Archive for December, 2018

Concordia and Koinonia

According to tradition, St. Lucia’s were gouged out and so she is depicted holding them. Her eyes saw the fair beauty of the Lord for herself and others.

Collect of the Day: 

O Almighty God, by whose grace and power Your holy servant Lucia triumphed over suffering and remain ever faithful unto death, grant us, who now remember her with thanksgiving, to be so true in our witness to You in this world that we may receive with her new eyes without tears and the crown of light and life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

One of the victims of the great persecution under the Roman emperor Diocletian, Lucia met her death at Syracuse on the island of Sicily in the year A.D. 304, because of her Christian faith. Known for her…

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Giving Up church for Advent

I find it astounding that from AD 33, when Our Lord was crucified, buried, rose again, ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit, till in or about the year AD 312 when the Emperor Constantine made Christianity a legal religion of the Roman Empire, the Church grew.  The Church grew to such size that she was so recognizable in the Roman Empire that even the Caesar and others began sit up and take notice of the inevitability of the Church in their midst. The Church’s growth is amazing because she was both mildly and severely persecuted for almost two and half centuries, in that first age of the Martyrs.   My amazement grew even more when I realized that there were no official church constitutions, headquarters, staff, hymnals,sanctuaries, even Bibles (printed Bibles would not begin till Guttenberg in the 16th Century), TV, radio, magazines, internet.  How? How did the Church grow? 

Dr. C. F. W. Walther has a Scriptural insight as to the answer:

“Who, then, as the power in the kingdom? It is Jesus Christ alone. He declares this of Himself. He says:”I am a King.” I am the good Shepherd.” “One is your Master, even Christ.” The apostle calls Him “the Head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.” By which means Christ exercises the power in His church, though He has withdrawn His visible presence from it and sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, is clearly shown by the last declaration, with which He parted from His disciples: “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and, 10, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” Hence His Word, accompanied and sealed by the holy Sacraments, is the means whereby Christ exercises power in His kingdom. This is the “right scepter” with which He rules His people, this is the “rod and staff” with which He feeds His flock.”

As Martin Luther preached about the Reformation: we did nothing, and  we preached and taught the Word and it was the Word that did everything. We will do anything to make the Church grow, like give ten dollars to the first 50 worshipers on a Sunday, come up with jazzier and more peppy tunes, invent new models of Church growth, and the like.  Our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Empire did none of that and it can’t be done in Communist China.  How has the Church grown in the Communist regime of China these past years since the coming of Communism and tyranny and darkness beginning 1 October, 1949? Sounds so simplistic: They listened to Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church in, “His Word, accompanied and sealed by the holy Sacraments, is the means whereby Christ exercises power in His kingdom.”  They were forgiven sinners as we, and we know in the New Testament, apostasy happened, but it was not excused or “dialogued with”. As the Lord Himself promised, I will build My Church. Christians in the first centuries, and maybe in China, have had to memorize the Scripture, become living books of the Word.  Like them, we too have the Word but when we begin to trust our own planning, experts, and the like, as the means to “grow the church”, our trust is holy misplaced:  we are becoming idolaters in the Church of Christ. No wonder I was astonished by the first centuries’ growth of the Church as my astonishment shows my idolatry.

The old Roman Catholic critique of Protestants is on target:  Protestants begin a church meeting with prayer and the liturgy with announcements. In a similar vein, Michael A. Lockwood, in his book, The Unholy Trinity: Martin Luther Against the Idol of Me, Myself and I, has this cogent reflection:

In the Gospels, we see our Lord constantly in prayer, particularly when he faced a big decision or crisis. He often stayed up late at night to pray, and he instructed his disciples to be people of prayer. Many of the Biblical saints also set us an example of fasting and prayer in times of need all too often my experience of church life has been more like this: We face a problem, so we call a meeting. We pray for two minutes, and then strategize for two hours. Maybe my experience is atypical—and certainly, I have experienced exceptions—yet my experience of the church is enough that I suspect it is not. If this is our standard way of managing church, then in practical terms we have more faith in our planning and strategizing than in our Lord who answers prayer. The work habits of church leadership could also suggest the same thing, that as a group we place too much confidence in what our strength can achieve.

Michael Lockwood cites many Scripture passages of the Church and her Lord in prayer. Advent, like Lent, is a time of penitence.  Maybe we should be giving up church structures, governing bodies, staff and the like and giving ourselves to the Lord in the Sacraments and the Divine Service, continuing catechesis, prayer, Scripture, Biblical and Confessional retreats praying the Daily Offices, yes, even fasting. 

Not so long ago, high school age sons and daughters would tell Dad or Mom, “Oh, give it a rest”.  Einstein said, Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.  We keep on going down the dead ends of our ‘brilliance’.  Let’s give it a rest and repent.  We are always moving around, roaming and looking for the latest thing and the Lord says, Be still and know that I am God. You can’t fill someone’s glass when he’s always moving about with the glass and the Lord wills to fill us. We must pray as the Church:

Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers and to lighten 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. Amen.

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From Martin Luther’s Sermon on St. Luke 7: 18-35

“In Christ’s kingdom things are different. He does not operate with strong, holy people but with weak, poor sinners of whom Christ said: “The blind receive their sight, the dead are raised up.” Now to raise the dead is a great miracle; but a far greater, wonderful miracle, one which does not receive the recognition, is that God has ordained a king to preach the gospel to sinners.”(Luther)

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John the Baptist Christmas card | Have you ever seen a Christmas card with John the Baptist? No?  Why? John pointed to the real Christ.  Sentimental Christianity does not. | image tagged in prophet | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

St. Luke 19:

When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here.

The disciples had set Jesus upon a donkey on which “no one has ever yet sat”.  What happens when a person sits on a donkey or a horse on which no one has ever yet sat?  The horse or donkey would buck the rider. The animal has the fear of man in it.  The donkey colt would resist, maybe with all it’s might. Then think about an unridden colt donkey riding into Jerusalem with the throngs waving palm branches, laying their garments under near the donkey’s feet and the crowds yelling and praising God. The colt did not buck in the streets.  Jesus, the Lion of Judah, was not bucked or thrown off His humble mount.  He’s the humble king with authority over all things, even the animals that he’s created.  Jesus doesn’t need to break it.  He’s gentle in his authority.  Man needs to break a horse or a donkey to ride upon it.   The Son of Man does not need to break the colt of its fear of man.  When God who is love was on the donkey’s back the donkey had no fear. 

After all, when tempted by Satan, Jesus was with the wild beasts and they did nothing to Him.  He tamed the tempestuous wave on the Sea of Galilee.  He withered the fig tree.  He walked upon the water.  In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God.  The Lord of creation tamed without bit or bridle the colt for His advent into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He did not need to beat the animal.  He loves His creation and hates nothing He created.   As it is written in 2 Corinthians 5:14:  The love of Christ constrains us. Constrain in Greek means also to hold together.  His mercy holds us together and perfect love casts out all fear.

If Jesus can do that for a mere donkey, how much more his people?  How much more should we present ourselves for service, trusting in Christ’s humble authority to take care of, lead us, make us fearless in the face of any circumstance? Yet we do fear God and rightly so as He is the one true God.  And as it written, God is love and God is holy.  His perfect love to sinners is frightful and so He came born of the Virgin Mary.

We do fear other people, also made in the image of God. Man wants to put the fear of man also in his fellow man.  If it were not so, then there would be no fear producing kings, tyrants and despots. The Lion of Judah went up against the powers and principalities who were afraid of Him.  The Lord also loved them. 

John the Baptist was no authoritarian ruler nor even a charismatic personality.  He did not beat the people of Israel in submission, instead, John baptized them in the waters of repentance. John’s Lord would baptize in a holy new baptism:  for the washing away of sin, for the remission of sins and the life of the world to come. John did so under the rulers and the powers of the Roman Empire as St. Luke spells out:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

In the wilderness, in the wilds, the word of God came to John. Not in the world capitals of politics and religion.  In the wilderness, in the desert where nothing is tame. The desert is indeed wild but that does not compare the wildness in our religious and political capitals.   Even a jackass knows that. There is no salvationin the world capitals.  Washington does not save, nor Rome, nor Wittenberg.  John went to the place ancient Israel was led from the house of bondage to the land of promise.   From today’s Old Testament reading, Malachi:   

Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.

And Malachi preached 400 years before the Christ and it was  time of sorcery, adultery, fake news, oppression of  the poor and the sojourner.  I have read that exorcisms are on the rise.  You would think those would have been the good old days 400 years before Christ and it sounds like our time.  Hold your horses! 

Godly education in the Word of the Lord is ongoing, from Psalm 32: I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
which must be curbed with bit and bridle,or it will not stay near you.

Jesus did not need bit and bridle that Palm Sunday in Jerusalem.  The Lord is good but He’s not a tame God and He is the Lord who tames us, calms us, comforts us with His Word. He does break us with His Law.  The Holy Spirit will instruct you, teach you in the way you should go. The LORD is ever teaching us in the school of His Church. He reaches us Jesus Christ, who rode a donkey into Jerusalem.

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Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, You bestowed upon Your servant Nicholas of Myra the perpetual gift of charity. Grant Your Church the grace to deal in generosity and love with children and with all who are poor and distressed and to plead the cause of those who have no helper, especially those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief. We ask this for the sake of Him who gave His life for us, Your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

About St. Nicholas:  Of the many saints commemorated by the Christian Church, Nicholas (d. AD 342) is one of the best known. Very little is known historically of him, though there was a church of Saint Nicholas in Constantinople as early as the sixth century. Research has affirmed that there was a bishop by the name of Nicholas in the city of Myra in Lycia (part of modern Turkey) in the fourth century. From that coastal location, legends about Nicholas have traveled throughout time and space. He is associated with charitable giving in many countries around the world and is portrayed as the rescuer of sailors, the protector of children, and the friend of people in distress or need. In commemoration of Sinte Klaas (Dutch for “Saint Nicholas,”in English “Santa Claus”), December 6 is a day for giving and receiving gifts in many parts of Europe.(from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

Further reflection:  

It used to be in the Roman Catholic Rite of Confirmation the bishop would administer a light slap on the cheek of the confirmand to remind him that he is a soldier of Christ to spread the faith. I guess that people found the slap was offensive…but so is Christ Jesus to the devil and his angels. I think the confirmand slap means  a wake-up call.  Maybe it is Christians who need the slap more than heretics these days!  The Church has a backbone, pure doctrine, so that with a strong back we can bend and serve our dying neighbors Jesus Christ. Nicholas knew that. It’s about the true doctrine of The Nicene Creed. 

Nicholas is called “good St. Nick”!  He was not exactly good and that’s the point.  He knew he was not good on his own steam.  He slapped Arius for his false doctrine that there was a time when Christ was not. Nicholas  knew the Scripture, “The good that I want to do I don’t do but I do the very thing I hate…” (Romans 7: 7-25).  His goodness and love were purified by Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit through the gift of faith by His grace.  Nicholas was good in Christ, but not nice.  We encourage children to “be nice”.  It used to be “be good”.  If a young woman was “good”, it meant, for instance, she was a virgin.  As a friend and colleague had as his screen saver, “Nice is the enemy of the good”.  Even Woody Allen got some things right:  “Have a nice day”  “No, thanks I have better plans”.  So does the Lord.

Nice is attainable as a kind of a law of nice deeds and feelings.  Nice Christians won’t stand up to false doctrine.  Nice Christians go along with the crowd, that is, the world and we have seen the result in many a Christian denomination. Good is related to God, as God is good, which also means He is Holy.  Nicholas knew that his goodness was predicated on the utter goodness of God in Christ in His Nativity for children, the fallen children of Adam and Eve.  It also meant that Nicholas stood for something.  The martyrs died for the good of the Gospel, no one was ever martyred for being nice.

Jesus is the reason of the season or more precisely:  Jesus is the reason. Jesus is the reason for us and our salvation. It’s not only about a “happy  Christmas” but more and more a “slappy Christmas”:  we need to wake up as we see His Day approaching. 

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The Annunciation:  For You | FOR YOU | image tagged in pro nobis,annunciation | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

This reflection on St. Nicholas is by Orthodox priest and professor, Rev. Thomas Hopko from his book, The Winter Pascha (St. Vladmir’s Seminary Press):

We use that term “goodness” so lightly in our time. How easily we say of someone, “He is a good man” or “She is a good woman.” How lightly we say, “They are good people.” A teen-age girl takes an overdose of drugs, and the neighbors tell the reporters, “But she was always such a good girl, and her parents are such nice people!” A young man commits some terrible crime, and the same rhetoric flows: “But he was always such a good boy, and his family is so nice.”‘ A man dies on the golf course after a life distinguished by many years of profit-taking and martini-drinking, and the reaction is the same: “He was a good man, yeah, a real nice guy.” What do “good” and “nice” really mean in such cases? What do they describe? What do they express?

In Saint Luke’s gospel it tells us that one day a “ruler” came up to Jesus and asked, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus answered him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but God alone” (Lk18:18; see also Mk10:18). In Saint Matthew’s version it says that Jesus answered the man by saying, “Why do you ask Me about what is good? One there is who is good” (Mt19:17). However we choose to interpret Christ’s words, at least one point is clear. Jesus reacts to the facile, perhaps even sarcastic, use of the term “good” by referring it to its proper source. There is only One who is good, and that is God Himself. If you want to speak of goodness, then you must realize what—and Whom—you are talking about!

Like God, and like Jesus, Saint Nicholas was genuinely good. Real goodness is possible. For, to quote the Lord again, “with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mt19:26). A human being, even a rich human being who believes in God, can be genuinely good with God’s own goodness. “For truly I say to you,” says the Lord, “if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed … nothing will be impossible to you” (Mt17:20-21).The Messiah has come so that human beings can live lives which are, strictly speaking, humanly impossible. He has come so that people can really be good. One of the greatest and most beloved examples among believers that this is true is the holy bishop of  Myra about whom almost nothing else is known, or needs to be known, except that he was good. For this reason alone he remains, even in his secularized form, the very spirit of Christmas.

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