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“O Christ, Our True and Only Light”
By Johann Heermann, 1585-1647

1. O Christ, our true and only Light,
Enlighten those who sit in night;
Let those afar now hear Thy voice
And in Thy fold with us rejoice.

2. Fill with the radiance of Thy grace
The souls now lost in error’s maze
And all whom in their secret minds
Some dark delusion haunts and blinds.

3. Oh, gently call those gone astray
That they may find the saving way!
Let every conscience sore opprest
In Thee find peace and heavenly rest.

4. Oh, make the deaf to hear Thy Word
And teach the dumb to speak, dear Lord,
Who dare not yet the faith avow,
Though secretly they hold it now.

5. Shine on the darkened and the cold,
Recall the wanderers to Thy fold,
Unite all those who walk apart,
Confirm the weak and doubting heart,

6. So they with us may evermore
Such grace with wondering thanks adore
And endless praise to Thee be given
By all Thy Church in earth and heaven.

Hymn #512 
The Lutheran Hymnal
Text: Luke 1:79
Author: Johann Heermann, 1630
Translated by: Catherine Winkworth, 1858, alt.
Titled: “O Jesu Christe, wahres Licht”
Tune: “O Jesu Christ, mein’s”
1st Published in: Nuernbergisches Gesangbuch, 1676

Intro:  Sarah was the wife (and half sister) of the Hebrew patriarch Abraham (Genesis 11:29;20:12). In obedience to divine command (Genesis 12:1), she made the long and arduous journey west, along with her husband and his relatives, from Ur of the Chaldees to Haran and then finally to the land of Canaan. She remained childless until old age. Then, in keeping with God’s longstanding promise, she gave birth to a son and heir of the covenant (Genesis 21:1-3). She is remembered and honored as the wife of Abraham and the mother of Isaac, the second of the three patriarchs. She is also favorably noted for her hospitality to strangers (Genesis 18:1-8). Following her death at the age of 127, she was laid to rest in the Cave of Machpelah(Genesis23:19), where her husband was later buried.  (Source: The Treasury of Daily Prayer)

Reflection:  The icon above is entitled The Hospitality of Abraham.  It is the illustration of the visit by the 3 angels to Abraham and Sarah at the Oaks of Mamre, as recorded in Genesis 18.  The 3 angels turn out to be none other than the Lord Himself! (see the beginning of verse 1). Abraham treats them royally to food.  Now to be fair, this icon should probably be called the Hospitality of Abraham and Sarah. After all, she also help prepared the food (vs. 6).  The Lord came to give a birth announcement to this aged couple ( a birth announcement unlike any other untilthe fullness of time, see Luke 1 and 2):

“The LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.”

And you may remember the problem:  they were both pushing a 100!  When the Lord said the above, then follows:

And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. 11Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” 15But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

The Lord does not strike Sarah dead as this is the LORD God who loves mankind. The Lord simply pointed out: you did laugh.  Was the Lord laughing?  We do not know. Yet, when she did give birth,

Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.”

The name Isaac means “laughter”!  When Abraham was told that he would have a son at the century mark, he”… fell down laughing…” in the Presence of the Lord (see Genesis 17: 17).  A number of years ago, PBS had a documentary on comedy, “Dear God: Next Time Choose Someone Else: the Legend of Jewish Comedians”.  One comedian said all Jewish humor is from the texts cited!  Laughter is in the Bible.  There are two types of humor:  derision and joy. The Lord will have the last laugh: “He who sits in the heavens laughs;the Lord holds them in derision” (Ps. 2), that is the nations and the wicked. This is the Lord’s derisive laughter of judgment.   And there is the laughter of sheer joy, of birth in the midst of death:  the birth of Isaac, Abraham and Sarah’s son, their son, their only son (see Genesis 22: 2).  The Father gave His only begotten Son for us and for He was born to be our Savior! Sin, death and the devil are laughed to derision  by the sheer joy of Jesus Christ’s Resurrection.  God has made laughter for us!

Let us pray…

Lord and Father of all, You looked with favor upon Sarai in her advanced years, Putting on her a new name, Sarah, and with it the promise of multitudinous blessings from her aged womb. Give us a youthful hope in the joy of our own new name, being baptized into the promised Messiah, that we, too, might be fruitful in Your kingdom, abounding in the works of Your Spirit; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever

One of the huge TV drama hits for the past two years has been “The Crown”, a dramatic narrative of the life of Queen Elizabeth II.  The prelude to the clip below is that Princess Elizabeth has just learned that her father, King George VI has died and she is now Queen.  She receives a letter from her Grandmother, Queen Mary, with this advice:

We live in an age in which personality is considered to be the main thing, what makes a man or woman ‘real’.  Personality and the self, as the all attractive nature of any public person, makes or breaks the one who holds any office, political or religious, in the public eye. This has only been the case for a short time. What is crucial is the executing of a public office in service to others where the person’s personal charms are just a nice addition.   This cult of personality is probably the result of living in a screen world of TV, computers, and smart phones, and before that movies, newspapers and magazines.   It is the world of image. Those in the public eye want their personal “crown”, their names in the marquee lights, to always win, to be powerful, even all powerful by their sheer person.  “The Lord of the Rings” movies portay this lust for power of the person alone:

I think one of the reasons for the popularity of “The Crown”  is the understanding that the office of monarchy must supersede personality.  It was not Elizabeth’s personality, her personal biases and even her political opinions (!) and such that Queen Mary said should win, but the office of the monarchy for sake of good order and people of the British Empire. This is the polar opposite of the current thinking and so we are amazed at the series counter-cultural message.  As Queen Mary says, there will a conflict in Elizabeth between the person and the crown, but the crown must always win. The ring of power is always a temptation.

We are in the Epiphany season.  The word “epiphany” means a revelation, a manifestation, a shining forth of another reality.  Biblical scholars have speculated on the personality of Jesus: was he compulsive, patient, charming etc.?  Based upon the authoritative Scriptures, the scholarly conclusions which I have read: it is very difficult, if not impossible to conclude what personality type did Jesus have.  Why?  The Crown won, the Crown must always win. If memory serves, in an episode of “The Crown”, Churchill says to the Queen, the crown must always shine. 

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

In the King who wore no “royal diadem”, the true Crown shone forth perfectly and still does. Even when he was 12 years of age it shown forth, but He subjected His royalty in obedience to His Step-Father and His Mother. 

What lessons can we draw from the Scriptural portrayal of the royal?

1. Jesus did count equality with God as something to be exploited for His own good, though He was sorely tempted to do so.  He was humble in His humanity so we can be humble. Knowing who one is, and the limitations of our flesh, is important for a ruler and the ruled.  We have the innate tendency to get “too big for our britches”.

2.Given our current President, and the previous President, the Office of President would shine forth more clearly.  This would take the elected occupant of the White House subverting his/her own personality to the Constitutional requirements of the office.  The Office must win, and as the Queen, for the good of the people. 

3.  Old Adam want “to be like God”(Genesis 3).  Those who do not have the demonstrable talents and ambition to be an idol, yet we all have the original sin to idolize. In the 1930s Germany, Lutheran Pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, diagnosed this idolatry in an article, The Fuehrer Principle, as Adolf Hitler rose to power.  “Fuehrer” is the German word for “leader”:

 “This Leader, deriving from the concentrated will of the people, now appears as longingly awaited by the people, the one who is to fulfill their capabilities and their potentialities. Thus the originally matter-of-fact idea of political authority has become the political, messianic concept of the Leader as we know it today. Into it there also streams all the religious thought of its adherents. Where the spirit of the people is a divine, metaphysical factor, the Leader who embodies this spirit has religious functions, and is I the proper sense the messiah. With his appearance the fulfillment of the last hope has dawned. With the kingdom which he must bring with him the eternal kingdom has already drawn near….”

The result is idolatry:

“If he understands his function in any other way than as it is rooted in fact, if he does not continually tell his followers quite clearly of the limited nature of his task and of their own responsibility, if he allows himself to surrender to the wishes of his followers, who would always make him their idol—then the image of the Leader will pass over into the image of the mis-leader, and he will be acting in a criminal way not only towards those he leads, but also towards himself.” 

Queen Elizabeth was well schooled in what she could not do as sovereign, as should Presidents and those who elect them;  but Old Adam wants a leader who can do all things and this is messianic in an anti-Christ way. Man wants life,the Lord gives life. Man wants all life, the Lord gives us His life.  Dear Christians, we must be awake to the possibility of our own idolatrous lusts.  I think the Bonhoeffer quote is prophetic because the 20th and 21st centuries have become increasingly the centuries of personality and the self. We rejoice in the hope that the Crown has won upon the Cross and will win in the end, when He comes in the glory of His divine Majesty, but He first bore the Cross to win for us the crown of eternal glory. So, let us ever be aware of the lesser crowns and not to let their ‘light’ shine through as absolute.  

22“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (St. Matthew 6)

 

 

COLLECT OF THE DAY

Heavenly Father,You revealed to the apostle Peter the blessed truth that Your Son Jesus is the Christ. Strengthen us by the proclamation of this truth that we too may joyfully confess that there is salvation in no one else; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Readings:

Acts 4:8-13

Psalm 118:19-29 

2 Peter 1:1-15

Mark 8:27-9:1

The confession of St. Peter did not arise in the imagination of Peter’s heart but was revealed to him by the Father. The reason this confession is important is seen in Jesus’ response: “You are Peter [Greek Petros], and on this rock [Greek petra] I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). As the people of God in the Old Testament began with the person of Abraham, the rock from which God’s people were hewn (Isaiah 51:1-2), so the people of God in the New Testament would begin with the person of Peter, whose confession is the rock on which Christ would build His Church. But Peter was not alone (the “keys” given to him in Matthew 16:19 were given to all the disciples in Matthew 18:18 and John 20:21-23). As St. Paul tells us, Peter and the other apostles take their place with the prophets as the foundation of the Church, with Christ Himself as the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). The confession of Peter, therefore, is the witness of the entire apostolic band and is foundational in the building of Christ’s Church. Thus the Church gives thanks to God for St. Peter and the other apostles who have instructed Christ’s Holy Church in His divine and saving truth. (The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  All of the Church is to confess Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God,the sweet sound of salvation for sinners.  “…it is certain that the Church is not built on the authority of a man but on the ministry of the confession which Peter made, when he declare Jesus to the Christ, the Son of God” (The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of Pope, The Book of Concord, the Lutheran Confessions)

The Lord has called His apostolic Church to be faithful in confessing Jesus is the Christ, that He is the Lord.  Peter eventually led the way of the holy Apostles in preaching and teaching Christ.  Peter who had denied Christ, was faithful to Christ’s command to him, “Feed My Sheep”. Pastors are called  to be faithful in confessing Christ, to feed and lead His people so that others may hear of the Savior.  If pastors, ministers and priests trust their own thinking about Christ, and not the Word, they,  “…will lose Christ” (Luther).

In a school, principals are worthless without the authority and care of a principled principal to educate with students.  Principles are words.  So likewise  a principal without sound principles, a standard, is anarchy.  Principals who do not promote teaching sound principles is useless. The Lord’s pastorate is principled in the Word of Law and Promise to teach His people.  If we follow their own lesson plans, then there is anarchy.  What makes Christianity Christian is Christ so we can be Christians, taught and fed by faithful Christian pastors, as we are  built on the Rock of our salvation, Jesus the Christ, even when steeples are falling. As Pr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached on St. Matthew 16:  

What is the difference between Peter and the others? Is he of such heroic nature that he towers over the others? He is not. Is he endowed with such unheard-of strength of character?  He is not. Is he gifted with unshakable loyalty? He is not. Peter is nothing, nothing but a person confessing his faith, a person who has been confronted by Christ and who has recognized Christ, and who now confesses his faith in him, and this confessing Peter is called the rock on which Christ will build his church.  Peter’s church–that means the church of rock, the church of the confession of Christ.

Peter’s church, that does not mean a church of opinions and views, but the church of the revelation; not a church in which what “people say” is talked about but the church in which Peter’s confession is made anew and passed on; the church which has no other purpose in song, prayer, preaching, and action than to pass on its confession of faith; the church which is always founded on rock as long as it remains within these limits, but which turns into a house built on sand, which is blown away by the wind, as soon as it is foolhardy enough to think that it may depart from or even for a moment to neglect this purpose.

From a sermon by St. Augustine, delivered on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, from The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, a Roman Catholic publisher:

“Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church.”

St. Augustine: Upon this rock I shall build my faith; the faith you confess. Upon what you have said: Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God: I shall build my Church.

For thou art Peter.

Peter from the rock (petra); not the rock from Peter. So Peter, because of the Rock; as Christian, because of Christ.  Would you know after what rock (petra) Peter is called? Listen to Paul answering: “I would not have you ignorant, brethren, the Apostle of Christ says, “I would not have you ignorant, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea. And all in Moses were baptized, in the cloud, and in the sea. And all did eat the same spiritual food. And all drank the same spiritual drink; and they drank of the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ (I Cor. x.)”. From this rock Peter came.  (emphasis my own)

The Lord gives to His catholic and apostolic Church the keys of the Kingdom. Immediately following Peter’s Confession, Jesus tells them He must suffer, die and rise again.  This is key.  His all-availing Sacrifice means the forgiveness of sins and the justification of sinners. This is key.  In Him, He builds us into His Church and the key is His blood shed in forgiveness for us all.  He gives us the Holy Spirit to teach and preach Christ Jesus. This is key. 

“Speak, now for your servant hears.”  

There was a TV ad not so longer ago for a wireless company with a gentleman walking about asking in various locales, “Can you hear me now?”  The wireless company boasted that wherever you are this company has the most complete coverage for cell phones. Can you hear me now, is an apt description of today’s Scripture lessons, for they are about the Lord and His Word…and when we do not hear His Word and when we hear His Word.  In the lessons:

  • Paul was hearing the Corinthian Christian’s comparing appetite for food as the moral equivalent of sexual appetite as justification for prostitution.

  • Israel was no longer hearing the Word of God and the Lord spoke to a young man in the Temple, Samuel, to bring the Word of the Lord to a wayward Israel.  Samuel’s name literally means, ”God hears”.

  • And Philip and Nathaniel heard the Lord’s call into the apostleship and the apostles would be those to first speak the Gospel of God into a dark world for many to hear and believe and be saved.

First:  the Lord is everywhere as the Scripture makes abundantly clear, in particular today’s Psalm (139):

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.

The Lord tells us this for our comfort.  He is Emmanuel, literally, God with us.  His one hand leads you with His Law and His right hand holds you with the forgiveness that comes from the Gospel.  His hands became flesh. 

Secondly, when we sin, the Lord’s sure promise that the Lord is everywhere can become terror and as Adam, we run away from His presence.  “We can run, but we can’t hide”, as Adam and Eve found out as they were found out. Hidden in our thoughts are rage, lust, envy…all the seven deadly sins.  They can become “words” and then deadly actions. We are not hiding anything from the Lord.  Looking at the Law of the Lord,  I can plainly see that I too am accused.  “…through the Law come recognition of sin”.    As the Lutheran Confessions teach clearly, “The Law always accuses”. The Lord accuses and there are no excuses, so that we may turn to him and pray and cry, Lord, have mercy on me a sinner”.

  “And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.”  Israel could not hear the Word nor see what the Lord was doing. Why?    The priest Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phineas: “…were worthless men. They did not know the Lord (1 Sam. 2)…they were taking the sacrifices of  meat in the Temple to fill their own bellies, more than what was allowed.  Also when, “…Eli was very old… he kept hearing all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting.”  They were too busy knowing women, outside of marriage, so these priests no longer knew the Lord and His Word of Law and Grace toward them and for them. This was open immorality against the Temple of the Lord and marriage.  Immorality against marriage, in the Church, was in Corinth.  The sayings had made their way in Corinth: “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”.  “I feel hungry, I eat.  I feel sexual desire, I engage in sex.”  Sexual appetite is the same as appetite for food, but there is a big difference between eating a tuna sandwich because I am hungry, and going to bed with a woman outside of marriage.  The two become one flesh:

Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 

Joined:  the basis of this word in classical Greek was,  “to glue, cement” and it is also translated in the King James in other places as “cleave”j.  ?  Several years ago, a fellow pastor told our circuit that for a confirmation class to describe  one flesh marriage that it is like two pieces of paper glued together.  He had the class do just that and after the glue dried, now separate the two sheets of paper.  The result?  A mess. Now take the torn sheet and glue them with another sheet and rip that apart, and we see the results in church and society.  I say this not to make us proud that we are not like THEM, but humble that the Lord has saved us in many a mess of lust in the heart and He answers prayer, Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Marriage and the Lord’s Temple are one in Christ Jesus and both have been under severe attack in our day and time.  Our stance, our stand, in faith in the Lord is like Samuel’s:  Not so much “Listen, Lord, your servant is speaking!” but rather Speak, Lord, your servant is listening! We think we can dictate the terms of our salvation, by picking and choosing in Scripture what we want in a savior and the Lord hears the heresy and does not listen to it but instructs ever out of His Word the way we should go.  Indeed, as in Proverbs: 

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
but the Lord weighs the heart. (Proverbs 21: 2)

Isn’t that the truth?  We think what we are doing is right until God’s law tells us otherwise as He weighs the heart.  We pray with the psalmist, “Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly.” Ps.85: 8

Jesus said to Nathaniel that he would see heaven opened. The allusion in seeing heaven opened is the Patriarch Jacob’s dream on his way to Haran. The dream is commonly called Jacob’s ladder but what he saw in his dream was more like a temple and the Lord stood next to him on the road and the angels ascending and descending…but this is key: heaven opened.  Heaven opened when Jesus Christ was baptized and heaven opened when the Cross is lifted high, the mark of the true temple, of heaven come down in a Man, Jesus Christ for our forgiveness.  Truly, greater things will Nathaniel see:  the epiphany of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.  Clinging and holding to Jesus Christ in His Promised Presence in the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament is the reception in faith of His forgiveness.  The angels are messengers of God, bringing God’s Word to His people.  The Lord promised Nathaniel He would see the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.  He would see the many messengers of God’s Word proclaiming, teaching and living the Word of the Promises of God fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  Our ears hearing the Gospel and faith clinging to the Savior in His love of mankind.  “…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?”  Can you hear me now?

“For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” Can you hear me now?  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.”  Can you hear me now?  “Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven.” Can you hear me now? “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Can you hear me now?    “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Can you hear me now? 

 Flee from sexual immorality, we heard in the Epistle.  The same word is used at the end of the ‘love’ chapter, 1 Corinthians 13,  1 Corinthians 14: 1,  Pursue love  Run away from sin, and run ever after the love of God in Jesus Christ for us and our salvation.  The Law always accuses, to show us sin and point us ever to our Savior.   God’s Law does not only accuse: His Law instructs, informs and illumines our path of life in Christ Jesus so that we love the Lord’s paths, His way so that we may pray with Samuel, Speak, now for your servant hears. 

 

A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. -MLK, Jr.

Concordia and Koinonia

Introduction:  Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr’s  “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”  dated April 16th, 1963, was written to clergymen who did not like the non-violent protests of civil rights movement. Like the Apostle Paul, Dr. King wrote from prison. His letter is an apologia, a defense of  non-violent protest against injustice.  It is a long letter. Below are citations from it.  You can read the entire letter here. The entire letter is should be read as part of our civic duty. 

First, note that Dr. King had no troubles with the “separation of Church and state”.  It was not about the 10 commandments in a court house but in the courts of public opinion and policy.  Still is.  It is not about manger scenes alone in public squares but His Incarnation for us in our public squares.  My wife asked me why was Rev. King named “Martin Luther”.  This…

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“For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that “nothing happens” when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.”

(From Mr. Lewis’ Introduction to On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius)

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