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Archive for December, 2016

Old World and New Year – Thoughts on the News Always Being Bad.

new-years-ballWhen the exceedingly expensive ball drops on New Years Eve many folks are saying that 2016 can’t go away fast enough.  All the talk of hope and change over the last few years brought about nothing but an endless campaign and fund raising and disastrous policies that even the party that thought they were in power have trouble explaining.  Admirers of the Soviet Union when it existed are all of a sudden talking like “hawks”.  Russiaphiles are suddenly Russiaphobes and it is hard to keep score on the flips and changes and strange goings on.  People who were our friends aren’t anymore and there are concerted efforts to destroy the only real allies the US has had since WWII.  The old Chinese curse keeps coming into my mind – “may you live in interesting times”.

I came across a statement by St. Augustine that applies to new years and old years and interesting times.  “You are surprised that the world is losing its grip, that the world is grown old? Think of a man. He is born, he grows up, he becomes old. Old age has many complaints: coughing, shaking, failing eyesight, anxious, terribly tired. A man grows old; he is full of complaints. The world is old; it is full of pressing tribulations. . . . Do not hold on to the old man, the world. Do not refuse to regain your youth in Christ, who says to you: “The world is passing away, the world
is losing its grip, the world is short of breath. Do not fear. ‘Your youth shall be renewed as an eagle.’”

Augustine wrote that after an unimaginable cataclysm.  The fall of Rome, the so called eternal city, by barbarians called Goths in A.D. 41 was seen as the end of the world by many.  The only way to get into the mindset of how people viewed that event which was so horrible and terrifying is to look around and see the uncertainty of everything that we do and all that we have trusted in.  The best motto for the new year – “Do not fear”.

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Before the Face of All People.. Those Christmas Missionary Texts and Missionaries

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Old man Simeon saw the baby Jesus and wrote those marvelous words – “Oh Lord let your servant depart in peace, your word has been fulfilled for my own eyes have seen the salvation that you have prepared before the face of all people”

I can die now he is saying.  I can be at peace because God’s Word is fulfilled.  I can face my future unafraid because whatever happens to be I am redeemed and safe.  He has seen the salvation of the world.  This is a missionary text.  God prepared salvation for the whole word.

Christians may face the future unafraid also because of the knowledge of His salvation for all people. God’s purposes will be accomplished also in these days of greed and selfishness and confusion, Even these days serve the purpose of spreading the Gospel all over the world. For such a wonderful Savior, whose plans for the world of the future and the future salvation are being carried out give praise. On Him cast all your cares as the new year dawns.

This is also the time to look for ways to help our missionaries as well.  We have been talking about Julie McManus, one of our Mary Okeyo travelers and her need for help to stay where she is needed to help.  We have glowing reports of Julies work in caring for children at Project 24 sites and caring for missionary children too.  Go to https://www.lcms.org/givenow/mcmanus

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Christmas and Missions.

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The Christmas Octave including Steven’s death, John the Apostles ministry, and the death of the babies in Bethlehem by Herod can teach us much about missions.

Stevens death overseen by Saul is the opening of the great drama which will see Saul become Paul the greatest missionary in history.

John’s heart, warmed by the gift of God’s love in Jesus Christ, the Savior, reached  out in love toward others. He wanted them to have a part and share with him in the blessed fellowship which he himself had found. “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you that ye also may have fellowship with us” (1 John 1: 3). Christian faith is not static. It is active. “Faith worketh” (Gal. 5 : 6). It does what it can to see itself multiplied in the hearts of men everywhere. And it worketh “by love” (Gal. 5: 6). You give gifts to those whom you love -as a rule, perhaps, the largest and best gifts to those whom you love most. Christian love encircles the world, and there is no better gift of love that you can give anyone anywhere than to show him his Savior, that he also may have fellowship with you in the communion of saints through faith in Christ Jesus. Christmas, therefore, should be for us a tremendous  festival of missions, spurring us on to reach out as never before to enlarge the reaches of the fellowship of faith and love. (Luther Pellot).

The little children killed by Herod simply because of the time they were born are a great warning as we do mission work.  As an African deaconess told me, “when you preach the Gospel and do acts of mercy together the devil goes crazy”.  The devil will do all he can to thwart mission work because he knows his time is short.  Mission work needs a clear eyed and tough minded look at the world and the issues that will be faced as we witness to Christ in word and deed.

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Martyrs in Deed But Not Will.

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Last Sunday was Christmas Day, the first day in this eight-day celebration of the Octave of Christmas.  There are often three celebrations

December 26, the day after Christmas, is the Feast of St. Stephen, the first Martyr. The reading from Acts takes us into the story of his being stoned by an infuriated crowd.

December 27: On December 27th, we traditionally celebrate the Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist.

On December 28th, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents. This celebration takes us back into the infancy narrative of Matthew. The account of how Jesus begins his journey to become one with us, is powerfully told as a journey of Jesus’ entering into the journey of his people, with the flight into Egypt and the horrible slaughter of the innocent children. This very difficult scene is important for us to reflect upon as we imagine the unborn and the newly born who are so unjustly deprived of dignity and life today.  Thus the feast of the birth of the King of martyrs is followed by the “heavenly birthdays” of the first martyr in will and in deed (Stephen), the apostolic martyr in will but not in deed (John), and the infant martyrs in deed but not in will.

Continuing the Octave is the Festival of the Circumcision and the Name of Jesus; it concurs with the New Year’s Day of the civil year.  The we get the Festival of Epiphany, January 6, recalls the episode of the Wise Men.

 

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St. John the Theologian – continuing Christmas Observances

st-john-the-apostleOn the Liturgical Calendar used in the LCMS, today is set aside to remember St. John. He was a son of Zebedee and brother of James the elder (whose festival/feast 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 encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-43), Jesus’ saying about the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-18), 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 100 AD. He is also called St. John the Theologian.

That is my favorite appellation for John.  He is a theologian of the highest degree.  A theologian is literally one who speaks words about God and John is the one who calls Jesus the “Word of God”.  His theology soars and hence the eagle.   His description of the coming of Christ in chapter 1 of his Gospel is quite stunning and his epistles are consoling.  He is the apostle of mercy and the third chapter of his first letter talks about us being able to console ourselves so when our hearts condemn us, God who is greater than our hearts reassures us.  He soars from the beginning of creation to the end of the ages and throne of God in eternity and at the end of his life the great theologian had a one sentence sermon – “little children let us love one another”.

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All Those Who Dreamed of a White Christmas……………………….

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You can wake up now.

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St. Stephen and Christmas and Stewardship and Mercy

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I wanted to put one of those text bubbles over Stephen’s head in this picture.  I was going to have the caption say, “All I said was that maybe we should give some money to poor rather than spend $100 on a painting in the women’s restroom at church”, but better judgment prevailed.

St. Stephens Day is the day after Christmas.  It is a holiday in Germany and other European countries and of course we get the great song “Good King Wenceslaus” because he looked out on the feast of Stephen, and found a poor man to help.  Stephen was chosen to serve the poor, become one of the first deacons and a martyr.  He is also afforded a great deal of space and ink in the book of Acts.  His “speech” is recorded in Acts 7.  The charge against him that led to his death was that he spoke words against “this place (temple) and the Law.”  The point of his speech seems to be that God doesn’t live in temples built with hands, and we might surmise that in his mercy work he might have gotten some money from folks that might have gone to the temple instead.  On Christmas when we think about God being born in a barn, temples and expensive churches seem a little off the mark.

Reading Acts again this morning I was grabbed by one of my pet peeves again and that is the stewardship issue.  There are wonderful Christian stewards out there who leave bequests that are gracious and helpful.  These we find out about after they die, but while they are alive they did not neglect the care for the poor and needy, the orphan and the widow.  Their death gift is the icing on the cake if you will.  But there are a great many who we hear whining, “we can’t do any mercy work because we have to pave the church parking lot or fix the church roof.  I have a lot of money that I am sitting on but you never know what might happen.  I am going to keep my horde and stash, but when I am dead you can have it and spend it on the starving and the needy and the sick etc”.  Most of our Christian Charity is neither Christian nor charitable.  Fund developers get really angry when I talk like this and I feel bad until I read Luther’s sermon on St. Stephen’s Day.  I have to read it quite often.

Luther of course sees the situation that he was in with indulgences and the popes threats as akin to Stephen.  He sees the fund raising for costly churches as actually destroying the church.  In his frustration he says something he may have regretted, but I doubt it.  He said, “There is no other reason for building churches than to afford a place where Christians may assemble to pray, to hear the Gospel and to receive the sacraments; if indeed there is a reason. When churches cease to be used for these purposes they should be pulled down, as other buildings are when no longer of use. As it is now, the desire of every individual in the world is to establish his own chapel or altar, even his own mass, with a view of securing salvation, of purchasing heaven……. I continue to assert that for the sake of exterminating the error mentioned, it would be well to overthrow at once all the churches in the world, and to utilize ordinary dwellings or the open air for preaching, praying and baptizing, and for all Christian requirements.”

He saw these endowments and the fund raising that procured them as a detriment to true faith which works it’s way out in helping the neighbor.  Here is another part of his sermon –

Many a man passes by his poor neighbor who has a sick child or wife, or is otherwise in need of assistance, and makes no effort to minister to him, but instead contributes to endow some church. Or else while health remains he endeavors to heap up treasures, and when he comes at last to his deathbed makes a will bequeathing his estate to some certain institution. He will be surrounded by priests and monks. They will extol his act, absolve the religious man, administer the Sacrament and bury him with honors. They will proclaim his name from the pulpit and during mass, and will cry: “Here is worthy conduct indeed! The man has made ample provision for his soul.

Many blessings will hereafter be conferred upon him.” Yes, hereafter but, alas, eternally too late.

But no one while he is living warns of the man’s sins in not administering to the wants of his neighbor when it lies in his power to relieve; in passing him by, and ignoring him as the rich man did Lazarus in the Gospel. And he does not himself recognize his sins. Hence they must remain unconfessed, unrepented of and unabsolved, however many bulls, indulgences and spiritual fathers may have served. This neglect is the very sin concerning which Christ on the day of judgment will say: “I was… naked, and ye clothed me not.” Matthew 25:43. The religious one will then reply, “I heaped up treasures to establish an institution for thee, in obedience to the Pope’s decree, and hence he has absolved me from all my sins.” What can individuals such as he expect to hear but the sentence: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire”? For by their works they destroy the Christian faith, and for the sake of mere wood and stone despise Christian love.

Let us, therefore, beloved friends, be wise; wisdom is essential. Let us truly learn we are saved through faith in Christ and that alone. This fact has been made sufficiently manifest. Then let no one rely upon his own works.

Let us in our lifetime engage only in such works as shall profit our neighbors, being indifferent to testament and institution, and direct our efforts to bettering the full course of our neighbors’ lives.

 

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The Word Became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us.

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Blessed Christmas to you all.

 

 

 

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The Light Shines in the Darkness = God’s Candor part 2

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I received a tactical flashlight as a gift.  I am a flashlight freak and my home is littered with flashlights that either have no batteries or dead ones.  This flashlight is amazing.  The brightness is incredible and it has different functions.  There is a very bright regular setting, and there is a lesser setting not quite so bright.  There is a setting for signaling in emergency and then, my favorite, a mind numbing and confusing intruder stopper.  Looking at that setting even from behind the light beam is addling.  It is bright and flashes irregularly.  This from police magazine –

“Flash/strobe disorientation is the result of an “after image” or temporary visual imprint caused by a brief exposure to high-intensity light levels. This image varies with light level and time duration or frequency of the exposure. The disorientation occurs as specific light frequencies affect the brain and the light cycles through those frequencies too fast for the brain to adjust.

Strobing tactical lights do not allow the photoreceptors to reset, which shocks an individual’s vision. Strobing bright light forces the brain’s perception input to arrive in segments, thus creating after images as the brain labors to fill in or complete the partial image created by the momentary exposure of the strobe. These after images compound with each strobe exposure, which increases perceptual disparity.”

That made me think of the effulgence of God’s glory, Jesus, the true light that came into the world.  Hebrews 1 says that Jesus is the brightness of God’s glory.  John said that in Him was life and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot comprehend it.  (John 1).  The Bible is full of themes of darkness and light and this view of Christ as God’s Glory is quite stunning.  Think of my flashlight.  I took it to a dark chapel and it illuminated everything, the whole huge room.  It also emphasizes the shadows.  The shadows can be cast aside like works of darkness when one sees the light.  It can rescue.  Jesus as the light of the world rescues from sin and death and the power of the devil.  It can discombobulate.  The Gospel preached in it’s bare majesty to the darkness completely disorients everything.  It causes all kinds of problems.  As we have said in other blogs, when unbelief is confronted with the light of the Gospel the response is “you must be crazy”.  There is a perceptual disparity between what I believe about myself and what God says about me.  I think I am pretty hot stuff and confronted with God’s glory I realize I am nothing.  When I get a handle on that the Gospel disorients me again and  proclaims that I am an object so valuable that God’s glory came and died for me on a cross.  It is disorienting and viewed apart from the light, it is madness.

Luther: “He (the writer to the Hebrews) calls Him such a Brightness as proceeds from the glory of the Father; as the rising dawn of the sun, carrying with itself and in itself the entire sun; being not a part of the glory but the whole glory of the whole sun, shining from the sun and remaining with the sun. Therefore here in one word the birth, the unity of natures, the distinction of persons, is. taught. For Christ is continually being born eternally of the Father, always goes forth as the sun in the morning and not at noon or eve. Personally, He is not the Father, as the brightness is not the sun; and still is with the Father and in the Father, neither before nor after Him, but equally eternal with Him and in Him, as the brightness is at the same time with and in and on the sun. Christ is the emanating brightness of the glory of the Father; in other words, He is only-begotten God and not the begetting God, yet perfect and whole God, like and as the Father.”

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Effulgence in a Barn = God’s Candor

img_2215There are words that are used only once in the Bible and when you run into one it is worth noting what it means because obviously it is not just an ordinary word.  One of these one timers is found in Hebrews 1:3.  It is stuck in the middle of this beautiful exposition of the greatest revelation God gave human beings and that was Jesus.

Hebrews 1:1-6.  “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself  purged our  sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.”

He is called the “brightness of God’s glory”.  It is the word brightness that is interesting.  It can mean “effulgence”.  Effulgence is brightness on steroids.  It can dazzle, stun and knock you out.  We remember that God is a consuming fire and an unapproachable light, and yet we have seen His glory, His effulgence in the face of Jesus and still live.  The effulgence, the radiance, the brilliance and in some translation the “candor” of God is lying in the manger of Bethlehem.  God spoke with an amazing candor when He spoke through His Son.  He tells it like it is.  The only way to get to the Father and get life and salvation and peace is in this manger.  God spoke with stunning candor when Jesus cried out “It is finished”, and declared that the blood of Jesus, the brightness of God’s glory bled out on a cross, is God’s glory and there is our glory and life.

Luther called Him the “Morganglanz der Ewigkeit”, the Morning Dawn of Eternity.

 

“Come, Thou Bright and Morning Star”
by Christian K. von Rosenroth, 1636-1689
Translated by Richard Massie, 1800-1887

1. Come, Thou Bright and Morning Star,
Light of light, without beginning!
Shine upon us from afar
That we may be kept from sinning.
Drive away by Thy clear light
Our dark night.

 

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