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Posts Tagged ‘Advent’

Jesus asked the crowd, What did you go out to see?  A reed shaken by the wind? Luther called pastors preaching to, “…temper the truth to the sensitive fastidiousness of fashionable hearers” “reed preachers”.  John was no reed-preacher. His sermons on marriage landed him in Herod Antipas’ prison and John’s head was handed to Herodias.

In the classic movie, Casablanca, set during World War II, in Casablanca, Morocco, the Nazis have not quite taken over the town. It was a French colony and the Renault is the Captain of the French police force.  Captain Renault stated succinctly his political philosophy and position:  “I blow with the wind and the prevailing wind is from Vichy”. Vichy was the French government collaborating with the Nazis.  Too many times, churches and her Christians collaborate with their Vichys, have “blown with the wind”, that is cooperating with the world. In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul wrote that the Lord gave us “apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” to teach and preach the Word, administer the Sacraments;   that is the “work of ministry”.  In that work of ministry that we have received, so we are grounded in Christ as we are founded by the Holy Spirit, in Him to the glory of God the Father.  “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”   Paul wrote to Timothy that in the last days, and these are the last day, when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  Captain Renault collaborated with the Nazis for his passions: women, drunkenness, gambling, and his own power. Those who are faithful to the Lord in oppressive times might lose their heads and those in good times who are faithful to the world and its passions, have handed their heads over to the devil.  

 John the Baptist sounded so harsh, You brood of vipers!  In movies, he is portrayed as screaming and hollering as he preached.  Maybe he was simply forceful for the Word of God comes like a hammer.  Maybe it is true that every age gets the saint it needs, for the saint acts like an antidote to the Vichy fashions of politics, religion and the like.  Every video clip I have seen of President Harry S. Truman, he seemed to be a real nice guy, except he was called “Give ‘em hell Harry”.  He was asked about the reason for that name, “I told the truth and they thought it was hell”.  For the proud and the boastful, for the self-secure and omni-competent, yes, Jesus and John’s message will seem like hell. Neither were reed preachers. But to the blind, the mute, the deaf, the dead and the poor they brought the good news of the God’s reign. 

“…in Christ’s kingdom things are different. He does not operate with strong, holy people but with weak, poor sinners of whom Christ said: “The blind receive their sight, the dead are raised up.” Now to raise the dead is a great miracle; but a far greater, wonderful miracle, one which does not receive the recognition, is that God has ordained a king to preach the gospel to sinners.”(Luther)

Then there are those preachers who teach that yes, Jesus will sure help you, it is by grace, but  do the good deeds to get into heaven, if you just do good works, are purpose driven, witness to 10 people this week, give God the glory everyday then you will really be a Christian.  I will call them “deed preachers” that by our deeds we can save ourselves by earning merit badges to heaven, when Christ Jesus in His Incarnation has done it all. They imagine that God owes them eternal life for their merits and holy life (Johann Gerhard).

And there are those who preach Jesus Christ for weary sinners, those who mourn, who are poor in spirit, who make for peace, all whom Jesus blessed in the Beatitudes.  The Church catholic and confessional which preaches Jesus Christ, the fullness of God, the fullness of man, who came down to heaven, who’s Advent we celebrate as He drew near in the Womb of the Virgin Mary. This is all summed up in the three Creeds of the Church.  The Church with those preachers are Creed preachers. 

Reed, deed or Creed preachers?  Reed, deed or Creed churches?  Reed, deed or Creed Christians?

John was no reed preacher, with his polling numbers in hand to tailor the message, to make millions and live in soft clothing in a mansion built by ministry dollars. Like Creflow Dollar who wanted his televangelist audience to donate for a new jet for the minister.   The mega-congregation minister in North Carolina who has million dollar plus mansion.

In Christ, reed, deed, creed, is reversed, creed, deed then reed.

Creed preaching is preaching God’s Word.  John preached the Creed that the Messiah is coming, the Coming One and out of the Creed, faith,  comes forth deeds, maybe not as great as John’s, but as the Christ the fruit of love, joy and peace endures in families, churches, societies and cultures.  John was steadfast in the Word.  He did not blow with the prevailing wind, yet he could be shaken. Living the creed in our daily vocations, but even if they are outstanding deeds, they do not save the soul, only one deed has and will,  the deed of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.  But out of the creed, faith in His Word will come forth deeds, the good works that God has prepared beforehand to be our way of life.  Justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is not an excuse “…to pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (Jude 4)  His grace, His love is the cause of faith, then love but only His love justified, made us right to do the right and the good.  As John the Baptist preached, bear fruits befitting repentance.   “In the case of our justification, which is the full and perfect acceptance of the believer unto eternal life, certain effects in our life, such as the new obedience, follow rather slowly because of the weakness of our flesh.” (Martin Chemnitz). 

Creed then deed which is taking care of the reeds. In Matthew 12, the Evangelist, inspired by the Holy Spirit, quotes Isaiah at the exact moment after Jesus cured the man with the withered hand and the Pharisees were plotting to destroy Him:

“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
    my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased…
20 a bruised reed he will not break

A bruised reed He will not break…not strong powerful Christians but bruised ones, as Jesus told John’s disciples, the blind, the leprous, deaf, the dead, and poor have good news preached to them, a  King who preaches to the poor the Gospel. We can add to the list the Beatitude list, poor in spirit, those who mourn, the persecuted and reviled on account of our King’s Name. Reeds, frail flesh, easily swayed, easily broken. Pastor Paul Kretzman from his 1918 commentary on the Isaiah passage in Matthew:

(Christ’s) spirit would be neither that of contention nor of blatant self-advertising after the manner of preachers that bring their names to the front, but forget the Gospel they were sent to preach. So gentle, sympathetic, and kind would His spiritual ministry be that those that are weak, whose faith was at the point of extinction, could depend upon His help. The bruised reed is carefully bound up until the contusion is healed; the weak Christian receives strength from above. The lamp of faith which is at the point of expiring will receive fresh oil from the Gospel. 

After the Roman soldiers, plaited the King’s crown of thornes, thrusting it on His head, they then gave Him a reed as His scepter and mocked Him kneeling before Him saying, Hail!  King of the Jews!  That reed is us to rule in mercy and the strength of the One who died for sinners and rose again.

A bruised reed he will not break, then it is written and quoted, a smoldering wick He will not quench, Christian’s faith who is not always strong, a smoldering wick.  He will bring to light by the light of His Word.

Today’s opening collect is a one sentence prayer:

 Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers  and enlighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation

This prayer is so needed these days by us all.

It is as if the Lord says:  My people please believe what I have done for you!  Show me your wounds and I show you My Hands, scarred for all time by the Cross and I give you life. 

Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers  and enlighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation

For those who mourn, Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers  and enlighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation.  

For those who do not know where to turn:  Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers  and enlighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation.

For the Church that she may preach His unvarnished truth the light of His Word:  Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers  and enlighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation

 Let us pray: 

Preserve your Word, O Savior,
To us this latter day,
And let your kingdom flourish;
Enlarge your Church, we pray.
Oh, keep our faith from failing;
Keep hope’s bright star aglow.
Let nothing from truth turn us
While living here below

 

 

 

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The “O Antiphons” refer to the seven antiphons that are recited (or chanted) preceding the Magnificat during Vespers of the Liturgy of the Hours. They cover the special period of Advent preparation known as the Octave before Christmas, Dec. 17-23, with Dec. 24 being Christmas Eve and Vespers for that evening being for the Christmas Vigil. An octave is literal 8 days.  From the earliest time of the Church 8 is considered significant: 7 days of the creation, then on the 1st Day of the Week, the 8th day, the new creation:  Christ is risen!

The exact origin of the “O Antiphons” is not known. Boethius (c. 480-524) made a slight reference to them, thereby suggesting their presence at that time. At the Benedictine abbey of Fleury (now Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire), these antiphons were recited by the abbot and other abbey leaders in descending rank, and then a gift was given to each member of the community. By the eighth century, they are in use in the liturgical celebrations in Rome. The usage of the “O Antiphons” was so prevalent in monasteries that the phrases, “Keep your O” and “The Great O Antiphons” were common parlance. One may thereby conclude that in some fashion the “O Antiphons” have been part of our liturgical tradition since the very early Church.

The importance of “O Antiphons” is twofold: Each one highlights a title for the Messiah: 

O Sapientia (O Wisdom)

 O Adonai (O Lord)

O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)

O Clavis David (O Key of David)

O Oriens (O Rising Sun)

O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)

 O Emmanuel.

According to Professor Robert Greenberg of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Benedictine monks arranged these antiphons with a definite purpose. If one starts with the last title and takes the first letter of each one – Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai,Sapientia – the Latin words ero cras are formed, meaning, “Tomorrow, I will come.” Therefore, the Lord Jesus, whose coming we have prepared for in Advent and whom we have addressed in these seven Messianic titles, now speaks to us, “Tomorrow, I will come.” So the “O Antiphons” not only bring intensity to our Advent preparation, but bring it to a joyful conclusion.  

Notably, the Great O Antiphons are the basis of the great Advent Hymn: O, Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

(The information above is cited from an article in Cyberbrethren)

December 17th:

O Sapientia:

Isaiah had prophesied, “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” (11:2-3), and “Wonderful is His counsel and great is His wisdom.” (28:29).  St. Paul points out that, “… the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 1 Corinthians 1: 25.  Jesus is the Wisdom of God.  He was weak to show forth the power of our salvation in every Word and Work He did and finally and fully in the weakness of the manger and Cross bearing our sin.    In Proverbs 8 and 9, Wisdom is personified as a woman:  

Wisdom has built her house;
   she has hewn her seven pillars.
2She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine;
   she has also set her table.
3She has sent out her young women to call
   from the highest places in the town,
4 “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
    To him who lacks sense she says,
5“Come, eat of my bread
   and drink of the wine I have mixed.
6Leave your simple ways, and live,
    and walk in the way of insight.”

She invites the simple to her table.  The Lord invites the simple to His Table to walk in His Way, the way of insight and live.

 

 Oh, come, Oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Oh, come, our Wisdom from on high, 
Who ordered all things mightily; 
To us the path of knowledge show, 
and teach us in her ways to go. 
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel 
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

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He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of GOD. – (Daniel 3: 25)

Lord God, heavenly Father, You rescued Daniel from the lions’ den and the three young men from the fiery furnace through the miraculous intervention of an angel. Save us now through the presence of Jesus, the Lion of Judah, who has conquered all our enemies through His blood and taken away all our sins as the Lamb of God, who now reigns from His heavenly throne with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Daniel the prophet and the Three Young Men—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—were among the leaders of the people of Judah who were taken into captivity in Babylon. Even in that foreign land they remained faithful to the one true God in their piety, prayer, and life. On account of such steadfast faithfulness in the face of pagan idolatry, the Three Young Men were thrown into a fiery furnace, from which they were saved by the Lord and emerged unharmed (Daniel 3). Similarly, Daniel was thrown into a pit of lions, from which he also was saved (Daniel 6). Blessed in all their endeavors by the Lord—and in spite of the hostility of some—Daniel and the Three Young Men were promoted to positions of leadership among the Babylonians (Dan 2:48–493:306:28). To Daniel in particular the Lord revealed the interpretation of dreams and signs that were given to King Nebuchadnezzar and King Belshazzar (Daniel 2, 4, 5). To Daniel himself the Lord gave visions of the end times. Source: Treasury of Daily Prayer

Reflection:  The response of rulers to Daniel and his three companions was either to slap them on the back in thanks or slap them into prison in rage.  The reason behind both responses was they did not “go with the flow”.  In the opening chapters, we find out they did not eat the King’s food, that is, they kept kosher. Later, they did not bow to the king’s false god.  In other words, Daniel and the 3 young men obeyed in faith the Commandments as in the 1st Commandment: You shall have no other gods before you.  I do not think they so kept the Commandments in order to be saved but they were called and saved to do so.  Recently I read someone has come out with a “Christian diet” shamelessly using “Daniel’s diet”:  Daniel and his three friends did not so refrain because of their waistlines!  Also us as Christians are so saved by the Lord to delight  in His commandments. As we are called to follow in the Way who is Jesus Christ, He calls us to be different than the world.  We can not bow to the gods of this world:  mammon, Caesar, self.  We live in a “selfie” world. These verses from the Sermon on the Mount, St. Matthew 5: 13, is the Lord’s vocation to His people to so live:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

G. K. Chesterton was so right when he wrote this on  the Matthew Gospel verse above:

Christ did not tell his apostles that they were only the excellent people, or the only excellent people, but that they were the exceptional people; the permanently incongruous and incompatible people; and the text about the salt of the earth is really as sharp and shrewd and tart as the taste of salt. It is because they were the exceptional people, that they must not lose their exceptional quality. “If salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?” … If the world grows too worldly, it can be rebuked by the Church; but if the Church grows too worldly, it cannot be adequately rebuked for worldliness by the world.

Our Lord’s  dire warning is clear: go with the flow and we are no more.  Salt does it’s thing because it is different from that which it seasons and preserves. Advent is filled with people who did not go with the flow:  John the Baptist, Elizabeth and Zechariah, Simeon, Anna, Joseph and Mary.   They all knew, in varying degree, the fiery furnace and the Son of God, with no dross to be burned away came into the furnace with us, our own dross of trespasses to be burned.   Not going with the peer groups of the world is hard and this is why we are encouraged this day by Daniel and the Three Young Men.

Post-Script:  In an apocryphal song, the three young men sang in the fiery furnace the following, adapted for liturgical usage.  In the Lutheran Church it is sung during Easter Vigil when all creation waits for the last revelation of all God’s children in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:19).  Even if we do not praise the Lord, His creation does! (see Psalm 148)

All you works of the Lord, bless the Lord; Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

You angels of the Lord, bless the Lord; You heavens, bless the Lord; Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

You sun and moon, bless the Lord; You stars of heaven, bless the Lord; You showers and dews, bless the Lord; Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

You winds of God, bless the Lord; You fire and heat, bless the Lord; You winter and summer, bless the Lord; Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

You dews and frost, bless the Lord; You frost and cold, bless the Lord; You ice and snow, bless the Lord; Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

You nights and days, bless the Lord; You light and darkness, bless the Lord; You lightning and clouds, bless the Lord; Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

Let the earth bless the Lord; You mountains and hills, bless the Lord; All you green things that grow on the earth, bless the Lord; Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

You wells and springs, bless the Lord; You rivers and seas, bless the Lord; You whales and all who move in the waters, bless the Lord; Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

All you birds of the air, bless the Lord; All you beasts and cattle, bless the Lord; All you children of mortals, bless the Lord; Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

You people of God, bless the Lord; You priests of the Lord, bless the Lord; You servants of the Lord, bless the Lord; Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

You spirits and souls of the righteous, bless the Lord; You pure and humble of heart, bless the Lord; Let us bless the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to Holy Spirit;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.
Amen.
 

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“He must increase, but I must decrease.” (Translation of the Text, St. John 3:30, behind John the Baptist, pointing to the crucified Christ; detail from the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald)

He was not the light, but came to bear witness about             the light. (St. John 1: 8)

 Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week.  In the first day of creation, God created light.  Darkness and light are fundamental realities of life.  God created light in the midst of the darkness of no life.  He created out of His divine being.  

For with You is the fountain of life;
    in Your light do we see light. (Psalm 36: 9)

 and

 This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.  (1 John 1: 5)

 The fundamental scientific reality of light, that even a pin prick of light, can lighten a totally dark room, but physically one can not box up darkness and let it loose in a room with light to darken the room. We can only block the light or turn it off.  There are two types of darkness and light:  physical and spiritual.  Physically men and women cannot bring darkness into the light, but spiritually, this is possible.  But when right light of God’s Law shines on that spiritual darkness, it is frightening to the Old Adam: 

 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. (St. John 3)

 Everyone who has  not believed in the Lord our Savior Who came into the darkness is still in the dark.  They have not believed in God’s just judgment of the darkness of wickedness.  They have not believed in His utter forgiveness of sinners in the light of His Word.

 The Lord sent John as witness about the light coming into the world, the light of salvation. 

The Lord is my light and my salvation. (Psalm 27)  He preached God’s Law, repentance so that through the Light of world, Jesus Christ, “…that all might believe through Him” (John 1).  The Lord’s Word of Law, making straight the Lord’s way, prepares  for our Savior’s inestimable mercy for sinners, the light of the world.  “Thy Word O Lord is lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path” (Psalm 119: 105).  The Lord showed us by His Law the way we are lost and by His promises fulfilled shows us the Way, Jesus Christ, the very light OF the world, love’s pure light,  in our darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.  

Fill with the radiance of Thy grace
The souls now lost in error’s maze
And all whom in their secret minds
Some dark delusion haunts and blinds.

 It is frightening to be lost in the darkness, physical and spiritual. Years ago, friends of our family,  the Johnsons, a family of 6 told this story.  Pastor Johnson’s mother had died and his father later moved to a small rural town in Mississippi, out in the country.  The Johnson family went to find Grandpa’s new home. They were driving and driving and unable to find the town.  The sun had set and darkness descended. Dark country roads with no moon nor any street lights are ominous when one is lost. When it was pitch black, unable to find any town, they  were scared.  In the dark, lost, even for a short time can seem like an eternity. Finally, off in the horizon they saw a light and they were encouraged.  As they drove closer and closer, they realized it was a fire and they were drawing closer to it, not turning around, maybe curious, or at least it was light and there might be someone there. Well, there were people there.   Then came to that fire and they saw what it was:  a KKK meeting and a cross burning.  They sped away.

 They found in the middle of the country darkness worse than any physical darkness: the darkness of racial hatred, which is wickedness masquerading as light in the darkness.  In the fear of the dark on life’s journey, there are many tempting lights on the horizon, which beckon with their siren call.    Jesus warned: 

“The eye is the lamp of the body.  So if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness.”(St. Matthew 6)

 We look for light in enormous wealth, in celebrity and popularity, in celebrities, in more and more stuff, in what’s under the tree not Him who hung upon the Tree, in sexual encounters, in political  movements, in our own intelligence and reason to save, in our nation…how we look at life matters.  All of those things are good gifts from God but when bad eyes seek them for themselves as light, how great is the darkness. It is idolatry.

And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. (2 Corinthians 11)

John came to clear the vision as witness about the Light.  He could say I am not the light. He said I am not the Christ.  Christ said,  beware of those who say, I am the Christ. They are not the light.  Even the Church is not the light in the sense that the Church is not Christ. We are Christ’s body.  We are called to do as John:  bear witness regarding the Light.  Light shines into the darkness.  Light comes from the outside.  Darkness, of the heart separated from the Lord, comes from within.  Upon whom who has lighted shined?  The light has shone upon those walking in the dark, then all those lesser lights are like Christmas lights left on in the morning and the sun shines and they look small and ineffectual. They are when the real light of the Lord’s grace shines.

  The light has shone, the good news, as Isaiah said upon:    

the poor   

the faint  of spirit    

the captives

those who are bound 

all who mourn  

the brokenhearted 

Not upon those who think they are the light. The brightest and the best bathe in their own light, as the religious muckity mucks from headquarters who came to investigate John. The prophet Isaiah’s list, the poor, the faint in spirit, captives, those who mourn sure sounds like another passage, Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn…the Beatitudes. He comes to find the lost.  He has.  He will. He comes to bless in worst distresses, in the light of His forgiveness, for,

a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
21     and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”(Isaiah 42) 

 Don’t quench the Spirit, encouraged the Apostle.  Don’t put out the fire, the light of the Holy Spirit teaching Christ into your ears and into your heart, the light of the Word made flesh. But how does the fire and light of the Holy Spirit stay close to us?  Just before Paul’s encouragement not to quench the Spirit, he shows how:  Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances. When the power goes out, what’s one of the first things you go looking for?  A flashlight.   This trinity of unity is, “…the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  Pray anytime…in need, in sorrow, in hope, for others, in rejoicing and thanksgiving. Your body is His Temple.  In prayer, in a flash, reach for His light as He has reached you. When the lights of this world go out, it makes no sense not to pick up a flashlight.  In this dark world, it makes no sense that by God’s grace we know where His light is in His Word, so to serve and help others.   John was not worthy to do a slave’s work to stoop down and untie the sandals of Christ Jesus, and Christ Himself, in the night in which He was betrayed stooped down and untied the disciples’ sandals to wash their feet.  He has untied us from the bounds of sin and death tied to His own life. 

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thessalonians 5)

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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Icon of Noah, Kramer Chapel, Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN

Psalm 29
Genesis 7:1-5, 11-12, 17-23
1 Peter 3:18-22 or Hebrews 11:1-3, 7; 12:1-2
St. Matthew 24:36-44

Almighty and eternal God,  according to Your strict judgment You condemned the unbelieving world through the flood, yet according to Your great mercy You preserved believing Noah and his family, eight souls in all.  Grant that we may be kept safe and secure  in the holy ark of the Christian Church, so that with all believers in Your promise, we would be declared worthy of eternal life,through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

 Noah, the son of Lamech (Gen 5:30), was instructed by God to build an ark, in which his family would find security from the destructive waters of a devastating flood that God warned would come. Noah built the ark, and the rains descended. The entire earth was flooded destroying “every living thing that was on the face of the ground, both man and beast” (7:23). After the flood waters subsided, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. When Noah determined it was safe, and God confirmed it, he and his family and all the animals disembarked. Then Noah built an altar and offered a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God for having saved his family from destruction. A rainbow in the sky was declared by God to be a sign of His promise that never again would a similar flood destroy the entire earth (8;20).  Noah is remembered and honored for his obedience, believing that God would do what He said He would. (From LCMS website)

 Reflection: 

When I served as Pastor at a congregation with a pre-school, a teacher impressed on me this about Noah:   we tell it like it’s a cute kiddie  story complete with Disney-like animals, a big boat and a flood but it’s about God’s judgment on all flesh.  It really isn’t “nice”:

13And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh,for the earth is filled with violence through them. (Genesis 6)

And in the narrative the word “violence” is central reason for God’s judgment.  Violence is not “nice”:  war, tyranny, murder, suicide, abortion, bloody fights, seemingly endless video games,  are not the picture of man made in the image of God.  There is no sin in a Disney world…and no forgiveness either. This violence and the unrepentant violent must die and God’s righteousness live.  So Noah becomes the image of Baptism: drowning and living, dying and rising.

Today is the First Sunday in Advent and the collect of day’s main petition is,

…Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come,  that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance…”

The “threatening perils our sins” is like a flood rising higher and higher about to drown us and it has.  This is a fitting picture on the Commemoration of Noah and it fits together all together too well.  On our own, we can maybe tread water for awhile, under our own power, and think we are pretty good swimmers.  Once the Law of God shows us the peril, we  give out and realize  can not save ourselves…we are like Peter trying to walk on the water and we see the waves and we sink.  On our own, we are sunk.  The Lord interceded for obedient Noah and his family and the lesser creatures to save them.  The Lord interceded for us by sending His Son.  Jesus Christ was baptized into the flood of our sins to save us.  Baptized, we “walk wet” in His grace, mercy and peace, so we can live His life, dead to sin and alive in Him, to promote and serve life temporal and eternal in good works for our neighbors.  He is the only reason we so live and will live again at His coming again.  In Advent, we rejoice in the Lord’s total immersion into the threatening dangers of our sin.

This Advent the palpable fear and terror of ISIS is upon us as we have seen them beheading Christians which is the depths of gratuitous violence ‘sanctioned’ by a false religion.  ISIS sadly may behead Christians, as other and many persecutors have done in the past, but they can not behead the Church’s Head, Jesus Christ.  He holds His Church in His hands in the midst of terror…and anxiety.

The icons above and below are from the Baptistry of Kramer Chapel at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN.  One is of Noah and the other of our Lord’s Baptism.  The sinless One Who did not need to be baptized for His sin, nevertheless, immersed Himself into the sin of the world.  The immersion began when He was conceived in the Virgin Mary, in the amniotic fluid of His Mother, indeed:  

For You formed my inward parts;
    You knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are Your works;
    my soul knows it very well.” Psalm 139 

The prayer after the icon is by Martin Luther and it is prayed at a Baptism and it is a good prayer for anytime, as we are baptized and we are His.

Icon of the Baptism of Christ, Kramer Chapel Baptistry

Almighty eternal God, who according to thy righteous judgment didst condemn the unbelieving world through the flood and in Thy great mercy didst preserve believing Noah and his family, and who didst drown hardhearted Pharaoh with all his host in the Red Sea and didst lead Thy people Israel through the same on dry ground, thereby prefiguring this bath of thy baptism, and who through the baptism of thy dear Child, our Lord Jesus Christ, hast consecrated and set apart the Jordan and all water as a salutary flood and rich and full washing away of sins: We pray through the same Thy groundless mercy that Thou wilt graciously behold this N. and bless him with true faith in the Spirit so that by means of this saving flood all that has been born in him from Adam and which he himself has added thereto may be drowned in him and engulfed, and that he may be sundered from the number of the unbelieving, preserved dry and secure in the holy ark of Christendom, serve Thy Name at all times fervent in spirit and joyful in hope, so that with all believers he may be made worthy to attain eternal life according to Thy promise; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

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The Hallelujah Chorus by Yupiq Eskimo Village of Quinhagak, Alaska–Commemoration of Santa Lucia, December 13th, 2011

Collect of the Day:

O Almighty God, by whose grace and power Your holy servant Lucia triumphed over suffering and remain ever faithful unto death, grant us, who now remember her with thanksgiving, to be so true in our witness to You in this world that we may receive with her new eyes without tears and the crown of light and life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

One of the victims of the great persecution under the Roman emperor Diocletian, Lucia met her death at Syracuse on the island of Sicily in the year A.D. 304, because of her Christian faith. Known for her charity, “Santa Lucia” (as she is called in Italy) gave away her dowry and remained a virgin until her execution by the sword. The name Lucia means “light,” and, because of that, festivals of light commemorating her became popular throughout Europe, especially in the Scandinavian countries. There her feast day corresponds with the time of year when there is the least amount of daylight.

(Collect and Intro from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

In medieval Europe before the Gregorian reform of the calendar, St. Lucy’s Day was the shortest day of the year and this day was celebrated especially in Scandinavia where it marked the tunring from the long cold nights to the increase in daylight.  Swedish communites, including many in America, still have special festivities for this day.  In private homes one of the young girls of the household, dressed in white and wearing a crown of lighted candles, awakens the family in the morning and offers them cakes and coffee from a tray. (from Festivals and Commemorations by Rev. Philip Pfatteicher)

Reflection:  It is significant that the Christ was born when light is the least, when darkness is palpable.  My wife is a chemist, a scientist and years ago she pointed out that physically you can not bring darkness into a room but you can bring in light. Only the fallen sons of Adam and daughters of Eve can bring spiritual darkness into a room, a family, a school, yes, even a church.  Lucia brought light, her own lit by Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:16).  The powers of darkness thought they had blown out that light, but they were wrong as we remember her today. In Him, we too can bring light into the dark places.  “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (St. John 1: 4-5)

We pray:

Lord Jesus Christ,  we implore You to hear our prayers and to lighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

 

 

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I have read that this mosaic of Ambrose might actually be a rendering of his likeness.

The Son of God, being about to bring together His Church, first works through his young servant: and so it is well said: the word of the Lord came unto John, etc., so that the Church has its beginning not from man, but from the Word. (Ambrose on Matthew 3: 1-11, the Season of Advent)

Ambrose was the Bishop of Milan from today’s date, December 7, beginning in 374 till his death in 397.  He was the first of great Church fathers to be born, raised and educated as a Christian (the others were pagans who converted) and in the western part of the Roman Empire in what is now Trier, France.   He studied the classics and the law at Rome and before he was thirty-three was named governor of Ligoria and Aemilia, with headquarters at Milan.  Milan at the time was the seat of the imperial court.  The bishop was an Arian.  Arianism is a Christian heresy.  Bishop Arius taught, “There was a time when Christ was not”, thus denying the plain teaching of Scripture, for instance, see John 1:1-3, and thus denying the divinity of Jesus Christ, His equality in the Godhead  and salvation in Him. (This is not far to the doctrine  that Jesus was a good teacher, for instance, see the book “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth“, by Thomas Jefferson who took the Gospels and cut out all the miracles and the resurrection and left only His sayings).  This resulted in violent clashes between the Arians and the Catholics in Milan.  Ambrose, as Governor, settled the conflict.  Both sides unanimously insisted that Ambrose become their Bishop, or pastor.  At this time, though a believer, Ambrose had not been baptized.  The human tradition  at the time  was to delay baptism till the time of death, so as not to sin after baptism.  Ambrose finally bowed to pressure from church and state, and on this date, December 7th, he was baptized, ordained a priest and consecrated Bishop: all in one day!  Usually, a known saint’s day is the day the saint died, thus in Christ awaiting the resurrection unto eternal life. Today we remember Ambrose’s re-birth into the Kingdom, see John 3:5.

  Ambrose is noted for the following:

  1. a powerful preacher of the Gospel
  2. a hymn writer
  3. a peacemaker
  4. and through it all, defender of the true Faith:  when Arians were sentenced to death, Ambrose saved their lives and yet  he did not compromise the  saving and sound doctrine of the Scriptures with their heresy.

One of the many people who ‘attended church’ and the Liturgy in Milan was a young Manichean philospher,  who had had  a child out of wedlock and who was searching:  Augustine.  Augustine became one of the great teachers and preachers of Jesus Christ. 

“In Milan I found Your devoted servant the bishop Ambrose, who was known throughout the world as a man whom there was few to equal in goodness.  At that time his gifted tongue never tired of dispensing the richness of Your corn, the joy of Your oil, and the sober intoxication of Your wine.  Unknown to me, it was You who led me to him,so that I might knowingly be led by him to You.”  ( From the Confessions of St. Augustine)

On Easter, 387, Ambrose administered the Sacrament of  Holy Baptism for Augustine.

His most reknowned hymn is the Advent hymn we sung for the 1st Sunday of Advent:  ‘Savior of the Nations, Come’:

1. Savior of the nations, come,
Virgin’s Son, make here Thy home!
Marvel now, O heaven and earth,
That the Lord chose such a birth.

2. Not by human flesh and blood,
By the Spirit of our God,
Was the Word of God made flesh–
Woman’s Offspring, pure and fresh.

3. Wondrous birth! O wondrous Child
Of the Virgin undefiled!
Though by all the world disowned,
Still to be in heaven enthroned.

4. From the Father forth He came
And returneth to the same,
Captive leading death and hell–
High the song of triumph swell!

5. Thou, the Father’s only Son,
Hast o’er sin the victory won.
Boundless shall Thy kingdom be;
When shall we its glories see?

6. Brightly doth Thy manger shine,
Glorious is its light divine.
Let not sin o’ercloud this light;
Ever be our faith thus bright.

7. Praise to God the Father sing,
Praise to God the Son, our King,
Praise to God the Spirit be
Ever and eternally.

(The Lutheran Hymnal Hymn # 95  Text: John 1: 14 Author: St. Ambrose, +397 German version translated by Martin Luther, 1524)

Let us pray…O God, You gave Your servant Ambrose grace to proclaim the Gospel with eloquence and power.  As bishop of the great congregation of Milan, he fearlessly bore reproach for the honor of Your name.  Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellence in preaching and fidelity in ministering Your Word that Your people shall be partakers of the divine nature;  through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

(Source for this piece from Festivals and Commemorations by Philip H. Pfatteicher;  to read more about Ambrose:  Cyberbrethren: Ambrose)

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