gazed on as a young Child Who before the
ages is God.

Corde Natus ex Parentis (Aurelius Prudentius, ca. 413) from the Western Liturgy

Oh, that birth forever blessed
When the Virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving
Bare the Savior of our race.
And the Babe, the world's Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face
Evermore and evermore.

O ye heights of heaven, adore Him!
Angel hosts, His praises sing!
Powers, dominions, bow before Him
And extol your God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent;
Every voice in concert ring
Evermore and evermore.

Christ, to Thee, with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
And unending praises be,
Honor, glory, and dominion
And eternal victory
Evermore and evermore.

23 December 2005

O Antiphon for December 23

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

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 2005

Joys Abounding...

I was so shocked to open a Christmas present from a parishioner and discover the three volumes of the Philokalia that I did not yet own! St. Maximos (of whom you have received but a foretaste in today's Patristic Quote of the Day), here I come. Irma, you're a gem and a half!!!

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Patristic Quote for the Day

Death in the true sense is separation from God, and 'the sting of death is sin' (1 Cor. 15:56). Adam, who received the sting, became at the same time an exile from the tree of life, from paradise and from God; and this was necessarily followed by the body's death. Life, in the true sense, is He who said, 'I am the life' (John 11:25), and who, having entered into death, led back to life him who had died. - St. Maximos the Confessor, Second Century on Love, #93

O Antiphon for December 22

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!

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease
And be Thyself our King of Peace!
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to Thee,
O Israel!


21 December 2005

Patristic Quote for the Day

Well, okay, not quite, but it's a goodie from G. K. Chesterton:

You cannot chip away the statue of a mother from all around that of a new-born child.
You cannot suspend the new-born child in mid-air; indeed, you cannot really have a statue of a new-born child at all.
Similarly, you cannot suspend the idea of a new-born child in the void or think of him without thinking of his mother.
You cannot visit the child without visiting the mother; you cannot in common human life approach the child except through the mother.
If we are to think of Christ in this aspect at all, the other idea follows as it followed in history.
We must either leave Christ out of Christmas or Christmas out of Christ, or we must admit, if only as we admit it in the old picture, that those holy heads are too near together for the haloes not to mingle and cross.
- The Everlasting Man (cited in *For All the Saints*, vol. 1, page 111 - published by the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau)

Saint Thomas Day

Today for Lutherans, Anglicans, and Western Rite Orthodox is the day to commemorate and give thanks for St. Thomas. At today's service St. Gregory the Great preached (thank you, Vicar, for giving him voice) and his words are worth hearing:

"What is seen gives knowledge, not faith. When Thomas saw and touched, why was he told: You have believed because you have seen me? Because what he saw and what he believed were different things. God cannot be seen by mortal man. Thomas saw a human being, whom he acknowledged to be God, and said: My Lord and my God. Seeing, he believed; looking at the one who was true man, he cried out that this was God, the God he could not see."

Similarly to St. Thomas' experience, the Church holds aloft, elevates, our Lord's Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist. What is seen is but bread and wine, but faith looks to what is not seen and cries out: "My Lord and my God!" For truly in the Eucharist the bread is our Lord's body and the wine is His blood. Thus the pious custom arose of the faithful whispering to themselves at the elevation the words of St. Thomas - "My Lord and my God!" Amen!

Collect: 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.

When Thomas afterward had heard
That Jesus had fulfilled His Word
He doubted if it were the Lord. Alleluia!

"Thomas, behold my side," saith He,
"My hands and feet and body see
And doubt not, but believe in Me." Alleluia!

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

Blessed are those that have not seen
And yet whose faith hath constant been.
In life eternal they shall reign. Alleluia! (The Venerable Bede)

O Antiphon for December 21

O Dayspring, splendor of Light everlasting: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!

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


20 December 2005

Patristic Quote for the Day

Foolish is he who does not worship the ever-existing Word of God, the Lord, as equally God with the supernal Father. Foolish is he who does not worship the Word, the Lord, a human here appearing, as equally God with the heavenly Word. The one divides the Word from the great Father, the other our human form and fleshliness from the Word. Though being God, the Father's Word took on human being, to mingle it with God, and be little amongst earthlings. He is one God out of both, being so human as to make me god, instead of human. Be merciful, O wounded One on high! - St. Gregory of Nazianzus, On the Incarnation of Christ (PG 37,470).

O Antiphon for December 20

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.

O come, O Key of David, come
And open wide our heavenly 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 2005

Homily for Christ-Mass

No one gets Christmas who doesn’t get the tabernacle. That first reading was not at all incongruous with the Mystery we celebrate today. It was the very unfolding of its deepest meaning. For just as God long ago chose in His mercy to dwell in a tent among His people that He might bring them into communion with Himself and give them a share in His divine life, so when the fullness of time came, God pitched His tent in an extraordinary manner among men. The tent this last and final time was not made of animal skin, but of a holy Virgin. God dwelt in Her flesh as in the Tabernacle, making her to be the living Ark, and thus disclosed to us the most astonishing thing about God’s plan for the human race.

You see, as with Mary, so with us. The Eternal Son pitched His tent among us in her precisely so that He could dwell inside of us!

Christmas is not the feast of a Child born long ago and far away. Christmas is the Feast of the God who loved us so much as to take our human nature upon Himself so that He might in that human nature impart to us Himself and thus a share in His unending life!

Christmas. A running together of two words: Christ-Mass. The Mass, the Eucharist, the Holy Communion of Christ. He comes to us today in the Mass, in the Eucharist, the very same One who came so long ago in Bethlehem, having taken up His residence in the Virgin Mother’s body so that His little heart beat beneath her own, the heart of God alive and sounding under an altogether human heart. God’s heart and man’s heart, beating as one.

He came into our flesh, this little One, in order to drive the death away from our flesh, to make it share in His own immortality, cleansing it of sin, making it new and whole in Himself so that He might take up residence within us by means of that flesh and blood He received from Mary.

The English poet laureate, John Betjeman, saw the truth of Christmas day with astounding clarity. He wrote:

And is it true? And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?

And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
Nor carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare--
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives to-day in Bread and Wine.

God was man in Palestine. That is the truth we celebrate on Christmas Day and indeed there is nothing that compares with this truth. We are a visited planet. God has come to us. God has pitched His tent among us in human flesh and blood. The tabernacle of the Most High!

But there is more. “And lives today in bread and wine.” His body and blood, what He once put on, He never puts off. He exalts to the highest. Our human flesh and blood made the body and blood of God in the incarnation, crucified and then raised, exalted beyond the heavens, and then fed into our mouths that our sins might be wiped out, our death destroyed, and eternal life given to us.

For the Child was born that He might die, and death might die in Him. Listen to how it is sung in the Boar’s Head carol:

The mightiest Hunter of them all
We honor in this festal hall,
Born of a humble Virgin mild,
Heaven's King became a little child.
Caput apri defero, reddens laudes Domino!

He hunted down through earth and hell
The swart boar Death until it fell.
This mighty deed for us was done.
Therefore we sing in unison:
Caput apri defero, reddens laudes Domino!

Let not this boar's head cause alarm,
The huntsman drew his power to harm.
So death, which still appears so grim,
As yielded all its power to him.
Caput apri defero, reddens laudes Domino!

And so He calls us to feast today upon His living Body and Blood, which was born of the holy Virgin, the body and blood of the Mighty Huntsman of death who has drawn its power to harm by forgiving our sins, who would live inside of us in His body and blood, the pledge and the very gift of everlasting life. Communion with God. We now His tabernacle. Glory to God in the highest, indeed! And on earth, peace, good will toward men. Amen and Amen!

Patristic Quote for the Day

Thanks be to the Father Who sent Thee, O our Savior! For by Thee we who are guilty are vindicated. Thou hast taken away our sins by Thy cross; take away our guilt also in Thy coming. - St. Ephrem the Syrian, *A Spiritual Psalter* #13

O Antiphon for December 19

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!

O Come thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny,
From depths of hell Thy people save
And give them vict'ry o'er the grave:
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to Thee,
O Israel!


18 December 2005

O Antiphon for December 18

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 redeem us!

O come, o come, Thou Lord of Might
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai's height
In ancient time gave holy law,
In cloud and majesty and awe!
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee,
O Israel!

17 December 2005

O Antiphon for December 17

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

O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
Who governs all things mightily,
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee,
O Israel!

Of beer and such...

...so Vicar recommends to me that I must try Guinness. I buy some to take to a party and tried some on Friday night and again tonight. BLECH! NASTY!

Give me my Mic Ultra anyday. But better yet, just give me my boxed Chardonnay and I will be happy.

He says that *I* am a Philistine, but I say that it's HIS taste that's off. Definitely!

So what do you all think of this quote?

God has given you the treasure of faith, but you carry that treasure in an earthen vessel.
God has given holy angels to guard you, but the devil waits not far off to lead you astray.
He has renewed you in the spirit of your mind, but you still have the oldness of the flesh to struggle against.
You have been established in the grace of God, but you are not yet confirmed in eternal glory.
A heavenly mansion is prepared for you, but first you must struggle with a wicked world.
God has promised pardon to the penitent, but he has not promised to give the inclination to repent to anyone while willfully persisting in sin.
The consolations of eternal life wait for you, but you must through many tribulations enter the Kingdom of God.
A crown of eternal glory is promised you, but you must pass through a severe conflict before you can wear that crown!
God's promises are unchangeable; but then you must not relax for a minute in the zeal for a holy life.
If the servant fails to do what is commanded, the Lord will do what He threatens.

Any idea who said this?

Patristic Quote for the Day

May Thy cross accompany me during that dread crossing (death), may it drive the powers of darkness away from me; may it be the key that opens the gates of paradise, that I may enter into bliss, rejoice and glorify Thy compassion, O Most Merciful One! - St. Ephrem, *A Spiritual Psalter* #12

16 December 2005

Patristic Quote for the Day

From my mother's womb I began to grieve Thee, and utterly have I disregarded Thy grace, for I have neglected my soul. Thou, O my Master, according to the multitude of Thy mercies, hast regarded all my wickedness with patience and kindness. Thy grace has lifted up my head, but daily it is brought low by my sins.

Bad habits entangle me like snares, and I rejoice at being thus bound. I sink to the very depths of evil, and this delights me. Daily the enemy gives me new shackles, for he sees how this variety of bonds pleases me.

The fact that I am bound by own desires should provoke weeping and lamentation, shame and disgrace. And yet more terrible is the fact that I bind myself with shackles that the enemy places upon me, and I slay myself with passions that give him pleasure.

Although I know how dreadful these shackles are, I hide them behind a noble appearance from all who mighty see. I appear to be robed in the beautiful clothes of reverence, but my soul is entangled with shameful thoughts. Before all who might see, I am reverent, but inside I am filled with all manner of indecency.

...I hope on Thy mercies, O Lord; I fall at Thy feet and beseech Thee: Grant me the spirit of repentance and lead my soul out of the dungeon of iniquity! May a ray of light shine in my mind before I go to the terrible judgment which awaits me, where there is no opportunity to repent of one's wicked deeds.

--St. Ephraim, *A Spiritual Psalter* #10

15 December 2005

Just so you know...

...this papa is very happy! His little girl just got home from Seward and will be here for THREE weeks. Yippee!!!

Genealogy Thoughts

One of the things that always amazes me about the Weedon family genealogy is the huge size of the generations. Consider: I was born in 1960, but my father was born in 1920 and his father was born in 1879 and his father was born in 1831, and his father was born in 1795, and his father in 1745. That means my grandfather's father fought in the Unwarranted War of Northern Aggression and that man's grandfather fought in the Rebellion against His Majesty.

I guess this is on my mind because today is my father's birthday (that's his picture). If he were alive, he'd be 85 years old. Sadly, he died of cancer back in January of 1980. He's been gone a long, long time. I still miss him very much.

On my mother's side, the generations were not QUITE so far spread, though she was 43 when I was born. Her parents were born in the 1880's and her grandfather was only a little boy during the Civil War.

Thoughts during Matins...

"That walking uprightly as in the day in the way of Your commandments, we may attain eternal life."

That prayer bothered me.

I heard it as saying that keeping the commandments in some way merits eternal life. Of course, it says nothing of the sort.

The commandments are the path to God. This is elementary, but honestly it never entered my dense head what it meant when they were called that. It is not that keeping them merits something from God. It is that keeping them, walking in them, is simply the road that ends in the Kingdom, the pathway toward Him. To claim to be walking toward Him and the Kingdom and not be seeking to walk down the path of the commandments is to be lying to one's self.

My Lutheran fear of legalism has kept me an antinomian at heart for a long time. A crying shame. To walk the path of the commandments is not to pretend to perfection, but to cry out constantly: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!" But there is no attaining of eternal life apart from walking in the way of the commandments, because that's the path that leads to Him and to the Kingdom.


Behr Hits Another Homer!

If you love theology and have not discovered John Behr - by all means read this article and make a determination to become better acquainted with this outstanding theologian:


Thanks to Fr. Shane Cota for pointing this one out!

Patristic Quote for the Day

He was the Only-begotten of the Father and also the Only-begotten of Mary. And he who divides the hypostasis in Him will also be separated from His kingdom, and he who conjoins His natures will be deprived of the life that is of Him. He who denies that Mary gave birth to God will not see the glory of His divinity, and he who denies that He was clothed in sinless flesh will receive neither salvation nor the life which is granted through His body. His very deeds give witness and His divine strength teach the contemptuous that He is true God. And His sufferings give proof that He is true man. - St. Ephrem the Syrian *A Spiritual Psalter* #15

14 December 2005

Patristic Quote for the Day

Fasting, while of value in itself, is nothing to boast of in front of God, for it is simply a tool for training those who desire self-restraint. - St. Diadochos of Photiki (d. ca. 486)

13 December 2005

Patristic Quote for the Day

He raises up from the depths of sin those who have fallen from resurrection. He accomplishes all things by His powerful touch. He shepherds, He enlightens, He nourishes, He leads, He heals, He raises up. He calls all things from non-existence into being; once things are created He keeps them in existence. Thus God's blessings reach us through the Son, who works in each case with greater speed than words can describe. - St. Basil the Great, *On the Holy Spirit* par. 19

A Homily for Advent IV

“Who are you?” One wouldn’t have thought it was so difficult of a question. But John’s answers shows that he is not the least bit interested in talking about himself. He’s got another he wants to talk about, and so he says: “I am not the Christ, not Elijah, not the Prophet.”

This leaves his questioners unsatisfied. They HAVE to have something to say to those who sent them. John simply has to fess up to who he is. They press him more and so he says: “Fine. Call me a voice. A voice crying out in the wilderness, just like Isaiah foretold: Make straight the way of the Lord! Are you satisfied? That’s me. I’m that voice!”

But no, they are NOT satisfied with that answer. Because if he’s not Messiah, not Elijah, and not the Prophet, then why is he baptizing? By what right does he plunge people under the wave and lift them out again as a people prepared and waiting for the Lord? Why is he doing this?

John’s answer to that question is very interesting. “I baptize you with water.” We expect him to go on and talk about the One who is coming who will baptize with the Spirit and with fire. That’s what we expect. But it’s not what we get. Instead, John takes off in another direction: “But there is one among you whom you do not know.”

Was Jesus standing in crowd watching the whole thing unfold? Did John’s eyes twinkle a bit as He said it, and glance toward the Lord as he spoke? The Jesus whom the Jews missed is his theme. John the Evangelist put it like this: “He was in the world and the world was made by him, and the world did not know him.”

How easy it was to miss the man who looked just like any other man. Nothing special in his outward appearance. “He had no beauty that we should desire him” the prophet Isaiah had said. An ordinary Joe in a crowd of ordinary Joes.

But you see, that IS why John came baptizing. Because the One who sent John to baptize told him: “The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, He it is who will baptize with the Spirit.” John himself confesses: “I did not know Him; but that He might be revealed to Israel, I came baptizing.”

The baptism of Jesus by St. John the Baptist is the great Theophany and revelation of who Jesus is: the Beloved Son of the Father, the One on whom the Spirit rests and who gives the Spirit without measure. The divine Second Person of the ever-blessed Trinity in human flesh and blood, true man and true God. This John would see as he baptized Jesus. But it was only a momentary glimpse and then Jesus looked the same as always. Just an ordinary Joe again.

But John, having had that momentary unveiling of this One, knew that His calling, His whole ministry consisted in pointing people away from Himself and to this One who stood once with him in the water and was declared God’s only-begotten Son. His testimony to Christ by and large flew in the face of what people actually saw. That’s how it always was with Jesus. Shepherds see the heavens opened and hear angels singing and are told that the Savior Christ is born – but when they arrive in Bethlehem to worship Him all they see is a poor baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, reposing in a manger in the stable-cave. When they crept in and knelt before Him and looked at Him, there was nothing visibly divine about the little One. He was just a baby. Oh, every baby is a miracle. But this baby who was God in the flesh was very much your ordinary Joe of a baby. And yet he had been revealed to them as the Son of God.

The wise men, with their gifts, must surely have marveled that the one honored by a star as the newborn King should look so, well, plain and peasant like. They had come to Jerusalem to find a King and ended up worshipping before a beggar child on his poor mother’s lap. This is the King so long awaited? But the star did not lie. It revealed the truth that they couldn’t see.

“There is one among you whom you know not.” John’s ministry was to make him known. To invite us to look beyond what we see and to believe what we hear. John, greatest prophet of all, confesses himself utterly unworthy to get down on knees and unloose that One’s sandals – the job of menial slave was far too great for the greatest of the prophets to perform on the likes of Him.

“He who coming after me was before me.” For though he was born in the flesh after John, by some six months, in His divine nature He was before John, before Zechariah and Elizabeth, before David, before Moses, before Abraham, before Noah, before Adam, before time itself. Of the Father’s love begotten ere the worlds began to be. After John and yet before John. As our Lord would later say: “Before Abraham was, I am.”

He is the One John witnesses to: we are not worthy to serve Him in the least way, and yet, miracle of miracles, He who was before time came into our flesh that He might serve us. He came to off-load our sins and to carry them all with Him to His cross, to die there the death that was ours, and so to break the bondage of sin and destroy the dominion of death. He came to rise again to open the way into the Kingdom of heaven for all believers. To restore us to the glorious destiny God had planned for us all along: to be His children and to share in His divine glory as heirs of the Kingdom.

Until the Last Day, He comes among us in His humble and hidden way: the same One who was laid in the manger, worshipped by Shepherds and wisemen, who stood among the crowds, unmarked by any but His prophet and fore-runner, He is among us in ordinary-looking bread and wine that are His body and blood, in His usual humility and tenderness, to give us forgiveness to lift us to the life that never ends.

So, you see, it’s not about John. It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s not about who we are. It is all about who He is and what He does, our Jesus, the One who is among us, Emmanuel. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. Amen.

Blessed Saint Lucia day!

Today the holy Church commemorates the virgin and martyr Saint Lucia from Syracuse in Sicily. She was beheaded in 304 in the reign of Diocletian. In honor of the brave virgin martyr who was given grace to lay down her life for the heavenly Bridegroom, this hymn today from St. Ambrose:

O Jesu, thou the virgins' crown,
thy gracious ear to us bow down,
born of that Virgin whom alone
both Mother and a Maid we own.

In thee, their Bridegroom and their Lord,
the virgins find their bright reward,
and wheresoe'er thy footsteps wend
with hymns and praises thee attend.

O gracious Lord, we thee implore
thy grace into our minds to pour;
from all defilement keep us free,
and make us pure in heart for thee.

All praise to God the Father be,
all praise, eternal Son, to thee,
Whom with the Spirit we adore,
for ever and for evermore. (From *The Saint Ambrose Hymnal* #262)

Graciously hear us, O God of our salvation: that like as we do rejoice in the festival of blessed Lucia, thy holy virgin, so we may learn to follow her in all godly and devout affections; through Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. (The Brotherhood Prayerbook)

12 December 2005

Patristic Quote for the Day

But men, having turned from the contemplation of God to evil of their own devising, had come inevitably under the law of death. Instead of remaining in the state in which God had created them, they were in process of becoming corrupted entirely, and death had them completely under its dominion. For the transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their nature; and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning through corruption, to non-existence once again. The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore, when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it; for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good. By nature, of course, man is mortal, since he was made from nothing; but he bears also the Likeness of Him who is, and if he preserves that Likeness through constant contemplation, then his nature is deprived of its power and he remains incorrupt. So it is affirmed in Wisdom: "The keeping of His laws is the assurance of incorruption." (Wisdom vi.18) And being incorrupt, he would be henceforth as God, as Holy Scripture says, "I have said, Ye are gods and sons of the Highest all of you; but ye die as man and fall as one of the princes." - Saint Athanaisus, *On the Incarnation of the Word* par. 4

09 December 2005

Narnia Thoughts

We saw it last night. The emotional impact surprised me. I am a rather unemotional person, but if I expected to cry it would surely have been at the slaying of Aslan. But I did not cry then. But I could not believe the tears that flowed from my eyes as I watched Aslan lead the children to the thrones He had prepared for them, the thrones to which they were destined.

As I reflected on this I realized how deeply C. S. Lewis understood that the story is never finished with what we are "saved from" - the life of the traitor exchanged for the death of Aslan. No, the story is not done until we have understood what we are "saved for." How beautifully Lewis and this Narnia brought to the screen pictures for us the shocking and amazing truth: we are saved to be restored to what we were created for from the get go! To rule over the creation itself, under the rule of the Lion of Judah.

The devil (in the form of the white witch) pretends that this world is HIS. That is all belongs to him. The fox shows what poppy-cock that is when he shockingly apologizes to "Your Majesty" and the queen assumes it is to her, but the real object is Edmund. The shock on the boy's face is the shock on any human's face when it dawns on him the "things God has prepared for those that love him." The scene may not have been in Lewis's manuscript, but you could hear him shouting "Amen!" from heaven. That's the point. The majesty to which Aslan has destined this race of men, and how not even our treachery and rebellion can bring an end to His plan - it simply upped the cost unthinkably.

A lovely film. Lose the expectation that you're visiting Middle Earth and you'll enjoy it just fine.

My one and only criticism: couldn't they have found a real BASS to read Aslan's lines?

Patristic Quote for the Day

To Thee, O Victor pierced by nails on the cross Who calleth out to sinners saying: come, receive forgiveness freely - to Thee I unrelentingly pray, O my Savior: turn Thine eyes away from my lawlessness, and by Thy sufferings heal my sores that I may glorify Thy kindness. - St. Ephrem the Syrian, *A Spiritual Psalter* #8

07 December 2005

Homily for Gaudete - Matthew 11

What are we to make of this mysterious sentence of our Lord Jesus: “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he”?

It is easy to understand the first part, for truly among those born of women in the normal way, there was never a greater than John. Think of his fierce devotion to God. Think of how little he cared for the approval of others, who cared only for the approval of His master in heaven. Think of the greatness of His humility, that when his disciples came and complained to him that Jesus drew greater crowds, St. John meekly confessed: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Think of his devotion to the ascetic life, and how he lived in the wilderness on that strange diet of locusts and wild honey, drinking neither wine nor strong drink. Think of his Elijah-like clothes. Think of how he called on one and all to repent and turn from sins, and welcome the Kingdom. Think of how he warned those who thought they could sneak into the kingdom of God and yet remain slaves to their sinful appetites to bear fruits befitting repentance. Think most of all of how he pointed with joy to our Lord Jesus and announced that here was the true Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

As Jesus challenged the people to think of John, he asked: “What did you go out to the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind.” No, they would have answered, a mighty oak planted by the streams of God’s word that brought forth its fruit in due season and whose leaf did not wither.

“What did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothes? Behold, those who wear soft clothes are in kings’ houses.” No, not a man wearing soft clothes, but a man wearing the rough garments of an ascetic.

“What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, and more than a prophet.” Jesus teaches us that John is the greatest and the last of the Old Testament prophets. He is the specially appointed messenger sent before the face of God’s Son to prepare his way. He is the finger who points the world unerringly to the Lamb of God for the forgiveness of sins.

And yet Jesus says: “the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” What can this mean? You and I, greater than John the Baptist?

Yes. Not in our persons, but in the greatness of what God’s gifts to us. For although John was sent on the once in all of history task of being the point-man for the Lamb of God, he never tasted in this age and life the fullness of what His Lord was coming to do. John was never baptized into the name of the Holy Trinity as you have been, making you the abode of the Blessed God. It was never given to John to hear the words of absolution pronounced in the holy name of Jesus – an absolution anchored in the work of the cross. For John died before the offering of our Lord upon the cross for our sins; he died before the resurrection of the Lord Jesus brought about the defeat of death. John never knew the unspeakable joys that you know when you eat and drink faithfully in the Eucharist the holy body and blood of the Lord Jesus, and so become a partaker of the divine nature. John never knew such joys. For he was the last of those about whom the apostle wrote:

“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them from afar and having acknowledged that they were strangers and aliens on earth… Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Heb 11:13,16)

And again: “They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute afflicted, mistreated – of whom the world was not worthy – wandering about in deserts and mountains and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God has provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” (Heb. 12:37-40)

What John welcomed and hailed in Jesus, he died before he got to taste, and so Jesus can say that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Does that not move you to gratitude and praise? You are given gifts that John the Baptist and all the prophets longed and ached for and yet never received in this life.

Does that not lead you to humble repentance when you think how often you, like Esau have despised the birth-right that you have been given in the Lord Jesus? How little you think of your Baptism, of His Word, of His Supper? These are the sacred gifts of God that bestow upon you a greater status than John ever knew! For by your Baptism you have received, He who became what you are by nature causes you to become what He is by grace: you become divine, a child of God! You are endowed with the Kingdom which is to come. And as often as you wish it, you may come and hear the holy absolution, as the keys of the kingdom are exercised and the gate to heaven swings wide to welcome you home. And as often as you need it, you may approach the holy table and feast on the very Lamb of God to whom John pointed. The Lamb of God who took your sins to death on the tree and now gives His own body and blood into you as the gift of forgiveness and divine life. Yes, you are greater than John, not in your persons, but in God’s dispensation, in the giving of His gifts.

Thanks to You, O Lord, for You have bestowed such unimagined greatness on us poor sinners! Forgive us for despising Your gifts! Grant us grace to cherish always the awesome greatness to which You have raised in Your Kingdom through our Lord Jesus Christ, making us truly Your children, brothers and sisters of Christ, and coheirs of eternal glory. Amen.

06 December 2005

It's the most wonderful time of the year...

...for reading books!

During the winter months when snow is on the ground I very much enjoy rereading some old favorites:

The Nine Tailors (Dorothy Sayers)
The Virgin in the Ice (Ellis Peters)
Snowbound (Whittier - http://www.darsie.net/library/whittier_snowbound.html )
Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening (Frost - http://www.ketzle.com/frost/snowyeve.htm )

A blessed Winter Pascha to one and to all, and may the snow REALLY leave us snowbound for a good week or two!

Patristic Quote for the Day

Creator of the stars of night,
Thy people's everlasting Light:
O Christ Redeemer, save us all
And hear Thy servants when they call.

Thou, grieving that the ancient curse
Should doom to death a universe,
Hast found the healing, full of grace,
To cure and save our ruined race.

Thou cam'st the Bridegroom of the Bride,
As drew the world to eventide,
The spotless Victim all divine
Proceeding from a Virgin shrine.

At whose dread name, majestic now,
All knees must bend, all hearts must bow;
All things celestial Thee shall own,
And things terrestial, Lord alone.

O Thou whose coming is with dread
To judge the living and the dead,
Preserve us from the ancient Foe
While still we dwell on earth below.

--Unknown, Latin Hymn, 9th century

An Advent Homily - Isaiah 11:1-10

Advent Homily II

Doesn’t the world that Isaiah describes to us almost sound like a fairy-tale world? A fantasy world where wolves bed down next to lambs and lions cuddle with little goats, where calves and young lions frolic together in spring pastures, where a little child leads out the animals to play, where Bessie the cow and Griffin the Grizzley munch grass side by side, while their offspring snooze peacefully next to each other in the noon day sun. And the little nursing baby who plays by the cobra’s hole and the toddler reaching down to pet the sweet little vipers in their den. A world where there is neither hurting, nor destroying, a world without hostility and without death, a world filled with the knowledge of the Lord as full as the sea is of water.

But then we shake our wise heads and say: Nice, dream, old Isaiah! Wouldn’t it be a dandy world if it were true! Walking among the grizzlies at night, petting the wolves, playing with the snakes and never fearing. A world where humanity and all the creation lived in perfect and loving harmony. Yeah. Get real. That’s just not the world as it is, and it never will be. It’s a dog-eat-dog world and nothing’s going to change that. So we speak in our wisdom, which is really our great folly.

For Isaiah didn’t preface his words with: “Wouldn’t it be nice if…” Isaiah wasn’t spinning you some dream of his own fancy. Isaiah was speaking to you the words of Him who is the Truth. Isaiah looked into the future and saw God’s world as it was meant to be and as He would surely make it be again. Time to dump the worldly wisdom that knows what can and can’t be and open your eyes wide to see what God can do!

You see, we take the fallen state of the world as its natural state. We assume that the way things are now is how they have always been and will always be. But when we do that, we are denying the faith – whether we know it or not. For our faith is that it is precisely the FALLENNESS of this world which will pass away. The hostility of each to each, the fighting and the clawing, the grasping and the taking, the anger and the death, the bloodshed and the war, of animals and of men – THAT is what is doomed to fail. With Isaiah’s words, we get a bead on the future that is surely coming.

And that future is tied up intimately with Rod that comes from Jesse’s stem, the Branch that grows from his roots, the Scion of the Royal House of David, come in these last days, with the Spirit of the Lord resting on Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord, the Spirit that brings the real knowledge of this world and ourselves and all things as they were meant to be and as they shall be again. And so this Prince from David’s house will not be like other people. He won’t believe just what he sees – the world as it is. No. He sees the truth, the deepest truth about this world and all its inhabitants: he sees and knows and believes that His Father did not make us to die; He did not make us attack each other and live in enmity.

He came among us and dared to live among us the future – for His was the heart without retaliation or anger! His was the life of turning the other cheek. His was the conviction that Love is stronger than all of the hatred and violence and death of this world. And His conviction He lived. He lived that future, and because He lived it, because He brought it among us, we killed Him and He died.

Was he wrong then? The viper bit. The wolf chowed down. The lion devoured. Human hands wielded whip and hammer and nails. He groaned and gave up the ghost. Was it really just the same old world after all, and Isaiah’s words just a pipe dream?

No. You know that it was not so. For though He died, His death was to destroy death. It was to let loose a love and a hope into this world that no darkness would ever be able to overcome ever again. He was raised from the dead and in a body that is forever beyond death. His body already belongs to the world that is to come, the world Isaiah saw as the future of this world.

And so His people are blessed to live their lives oriented toward the arrival of that future. We know that in this world there are still animals out there with sharp claws and teeth; we also know that some of them walk on two feet. We know that there are snakes that bite, and some of them speak with human tongues. But more than that we know that no matter WHAT they do, their hostility makes them all in danger of extinction. They will not inhabit the world that is coming. That’s the world we are called to live toward. The world where all things work together and not against, where love rules all, and where Children lead the way.

And so He came a Child in the night. The heaven’s blazed a star in joy. The angels brought good news of great joy to all people: A Savior was born. A Savior from the dead end world of bloody claw and death. A Savior who would bring an end to death itself. Glory to God in the highest and on earth – yes, on earth – peace, good will toward men. The Root of Jesse stands as a banner, a rallying place for all people and His place of rest is glorious. Come and live beneath the banner of manger and cross, come and live among the lions and bears and wolves and snakes who have all been rendered peaceful by the Prince of Peace. Come and shout out in the darkness of this world that its future will be Light and Love. Amen.

04 December 2005

Gotta love technology...

So here we were singing carols this afternoon around the piano - Cindi and Anna and I. And Cindi tells Lauren on iChat that we're doing this when I get the brainstorm. iChat allows you to connect audibly too. So we did! So Lauren and all her friends in her room at Concordia Seward JOINED us in singing carols. Too, too much fun! What a hoot!!!

David was being a wug, though. He wouldn't come sing with us - chatting online with Misha instead. And then Bekah had her friend Shawn over, so she wouldn't sing either. Still, we had a blast. Our first internet sing thing!

Patristic Quote for the Day

Make certain, therefore, that you all observe one common Eucharist; for there is but one Body of our Lord Jesus and also but one cup of union with His Blood, and one single altar of sacrifice - even as there also there is but one bishop, with his clergy and all my fellow-servitors the deacons. This will ensure that all your doings are in full accord with the will of God. - St. Ignatius of Antioch, Philadelphians 4.

03 December 2005

Patristic Quote for the Day

In that anxious and dreadful hour when the heavenly powers are roused, when all the angels, archangels, seraphim and cherubim will stand with fear and trembling before Thy glory, when the foundations of the earth will be shaken, and when all that breathes will be terrified by the incomparable greatness of Thy glory - in that hour mayest Thou take me under Thy wing and may my soul be delivered from the terrible fire and from the gnashing of teeth, from outer darkness and eternal lamentation, that I may bless Thee and say: Glory to Him Who has desired to save a sinner according to the great compassion of His mercy! - St. Ephrem the Syrian, *A Spiritual Psalter* #2

02 December 2005

Christmas Meditation

from an Orthodox perspective. Christmas and Eucharist going together. Fancy that.


Patristic Quote for the Day

I bow down to Thee, O Master;
I bless Thee, O Good One;
I beseech Thee, O Holy One;
I fall down before Thee, O Lover of Mankind;
and I glorify Thee, O Christ;
For Thou, O Only-begotten Master of all,
O Only Sinless One,
was for the sake of me,
an unworthy sinner,
given up to death on the cross
in order to free the soul of a sinner
from the bondage of sin.

And how shall I repay Thee, O Master?
Glory to Thee, O Lover of Mankind!
Glory to Thee, O Merciful One!
Glory to Thee, O Longsuffering One!
Glory to Thee, who forgivest every fall!
- A Spiritual Psalter #2, St. Ephrem the Syrian

01 December 2005

Patristic Quote for the Day

For let nobody be under any delusion; there is judgment in store even for the hosts of heaven, the very angels in glory, the visible and invisible powers themselves, if they have no faith in the blood of Christ. Let him who can, absorb this truth. High position is no excuse for pride; it is faith and love that are everything, and these must come before all else. But look at the men who have those perverted notions about the grace of Jesus Christ which has come down to us, and see how contrary to the mind of God they are. They have no care for love, no tought for the widow and orphan, none at all for the afflicted, the captive, the hungry or the thirsty. They even absent themselves from the Eucharist and the public prayers, because they will not admit that the Eucharist is the self-same body of our Savior Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins and which the Father in His goodness afterwards raised up again. - St. Ignatius of Antioch, Smyrna, 6,7

30 November 2005

Blessed St. Andrew's Day!

I always love it when East and West agree, and East and West do agree that November 30th is the day set aside to commemorate St. Andrew. He's a special saint to me because it was at the Lutheran Church of Saint Andrew in Wheaton, MD that I was first baptized into the faith, confirmed, and given our Lord's body and blood. It was long years after I was a pastor that I realized that everywhere I served, I tried to "recreate" the St. Andrew experience - it was a fabulous parish, rich in music and with some outstanding preaching and teaching of the Gospel.

But back to St. Andrew the person, a tidbit from East and from West:

(Eastern Kontakion): Let us praise for his courage ANDREW the Theologian, first Apostle of the Savior and brother of Peter, for in like manner as he drew his brother to Christ, he is crying out to us: "Come, for we have found the One the world desires!"

(Western Post-communion prayer) We beseech thee, O Lord, that thy heavenly mysteries, which we have joyfully received on this festival of blessed Andrew thine apostle may effectually avail for the glory of thy saints and likewise for the forgiveness of our sins. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord.

29 November 2005

Patristic Quote for the Day

Pray often that God may make thee worthy of the heavenly and immortal mysteries. Let neither day be without its work, nor night, but when sleep fails thine eyes, at once abandon thy thoughts to prayer. And shouldest thou find any shameful, any base imagination rising, reflect upon God's judgment, to remind thee of salvation; give up thy mind to sacred studies, that it may forget wicked things. - St. Cyril of Jerusalem, the Proto-catechesis, par. 16


The human race divides in two on the matter of poetry. There are those who love it and those who can see no need for it. If you're in the second camp, you can stop reading this post right now.

I must confess that I am a lover of poetry. The best definition I ever read of poetry is "words put together in such a way that they are hard to forget." Isn't that almost poetry itself? Martin Franzmann's rumored definitive words upon the Scripture controversy were: "We must never forget that God is poet." Franzmann, as usual, is right on.

And so to honor the joy of words put together in ways that are hard to forget, a fabulous poem by Betjeman. I figure since he STARTS off with Advent it's cool to share now, even though titled Christmas! Don't give up till the zinger in the last line.

John Betjeman

The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hooker’s Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
“The church looks nice” on Christmas Day.

Provincial public houses blaze
And Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says “Merry Christmas to you all.”

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children’s’ hearts are glad,
And Christmas-morning bells say “Come!”
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true? And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?

And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
Nor carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare--
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives to-day in Bread and Wine.

28 November 2005

Acts 8

What is to be made of St. Philip's giving out baptism that does not give the Spirit apart from the laying on of hands? (vs. 16)

What is to made of St. Peter's not treating the forgiveness of Simon's post-baptismal sins as a "sure thing"? (vs. 22)


Explanation of the Nativity Ikon

I picked this gem up off my sister-in-law's site:


27 November 2005

Patristic Quote for the Day

Great indeed is the Baptism which is offered you. It is a ransom to captives; the remission of offences; the death of sin; the regeneration of the soul; the garment of light; the holy seal indissoluble; the chariot to heaven; the luxury of paradise; a procuring of the kingdom; the gift of adoption. - The Protocatechesis of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, par. 16.

26 November 2005

Advent Carol

Drop down, Dew! O gracious heaven.
Let the sky rain down the just.
Let the earth bud forth the Saviour.
In Thy promise, Lord, we trust.
Thus the Patriarchs were crying
While the world in bondage sighing,
Sought in vain for Heaven's gate,
Closed by sin and Satan's hate.

God the Father in His mercy
Planned to save our fallen race,
Whilst the burden of our sinning,
God the Son deigned to embrace.
God the Spirit gave His token
Through the Virgin who had spoken:
Lo, Thy handmaid, Lord, hath heard;
Work in me Thy wondrous Word!

Then the Son took man's frail nature,
Was made flesh and dwelt on earth.
Light and life with grace abundant
He bestowed of priceless worth.
Earth, rejoice! Exult with gladness!
A new Sun dispels all sadness!
Let us then our voices raise!
Let us sing our Saviour's praise!

(Wish I could remember who wrote this Advent Carol; we sang it in Pro Musica Sacra at St. Louis seminary in the 1980's. It's a winner!)

Advent Thoughts

Today the Church - well, the Western Church at any rate - begins a new year of grace! And on this first Sunday in Advent for century upon century the Church had read and pondered the message of the prophet Zechariah, foretelling our Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

Palm Sunday? At the start of Advent? It never fails to strike as strange those who forget that it is Advent we are beginning today, and not Christmas. The world sees no need for Advent - for repentance and preparation - also the world that lives inside of our hearts.

It wants to leapfrog over Advent and plunge right into the joy of angels and shepherds and Wisemen. But the Church in her wisdom says “no.” No, because if the joy of Christmas is going to be all that God intends it to be for His people, it needs to be received in hearts that are stilled and quiet, in hearts that have come to see the sorrow of sin and long to be freed from it. "Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come that we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins..." It needs to be received In hearts that understand Christ’s three-fold coming and can pray with fervor: “Come, Lord Jesus!” in the full meaning of that prayer.

Only such hearts are prepared to receive the fullness of the joy that lies in the Christmas Feast - a joy far brighter than tinsel and infinitely more satisfying than an endless round of parties and gluttony.

So on to Jerusalem! On to the One who comes riding in on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. See with your eyes. But believe with your ears. That is the key. What you see will offend you. What you hear will astonish and delight you. And what you hear is the deeper truth. "Your King comes to you!" Let us greet Him with songs of joy, repentant hearts, and eager longing! Amen.


One of my favorite people in all the world has joined the blogosphere: my sister (-in-law, but she's more like just my sister) Deb:


I remember the day (we were both teens) that I took a peak at the journal she left lying on the dining room table and was impressed with her writing, but she was VERY mad that I had read her stuff. Now I can read it and she can't fuss about it! Best of all - you can too!!!

25 November 2005


Recent joys:

The joy of a house filled with young people...Singing Christmas carols around the piano with Cindi, David, and Lauren (and wishing Bekah would join in!)...Matins sung in a full church...Tasting mom's cornbread dressing again, and wishing she and dad were still alive to share it with us...Friends singing together "Now Thank We All Our God" around a groaning supper table...Pinochle, even when the ladies win...Bringing communion to David in the hospital and learning about music afterwards...Jaclyn on the mend...Having all my children home...Finding out Opa and Grandma are arriving on Christmas Eve...Elena being chrismated on Saturday...Deb, Tim, Dorothy as catechumens...Anna playing the piano for us...Lauren, Lauren and Robyn up early to go shopping (see, miracles do happen!)...Bekah talking to Shawn for like HOURS...Bringing the Sacrament to Ray and Marvin...A cold day that presages the crisp air of winter (why does it always remind me of Aunt Emma's?)...Lucinda Bekemeyer's ginger cookies all made up and ready to bake tomorrow for tree trimming...The sight of children when they come home and all are in for the night...Vicar's joy in preaching...The outside cats grown all furry and frisky with the cold...Lucy barking at the "evil thing" (our vaccuum)...Listening to the Akathist of Thanksgiving on Ancient Faith Radio...The Jesus Prayer on long drives to the hospitals...Getting to baptize in German...

Glory to you, O Lord! Glory to you!

Patristic Quote for the Day

He it is Who was crucified with the sun and the moon as witnesses; and by His death salvation has come to all men, and all creation has been redeemed. He is the Life of all, and He it is Who like a sheep gave up His own body to death, His life for ours and our salvation. - St. Athanasius, *On the Incarnation of the Word* par. 37.

23 November 2005


A slight revision of Schmemann's final thanksgiving at his last Eucharist, that will be prayed at St. Paul's tomorrow at the conclusion of Matins:

Thank You, O Lord!

Thank You, O Lord, for giving us this opportunity to offer praise to the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for You have filled our hearts with the joy, peace and righteousness of the Holy Spirit.

Thank You, O Lord, for having revealed Yourself unto us and giving us the foretaste of Your Kingdom.

Thank You, O Lord, for having united us to one another in serving You and Your Holy Church.

Thank You, O Lord, for having helped us to overcome all difficulties, tensions, passions, temptations and restored peace, mutual love and joy in sharing the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Thank You, O Lord, for the sufferings You bestow upon us, for they purify us from selfishness and remind us of the "one thing needed;" Your eternal Kingdom.

Thank You, O Lord, for having given us this country where we are free to worship You.

Thank You, O Lord, for this Church and school, where the name of God is proclaimed.

Thank You, O Lord, for our families: husbands, wives and, especially, children who teach us how to celebrate Your holy Name in joy, movement and holy noise.

Thank You, O Lord, for the kindly fruits of the earth and for the joy of sharing them together.

Thank You, O Lord, for everyone and everything.

Great are You, O Lord, and marvelous are Your deeds, and no word is sufficient to celebrate Your miracles. Amen.

Patristic Quote for the Day

For while all vices manifest themselves in wrongdoing, pride lurks even in our good works, seeking to destroy even them. - St. Augustine, *The Rule* 1.7

22 November 2005


I hijacked this article from Benjamin Andersen's blog: http://occidentalis.blogspot.com/

Well worth the read...

A fascinating article on the problem of the filioque by Father Theodore Stylianopoulos, from The Greek Orthodox Theological Review (1986). Here are Father Theodore's conclusions:

"Two key factors are crucial to the ecumenical settlement of the filioque question. The first is the recognition that the theological use of the filioque in the West against Arian subordinationism is fully valid according to the theological criteria of the Eastern tradition. In the West the filioque has been used to stress: (1) the consubstantial unity of the Trinity, (2) the divine status of the Son, and (3) the intimacy between the Son and the Spirit. All these points are also integral elements of Eastern trinitarian theology anchored on the Cappadocian teaching of περιχώρησις ("mutual indwelling") of the persons of the Trinity, a teaching reflected by the Nicene Creed which professes an equal worship and glorification of the Holy Trinity. Thus a fundamental and wide agreement exists between Eastern and Western trinitarian doctrine affirming the complete reciprocity and mutuality of the Son and the Spirit in their eternal relations (immanent Trinity) as well as their manifested action in creation, Church and society (economic Trinity). Christ is both the bearer and the sender of the Spirit. The Spirit of God is in every way also the Spirit of the Son.

"The second key factor in the resolution of the filioque question is the recognition that biblical and patristic theology commonlly affirm the teaching of the "monarchy" of the Father, i.e., that the Father is "the sole principle (ἀρχή), source (πηγή), and cause (αἰτία) of divinity" (Klingenthal Memorandum). This teaching is of decisive importance to Eastern trinitarian theology and a teaching which the filioque clause in the West, according to contemporary Western interpretations, has never intended to deny. However, the Augustinian interpretation of the filioque, i.e., that the Father and the Son are the common cause of the eternal being of the Spirit, unintentionally compromises the "monarchy" of the Father according to Cappadocian trinitarian theology presupposed and reflected by the Nicene Creed in which the verb "proceeds" (ἐκπορευόμενον) refers to the eternal origin of the Spirit from the Father. Eastern trinitarian thought as expressed by Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory the Cypriot and Gregory Palamas conceives of the Son as mediating, but not causing, the Spirit's procession from the Father. On this nuanced difference in doctrinal interpretation hangs the whole weight of centuries of controversy between the Eastern and Western churches. The formula "who proceeds from the Father through the Son" is a sound theological resolution of this problem in the conciliatory spirit of Maximos the Confessor laying aside the above specific Augustinian interpretation as an erroneous theological opinion but at the same time affirming the active participation of the Son in the eternal procession of the Spirit from the Father.

"Finally, the filioque question does not signal a "great divide" between the Eastern and Western churches because these churches commonly confess the dogma of the Holy Trinity and share broad agreement regarding the work ("economy") of the Spirit according to Scripture, tradition, and liturgy. The filioque marks not a decisive difference in dogma but an important difference in the interpretation of dogma due to the differing Cappadocian and Augustinian approaches to the mystery of the Trinity. The theological implications of this difference are a more consistently biblical and personal understanding of the Trinity as concrete persons and careful avoidance of any modalistic tendencies confusing the uniqueness of each of the divine persons. The well-known critique that the filioque subordinates the Spirit to the Son and thereby "depersonalizes" the Spirit seems to express theological polemic rather than theological truth. As far as the practical implications of this difference is concerned, i.e., the often repeated charges that the filioque leads to authoritarianism, institutionalism, clericalism and other similar tendencies, one is hard pressed to demonstrate these historically and theologically because such tendencies, as well as their opposites, have existed in most churches with or without the filioque. More fruitful for further study are the specific implications of the Augustinian and Cappadocian approaches to the Trinity and theology in general, especially the implications for life, spirituality and practice. This kind of direction in ecumenical theology would be welcome because, next to and after a resolution of the specific filioque question, which is a highly nuanced question of trinitarian theology, such a direction would help focus attention on the wider role of the Spirit in the churches, society and creation today."

Patristic Quote for the Day

Be cautious of harsh words. Should you utter them, then do not be afraid to speak the healing word with the same mouth that caused the wound - St. Augustine, *The Rule, 6.2*

21 November 2005

A Homily for Advent I

The Donkey (G. K. Chesteron)

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

The donkey had its hour, indeed. “One far, fierce hour and sweet.” Who but our God could come up with such a totally unimpressive way to enter His City as the long-awaited, long-promised King? Who but our God would dream up riding a donkey – “with monstrous head and sickening cry” – on His way to save the world by being the sacrifice for the sins of all? He was coming to be the beast of burden that bore the burdens of all our race, and so what else to ride but a donkey?

Such is the way of the God who is born in a cattle stall to refugee parents in an occupied land. Such is the way of the God who would bring life to the world by taking the world’s death into His own body. Such is the way of our God. The humble, lowly, un-presupposing way. The donkey way of doing things.

And this humble, unpretentious and unimpressive way, our God does not give up. Not till the last day when it won’t be a donkey he comes riding on, but the very clouds of heaven. Until that day, though, it’s the donkey way of doing things.

Water, bread, wine, hot air from a man’s mouth. Them be the lowly beasties that God STILL chooses to “ride on” to come to us, to be our servant King. They look so ordinary, so utterly unimpressive. I mean, think about it. A man dressed up in an outfit that looks more than a bit like a circus clown pours a handful of water over the head of an oblivious child and that’s the difference between eternal life and eternal death, between heaven and hell? Or certain words are spoken over bread and wine which they are given out into our mouths, and this is the food that if one eats of he does not die, but lives in Christ forevermore? Or a bunch of people sit in pews week in and week out listening to a man jaw on about stuff from a book whose last bit was written 2,000 years ago, and this is what the Church lives from?

The world is aghast that the Church could even go on existing from such donkey-business. And more than one voice (even those who claim to be inside the church!) suggest that if the Church has a future, she’d best give up the donkey business and start looking for something a little more impressive. But we inside the Church, we know that the donkey had it hour – one far, fierce hour and sweet.

We know WHO the donkey was carrying into Jerusalem that fateful day. We know WHAT He was coming into Jerusalem to do. Not to be battling and solving any earthly dilemmas, but to battle and conquer nothing less than sin, death, and hell. He was riding in to be the sacrifice for all time and for all peoples who will but trust what He there accomplished and did.

And so we delight in the donkeys he continues to use. That His Word comes riding into our lives attached to a handful of water and claims us as His very own, marks us as belonging to Him, and gives us the promise of eternal life – it fits his normal way of doing things – it’s donkey business. That bread and wine are changed, so that now they are His body and blood of the Redeemer and that He gives them to us to eat and drink so that our sins might be forgiven and we might be united to Him and His endless life – it fits his normal way of doing things – it’s donkey business. That the words of sinful and foolish men, who can be justly compared at times, I freely admit, to a donkey (and even given the not-so-nice name that we usually give donkeys), that the words of these men can be the words of life itself. This is no surprise to us. It fits His normal way of doing things – it’s donkey business.

And that He would then have use of donkeys even like you, and use you to bear Him and His Gospel to others, inviting them to join in the never-ending procession that surrounds the one who comes riding to us on such humble means – why, there’s nothing odd about that at all. It fits His normal modus operandi – it’s donkey business.

“Behold, your king comes to you.” And how he comes is in the way of the donkey, lowly, unimpressive, and yet truly the Very Son of God, come to you to take from you your sin, your death, your hell and to give to you His very own righteousness. “The Lord, our Righteousness” as Jeremiah had it today. And so the Church has never stopped crying out to Him: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” So if it’s donkey business time, then there is no time for the monkey business of the works of darkness. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. We best be putting on the Lord Jesus, letting Him climb right atop us foolish looking beasts, we donkeys, and letting Him ride and direct us, making no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires. Not the ways we would choose to go, but directed by Him who sits upon us. Our donkey riding King, our Savior, our Jesus. Amen.

Patristic Quote for the Day

"The soul, having obtained union with the Word, descended into hell; but, using its divine power and efficacy, it said to the ones in bondage, 'Go forth!'" - Cyril, De Recta Fide ad Theodosium

[Note that this quote, referring to the rescue of the Patriarchs and OT believers from Hades at Christ's Descent into Hell, is specifically cited in the Catalog of Testimonies that was appended to the Lutheran Book of Concord. Dr. Luther speaks the same way in his famous sermon on the Descent: "Our Lord Jesus Christ did descend into hell, battered hell open, overcame the devil, and *delivered those who were held captive by the devil.*" (HP I:480) and "Christ has crushed hell, opened up heaven, bound and taken captive the devil, *and delivered the prisoners.*"]

20 November 2005

Doing the Happy Dance!

Rejoicing in the good gifts of God to our sister parish Trinity Lutheran Church in Worden (with whom we share a school) of Pr. Heath Curtis and his family. Pr. Curtis will likely be installed prior to Christmas. Now the only thing that would crush me is if Pr. Curtis turns out to be a Browns fan - like his otherwise wonderful predecessor...

Patristic Quote for the Day

I don't usually post from sources that I have not personally read, but Robert Davis posted this beautiful quote from St. John of Kronstadt on the Orthodox-Lutheran dialog yesterday and I wanted to share it:

"What shall I bring to Thee, Lord, for all Thy mercies which Thou continually bestowest so bountifully upon me? My faith alone, for I have no works that shall justify me; I have done no good thing before Thee. But even my faith is also Thy gift. Receive Thine own of Thine own offered Thee, for everything is Thine, and we are All Thine. Thou art our most perfect Prototype."

From "My Life in Christ" St. John of Kronstadt

19 November 2005

Homily for the Last Sunday of the Church Year

St. James writes: “Show me your faith without works and I will show you my faith by my works.” In other words, works are faith made visible! Faith you can see. The Lutheran Confessions speak of such works as “the fruits of faith.” I bring this up because of today’s Gospel, the parable of the wise and foolish virgins.

This Gospel teaches us something vital for every Christian to know. And that is simply that not everyone who expects a welcome to the great Wedding Feast will in fact get one. Not everyone who believes that their place is assured will find it so. Some will “wake up” to find the Bridegroom from behind a closed door speaking to them the unutterably sad words: “I do not know you.”

Those to whom these words are spoken are people who have been dressed up for the Wedding Feast by Holy Baptism, who have waited for the Bridegroom, who had their lamps lighted and who, like the others fell asleep, only to be wakened by the shout at midnight: “Behold the Bridegroom comes! Go forth to meet him!”

Only they couldn’t, because the oil in their lamps was running near to empty. They ask the wise for some oil, but the wise couldn’t share with them – not now. So off in the mad dash to find the oil before the wedding starts. But they come too late and end up pounding upon a shut door, ultimately excluded. Lost to the joy and the feasting and the celebration within – where they had fully expected to be.

Each of us is one or the other. Each of us will be on one side of the door or the other. And because that is so, one over-riding question begs for an answer: “What’s the oil?”

Would have been nice if our Lord had explicitly said what it was. But alas, he does not. Or does he? He tells us that the oil is what allows the light to shine. We remember how early on in Matthew’s Gospel our Lord had exhorted his own: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Our Lord is teaching us that the faith that finally saves is the kind of faith that shines! The faith that manifests itself, betrays its presence, in deeds of mercy and love. To come to the wedding feast and try to get in without the light of these good works shining in our lives is to find ourselves on the wrong side of the door! Unknown by the Bridegroom.

Goodness, I hear you thinking, is Pastor saying that salvation is then due to our good works? God forbid! It was not the absence of the good works that shut out the foolish virgins – the absence of the good works was but the flickering and dying of the light! But what caused the light to go out? St. Mark the Ascetic helps us get a handle on this: “When Scripture says, ‘He will reward every man according to his works,’ do not imagine that works in themselves merit either hell or the kingdom. On the contrary, Christ rewards each man according to whether his works are done with faith or without faith in Himself.” Faith, you see, is the key.

But there is such a thing as a “faith” that does not bring forth the light of good works. That’s why I mentioned James at the start of the homily: “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:12-18)

The deeds of mercy that the Judgment requires, then, are not something tacked onto faith – faith plus works. The deeds of mercy that the Judgment requires are simply faith itself made visible, faith shown to be ALIVE. This is how Luther put it once: “Faith is a living, busy active powerful thing; it is impossible for it not to do us good continually. It never asks whether good works are to be done, but has done them before there is time to ask the question, and is always doing them."

So if you hear the parable of the wise and foolish virgins and begin to sweat a bit – and who of us doesn’t? - the answer is not to try to tack on some good works to your life. That would like trying to make light shine without fuel! Good works will flow from your union by faith with Christ. What did our Lord say? “Apart from me, you can do nothing!”

Apart from the Virgin’s Son, apart from your Crucified and Risen Savior, apart from His presence, His life, His gifts within you there will be only darkness, no matter how hard you strive. But connected to Him, joined toHim by a living faith, there will be light shining in you and through you, the Light that is Christ Himself.

And that is what the means of grace are for, my friends! To dispense the oil that will fills your lamp and set your life burning bright. For the oil that is living faith, dispensed by the Word of God, pours Him who is the Living Mercy of God into your life. By the Spirit’s power, He who came into the flesh and mounted the cross for you where He forgave your sin and rose again from the dead to be your Life, He comes to you, connects to you in Word, water, body, and blood! Faith holds onto Him, and that’s why it saves!

You want your life to shine with good works? Then in repentance devote your life to union with Christ through His Word and His Sacraments. THAT is how you can be zealous for good works without falling into the trap of legalism and pride, imagining that the good works are due to you and your diligence, instead of being the inevitable result of Christ and His giving. Your lamp then will not go out.

Let no one ever tell you that good works are not important, or that they don’t matter. Their presence or absence is the irrefutable sign of faith’s being real or a deception: a faith that connects you to the living Lord and so saves; or a faith that is merely an idea in your head and so does nothing. As the Church likes to sing: “For faith alone doth justify; works serve the neighbor and supply the proof that faith is living.” Grant us all, Lord Jesus, an abundance of such proof uniting our lives to Yours by a living faith through Your Word and Sacraments – a faith that shines for all to see and grows ever brighter until the Day of Your return! Amen.