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Archive for December, 2017

Text:  St. Luke 2:  33-40, in particular for this quote:

34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

“If you wish to be a Christian, know for a certainty that your Lord Jesus Christ, you, your teaching, and all your activity will not be pleasing to the world.  For here you hear that the Lord Jesus Christ himself is a stone of contention and hateful stumbling block for those chosen people of God, and for all those who consider themselves great, mighty, intelligent and righteous.  They find Christ’s teaching offensive, then stumble and fall over it.  If you to be considered a fool, a heretic, a deceiver by them and their adherent, then accept this Lord and King and be a Christian; if not, if you become lazy and go to the devil, the world, will praise and honor you. Therefore, whoever wishes to be a Christian and inherit eternal life must, alone with his Lord Jesus Christ be considered an offense and a pitfall by others, a child of the devil, a heretic, a deceiver and a fool. That is the first picture.

The second part, however is a beautiful comforting word spoken by Simeon: Jesus has not only been set for the fall but also the rising of many in Israel.  These are the ones who accept this King, cling to him and, if the need arises, give body and life for his sake. They renounce their earthly ways, their own wisdom, their power, their righteousness, and holiness.  For they acknowledge that by their own wisdom, work and merit they cannot help themselves. If they are to be helped, it is only through him of whom it is written that he is the world’s Savior and light.  Therefore, to them Christ is the longed for champion to whom they cling, through whom they are saved.”

So this little child presents two picture:  one of offense; another of beautiful comfort.

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The Lord became a child to make us His children and so we are;  as it is written in Galatians 4:4-7: our adoption as the Lord’s sons and daughters. 

Concordia and Koinonia

 Text:  St. Matthew 2:13-23

Collect of the Day

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.

Intro:  Matthew’s Gospel tells of King Herod’s vicious plot against the infant Jesus after being “tricked” by the Wise Men.  Threatened by the one “born King of the Jews,”  Herod murdered all the children in  and around Bethlehem who were two years old or younger (Matthew 2: 16-18).  these “innocents,” commemorated just three days after the celebration of Jesus’ birth, remind us not only  of the terrible brutality of which human beings are capable but more significantly of…

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Collect of the Day:  

Merciful Lord, cast the bright beams of Your light upon Your Church that we, being instructed in the doctrine of Your blessed apostle and evangelist John, may come to the light of everlasting life;  for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God,now and forever. Amen.

Lessons:

Revelation 1: 1-6

Psalm 11

1 John 1: 1-2: 2

St. John 21: 20-25

St. John was a son of Zebedee and brother of James the Elder (whose festival day is July 25). John was among the first disciples to be called by Jesus (Matthew 4:18 -22) and became known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” as he refers to himself in the Gospel that bears his name (e.g., John 21:20). Of the Twelve, John alone did not forsake Jesus in the hours of His suffering and death. With the faithful women, he stood at the cross, where our Lord made him the guardian of His mother. After Pentecost, John spent his ministry in Jerusalem and at Ephesus, where tradition says he was bishop. He wrote the fourth Gospel, the three Epistles that bear his name, and the Book of Revelation. Especially memorable in his Gospel are the account of the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12), the “Gospel in a nutshell” (John 3:16), Jesus’ saying about the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-16), the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11), and Jesus’ encounter with Mary Magdalene on Easter morning (John 20:11-18). According to tradition, John was banished to the island of Patmos (off the coast of Asia Minor) by the Roman emperor Domitian. John lived to a very old age, surviving all the apostles, and died at Ephesus around AD 100. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

St. John 1

 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.2He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

 6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12But to all who did receive him,who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

 14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Reflection:  My wife, a chemist and scientist, once pointed out to me that physically you can bring light into the darkness, but you can not physically bring darkness into  the light.  I can cup my hands like making a snowball  so that the interior is darkness and I open my hands and the dark dissipates.  But we can spiritually bring darkness into the light.  In fact, by nature, separated by sin from the Lord, we are darkness (Ephesians 5:8). Into the darkness the light shines, Jesus Christ.  This is the great theme of Apostle and Evangelist remembered this day in the Scripture the Lord breathed into him to write.  The Gospel above is the appointed Gospel reading for the last service of Christ Mass Day. It is the light of love’s pure light, Jesus Christ, the dark world needs and yet knows not Him.  This is the light of His Word made flesh that His Church is to shine in the world.

And so there is no compromise between the darkness of idolatrous sin and the light of Christ:

For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 1 Thessalonians 5: 5

for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light  Ephesians 5:8

Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 2 Corinthians 6: 14

There can be no fellowship between light and darkness.  No compromise because once compromised the darkness prevails under the guise of light.   Almost as frightening as being in the darkness of sin and death is living in the twilight zone.  In the shadows, the devil lurks. What is the Lord’s response?

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. Ephesians 5: 11

This is our God-given, cross bearing, following the Light of world, Jesus, daily struggle:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Living in  the light of the Lord is the Lord’s doing, His grace ALONE:

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1: 12-14

Our strength is the Lord’s alone together as His Church, His Body in the world:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2: 8-10

Let us pray…

Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers  and enlighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation;  for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

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Reverent hearts, it is an old, laudable custom to commemorate St. Stephen on the second day of Christmas. For just as the innocent children were the first martyrs after Christ’s birth, so also St. Stephen was the first after Christ’s ascension to praise our glorious King Jesus with his blood. Our predecessors used to say, Heri natus est Christus in mundo, ut hodie Stephanus nasceretur in coelo. “Yesterday Christ was born in the world, so that today Stephen would be born in heaven.” This is speaking rightly and truly of the fruit of Jesus Christ’s birth. If the Christ Child had not been born, the entire world would be lost. Thus Stephen’s sleep in death and entrance through the open heaven to the glory of God in eternal life will show us well what great usefulness and goodness we have from the incarnation and birth of the Child Jesus.

Stephen means a “garland” or a “crown.” Think here of our beautiful Christmas consolation. Whoever believes in the name of Jesus is righteous before God and can expect a glorious crown. Devout Christians are “virgins” before God (Matthew 25:1; Revelation 14:4) and have four different virgin garlands.

The first is the garland of righteousness gifted.

Second is the garland of righteousness begun.

The third is the garland of all kinds of cross and thorns.

The fourth is the glorious garland of perfect righteousness.

The ancient teachers of the Church say that the Lord Jesus loved Stephen in life, in death, and after death. First, in life, for He filled him with His Spirit, with heavenly wisdom, and faith unfeigned. Second, in death, for He offered him heaven opened and waited for his soul. Third, after death, for He gave him the garland of glory and set up for him a famous commemoration until the Last Day. These are the beautiful flowers of Christmas. Those who truly love our glorious King Jesus Christ shall be certain of God’s grace in life, in death, and after death. They shall not die, but live, and proclaim the work of the Lord.—

Author:  Reverend Pastor Valerius Herberger

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St. Stephen, “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5), was one of the Church’s first seven deacons. He was appointed by the leaders of the Church to distribute food and other necessities to the poor in the growing Christian community in Jerusalem, thereby giving the apostles more time for their public ministry of proclamation (Acts 6:2-5). He and the other deacons apparently were expected not only to wait on tables but also to teach and preach. When some of his colleagues became jealous of him, they brought Stephen to the Sanhedrin and falsely charged him with blaspheming against Moses (Acts 6:9-14). Stephen’s confession of faith, along with his rebuke of the members of the Sanhedrin for rejecting their Messiah and being responsible for His death, so infuriated them that they dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death. Stephen is honored as the Church’s first martyr and for his words of commendation and forgiveness as he lay dying: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59-60).

 Acts 6: And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen… This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.

The freedmen, or literally, the liberated ones, were possibly descendants of manumitted slaves.  So maybe for them to hear that they are freely freed  in Jesus Christ would have been galling and going against the ‘freedom’ they had sought in their own synagogue and earned for themselves, but in Christ they were truly and eternally manumitted.   In front of them and the high priest, in his speech, more like a sermon,  (Acts 7) Deacon Stephen went through Israel’s history.  He  pointed out the way the Lord led them in freedom for Israel only to reject the Lord’s Word and finally that happened to the Messiah Jesus and they resisted the Holy Spirit and the prophets who spoke by the Holy Spirit, and did not keep the Law.  The people did not want to hear the truth about themselves any more and they stoned him to death.

Here was a man full of the Holy Spirit who was in love with the One born yesterday Who alone can free, what no law could free.  We could sing today, ‘On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…Himself:  Jesus Christ’.  “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59-60). And the Lord said before He died, “Father, in Thy hands I commend my spirit” and “Forgive them, for they know not what they do”. 

It is recorded that Stephen’s face shined like an angel’s (6: 15).  “Angel” means “messenger”.  Stephen was a messenger of the glad tidings of Jesus Christ. People will misunderstand both the message and the messenger and think by killing the messenger and the message, they will stop the Lord. They can’t. The temple authorities did not want to hear what Stephen had to say, to say the least.  But why?  The Lord will changed them, and that’s what so many do not want and so they resist and close their ears and cry out because they think they are ‘pretty damn good’. Acts 6:57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.

 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.”--Luke 6: 26).  And in  our homes, “And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” (St. Matthew 10: 36).  After years of education, especially in universities, that there is no authority, save the self and maybe science, the Scripture is at best a suspect authority.  We make up the rules as we go along, and we like sheep have gone astray, everyone goes according to his own way  (cf. Isaiah 53). Since the Church is derided more and more these days, many want to go along with world, destroying marriage by applauding homosexual intercourse to the pablum of too many televangelists to make a buck with their latest book, and the donations given by so many of their idolaters. They are all applauded and their pastors preach peace, peace when there is not peace. As the prophet Jeremiah said of the preachers of his day (“prophet to priest”) in Israel, goes for us as well, as Stephen knew:

“For from the least to the greatest of them,
    everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
and from prophet to priest,
    everyone deals falsely.

They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
    saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
    when there is no peace.
15 Were they ashamed when they committed abomination?
    No, they were not at all ashamed;
    they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;
    at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,”
says the Lord.  Jeremiah 6

And those churches which are finally speaking more of the truth that sets us free, as did Stephen, are not talked about with gratitude, but hatred.  Maybe some are finally doing the right thing.  The call to repentance has been barely heard in this generation, contrary to all the Lord’s Word.  Many are preaching the unvarnished truth and now many are surprised of this hatred.  I know this from first hand experience as I have been surprised by such virulence.  As German Lutheran pastor and professor, Hermann Sasse, who lived through the Nazi years and after the war emigrated to Australia to be a seminary prof:

“The Lutheran Churches are still sunning themselves in the delusion that they have something to expect from the world other than the dear holy cross, which all those must carry who proclaim God’s Law and the Gospel of Jesus Christ to mankind. But this delusion will soon disappear. Our American brethren in the faith will also learn this through painful experiences.” (emphasis added)

Even if churches and the State try to stop the message, it has not worked yet, for the Lord, even through the blood of His saints, wants all men to come to the knowledge of Christ and His Name to free all men and women. And please let us remember that St. Stephen was not stoned to death for his good works and serving, but for preaching the Word of God.

The Lord is clear that our response is overcoming evil with good.We pray for more angels radiant with Christ, as St. Stephen, Proto-Martyr.

Hymnody

Jesus! Name of priceless worth

To the fallen of the earth

For the promise that it gave,

“Jesus shall His people save.”

—Jesus! Name of Wondrous Love (LSB 900:3)

Prayer of the Day

Heavenly Father, in the midst of our sufferings for the sake of Christ grant us grace to follow the example of the first martyr, Stephen, that we also may look to the One who suffered and was crucified on our behalf and pray for those who do us wrong; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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“Behold, I come to You, Lord, that I may prosper by Your gift and be delighted at Your holy banquet which You, O God, in Your sweetness have prepared for Your poor.

Concordia and Koinonia

“Behold, I come to You, Lord, that I may prosper by Your gift and be delighted at Your holy banquet which You, O God, in Your sweetness have prepared for Your poor. Behold, all that I can or ought to desire is in You. You are my salvation and my redemption, my hope and strength, my honor and glory.

“Gladden, then, this day the soul of Your servant because I have raised my heart to You, O Lord Jesus. I long to receive You now, devoutly and reverently. I desire to bring You into my house that, with Zacchaeus, I may merit Your blessing and be numbered among the children of Abraham.

“My soul longs for Your Body; my heart desires to be united with You. Give me Yourself—it is enough; for without You there is no consolation. Without You I cannot exist, without Your visitation I cannot live. I must…

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Almighty and ever-living God, You strengthened Your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in the resurrection of Your Son. Grant us such faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that we may never be found wanting in Your sight; through the same Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  

Appointed Scripture for this day:  

Judge 6:  36-40

Psalm 139: 1-12

Romans 10: 8b-15

St. John 1:  35-42a

All four Gospels mention St. Thomas as one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. John’s Gospel, which names him “the Twin,” uses Thomas’s questions to reveal truths about Jesus. It is Thomas who says, “Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?” To this question Jesus replies, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:5-6). John’s Gospel also tells how Thomas, on the evening of the day of Jesus’ resurrection, doubts the report of the disciples that they had seen Jesus. Later, “doubting Thomas” becomes “believing Thomas” when he confesses Jesus as “my Lord and my God” (John 20:24-29). According to tradition, Thomas traveled eastward after Pentecost, eventually reaching India, where still today a group of people call themselves “Christians of St. Thomas.” Thomas was martyred for the faith by being speared to death. (Collect and Intro from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:

The first Latin words  of this Great O Antiphon is: “O Oriens”.  “Oriens” can be variously translated,”Dawn”, “Rising Dawn”, “Rising Sun”, “Dayspring” etc. “Oriens” is the Latin basis of our words, both noun and verb, “orient”.   We are oriented facing the east…for from the East has come our Savior. “Orient” can mean both “east’ and the “rising sun”. I find it most interesting the ancient understanding that we are found facing East, from which has come the Light of the Word. The west has been considered in Church history as the haunt of the demonic.  In the eastern Orthodox Churches, in a Baptism, the catechumen will face the west and the priest will  turn him toward the east:

The sponsor, holding the child who is to be baptized, faces to the west (rear of the Church); as does the Priest, who asks the following questions thrice and they are to be answered each time by the sponsor.

PRIEST: Dost thou renounce Satan, and all his Angels, and all his works, and all his service, and all his pride?

SPONSOR: (Replies for the child) I do.

PRIEST: Hast thou renounced Satan?

SPONSOR: I have.

PRIEST: (Once) Breathe and spit upon him.

The sponsor, holding the child, then turns to face the east (toward the Altar); as does the Priest, who asks the following questions thrice and they are to be answered each time by the sponsor.

PRIEST: Dost thou unite thyself unto Christ?

SPONSOR: I do.

PRIEST: Hast thou united thyself unto Christ?

SPONSOR: I have.

PRIEST: (Once) Dost thou believe in Him?

SPONSOR: I believe in Him as King and God.

We all need to be so oriented.  We need to spit upon the devil and “his empty promises” (from the Lutheran Baptismal rite) who wants us lost, disbelieving in Christ and found in the devil’s unholy kingdom. Thomas was not with the apostles when the Lord  first appeared.  It was not until 8 days later that Thomas was  with the Apostles, the Church. Apart from Christ, and the apostolic Word,  Thomas was lost and in the dark. Apart from the utter grace of God, we are lost.  

Thomas was disoriented and firm in his disbelief and error. He was in a sense a thoroughly going post-modern man.  He did not believe the report of his fellow apostles, nor the faithful women, but he did believe in himself.  He was looking the wrong way.   Thomas said he would not believe unless he could put his hands in the Savior’s wounds.  When the Lord appeared in the locked room, the Lord invited Thomas to put his hands in His Wounds.  Then Thomas cried out, My Lord and my God. It is the wounds of the Christ that shows us who He is:  My Lord and my God…our Savior born and laid in a feeding trough.  His wounds orient us to the Lord in His love for us. Thomas believed and he confessed Jesus is very God from very God who in His wounds bore the sin of the world.  His Wounds are the light of the Savior and our salvation, “…to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death”.  

We live in a disoriented time and culture that has lost its way, and lost its Way which chooses the way of death in its video games, its movies and in abortuaries.  May the Way of Christ, the truth and the life, be our light day by day orienting us toward His Kingdom!

Roman Catholic theologian,Hans urs von Balthassar wrote that in this dark,moonless night, it makes no sense not to use the flashlight the Lord has given us.  His means of Scripture, Prayer, Sacraments, Confession and Absolution, Preaching and Teaching of Law and Promise are the Holy Spirit’s means orienting us to Himself, the Christ, so we can ever find the Way as He did so for Thomas.  

O Lord, may we shine Your Word for others as well to find the Way Who finds us all.  O Lord, Your Word is lamp unto our feet, a light unto my path  and the light of our souls.

Oriens means East, the Rising Dawn, the Light of the World and Sun and Son: Christ was born for this.

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