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Archive for December, 2015

Mercy in the Household

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We started this blog to tell about the connections and the way our paths cross up here in the North country.  We have so much in common in Minnesota and North Dakota that we took on a joint project to build Project 24 boarding schools and child centers with our partner church in Kenya.  There are many things that we have done in support of mercy work that it is hard to keep track of it all.  We have worked together on disaster relief and helping neighbors in many ways.  Any way I got the picture above from Dr. Al Colver the Director of Church Relations for the LCMS.  This picture was taken not far from his house.

Then I got this –

I spoke with Rev. Ross Johnson, Director of LCMS Disaster Response, this morning
regarding our LCMS congregations and communities in need.  Right now Illinois and
Missouri are experiencing unprecedented winter floods.  North Dakota styled snow and
ice have hammered South Texas, tornadoes have been dancing through Arkansas and
Alabama.  The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is a church of mercy, where local
congregations are active with mercy-driven care in disaster stricken communities.
Currently LCMS Disaster Response is working with four districts in six
disaster-stricken states to alleviate human need.  The great need we see today is an
invitation for North Dakota congregations to assist in our Synod’s mercy-care.  In
mercy our Savior always stepped toward human need.  His church does the same.  In
2011 LCMS members from across the nation supplied more than $500 thousand dollars to
assist North Dakota’s critical flood response.  As church leaders today, I’d like
you to please consider a special offering for LCMS Disaster Response on Sunday
January 3rd or 10th to help meet the current need as our church body steps forward
with the Mercy of Christ.

Rev. Paul Krueger
ND District Task Force on Mercy-Care

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A Cradle In Bethlehem.

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A mother rocking a cradle in Bethlehem is the childhood picture we have in our minds of Christmas.  Little girls still want to be Mary in the Christmas program.  The reality of it all is a bit more distressing and depressing.  The stable and the unaccompanied birth except for Joseph, Luther calls “pitiful”.  He wrote, “But the birth itself is still more pitiful. There was no one to take pity on this young wife who was for the first time to give birth to a child; no one to take to heart her condition that she, a stranger, did not have the least thing a mother needs in a birth-night. There she is without any preparation, without either light or fire, alone in the darkness, without any one offering her service as is customary for women to do at such times. Every thing is in commotion in the inn, there is a swarming of guests from all parts of the country, no one thinks of this poor woman. It is also possible that she did not expect the event so soon, else she would probably have remained at Nazareth.”

Mothers around the world rock cradles and hold their babies and hope for them the best.  Sometimes their situations are pitiful.  Sometimes situations we think are pitiful really are not at all.  But mothers, unless they are truncated in some way seem to be universal in their care for their children.  They do all they can for them and want the same things.  Health and peace and a good education and a happy life are some of the foundational things that all moms want for their children.

Project 24 helped many children before some issues arose to cause problems.  We are back on track again assisting children to get a Christian education and do so in a safe place.  If the mothers are in the picture I am sure that they appreciate the efforts of brothers and sisters from around the world who care.  If the mothers of these children are no longer around the children are at least aware that they have Christian neighbors that they may never meet this side of eternity who care for them.  Supporters of Project 24 hear the words of Luther in his Christmas sermon –

If Christ has now thus become your own, and you have by such faith been cleansed through him and have received your inheritance without any personal merit, but alone through the love of God who gives to you as your own the treasure and work of his Son; it follows that you will do good works by doing to your neighbor as Christ has done to you. Here good works are their own teacher. What are the good works of
Christ? Is it not true that they are good because they have been done for your benefit, for God’s sake, who commanded him to do the works in your behalf? In this then Christ was obedient to the Father, in that he loved and served us.  If you want to help Project 24 you can send a gift to the North Dakota District LCMS PO Box 9029
Fargo, ND 58106-9029

or the Minnesota North District Office P.O. Box 604 Brainerd, MN  56401

Please put Project 24 in the memo line of your check.

photo (41)

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Mercy and Missions and Martyrs.

st stephenThe teaching of the Christmas season is love, love in all its glory and wonder, the love of God to man, the love of man to God and in Him to fellowmen. Our constant problem is sin, which in every instance is lack of love, lack of appreciation of God’s love.  Immediately after we celebrate Jesus birth on Christmas day we enter the world of unthankfulness and hatred.

In the 12 Days of Christmas there is much we miss if we don’t pay attention and most of the time we don’t.  I have a book in my library that goes through every day of the church year and explains origins and prayers and readings etc.  Immediately after Christmas day we are transposed into the world of evil and hatred precisely because of God’s love.  December 26th is the day of St. Stephan.  “The early church held Stephen in high honor as the first martyr and in the fourth century it appointed December 26 as his special day”   The observance of December 27 as the Day of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist dates from the sixth century. And the Holy Innocents (December 28) have been commemorated since ancient times after the manner or order of the saints. The innocent babies that died in Herod’s evil rampage are considered Saints.  In reality, apart from Christmas there are no saints: the communion of saints is the holy church of the holy Child. Gal 3:26: “Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” Stephan was a part of the first corporate act of the early church and that was to care for the needy and the poor among the church.  All that the Bible tells us about Stephen is in Acts 6: 5 to 8: 2; 11: 19; and 22: 20. His name heads the list of the first deacons of the church, with a special note added, telling us that he was “a man full of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 6:5). See also Acts 6:10 and 7:55. Paul might have been thinking also of Stephen when he wrote Rom. 8: 14-18, with its repeated reference to the Spirit and to glory after suffering.  Stephen’s death by stoning was witnessed by young Saul, who later, in turn, in his maturity, became Paul, the great missionary to the Gentiles. The persecution that arose in connection with the martyrdom of Stephen caused the Christians to scatter abroad throughout the region of Judea and Samaria, and Christian congregations were established in these districts. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” (Tertullian).  Here is the prayer of the day for St. Stephen –

Grant, 0 Lord, through the power of Thy Holy Spirit, that, like Stephen Martyr, we may be filled with Christian love toward all men and with the confident assurance of that faith which, also amid the sufferings of this present time, steadfastly beholds the glory that shall be revealed in us; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Additional references: Lutheran Witness, Dec. 22, 1953, pp. 10, 13; Lutheran Chaplain, December, 1951, pp.38-40; Reed, Lutheran Liturgy, pp. 496, 497. Luther Poellot, CTM November 1954

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Still, Still, Still

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There is an Austrian/German hymn that has always intrigued me.  It is  called Still, Still, Still and like all songs that have to be translated it loses something in the translation.  In fact most English version don’t even try and translate the German at all.  The first verse in the German version talks about angels “jubilating beautifully” and making music around the manger cradle.  It is the third verse that I find really intriguing –

Great, great, great,
The love is more than great!
God has left his throne
And must go by road.
Great, great, great,
The love is more than great.

That God condescends to take the dusty road to Bethlehem on a donkey inside the womb of Mary is an amazing idea.  “God must go by road”.  Go by road to Egypt because of the murderous intentions of an earthly King.  Go by road into the road less wilderness and be tempted by the devil.  Go by road through the cities and towns of Galilee and Judea.  Go by road into Jerusalem again on a donkey.  Go by road to a garbage dump outside the city walls, carrying His own Cross.  The Love is more than great!

 

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Little Christmas and the 12 Nights.

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A few years ago I was invited to something called a “little Christmas”.  It was a gathering before Christmas Eve and there was a lot of wonderful food and drink and a nice atmosphere of camaraderie.  It thought it was one family’s tradition to try and get everyone together that couldn’t be around at Christmas because of the various family responsibilities.

Well little Christmas is a custom in many cultures and for many reasons.  It seems to have started with the Irish who celebrated Christmas in January because of some mix-up with the Gregorian calendar, so even when they celebrated with the rest of the world they continued a celebration on Epiphany that they called “little Christmas”.

In Scandinavia, where the main celebration of Christmas is on Christmas Eve, the evening of the 23rd is known as little Christmas eve (Danish: lillejuleaften).  In Norway and Sweden, Little Christmas Day refers to 13 January (Norwegian: Tyvendedagen; Swedish: Tjugondedag), twenty days after Christmas, and is regarded as the day when ornaments must be removed from Christmas trees and any leftover food must be eaten. (From Wikipedia).  Twelfth Night is also a time when all the extra food must be eaten and that is why I think the fruit cake was invented.

Anyway I enjoyed very much little Christmas for whatever reason it was celebrated and I would invite anyone else who celebrates it to tell me about the customs involved.

By the way the song above is my version of an Irish rendition of “While Shepherd Watched”.

 

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Christmas and Faith, A Private Personal Matter?

stripped christmas tree

A few years ago Matthew Harrison published this sermon by Hermann Sasse for the 3rd Sunday in Advent.  It was preached a long time ago and should be reread, preached, taught and inwardly digested.

Therefore, let everyone consider us as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now, it is required of a steward that he be found faithful. To me it is a small thing to be judged by you, or by any human court.”  What an earnest word for the servants of the church. No, for the whole church! What have we theologians done with the mysteries of God in recent centuries – with the mystery of the incarnation!
Surely, we wouldn’t want to lose the mystery. One would only want to understand it better and make it more plausible. But the end result is that we lose all mystery and God’s mystery. Look how the 19th century turned the mighty faith of the Reformation and the old evangelical church into a civic religion at which nobody took offence any more. The confession of the church was stripped like a Christmas tree. Nothing useful was really left except an old bit of wood. “He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.” That, the enlightened citizens of the l9th century couldn’t take to anymore. Therefore, discard it. So it went on, one after the other – the death of Christ as an atonement for sin, the resurrection of Jesus
Christ from the dead, his sitting at the right hand of God from where he would come to judge the living and the dead. It all went by the board. The Holy Spirit as true God also went. The Holy Trinity, everything, everything was given away. That is the basic reason for the decline of the evangelical church in Germany. Need we be surprised then that the people discarded the contents of our divested faith like a piece of old clothing? What is called today the myth of the 20th century is really only the fruit of the destruction of the teaching of the church. We think we have been good theologians – we who no longer hold the mysteries of the Christian faith in trust. What are we pastors, what are we teachers of theology without the congregation? And where was the congregation? Where is it today? When we read the shocking reports of the evangelical churches in which worship, communion, holy baptism, confirmation instruction and the like are all slowly dying, it breaks one’s heart. How will our state churches look in 30 years’ time?  How will this church look? Yes, God can and will keep his church from all who would destroy it. Christ can and will protect his church also today. But he does it through the faithfulness of those who believe in him. You mothers who these days will be surrounded by your children at Christmas; you fathers whose children perhaps no longer learn to read the bible in school, – we know what God expects in the way of
faithfulness. The 19th century was able to come up with the shocking sentence:  “Religion is a private, personal matter.”: The Christian Faith has never been a private personal matter. Jesus Christ is no private personal matter. He is no private, or personal Savior, but the Savior of the world. He will come again openly to judge the living and the dead, the members of his church and all people, the German
people and all peoples! You young people, eagerly looking toward the future – do you really think the church is a lost cause, believing In Jesus Christ, in a message and man from the past? No, if there is anything in the world which has a future, it is the church. Perhaps it will be a future hard for any of us to imagine. But it willhave a future when everything that men can imagine or paint is gone. For the future
of the church is the future of Christ. She wanders through the anxiety and distress of this world from his first advent to his last, from his incarnation to his return. Yes, the future of our Lord Jesus Christ – that is the blessed future ofthe church.
Amen.

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The Light and Mercy

Isaiah 60

Isaiah 60 and.61. portrays the plight of heathen nations of his day under the picture of darkness, as 60: 2. Also in Galilee the people are walking in darkness, Isaiah 9: 2. Tne night of idolatry, superstition, and immorality prevailed. There was no knowledge of salvation. But the Prophet foretells the day of light breaking the darkness, 61: 1, 2. He foresees One who is anointed with the Holy Spirit, whose mission is to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, a time of gracious visitation. Isaiah describes the day of light in detail. The spiritual maladies under which humanity groans are set forth under the names of poverty,
brokenheartedness, captivity, blindness, and being bruised . However, the “Servant of the Lord” (Is. 53) will usher in a day of healing and light, dispelling the heathen darkness and comforting languishing Israel by establishing His kingdom among them. (L.J. Roehm)

We are called as God’s people to be His hands of mercy, witnessing to that Kingdom.  Upon us the light has dawned.  Now the day has arrived but the night is coming when no one can work.  Time to get busy.

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The Twelve Days (Nights) of Christmas and Mercy.

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Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present visit a “children’s Twelfth Night party

Dr. Reed Lessing, Professor at Concordia Seminary Fort Wayne,  wrote about the Sunday after Christmas these words – Presents are possessions. Parties are past. Purchases are causing a plethora of financial problems. Gone is the cacophony of choruses. Thank you so much. You shouldn’t have. It just fits. Under the holiday spell we shelled out over $270 billion dollars for toys, turkeys, travel, tinsel, trees and of course today, Tylenol. What now? No more chestnuts roasting on open fires. No more dreams of white Christmases. No more red-nosed reindeers. Size 36? Oh, that’s been exchanged for size 40. Eggnog is on sale for half price. Your brother-in-law ate the last piece of pecan pie. We are a people walking in darkness.”

I have tried for years to get folks to understand the importance of understanding that Advent is not Christmas.  Christmas is not over on December 26, and January 6 begins a new season called Epiphany.  I don’t know why people can’t get the hang of it but Dr. Lessing gets it about right.  There is a reason that there are 12 days (nights) and it has to do with darkness.  The themes of light and darkness are all over the story of the incarnation.  Jesus is the light of the world come to our darkness lying in a manger.  With January sixth the “Twelve Nights” have ended. In the struggle between light and darkness light has prevailed.  The Magi come signifying that the Gentiles have seen the light as well and the light is for them too.   The light  also gained the victory over the darkness of Satan’s rule. Epiphany signifies revelation and appearance. Luther holds that the best Epiphany text is the account of Jesus’ baptism, which constitutes His inauguration to His prophetic office. He reveals heaven us as open windows and doors and Himself as God’s Kingdom come.  I like Jesus appearance in the synagogue announcing that he is all mercy.  Jesus one sentence sermon on Isaiah 61 is the great Epiphany announcement of light and life for me and we will look at it later, but………

Right now I am fascinated by the fact that in this culture we have forgotten the 12 days and nights of Christmas and they are embedded in our culture if we pay attention.  Shakespeare wrote a play about “Twelfth Night” which is a celebration of the night before Epiphany and a celebration of the crowning of royalty.  The Magi basically proclaimed Jesus to be a King.  The “King Cake” parties in New Orleans are a result of 12th Night celebrations.  One of the great scenes in Charles Dickens’s “Christmas Carol”, is a reference to “immense 12 cakes”  and Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present visit a “children’s Twelfth Night party”.  I believe that some how “Fruit cakes” are a part of the long Christmas celebration leading to Epiphany but I have to check that.

Anyway continued blessed Christmas.

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Dark Christmas Roads.

merry ChristmasFor thirty seven years I have traveled on what I like to call the “dark Christmas Roads”.  Christmas Eve services sometimes in snow storms and Christmas mornings that begin in the dark are measures of time and distance but also of the spirit of the season.  Someone has said that it is always darkest before the dawn and I can tell you that is true.  There is no dark like the dark just before Christmas dawn.  I have seen some interesting things on these journeys to worship.  Eyes in the dark that seemed to wait until I reached a certain point in the road to come and join me on the highway.  I came to a full stop and watched as eight deer shambled off into the deep woods as if they had all the time in the world.  I have seen falling stars and beautiful lights reflecting on the low clouds that showed where small towns still had their Christmas lights glowing.  I have seen Sirius and Procyon, and the moon with golden halos.

Dark Christmas roads are evocative of ancient words and ancient promises.  Those in darkness seeing great lights and those walking in the shadow of death having light shined on them and for them.  God’s word is described as a lamp and a light to help find our way through the dark roads.

Dark roads are evocative because I love them.  I look forward to those travels in the dark.  Jesus says something that should give us pause.  He says to Nicodemus who came to Him by night, in the dark – 17For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. 21But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

I love the dark Christmas roads because I am going to proclaim the light.  I love the dark Christmas roads because the light dawns over them as well.  Some like the dark roads because they like the dark for darkness sake.  That is why Luther described a Christian as someone who has run out of a dark house into the light.  We run on those dark roads because we know the light is coming and we have seen it in the face of a child in a manger, and a broken body on a cross, and a victorious Savior bursting from a grave.

You may be on a dark road in this season of light.  We all go down them.  Some because we like the darkness and others because we have seen the light and know that it is on this road that we find it.  So blessed Christmas to all wherever you may be.

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Christ in A Manger – Christ in All the Scriptures.

Christmas greeting“All of Scripture everywhere deals only with Christ,” Luther affirms (WA 46:414). “Amen,” the Church responds, for “in many and various ways God spoke to His people of old by the prophets,” (Hebrews 1:1). These prophets “who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the
sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow,” (1 Peter 1:10-11). They searched their own writings, and the writings of other prophets, for they confessed that “in the scroll of the book” the Messiah was written. Indeed, when Jesus came and preached He confirmed this in words that echo Psalm 40: “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me,” (John 5:46).

How do these Scriptures bear witness of Him?  “In many and various ways,” as the author of Hebrews says (1:1).  Christ and His apostles demonstrate that “in the scroll of the book” the coming of the Messiah is: • prophesied with words:  His Incarnation (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23); His birthplace (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:6); His death (Isaiah 53; Acts 8:32ff). • foreshadowed in people:  Adam (Genesis 1-3; Romans 5); Melchizedek (Genesis 14; Hebrews 7); David (2 Samuel 7; Luke 1:31-33); Jonah (Jonah 1-2; Matthew 12:39-40). • prefigured in actions:  the exodus from Egypt (Exodus 14; Luke 9:31); the lifting up of the serpent (Numbers 21:7-9; John 3:14-15); the sacrifice of animals (Leviticus; John 1:29). • typified by
institutions:  the priesthood (Exodus 28-20; Hebrews 7-10); the kingship (2 Samuel 7; Luke 1:31-33); the tabernacle and temple (John 1:14; 2:21). Jesus is thus not only the fulfillment of the Scriptures of Israel; He is their fullness.  He fills them with words, people, actions, and institutions that testify of Him.  Together,
this choir of witnesses give univocal expression to what Luther incessantly preached:  “All the stories of Holy Writ, if viewed aright, point to Christ,” (AE 22:339).   “Christ In All The Scripture”, Prof Chad Bird 2003

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