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St. Luke 7: 24 When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?

Jesus asked the crowd, What did you go out to see?  A reed shaken by the wind? Luther called pastors preaching to, “…temper the truth to the sensitive fastidiousness of fashionable hearers” “reed preachers”.  John was no reed-preacher. His sermons on marriage landed him in Herod Antipas’ prison and John’s head was handed to Herodias. He preached, Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

In the classic movie, Casablanca, set during World War II, in Casablanca, Morocco, the Nazis have not quite taken over the town. It was a French colony and the Renault is the Captain of the French police force.  Captain Renault stated succinctly his political philosophy and position:  “I blow with the wind and the prevailing wind is from Vichy”. Vichy was the French government collaborating with the Nazis.  Too many times, churches and her Christians collaborate with their Vichys, have “blown with the wind”, that is cooperating with the world. This collaboration with the Enemy has become endemic. Mankind is a like a dog chasing it’s own tail. We look to ourselves to save ourselves and even reinvent ourselves and God’s Law to think we are doing pretty good and we’re still not happy.  We look for happiness and the Lord offers joy. Luther:

…repentance, as John preaches it for the forgiveness of sins, consists mostly in your acknowledging that God is right and confessing that His judgment is true when he says that we are all sinners and all condemned.  When you do this  from the heart, then repentance has begun. What more must I do then?  Bow down and be baptized.”

If baptized, bow down and be forgiven.  Bow down and receive His Body and Blood for the remission of sins. This joyful repentance is we can give up trying to be our god and confess:  You are the Christ, Who bore the sin of the world, even mine.

In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul wrote that the Lord gave us “apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” to teach and preach the Word, administer the Sacraments;   that is the “work of ministry”.  In that work of ministry that we have received, so we are grounded in Christ as we are founded by the Holy Spirit, in Him to the glory of God the Father.  “..so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”   Paul wrote to Timothy that in the last days, and these are the last day, when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  

Captain Renault collaborated with the Nazis for his passions: women, drunkenness, gambling, and his own power, which meant his own safety. Would a man sell out his country to save his own hide?  When asked about our faith and life in Christ’s, do we hem and haw as the Lord’s Christians in His Church?  Those who are faithful to the Lord in oppressive times might lose their reputations, even their heads, but worse: those who are faithful to the world and its passions, have handed their souls over to the devil.  

John the Baptist sounded so harsh, You brood of vipers!  The prophet John was simply forceful because the Word of God comes like a hammer: to smash idolatry and a hammer is used to build.  Maybe it is true that every age gets the saint it needs, for the saint acts like an antidote to the Vichy fashions of politics and religion.  For the proud and the boastful, for the self-secure and omni-competent, yes, Jesus and John’s message is harsh. Neither were reed preachers. But to the blind, the mute, the deaf, the dead and the poor they brought the good news of the God’s reign. 

“…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)

In Matthew 12, the Evangelist quotes Isaiah at the exact moment after Jesus cured the man with the withered hand and the Pharisees were plotting to destroy Him:

“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
    my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased…
20 a bruised reed he will not break

A bruised reed He will not break…not strong powerful Christians but bruised ones, as Jesus told John’s disciples, the blind, the leprous, deaf, the dead, and poor have good news preached to them, and the King who preaches to the poor the Gospel. We can add to the list the Beatitude list, poor in spirit, those who mourn, the persecuted and reviled on account of our King’s Name. Reeds, frail flesh, easily swayed, easily broken. Pastor Paul Kretzman from his 1918 commentary on the Isaiah passage in Matthew:

(Christ’s) spirit would be neither that of contention nor of blatant self-advertising after the manner of preachers that bring their names to the front,  but forget the Gospel they were sent to preach. So gentle, sympathetic, and kind would His spiritual ministry be that those that are weak, whose faith was at the point of extinction, could depend upon His help. The bruised reed is carefully bound up until the contusion is healed; the weak Christian receives strength from above. The lamp of faith which is at the point of expiring will receive fresh oil from the Gospel. 

After the Roman soldiers, plaited the King’s crown of thorns, thrusting it on His head, they then gave Him a reed as His scepter and mocked Him kneeling before Him saying, Hail!  King of the Jews!  That reed is us to rule in mercy and the strength of the One who died for sinners and rose again. He holds in His nail-pierced Hand a bruised reed he will not break, but heal us of our iniquity.

A bruised reed he will not break, then the Scripture states, and a smoldering wick He will not quench: a Christian’s faith is not always strong, a smoldering wick.  He brings us  to light by the light of His Word, for those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.

Jesus’ first formal sermon begins with the beatitudes, the first one being:  Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Present tense, present tense blessing from the present tense Savior.  The Lord does not ordain the great and powerful, the wise and omnicompetent to preach His Word.  Luther, days before he died, wrote down: it is true we are all beggars.  Jesus is the beggar king, to raise out of the depths, beggars, sinners.  He preached His sermon through the dead, the lame, the blind, the deaf, the poor, for the dead, the lame, blind, deaf, poor.  He does so gently and sweetly, tell John, what you hear and see, the  sermon of His undying love for John and for you.  Now John, in prison knows, that first beatitude, blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And he hears another beatitude, And blessed is the one who does not stumble on account of me.  Jesus Christ is Himself the beatitude of the Father to weary sinners.  His manger and His Cross are His sermon to us, the living Christmas card and greeting for you:  telling us what He did, is doing and will do when He comes again at the final Advent.

The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
    him who is weary. Isaiah 50:4

We too can sustain the weary with a Word, God’s Word.

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Concordia and Koinonia

The “O Antiphons” refer to the seven antiphons that are recited (or chanted) preceding the Magnificat during Vespers of the Liturgy of the Hours. They cover the special period of Advent preparation known as the Octave before Christmas, Dec. 17-23, with Dec. 24 being Christmas Eve and Vespers for that evening being for the Christmas Vigil. An octave is literal 8 days.  From the earliest time of the Church 8 is considered significant: 7 days of the creation, then on the 1st Day of the Week, the 8th day, the new creation:  Christ is risen!

The exact origin of the “O Antiphons” is not known. Boethius (c. 480-524) made a slight reference to them, thereby suggesting their presence at that time. At the Benedictine abbey of Fleury (now Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire), these antiphons were recited by the abbot and other abbey leaders in descending rank, and then a gift was given to…

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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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