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Archive for December, 2019

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Text: Matthew 2

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.

The Martyrdom of the Holy Innocents: Some accounts number them at more than ten thousand, but more conservative estimates put their number around a dozen. 10,000 children or 1 child murdered is one child too many.    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 who think they are gods. With no fear of God in the multitude of  Herods, with the lack of the fear of the Lord, we are in the most functionally atheistic of all time.  We do what we please.   We are own gods and children.  The result?

“Question: Who is the most obnoxious, Protestants, Catholics, or Jews? Answer: It depends on where you are and who you are talking to—though it is hard to conceive any one of the three consistently outdoing the other two in obnoxiousness. Yet, as obnoxious as are all three, none is as murderous as the autonomous self who, believing in nothing, can fall prey to ideology and kill millions of people—unwanted people, old people, sick people, useless people, unborn people, enemies of the state—and do so reasonably, without passion. Adolf Eichmann was a good family man, a devoted husband and father.”-Lost in the Cosmos:  the Last Self-Help Book by Walker Percy (novelist)

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.   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.”  

We live in the age of the autonomous self, but it has been known by another phrase:  the Old Adam, bent in upon himself, wanting to be like God, autonomous, literally a law unto himself. It took one Child to reverse the sin of Adam. Moses came out of Egypt so the Law would be given by God. Jesus came out of Egypt so that the Law is fulfilled, as He was born under the Law, to redeem us under the Law.

 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.  

This Isaiah text for today is about Moses and the people of Israel in bondage in Egypt. The Lord is not a stranger at all to the afflictions of His people:

And he became their Savior.
In all their affliction he was afflicted,
    and the angel of his presence saved them;
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
    he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.
Isaiah 63

 The Lord was afflicted in their afflictions as He would be in His own Son for us all. Before Herod’s murderous rage, Pharoah decided to destroy all the sons of Israel, newly born.  And so, the LORD,  “in His love and in his pity he redeemed them, he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old”.  He carries us in Jesus, who was called out of Egypt to bear our sin and be our Savior. 

This is only a  speculation:  Jesus’ Mother and Step Father may have eventually told Him what had happened on the day of terror in Bethlehem. Note what 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, 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. (Matthew 18)

Then a little later in Matthew, when the disciples tried to hinder fathers and mothers from bringing their children to Jesus, He said:

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19)

The Lord became a child to make us His children and so we are;  as it is written in 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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Concordia and Koinonia

David, the greatest of Israel’s kings, ruled from about 1010 to 970 BC. The events of his life are found in 1 Samuel 16 through 1 Kings 2 and in 1 Chronicles 10-29. David was also gifted musically. He was skilled in playing the lyre and the author of no fewer than seventy-three psalms, including the beloved Psalm 23. His public and private character displayed a mixture of good (for example, his defeat of the giant Goliath [1 Samuel 17]) and evil (as in his adultery with Uriah’s wife, followed by his murder of Uriah [2 Samuel 11]). David’s greatness lay in his fierce loyalty to God as Israel’s military and political leader, coupled with his willingness to acknowledge his sins and ask for God’s forgiveness (2 Samuel 12; see also Psalm 51). It was under David’s leadership that the people of Israel were united into a single nation…

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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 the Holy Spirit’s great work and 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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 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. This verse is  literally, When the angel of the Lord stood by them, the shepherds.  Luther knew the true Biblical trajectory of the birth of the Lord, the King of Israel, From heaven above to earth I come.  The angel was not up in the sky floating like some UFO, but right there standing by the shepherds…and further it is reported, “and the glory of the LORD shone around them”, around, not above them, but encircling and enveloping the shepherds. God’s glory is three-dimensional and then some. 

The glory of the LORD is two-fold: holiness and love. God’s love is holy and the shepherd’s love was not holy as is mine.  No wonder the shepherds feared with a great fear. Yet the Lord’s love is for them and you and so all the angels say, Fear not! There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. Heaven on earth is brought to the forefront that after the angel messages the sign of the child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.  This is the first sign of the Cross to come. Fear not~and with the angel, still standing on terra firma,..heaven on earth: a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,  14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”  Peace not as the world gives, by threats, force and compromise, but by the Lord Himself who is uncompromising with wrong, and reconciling man to God and to each other.  He is pleased with those who in faith know their poverty of spirit, as in, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”, and so in faith which is trust in the One come to save us.  It is so sad when in pride so many turn away from such a great salvation, such a great Savior. The Lord’s own peace is amongst those who in true faith,He is pleased as man to dwell, our Lord, Emmanuel, here and now and in the life of the world to come. 

The angel brought the greatest piece of news in the history of mankind: The good news, the news of the birth of the Savior, the King of Israel, the Messiah. All news we read or hear day by day is mostly and even always fearful or tinged with fear about politics, culture, our lives and even religion.  It is so much the work of the world, the flesh and the devil. While at the same time, so many care for their families, love their friends, pursue their vocations with due diligence, build houses and homes and believe and pray to the Lord. We fail in our converse with each other also day by day. And Jesus came and He  gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness.The angel brought the fear-less good news for all people of the One who saved us from our sins in the Lord’s own mercy and to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of (our) sins. 

The Child would one day preach and teach, Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Heaven come down upon earth. Heaven is not some eternal vacation but the Lord’s eternal vocation, that is, His calling for us to be His so that His reign comes among us. God’s reign and kingdom will come of His own accord but we pray that it come amongst us.  It does by His Word, the fearless and eternal Gospel, or Good News. As in the fearful daily news, rulers and kings tend to reign by the love of force, the Lord reigns by force of His love and mercy through His Word.  

Of all people, the angels appeared to the shepherds. Can you imagine, keeping watch over their flocks by night, a hundred sheep, not bathing for days on end and the resulting smell? Shepherds were not part of the ruling class and the elites.  They were blue-collar workers and yet the shepherds’ care of their flocks, faithful shepherds, this lowly image was and is so fitting for our Lord. As another shepherd was inspired by the Holy Ghost to sing, The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want, He maketh to lie down in green pastures, He leadeth me beside still waters. And one day on earth, the LORD would teach, I am the good Shepherd my sheep know Me and I know them.  The good Shepherd lays down His life for the flock.  A good shepherd searches for the one lost sheep till found. A good shepherd envelopes his flock with the knowledge of his love and care.  An experienced shepherd knows his flock, sheep and lambs. He knows a lamb without blemish or spot, to find such a lamb, that is, the Passover Lamb..and there in a feeding trough, behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The angel told them the sign of the Lamb of God. And only the one laid in the feeding trough can feed us, as the Lamb is also the Shepherd.

Sic Gloria transit mundi…thus passes the glory of the world.  This is the glory of the self, man exalting in man, the ruins of civilizations, turned in upon themselves…as we tend to do. Love’s pure light enveloped and grasped the shepherds, drawing them out to the Lord in hidden glory. The glory of the Lord is His love all around us. As it is written in 1 Corinthians 13, “Love never ends.” and,  “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. Love, agape is the Lord’s never-ending glory. He gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

We are told the shepherds’ good work, And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. As in Go tell it on the mountain.  The shepherds became some of the first evangelists of the Gospel and brought wonder to those who heard it.  Heaven come down to earth, the glory of the Lord amongst us.  We don’t need to raise hell, but live as those raised to heaven in our Baptisms into the Child born for us, zealous by faith for good works, to love as we have first been loved. 

I found this meme saying, What should not be heard by little ears, should not be said by big mouths. So true, but also, What SHOULD be heard by little ears, should be said by big mouths, that is the shepherds’ good news, unto us a Son is given. The glory of the Lord encircles and encompasses His people in Jesus Christ.  People are dying to hear the good news come down to earth to this very day and we ourselves, for as He is without end, so is His love. We continue our praise with the whole company of heaven, IN the Name of the Father, and of the +Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Collect of the Day

Almighty and ever-living God, You strengthened Your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in the resurrection of Your Son. Grant us such faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that we may never be found wanting in Your sight; through the same Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  

Appointed Scripture for this day:  Judge 6:  36-40  Psalm 139: 1-12  Romans 10: 8b-15  St. John 1:  35-42a

All four Gospels mention St. Thomas as one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. John’s Gospel, which names him “the Twin,” uses Thomas’s questions to reveal truths about Jesus. It is Thomas who says, “Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?” To this question Jesus replies, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:5-6). John’s Gospel also tells how Thomas, on the evening of the day of Jesus’ resurrection, doubts the report of the disciples that they had seen Jesus. Later, “doubting Thomas” becomes “believing Thomas” when he confesses Jesus as “my Lord and my God” (John 20:24-29). According to tradition, Thomas traveled eastward after Pentecost, eventually reaching India, where still today a group of people call themselves “Christians of St. Thomas.” Thomas was martyred for the faith by being speared to death. (Collect and Intro from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

 Reflection on St. Thomas and this Verse:

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.            St.John 20: 29

 We may think that our Lord’s only Beatitudes are those recorded in St. Matthew 5 at the  beginning of His Sermon on the Mount.  No, they are throughout the Gospels including this one to Thomas and us all.  In a sense, Thomas was privileged in his doubt to be an example of the maxim “seeing is believing”.  But our Lord’s beatitude directs us to the more Biblical understanding of the centrality of the Word of God:  hearing is believing.

14How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”  (Romans 10)

The Lord was preparing Thomas and his brethren for the apostolic Ministry of preaching and teaching the Word of God, the Word of His Gospel to repentant sinners for many to hear and so believe.  Even what Thomas and the apostles saw that first evening of the new creation were wounds of a crucifixion.  Not glorious by any stretch of worldly imaginations  but glorious in love’s pure light who died for sinners…as Thomas, as you, making faith.  His wounds are preached scars of our forgiveness in the One Who alone is the way, the truth and life, no one else, as Thomas also heard.  Pastors are called to preach the blood, preach the manger, preach the cross: preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  And Thomas was called to preach His wounds! From His side flowed water and blood (John 19:34), Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.  Pastors are called to administer the Sacraments.  Thomas’ eyes were blessed in seeing but his feet were beautiful in the sermon he preached: Jesus Christ.

Crown him the Lord of love.
Behold his hands and side,
Rich wounds, yet visible above, 
In beauty glorified.
No angels in the sky
Can fully bear that sight,
But downward bend their burning eyes
At mysteries so bright.

Rev. Edward Shillito was an English minister who survived the horrors of artillery, machine guns, and trench warfare during World War I. I think his poem “Jesus of the Scars ” is a fine commentary on Thomas and his faith in these dark days:

If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow;
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.

The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars we claim Thy grace.

If when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know today what wounds are; have no fear;
Show us Thy Scars; we know the countersign.

The other gods were strong, but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

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Light is one of the great themes of the Bible and of the coming of the Messiah.  The glory of the Lord shone about the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. The dayspring would arise as prophesied by Malachi: Malachi 1 “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2But for you who fear my name,the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. 3And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.

Then the well known verses:
Isaiah 9:  2 The people who walked in darkness   have seen a great light;those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,   on them has light shined.

Light is sign and symbol of seeing with heart, soul and mind by faith through God’s Word.  Etymologically, it is important that the word translated as “dayspring” in Latin is “oriens” which can also be rendered, “east”.  The obvious is the sun rises in the east.  Note: from “oriens” we have our word “orient” and “orientation”.  We humans can only be oriented correctly by light.  Light does not shine from us but on us that we not lose our way, physically, intellectually or spiritually.  His Word is Lamp unto our feet (Psalm 119).  The Temple in Jerusalem faced the east.  Traditionally, Christian church buildings faced the east and Christians are buried facing the east.  In the Church, in times past, the west was considered the haunt of the demonic but the east is from whence comes our Savior and so we face His way and are oriented.  We lose our way so easily.  We seek direction from people who say they know the way but do not have the good guide,  the Bible.  The Lord caught the attention of Persian astrologers, the magi and led them by a star.  But it was finally the Bible, the Word of God, that led them to Bethlehem.  Don’t trust your senses to find God, He will find you by His Word. His Word is more trustworthy than even your thoughts and feelings.  His Word will orient you to your heavenly home.

St. John 1:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.2He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

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O God, our refuge and strength, You raised up Your servant Katharina to support her husband in the task to reform and renew Your Church in the light of Your  Word. Defend and purify the Church today and grant that, through faith, we may boldly support and encourage our pastors and teachers of the faith as they proclaim and administer the riches of Your grace made known in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Katharina von Bora (1499–1552) was placed in a convent when still a child and became a nun in 1515. In April 1523 she and eight other nuns were rescued from the convent and brought to Wittenberg. There Martin Luther helped return some to their former homes and placed the rest in good families. Katharina and Martin were married on June 13, 1525. Their marriage was a happy one and blessed with six children. Katharina skillfully managed the Luther household, which always seemed to grow because of his generous hospitality. After Luther’s death in 1546, Katharina remained in Wittenberg but lived much of the time in poverty. She died in an accident while traveling with her children to Torgau in order to escape the plague. Today is the anniversary of her death. (Collect and Intro from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Just think:

  • The Luther household began with the marriage of  a PRIEST and a former NUN and had  children openly because there is nothing in the Bible to preclude it!  This was one of the first pastor’s families in probably a thousand years in the western Church!  (The eastern Church, the Orthodox, have always allowed for a married priesthood and this is pointed out in the Lutheran Confessions)  There was a superstition at the time that the child of priest would be Satan’s spawn and would be  born deformed.  If their first child  had any physical abnormalities the Reformation might have stopped then and there!
  • Parents would put their young daughters in a convent.  It was a crime against the state to leave a convent.  Katharina and several fellow nuns were hidden in pickle barrels and pirated out of the convent because of the freedom of the Gospel. Luther was charged with finding them husbands and played matchmaker!  One woman was left: Katharina!  But she had her eye on one of Luther’s colleagues.  Luther did not want to marry for at least one simple reason:  being declared a heretic, he could have been executed if not protected by his ruler, Frederic the Wise.  He thought this would not be fair to a wife.  But he consented to marry Katharina. It was not a marriage based at all on romantic love but it is clear from his writings he learned to love her dearly.
  • The Luther family lived in Luther’s former monastery!  (picture  below)  And they needed the rooms for all the guests.  At any given time they had at table 30-40 people!  Some were permanent guests, others were refugees of persecution of the Lutherans, visiting pastors and theologians and of course:  college students!  Many of them recorded Luther’s conversation at table which became his famous “table talks”.
Martin Luther’s Home The Luther family, wife and six children, and various students and visitors lived in the central part of the building. He was given the building by one of the aristocrats supporting his movement
  • Now they had servants and Frau Luther  ran the entire household.  There were no grocery stores.  She planted an extensive garden and grew her food.  She brewed their beer which her husband loved.  They  had to make clothes, mend them, start fires to cook every day, etc.

In the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the priest’s wife is informally called, “the presbytera”: Presbytera (Greek: πρεσβυτέρα, pronounced presvytéra) is a Greek title of honor that is used to refer to a priest’s wife. It is derived from presbyteros—the Greek word for priest (literally, “elder”)

Mrs. Luther was a presbytera as she was taught by her husband, the priest, the Catechism and as she shared in the ministry of house and home for their parish in Wittenberg. This is a good day to give thanks to the Lord for all the faithful wives of pastors and the presbytera be honored.

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Isaiah had prophesied, I will place the Key of the House of David on His shoulder; when he opens, no one will shut, when he shuts, no one will open.” (22:22), and “His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David’s throne, and over His kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever.”(9:6). In the Book of Revelation (Apocalypse), the Key is the Lord’s Resurrection: 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me,saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. The most significant and even dramatic time of the mention of keys, the Key of David is after Peter, by apocalypse of the Father, confesses Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Matthew 16:18-20

Then there are the narratives in Acts, when the Apostles Peter and Paul were freed from a locked prison. This one is most dramatic and telling of being set free:

And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 

The jailer was a Roman soldier and because he did not fulfill his duty to keep the prison doors locked, he was going to fall on his sword and commit suicide. There are two freedoms told in this narrative: political and spiritual. Spiritual freedom from our sins and sinful culture is much harder to gain. Jesus Christ was key to the Roman soldier being set free and his whole household in the Lord: free and slave, adult and infant. “O Key of David…”

Reflection: His Nativity is the key-note address of the Gospels and our lives together in His.  It sets the  theme of the fulfillment of the promises of the Scriptures.  As in:  shepherds are told of the birth of the Lord, the Good Shepherd, son of David the Shepherd King.   As in:  magi, Gentiles come to worship Him so that the Word goes forth from Zion.  As in:  the gift of myrrh, a spice used for burial.  As in:  the old Zechariah praising God and saying He will give us knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of our sins. As in: the government will be upon His shoulder and the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.  He is the Key of our forgiveness and eternal life for us and our salvation and the salvation of all. He has the key to your heart.

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Oh, come, Thou Branch of Jesse’s tree,
Free them from Satan’s tyranny,
That trust your mighty pow’r to save;
Bring them in vict’ry through the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!
(LSB #357)

Isaiah had prophesied, “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” (11:1), and on that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.” (11:10). Remember also that Jesse was the father of King David, and Micah had prophesied that the Messiah would be of the house and lineage of David and be born in David’s city, Bethlehem (Micah 5:1).

Reflection:  Our word “radical” is from the Latin “radix”, “root”, as in the Root of Jesse.  C. S. Lewis pointed out that forgiving sin is like a long addition equation and when the sum is wrong, you have to go back to where it went wrong. This is what Christ Mass is about:  the Lord going back to where it went wrong.  He became flesh, in the appearance  of the Old Adam, to fix the humanly unfixable problem, sin,  in the tender mercies of our God. It is fitting that today happens to be the Commemoration of Adam and Eve, who knew both the judgment of God and His grace in the seed of the woman, the coming Messiah..  We have knowledge of salvation in the forgiveness of our sins (Luke 1: 77)The Incarnation was radical and  still is and so He is Emmanuel.  First, He is God against us, His alien work of judgment of sinners.  Then He is God for us and our salvation and by faith Emmanuel, God with us.

This O Antiphon reminds us also of the Lord’s genealogy and it’s importance in the Gospels:  St. Matthew 1: 1-7 and St. Luke 3: 23-28. The first multi-part mini-series that was a mega hit was “Roots”, the story of Kunta Kinte and his family from West Africa.  They were captured by slavers and Kinte became a slave in the United States.  The mini-series was about his family and his descendants.  Commentators at the time noted that the “Roots” popularity had to do with rootless American society.  Few grow up and stay in the place they were born.  We forget who we are. Genealogical studies and websites are very popular.  Baseball’s whole goal is to go home.  Worse, we forget Who’s we are.  Christ Jesus has roots deep into in Israel and creation as the genealogies in Matthew and Luke testify.  Unto us a Son is born.  He made us part of the genealogy of Israel, adopted as the Lord’s sons and daughters, grafted into the olive tree of Israel (cf. Romans 11:  16-18).  The true King rooted Himself in Israel and His creation for us wandering and lost.  Here is an excellent article on St. Matthew’s Genealogy at Brothers of John the Steadfast.

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Before the coming of the anti-Christ, there is anti-Law and both are one in that they are anti-Truth. There will be a time of lawlessness, not only of civil law, but God’s Holy Law: Matthew 24:12, Romans 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:14, 2 Thessalonians 2:8-10. When individuals and churches deny that a sin is a sin, then the deceiver, the devil, has been there (1 John 1:8, Revelation 12:9).

The God-given Law by His work shows us our sin, in the depths of our souls, inbred and so we pray, Come with an out-stretched arm and redeem us! His outstretched arm is the arm of the Child born this holy season and Who did outstretch His arm upon the Cross for us all.

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