31 December 2009

Recycled OP is STILL OP

Sanctuary at Midnight

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

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

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

The Pilgrim, pp. 23, 24

Christmas Gifts in Use

Gave Cindi a new breadmaker for Christmas and a new low-carb cookbook (you can see how my mind works - no, those weren't the ONLY things I gave her...) but today I'm trying both out. A delicious lo-carb bread is baking even as I write and making the house have that wonderful "bready" smell that is like unto no other. Believe it or not, the recipe is for a low-carb oatmeal molasses bread (yes, you read that correctly) that comes out to a mere 5 carbs per slice. I don't know what the final taste will be, but I can tell you that the smell is out of this world...

Death Has Become Guilty

For when death overcame him and slew him, without however having any claim or cause against him, and he willingly and innocently permitted himself to be slain, death became indebted to him, having done him wrong and having sinned against him and having handled all things inattentively, so that Christ has an honest claim against it. The wrong which death perpetrated against him is so great that death is unable to pay or to atone for it. And so death must be under Christ and in his power forever. Thus death is overcome in Christ and strangled. But since Christ did this not for himself, but for us, and since he has made us a present of this overcoming of death in baptism, consequently all believers in Christ must be masters over death; death must be their subject, indeed, their criminal whom they may judge and execute, exactly as they do when they die and on the Last Day. Through the gift of Christ death has become guilty against all to whom Christ has presented this gift! -- Blessed Martin Luther, Sermon for the Circumcision AE 52:156

From Starck's Upon New Year's Eve

And so I now cast myself before Your throne and plead for mercy. O Lord, remember not the sins of my youth; according to Your mercy remember me for Your goodness’ sake. Enter not into judgment with me; for I can no more be justified before You than any sinful being. Cleanse me from all sins, also my secret faults. If during this year I have failed to listen as devoutly and attentively as I ought to have to Your revealed Word, which makes me wise unto salvation, forgive my inattention, and let me from now on be changed from being a mere hearer into a doer of Your Word. If I have not loved You and my neighbor as I should have, remove from my heart all coldness and kindle the fire of divine love in my soul so that I can love You with my all and my neighbor as myself. If in my vocation and in the works of my calling I have not shown proper faithfulness, forgive me in Your great mercy, and grant that in the future I may better apply the talent You’ve entrusted to me. At all times may I be found a good steward, ready to face You when You shall call me to render an account of my trust. There is forgiveness with You, O God; and so I seek forgiveness with You. Now that the year is closing, blot out the record of my guilt, which is great indeed. Cancel it with the precious blood of my Savior, which I make my own by faith. Let my sins vanish like mist from before Your eyes. Remove them far from me and remember them no more ever again, lest in the new year I should have to appear in Your sight as a debtor.

Further, take me under Your gracious protection this night and be a wall of fire around me, that no harm befall me. Should this night prove the last for me in this dark vale of tears, then lead me, Lord, to heaven to You and to Your saints in glory. May I thus live to You and die to You, O Lord of hosts! In life and death You help me from every fear and need. But if according to Your counsel I am appointed to live on for more years; if on waking, I am to enter a new year, let Your goodness accompany me. Lead me in Your paths. Make me godly in word and deed. Guide me in an even way, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me, that I may live for You, serve You, and obey You. Yes, my God, this is the only thing I ask of You before I fall asleep: give me a new mind and spirit in the new year, a spirit which shall unhesitatingly perform what Your commandment bids me do, that my spirit, together with my soul and body, may remain the abode of Your Holy Spirit.

-- pp. 67, 68

Merry Christmas! Day Seven

Which means today is Maupin's birthday. Happy birthday, dear brother! Maupin is my nearest sibling in age, but he is nine years older than I. He's a remarkable man in so many ways. Kind, gentle, full of laughter, and easy going. I don't think I've ever seen him RUSH to do anything. When I was little, he was my favorite toy. And he put up with it too - amazing.

New Lutheran Quote of the Day

Our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, from our lips and our lives, is offered through Christ. He receives our prayers and offerings and renders them acceptable before God. Few of our people are aware that a real offering of ourselves, our souls and our bodies, does take place. Yet in the Offertory or General Prayer the sustained emphasis is on a Biblical conception of oblation, the offering of gifts humbly presented, bread and wine, silver and gold, one's own life and talents, to the service and glory of God's holy name. -- Ernest Koenker, *Worship in Word and Sacrament* p. 21

[Note: from the General Prayers I and 2: "Receive, O God, our bodies and souls and all our talents, together with the offerings we bring before You, for by His blood Your Son has purchased us to be Your own that we may live under Him in His kingdom." "Accept, we implore You, our bodies and souls, our hearts and minds, our talents and powers, together with the offerings we bring before You as our humble service." - Altar Book, p. 441]

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

In all this God is only looking for humility, that man take captive his reason and be obedient to divine truth. Thus, this foolish rite of circumcision was given to Abraham and his seed so that they would give glory to God and permit him alone to be wise. -- Blessed Martin Luther upon the Circumcision of Our Lord (AE 52:150)

Patristic Quote of the Day

Praise to Thee, Who hast redeemed the human race when it had perished, lifted it up Thy shoulders, and carried it into the house of Thy Father. -- St. Ephraim the Syrian, *A Spiritual Psalter* #52

30 December 2009

On Luther

If anyone tells you they have the key to unlocking Luther, you can almost stop the conversation right there. The amazing thing about Luther is that he is utterly unboxinable. Yes, that's a word. I just made it up. But it fits. Anyone can find almost anything in his writing, and so construct a Luther to fit one's own notions. After having tried this a time or two, and having Luther himself in other writings bring the whole thing down, I've finally decided to give up trying to box him in. He just won't stay put, I don't care how carefully you build the box [early Luther? late Luther? Hang it up!]. Better instead to delight in the truth he confesses in a given situation and always remember that that truth may not be his final word on a given subject if the context changes. A modern example: The Finns did a good job of highlighting a neglected aspect of his thought; but when a "school" develops out of that that thinks "theosis" is the key to interpreting all of Luther, they fumble. Hence, as Watson once argued about Luther's theology "Let God be God" so I'd argue about Luther's theologizing: "let Luther be Luther." Enjoy him and learn from him, laugh with him, cry with him, and learn from him to forsake all your own righteousness and find in Christ an altogether perfect and spotless righteousness that is given you as gift. He'll wrap you up in Christ in more ways than you think possible. Just don't try to think you've got HIM wrapped up. He'll surprise you every time.

You know...

...almond thins with extra sharp cheddar cheese topped with jaleño-stuffed olives (sliced in half) and heated for 20 seconds in the microwave. Choice. Very choice.

New Lutheran Quote of the Day

All liturgy is thanksgiving to God for the grace He has shown in His Son. -- Earnest Koenker, *Worship in Word and Sacrament* p. 20

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

When I die I shall see nothing but black darkness, and yet that light, "to you is born this day a Savior" remains in my eyes and fills all heaven and earth. The Savior will help me when all have forsaken me. - Blessed Martin Luther, Sermon for Christmas Day 1530 (AE 51:214)

Patristic Quote of the Day

Glory to Thee, Who didst descend to save our souls!
Glory to Thee, Who didst take flesh in the womb of the Virgin!
--St. Ephraim the Syrian, *A Spiritual Psalter* #2

Merry Christmas! Day Six

And a thought today from Luther's homily upon the Nativity from the year 1532:

"For, do you, whoever of you is able to think deeply about it (let alone express it in words), do you reckon that we poor, miserable sinners should so presume to receive this child and not doubt but believe with certainty that he not merely is born unto us, but also this very same son is given unto us? No heart can fathom it, no human tongue can explain it.

"For 'to give' means to grant freely, gratuitously, without price. The prophet now says, This son is given to us, which means as much as he is present, a free gift unto us; he is yours and mine in such a way that we do not purchase or pay any money for him, but that he is absolutely a free gift.

"The world really does not deserve hearing even a single word about this because of its shameful unbelief. The pious Virgin and noble mother does indeed bring this son into the world, sot hat the very same son is your and my son and gift, just as surely as if he were put right into your and my hand. And for this we have positive and sure signs, God's Word and the holy sacraments. The prophet Isaiah stands as witness of this and says that this Son is given unto us.

House Postilla III:223

29 December 2009

One of the Greatest

new Christmas hymns in our LSB is by Jaroslav Vajda, set by Carl Schalk:

Where shepherds lately knelt and kept the angel's word,
I come in half-belief, a pilgrim strangely stirred;
But there is room and welcome there for me,
But there is room and welcome there for me.

In that unlikely place I find Him as they said;
Sweet new born babe, how frail! And in a manger bed;
A still small voice to cry one day for me;
A still small voice to cry one day for me.

How should I not have known Isaiah would be there,
His prophesies fulfilled? With pounding heart I stare:
A child, a son, the Prince of Peace for me.
A child, a son, the Prince of Peace for me.

Can I, will I forget how Love was born and burned
Its way into my heart - unasked, unforced, unearned,
To die, to live - and not alone for me,
To die, to live - and not alone for me!
LSB 369

Here's a beautiful presentation of it (yeah, I know it's performed by Mormons; but it is musically well done - and the hymn was written by a Lutheran and the composition by a Lutheran):


Another webiste has lately suggested that where the bells sound, there poping soon follows. Let me clarify this, once and for all. The use of bells at the consecration was a practice that was employed in Lutheran Saxony in the height of Lutheran Orthodoxy and no more indicates a desire for Rome than singing the so-called "common doxology" indicates an immanent conversion to Calvinism (from which both song and tune originated). [You can download and listen to the Our Father and the Consecration with bells in this Bach setting of the Mass for Epiphany: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0018NKE8Q/ref=dm_dp_trk34?ie=UTF8&qid=1262133296&sr=8-1 ]

Is Weedon a "closet Romanist"? By no means. As a Lutheran Christian and pastor I renounce:

merits of the saints
invocation of the saints
pope as divinely appointed bishop of the church
Rome's incessant confusion of justification and sanctification
buying/selling of masses
a divinely established distinction between presbyters and bishops

Oh, the list could go on. And last time I checked, the Pope wasn't too interested in folks who didn't buy into all that... ;)

I'm a Lutheran because I hold to the teaching of the Lutheran Symbols - and I hold to this even and especially when it flies in the face of current anti-liturgical pressures from American Protestantism. Anyone who thinks that ringing bells during the consecration is by definition unLutheran and papist reveals he hasn't the first clue wherein true Lutheranism (or true papism) consists. How well did our dear Walther grasp this! He wrote:

We refuse to be guided by those who are offended by our church customs. We adhere to them all the more firmly when someone wants to cause us to have a guilty conscience on account of them…. It is truly distressing that many of our fellow Christians find the difference between Lutheranism and Papism in outward things. It is a pity and a dreadful cowardice when one sacrifices the good ancient church customs to please the deluded American sects, lest they accuse us of being papistic (i.e., too catholic!). Indeed! Am I to be afraid of a Methodist, who perverts the saving Word, or be ashamed in the matter of my good cause, and not rather rejoice that the sects can tell by our ceremonies that I do not belong to them?”

We are not insisting that there be uniformity of perception or feeling or of taste among all believing Christians – neither dare anyone demand that all be minded as he is. Nevertheless it remains true that the Lutheran liturgy distinguishes Lutheran worship from the worship of other churches to such an extend that the houses of worship of the latter look like lecture halls in which the hearers are addressed or instructed (NOTE: if he were writing today, he’d no doubt add: they look like movie theatres in which the hearers are entertained!), while our churches are in truth houses of prayer in which Christians serve the great God publicly before the world.
(Essays for the Church, Volume 1, p. 194 (St. Louis, CPH, 1992).

Christmas Oratorio

What a great piece of music to listen to during these Christmas days. Every time I listen, I must confess my favorite is the duet:

Herr, dein Mittleid, dein Erbarmen,
tröste uns und macht uns frei!

How utterly true. AND listening to it through my new speakers (thanks, Gleasons!) is all the more wonderful.

A Few Gems from Ratzinger on Liturgy

that I happen to think are bang on right:

"The freedom with which we are concerned in the Christian feast - the feast of the Eucharist - is not the freedom to devise new texts but the liberation of the world and ourselves from death. Only this can make us free, enabling us to accept truth and to love one another in truth." Benedict XVI (Feast of Faith, p. 65)

"The community does not become a community by mutual interaction. It receives its being as a gift from an already existing completeness, totality, and in return it gives itself back to this totality. We cannot go into detail here, but this is why the liturgy cannot be "made." This is why it has to be simply received as a given reality and continually revitalized.... In this sense liturgy *always* imposed an obligatory form on the individual congregation and individual celebrant. It is a guarantee, testifying to the fact that something greater is taking place here than can be brought about by any individual community or group of people. It expresses the gift of joy, the gift of participation in the cosmic drama of Christ's resurrection, by which the liturgy stands or falls." (p. 66, 67)

"It is also worth observing here that the 'creativity' involved in manufactured liturgies has a very restricted scope. It is poor indeed compared with the wealth of the received liturgy in its hundreds and thousands of years of history. Unfortunately, the originators of homemade liturgies are slower to become aware of this than the participants..." (p. 67,68)

And from *Spirit of the Liturgy*:

"Only respect for the liturgy's fundamental unspontaneity and pre-existing identity can give us what we hope for: the feast in which the great reality comes to us that we ourselves do not manufacture but receive as a gift." p. 168

New Lutheran Quote of the Day

For an appreciation of worship one must be firmly convinced that God is worthy to be praised for His own sake. -- Ernest Koenker, *Worship in Word and Sacrament* p. 18

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

When the Wisdom of God speaks in Ecclesiasticus: "My pleasure is with the children of mankind" it is to be understood as referring to the Son of God in that He, out of great delight and from the love that He bears for us men, assumed flesh and blood and had His special delight and pleasure in this work of becoming man. -- Blessed Johann Gerhard, On Holy Christmas Day V, Postilla I:84

Patristic Quote of the Day

He who encloses the world is enclosed in a womb; the Author of nature is born; the Creator of human beings and of periods of time becomes the Firstborn of humanity; the Treasure of heaven is clothed with the swaddling clothes of the indigent; he who makes thunderbolts fly gives an infant's cry; in a manger lies the One to whom all creation lies subject. -- St. Peter Chrysologus, Sermon on the Nativity

Merry Christmas! Day Five

Which means we have arrived at the Commemoration of St. David, the King and Prophet. Here're the words from our Synod's website and the Treasury:

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

In our Divine Service III (the old Common Service), David's prayer of repentance from Psalm 51 is invariably sung: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation and uphold me with Thy free spirit." Something powerful and beautiful as we all join him in the ultimate "sinner's prayer" and do so week by week. David's words also permeate the rest of the liturgy - for the Psalter reigns supreme in Introit, in Gradual, in versicles.

So today we pray:

God of majesty, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven, we give You thanks for David who, through the Psalter, gave Your people hymns to sing with joy in our worship on earth so that we may glimpse Your beauty. Bring us to the fulfillment of that hope of perfection that will be ours as we stand before Your unveiled glory... (Treasury, p. 1068)

28 December 2009

Frustrations to Joys

Couldn't sleep last night. Ended up saying Matins at like 3 a.m. and doing Bible reading for the day. Then back to bed for a short nap before sunrise. Forgot the Epiphany bulletin for Joanie and then Parallels decided to go on the fritz and it took an hour and half to do a job that normally is done in ten minutes. Finally out the door to the Y for a shortened workout. THEN things turned around. Nice lunch with Randy and Tim - we only get together once a year! - at Bottleworks, a visit to Archangels new store, and back home for a confession, Vespers and then the Divine Service for Holy Innocents. Cin and I came home to a light supper and an evening of nothing pressing. Tomorrow the kids are making us dinner (!) and cleaning up and playing cards with us. How sweet is that? So the crazy day turned out alright in the end. And I've got to finish that novel I started on my Kindle app for the iPhone soon...

New Lutheran Quote of the Day

Where men glorify and return thanks to God for His great mercy, they will gradually and imperceptibly be changed and edified in return. They will be edified by man's noblest work, the adoration of God. -- Ernest Koenker, *Worship in Word and Sacrament* p. 16

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Accordingly, God humbles those who are His to exalt them; He kills them to make them alive; He confounds them to glorify them; He makes them subject to raise them up. -- Blessed Martin Luther (Treasury, p. 1064)

Patristic Quote of the Day

So He received from us what He offered as His own for us, that He might redeem us from our own, and that He might confer upon us what was not our own from His divine liberality. According to our nature, then. He offered Himself, that He might do a work beyond our nature. From that which is ours is the sacrifice, from His is the reward. -- St. Ambrose, *On the Sacrament of the Incarnation*

Merry Christmas! Day Four

And so the feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs. From a Luther homily upon this day:

If Caesar Augustus of Rome, himself, had wanted to present them with his whole empire, he would not have served them so well as Herod did by his butchery. He tore the little children from their mothers' bosoms, and sent them to heaven, making nothing less than martyrs of them, whose blood is precious in the sight of God! For the parents it was a terrible thing, but it happened for the eventual good of the children. They felt no anguish in their souls. So the Lord took them away at the time of His own advent into the world, as a sweet smelling sacrifice to Himself. Thus much good would yet come from Herod's murdering. (House Postilla 3:260

27 December 2009

Homily upon the Holy Innocents, Martyrs

The wonder of the Magi’s visit vanished into the terror of the night. Joseph is suddenly shaking Mary, arousing her from sleep. He’s shaking and impatient. “Come on! Get up! We’ve got to move, we’ve got to get out of here now. I’ll explain later.” And so it was in the dark of night, with only the dogs to sound their passing, that the holy family fled from Bethlehem. When the sun’s light crept over the Eastern hills, Mary and Joseph were well away and still travelling onward and southward. And so they didn’t hear the horror of the cries that filled the streets of Bethlehem that day when Herod’s soldiers rushed in to do their butchery. They didn’t see the look of anguish on the face of unsuspecting parents suddenly bereft – Rachel weeping for her children. But Joseph trembled all the same and it seemed to him that he could feel the long hand of Herod reaching out after them, seeking to destroy the Child, and so weary as they were, he pressed them to keep walking through the day and on into the night.

As the miles between the Child and Herod grew, Joseph breathed somewhat easier. Again and again in his heart he blessed God for the gifts the Magi had brought. Those precious treasures would finance this unexpected journey and indefinite sojourn. No thieves or robbers would likely bother them on that road – they looked too slim for the pickings. No one would ever guess what treasures they carried; or even more, what treasure they bore in the gift of the Child.

As they briefly paused for Mary to nurse, Joseph told her the story. The same angel that had appeared before and told him the secret of who and what was growing in Mary’s womb, had appeared to him again that night. The angel was urgent in his warning. He was to flee. He was to get up and take the Child and his mother and run for the border as fast as they could go, for Herod was looking for the Child to destroy it.

They looked down at the little baby in Mary’s arms. So helpless, he was. So frail. So unaware, he seemed, of the malice and hatred that fills a world gone wrong. And why would anyone want to do him harm? He had come from God only to do good for the world, to right its horrible wrongs. Why would anyone want to stop him from doing that? Mary hugged him tight and tighter till he began to squirm in her arms. Joseph was beckoning her to move again, but she was so tired. Still, with another look at the babe, up she gets and on they go. On and on for day after day until they cross the borders into Egypt and find a place of sojourn there among the large Jewish community who chose to lived in exile in Egypt rather than in the Promised Land under the capriciousness of Herod.

Herod had decided to play it safe; a shot-gun approach if you will. When he realized the Magi weren’t returning with an exact ID of the Child, he ordered the murder of all the boys in Bethlehem, two years old and younger. Later when his soldiers reported back to him that his orders had been carried out and not one baby boy left alive in Bethlehem or its environs, he nodded. That night as he laid his sorry self down on his bed in what little peace his old decrepit body could give him. He chuckled to himself: “So much for the King of the Jews, eh? So much for anyone who tries to steal MY crown!”

But there was someone coming close to Herod, ready to steal not only his crown but everything that he had ever called his own, everything, that is, but his sins. That someone is called the Grim Reaper, death personified. Death visited Herod not too long after the Bethlehem atrocity and indeed took everything and everyone from Herod but Herod’s sins. Those Death placed squarely into Herod’s arms and then trotted him off weeping and wailing to the judgment seat of the God of Israel.

Herod had wanted nothing to do with the coming King and that would be the greatest mistake of his much mistaken life. The coming King was not interested in toppling him from his petty little throne that had to answer to Rome (some fine King Herod was – safeguarding with murder a puppet kingdom!) The coming King was interested only in defeating and destroying the real enemies that bound Herod and that would one day track him down and wipe him out. The baby was born to do battle with the Grim Reaper, to destroy the Destroyer’s power.

The Child had come to defeat the power of hatred, the power of indifference to suffering, the power of self-centeredness and whatever other name can be given to the sorry interior state of fallen humanity. The Child had come to destroy sin’s power to accuse anyone who will but trust in him. But Herod was full of distrust of the Child King and of his intentions. So Herod died in his delusions and had to face the Judge of all, unprepared.

Meanwhile in Egypt, as Joseph watched the child play and laugh, grow and learn to speak, he pondered over and over again in his heart the words the angel had spoken: “He will be called Jesus because He will save His people from their sins.” Joseph’s brow would pucker at that, and he’d wonder: “How?” A sense of foreboding seized him. He had rescued the Child from slaughter this time, yes indeed. But why did he feel that the import of the Angel’s words to him were “Not yet.” It was not yet the Child’s time. Not yet for what? For kingship or for slaughter? He reached out and held a giggling lad, who then toddled away and smiled back at his Protector. Joseph felt as if his heart were breaking in two.

One day the shout went out on the streets: “At last! God be praised! The Usurper is dead! My Daniel heard it himself in the Marketplace. Herod is dead!” A cry of joy went up across the Jewish ghetto. Mary rushed home with the news only to meet Joseph already silently packing up. “Herod is dead!” she cried. “I know. The angel of the Lord spoke to me again in a dream. We can go home now, Mary.”

At the very borders of Judea, however, word reached them that Archelaus was now confirmed as Ruler – the house of Herod still survived despite the best attempts of the Jewish populace to block it. The House of David was not yet safe for the Son of David. Joseph had another dream and turned away from his ancestral home and went back to the land around the Lake, to Galilee of the Gentiles. It was there, in Nazareth, that Jesus would grow to manhood. And after a number of years begin to manifest the great work that he had come to achieve for all.

Did Joseph think of it often as he labored in the Carpenter shop beside the Child becoming a man? Did he ever catch a glimpse of how the Child would accomplish his great work of being King? His great work of defeating the real enemies – not just of Herod, but of all of us, including Joseph? Did he ever know that it would be nailed to a piece of wood that Jesus would reign as King and topple once and for all the power of sin to accuse and death to destroy the human race? Whether he ever guessed the “how” of Jesus’ saving, he certainly knew and believed the “that.” And we are privileged to know and believe both! Unlike poor Herod we know that Jesus is no threat to anything but the power of sin and death – they had better watch it when He is on the scene – as He is for us today in the Word and in the Supper – and for that: Thanks be to God. Amen.

And More (thanks to Darlene!)

Open House

Reminder: Holy Innocents, Martyrs

We'll pray Vespers at 5:45 tomorrow evening, with the Divine Service following at 6:15.

Sweet flow'rets of the martyr's band
Plucked by the tyrant's ruthless hand
Upon the threshold of the morn,
Like rosebuds by a tempest torn;

First victims for the incarnate Lord,
A tender flock to feel the sword;
Beside the altar's ruddy ray,
With palm and crown you seem to play.

Ah, what availed King Herod's wrath?
He could not stop the Savior's path.
Alone, while others murdered lay,
In safety Christ is borne away.

O Lord, the virgin-born, we sing
Eternal praise to You, our King,
Whom with the Father we adore
And Holy Spirit evermore.

Aurelius Prudentius Clemens (348-c. 413)
LSB 969 [Accompaniment Edition]

Here is the outstanding homily

that we were privileged to hear this morning at St. Paul's (at least, those of us who remembered that there was only one service and it was at 9...)

Sermon for the Feast of St. John, Apostle

John 21:20-25; I John 1:1-2:2

Rev. William Gleason

“Christmas is for martyrs.”

I remember when I first heard that statement. It was roughly twenty years ago at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Olivet, Missouri. The Reverend Professor William Schmelder was the preacher that Sunday, the Feast of St. Stephen, the day after Christmas. The notion that “Christmas was for martyrs” was something that had never entered my mind before. It was for me one of those mind expanding moments a person experiences in life. Christmas took on a new perspective for me that day. Before that, I thought of Christmas in the typical way. It meant the birth of the Savior, of course, with all the wonder and joy that go with His Holy Nativity; the things we sing about in our Christmas carols and hymns. It meant giving and receiving gifts, decorating homes, and gathering with family and friends for fellowship and festivity. Christmas sights and sounds included nativity scenes, angels and shepherds, wise men, carols and Christmas trees, holly leaves and ho-ho-ho. But never martyrs.

I remember, too, how he introduced that profound idea to the congregation. He said that the Church, in her wisdom, established these three feast days following Christmas that recognize the martyrs Stephen, John, and the Holy Innocents. The words of our Lord, “Wisdom is proved right by her children,” fit so perfectly here. For who could have thought, centuries ago when these holy days were fixed by the Church, that December 25th would change from the solemn observance of Christ’s Incarnation to the silly celebration of Santa Claus? However the transformation of December 25th came about, December 26th, 27th, and 28th remain today as wise correctives to the world’s corruption of Christmas. The holy martyrs tell us that Christmas does not celebrate our fellowship with family and friends, but, as St. John says, it celebrates our fellowship with God.

And it’s not that martyr feasts put some kind of damper on our joyous celebration. Quite the contrary. They redirect us to our source of true joy and perfect love: Jesus Christ and His Word. To understand that connection between Christmas and martyrdom is to understand the Church’s wisdom in honoring the holy martyrs. That knowledge is also the path to repentance, faith, and zeal in our own witness of Christ.

To get that connection we must remember what the word martyr means. It is from the same Greek word, martyr, which means to give witness or to testify. Immediately we see how the truth is central to its meaning, for what is the purpose of giving a witness of something if not to testify of its truthfulness. So, a martyr is one who testifies of the truth. And the greatest testimony for the truth is dying for it. Thus a martyr is one who gives his life for the truth.

St. John was such a witness. He wrote in our Gospel lesson, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness (Greek: martyrwn) about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony (Greek: martyria) is true.” That was John’s martyrdom. And although John was not killed for the truth, as was St. Stephen and the Holy Innocents, he nevertheless gave his life for the truth. He was willing, like all of the disciples, to lay down his life for Christ. His willingness, like that of all the disciples and martyrs, came from the Holy Spirit who gives grace to endure all suffering for Christ…even death. Yet, our Lord willed that John remain in exile on the Island of Patmos until he died a natural death. But while there, John testified of Him who is the Truth, Jesus Christ.

What about your witness of Christ? How would you describe it? Or better yet, how would others describe your witness, for they are the ones who see and hear it? Let’s face it, when we compare ourselves with St. Stephen (the martyr in will and deed), or St. John (the martyr in will but not in deed), or the Holy Innocents (the martyrs in deed but not in will), we would probably fall squarely into a fourth category: martyrs neither in will nor deed. And even if by the Holy Spirit’s grace we might pray for the courage to give our lives for Christ, still, we sure hope it never happens! Imagine yourself tied to a stake and there is a torch ready to set aflame the wood piled around it. Or standing before a firing squad. Or threatened with a gulag in freezing Siberia. Or having a jihadist’s sword tickling the back of your neck as you kneel helpless before your potential executioner. And the question is put before you: are you a Christian? Will you renounce Jesus? Your life depends on your answer. What do you say? I know that I shudder with fear when I imagine how I might respond at such times.

Perhaps those scenarios are too extreme to imagine. What about some more realistic questions to answer for Christ, the everyday choices to make for His sake, like: Are you getting up for church today? Where shall we sleep tonight, your place or mine? You’re not going through with that pregnancy, are you? Wal-Mart won’t go broke if I sneak this item out without paying for it. Hey, pornography doesn’t really hurt anybody, does it? You’re not actually going to do what your mom tells you to do, are you? Does it really make a difference if I read my Bible and pray every day? These, and countless more, are the questions we face each day that affect our witness for Christ, whether we live for Him or deny Him. And just like the extreme tests we could face, our lives depend on how we respond.

John, The Holy Apostle and Evangelist wrote, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Let us put this into context: “If we say that we can confess Christ by our own strength and will, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our own inability to trust and follow him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” My friends, it does not matter the severity of the temptation. Whether you face the flame of a burning stake or the fire of lust, whether you feel the cold edge of a sword against your neck or the warm comfort of your pillow on a cold Sunday morning, our witness for Christ never depends on our own strength, will, or reason. Only Christ, His Word and His Spirit can overcome sin in our lives. Only Christ, His Word and His Spirit can equip and empower us to believe and confess His Name in the face of testing. Only the proclamation of Christ and His word grants fellowship with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. And blessed are those who hear and who keep that Word, for they will overcome the flesh, the world, the devil, and the grave by the power of Christ.

And that includes times of testing and temptation. John said, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” There you have it, the truth spoken plainly. The Word of Christ that the Apostles proclaimed has power to keep us from sinning. Avail yourself of that grace. When you are tested or tempted, flee to Christ and His word for strength and guidance to persevere in holiness. He can and will help you.

“But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” That word is not a license to sin. It’s not a loophole for our flesh to squeeze through. How can you tell? Note the active, present tense of the verbs. “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” That means our relationship to Jesus is a living and active one. We cannot remain connected to the Living Vine, and make choices that lead to death. We cannot remain married to the Holy Bridegroom, and follow the adulterer’s path. Or as John said it in the Epistle, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”

Again, “He is the propitiation for our sins,” Jesus is the payment, the ransom price for our sins. He is even now our Advocate before the Father and the Propitiation for our sins before God, therefore “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” That Light is Christ. That Light took on our flesh, so that John could see it with his own eyes and touch it with his own hands, and so that it could bleed on a cross for the atonement of our sins. And now that Light is the Gospel of Christ which we see and hear and touch and taste. We walk in that Light when we hear it preached, wash in its baptismal waters, eat and drink it at the altar, and confess to one another that our fellowship is through the blood of Jesus, God’s Son.

But John adds, “He is the propitiation…also for the sins of the whole world.” This brings us back to our witness: for why witness if it is not to make known to the whole world its salvation? Why should we testify, if not to tell all people of their Savior? And if our trust is in Him who is the Resurrection and the Life, why should we fear death and the grave? If our hope is in Him who cleanses us from all sin, why should we let sin rule over us? And if we enjoy fellowship with the Father and Jesus, His Son, why would we not want everyone to share in that fellowship?

Yes, Christmas is for martyrs. Not just Stephen, and John, and the baby boys of Bethlehem, but for you, too. You are no less equipped than them. You have the Gospel of grace and forgiveness; you have the Holy Spirit; and you have fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ, who calls each one of you “His beloved disciple.” “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Merry Christmas! Day Three

And so a blessed and joyous feast of St. John to you all! From today's Treasury:

"Of the Twelve, John alone did not forsake Jesus in the hours of His suffering and death. With the faithful women, he stood at the cross, where our Lord made him the guardian of His mother. After Pentecost, John spent his ministry in Jerusalem and at Ephesus, where tradition says he was the bishop. He write the fourth Gospel, the three Epistles that bear his name, and the Book of Revelation.... According to tradition, John was banished to the island of Patmos (off the coast of Asia Minor) by the Roman Emperor Domitian. John lived to a very old age, surviving all the apostles, and died at Ephesus around AD 100."

Merciful Lord, cast the bright beams of Your light upon Your Church that we, being instructed in the doctrine of Your blessed apostle and evangelist John, may come to the light of everlasting life...

26 December 2009

A Prayer of the Church for St. John's Day

[based upon LSB Altar Book, p. 438]

Lord God, we offer You our common supplications for the well-being of Your Church throughout the world. So guide and govern it by Your Holy Spirit that all who profess themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Lord, in Your mercy, R.

Send down upon all ministers and upon the congregations committed to their care the healthful spirit of Your grace that they may please You in all things. Lord, in Your mercy, R.

Behold in mercy all who are in authority over us. Supply them with Your blessing that they may be inclined to Your will and walk according to Your commandments. Remember in Your kindness all who serve in our armed forces [especially...]. Lord, in Your mercy, R.

We humbly ask Your abiding presence in every situation that You would make known Your ways among us. Look in mercy on our enemies and grant them repentance and amendment of life, that with us they may extol Your grace. Lord, in Your mercy, R.

Preserve those who travel, satisfy the wants of Your creatures, and help those who call upon You in any need [especially those we have been asked to remember at this altar...]. Give them patience in the midst of their sufferings and according to Your will release them from their afflictions. Lord, in Your mercy, R.

Grant to all who commune today repentance for their sin, faith in Your promises, and hope in Your mercy, that they may receive the holy body and precious blood of Your Son in a worthy manner and to their abundant and eternal blessing. Lord, in Your mercy, R.

We remember with joy St. John and all the faithful departed and ask You to give us grace to commend ourselves into our Lord’s hands that, when the time of our departure from this world arrives, we may depart in peace. Lord, in Your mercy, R.

All these things and whatever else You would have us ask of You, grant them to us through Christ Jesus, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Hymn of the Day for St. John's Day

O Word of God incarnate,
O Wisdom from on high,
O Truth, unchanged, unchanging,
O Light of our dark sky:
We thank You for the radiance
Which from the hallowed page
A lantern to our footsteps
Shines on from age to age.

The Church from You, dear Master,
Received the gift divine
And still that light is lifted
O'er all the earth to shine.
It is the chart and compass
That, all life's voyage through,
Mid mists and rocks and quicksands,
Still guides, O Christ, to You.

O make Your Church, dear Savior,
A lamp of burnished gold
To bear before the nations
Your true light as of old.
O teach Your wand'ring pilgrims
By this their path to trace
Till, clouds and darkness ended,
They see You face to face!
LSB 523

Pics of Cindi's Christmas Feast

Homily upon St. Stephen's Day

[2 Chronicles 24:17-22; Acts 6:8-7:2a, 51-60; Matthew 23:34-39]

One cannot help but notice the contrast. At the end of the first reading, Zechariah’s dying words: “The Lord look on it and avenge!” and at the end of the second reading, St. Stephen’s dying words: “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.”

Zechariah’s words we understand, for do not all the horrid crimes of injustice cry out to heaven for redress? We remember the words of the Lord to Cain: “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” And the blood of how many of his brothers and sisters has mingled with Abel’s blood to stain the earth since then, all pleading to God for justice!

But then what on earth are we to make of St. Stephen’s final words? Here was a man who simply spoke the truth that his hearers did not want to listen to. As a result, he was judged worthy of death by stoning. Under the rain of rock, tearing his flesh and crushing his bones, he prayed and commended his spirit to the Lord Jesus and with his final words begged absolution for those who were murdering him.

How does one get from Zechariah’s “go get them, God!” to St. Stephen’s “pardon them, God!” What intervenes? Well, we should of course ask it differently: Who intervenes?

The One who speaks in today’s Gospel reading, that’s who. The Lord Jesus Himself. He made no bones about the fact that those He sends to speak His words will not be welcomed and honored. They will be ridiculed and some will be killed and even crucified, some they will beat, and some will be chased from one town to another. So it happens, said Jesus, that all the blood of the ages from Abel down to Zechariah “comes on you.”

Given such a prediction, one would have expected His next words to be words of woe and warning. Instead, they are words that break open the deep recesses of God’s heart for all to see the mercy that beats there: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. See, your house is left to you desolate.”

This is the God revealed in Jesus Christ. The God who does not like to take the sinner’s “Go away and leave me alone” as the sinner’s final word. Who always hopes for repentance and so in mercy keeps on trying to speak to his people the Word that will shake them up and turn them from their sins and bring them home to Him. This is the God who when the holy City of Jersualem got hold of Him, handed Him over to the Romans, and took Him outside the city gate, and nailed His arms and legs to the wood of the cross. And it was as He was being nailed to the cross that He prayed it. The words that change everything: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Father, forgive. He could pray that. He who knew what it was to suffer unjustly, betrayed by a friend, abandoned in his pain, ridiculed and mocked, scourged, and pummeled. And it was as his blood - which is truly the blood of God, for He is the Word Made Flesh as we celebrated yesterday - as his blood touched the earth that everything changed. For here was blood that did not cry out for vengeance and retribution. Here was blood that cried out for mercy and for pardon. Unconquered by the hatred it received, it conquered hatred with love. With each drop running down the cross, staining the earth, smearing across the face of His beloved Mother as she kissed his feet, and pouring from his side with the water as the spear ran him through – with each drop, I say, the cry was heard in heaven louder and louder: “Father, forgive! Father, forgive! Father, forgive!”

And so all the blood of the righteous dead in all the world met together upon that generation: for all their cries for vengeance were heard and answered, but in a way that none could expect or anticipate.

The blood of Jesus winning pardon did more achieve forgiveness of sins. It positively destroyed the power of death itself. Christ’s own resurrection was the sign from God that death has been destroyed for all who trust in the blood of Jesus to wipe away their sins. And if we remember that, we can perhaps see why Zechariah, who did not know of the power of Jesus’ blood to forgive sins and to overcome death, could only pray as he lay dying: “Lord, don’t forget me and the injustice I have suffered.” The blood of Jesus was God’s answer to Zechariah’s prayer: “I have not forgotten you, but I have come to share your fate and to raise you from the dead!” But Stephen, who knew the power of Jesus’ blood and who knew precisely what that blood meant, could meet his death without any desire for revenge and without fear. He knew that his sins were covered by the blood of God in the flesh and he knew that His Lord and Master lived again on the other side of death and would call him out of death into eternal life. He saw his Lord stand up to bid him come home and to welcome him into His embrace? So why cry for vengeance? Rather, joining his martyr’s blood to the Lord’s, he cries for pardon. And who knows if it was not precisely that prayer that saved Saul, who was there consenting to Stephen’s death and who became Paul, the great Apostle?

Rather a bloody homily and subject matter for Christmas some might be thinking. Banish the thought! We still live in a world where atrocities of injustice happen with alarming regularity and where the innocent are still slain. In fact, our government is preparing to tax us and use the money to pay for the slaughter of unborn children. Lord, have mercy! How good to remember that it was to win forgiveness for all the sins that bring sadness into this world that our Lord was born! How beautiful it is to remember that the Eternal Word became a fetus and was born of Mary so that He might become also the first-born from the dead, that He might destroy the might of the devil himself and fling wide open the doors to the Kingdom! In the blood of St. Stephen’s Day the Church remembers why we so desperately need this Child and the life that is found in His blood – blood He still bids us to receive at His altar, crying for our pardon and promising us His unending life; blood that enable us to join St. Stephen in praying that God would bless and forgive our enemies. Amen.

Few More

Some Pics from Christmas

Kindle on the iPhone

is like mega sweet. Where has this app been all my life?

Reminder: Open House

Tomorrow in the afternoon of St. John's Day, we'll host an open house at the parsonage from 1 to 3. If you're free and in the area, come and join us for a time of visiting and refreshments.


One of the things I had on my Christmas list and received this year was a hand-grinder for coffee (thanks Lauren and Dean!). Hey, if the power goes out, I still want real coffee - I'm totally addicted to fresh ground. So I used it this morning and it worked like a charm. From the hand-grinder to the french press, and voila. Mmm. Smells and tastes great. Come on, blizzard. I'm ready for you now...

Merry Christmas! Day Two

Second day there of. And so a blessed St. Stephen's. The St. Stephen's Divine Service will be held at St. Paul's this evening at 6:00 p.m. From the Hymn of the Day assigned for this feast:

The martyr first, whose eagle eye
Could pierce beyond the grave,
Who saw his master in the sky
And called on Him to save.
Like Him with pardon on His tongue
In midst of mortal pain,
He prayed for those who did the wrong -
Who follows in his train?

A noble army, men and boys,
The matron and the maid,
Around the Savior's throne rejoice,
In robes of light arrayed.
They climbed the steep ascent of heav'n
Through peril, toil, and pain.
O God, to us may grace be given
To follow in their train!
LSB 661:2,4

Heavenly Father, in the midst of our sufferings for the sake of Christ grant us grace to follow the example of the first martyr, Stephen, that we also may look to the One who suffered and was crucified on our behalf and pray for those who do us wrong... [From the Collect for the Day]

25 December 2009

Patristic Quote of the Day

from Today's Treasury reading:

What greater thing is there, than that God should become man? -- St. John of Damascus, p. 1053

Iggy pointed me

to this wonderful Schütz setting of the Hodie. This is the antiphon before the Magnificat for Christmas.

Some of the Music from St. Paul's Christmas Midnight...

This was sung during the offering. It is a setting by Ralph Schulz, and we sang it in college at Concordia, Bronxville. I dearly love it.

This is a standard at St. Paul's - but this setting of the piece was new. Carlo brought it to us. Cindi worked hard on it this year and her work paid off. She wasn't totally happy with it, but the rest of us thought it was truly beautiful.

And here is Carlo doing his Carlo thing. Wow. As I hear almost weekly: "We don't want to be ushered out; we just want to listen to him play!"


O Come, All Ye Faithful
We Praise You, Jesus, At Your Birth
Of the Father's Love
Angels We Have Heard on High
From East to West, From Shore to Shore
Now Sing We, Now Rejoice

I LOVE Christmas Day!

24 December 2009

Homily upon the Christ Mass (Day)

[Exodus 40:17-21; 34-38 / Titus 3:4-7 / John 1:1-14]

To get the full impact of the Gospel for today you need to be looking upon the Babe in the manger as you read it. To look upon that little one and say of Him: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He - this little One we see here before our eyes - He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him and without Him was not any thing made that was made. That little baby. That’s who He is. And so in Him was life and the life was the light of men and the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

For a light would indeed shine forth from that little one. Not only a metaphorical light, but Peter and James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration would one day SEE that uncreated light that pours from the flesh of the God-Man. The glory of God in the flesh of man. It’s always there in Him - but He didn’t show it most of the time He walked among us. But it was there. And it is literally light - uncreated light. The light that God is. And from the moment the child was conceived in the Blessed Virgin’s womb, that light was in human flesh.

Some people thought John the Baptist was the light. But he was only sent to bear witness to the light so that all might believe through him. The true light that brings light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world and the world was made by Him and yet, and yet the world did not know Him, did not recognize Him, did not welcome Him. The world of people, that is. Only His holy mother and St. Joseph and a handful of shepherds recognized and rejoiced in who had come among us this holy day. Indeed, He came to His own people and His people did not receive Him, did not welcome Him, did not want Him. Thus, no room in the inn. His own people the Jews that He - yes, that little baby - had created for Himself. For He it is who called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees and made Him the impossible promise of offspring. He it is who wrestled with Jacob on the banks of Jabbok. He it is who delivered Joseph and raised him up to save his people. He it is who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave the law on Sinai. He it is who led His people out of Egypt and established them in the land of Canaan. He is it who spoke through the prophets and constantly called His people to turn from their false gods and to find in Him their hope and their salvation. He it is. The Child of Mary, the Child in the manger. He’s that God, the only and real one and as His people constantly turned from Him through the long centuries of His patience, so they turned also when He came among us. But that didn’t stop His love.

To all who did receive Him - the babe in the manger, the man of the cross, the victor over death and the grave, the triumphant and ascended Lord, our Brother, our God and our King - to all who received Him, that is, who believed in His name, to them He gave a precious gift. He gave them the right to become what He is. All that is His, He came to give to you. He the everlasting Son of the Eternal Father came to make you His Father’s children. To make you His coheirs. To give you a new birth.

We heard of it in our second reading: When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness - fat chance! - but according to His own mercy. He saved us by the washing in which the Holy Spirit gave us a new birth and a new life - poured out richly on us through Jesus Christ our Savior so that having been justified by faith, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. For that is how He brings us into the family by Baptism and all that is His He makes over to us, even as He came among us that all that is ours - sin, death, and hell - might be made over to Him so that He could destroy them forever.

Baptism then, the right to become children of God. His birth - sinless and bringing forth holiness, life everlasting. Ours - sinful and bringing forth sin and death. He swaps them out in Baptism, and lifts us up to being children with Him, heirs of a heavenly Kingdom.

And don’t think it’s yours by birth, by decent, or by some choice of your will. All those thoughts are wiped out. It’s yours only and wholly as a gift of God. Unlooked for, unguessed. He became the child of man to make men the children of God.

And so, the Word - the Eternal Word through whom all were created - became flesh and dwelt among us. The Greek is vivid. Pitched His tent among us. Tabernacled among us. And do you see the glory then?

Back to the first reading. God pitches His tent, His tabernacle and the glory fills it. And so He came among us that His glory might be restored to us, for “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” He wants that glory to be yours. And it is yours as He pitches His tent among us. “Word made flesh the bread He taketh by His Word His flesh to be; Wine His sacred blood He maketh though the senses fail to see. Faith alone the true heart waketh to behold the mystery.” He who made you His tabernacle in Holy Baptism and gave you all that is His continues to come to you today in the Eucharist to impart His very life to you, His forgiveness, His mercy, His very self, the flesh that He received from Mother Mary and the blood that He offered up on the tree for the wiping out of your sin. And so you get to be a tabernacle of God - as the eternal Word of the Father lives in you with the promise then that your glory, hidden now, will one day shine even as His, for He is your glory. Your Jesus. Full of grace and truth. From womb to manger, from manger to cross, from tomb to the Father’s throne, coming in glory again and yet coming to you even today under the form of bread and wine. The Word made flesh.

O holy child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
Their great glad tidings tell.
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord, Emmanuel.


Today Christ is born.
Today Salvation has appeared.
Today on earth the angels sing and the archangels make merry.
Today the just exult and say:

Welcome, back, Greater Gloria!!!

O Jesus Christ

O Jesus Christ,
Thy manger is
My paradise at which my soul reclineth.
For there, O Lord,
Doth lie the Word
Made flesh for us; herein Thy grace forth shineth.

He whom the sea
And wind obey
Doth come to serve the sinner in great meekness.
Thou, God's own Son,
With us art one,
Dost join us and our children in our weakness.

Thy light and grace
Our guilt efface,
Thy heavenly riches all our loss retrieving.
Thy birth doth quell
The pow'r of hell and Satan's bold deceiving.

Thou Christian heart,
Whoe'er thou art,
Be of good cheer and let no sorrow move thee!
For God's own Child
In mercy mild,
Joins thee to Him; how greatly God must love thee!

Remember thou
What glory now
The Lord prepared thee for all earthly sadness.
The angel host
Can never boast
Of great glory, greater bliss or gladness.

The world may hold
Her wealth and gold;
But thou, my heart, keep Christ as thy true treasure.
To Him hold fast
Until at last
A crown be thine and honor in full measure.
LSB 372

23 December 2009

From a Christmas Sermon of Blessed Martin Luther

For, if it is true that the child was born of the virgin and is mine, then I have no angry God and I must know and feel that there is nothing but laughter and joy in the heart of the Father and no sadness in my heart. For, if what the angel says is true, then he is our Lord and Savior, what can sin do against us? "If God is for us, who is against us?" AE 51:216

A Prayer upon Christmas from Starck's Prayer Book

O holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, would that every drop of my blood were a tongue, that I might praise Your love, grace and mercy!

God is love! This truth my heart and mind perceive on this holy festival. Your love has found a means for bringing grace to humanity, of which neither angels nor human beings would have dared to think! Namely, that the second person of the Godhead was to become man, to sanctify and cleanse our human nature. O gracious Jesus, everlasting praise and thanks to You for Your incarnation and birth. You became a child of man that we might become children of God. Now our human nature is truly exalted: You have united it with Your divinity, and brought it into the council of the Holy Trinity. O love! O grace! As surely as the human nature is united with the divine, so surely everlasting friendship, everlasting reconciliation, everlasting peace and everlasting love has been established between God and all people. When God beholds us in His Son, He cannot but be gracious to us. For He who spared not His beloved Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things – the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, peace, life, and salvation?

Oh, the greatness of the love of Jesus, who chose to be born a tender infant, that He might sanctify our sinful birth! He increased in wisdom and stature that He might sanctify our youth. Welcome to earth, O noble Guest, Through whom the sinful world is blest! You came to share my misery That You might share Your joy with me. What thanks shall I return to You? O dearest Friend of souls! My Brother! I now have in You a Helper in affliction, a Deliverer in tribulation, a Savior when my sins terrify me, an Aid in need, a Support in death. You are my Light; enlighten me! You are the Way that leads me to the Father. You are the Truth that teaches me to know that Life which gives life. You are my Righteousness; You justify and save me. You are my High Priest, who intercedes for me and blesses me. You are the Lamb sacrificed for my trespasses, the full Ransom for all my transgressions.

O precious Holy Spirit, how great is Your love in having this comfort, this joy, this salvation proclaimed to me again! From my heart I rejoice on this holy festival and say: My Jesus is mine; His heaven is mine. This Child is born for me, yes, truly for me. This Son is given for me, yes, truly for me. He has obtained and given also to me, yes to me, the grace of God, sonship with Him, and the eternal inheritance that is reserved for us in heaven.

O Jesus, whom in spirit I behold and gaze upon in the manger, how lovely, how kind You are! Grant me grace never to forget You, but to keep You ever in my heart, on my lips, and before my eyes. O my Salvation, sanctify me! I yield myself to You with all that I am and have. O my Bridegroom, embrace me. For You I will live, You I will serve, from love of You I renounce the world and all the pleasures of this life. Let my heart be Your manger and Your dwelling in time and in eternity. Enfold and keep me in Your love, that I may have rest, peace, comfort, safety and the salvation of my soul. Now that my Jesus has become man, I am not lost. Since I believe in Him, I will not perish, but have everlasting life. God is my Friend, because by faith I am in Jesus, and because Jesus is in me. I do not fear death; for in Him I have life. I do not fear the accusation of my conscience on account of my sins, for Jesus, my Advocate, is with me.

(p. 57, 58)

The Lutheran Symbols for Christmas

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary - Apostles' Creed

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man. -- Nicene Creed

But it is also necessary for everlasting salvation that one faithfully believe the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is the right faith that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is at the same time both God and man. He is God, begotten of the substance of His Father before all ages; and He is man, born of the substance of His mother in this age: perfect God and perfect man, composed of a rational soul and human flesh; equal to the Father with respect to His divinity, less than the Father with respect to His humanity. Although He is God and man, He is not two, but one Christ: one, however, not by the conversion of divinity into flesh but by the assumption of the humanity into God; one another, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person. -- Athanasian Creed

Our Churches teach that the Word, that is the Son of God, assumed the human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. So there are two natures - the divine and the human - inseparably joined in one person. There is one Christ, true God and true man, who was born of the Virgin Mary... - Augsburg Confession

The human nature is assumed by the Word into the unity of His person. -- Apology to the Augsburg Confession

The Son became man in this manner: He was conceived, without the cooperation of man, by the Holy Spirit, and was born of the pure, holy, [and ever] Virgin Mary. -- Smalcald Articles

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord... - Small Catechism

We see how completely He has poured forth Himself and withheld nothing from us. -- Large Catechism

So we believe, teach, and confess that Mary conceived and bore not merely a man and no more, but God's true Son. Therefore she is rightly called and truly is "the mother of God." -- Formula of Concord

On account of the personal union and communion of the natures, Mary, the most blessed Virgin, did not bear a mere man. But, as the angel Gabriel testifies, she bore a man who is truly the Son of the most high God. He showed His divine majesty even in His mother's womb, because He was born of a virgin without violating her virginity. Therefore, she is truly the mother of God and yet has remained a virgin. -- Formula of Concord

Consider this majesty, to which Christ has been exalted according to His humanity. He did not first receive it when He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. He received it when He was conceived in His mother's womb and became man, and the divine and human natures were personally united with each other. -- Formula of Concord

He employed this mode of presence when He left the closed grave and came through the closed doors, in the bread and wine in the Supper, and as people believe, when He was born in His mother. -- Formula of Concord

On Christmas Joy

from Pope St. Leo the Great:

Dearly beloved brethren:

Unto us is born this day a Savior. Let us rejoice. It would be unlawful to be sad today, for today is Life's birthday; the birthday of that Life which, for us mortal creatures, takes away the sting of death and brings the bright promise of an eternal hereafter. It would be unlawful for any man to refuse sharing in our rejoicing. All men have an equal part in the great reason why we are joyful, for our Lord, who is the destroyer of sin and death, finding that all are bound under condemnation, is come to make all free.

Rejoice if you are a saint, for you are drawing nearer your crown! Rejoice if you are a sinner, for your Savior offers you pardon! And if you are a pagan, rejoice, for God calls you to life!

For when the fullness of time was come the Son of God took upon Himself the nature of man so that He might reconcile that nature to Him who made it; hence the devil, the inventor of death, is met and conquered in that very flesh which had been the field of his victory.

Let us give thanks to God the Father through His Son in the Holy Spirit, who for His great love wherewith He loved us has had mercy on us and has quickened us together with Christ even when we were dead in sins, that in Him we might be a new creature and a new handiwork.

Let us then put off the old man with his deeds, and having obtained a share in the sonship of Christ, let us renounce the deeds of the flesh. Be conscious, O Christian, of your dignity! You have been made partaker of the divine nature; do not fall again by a corrupt manner of life into the beggarly elements above which you are lifted. Remember whose body it is of which you are a member, and who is the Head. Remember that it is He who has delivered you from the power of darkness, and transferred you into God's light and God's kingdom.
[usually read at Matins upon Christmas Day]

A Great and Mighty Wonder

A great and mighty wonder,
A full and holy cure,
The Virgin bears the infant
With virgin honor pure.
Proclaim the Savior's birth:
"To God on high be glory
And peace to all the earth!"

The Word becomes incarnate
And yet remains on high,
And cherubim sing anthems
To shepherds from the sky.
Proclaim the Savior's birth:
"To God on high be glory
And peace to all the earth!"

While thus they sing your Monarch,
These bright angelic bands,
Rejoice, O vales and mountains,
O oceans, clap your hands.
Proclaim the Savior's birth:
"To God on high be glory
And peace to all the earth!"

Since all He comes to ransom,
By all be He adored,
The Infant born in Bethl'hem
The Savior and the Lord.
Proclaim the Savior's birth:
"To God on high be glory
And peace to all the earth!"

All idols then shall perish,
And Satan's lying cease,
And Christ shall raise His scepter,
Decreeing endless peace.
Proclaim the Savior's birth:
"To God on high be glory
And peace to all the earth!"
LSB 383