I filled in for pastor at the early liturgy, and served as deacon to pastor at the second (our second pastor, Pr. Gleason, is serving a vacancy at a neighboring parish). I thought as I prayed my way through the liturgy what an utter blessing to worship in this place, where the old liturgy remains in its sturdy strength and the gospel joy permeates the whole of our worship.
Before the liturgy began I gathered in the Narthex with the acolytes and prepared for the opening hymn. Above the doors stands the passage from Genesis 28: “This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven." How utterly true. We entered to the strains of “Angels We Have Heard on High.” The traditional introit for the Sunday in the octave was transferred to Midnight Mass for us on Christmas from Lutheran Worship onward. Makes sense, of course, given the words, but I miss it on this Sunday, where it was at least an option in TLH. Still, Psalm 93 made a fine Introit with its focus on God's house.
Another change is the new collect for the day. I miss the crisp and quintessentially unsentimental old collect: “Almighty and everlasting God, direct our actions according to Thy good pleasure, that in the name of Thy beloved Son, we may be made to abound in good works; through the same...” This is rather faithful to the Latin (though the Latin is a tad starker: that we may merit to abound in good works). The new collect reflects the unity between creation and redemption, confessing that as God has wonderfully created us, He has even more wondrously restored human nature through the incarnation.
Isaiah 11 and the words of love from Psalm 45 in the Gradual and then onto the Epistle (I always remember the summary of the rector's homily on the same in The Nine Tailors by Sayers) from Galatians four with its great confession: “But in the fullness of time...” The Alleluia with more from Psalm 93 and the contrast between the Lord’s majesty and the humble appearance of the babe in the Holy Virgin’s arms. The beautiful Gospel from Luke 2, the Presentation and the witness of Sts. Simeon and Anna to the child.
And why does the genuflection during the Creed always touch so deeply during this time of the year? It can never be perfunctory when we think of kneeling before the Child. Onto “Let All together Praise Our God,” which Dr. Stephenson has forever ruined for me by pointing out the anaemic translation of stanza 4 in LSB. No, it's not His realm, His glory and His name He gives auf Deutsch, but the luminous Godhead that he has come to bestow upon us. Awesome. “God became man that man might become god” as the Fathers are all wont to confess.
A visit with Simeon, Mary, Joseph, and Anna and how the Child prepares us one and all to depart in peace. “Create in Me” and then the offering gathered, the table prepared. The intercessions for the church, her pastors, the government and the nations, those in afflictions, all those gathered together for that service, the honoring of the saints who have gone before (especially the Virgin Mother, St. Joseph, St. Simeon and St. Anna) and the prayer for the worthy reception of the the miracle about to unfold before us in the most holy Eucharist.
The lines of chant whose tune is so ancient, untouched through these long centuries: The Lord be with you...Lift up your hearts... Let us give thanks to the Lord our God... And the preface for Christmastide, the invitation to marvel at how through the Word made flesh God would draw our hearts to love that which is not seen, the Father. Joining with angels and archangels in adoration as the endless cry rings out: Holy, holy, holy...blessed is He that cometh...
The solemn time of consecration: the Our Father with its joyous Doxology and then the very Words of Christ that give to us, deliver to us, exactly what He promises. His body, given for you. His blood shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins. Peace and then adoration of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
The partaking of the Most Holy amid the raucous singing of hymns: St. Germanus' “A Great and Mighty Wonder,” shades of Good King Wenceslas in “Gentle Mary Laid Her Child” and then the shepherds’ joy in “Come, Your Hearts and Voices Raising.” We have seen, tasted, touched the very body and blood of the Son of God, hidden beneath the form of the mean earthly elements, and so with Simeon we are bold to pray Nunc Dimittis. A final thanksgiving to the Father for the gift of His Son and prayer to be governed always by His Spirit. Salutation, Benedicamus, and Benediction. And when your heart is so full you wonder if it could possibly hold anymore, along comes Luther's incomparable “In Peace and Joy I Now Depart.”
We leave knowing we could die. Right now, we could die and it would be just fine. We've been given in Christ a life that is stronger than any death we will ever face, a forgiveness greater than all the sin of the world, a place, a home, made heirs, joint-heirs, and so in Him and with Him and by Him we can cry: Abba, Father! And we know He will say to us: “Welcome home, child. Welcome home at last.”