Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

Dear Father Hollywood Reader:

A most holy and blessed Feast of the Holy Nativity to all of you, to your families, and your churches. May the Christ Child, born of the Virgin Mary, true God and true Man, continue to hold you in His grace, forgive you all your sins, and bring you to life everlasting.

May this coming year be a time of joy, peace, hope, and love to all of you, in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

"Venite adoremus, Dominum!"

Rev. Larry Beane and family

Sermon: Christmas Midnight

24 December 2006 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 2:1-20 (Historic Gospel)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”

The squabbles over Christmas are more intense this year than ever. Christians have resorted to displaying signs and bumper stickers that say “Keep Christ in Christmas.” And indeed, our secular culture needs the reminder. A recent survey shows that more than half of the children in England don’t know that Christmas commemorates the birth of Christ. Yes, indeed, Jesus is the reason for the season.

But there’s more to Christmas than a commemoration of something long past. The other half of the word “Christmas” is “Mass.” The word “Mass” means the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, Holy Communion. Christmas is “Christ’s Mass.

In the Mass, God comes to us in a physical form. Instead of being only a divine Spirit that cannot be seen, heard, or touched, that can’t be painted or sculpted, that has no name, that is independent of space and time – God Himself, Christ Himself, breaks into space and time, becomes material, speaks to us, and becomes physically part of us through a miraculous meal.

Contrary to what the pointy-heads tell us in Time and Newsweek, and over and against the bloviations of the self-important talking heads on TV, Jesus is not a myth. St. Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus reads like other classical historians of the Greco-Roman world. The birth of Jesus did not happen “long, long ago in galaxy far away.” Luke’s account does not begin with “once upon a time,” but rather: “Jesus was born during the reign of Augustus Caesar, under the gubernatorial administration of one Quirinius of Syria, during the year of the imperial Census.” It is concrete and precise, rooted in time and place, written with journalistic authority that you just don’t see in mythology and fables.

Jesus is historical, concrete, and beyond dispute. His miracles and teachings were widely reported in both biblical and non-biblical sources. We have four separate and definitive contemporary biographies of Jesus – much more than we have of even Julius Caesar. Jesus of Nazareth was indeed crucified, died, and was buried, all under the watchful guard of detachments of professional Roman soldiers. And on the Sunday after His execution, Jesus’ guards were comatose and His tomb was empty. No-one disputes these facts, not even Jesus’ enemies. He appeared to hundreds of people after His death.

Non-Christians have been scrambling for explanations for two thousand years – most of them as silly as a Monty Python episode. Of course, if it were only a fairy tale, so-called scholars wouldn’t be so intent on debunking it, would they?

Jesus is no Zeus or Apollo, no Superman or Merlin the Wizard. Jesus is not the stuff of legends or even of spirituality. For Jesus is not merely spirit, but is completely human. His very real physical life turned the world upside down, and His very real physical death changed the cosmos and has set in motion the final abolition of all evil. Jesus died for you, as a sacrifice for your sins, to clear your account and give you the Christmas present of righteousness before God. These are all historical facts.

But in order to accomplish this feat, God Almighty had to break into our world of space and time. He had to be born of a woman. Before there could be Good Friday and Easter, before there could be the conquest of the devil, there had to be a Christmas. And because there was Good Friday and Easter, the forces of evil now seek to destroy Christmas. They work with the Church-hating world to remove Christ from Christmas, and they work within the Church to remove the Mass from Christmas.

When God took on flesh, he took on a specific location. Of course, God is everywhere, but “for us,” for our sake, he assumes a form that we can experience. This is why the angels of God, after giving them the news: “There is born to you this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord,” added: “You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” The angels did not only give the Shepherds the information, words about the Word, the data about the Gospel – they told the shepherds: “Go where God can be found.” The angels are not denying that God is omnipresent, but in order to see and touch God, in order for God to carry out His promise to be with us and save us – God comes to us physically. They tell the shepherds to seek him out where is - in the flesh, in a specific place.

This specific place for us today, dear Christians, is the Holy Mass. This is the holy sacrament of the Lord’s body and blood. For the Lord Jesus lay in a manger – an eating trough for animals – in the town of Bethlehem – Hebrew for House of Bread. Jesus is the Bread of Life, delivered to us poor miserable sinners, who like sheep have gone astray, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and who are fed the very Bread of Life and the Wine of the Righteousness of God, the true body and blood of the Lord.

The miracle of Christmas is not only once a year. For every Sunday is a “Christ’s Mass.” We Lutherans confess: “We do not abolish the Mass but religiously keep and defend it. In our churches Mass is celebrated every Sunday and on other festivals when the sacrament is offered to those who wish for it after they have been examined and absolved.” Those of you who wish Christmas could come more than once a year, it does. It happens every Sunday. The miracle of God Almighty taking a humble form in our presence, limited within space and time, in a way that He can be seen and touched – happens so often that people take it for granted. And yet, in this weekly Christmas, you don’t have to fight traffic, deplete your bank account, and push your way through crowds.

In fact, in the weekly Christ’s Mass, you receive the greatest gift of all. Of course, you don’t pay for the gifts that you receive. You don’t earn gifts you receive. For the gift of eternal life that is given out here in this House of Bread called “Salem,” (which means “peace”), is given out for free. And when you eat this Christmas Supper week in and week out, you are partaking of the peace that comes from communion with your Father who loves you and wants to give you everything that is His – even His only begotten Son for eternal life.

So, my brothers and sisters, a blessed and Merry Christmas to you – now, and every week of the year! May the gift of the Christ Child continue to come to you as you join us for Christ’s Mass every Sunday and Wednesday. May you not only keep Christ in Christmas, but keep Christ in your lives week in and week out, body and soul, now and forever.

“Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” Amen!

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Sermon: Advent 4 (Rorate Coeli)

24 December 2006 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 1:39-56 (Historic Gospel)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Caesar Augustus, the Roman Emperor at the time of the birth of our Lord, had a saying: “Festina lente!” which means: “Make haste slowly.” It’s a funny and ironic way of saying: “Even when you’re in a hurry, take your time and do things right.”

The coming of Jesus to save us was, is, and will always be the most urgent event in human history. From the days of the fall in Eden, mankind needed a Savior, and needed Him as soon as possible. And yet, the world had to wait for some four millennia for God to carry out this urgent mission. That’s a long time to wait, at least for us, but according to God’s plan, this was the very fullness of time, the point in history where man was ripe for the fruition of the divine plan to go into force.

Of course, our sinful flesh is impatient. We want what we want, and we want it now. We don’t want to plan, and wait, and work, and wait, and “make haste slowly” and then wait some more. We certainly don’t like to wait on someone else’s schedule – not even God’s.

Today’s Gospel lesson is where the Old Testament meets the New Testament, where ancient Israel passes the torch to the infant Church. For Zacharias is a priest of the Old Covenant. His wife, Elizabeth, is pregnant with the very last prophet. Mary is kin to Elizabeth, she shares her family origins with this last Old Testament family. Mary bears in her womb the Priest of all priests and the Prophet of all prophets. And John the Baptist confesses that his fetal cousin is not only a true human being, but also very God of very God. John prophesies in utero by leaping even before he is able to draw his first breath, let alone speak and preach. The Old Covenant, the Old Testament, is finding its fulfillment in the New – as the New Testament in His blood rests peacefully in his mother’s uterus.

At this moment in history, the New Testament Church has only two persons: the Lord Jesus and His mother. The very first Christian sanctuary, the very first tabernacle to hold the body and blood of Christ is Mary’s womb. Mary is truly the first Christian, and the mother of all Christians even as the Church is our holy mother. Mary is both the mother of the incarnate God, and the first to recognize this incarnate God as her Savior. Mary is neither prophet nor priest, and yet she is given an even greater privilege – to bear the Christ, to be the mother of God, to serve as a holy bridge between the Old and New Testaments. For God’s plan that has seemed to proceed so slowly – thousands of years of waiting as a people – as well as the nine months of waiting as the Christ child grew within her – but all at once, God’s plan would make haste, as the Son of God was born. The world has never been the same.

But before the blessing of Christmas was the Advent of pregnant expectation. While carrying the Son within her, Mary makes haste to meet her cousin. After John the prophet leaps his confession, Mary sings a confession of her own. And just as Mary is the first Christian and a living symbol of the Church, the Church has sung with the Blessed Virgin for twenty centuries: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” This canticle, called the Magnificat, has been chanted every evening around the globe at Vespers for centuries. While none of us has the privilege to be the mother of God, we do carry the physical Jesus within our bodies, as our own sinful flesh is transformed into holy vessels of the body and blood of the Lord.

And like Mary, we recognize our lowliness. Far from deserving the honor, we, like Mary, are “gratia plena,” full of grace. We are brimming, pouring over, with the gifts of God – undeserved, and yet given. As Elizabeth, full of the Spirit, utters: “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” The Church is blessed, as is the Blessed Virgin Mary, not due to her great deeds or worldly wealth, but because she believes.

In this belief, this faith, God carries out the prophecy of John the Baptist, that the hills would be leveled, and the valleys would be raised. Mary confesses with us: “He has regarded the lowly state of his maidservant.” Mary, the pregnant teenager who was too poor to even offer a standard sacrifice for the birth of her Son, is to be called blessed by all generations. The Church sings with her, for we too are lowly. The Church has been the target of tyrants and mighty men from the day Satan invaded the garden, from the time Pharaoh tried to snuff out the baby savior of Israel, from the time Herod tried to destroy God through infanticide, from the days of persecution in ancient Rome, right up until today where godless governments wage war against those who bear Christ, those who continue to bear the cross.

The Church is neither mighty nor respected by the world. She is racked with scandal, with schism, with antichrists within and with mortal enemies without. And yet, she remains blessed. She continues to present the Christ Child to the world.

For He who is mighty has done great things for her. Holy is His name, Jesus. Wherever the name Jesus goes forth, mercy follows, generation after generation, among those who fear, love, and trust in Him above all things.

But woe to them that put their trust in themselves, in their positions, in their money, or in their might. For God Himself scatters the proud, the conceited, the self-centered. Those who sit on peacock thrones and bully the weak had better beware. They have been warned. For with the incarnation of Jesus, they have been put down, while the lowly are raised up above them.

We who hunger are filled with good things. The body of the Crucified One, the same holy body suckled by Mary and stuck to the cross, the same body laid in a manger of hay in a stable, and laid out on a slab of stone in a tomb, is given to us as food. We who are poor, kneel and open our mouths. We are fed. And yet those who do not see their own poverty, those who are too rich, too proud, too full of themselves to kneel here as a hungry beggar find themselves sent empty away.

The Lord is our help. He is merciful. He speaks to us today through that holy Seed, the Seed born of the woman. The Seed carried in the temple of the virgin, the Seed sown upon the cross, the Seed scattered around the world – bears fruit. And we once more await his coming to us – in His Christmas incarnation of the past, in His incarnation in word and sacrament today, and in His future coming at the end of time. Like Mary, we, the Church, wait. We wait with joy. We wait to see Him with our eyes, whom we’ve only felt within us. And yet, never even having seen His holy face, we keep vigil with songs and praises, with proclamations of what he has done for us, the victory won, the elevation of His humble servants, and the destruction of the proud who reject Him.

And what seems to be slow is only because the time has not yet come. Our impatient sinful flesh groans like children counting down the minutes until Christmas. For God is indeed making haste, even when it seems slow to us, His impatient little children.

While we wait, we sing with Mary, with all the saints, with the angels, and with all Christians around the world this holy day: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my Spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Lion Boy, me wee little praist

Leo is less than a month shy of his 2nd birthday. And while most fathers might shriek at the thought of their sons wearing mom's pink shirt - I have to say, Leo is all boy. When he's not tossing a football around and rough-housing, he's imitating his daddy. And when Daddy wears clothing that most guys do not - things like black cassocks, white albs, and colorful stoles and chasubles - it's only natural for the wee lad to follow suit.

Earlier today, the last day of the week of Gaudete in Advent, Leo managed to get hold of his mother's blue belt, and tossed it around his neck for an Advent stole (blue or purple are the traditional colors) - over his white shirt (which looks like an alb). He then found one of his mother's shirts, and managed to put it on (pink or rose is the traditional color for Gaudete week) like a chasuble. He did all of this without us seeing him do it. All of the sudden, there was a fully vested "pastor" standing next to me. He has seen me vest many times in the sacristy at church, and I guess he just picked it up from there.

So, what could I do but take pictures? (More are on my flickr site at: .)

Everybody brags about their children, and I do spare Father Hollywood readers from day-by-day Leo reports - but I have to say that I'm genuinely stunned at what Lion Boy can do. He has known all the uppercase letters in the alphabet for some time now. He can count to ten pretty well (though eight is sometimes followed by two). I don't think he reads, but he does recognize that LEO spells "Leo" and that "EXIT" means "exit." It won't be long now.

He recognizes the most minute details, and can tell if a ball is a football, baseball, basketball, volley ball, or soccer ball. He knows all the basic colors and animals. He knows what a football helmet is, and can throw a football with accuracy and a spiral. He is an absolute football fanatic - and knows about touchdowns, spiking, "hike hike," punting, kicking, and bouncing and spinning other balls as well. He can (and does) point out beer and wine in the grocery store (that's my boy!). He enjoys listening to (and requesting) The Who, and is a fan of Thomas the Tank Engine and enjoys quoting Winnie the Pooh ("think, think, think, Oh bother!") - though his favorite literary genre is, by far, Dr. Seuss.

He knows all about pumpkins, turkeys, Santa, and snowmen. He also points out when lizards get in the house! He knows what roses are, and never misses an opportunity to smell them.

He can cross himself, kneel at the communion rail (where he shouts out "Jesus!" as the communion elements pass by - as we all try unsuccessfully to maintain solemnity), and can point out and say "icon" and "crucifix." He recognizes Mary and St. Francis of Assisi. He sings "Alleluia" and blurts out "Thank you, Jesus!" after we complete the table prayer before meals. When he enters the chancel, he looks toward the statue of our Lord over the altar and bows. He can identify all parts of my clerical garb - as you can see, well enough to recreate it on himself.

He enjoys saying his name: "LeoNIdas BEANE!" And he constantly "hounds" us by bringing us books and saying: "Read, please! Thank you, Daddy! Thank you, Mommy!" Somehow, he can tell the difference between a Bible and a Hymnal, and he even identifies Daddy's hundred-year old "Latin book." He has also recently learned to say "fleur-de-lis," and often says: "il pleut" when it is raining.

He has also learned to be gentle with animals, dogs and cats alike, petting them softly (which they appreciate) and giving them hugs and kisses (which they tolerate).

Who knows? Maybe me bright wee lad will be ordained a holy praist one day. That'd be fine by me, at least I'd be sure to have a reliable pastor to bring me the Holy Supper on my deathbed. But, of course, when that time comes, I hope my wee lad will be an old man himself, with hair as white as his Daddy's!

Meanwhile, we're having a blast watching him absorb, learn, and grow. We can only imagine the kinds of things he'll be learning this time next year as he approaches his 3rd birthday.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Pardon Needed for Border Agents

The following article details a miscarriage of justice in which an illegal alien smuggling drugs into the United States was allowed to walk scot-free in exchange for his testimony against the two agents of the Border Patrol who sought to arrest him. These two agents, Jose Alonso Compean and Ignacio Ramos (shown left with his wife), have just been given long jail terms (12 aqnd 11 years respectively) for shooting and wounding the drug smuggler who tried to flee.

There is an online petition to President Bush to pardon these officers as a Christmas present to them and to their families. More than fifty congressmen are themselves signatories.

The presidential privilege of pardon is custom-made for cases like this. It is a constitutional fail-safe measure to ensure that innocent people are not sent to prison when the rest of the system fails. I hope the president has the guts to do the right thing, even at the political risk of angering Mexico and her lobbyists, as well as the social, economic, and political forces on the Right who benefit by having illegal immigrants in the country to hire at near-slave wages, as well as the political forces on the Left who see large numbers of poverty-stricken illegals as potential Democrat voters and cogs in the Welfare State machinery. The American economy, way of life, and culture are being crushed between the hypocritical pincers of the Left and the Right.

In cases like this, the old adage "follow the money trail" applies. How horrific that two honorable law enforcement officers (both with exemplary records of service)who risk their lives to defend our borders have been made political pawns. We need to get these guys out of prison and restore their reputations.

Come on, Mr. President, this one is a no-brainer! If you can pardon the White House Thanksgiving turkey, how about granting one to these two defenders of our country whose lives are being ruined for simply doing their duty?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Sermon: Wednesday of Advent 3 (Gaudete)

20 December 2006 at Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church, Harvey, LA
Text: Zep 3:14-18a (OT from the three-year series)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

One of the greatest preachers of Law and Gospel in history is someone whose name you may have only heard once or twice in your life. Even though he only wrote one short book, it has been translated into nearly every language on the planet, and his book has outsold nearly every other book published in history. And yet, even pastors and theologians typically don’t remember much about him. And that’s probably as it should be – for the proclamation of the Word of God is far more important than any one preacher.

In fact, this preacher’s name means “God has hidden.” His name is Zephaniah, and our text for today is the Word of the Lord as revealed to him, proclaimed by him, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, was written by him.

Zephaniah preached at the same time, and to the same people, as his more famous colleague Jeremiah – preaching to the children of Judah around 600 BC. Martin Luther, who was a scholar of the Old Testament, praises Zephaniah as the one who

“prophesies gloriously and clearly of the happy and blessed kingdom of Christ…. Although he is a minor prophet, he speaks more about Christ than many other major prophets…. He does so in order to give the people abundant comfort so that they would not despair … but rather be sure that after this punishment they would receive grace again, and get the promised Savior, Christ, with his glorious kingdom.”

On the eve of the total destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of the people, Zephaniah calls out for repentance. And in anticipation of that repentance, he preaches the Gospel, the prophetic annunciation of Christ, to the comfort and encouragement of the people in need of Good News.

At the beginning of our reading, Zephaniah bids us to sing, to shout, to be glad, and to rejoice. All of this is in response to the prophet’s announcement that God has taken away our punishment and has turned back our enemy. The prophet exhorts us to celebrate, to feast, to live in boldness and joy – even as we live in repentance and the fear of God. For any dread of death as our wages for sin, any terror of hell as the just punishment for our rebellion – has been removed. The enemy, and Zephaniah uses the singular and not the plural, The Enemy, the one who seeks to wrench us from the arms of our Good Shepherd, has been crushed under foot.

For our King is the Lord Himself, the very King of kings, and Lord of lords. And he prophesies “never again” shall we fear anything. “Never again!” No indeed, our hands do not hang limp like a defeated people, like the children of Judah in chains headed for Babylon – but rather, our hands are strong, raised toward heaven in prayer, held out to others in joy, our chains smashed, our slavery ended, our enmity with God undone, our bondage to Satan no more.

All this, the prophet preached to a people who were only a few years from total devastation, from complete judgment, from an entire generation lost. For the prophet preaches hope in the face of what appears to be doom, of joy in what surely should evoke dread, and victory in what looks for all the world like defeat.

Even as Zephaniah’s name means “God has hidden,” the Messiah that he proclaims is indeed hidden under the humble form of a crucified criminal. This Lord, this King whom Zephaniah preaches is with us, is none other than the One crucified under a sign that reads: “The King of the Jews.” The One whose name, Jesus, means “God saves.” For Zephaniah proclaims “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.”

The Lord is our salvation, not merely in the political sense, saving us from tyrants and bullies, and not only in the physical sense of protection against pestilence and famine, from war and bloodshed, from sedition and rebellion, from lightning and tempest, from calamity by fire and water – as horrific as these things are, and as glorious as it is to be saved from such things, the Lord is Himself an even greater salvation. He delivers us from sin, error, and evil; from the crafts and assaults of the devil, from sudden and evil death, and yes, even from everlasting death, from hell, from eternal damnation and everlasting separation from the good gifts of creation and our God.

He is indeed “mighty to save.” And such salvation doesn’t merely call for a “thank you,” or even a “thank you very much,” rather it calls for rejoicing with abandon, with reckless joy and feasting, with singing and unbridled mirth.

And so we greet one another in the name of the Incarnate Lord, in the name of the One prophesied by Zechariah, with a hearty “Merry Christmas.” For our mighty Savior is also one who loves us mightily. As Zephaniah preaches to us once more: “He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

Our Lord is not only our Savior and Champion, the Conqueror of the devil and the grave, our Creator, God, and Redeemer, he is more. He is our co-celebrator. He joins us in the parade, laughing with us, embracing us, feasting with us, and sharing his eternal life with us.

Even in our repentance, even in this vale of tears, even as old age and death claim our loved ones year after year, we still have true and limitless joy for the sake of our Lord who was Himself born to a joyful mother amid the sound of angelic hosts and shepherd choirs.

And while we yet await his coming to bring down the final curtain on the final act of history, we wait not with a sense of dread, but rather with expectant joy.

In this waiting for Him to come once and for all, he still comes to us under the humble forms of bread and wine. Even as we await his triumphant return, we participate in his kingdom by eating his body and drinking his blood. There is a reason why special days in the church year are called “feasts.” For feasts always involve eating and drinking. There is a reason why the Lord’s Supper is said to be “celebrated,” and the pastor who consecrates the bread and wine is called the “celebrant.” There is a reason why we don’t merely read words in monotone, looking at our watches, and counting down the minutes until we can leave. No, indeed, minutes mean nothing in eternity. There is no room for anything but singing. When Christians gather for worship, it is a celebration of song and joy – for our sins are forgiven, our punishment removed, our King is on his throne, and the enemy has been destroyed. We now wait for the festival to begin in eternity. All of our well-deserved sorrows have been removed from us, the prophet says.

For God is indeed hidden – under minor prophets from the Old Testament, under a sermon from a preacher and a communion service in a little church in Louisiana, within an executed criminal in 1st century Judea, and within a little baby whose birth we will once more joyfully commemorate in just a few more days. Even as we wait, as we ponder our sins, as we repent, as we keep a lid on our joy in anticipation of the Christmas Feast, we can hardly contain our joy. That is why Zephaniah has been selected to preach to us this third week of Advent.

Dear brothers and sisters, the wait is almost over. Do not be afraid to raise your hands in triumph and sing out in joy:

“Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of (Jeru)Salem. The Lord has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy!” Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A Christmas Article by Aaron Wolf

Dear reader, in this penitential season, I'm going to give you a "gospel imperative." You must stop what you're doing right now, and read this article [see the article in its entirety below - the link has expired +HW] by Aaron D. Wolf, Associate Editor of Chronicles Magazine. Aaron is a church historian, social commentator, and writer par excellence. He is one of the best kept secrets of Lutheranism and of the Missouri Synod.

In response to my begging, Aaron made his December 2006 "Heresies" column available online, so that I could give you the link above to read it. However, amid all the frenzy, I had forgotten to post it. Mea culpa (Mea maxima culpa)! But what a treat you are in for now, dear reader!

If you're looking for a last minute Christmas gift, a subscription to Chronicles may be just the thing. I got my wife a subscription a couple years back, and I still bask in the glow of this decision of husbandhood. Every time a Chronicles arrives in the mail is a Red Letter Day at the Hollywood Home. January's issue came today, which reminded me to post Aaron's piece from last month.

Consider this link a Christmas present from Father Hollywood, Aaron Wolf, Chronicles Magazine, and the Rockford Institute to you. And if any of you are looking to give the Hollywoods a gift, we would love to have some Josquin Desprez (let the reader understand).

Thanks again, Aaron! A blessed Gaudete week to all Christians who rejoice in anticipation of the Lord's coming!

Solemn Joy and Hot Gospel

by Aaron D. Wolf

Aaron D. Wolf’Twas the middle of that sacred time of year when all Americans pause to remember what is most important—Christmas Shopping Season. I had just walked through the automatic doorway of MediaPlay, out in what was then the edge of Rockford’s wasteland (the East State Street shopping corridor, which has since sprawled itself all the way to the interstate and cornfields beyond).

I was there to obtain a copy of Ars Nova’s recording of Josquin Des­prez’s Missa de Beata Virgine. Josquin was Martin Luther’s favorite composer—the “master of notes,” as he called him. Born in 1440 in Belgium, Josquin’s innovations on plainsong melodies, using up to six voices to weave together beautiful chords that melt into polyphonous word-painting, conveying the sacred text perfectly, were an achievement in Western music. Without Josquin, there would have been no J.S. Bach.

Yet Bach’s most famous Ave Maria pales in comparison with Jos­quin’s. Adapted from Gregorian chant, Jos­quin’s Ave unfolds through polyphonous imitation, layer upon layer, beginning with the highest voices, as they chant the ancient words: “Ave Maria, gratia plena, dominus tecum, Virgo serena.” The imitation continues with the line, “Ave, cuius Conceptio,” but suddenly, all voices join together in four-part harmony,

solemni plena gaudio,
coelestia, terrestria,
nova replet laetitia

“Hail, Thou whose Conception, full of solemn joy, fills the sky, the earth, with new gladness!”

Compositionally, this is the same technique used by Bach in his St. John’s Passion, in the memorable opening chorus, “Herr, unser Herrscher, dessen Ruhm in allen Landen herrlich ist!” (“Lord, Our Ruler, Whose glory is magnificent in all lands!”) And, just as all voices join as one to proclaim that glory in “Herr, unser Herrscher,” so, in Josquin’s Ave, they converge climactically in “solemn joy.”

Before I could make my way back to the section marked CLASSICAL, that category that includes everything from Gregorian chant to Renaissance motets to Mozart’s Requiem to Schönberg’s Tortured Night, I was knocked down by a sign hovering over an endcap featuring a brand-new release from A&M Records for this, the Year of Our Lord 1992. It was Amy Grant’s Home For Christmas, the cover of which features the Christian-pop singer gently embracing a birch tree, her carmine lips painted to match her velvet Santa suit.

What struck me was not the alluring jacket—not only the alluring jacket—but the placard above, designed by MediaPlay to capture the attention of passersby: It read HOT GOSPEL.

Hot GospelI thought “hot” is what happens to you apart from the Gospel. But seriously, “Hot Gospel”—the thermon euaggelion? The zeston euaggelion? Of course, zesty doesn’t really do it, because hot, in this usage, means something closer to sexy. Could we imagine Saint Paul, standing in the Agora, peddling the pornikon euaggelion?

The central feature of Home For Christmas (track 6 of 12), which still gets air time during CSS on lite-rock stations, is “Grown-up Christmas List.” Written by 80’s power-ballad guru David Foster (N.B.: He once played his “Love Theme From St. Elmo’s Fire” at the Crystal Cathedral) and his now-ex-wife Linda Thompson (she of Elvis Presley’s latter days, Bruce Jenner, and Cornfield Co.), the song is a letter from a wide-eyed adult to the bishop of Myra, in which she expresses that “I’m all grown up now, but still need help, somehow / I’m not a child, but my heart still can dream.”

And what does this impressionable 30-something want from Santa? That the Gospel be preached to the ends of the earth? That the Virgin’s Son be adored by all mankind?

No more lives torn apart
Then wars would never start
And time would heal the heart
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end.
This is my grown-up Christmas list.

Now that is some Hot Gospel.

“Contemporary Christian Music” has been around for 30 years now, and each of the little companies that started out peddling Hot Gospel has been bought up by large record companies (A&M, Time-Warner). The executive producers of these labels answer to the CEOs and shareholders of giant secular corporations who, of course, answer to Mammon. The effect of this on America’s churches has not been insignificant. In addition to the fact that many Christians tune their radio dials to the stations that play CCM and shell out over half a billion dollars per year to purchase it, churches adorn their services with this Mammon Music, both for congregational singing and for “special numbers.” The idea of David Geffen serving as liturgist for thousands of American churches is more than a little disturbing.

Larry NormanWhen Larry Norman left the hippie/Scientologist band People! in 1968 for the Jesus Movement, he tried to make the Gospel sound more appealing to those who are turned off by churchy music. On his 1972 LP Just Visiting This Planet, the Corpus Christi native gave Hot Gospel its anthem, “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?” Generations of CCM devotees following him attributed that memorable phrase to Martin Luther. Over the years, Hot Gospel advocates have added that, in composing his hymns, Luther used bawdy-house tunes to convey the Gospel—so why shouldn’t we? This reasoning stems, in part, from a gross misunderstanding of the nature of the German “Bar form” (A-A-B), which Luther did indeed use. As for “the Devil,” the Reformer often used that word in reference to Leo X, and “all the good music,” more often than not, would have meant the Masses and motets of Josquin Desprez, who knew nothing of Hot Gospel. For he belonged to a different age, one in which Christians—and their music—were still inspired by the Serene Virgin’s great Conception and filled with solemn joy.

NativityAaron D. Wolf is Chronicles‘ associate editor.

This article first appeared in the December 2006 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.

Aaron D. Wolf :: Dec.24.2

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Misplaced Priorities

This is one of the more disturbing articles that I've read lately. Behold, the fruits of feminism, of our cultural contempt for family, motherhood, womanhood, and children. And the U.S. Navy is on board this sinking vessel.

Veni, Domine Jesu!

Monday, December 18, 2006

On Advent

[The following is a beautifully written article about the season of Advent, penned by my very dear friend, the venerable Reverend Father Joe DeHart, rector of St. Mary's Anglican Catholic Church in Akron, Ohio. From The Angelus, December 2006. Used with kind permission (thank you, Fr. DeHart!). Any typos are my own. - Fr. Hollywood]

The Season of Advent

"Advent" literally means coming. Advent is a season that may be described as a period of nervous or anxious expectation. Yes, we yearn to finally see our Lord coming in great Glory, no, we are not prepared, ready for His arrival. The lessons of Advent can be somewhat confusing. At times the lessons refer to the First Advent which was accomplished at the Incarnation two thousand years ago and other lessons describe events that have yet to be accomplished during the coming Second Advent. Advent is similar to Lent in some aspects, but it should not be confused with the spirit of Lent. Advent is in many instances a sort of frenzied period of preparation.

One of the saddest occurences that has transpired during the last century or two in the liturgical life of the Church is that secularization that has all but smothered out the season of Advent! Today, a family who attempts to keep a faithful will almost certainly be viewed by most as some sort of religious fanatics. Advent is not Christmas! Christmas is a totally different season that can not be fully appreciated unless Advent is first rightly observed. Christmas themes are now appearing in ads in early October, Thanksgiving Day is losing its grip as the unofficial launch day. The merchandisers are certainly experiencing nervous expectation during what is supposed to be Advent, so are Wall Street, manufacturers, banks, and millions of shoppers attempting to fulfill their ritual of nervous expectancy. Retail establishments of every sort are piping out the vague, bouncy and benign so-called Christmas music chosen on the sole basis that it offends no one and ends up offending about everyone. The Holy Season of Advent is all but invisible; Christmas trees are often erected and decorated on Thanksgiving Eve, not Christmas Eve.

The spirit of Christmas can only be a secular spirit, if the preceding season of preparation is reduced to shopping, spending more than we should, speanding time at office and other parties with many whom we share little or nothing in common.

The real danger for a Christian however, is that the focus on preparation for the great feast of the Nativity is nullified by the shallow frenzied preparation offered up by the world of giving and getting material things.

When we take a moment and reflect, is it any wonder that the secular celebration of the Nativity today lasts from approximately 8 a.m. December 25th to about noon on the same date? What a contrast to the celebrations offered by the historic Church. The period of Advent for a Christian is a time to take personal stock of ourselves, to step back a few feet and look at ourselves in the Gospel mirror.

Let us for a moment reflect on St. Paul's words that address this preparation from his epistle appointed for Advent Sunday: Paul begins by admonishing us to rid ourselves of debt, both monetary and obligatory; a sharp contrast to the secular spirit of the season. Paul then expounds that we are to keep the Commandments and love one another in the Lord. Then the apostle nearly shouts: "Wake up! Snap out of it! The night is far spent!" No matter what our personal views are regarding the time of the Second Coming, we can be sure the time of our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed! Be ready, exclaims Paul, and all of Scripture supports him! Put off the works of darkness; do not sit around and whine that you can not, that you do not have the strength! Nonsense, shouts Paul! Put on the armor of light! Put on the Lord Jesus Christ! And he ends with the sharpest contrast and condemnation of the present spirit of the age with these words: "Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof!" He is not, incidentally, addressing only sexual lusts, but all lusting after things in place of seeking after God!

In former times during Advent, the organ was kept silent in church except on the third Sunday. Beginning on the 17th of December, the greater antiphons, commonly known as the "Great O's" were chanted daily until the 23rd. The hymn "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" is a most beautiful rendition of that former practice.

The keeping of a Holy Advent did not mean a period of busy shopping days and social gatherings, but a time of guardedly hopeful expectation and preparation. A time of spiritual housecleaning, preparing our souls for the meeting and reception of the very Son of God!

This soul searching and cleansing produced outward manifestations. The church buildings and grounds were put into good order, special foods were prepared in advance, the geese, or other fowl were being fattened up, greens were gathered in the preparation for the "greening" of the homes and church on Christmas Eve. Firewood was cut up in advance in order that everyone might be able to fully celebrate the Feast of the Nativity, all twelve days of it, ending only on the Epiphany, January 6th.

The tree was picked out for setting up and decorating on Christmas Eve and not to be taken down until the Epiphany. Every Day was Christmas, all twelve of the days beginning December 25the and ending on Epiphany. Christmas was truly something to celebrate, not because of gift giving and getting, though that practice is certainly appropriate, but because Christian souls had prepared themselves for the meeting of the very Incarnate Son of the living and true God! When the church bells sounded, the spirit of expectation had reached a crescendo, as robust prepared souls sang and offered up their praises and thanksgivings for the inestimable gift of their infant King! If all this sounds a bit over-romantic and nostalgic, I would counter that this only shows how far most of our society have departed into secular religion and harbor, no doubt, religion that is albeit false!

The abolishment of Advent is the abolishment of preparation, the abolishment of preparation is the abolishment of salvation! This spirit is behind the downplaying of seasons such as Advent and Lent, or changing their penitential focus into something colorful and benign. Jesus said, "Take up your cross and follow me." Christian practice today, even amongst many very conservative Christians, seems to offer this response to our Lord's command: "No, Lord, you take up your cross and then we will follow you."

Let us together with our families, friends, and all who are truly close to us, keep a Holy and expectant Advent! And may the Holy Spirit guard and keep us in ever Communion with our Lord Jesus Christ to the glory of the Father. Amen!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sermon: Advent 3 (Gaudete)

17 December 2006 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 11:2-11 (Isa 40:1-11, 1 Cor 4:1-5) (Historic)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

They say that patience is a virtue. It’s also not easy. It’s a terribly difficult thing to wait – especially waiting for say, seven hundred years!

The prophet Isaiah has words of comfort from the Lord. He speaks them seven centuries before Christ, even as ten of the twelve tribes of Israel were no more, and the southern two tribes were on the verge of exile, their earthly kingdom to be forever gone, their temple to be devastated and their independence as a people gone forever.

And yet listen to how upbeat the prophet is! He speaks of comfort, of ended warfare, of forgiven sins. He speaks of a coming preacher, a “voice of one crying in the wilderness” who will usher in the new age of the Glory of the Lord. The positive message of Isaiah comes across in the hymn:

Comfort, comfort these my people
Speak of peace” so says our God,
“Comfort these who sit in darkness
Groaning under sin’s dread rod.
To my people I proclaim
Pardon now in Jesus’ name,
Tell them that their sins I cover,
That their warfare now is over!”

It’s a done deal. God has spoken. Just like that, sins are forgiven, the new order of creation is underway, and paradise is restored. And yet, the children of Judah were looking at a devastating defeat by the Babylonians, an entire lifetime of exile, only to return under the heavy yoke of occupiers: the Persians, the Greeks, and finally the Romans. The Romans would finally crush any hope of independence and would scatter the children of Judah around the world.

And yet, Isaiah preaches comfort! Tradition says that Isaiah’s calls to repentance did not make him popular, and that he was sawn in two in the year 692 BC.

However, Isaiah’s preaching would come true seven centuries later, even as Roman troops occupy the Promised Land. For the one crying in the wilderness, himself a prophet and preacher of the Word of God, would emerge. He too points forward to the Kingdom of God, and urges his listeners to repent and believe the Good News!

Though thousands would flock to hear this preacher, this last prophet of the Old Testament, who would point to Jesus and declare him to be the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” his calls to repentance likewise made enemies. This preacher, John the Baptist, would likewise be cut in two – though this time by a Roman sword.

Isaiah’s martyrdom did not silence him. Nor did John’s captors and executioners succeed in shutting him up. For these men proclaimed the Word of God, and not even those who crucified the very Incarnate Word Himself could silence the Gospel.

As St. Paul points out in our epistle, preachers such as Isaiah and John continue. The Lord raises men from the bosom of the Church and charges them to “speak comfort to Salem and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended.” For Paul himself preached this same Gospel of comfort, of peace, of reconciliation, of forgiveness, of mercy, and of the gathering of us lambs into the Good Shepherd’s arms. It should come as no surprise that St. Paul likewise made a few enemies, and according to tradition, he too was cut in two by a roman sword. To this day, Paul’s symbol is a sword with the words (in the language of his executioner): “Gladius Spiritus,” (the sword of the Spirit) – for the enemies of God may bear a physical sword, and they may succeed in cutting the prophets bodily in half – the Church bears the Spiritual sword, the very Word of God, a double-edged sword, which cuts to the quick, to the spirit. With one edge, the pastor cuts down with the Law, and with the other edge, he raises up with the Gospel.

Our Lord Himself offers advice to the preacher: “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell.”

For preachers are only human. They too need to hear comfort and Good News. For even John struggles. Even he whom Jesus praises like none other, “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist,” has his doubts. He is in a cold, dark cell. He has seemingly been silenced. He sends messengers to ask Jesus: “Are you really the One, or was I wrong?” Jesus sends the messengers with the commission: “Go” and “tell.” They are to report, as eyewitnesses, what they have seen: “The blind see and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have the Gospel preached to them.”

The promises of Isaiah and the other prophets of centuries ago have been set into motion. John is the last of the prophets, and Jesus is the Messiah. He is the one who brings comfort, peace, reconciliation, and forgiveness.

And yet, we find ourselves once more waiting. Though the Kingdom of God has come, it has not yet crushed out sin, death, and the devil. Like Judah of old, we wait and watch. With every passing year, we celebrate His first advent, and we encourage one another to readiness for His second and final advent. Preachers still proclaim the same message of the very much alive Isaiah: comfort, peace, and forgiveness. They still cry aloud with the very much alive John the Baptist to repent and believe the Good News, for the Kingdom is at hand:

On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
Announces that the Lord is nigh;
Awake and hearken, for he brings
Glad tidings of the King of Kings!

We stewards of the mysteries along with the very much alive St. Paul continue to serve the mysteries of God to you, placing the very body and blood of the Lord into your mouths, preaching both a call to repent and comfort of the Gospel into your ears, continuing to baptize and absolve, until the day when “every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low.” And while we struggle to remain faithful, we know we are justified by the Lord in spite of our struggles and doubts.

Dear friends, we await His coming. We are called upon to “prepare the way of the Lord” and to “make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Now is the time to repent and believe the Gospel! For as the hymn exhorts us anew:

Then cleansed be every life from sin;
Make straight the way for God within.
And let us all our hearts prepare.
For Christ to come and enter there.

And we join the hymnist in this prayer:

Stretch forth your hand, our health restore,
And make us rise to fall no more;
Oh, let your face upon us shine
And fill the world with love divine.


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Christmas contrasts

I was struck by an article in this morning's paper about a growing trend in Christmas decoration. There are quite a few people who are spending thousands of dollars on increasingly more dazzling (and costly) Christmas displays designed, at least in part, to out-do the neighbors. This is defined in the article as "holiday spirit." The extravagence (not to mention the trivial "kitsch factor") is breath-taking.

This is quite a contrast to the annual Christmas letter from Sister Tricia of Covenant House - a Christian charity whose mission is to take in homeless and runaway children who would otherwise suffer at the hands of the elements and predatory criminals who exploit them. Covenant House is always stretched financially thin, and they become particularly desperate in the winter months.

What a contrasting view of Christmas between the former and the latter.

I like Christmas lights as much as the next guy, but how much is enough? Is it fair to say that our cultural priorities are off kilter? What irony that Christmas is the celebration of the Almighty humbling Himself for the sake of others, but to many in the secular culture, Christmas is about glorifying the self for the sake of the self - with no concern for the others. How can one not call to mind the canticle of the Blessed Virgin Mary who pondered the meaning of the Lord's Incarnation and sang:

"He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away."

The irony of what Christmas has become could have come out of one of the Screwtape Letters.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Christmas is no laughing matter...

... that our Lord took on flesh and dwelt among us for us men and for our salvation is a great mystery that is anything but funny - especially when one considers the cross he would bear some 33 years later.

However, it is good and fitting that we should laugh at ourselves - for we should not take ourselves seriously. A sense of humor about ourselves and our culture is a gift from God. As much as New Orleanians may lack in flood protection and coastal wetlands, we don't want for a sense of humor. Maybe it grows out of our French joie de vivre. Maybe it's a form of "gallows humor." Whatever the reason, we enjoy a good laugh at our own expense. Our own unique culture begs for jokes and laughter.

A local comedian/musician named Benny "Grunch" Antin has created a Christmas tradition of humorous music for the Christmas season. His CD entitled The 12 Yats of Christmas has been rereleased with new material this year. A "Yat" is a New Orleanian. It is a reference to the colloquialism: "Where y'at?" (translation: "Where are you?") that can be heard in the Big Easy.

If you've never been here, the local manner of speaking is an enigma. It mostly sounds like a harsh Brooklyn accent, though peppered with a slight Mississippi drawl, some black dialect, and a pinch of Cajun French syntax and pronunciation. It's just hawd ta duhscribe, dawlin'. Our local expressions, mannerisms, Christmas traditions, and post-Katrina realities are spoofed in 12 Yats.

One of the things we have come to accept as normal since the "late unpleasantness" of Summer 2005 is the ubiquity of RVs and FEMA trailers in our neighborhoods, parked on front lawns. There are still thousands of people whose homes are not yet fit for habitation, or are undergoing restoration - and people have been living in the notoriously flimsy and shoddy (and overpriced for taxpayers) FEMA trailers. In a way, it is a testimony to the love of home these people have. The easy way out would be to move to Memphis, or Houston, or Atlanta, or Dallas, or, well, just about anywhere. The hard thing is to tough it out and cram an entire family into a tiny trailer for a year, two years, or God knows how long.

By the same token, folks are terribly grateful to have even a FEMA trailer to live in. As Benny Grunch says in the CD's liner notes: "If ya wanna know - I'm in my neighborhood, in my trailer, in my driveway. Which, I guess, is a whole lot better than bein' in my neighborhood in my driveway."

But that's just how people are here. They can imagine living nowhere else. And so they live in the cramped trailers and take it a day at a time. We're really struggling with a spike in violent crime, a huge influx of illegal aliens, and spiralling insurance rates (my own annual homeowner's premium is going from less than $800 a year to $4,000 a year - and homeowners in Plaquemines Parish are looking at $10,000 annual premiums!). Prices for goods and services are terribly inflated - especially anything involving building materials or construction labor. We have a long, hard road ahead. But a sense of humor and a winning Saints team (Who dat?) goes a long way to keep the spirits up. And, Carnival (and thus Mardi Gras) are just around the corner.

So, in tribute to the indefatigable people of the Gulf Coast who are a new breed of pioneer, and in spoof of the popular Christmas croon "White Christmas," here are the words to...

"I'm Dreaming of a White Trailer."

"Hey everybody, we're the entertainment here tonight at the Blue Roof VIP lounge."
I'm dreaming of a white trailer,
Just like the neighbors got next door
With a smell that's mighty formaldehydee,
It emanates from the walls and floor.

I'm scrunched up in a white bathtub,
That's made of plastic PVC.
With a handheld sprayer that'll reach all away up
And down, round your extremities.

I'm worried 'bout those white drainpipes,
Like could they someday all explode?
We'd evacuate up to Idaho-ho-ho-ho,
But I heard there's lots of room in Mexico.

"Looks like we've got some National Guard guys here tonight,
I guess we better be nice. Ho!..."
I dreamt Santa landed on my trailer,
And left me everything I asked.
He shoulda took off easy, but the reindeers got breezy
And the whole thing blew over in the grass

"OK, we passed out kazoos. Ya got 'em?..."
(Kazoo big band joins in)
Yeah! With every small mosquito bite,
May your window screens snug down nice and tight,
And may Entergy turn on your gas and lights.

"Well, I hope they turn on my lights.
Those looters are hard to see in the dark.
Let's hear it for the looters in the back, stand up fellas!
MRE buffet all day tomorrow!..."

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sermon: Wednesday of Advent 2 (Populus Zion)

13 December 2006 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Ex 2:1-10, John 1:15-18

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

One of the traits of human beings is we are curious. We like to look at things and figure them out. We use the gift of the mind to break things down, analyze them part by part, figure out the function of each piece. We give names to each system, and then try to improve on them. As a result, technology moves forward, and if used properly, our lives get better.

Of course, God’s Word is always perfect, and yet we do the same thing. We break Christian doctrine down into distinct parts, give them technical names, like soteriology, eschatology, and pneumatology – and then dissect those parts like earthworms on trays in a biology lab.

This careful attention to the teachings of Scripture is not necessarily a bad thing – although it can become so compartmentalized, so weighted down in jargon, as to become just another theoretical subject for academicians to sell expensive books to dazzled and confused students with dwindling bank accounts.

There is also the danger that the breaking apart of God’s Word can serve to attempt to divide God up himself. An early heretic named Marcion went so far as to drive such a wedge between the Old and New Testaments as to surmise that there were actually two distinct gods: the bad god of the Old Testament and the good god of the New.

But thanks be to the One Triune God that there is only one holy revelation of Himself! For both Old and New Testaments testify of Him whose coming we await, the God who takes on human flesh, whose birth we celebrate anew two weeks hence.

For Jesus makes his appearance long before the Gospels tell the Christmas story. Centuries before John penned his Gospel of Jesus (through his own witness), Moses was doing the same (through his own witness). Jesus is all over the Old Testament, a fact lost on Marcion, and overlooked by many today.

Moses, who was drawn from the water and declared a son by the princess, was himself a preview of the Christ, who was to come up out of the water as the King of the Universe would proclaim: “This is my beloved Son.”

The great prophet Moses began his life with a satanic king seeking the destruction of a yet-unborn savior. And Jesus would fulfill this image by himself being attacked before he was even born, as the also-diabolical King Herod tried to snuff out the life of the prophesied but yet-unborn Savior.

Both men would rise up to defy kings by speaking the Word of God, by doing signs and wonders, and by leading a people held in bondage to slavery. Moses would lead as many as a million to safety through water, and the Lord Jesus Christ would fulfill this image by leading billions to freedom through water.

And while Moses survived the forty-years of wandering in the desert, leading the people through temptation – it was our blessed Lord who survived forty days in the desert alone, fasting and struggling against temptation on our behalf.

Moses, alone among all the prophets, would speak to God in His very presence, and the glory of God shone in the face of Moses, glowing so brightly that Moses had to veil his face to avoid frightening the people when he came down from the mountaintop. Jesus too veiled his glory, only allowing his three closest disciples to see His own face aglow with heavenly glory on the mountaintop.

And yet, for all of the parallels between Moses and Jesus, Moses only goes part of the way. Jesus, the New and Greater Moses, fulfills and completes what Moses began.

For Moses was a godly man, but our Blessed Lord is God and man. Moses brought the revelation of God’s Law, but our blessed Lord brought the revelation of the fulfillment of that Law. “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Moses would see God face to face, and yet Jesus’ wore the very face of God. For “no-one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” For the light that shone from Moses’ face was only reflected light, like that of the moon, while the glow from the countenance of our Lord was the source, the “light of light” from the “very God of very God.”

For Moses was burdened with carrying the heavy stone tables of the Law to his people. The Law broke the spirits of all whose sins were exposed, including Moses, whose own encounter with the Rock in the desert (whom Scripture teaches was Christ) brought about punishment from God, not being allowed to enter the Promised Land. And yet, Jesus, the Rock who was struck by the blows of the rod of Moses as well as the was struck by soldiers during his passion – is without sin, and indeed leads his people to an Eternal Promised Land.

None of this is to belittle Moses. Far from it. For as Scripture testifies:

“But since then, there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, in all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, before Pharaoh, before his servants, and in all the land, and by all that mighty power and all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel” (Deut 34:10-12).

Moses, the great liberator, the prophet who spoke with God, the lawgiver was a foretaste of the New and Greater Liberator; the Prophet, Priest, and King who was, is, and ever shall be God; the giver of the Gospel and of everlasting life.

For Moses freed Israel from Pharaoh’s tyranny, and Christ frees us, the New Israel, from Satan’s tyranny. The exodus of Israel brought forth the Passover Meal of bread and wine, in which death passed over. Moses prayed and God gave the people water to drink, and manna and miraculous flesh to eat to sustain them in their sojourn in the desert. Jesus completes the Passover Meal of bread and wine, in which eternal death passes over. Jesus gives us living baptismal water, and the New and Greater Manna of his own Flesh and Blood to eat and drink in our own sojourn in the desert.

For as Moses descended the mountain carrying the heavy stone tables of the law, it was to be our Lord Jesus who would ascend Mount Calvary, bearing the heavy burden of the law for all of us, in addition to bearing the cross, upon which every transgression of the Law would be nailed and put to death.

We thank God for giving us faithful shepherds like Moses, as well as the Good Shepherd, Jesus. We praise God for the faithful witness of prophets who bore the Word of God to us, like Moses, even as we praise God for the Prophet to end all Prophets, who was Himself the Word of God incarnate. We glorify God for giving us His Holy Law through Moses, and then fulfilling that Law through our Lord Jesus Christ for us, on our behalf, for our life and salvation.

God’s Word is perfect, an unbroken concord of revelation, of the harmony of Old and New Testament, of Law and Gospel, of the mystical Unity of the Triune God, of the glorious fulfillment of the law and prophets. The Scriptures testify of Him who is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the End, He who is, who was, and who ever shall be. To Him be the glory now and forever. Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Boy Scouts and the Ten Commandments Hike

Father Hollywood's picture appears in the photo gallery of Cub Scouts Pack 378 from an event called the Ten Commandments Hike - which took place the in the afternoon the day after Thanksgiving.

The idea is to hike around New Orleans, visiting a different house of worship for an explanation of one of the commandments from the point of view of that tradition. The hike included non-Christian traditions (e.g. Judaism, Islam, Latter Day Saints) as well as Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Methodist, and Episcopal visits. It was a good opportunity for the scouts to see how different religions - and even different traditions within Christianity - interpret and make use of the Ten Commandments in their confessions.

The Lutheran church normally used as a stop on the hike is currently vacant, and is still being restored following Hurricane Katrina, so the Lutheran presentation was given in a United Church of Christ building that rents out some of its campus to a local theater.

It was a great opportunity to address the boy scouts and their families regarding a little background history of the Lutheran tradition, the Small Catechism, and the various uses of the law in Lutheran theology.

I was assigned the Ninth Commandment on their hike: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife" - which, in the Roman Catholic/Lutheran numbering methodology (which I understand dates back to St. Augustine), is actually part of the Tenth Commandment. Protestants and Eastern Orthodox have a different way of numbering the commandments, and Jews have one even different from that. The organizers of the event blended the various numbering systems so as not to seem biased to one over the others.

Here is the text from Luther's Small Catechism (1986 translation, copyright Concordia Publishing House, using the New International Version translation of the Bible) regarding this commandment:

The Tenth Commandment

You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not entice or force away our neighbor's wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him, but urge them to stay and do their duty.

This gave me a great opportunity to demonstrate how this commandment isn't only about the obvious: the integrity of marriage and family life, but extends to the very concept of duty, and how our duty includes encouraging and exhorting others to carry out their duty as God calls them to a specific vocation. The Boy Scouts are one of the few organizations that are teaching young men about such seemingly antiquated concepts as duty, honor, chivalry, and manhood.

I was never a Boy Scout, but I will encourage Lion Boy to become involved when he is older. We need to support organizations that are willing to go out on a limb for what is right and honorable - especially in matters of the distinction between the sexes. The Boy Scouts are one of the few institutions that maintain traditional values and have not capitulated to the pressure of deviant groups laying a claim to normalcy.

I enjoyed giving my brief presentation, and some of the boys in the audience were actually students of Salem.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Keeping the MASS in ChristMASS

A local pastor sent out the suggestion to all of the area LCMS clergy that read...

CHRISTians unite. Let's start a new trend.
I urge you to use a new pronunciation for "Christmas."

Stop using the usual short "i" sound when you say "Christmas." Instead, use the long "i" vowel sound whenever you say "CHRISTmas" to emphasize the name of CHRIST our Savior. Try it. It's a neat witness.

Have a blessed CHRISTmas (long "i" sound) season!

While I don't think changing the pronunciation of Christmas is likely to get any "traction," I do like the countercultural spirit of his suggestion. I do think there is a very realistic way in which we preachers of the Gospel and stewards of the mysteries of God can confess the meaning of Christmas by being very clear just what the word "Christmas" contains. Here is my response to all of the area clergy...

Dear [name deleted for privacy]:

You're absolutely right that people need to not only know, but to ponder and embrace the true meaning of Christmas! Our secular culture wants to take the CHRIST out of Christmas, and the Church has not done a very good job of keeping the other half of the word (Christ-MASS).

Christmas is all about the Lord coming to us in humble flesh and blood to save us. What a miracle and a wonder the Incarnation is! And what a diabolical plot it is to obscure this miracle - whether by an overemphasis on shopping and snowmen, or by forgetting or failing to emphasize how the Lord is still incarnate today - in his holy and precious flesh and blood that comes to us.
So, let's emphasize both parts of Christmas: Christ, and the Mass.

Let's use the word "Mass" as our confessions do, so that our people can really grasp the true meaning of ChristMass, of the miracle of the Lord Incarnate coming to us in flesh and blood to forgive our sins and give us everlasting life! For just as every Sunday is a celebration of Easter, of the resurrected Christ, so also every Sunday Mass is in reality a Christ Mass in which the Gift of the incarnate Christ Child is given to us anew!

"We do not abolish the Mass but religiously keep and defend it. In our churches Mass is celebrated every Sunday and on other festivals, when the sacrament is offered to those who wish for it after they have been examined and absolved" (AC XXIV:1, Tappert p. 249).

Thanks for your suggestion, and a Blessed Christmas to you and yours!

John Stephenson, part deux

As a bonus, I include some pithy quotes from the good doctor's lecture last spring...

On 1 John 4:8:
"'God is love' doesn't mean that God is a wimp."

On faith:
"There is no faith apart from people who believe in Christ."

On the Higher Critical Method:
"The Higher Critical Method is trying to evade reality."

On angels and the Lutheran Hymnal:
"The angels are liturgical spirits. They follow page 15."

On providence:
"In history, nothing is accidental."

On pride:
"Being prideful before the Lord is not advisable."

On C.H. Dodd:
"C.H. Dodd was either moderately conservative or moderately liberal, depending on your point of view."

On his own book:
"If you suffer from insomnia and you want to get to sleep, read it [Eschatology by John Stephenson]."

On pastoral practice:
"If you excommunicate every ditsy old dame who sasses you, you won't have a church next week."

On St. Polycarp:
"Polycarp is the most pertinent figure of our time."

On Law and Gospel:
"If you're not a repentent sinner, the Gospel is Law."

On the Book of Revelation:
"If anyone tells you that they have the definitive answer about everything in Revelation, call 911."

On liberals:
"There is nobody on earth more illiberal than a liberal."

On pastoral health issues:
"You go to one of these Lutheran pastors' conferences and mention hemorrhoids and they'll all jump up like Baptists giving their testimony."

On history:
"History makes you appreciate people who are different than you."

On the mystical union:
"The mystical union is not a labor organization for clairvoyants."

More on the mystical union:
"The mystical union is a kind of internet connection among the communion of saints."

On the Bible:
"It does have its uses in theology from time to time."

On aging:
"I'm middle-aged now - which really bugs me. But there's nothing you can do about it, right?"

On prayer life:
"There are times when you're praying in church and you know you're dealing with live wires, other times you don't realize it."

On being prepared for the second coming of our Lord:
"If you've gone to a proper divine service, you're prepared."

On the sacraments:
"The sacraments are supernatural, not magical."

John Stephenson

This past Spring (March 31 - April 2), our congregation had a retreat. The topic was "Eschatology" (the "last things" - death, the end of the world, the second coming of Christ, etc.). Such things were on the minds of New Orleanians with the wounds of the very-apocalyptic storm Katrina still fresh and raw. We invited the Author of the book Eschatology from the Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics series, Rev. Dr. John R. Stephenson, a professor at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada (a seminary of the Lutheran Church Canada).

The presentation was even greater than our expectations! I highly recommend John as a retreat speaker. He was not only knowledgeable and articulate, but pastoral and entertaining. He was simply spellbinding, and held the rapt attention of his listeners the entire time. If you're looking for a dull and pedantic speaker, John is not your man. But if you want a lecturer who knows his stuff, and who can communicate it - you will be pleased.

My family also had the pleasure to host Father John at our humble home. We took him on a brief tour of some of the devastated areas of New Orleans, as well as the French Quarter. It was a great joy to be able to spend time with him. It's too bad for us he lives so far away.

What follows is a sermon Dr. Stephenson preached at the chapel of the St. Catharines Seminary yesterday, 8 December 2006, the Friday of the First Week of Advent. I don't normally post other sermons to my blog (in fact, I think this is the first time) - but I believe Dr. Stephenson's sermon is timely and historic. I believe we are living in a transitional age, one in which western culture and the governments of the world will become increasingly inimical to Christianity. Dr. Stephenson's proclamation reminds us of our responsibilities as Christian citizens to confess and live out the Christian life. He especially exhorts those of us in the office of the holy ministry.

Keep in mind as well that sermons like this in Canada, which are critical of so-called "same sex marriage", may even be considered illegal under "hate speech" laws! Please continue to pray for Dr. Stephenson and faithful Christians in places around the world, including Canada, whose orthodox confessions may have consequences.

We are fortunate to count men like Dr. Stephenson as churchmen in our communion, and I am personally grateful to call him a very dear and beloved father in Christ, a font of wisdom for young (and not so young) pastors and those who aspire to the pastoral office. I look forward to hearing him lecture again, God willing, in the future.

Text: Rv 1:4-8

by Rev. Dr. John Stephenson

If we had any commonsense, which we don’t, we’d be wearing sackcloth and ashes this Friday. If we were connected to reality, which we aren’t, all the Christian people of Canada would be fasting today, we’d be crowding into the churches and falling on our knees to recite the seven penitential psalms and to implore the mercy of God. Unfortunately, we’re going about our daily routine, conducting business as usual, dreaming that God’s kinda complacent in His heaven and that all’s well with the world. Alas, we have the same sort of mindset as the ancient Jews did when they tuned out all the dire warnings of the prophets and didn’t realize what was coming down the turnpike as Nebuchadnezzar marched on Jerusalem.

Every Christian pulpit and every Christian spokesman in this land needs to shout out loud and clear and for a prolonged period that 1941 isn’t the only year in which 7 December marks a “day that will live in infamy.” Down in the US yesterday they were remembering how the airplanes of the Empire of Japan rained down fire and destruction on ships of US navy that lay docked in Pearl Harbour. 7 December 2006 will go down in history as the day when the Canadian House of Commons sitting in Ottawa blasphemed Almighty God, insulted Christ the King, and dared Him to rain down fire and destruction on this land. Around a third of our MPs voted for a wimpy and inadequate resolution that said a marriage should kinda be between one man and one woman but nevertheless allowed for a bunch of exceptions to this rule. At the same time two thirds of the MPs just threw the fear of God out of the window, and the newly elected Leader of the Opposition proclaimed, “Our God is the Charter!”

If one of the Roman guards was looking over John’s shoulder as he wrote Revelation, he must have laughed his helmet off when he read the description of Jesus Christ as “ruler of the kings of the earth,” and if he kept going, he would have thought it pretty hilarious later on in the text when John beholds Christ seated on a white horse returning as king of kings and lord of lords to judge the earth. Those Roman guards were very confident that Caesar had the kingdom and the power and the glory and that it was curtains for John and the seven churches of Asia. It goes with the flow of the flesh to accept earthly things and worldly powers as our gods and to ignore Almighty God and Christ the King.

There’s something about the operation of the Roman Empire back in the first century that helps us to understand the way Canada is run today. Augustus Caesar, the first Roman emperor, was one of the few rulers in history who pulled off the feat of fooling just about all of the people all of the time. He behaved like a regular upper class Roman and didn’t insist on elaborate ceremonies about his person. But look a little more closely at him and you will see the makings of a ruthless tyrant, of someone keen to usurp the place of Almighty God and Christ the King. He was the commander in chief of the army, which was the ultimate source of power. Every year he graciously accepted election as consul, so that he was so to say a permanent prime minister or chief executive. Now he was very respectful toward the Senate, but please bear in mind that at the outset of his reign he went through the roster of the Senate, dismissing his enemies and appointing his friends. So it was easy for him humbly to fall in line with the Senate, given that he already ran it behind the scenes.

In the place of Augustus Caesar behold Pierre Trudeau and his successors. When it came to the oxymoron known as same-sex marriage, Paul Martin simply had to follow the Charter, and he absolutely must kowtow to the judges’ interpretation of the Charter, but no one called his bluff by pointing out that Trudeau and his successors appointed the judges to do their will, to be their instruments in a grand process of social engineering that involves the elimination of all morality and the complete dechristianization of this land.

But it won’t do on this morning after the day that will live in infamy to point the finger of scorn at our political establishment, at the powerbrokers who fill the shoes of C. S. Lewis’s “Conditioners,” at the ruling elite who are successfully transforming Canada into Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Nor will it do to shake our heads in disapproval at the student unions of two of our universities who want to deny freedom of speech and assembly to the minority of students who embrace the pro-life position. Of course, Paul is talking about all of these people when he rebukes “all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth.” But instead of blaming other people for our misfortunes, let’s pose the embarrassing and uncomfortable question whether we’ve ever told these folk the truth in a plain, straightforward, and unmistakable fashion.

If carefully, closely, and on your knees you read through Ezekiel chapters 3 & 33, you’ll think twice about entering the office of the ministry. Those who die in their sin will rue their folly, but the Lord demands something of those of us with Reverend before our name, collars about our necks, and stoles around our shoulders. If you don’t warn those who are walking toward their doom, their blood will be on your hands. Alas, we don’t want to make waves and we do want to be liked, so we don’t tell people in season and out of season that abortion is murder and that Almighty God does not look kindly on tearing babies apart and burning them in saline solution. We don’t want to get grey-haired people and the officers of our congregations talked out of shape, so we don’t tell their grown-up children that sleeping around and being shacked up are mortal sins that put their salvation in peril. We’re frightened to tell young people that to enter holy marriage is to step on holy ground, that it involves restraint and sacrifice and self-control, and that it should be open to God’s gift of life. We’re frightened to preach the Law full blast and with both barrels so that people fall under conviction and experience real terrors of conscience. We talk about the second use of the law as though it were a caged animal that can do no harm; we forget that the second use of the law only achieves its purpose when we gladly embrace the third use by starting to carry out with a glad heart the imperatives God lays on us.

By our cowardice we’ve put Ezekiel 3 & 33 into cold storage, and, my, how the chickens have come home to roost! Generations have grown up and are growing old who have no idea what the sacred writers mean when they say that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” People are walking the streets who have never been told that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God and that we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, who is the first-born from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Woe to us that so tragically many people are perishing, sinking into hell in the Brave New World of the Charter without ever being confronted with the majesty, the mercy, and the monarchy of Christ the King.

So may God grant to the churches of this land sackcloth and ashes, lamentation, penitence, and the fruits of repentance. May He grant His children in this land to understand why 7 December 2006 is a day that will live in infamy. May He grant us all a due sense of His holy majesty and may He grant us to feel the full force of His holy law, because then and only then can we appreciate the bounty and gift of Christ the King who cleanses penitent sinners in His blood and makes them priests and kings to sing praise to His God and Father. Yes, may the fruits of repentance abound in this land so that it may be the dominion of Christ the King from sea to sea.