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
30 December 2016
and I were chatting the other day and he was telling me about his Christmas. I challenged him to write his experience up and he did. Read it; it will warm your heart!
Ghosts of Christmas Past
As many of you know I maintain a home upstate, though I don't spend as much time there as I might like. This year was only the second time in more than forty-five years that a Thanksgiving dinner was not eaten there. Last Christmas was the only time in my entire life that I did not spend any part of the Twelve Days in the house.
My mother was the last full time resident of the house (apart from the dog). She had lived there for five years following my sister's death. After Mom had died I used to call it "Schoko's house," my dog being the survivor. Now, of course, he is gone too. In the first few years that the house was mine, spending time there was very melancholy. Most everything was (and much still is) exactly where my mother had left it. Usually my stays are brief and with little time to get much done. Time has stopped there in a way.
Many of her clothes are still there. The living room is still pretty much the way it was in December 2009 when my mother said, "Good-bye house." We had spent Christmas with the family before we coming down to Long Island where mom intended to stay through the rest of the winter. But that was her final "good-bye" to the house where with her husband of 44 years she had her children and lived for fifty-seven years. Recalling her voice, I say "Hello house" and "Good-bye house" each time I arrive and leave. Silly, of course! What does a house know about my comings and goings? I suppose it is in some ways a greeting not to the house but to the memory of mother, sister and father who lived there are whose memory is enshrined there for me every bit as much as it is in the cemetery.
That was indeed a part of the melancholy of going there. It was a haunted house. Not in the things-that-go-bump-in-the-night sense since I don't believe in that kind of ghosts. It isn't the haunting of a presence at all; it is the haunting absence that plays on the emotions. It was true even when my mother and sister were there after dad's passing; when my mother was there after Jane's passing, and when I was there after mom's passing. "A house is not a home." How many of us have heard that? A home is a living place where people live. When I would go there most often it didn't feel like home but very much like a tomb. A place of the dead.
Then, in two consecutive years, hurricanes came to Long Island and I headed north to ride out the storms there. The first time some effects of the storm were felt there, but little of "Superstorm Sandy" reached that far north. Each time I spent four or five days there alone; no holidays or houseguests. And a funny thing happened. An element of home began to return to the house. It was once again a place of refuge, not merely a place to visit. In those few days, I was sheltered not only by the walls and roof, but by the memories of what that house had seen, but also by the sense of safety and security it had been for me for so much of my life. It was the place where I had been brought home to from the hospital after I was born, where the bus picked me up for my first day of school, where my confirmation party was held and where I celebrated my graduation from high school and college. The day of my ordination began and ended there. Memories of these and so many other occasions both singular and recurring are for me embedded in that place. Because of these it is not really a place of the dead, because I yet live in possession of them; it is a place of living memory. Even if sometimes these are frozen in time. Or…just frozen.
My parents born in the 1920's never fully made peace with technology. My father never really knew the personal computer (he was barely comfortable on the telephone…for years my mother dialed long-distance calls for him!) My mother loved computer games, made much use of email and did some computer shopping, she never quite comprehended facebook. Neither of them ever was comfortable with ATM's. So to ensure access to ready cash they always kept some at hand…hidden away. Dad had squirreled some $3000 away in a secret hiding place which he revealed to my incredulous sister and mother a month or so before his death. To my surprise, about three years ago, hidden in the kitchen freezer, when after a malfunction of the ice maker I had to empty and defrost it, I found in a packet labeled "flat bacon" nearly $1000 dollars. Coincidentally, that amount covered most of the cost of a new furnace unit a few weeks later. A bit of treasure frozen in time had come to the rescue. This year another treasure, once again frozen, was revealed. I finally completed the emptying of the big basement freezer. Most of the stuff there was long past shelf life, mom being six years in her grave. But a single box contained a couple dozen homemade chocolate chip cookies: a plastic time capsule of love!
Mom was a pretty good baker, but really only made cookies at Christmastime; usually of several kinds. Some would become holiday gifts; others shared and enjoyed by the family. She had brought some with her to Long Island that last Christmas; these must have been stored away for her return. I ate some when I found them in September (I had to see if they were salvageable after all!). They were still good, so I resolved to save the rest for my Christmas sojourn. Though I wasn't there for Thanksgiving, on the first Sunday in Advent I headed north to put up some decorations and the tree in the living room. I hadn't last year because I wasn't to be there over Christmas, but I always felt I'd let the "ghosts" down. Once again the tree would come to life each night of Advent to say "this is a living home." It was there waiting when I arrived the day after Christmas and as if to say "welcome" the lights switched on just moments after I walked through the door. I removed the plastic "treasure chest" from where I had stowed it in the kitchen freezer and when I returned from a Christmas dinner and sharing with my first cousins, I settled down in front of that tree with a cup of tea and a plate full of these ghosts of Christmas past. I doubt I will ever receive such an unexpected, welcome, and memorable Christmas gift again. But who knows, Ebenezer Scrooge reminds us that the Ghosts of Christmas can do whatever they like.
Merry Christmas, Mamma! Merry Christmas, Jane! Merry Christmas, Papa! Merry Christmas, house!
A happy New Year to you all.
28 December 2016
that my dorm mom, Kathy Weidmann, has died. She was such a remarkable woman. I'll never forget her kindness to a kid who had just lost his dad, wasn't sure about so very much in life, and above all wasn't sure about himself. She showed the path of unfailing gentleness and hospitality as THE path to follow. Thank you, Kathy, and may you ever rest in peace!
26 December 2016
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.
25 December 2016
I was blessed to hold grandson Henry for the whole of the Christmas Divine Service today. He was good as gold, I was even able to sing all the choir pieces with him in arm, and then he fell alseep during the homily and remained so to the very last note of the postlude, at which he awoke. All the time I held him, beauty swirled around us. The visual beauty of that lovely sanctuary, made even more glorious for the Christmas feast. The audible beauty of Gospel preaching, ancient chant, harmonious hymns, and the triumphant sound of trumpet and timpani alternating with the sweet sound of strings and human voices. And I looked at the baby in my arm. Amazing and wow. Our God becoming such a one and THAT was the beauty to end all beauties: for what is more beautiful than such unfathomable love? And who cannot love a baby? Beauty begets beauty, and so the blessed sounds and space in which we gathered and approached the holy altar to meet Him who came born of the Virgin with the praises and harmonies ringing all around. I'm glad they will grow up in such beauty, and I pray they will always love and rejoice in His beauty, the beauty that provoked it all.
24 December 2016
In the year 2015 from the birth of Abraham, in the year 1510 from the exodus of the people of Israel out of Egypt, in the year 1032 from the enthronement of David the Prophet and King, in the sixtieth "week" of the prophecy of Daniel, in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Augustus, in the thirty-third year of the reign of Herod, when the staff had gone from Judah has had been prophesied by Jacob the Patriarch, at a time when the whole world was at peace, it pleased God to send His only-begotten Son and Eternal Word to the world to become Man and to teach us God's love, to suffer, die, and rise from the dead for our salvation.
At that time, the Lord Jesus was born in a humble cave in Bethlehem of Judah, and no one knew of it but the immaculate Virgin Mary his Mother and Joseph her spouse. No one heard of this miracle surpassing all miracles but a few humble shepherds who had been told by angels in the sky that sang this hymn: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men." Then the Magi came from the East, led by a star in the heaven: they found their way to where the Divine Infant rested, and they adored Him, and opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts of gold, incense and myrrh.
To God Incarnate, to the suckling Infant who humbled Himself and took our form, becoming one of us to make us divine; to the One who later walked among us to teach us the way of salvation and who loved us so much as to give His life for it: to Him be glory, honor, and adoration forever and ever. Oh, come, let us adore Him!
(From the Roman Martyrology)
We do not believe that the virgin mother bore a son and that he is the Lord and Savior unless, added to this, I believe the second thing, namely, that he is my Savior and Lord. When I can say: This I accept as my own, because the angel meant it for me, then, if I believe it in my heart, I shall not fail to love the mother Mary, and even more then child, and especially the Father. 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 the feel that there is nothing but laughter and joy in the heart of the Father and no sadness in my heart.—Martin Luther, Sermon upon Christmas Day, 1530
Nothing in theosis is the product of human nature, for nature cannot comprehend God. It is only the mercy of God that has the capacity to endow theosis unto the existing... In theosis, man (the image of God) becomes likened to God, he rejoices in all the plenitude that does not belong to him by nature, because the grace of the Spirit triumphs within him, and because God acts in him.—St. Maximus the Confessor, Letter 22
18 December 2016
Such joys today in the liturgy. We began with that awesome Basque carol: "The Angel Gabriel." The solemnity of the Advent season continued with the absence of Gloria, which has a peculiar way of making the Kyrie all the weightier. The awesome collect asking for relief from the weight of our sins (and is it not a fact that they just seem to weigh heavier on us as we grow in the faith?). The readings: Moses' promise of the prophet like himself; my all time favorite epistle from Philippians 4; the Visitation Gospel with the blessedness (and blessing) of Mary. The Nicene Creed that also seems to grow in weight and freight as we approach nearer to the Christmas feast. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. The lovely homily provided just below this post. Violin, viola and organ on O Come during offering. At St. Paul's from Advent through Pentecost, the Our Father is chanted by the pastor, with the congregation joining in the joyful doxology. The genuflection during the Creed mirrors the genuflection at the Verba, both confessing His real presence in our flesh and blood. Then the distribution hymns as the Sacrament is administered: O Savior, Rend... Creator of the Stars of Night... Let the Earth Now Praise the Lord. The second post-communion collect, with its "who in lovingkindness sent Your only-begotten Son into the flesh." And then after the benediction, the singing of the first hymn of Christmas: "A Great and Mighty Wonder"—St. Germanus' amazing song, though LSB definitely lost the meaning of the last verse: "And idol forms shall perish, and error shall decay, and Christ shall weild His scepter, our Lord and God for aye," reflecting the retreat of idolatry before the proclamation of the Gospel that astounded the ancient world (and should astound us). So the Divine Service ended with a hint of the Gloria about to return come Christmas Midnight: "To God on high be glory and peace to all the earth!"
...this morning from Pr. Gleason.
Luke 1:39-45 (46-56)
Last Sunday, the Apostle Paul invited us to rejoice in the Lord with his words from Philippians 4, which were part of the introit. Today that invitation became instruction as we heard, again, that passage from his epistle. But, today also tells us why we ought to rejoice. The Blessed Virgin Mary tells us in her hymn of praise to God: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation." The cause of this joyful song is because she carries in her womb the very Lord and Savior whom she praises, the holy One who has done great things for her and whose mercy shall be upon all those who call her "blessed."
The occasion for this song highlights one of the most amazing themes in the Scriptures: that God unites His promise of salvation to child bearing. In Genesis, God promised a Savior from the seed of the woman. That promise runs through the whole Old Testament with names like Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David; as well as through a line of Israelite mothers such as Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel, and Gentiles like Rahab and Ruth. The promise is found in the prophets. Isaiah: "A Virgin will conceive and give birth to a son." Micah: "Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth." The Old Testament Word is clear. God would save the world from sin and death through the birth of a Child from God.
So, our Gospel for this fourth Sunday of Advent tells of the meeting of two pregnant women. They are cousins, and both are miraculously with child. Elizabeth was an elderly woman well past child-bearing age. She was six months along with John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ. Mary was a very young woman, certainly no older than eighteen. She had conceived a child in her virginity by the Holy Spirit. Both of them were pregnant by the power of God's Word. They were living testimony that "with God nothing is impossible."
Mary had heard from the angel that "she who was barren is in her sixth month," so she hurried off to the hill country of Judea to visit her cousin and share her joy. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, John jumped for joy in her womb.
Consider the wonder of that moment. The sound of Mary's voice caused John to leap for joy. There he was, a fetus barely six months old in his mother's womb, and already he was exalting Christ! Who says that babies can't believe? And who would argue that even unborn children cannot benefit by being in church and hearing the Word? Being in the Liturgy, hearing God's Word, eating and drinking the Sacrament are vital parts of every Christian woman's pre-natal care. Can anyone say that an unborn child does not benefit from God's Word?
The same is true for all our little ones. They need to hear God's Word even before they know what those words mean. Our children need to rejoice in the sound of the forgiveness of sins, of salvation and eternal life. They need to be filled with the sound of God's Word, with the historic hymns of the faith, with the ancient creeds and confessions that have been handed down to us. They need to grow into the vocabulary of eternal life. They will have all eternity to master it, but the earlier they start, the better.
Now, though older than Mary, Elizabeth considered it an honor that Mary should come and visit her. She honored her younger cousin as "the mother of my Lord." And so she is. That's why the church calls Mary "the Theotokos—the bearer of God" or "the mother of God." She was the bearer of the eternal Word, the mother of the Christ, God's Son. She was the chosen and honored instrument of the Lord's Incarnation, through whom God's Son received a body to offer for the life of the world. Mary is rightly to be blessed among women and blessed by all generations to come.
I know some people have difficulty in blessing Mary. I wonder if it's because we have difficulty with holy things in general. We've almost lost the idea of the sacred—sacred time, sacred space, sacred people and sacred things. Everything tends to be ordinary for our culture, the same, generic, interchangeable…ordinary. Our age wants churches to be comfortably unadorned. Pastors to be "just plain guys." Worship to be indistinguishable from the latest entertainment. The world would be thrilled to treat the Lord's Supper as just another fast food Happy Meal, Baptism as a religious bath, and Mary as just another pregnant teenager.
But, we treat a church building as a holy space. We don't just stomp in here as though we were entering a stadium or an auditorium. It's not because the flooring is holy, or the plaster or the upholstery. It's because the holy Word of God is preached and heard here. The Word makes this space holy and blessed. And we regard the pastor as a holy man, not because he is holy (to which I may personally attest), but because the Word he is ordered to preach is holy.
And so it is with Mary. She is blessed and holy not because of her own holiness or purity. She is holy because of the holy Child that was conceived in her by the Holy Spirit. She was the instrument of our Lord's incarnation, and for that reason she is holy and to be blessed by all who believe in her Son for their salvation.
Mary's song teaches us not to take our place with the proud and the powerful, the ruling and the rich of this world, for the Lord is a toppler of thrones. There is nothing in this world that can withstand the strength of God's arm. And, He destroys everything that competes for our trust in Him.
And yet God is merciful. His arm is mighty to save us from sin. His arm lifts up those who are humbled and bowed down with guilt. His arm reaches out to fill the hungry with good things—those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. His arm extended from the heights of heaven to embrace the world, to join Himself with us. He extended His arms on a cross to save us. He extends His arm to us now, as we hear His Word and receive His gifts.
Mary and Elizabeth teach us to receive those gifts in the way of faith. They reminds us that God is One who keeps His Word. He remembers "to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as He spoke to our fathers." God keeps His promises. The promise He made to Adam and Eve. The promise He made to the patriarchs and prophets of Israel. The promise He made to you when you were baptized. The promise He renews whenever you hear His Word of forgiveness.
So, then, let us rejoice today, and every day. Our Lord and Savior has looked on the humble estate of His servants; and the Mighty One has done great things for us. Holy is His Name, indeed. Amen.
17 December 2016
Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has deigned to style the universal Church of God His body, and has made us individually members one of another, has moreover granted to all of us to live in intimate association with one another, as befits the agreement of the members. Wherefore, although we dwell far away from one another, yet, as regards our close conjunction, we are very near.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 243
16 December 2016
To sum up, the Lord is saying here that fasting is not done for Him, that all these things are worthless because He has not commanded them, but that He approves of those things which stem from a good source—from a faithful heart. You see, once the heart is sanctified and pure, whatever comes afterwards is also pure and holy, whether one fasts or eats, whether one keeps watch or falls asleep.—Martin Luther, on Zechariah 7
We know how, for the sake of the name of the Lord, trials have beset alike individuals and cities that have put their trust in Him. Nevertheless, one and all have passed away, and the distress caused by the days of darkness has not been everlasting. For just as when hail-storm and flood, and all natural calamities, at once injure and destroy things that have no strength, while they are only themselves affected by falling on the strong, so the terrible trials set in action against the Church have been proved feebler than the firm foundation of our faith in Christ.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 240
15 December 2016
It is as if Zechariah were saying: "These things which I have foretold will happen. You, however, see to it that you do not regard the Word of God with contempt. The voice of the Lord will build that structure. He will use that voice only for so glorious and magnificent an undertaking. With the ministry of the Word He will accomplish all things."—Martin Luther on Zechariah 6.
Revelation 1 & 3:
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying: Fear not. I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the Keys of Death and Hades... The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one shuts; who shuts and no one opens. Behold, I have set before you an open door which no one is able to shut.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
An open door and a closed one. And he holds the keys to both. We sing a bit of it at Christmas tide: He is the key and He the door to blessed paradise, the angel bars the way no more, to God our praises rise, to God our praises rise!
He's the key to paradise and its door. But what is paradise? Too often we're thinking of what follows after we die. We die and then because of Jesus we go to "heaven." But that's to miss the astonishing joy of what He brings. For paradise isn't just where you go when you die. Paradise is where you live when you step through the door that He has opened and that cannot be shut. You know what that door leads? To the Father's heart. Jesus is the key that opens the door of the Father's heart and you then discover that you have been loved with a love eternal, divine, unutterable, unimaginable. You. Through Jesus you find that the Father has loved you and loves you still and will not ever cease to love you. It's a door that no one can shut. And when you know and taste that, then you see that paradise isn't merely what comes after death, paradise is living even in this world as a child who has a heavenly Father who loves him. What a difference it makes. It's the difference between how folk normally live in this world and how Jesus lived. He IS the beloved Son. He doesn't create a space in the Father for that love to reach out and adopt other children. He eternally IS that space. It's the Father's love that sends Him into the flesh and to the cross.
The cross because there's also another door. A door that is shut and no one can open. You know what he's stuffed behind that door? Take a gander! All your sins and mine and all the sins of this whole world, with all their consequences. Stuffed into that closet and then shut and no one can open. This is His cross, this the huge manifestation of His divine love for you. That His blood locks them away. Shut and sealed and locked. Stop trying to pick the lock and get back to them. They are gone. And this is a gift of His grace.
So heaven that Jesus opens to us by revealing His Father's love and locking away our sins, it's not just future. It's here and now, you can taste it already. We get this when we think of the Sacraments. But we leave it in the third article and miss the great joy of seeing it in the first.
She reached out her hand and touched the hem of His garment. Not Jesus. The hem of the garment Jesus was wearing. And He who is the open door and key to the heart of the Father, who came to lock away sin, hell, and death, Love incarnate flowed right to her and that bleeding stopped and she knew she was healed. But it was only the garment she touched. God comes in the flesh to touch His creation and His creation becomes what it could never have been apart from Him, from Emmanuel, from God with us.
Heaven not far away, paradise not just when you die, the Kingdom here and now, present for you because God's open heart became present for you in this world through Your Jesus. This creation already now is the front porch of your Father's house, and the door inside to the feast is already open and you're just waiting for the dinner bell and the family to gather and the Father's feast to begin.
14 December 2016
13 December 2016
Obviously, then, Christ is at the same time both our King and our Priest. He is our King as He rules over us and guards and protects us against every might and power of physical as well as spiritual foes, so that no creature can harm us without His permission. He is our Priest—and this is by far the sweetest and greatest comfort for consciences—as He intercedes for us before His Father and bears the iniquities of us all as if they were His own to make us coheirs with Him of all the good things of His Father and to reconcile us to His Father.—Martin Luther, on Zechariah 6
The good man, however, neither turns his heart to wealth when he has it, nor seeks after it if he has it not. He treats what is given him as given him not for his selfish enjoyment, but for wise administration. —St. Basil the Great, Letter 236
12 December 2016
09 December 2016
The operations are various, and the essence simple, but we say that we know our God from His operations, but do not undertake to approach near to His essence. His operations come down to us, but His essence remains beyond our reach.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 234
...I have indeed replaced the laptop entirely with my iPad Pro. I love how this has simplified my working environment (which I carry with me most anywhere). It's also been a lot of fun figuring out the odd thing that I didn't know how to do on the iPad. For example: one thing was image manipulation: I had an image at a certain resolution but needed it to be at a lesser resolution. For the life of me, I couldn't figure this out. The solution of course was to ask google (isn't that the solution to everything these days?), and lo and behold: there are websites that do this for free. Just upload the image and choose the desired resolution and save the resulting image. Voila! Painless and free. I've found this actually to be a bit of a pattern—not just the google thing, of course THAT is a pattern—but the stuff that you can do on the web with three or four clicks to remedy problems. Working with PDFs also is like that.
08 December 2016
Those people who intend to interpret Moses have here an opportunity to reflect, from which they should learn that in the entire building and construction of the Mosaic tabernacle the Lord meant nothing else than what happens in the world through the ministry of the Word.—Martin Luther on Zechariah 4
Let them dismiss, therefore, these questions of dialectics and examine the truth, not with mischievous exactness but with reverence. The judgment of our mind is given us for the understanding of the truth.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 233
07 December 2016
On the day of His suffering He bore all our sins, as Isaiah writes (cf. Is. 53:4): “He Himself carried our sins.” You see, through and in the crucified Christ, God took away the sin of the whole world. In this way the prophet indicates that true Priest finally will come to take away the sin of His people and to free them from their sins. This finally will be the true sacrifice, of which the priesthood of Joshua, the high priest of the Law, was incapable. He further declares that this will happen in a single day.—Martin Luther on Zechariah 3
I am sure that a work done by one or two pious men is not done without the cooperation of the Holy Spirit. For when nothing merely human is put before us, when holy men are moved to action with no thought of their own personal gratification, and with the sole object of pleasing God, it is plain that it is the Lord Who is directing their hearts.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 229
06 December 2016
I confess what I have received, that the Paraclete is ranked with Father and Son, and not numbered with created beings. We have made profession of our faith in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and we are baptized in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Wherefore we never separate the Spirit from conjunction with the Father and the Son. For our mind, enlightened by the Spirit, looks at the Son, and in Him, as in an image, beholds the Father.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 226
03 December 2016
The faith of the Church now is identical with what it was in the Apostolic time, but the relation of identity does not preclude growth - it only excludes changes of identity. That faith must always be its essential self - whether as a babe receiving milk, or as a man enjoying strong meat. In a word, the advances are wrought, not by change in the Church's faith, but by the perpetual activity of that faith, a faith which because it is incapable of change itself, assimilates more and more to it the consciousness of the Church, her system of doctrine, her language, and her life.—Charles P. Krauth, Conservative Reformation, p. 270 [Had he been reading his Basil???]
The teaching about God which I had received as a boy from my blessed mother and my grandmother Macrina, I have ever held with increased conviction. On my coming to ripe years of reason I did not shift my opinions from one to another, but carried out the principles delivered to me by my parents. Just as the seed when it grows is first tiny and then gets bigger but always preserves its identity, not changed in kind though gradually perfected in growth, so I reckon the same doctrine to have grown in my case through gradually advancing stages. What I hold now has not replaced what I held at the beginning.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 223
02 December 2016
Because these are ministers of the Word, they fight not with their own strength but with the Word. Their fighting capability appears insignificant, their weapons very weak. Yet with that very Word, which the world sees as some ridiculous fiction, they cause the greatest and most powerful kingdoms to flee from us. They cause us to pity them rather than to fear them and to grieve because they are so vainly wasting their wrath and indignation.—Martin Luther, On Zechariah 2
I beseech you, then, to cling to one another, as you are doing and as you will do. I beseech you who are entrusted with the care of souls to keep each and all together, and to cherish them like beloved children. I beseech the people to continue to show you the respect and honour due to fathers, that in the goodly order of your Church you may keep your strength and the foundation of your faith in Christ; that God's name may be glorified and the good gift of love increase and abound.—St. Basil the Great, Letter 222.