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Archive for December, 2011

When we go up to visit my in-laws in New Jersey, one of the favorite museums the Schroeders like to visit is The Cloisters.  The Cloisters was built with the largess  of John D. Rockefeller in the ’30s.  This museum of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Manhattan, is located on a bluff overlooking the Hudson River on the north side of the city. It is a complete reproduction of a Medieval monastery so that original arches and stained glass windows from the 12-15th centuries were incorporated into the building, complete with herb gardens typical of the time.  It is has faux sanctuaries and crypt.  It houses a magnificent collection of Medieval and Renaissance religious art, i.e. Christian.  The only aspect of it I do not like is that it is not actually a place of true worship!

We were there just this past week and here are two conversations we either heard or were participant.

1.  The my wife heard this conversation was regarding this painting:

Mother:  “What mother would leave her child on the floor, near an edge like that?!”

Daughter:  “But Mom, it is the Baby Jesus!”

Now this photo is not the best I have taken but you get the picture! Yes, the infant is in a precarious position.  Maybe that’s the point!  For instance:  He was almost killed as infant by his ruler, King Herod.  The sense of vertigo is the child seems to frail, alone and yes, on the edge and yet angels (proportionally the right size to the Infant which might indicate another level of meaning) and Mary and Joseph, quite large and powerful, and the angel, are all in prayer towards their Savior.  In one sense, it is unfortunate that the level of discourse is so low and worse:  imagination. And coupled with that, the literal work it takes to so engage.

But it is the daughter’s comment which is another aspect of the low level of theological understanding.  Her comment reminds me of the outrageous clip from Will Farrell’s Talledega Nights, the Baby Jesus Scene .  A confirmation student came to class after his family had an argument over the topical question:  Did Jesus suffer from mosquito bites?  The daughter was under the impression that Jesus was more like Superman than the Son of Man and  could not get hurt.  The poor child has not heard of the Child, as a man, would be terribly hurt, even killed, for her.  (BTW: yes, our Lord would have known mosquito bites…if He had lived in Minnesota!)  This is another level:  lack of Biblical understanding and imagination.  This then leads to the conversation I heard while my youngest son and I were looking at this work:

This is actually small and portable:  a traveling shrine, yes, in gold and the side panels are enamel.  It’s maybe a foot tall and as we were looking at the piece, a very large, 60ish, New Yorker, museum guard struck up a conversation with me:

“I don’t get people. They look at this and they all upset because this shows Mary nursing her child!  (Take a close look: it’s quite realistic)  They don’t get it.  This is what would have happened as God came down. And then they start talking about how these people worshiped statues! New York City is filled with statues and they spend all that time going up a statue…of Liberty.”  “Kind of a like idolatry?” “Yeah! They think those statues are just great! Oh, but they worshiped these statues.”

The guard was the better theologian!  Luther points out that the meaning of the John 1: 14 text, “…and the Word became flesh” means He had ears, eyes, nose…He cried, slept and yes, nursed.  Isn’t the guard’s reflection of what people get upset about on target?  He probably heard this more than once.  These folks are upset by this but go home and watch needless sex and violence with relish.  But why are they upset by Mary nursing the Child?  Answer:  The total divorce of the spiritual from the physical but they do not know, have not been taught, that God made both as one.  Body and soul are integral, it’s fallen man that makes spiritual divorced, ethereal, but not God.  As C.S. Lewis said of the Sacraments: God likes matter, after all He created it.  Lutheran theologian, Hermann Sasse, in speaking about the integrity of body and soul said this is why the Lord gives us His Body and Blood to eat and drink because, “…bodies do not believe and souls do not eat.”  Those ‘pedestrian’ Christians of long ago knew more than we do today in our post-Christendom era.  We have much to teach and learn in the joy of the Word made flesh.

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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 the persecution Jesus endured from the beginning of His earthly life.  Although Jesus’ life was providentially spared at this time, many years later, another ruler, Pontius Pilate, would sentenece the innocent Jesus to death. (From:  The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection: “Some accounts number them at more than ten thousand, but more conservative estimates put their number in the low dozens.” (from the Wikipedia article)  10,000 children or 1 child murdered is one child too many.  The image above by Giotto di Bondone (1266/7 – 1337), is eerily prescient of  the many pictures of the bodies of Jews in piles in the concentration camps.  Their only crime was they were of the same religion as the One born this holy season.  It makes no sense.  Neither does the abuse of children sexually, physically and/or emotionally.

Herod was probably a functional atheist; he thought he ruled by his own right and authority.  He was his own god as all dictators and tyrants.  We read a lot about the atheism of a Christopher Hitchens, but he pales to the tyrants. With no fear of God in the multitude of  Herods, it seems in our days and centuries and it’s lack of the fear of the Lord, we are in the most functionally atheistic of all time.  We do what we please.  Children are expendable. We are own gods.

In the clip below is from the gripping movie, Judgement at Nuremberg.  This movie is about the trials after World War II of the lower level Nazis, in particular, the judges who sent the ‘mental defectives’, and other “undesirables” to their deaths after a “legal trial”.  A  key character is the judge, Ernst Janning (played by Burt Lancaster).  He was known in the Weimar as one of the greatest legal minds in Germany.  He participated in the crimes against humanity for the Nazis.  In one of the last scenes of the movie, Herr Janning asks the main judge (played by Spencer Tracy) to come and visit him in his prison cell.  This scene picks up at the counter 6:11 with the real reason he asked the American judge to visit him:

The death of one man or one child makes it easy for the autonomous, ‘kingly’, ‘great’ self to kill more and more.  It took one Child to reverse the sin of Adam.  The holy innocents unwilling death and the grief of Rachel, their mothers,  weeping for them who are “no more” fulfilled the Scripture that the Child of Mary would die as One for them all.

And so the Lord Jesus set great store about the faith of child which must be inviolate.  This is only speculation:  Jesus’ Mother and Step Father may have eventually told Him what had happened on the day of infamy in Bethlehem.  The Lord Jesus Christ taught as a man:

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless youturn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

 5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,[a] it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

His love begins with one child, just as the murder of even one, spiritually and/or physically, begins the spiral into hell. We are to receive His children in His Name.

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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.

Intro: St. John was a son of Zebedee and brother of James the Elder (whose festival day in July 25).  John was among the first disciples to be called by Jesus (Matthew 4: 18-22) and became known as the “disciples 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 a 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 (also known as The Apocalypse of St. John the Divine).  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
  • the raising of Lazarus from the dead:  John 11
  • Jesus’ encounter with Mary Magdalene on Easter morning:  John 20: 11-11
  • Jesus’ long godly one to one conversations:  with Nicodemus, chapter 3; with the Samaritan woman at the well, 4: 1-45;  with the man born blind, chapter 9;  with Mary and Martha after the death of Lazarus, chapter 11
  • And probably central:  the “I Am” passages: John 6:35,  John 8:12John 8:58John 9:5John 10:11John 11:25John 14:6John 15:5

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, with additions by the blogger)

Reflection:  in one of years of the 3 year lectionary for Lent, the long godly one to one conversations I referenced above, are the Gospel readings.  Entire chapters!  But this is important to hear these conversations, not only that they are the Word of God, but also for this lesson:  Jesus spent the time with people.  In evangelism, we look for the quick and easy to “get people to come to church”.  First, as a colleague liked to say to congregants who want to know how the pastor will increase membership:  “I am amazed that anyone is there to begin with”!  In other words:  ‘membership’ is the work of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of Jesus Christ.  He is the Vine and without Him we can do nothing (see John 15) Membership is a great work,a miracle, of His Word. Second: we think the right program will do the trick.  It won’t.  “Spiritual problems can not be solved by administrative techniques.” (Abraham Heschel, Jewish theologian). It is only by Christians in and through the Word of God, in the Scriptures, going through the Word to bring one to Jesus Christ as He comes to them.  Jesus Christ took the time with people where they lived, not to keep them the same in the lives, to lead them forth to the wells of eternal life in His Name.

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Stephen was one of the first 7 deacons chosen by the Holy Spirit in the prayer of the Church to wait on tables for the widows in the first Church so that the Apostles could devote their ministry to the Word. Stephen’s record is in Acts 6: 1 through 8: 3.  But the deacons also preached the Word:  they fed the people bread for their bodies and the Bread of life for their souls.  Stephen knew the Bible’s history of Israel and probably pointed out to a synagogue that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets and nothing we can do can save us: it is by His crucifixion and resurrection we are forgiven through faith alone. So the synagogue of the Freedmen (Acts 6: 7) were furious at him and accused him: “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 will be freed freely in Jesus Christ would have been galling and going against the ‘freedom’ they had sought in their own synagogue. But here was a man full of the Holy Spirit who was in love.  We could sing today, On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…Himself:  Jesus Christ. In fact it is recorded that Stephen’s face shined like an angel’s (6: 15).  “Angel” means “messenger”.  Stephen was a messenger of the message of glad tidings.

When Stephen was brought in for investigation he preached the history of Israel as the prologue “Prologue” is literally, “before the word” and sk here: the Word (in Greek “logos”, as in John 1: 1-14 before the Word made flesh and the way the Lord faithfully in His mercy showed Israel His path and they rejected it again and again.  And the greatest of these rejections was Jesus: “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” It was the truth and the truth hurts, and it enraged them and they stoned Stephen to death. His last words were, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  The same words as Jesus spoke from the Cross.

We spend much energy decrying commercializing of the season up until the 25th, but we forget about the days following beginning today:  December 26th.  This is from ancient usage the day to remember Stephen, the first Christian martyr.  The day after Christmas is usually noted in our time as the time to return to the malls and return the gifts we do not like, or not fit and find deals, maybe while nursing hangovers.   On December 27th, the Church remembers and gives thanks for St.John,Apostle and Evangelist.  He wrote the 4th Gospel and was the only one of the 4 Evangelists who was not killed but according to tradition lived to great old age.  Then on the 28th, is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the children under the age of two that Kind Herod murdered in order to kill a rival to his throne who was born on December 25th. Remembering that the word “martyr” literally means witness:  Stephen was a martyr in will and deed;  John in will but not deed and the Innocents in deed but not in will.  Yet all were witnesses  in some way to Jesus Christ and He protected them all:  Stephen, John and the children of Bethlehem. These first days of the 12 days of Christmas receive a different understanding in the truth of the Scriptures, of God’s Word and it is sobering and enlightening. Our priorities are awry, to say the least as we still “shop till we drop”. We speak much about love and love has gone awry.  Here is Stephen in the grips of “love’s pure light” in serving his neighbors and in that service preaching the truth of His Word. We do not even want to face social discomfort in speaking of Jesus.  We need this martyr, his witness in these dark days in order to say no to the world and our yes  increase to Jesus Christ.  It might cause rage.   And others will believe.

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. Amen.

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Blessed Christmas!

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Many have decried the type of Christianity that portrays God as a kindly old man with a beard in heaven, “the man upstairs” and all that.  But that portrayal is  not in the Bible one bit.  I maintain it is from the culture and here is an example of it below.  My wife pointed out this stanza from the 1946 Gene Autry written song. “Here Comes Santa Claus”:

Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus,
Right down Santa Claus lane
He doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor
He loves you just the same

Santa Claus knows we’re all God’s children
That makes everything right
So fill your hearts with Christmas cheer
‘Cause Santa Claus comes tonight!

Lutherans make a big deal out of “justification by grace through faith” in Jesus Christ.  And well we should.  But according to the lyric above, we are justified, made right, by all being “God’s children”.  We are not even all God’s children:   We are His creation.  If we are all His children, then we have no need for Jesus Christ, Baptism and faith which makes us His own. At best, we are wayward children, runaway sons and daughters who have forfeited the inheritance by sheer unbelief and sin. If we are all God’s children,  He did  not need to come down from heaven and die on a Cross and before that be laid as an infant in feeding trough, a manger. Why bother with all that?  But He did!  And related to that why bother  going to church?  Ahhh, there’s the rub, Satan’s rub.  If we are all God’s children,anyway, you don’t have to fuss about all that repentance and forgiveness in His Name. Satan does not want us to hear His good Word of Law and Gospel.  Instead, the Lord is a doting Grandpa who gives gifts if you are “good” (whatever “good” is).  And note that in the lyric Santa Claus “loves us all”, i.e. Santa Claus=/equals God!  Does the Lord love us for we are?  No, He loves us for His Name’s sake to make us His own:  adopted and forgiven.  Satan wants always to stop the adoption process. Does Satan really want you to be forgiven by his Enemy above?!

Satan does not come at us with pitchforks telling us turn away from God, adulterate, thieve and murder.  Even the old Adam might be able to see that!  He comes to us in sweet songs that are religious, spiritual, to turn us astray with every hum of that song.  It is a siren song luring us to the rocky shoals of hell itself.

Not here comes Santa Claus:  here comes Jesus Christ!  Love’s pure light, true light, shining in the darkness of our supposed light!  As someone has said, It’s not who comes down the chimney that matters, but Who went up on the Cross for you and for me.

A BLESSED CHRISTMAS TO YOU IN HIS PEACE THIS HOLY EVENING!

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This evening at sundown begins the last day of Advent for the new Church Year, the time of preparation for ChristMass.  I read sometime ago that we think of our Lord’s first coming and His second coming, Advents 1 and 2 but there are actually three. I do not know where I read that but here is a reflection just about that:  the Three Advents.

The Church celebrates the triple advent (or “coming”) of Christ. First is the advent into flesh, which is despised and humble before the world, of which Zechariah 9[:9] says, “Behold, Your King comes to you, gentle and poor, sitting upon a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden,” [cf.] Matthew 21[:5]. The second is the spiritual advent, which happens daily into the minds of the righteous, since He is present constantly with the Church, hears her, helps and consoles her, concerning which Christ said, John 14[:18]: “I will not leave you orphans, but will come to you.” Again, [v. 23:] “If anyone loves Me, We will come to him and make Our dwelling with him.” The third advent of Christ is His glorious return to judgment, concerning which Isaiah 3[:14] says, “The Lord will come into judgment.” And Matthew 24[:30] says, “And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with much power and majesty.” It is useful always to consider these three advents of the Son of God—into flesh, the minds of the righteous, and for the last judgment—and to have them set forth in the Church for stirring up faith in minds, invocation, and the fear of God or repentance. St. Augustine says thus on Luke, “This time is called the Advent of the Lord for good reason: so that every believer will prepare himself and mend his ways, so that he may have strength worthily to celebrate the nativity of his God.”

—Lucas Lossius,+1582  (From:  The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Lossius says  His second advent is  in the “mind”.  Initially, I was taken aback by that but not when we consider that the theme of Advent is repentance and repentance in Greek means “change of mind” and so mend our ways.  We spend much time in preparing our houses, our tables, our church building for Christmas, which is fine but not to the point we forget the real preparation:  our hearts, souls and minds, for without the cleansing of  our souls in His grace for sinners then the rest is just show.  “Let every heart prepare him room”, we will sing this Christ Mass, as we proclaim His death until He returns… the third and final Advent.  Come, Lord Jesus.

O God, Your divine wisdom sets in order all th ings in heaven and on earth.  Put away frmo us all things hurtful and give us those things that beneficial for u s;  through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one god now and forever.

The Great “O” Antiphon of the Day:

O Emmanuel, our king and our Lord, the anointed for the nations and their Savior:  Come and save, O Lord our God.      

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