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Archive for December, 2013

 Text:  St. Matthew 2:13-23

The Martyrdom of the Holy Innocents: Some accounts number them at more than ten thousand, but more conservative estimates put their number in the low dozens. 10,000 children or 1 child murdered is one child too many.  The picture above  is a painting by Giotto di Bondone (1266/7 – 1337).   It 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 any abuse of children sexually, physically and/or emotionally from Newtown to our town.

Herod the Great 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 vainly and terribly imagine themselves.  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.

The gripping movie, Judgment at Nuremberg  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  fictional 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 yet he knew it was wrong.  In one of the last scenes of the movie, Herr Janning asks the main American judge, Hayward (played by Spencer Tracy) to come and visit him in his prison cell.  It turns out for the reason that Janning wanted a kind of absolution:

Janning: Those people, those millions of people. I never knew it would come to that. You must believe that, you must believe that.

Judge Hayward:  Herr Janning, it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.

The death of one man or one child makes it easy for the autonomous, ‘kingly’, ‘great’ self to kill more and more. Mother Theresa said, “… if we accept that the mother can kill her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? Any country that accepts abortion, is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what it wants.”  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.  

The murder of even one child, spiritually and/or physically, begins the spiral into hell, for a person, a  church, a nation, a family. When Israel rebelled, Isaiah tells us in today’s Old Testament reading, Isaiah 63:7-14:

But they rebelled
    and grieved his Holy Spirit;
therefore he turned to be their enemy,
    and himself fought against them.

The Lord became their own enemy because we our own worse enemy.  People will go to great lengths – even kill, even kill their own babies,  to preserve their self-esteem, social status, economic viability, popularity amongst friends, or even for reasons as vain as their “girly figure” and thus tilt the balance of this world’s favor toward themselves.  Trying to save themselves and their trivial treasures, the world enacts Herod’s decree again and again and again as they hurt one another, abort their children, and follow the forked tongue of the serpent against holy families and the holy one of God.   (Pr. Tony Sikora’s sermon on same text) Recently Thrivent for Lutherans in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota has been giving their “choice dollars” to Planned Parenthood, purveyor and promoter of abortion.  After a protest from Pastor Harrison, President of the LCMS and the Wisconsin Evangelical LutheranSynod, they stopped it but they also stopped all monies going to pro-life groups. “We recognize that the eligibility of a Planned Parenthood affiliate, approved by one of our local chapters, has been controversial.” Abortion isn’t controversial; it is evil. Abortion is intrinsically immoral, essentially and immutably wrong. (Pr. Todd Wilken)

 Too controversial.  We are killing ourselves by the plummeting birthrate instead of heeding the  Lord’s command to be fruitful and multiply.  Too controversial.  We are to receive His children in His Name.  And so the Lord Jesus set great store about the faith of a child which must be inviolate.  This is only a  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 you turn 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, first protected by His Law, “Thou shalt not murder” and now by His Resurrection. The Child was called out of Egypt, God’s Son, so that all children could have His Kingdom by Baptism and faith.  The Son, the Child called out of Egypt, the Exodus is His Body and Blood, circumcised on the 8th day, desires for all to believe in Him…and preventing them a millstone fastened  around his neck and drowned is suitable. Out of Egypt, the Father called His Son, His true Son, who did not rebel, the Child born for us. The Lord became a child to make us His children and so we are;  as Paul wrote in today’s Epistle, Galatians 4:4-7: our adoption as the Lord’s sons and daughters.  The Child gives the childless hope, the loveless love, the faithless faith, in the great exchange:   His health for our sickness, His love for  us His enemies, His wisdom for the foolish to make us His own, His death  for our life, His resurrection for our eternal life, so we are born again, His baptized to receive children, from day 1 to the 100th year, in His Name, baptizing them, as we have been by His grace alone, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

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At this time of the year, the sentiment above is expressed.  It is well meant.  In today’s reflection by Pr. Scott Murray in his book,    A Year with the Church Fathers: Meditations for Each Day of the Church Year, he notes that birthdays are for the person whereas our Lord’s birth day is for us. “For me?!”, the surprised birthday boy exclaims.  The Lord’s birth is for  us.  His Incarnation is for us:   “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (St. Luke 2: 11;  emphasis my own).   In fact, our human fallen nature, our sinful self, is very much against God (see Romans 5:10;  Ephesians 2:1-3)  The wonder of His coming is that He is for us because we are so against ourselves.   How do we know this?  Before the Lord is for us, He is very much against us in His Law which His Law shows that we disobey. Maybe the other “reason for the season” is sinners.  There are only sinners around the manger, the first sign of His coming and the last sign of His redemption:  His Cross.  Happy Birthday to Jesus?  Maybe it is all of heaven rejoicing over a sinner’s repentance and the Lord saying as He baptizes us: Happy New Birthday to You! (Luke 15:7).  “For me?  You shouldn’t have.  I don’t deserve it”.  “Now you are beginning to believe!”

FOR YOU!

“…for us men and for our salvation He came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man…” (The Nicene Creed)

 

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“Precious in the sign of the LORD is the death of His saints”-Psalm 116: 15

The Appointed Lessons:  2 Chronicles 24: 17-22;  Psalm 119:  137-144;  Acts 6: 8-7:2a, 51-60;  St. Matthew 23: 34-39

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 with the One born yesterday Who alone can free, what no law could free.  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 of Jesus Christ.

When Stephen was brought in for investigation he preached the history of Israel as the prologue.  “Prologue” is literally, “before the word” as here  the Word (in Greek “logos”, as in John 1: 1-14 ) before the Word became flesh.  St. Stephen preached truthfully the Bible  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.  Now, even the official church eliminates those who preach and teach the Word of God, regarding marriage, abortion,the Law of God,  not by stoning anyone to death, but by turning their hearts to stone and asking like Satan did in Genesis 3:  “Did God say…?”

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 do not fit.   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 to Christ as all the promises of God find their yes in Him ( 2 Corinthians 1:20), for the increase of His Church.  It might cause rage, and for many it won’t be rage, but the peace which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

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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And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.St. John 1: 14  (King James Version)

 There is the perennial wish that Christmas were every day.  The gifts, the lights, the food, the preparations, the  presents, the wrapping, the buying, the scurrying, the lack of funds, the traffic the busyness, the family squabbles and fights, the loneliness, the turmoil…oh, never mind.  And Christ was born for this.  Maybe not Christmas every day, but Christ Mass every week. We can not take Christ out of Christmas, but let us always keep the Mass in ChristMass.  The word “Christmas” is simply the shortened, if you will, the slurred version of Christ Mass. Mass or the Divine Service of His Body and Blood for us and for our salvation. His Body and His Blood for  you.    As the angel told Joseph, the Son to be born will save people from their sins.   His Word is for us all each and every day.  Maybe not Christmas every day, but a Christmas card every week.  Christ Mass card every week is confessed,  for us all. By His grace we believe in,

 …one Lord Jesus Christ…who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man.” (The Nicene Creed)

The Creed is His Christ Mass card to us every week summing up the Incarnation, for the Incarnation is our salvation:. 

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

St. John 1: 14 

 and again, from Colossians,

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation

and again,

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.

and again, John’s Gospel:

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

And again, John’s Gospel:

Jesus came and stood among them and said to them,“Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

This past week I watched an interview with a renowned television mega-church reverend.  The interviewer asked the reverend the meaning of Christmas.  He said, “To me, Christmas, is the birth of Christ, number one, but it’s all about making memories.”    He got the first part right, Christmas is about the birth of Christ, number one, no buts. Period.  The “buts” to God’s grace in Jesus Christ only gets us going the wrong way. There are no “buts” to the grace of His forgiveness coursing through His Sacred Veins.  The reverend then went on to explain that Christmas is not about presents and food but memories and “making memories with your family”.  No, it really is about Jesus Christ.   First, a lot of families have downright painful and sorrowful memories associated with this time of the year and then second, notice the path  the minister puts the hearer on: into himself, his memories, his works, his spirituality…not out to Jesus Christ, God in man made manifest. The One has come for those broken, divorced, lonely, prone to wander, Lord I feel it.  The interviewer then responded: “Well, I can’t think of a better and more appropriate Christmas message to all of our viewers.”  Well, I can because the Lord has given us a much better message, His Son, Jesus Christ who will take away people’s sins. The message became man.   Unto you this day is born in the city of David is Christ the Lord.  Who did the angels say that first Christmas card to?  Answer:  To the shepherds, not the rich, the powerful and the famous.  If the Lord were born a political king, the politicos would have come and worshiped, instead they would seek to kill Him, still do. But the Lord’s rule is of a holy, H O L Y,different sort, spiritual.  “The end purpose of government is the peace of the world, the end purpose of Christ’s Church is eternal peace.” “The world rejoices when things are good and it has money and possession, power and glory.  But a troubled, sorrowful heart craves nothing more than peace and comfort, to know that it has a gracious God.  And this joy, whereby the sorrowful heart has rest and peace, is so great that all the world’s joy reeks in comparison” (Luther) Looking for the perfect gift this Christmas?   The angels announced  good news of  great joy to the shepherds that the Good Shepherd was born. They found the perfect gift for Christmas and this perfect gift finds you, for He is the Giver of all things, visible and invisible.

“Christmas is for kids.”  No, it’s not. Christmas is for sinners. This is the reason for His coming, for the Incarnation, for the Word becoming flesh.  Christmas is for the Child, the Son born of Mary, the Son of God so that we become in Him children of the heavenly Father in Holy Baptism. We have.  Christmas is for sinners, for you, for me. For the grace of God has appeared, appeared, came among us full of grace and truth, more palpable than any Christmas card, especially an e-card, can ever be: flesh of our flesh, bone of our bones. Every birth and life  is testimony to the Creator but the gestation and birth of Jesus Christ is even more marvelous for it is the testimony to our Redeemer:  “The first sound God heard with human ears was the music of His mother’s heart.”  bringing salvation for all people, the only gift that lasts is His grace in this place, from heaven’s place to your hearts and homes in His forgiveness 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age… The law of God shows us daily when we had gone astray, but only the grace of God trains us to renounce the ungodliness and worldly passions.  Ungodliness and worldly passions tie us all up and tied us down and His grace breaks the bonds of the evil one, to say No the devil and all his empty promises daily paraded on T.V. and the internet,  to live “self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age”.  Looking for stability in your life?  Go to the stable and the manger where He was born so He is born in us. His life in our lives is the grace of God that brings us again to the child born of Mary, the only begotten of God before all worlds, in love’s pure light for us all, which will shone forth in a stable and finally and fully, upon the Cross and the cry, He is risen.

 Notice that a real Christmas card is always a birth announcement.  Birth announcements like real Christmas cards, not holiday cards, are of joy:  a child is born.  The birth of every child is sheer joy. The angel told the shepherds this is Great Joy, the Lord is Great Joy.  “…poor consciences need to be preached to as the angel here preaches: Hear me, one and all , who are miserable and sorrowful in heart, for I bring you a joyful tiding.  You must not imagine that Christ is angry with you.  For He did not to earth and become man for that reason, that He might shove you into hell.  Much less was He crucified and died for that purpose; instead He came that you might have great joy in Him.  in short, there are no sorrow grapes with Him.” This birth announcement, this Christ Mass greeting is for you:  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. For you, for every man, woman and child on earth and in this Divine Service, the perfect gift, the perfect greeting is for sinners, for our redemption has come.  The world sees him sore oppressed and oppresses Him, but for all who believe and are baptized, He frees us to live in His freedom as His dear children. Luther:   “Accordingly, wherever Christ is, in the manger or at God’s right hand, whether called Lord or Judge, as we confess in faith concerning him, he is at all times our Savior. Everything that he has done and will yet do has this significance and this purpose, that we might be saved. God grant us his grace that we may receive and ever hold fast to these things. Amen.

 

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The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord: ChristMass Eve, Divine Service, 7:00pm, at the Library, refreshments following

 

“I am fearful and anxious, and for that reason I must remember that Christ is known by no other name than the one the angel gives, namely, “Great Joy.” Here I see another picture before me, that a virgin sits in a darkened stable in Bethlehem with a dear, gracious Child in her lap, whose name is “Great Joy.” (from Martin Luther’s Holy Christmas Day Sermon, 1532)

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“The first sound God heard with human ears was the music of His mother’s heart.”  (source: unknown)

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