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The Second Sunday After Christmas

January 5th, 2014 Comments off

Jesus Is the Perfect Israel

Introit: Ps. 8:1, 4–6; antiphon: Ps. 8:2
Old Testament: Gen. 46:1–7
Psalm: Psalm 77:11-20 (antiphon: v. 13)
Epistle: 1 Peter 4:12–19
Gospel: Matt. 2:13–23
Gradual: Ps. 106:47; Is. 63:16b
Verse: Ps. 145:21

Summary: Israel and all his family went and dwelt in Egypt (Gen. 46:1–7). God made a great nation of him there, but that nation would prove unfaithful to the Lord. Therefore, the New Israel came. In fleeing the murderous Herod, our young Lord goes to Egypt (Matt. 2:13–23), that the prophecy might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my Son” (Hos. 11:1). Jesus brings to perfection what old Israel could not. He is the faithful Israel, the embodiment of the people of God. He offers His perfect and holy life in place of our own. He submits Himself to persecution and suffering in order to save us. Therefore, we should not think it strange when we who are in Christ experience trials because of the faith (1 Pet. 4:12–19). Rather, we rejoice to share in Christ’s sufferings, knowing that we will also share in His glory.

Source: LCMS Commission on Worship

Circumcision and Name of Jesus

January 1st, 2014 1 comment
0404grec

El Greco, Adoration of the Name of Jesus, 1578-79, Oil on canvas, 190 x 140 cm; Chapter House, Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial

“The name ‘Jesus’ is food, light, medicine. You have this medicine for yourself, O my soul, and it lies concealed in the capsule of this word, which certainly is Jesus, the bringer of salvation.”

— St. Bernard, Sermon de coena Domini, quoted by Blessed Johann Gerhard in On Christ (CPH 2009) p. 12.

Happy New Year!

On January 1 the Church observes the Feast of the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus. Here is more information.

“The name ‘Jesus’ is food, light, medicine. You have this medicine for yourself, O my soul, and it lies concealed in the capsule of this word, which certainly is Jesus, the bringer of salvation.”

— St. Bernard, Sermon de coena Domini, quoted by Blessed Johann Gerhard in On Christ (CPH 2009) p. 12.

Already on the eighth day of Jeuss’ life, His destiny of atonement is revealed in His name and in is circumcision. At that moment, His blood is first shed and Jesus receives the name given to Him by the angel: “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). In the circumcision of Jesus, all people are circumcised once and for all, because He represents all humanity. In the Old Testament, for the believers who looked to Gods promise to be fulfilled in the Messiah, the benefits of circumcision included the forgiveness of sins, justification, and incorporation into the people of God. In the New Testament, St. Paul speaks of its counterpart, Holy Baptism, as a “circumcision made without hands” and as “the circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:11).

We pray:

Lord God, You made Your beloved Son, our Savior, subject to the Law and caused Him to shed His blood on our behalf. Grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit that our hearts may be made pure from all sins; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Source: The Treasury of Daily Prayer, p. 1078.
HT: HCM

We pray:

Lord God, You made Your beloved Son, our Savior, subject to the Law and caused Him to shed His blood on our behalf. Grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit that our hearts may be made pure from all sins; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Source: The Treasury of Daily Prayer, p. 1078.
HT: HCM

Happy New Year!

January 1st, 2014 11 comments

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. The Gospel for the Festival of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus, Luke 2:21

Now greet the swiftly changing year, with joy and penitence sincere.
Remember now the Son of God and how He shed His infant blood.
This Jesus cam to end sin’s war; this Name of names for He bore.
His love abundant far exceeds the volume of a whole year’s needs
Rejoice! Rejoice! With thanks embrace another year of grace!
Lutheran Service Book, Hymn 896

Today the Church observes the Circumcision and Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. And it is appropriate to do s particularly on this the first day of the “new” year. What makes a year “new”? It is all rather arbitrary, is it not? We know that calendars have changed over the centuries. What we can say for a certainty is that some 365 days ago we were at this very point in space in our planet’s orbit around the sun, which, in its turn, is making its way in the cosmos as part of our galaxy, which is but one of countless other galaxies making their way out across the vast and unthinkably far reaches of the universe. It is enough to make one’s head reel with dizzy contemplation of the vastness both of space and time in which we exist. And it is precisely into this time, and into this place, that the Infant King broke into our reality, the Son of God, the Word, was made flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. And on this day we remember the first shedding of His innocent blood as payment for our sin, as the ransom, that won us from sin, death and the devil. We recall His circumcision, done to fulfill all righteousness, on the eighth day of his life, as commanded in the Old Testament law of God, a Law he came to fufilll, entirely and completely for you and for me. And on this day, just as the angel told St. Joseph, His name was formally given: Jesus. It is a name that in Hebrew means, literally, “Yahweh saves.” Indeed, He does!

And so our Old Testament reading for today is from Numbers 6:22-27, the great tripart Aaronic benediction, bringing to mind the Name into which we are baptized, and the Name with which we are blessed our whole life through at the conclusion of the Divine Service, when the Lord’s minister pronounces it upon us. The Epistle, Galatians 3:23-29, explains the ramifications of our Lord’s submission to the Law of God: freedom for us by means of justification by grace through faith! Praise be to God.

Christmas Reality Check: Holy Innocents, Martyrs

December 28th, 2013 10 comments

 

I see Frosty, and Santa, and Dasher and Dancer, but I do not think I’ve ever seen lawn decorations for this Christmastime observance in the Church Year. The Commemoration of the Holy Innocents, the children killed by Herod in his quest to rid himself of all who would threaten his rule and reign as king of Palestine. But don’t we all have a little Herod in each of us? We too want to do away with all of Christ that threatens our “comfort zone.” We do well today not only to remember the innocents who were killed but the sins which caused our Savior to suffer and die for us. The Innocent One for the guilty, for you and me.

We pray:

Lord Jesus Christ, in your humility you have stooped to share our human life with the most defenseless of your children: may we who have received these gifts of your passion rejoice in celebrating the witness of the Holy Innocents to the purity of your sacrifice made once for all upon the cross; for you are alive and reign, now and for ever.

We may wonder why, in this “season of joy and happiness” we have in the Church Year the commemoration of the murder of St. Stephen, and then, a couple days later, the murder of young children. What a gloomy note to strike during this happy time! But one thing the Christian Faith is not, it is not unrealistic. It does not “make believe” that we can simply wish away evil, or ignore it. No, we deal with it, head-on, in all its brutal tragedy. These little children were slaughtered, while the Son of God, went free. Such it always is with the ways of Satan. He wants nothing more than to destroy and mar what God has declared good. And so, even at a very young age, the agents of Satan were coming after our dear Lord, but His time had not yet come, and God provided a way of escape. His Son escaped, in high divine irony, back to the land where God’s people had been enslaved so long before, and out of Egypt, God called his Son (Hosea 11:1). He called His son forth to come back to the land where He was born, in order to continue His divine mission of the salvation of the world. The ancient hymn by Prudentius sings well what this commemoration of the Holy Innocents means for us:

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

And we pray:

Almighty God, the martyred innocents of Bethlehem showed forth Your praise not by speaking but by dying. Put to death in us all that is in conflict with Your will that our lives may bear witness to the faith we profess with our lips; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen.

Feast of St. John the Divine: December 27

December 27th, 2013 Comments off

Velasquez St John

 

A blessed St. John Apostle and Evangelist Day to you!

St. John the Divine, as he is also known, wrote the most sublime of the four gospels, that is why his symbol historically has been the eagle.

I’ll share something interesting with you. To this day, I still will often have a dream while I’m sleeping in which I’m reading and pondering portions of the Gospel of his epistles in Greek, I “hear” the Greek words and they take on often beautiful shapes and colors and then images form based on the Greek. They are such meaningful dreams, and quite vivid, I regret when I have to awaken and end it. I’m sure it is because I spent so much time as a younger man reading and studying and even memorizing major chunks of these materials. They are now deeply embedded in my soul and I would not have it any other way.

Here is a beautiful hymn for the day.

The painting is by Velasquez.

Saint John, Saint John was Christ’s disciple,
and Evangelist also;
He for the sake of Jesus Christ
Much pains did undergo,
Because he loved our Saviour Christ,
As Holy Scriptures say,
And was belov’d of him also,
And in his bosom lay.

Chorus
Saint John for love of our Saviour
Did undergo much pain
And never ceased during life
To preach Christ Jesus’ name.

Saint John, he at Jerusalem
Did preach God’s holy word,
And for the same the spiteful pagans
They did him cruel scourge.
Then did he for the same rejoice,
That he was counted worthy
To suffer for the sake of Christ,
And would him not deny.

To Patmos banish’d was Saint John,
As Scripture doth record,
For the testimony of Christ,
And his most holy word.
And as he was in the Spirit
On the Lord’s blessed day,
Our Saviour by an Angel spake,
and unto him did say,

I am Alpha and Omega,
Which was and is to come;
And what thou seest write in a book
Thus said he to Saint John
And send it to the Churches then,
Which are in Asia seven.
And said the Angel to Saint John,
Which came to him from Heaven.

Then John turn’d him about to see,
And was astonished
At the sight of the Angel bright,
Who said, Be comforted,
For I was alive, and also dead,
Now I live for evermore,
And have the keys of death and hell;Take comfort now therefore.

Then wretched Caesar, as ’tis said,
The Emperor Domitian,
Into a tub of boiling oil
At Rome he thrust Saint John.
Therein received he no harm,
But safely from thence came,
And died at last at Ephesus
Writing declares the same.

William Sandys, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (London: Richard Beckley, 1833)

Wonderful, Comforting and Powerful Christmas Grace and Truth

December 27th, 2013 9 comments

My friend, Pastor William Weedon, prepared a nice little summary of key assertions on Christmas from the Lutheran Confessions:

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

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Feast of St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr – December 26

December 26th, 2013 3 comments

Martyrdom of St Stephen, by Bernardo Cavallino, 70 x 90 cm Museo del Prado, Madrid

Today we remember and thank God for the first person to give his life for the sake of Christ, St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr. One of the first deacons and the first Christian martyr; feast on 26 December. In the Acts of the Apostles the name of St. Stephen occurs for the first time on the occasion of the appointment of the first deacons (Acts 6:5). Dissatisfaction concerning the distribution of alms from the community’s fund having arisen in the Church, seven men were selected and specially ordained by the Apostles to take care of the temporal relief of the poorer members. Of these seven, Stephen, is the first mentioned and the best known.

Stephen’s life previous to this appointment remains for us almost entirely in the dark. His name is Greek and suggests he was a Hellenist, i.e., one of those Jews who had been born in some foreign land and whose native tongue was Greek; however, according to a fifth century tradition, the name Stephanos was only a Greek equivalent for the Aramaic Kelil (Syr. kelila, crown), which may be the protomartyr’s original name and was inscribed on a slab found in his tomb. It seems that Stephen was not a proselyte, for the fact that Nicolas is the only one of the seven designated as such makes it almost certain that the others were Jews by birth. That Stephen was a pupil of Gamaliel is sometimes inferred from his able defence before the Sanhedrin; but this has not been proved. Neither do we know when and in what circumstances he became a Christian; it is doubtful whether the statement of St. Epiphanius (Haer., xx, 4) numbering Stephen among the seventy disciples is deserving of any credence. His ministry as deacon appears to have been mostly among the Hellenist converts with whom the Apostles were at first less familiar; and the fact that the opposition he met with sprang up in the synagogues of the “Libertines” (probably the children of Jews taken captive to Rome by Pompey in 63 B.C. and freed hence the name Libertini), and “of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of them that were of Cilicia and Asia” shows that he usually preached among the Hellenist Jews. That he was pre eminently fitted for that work, his abilities and character, which the author of the Acts dwells upon so fervently, are the best indication. The Church had, by selecting him for a deacon, publicly acknowledged him as a man “of good reputation, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom” (Acts 6:3). He was “a man full of faith, and of the Holy Ghost” (vi, 5), “full of grace and fortitude” (vi, 8); his uncommon oratorical powers and unimpeachable logic no one was able to resist, so much so that to his arguments replete with the Divine energy of the Scriptural authorities God added the weight of “great wonders and signs” (vi, 8). Great as was the efficacy of “the wisdom and the spirit that spoke” (vi, 10), still it could not bend the minds of the unwilling; to these the forceful preacher was fatally soon to become an enemy.

Read more…

Christmas: Life’s Birthday

December 26th, 2013 Comments off

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.

From St. Leo the Great’s Christmas homily

HT: Weedon’s Blog

What Child is This? A Meditation for Christmas Day

December 25th, 2013 1 comment

What-Child-Is-This-300x214

What Child is This?

What child is this? A figment of the pious imagination of the “primitive” first Christians? Some so-called “Christian” scholars suggest that this child was just a human child who grew up to be a great teacher of love and peace and from that came his reputation as being divine. Talk about missing the mark!

What child is this? Sadly, often a child remade in our own image, molded, shaped and accommodated to our trends and times. This child’s cosmic struggle with sin, death and hell is often pushed into the background. We dare not ever forget that this child was set as a sign for the rising and falling of many. This child is the stumbling block over Whom many have tripped and fallen in their mad dash toward self-fulfillment or self-chosen forms of religion.

What Child is this? This Child is the One who stands as the ultimate evidence of God’s wrath against sin, for this Child’s arms would one day be extended on the cross, there suffering and receiving the wrath of God against the sins of the world! The rough wood of the manger foreshadowed the rougher wood of the cross! How can we ever appreciate how great is the Father’s love if we do not realize how great was this Child’s sacrifice for the sins of the world?

What Child is this? This Child is none other than the Word of God in the flesh, the One who reveals the Father, the eternal Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed and Most Holy Trinity. This Child is the fulfillment of all the hopes and dreams of all the years, before and ever since. In Him, you have redemption, the forgiveness of all your sins, for this Child was the atoning sacrifice, whose body and blood, given and shed, cleanses you from all your sins.

What Child is this? This Child is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the promised “Immanuel” – truly God in the flesh. He dwells forever among us in grace and truth, working His way among us and giving His gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation wherever and whenever His Gospel and Sacraments are given out, truly the greatest gifts of Christmas!

What Child is this? You know. By grace, you know! He is the One who for your sake became poor, so you might become rich with God’s lavish mercy, love and peace. Such a treasure! Such a blessing! Such a Child is this!

May God bless you and yours during this sacred season of Christmas and may you be richly blessed as you worship and adore the Lord Jesus Christ.

O Dearest Jesus, Holy Child
Prepare a bed, soft, undefiled.
A holy shrine, within my heart,
That you and I need never part.

=Rev. Paul T. McCain

Christmas Day

December 25th, 2013 1 comment

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. Here are the readings for Christmas Day services:

Exodus 40:17–21; 34–38
Titus 3:4–7
John 1:1–14 (15–18)

The Living and Life-Giving Word of God Dwells among Us in the Flesh

In the beginning God created all things through His Word, His Son.  But man fell into sin, and with man all creation was cursed. Therefore, God spoke His Word again, this time into the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary. The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle of our human nature (Ex. 40:17–21,34–38). “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1–14).  The Son of God took on our flesh and blood and died on the cross in order that we might receive the right to become the children of God through faith. Baptized into Christ’s body, we are made partakers of a new Genesis, “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4–7). In Christ, the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man has truly appeared.

A Poem for Christmas Eve

December 24th, 2013 1 comment

Gloria in Profundis
G.K. Chesterton

There has fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendour is split on the sand.

Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all-
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?

For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
The hanging mountain of hell:
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.

Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate-
Where thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightning fears to be late:
As men dive for sunken gem
Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.

The Festival of the Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord Christ

December 24th, 2013 1 comment

 

The appointed Scripture readings for the Eve of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ are:

Isaiah 7:10–14
1 John 4:7–16
Matthew 1:18–25

The Word of the Lord Is Fulfilled in the Flesh of Jesus

Though Ahaz would not ask, the Lord gives a sign to the house of David, that “the Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Is. 7:14). With this promise, He signifies that salvation is by His grace alone; it is no work or achievement of man, but the Lord’s own work and free gift. The promise is fulfilled as the Son of God is conceived and born of the Virgin Mary, and the sign is received in faith by the house of David in the person of Joseph (Matt. 1:20–24). “Incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary” (Nicene Creed), God is with us (Immanuel) in the flesh of Jesus, Mary’s Son. Joseph believes that Word of God and so demonstrates a marvelous example in his immediate and quiet obedience, taking Mary to be his wife and caring for her in faith and love. He loves her because the love of God is manifest in this, that “the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world,” “to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9–10).

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Commemoration of Katherine von Bora

December 20th, 2013 3 comments

8aToday we thank and praise God for His faithful servant, Katherine.

We pray:

O God, our refuge and strength, You raised up Your servant Katharina to support her husband in the task to reform and renew Your Church in the light of Your  Word. Defend and purify the Church today and grant that, through faith, we may boldly support and encourage our pastors and teachers of the faith as they proclaim and administer the riches of Your grace made known in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Katharina von Bora (1499–1552) was placed in a convent when still a child and became a nun in 1515. In April 1523 she and eight other nuns were rescued from the convent and brought to Wittenberg. There Martin Luther helped return some to their former homes and placed the rest in good families. Katharina and Martin were married on June 13, 1525. Their marriage was a happy one and blessed with six children. Katharina skillfully managed the Luther household, which always seemed to grow because of his generous hospitality. After Luther’s death in 1546, Katharina remained in Wittenberg but lived much of the time in poverty. She died in an accident while traveling with her children to Torgau in order to escape the plague. Today is the anniversary of her death. Source: Treasury of Daily Prayer (CPH: 2008), p. 1035.

Here are more details about Katie’s life.

When You Are Not Feeling Too “Merry” at Christmastime

December 19th, 2013 3 comments

unhappy_christmas_sad-300x300I am thinking a lot this Christmas about the fact that for many people, more than would ever be willing to admit openly, there is very little, “merry” about Christmas. Are you feeling this way? If so, this message is for you.

You may be dealing with personal troubles and situations that cause you intense pain and anguish of heart and mind, soul and spirit. You see all the decorations around and you hear the music, and receive the cheerful, bright and wonderful greeting cards from friends and family. These things are yet more pointed reminders to you of a long-felt grief, or hurt, or sorrow, a reminder that while many are merry, you are not.

Our culture’s celebration of Christmas contributes enormously to this problem. Christmas is a time for family, so you are told. But what happens when your family is missing a beloved father, or mother, grandma or grandpa, son or daughter? What happens when Christmas for you is a reminder that you have lost a dear one to death? What about other problems that might be hurting your family at this time? What about the sickness that has you or a loved one in its grip? What if you have few, if any, immediate family with you, or for whatever reason, find yourself alienated from them?

Christmas can often also be a reminder of the failings of the past year that haunt you, a reminder of all your personal faults and the trouble that you may have brought on yourself, with your own sinful choices and actions. Oh, how sharp that pain is, and particularly so at a time of “happiness,” when you are feeling anything but happy.

How important it is then to let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly at this time, a Word that was made flesh and dwelt among us, a Word through Whom all things were made, that have been made. It was this Word, sent from the Father, who came among us, to be your great Savior, from sin, from death, from the power of hell, to pour out his lifeblood as the perfect atoning sacrificial ransom for the sins of the world, for your sins, every one of them, even those you would not want another person to know about.

The best advice I can give to you if you are feeling lonely and sad at this time of the year is: reach out to people whom you know, and share your love with them. Dive deeply into the Word of God. Take advantage of every opportunity provided to gather with your fellow saints in Gods’ House for worship and to receive the true and lasting gifts of Christmas: forgiveness, life and salvation. These are the gifts that are truly what make for a Merry Christmas.

In spite of the loneliness, and in spite of the pain, and there is no denying either, there always stands Christ, with arms open wide, saying to you, “Fear not. I have overcome the world.” He says to you, “Let not your heart be troubled” and “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” This is not some kind of “magic formula” for you to recite that will just magically make all the pain go away, but you can, and you must, continue to pray the Lord’s Prayer, and pray the Psalms. These are the words Jesus has for you, for you to use and to pray. You can think those things that you ought, to set your minds on things above, and not dwell on those below. The “things above” are the beautiful and powerful truths that Christ reveals, in His Word.

Here are some powerfully comforting words for you from the Lutheran Confessions, that you should read very carefully and hold them close. Read these words out loud and then return to praying the Psalms. Recite them daily or as often as necessary when you feel a bout of gloom come over you at this time of the year:

“The doctrine that God in His counsel, before the time of the world, determined and decreed that He would assist us in all distresses,anxieties and perplexities, grant patience under the cross, give consolation, nourish and encourage hope, and produce such an outcome as would contribute to our salvation affords glorious consolation under the cross and amid temptations. Also, as Paul in a very consolatory way treats this, Rom. 8:28- 29, 35, 38, 39, that God in His purpose has ordained before the time of the world by what crosses and sufferings He would conform every one of His elect to the image of His Son, and that to every one His cross shall and must work together for good, because they are called according to the purpose, whence Paul has concluded that it is certain and indubitable that neither tribulation, nor distress, nor death, nor life, etc., shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” Solid Declaration, Article XI.48-49.

So, indeed, in no matter what situation you find yourself, you can, and you will, have a “merry” Christmas, with Christ at the center, and by your side. You can say with the blessed Apostle: “I have learned the secret of being content.”I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:10-13).

Centuries ago, a Lutheran pastor wrote a beautiful Christmas hymn full of joy and comfort. And he was preaching to himself, for he was a man who had suffered the loss of a dear wife and the death of several children. He would be, during his career, removed from his office for remaining faithful to God’s Word, when he was persecuted and pressure to compromise. Pastor Paul Gerhardt wrote All This Night, My Heart Rejoices:

1. All my heart this night rejoices, as I hear far and near sweetest angel voices. “Christ is born,” their choirs are singing, till the air everywhere now with joy is ringing.

2. Forth today the conqueror goeth, who the Foe, sin and woe, Death and hell, o’erthroweth. God is man, man to deliver. His dear Son now is one With our blood forever.

3. Shall we still dread God’s displeasure, who, to save, freely gave His most cherished Treasure? To redeem us, He hath given His own Son from the throne of His might in heaven.

4. Should He who Himself imparted aught withhold from the fold, leave us broken-hearted? Should the Son of God not love us, Who, to cheer sufferers here, left His throne above us?

5. If our blessed Lord and Maker hated men, would He then be of flesh partaker? If He in our woe delighted, would He bear all the care of our race benighted?

6. He becomes the Lamb that taketh sin away and for aye full atonement maketh. For our life His own He tenders and our race, by His grace, meet for glory renders.

7. Hark! a voice from yonder manger, Soft and sweet, doth entreat: “Flee from woe and danger. Brethren, from all ills that grieve you you are feed; All you need I will surely give you.”

8. Come, then, banish all your sadness, one and all, great and small, come with songs of gladness. Love Him who with love is glowing. Hail the star, near and far light and joy bestowing.

9. Ye whose anguish knew no measure, weep no more, see the door to celestial pleasure. Cling to Him, for He will guide you where no cross, pain, or loss can again betide you.

10. Hither come, ye heavy-hearted, who for sin, deep within, long and sore have smarted. For the poisoned wound you’re feeling help is near, One is here Mighty for their healing.

11. Hither come, ye poor and wretched. Know His will is to fill every hand outstretched. Here are riches without measure. Here forget all regret, fill your hearts with treasure.

12. Let me in my arms receive Thee; On Thy breast Let me rest, Savior, ne’er to leave Thee. Since Thou hast Thyself presented now to me, I shall be evermore contented.

13. Guilt no longer can distress me; Son of God, Thou my load Bearest to release me. Stain in me Thou findest never; I am clean, All my sin is removed forever.

14. I am pure, in Thee believing, From Thy store evermore, righteous robes receiving. In my heart I will enfold Thee, treasure rare, let me there, loving, ever hold Thee.

15. Dearest Lord, Thee will I cherish. though my breath fail in death, Yet I shall not perish, But with Thee abide forever there on high, in that joy which can vanish never.

Notes: Hymn #77 from The Handbook to The Lutheran Hymnal Text: Luke 2:11 Author: Paul Gerhardt, 1653; Translated by: Catherine Winkworth, 1858, altered.

Titled: Froehlich soll mein Herze springen

Composer: Johann Crueger, 1653 Tune: Froehlich soll mein Herze

Wisdom from the Mouth of the Most High

December 17th, 2013 1 comment

Beginning tonight, and running through the last seven nights of Advent, the Christian Church, for many centuries, has used seven short poetic phrases [called antiphons] to preface portions of theevening prayer service called Vespers.

They are beautiful summaries of various names and descriptions of Christ. Pastor William Cwirla features a nice series of devotions on these classic devotional treasures, and I’m going to be sharing them with you here as well. Many of us are familiar with these antiphons in their hymnic setting in the ancient Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

O Sapientia,
quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter,
suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

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

Wisdom is God’s spokeman, the One who speaks the truth about God from
the mouth of God.  By wisdom the simple gain prudence, and the foolish
gain understanding.  Wisdom is more precious than jewels; wisdom’s
gifts are worth more than gold.  Wisdom is a gift from God.  For the
Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and
understanding.  Wisdom is knowledge and understanding shaped by the
fear of the Lord.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Wisdom permeates the created order.  Through Wisdom all things were
created.  Wisdom was with God before all things, and through Wisdom all
things were made.  The beauty of the stars, the splendor of the seas,
the marvelous variety of birds and fishes, the intricacies of a DNA
double-helix, the mystery of distant galaxies.  These are Wisdom’s
fingerprints.  Science can dust for the Designer’s fingerprints, but it
cannot see nor can it comprehend the designing hidden Hand.  Holy
Wisdom is not revealed to reason and sense through science but through
the Word.

Man turned away from God seeks knowledge without the Wisdom of God.
Information and facts without faith.  Study the creation without
worshipping the Creator.  Worship the creature instead of the Creator.
“You can be like God,” said the original Lie.  “You can have knowledge
without God.  Just reach in for yourself and grab it.”  That is not the
way of Wisdom but Folly, foolishness, unbelief.  “The fool says in his
heart there is no God.”  The end of Folly is death.

Jesus Christ is Holy Wisdom incarnate,  in the flesh.  He is the “power
of God and the wisdom of God.”  “He is before all things, and in Him
all things hold together.  He reflects the very glory of God and bears
the very stamp of His nature, upholding the universe by His word of
power.”  He is the “glue” that holds the universe together.  Your
cells, your DNA, a table, a chair – all hold together by the power of
His Word.  He is what the scientists search for and the theologians
long to understand.  The ordering Wisdom of the universe.  The
Intelligence of the Designer.  His name is Jesus Christ – the One born
in Bethlehem who hung on a cross and rose from the dead.

He teaches us the way of prudence, the way of Wisdom that leads to
life.  That way is the way of His cross, of dying and rising in Jesus,
of repentance and faith.  This way is foolishness to the wordly-wise,
yet to those made wise through His Word and Spirit, it is God’s holy
wisdom to save and to raise from the dead.

And then those who are wise in Him will shine as the brightness of the heavens.

Oh, come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who ord’rest all things mightily;

To us the path of knowledge show,

And teach us in her ways to go.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel! (LSB 357:2)
Artwork:  Spiral galaxy as seen through the Hubble telescope.

Artist:  God