Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Obsolete Man

Here is a link to CBS, where you can watch a really interesting and provocative episode of The Twilight Zone, namely "The Obsolete Man", Episode 65, which ran in 1961. Unfortunately, the link includes commercials, but it is a very good quality format, in its glorious original black and white.

This particular episode stars Burgess Meredith, and in the words of the CBS website, the plot is summarized: "In a future state where religion and books have been banned, a librarian is judged obsolete by the Chancellor and sentenced to death."

Of course, there is an interesting twist in the plot, and a "moral of the story" - this time a prescient lesson about totalitarianism and the inevitable result of a culture hostile to the Christian faith and to books. It's especially interesting, given today's politically correct culture that antithetically spins Atheism as benign and religion as toxic and dangerous. Of course, 1961 was much closer in time to the establishment of the twentieth century's large atheistic and anti-intellectual tyrannies, whereas modern-day apologists for Atheism assume that we've all forgotten where the Atheistic state inexorably leads.

And note the program's use of readings from the Psalms. You won't find such remarkable things on network TV these days. Such politically incorrect portrayals of the "culture of death" have become as "obsolete" in today's cultural climate as Rod Serling's cigarette commercial at the end of the program.

Submitted for your approval...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Classical Language Miscellany

Here is a really interesting piece about Venetian - a Romance language spoken in Venice and its surrounding areas that is actually older than Italian. I'm embarrassed to say I have never heard of this!

And here is a webpage that converts any date into the ancient Roman calendar - which I still find confusing, but since reading Chapter 13 (CAPITVLVM XIII) of Hans H. Oerberg's brilliant natural learning method Latin text, Lingua Latina, I kind of get it.

Today, Tuesday 30 December A.D. 2008 would be, in the old Roman calendar:

Hodie est dies Martis
Ante diem tertium Kalendis Januarius
anno domini MMVIII

(Today is the day of Mars
the third day before the Calends of January
in the year of our Lord 2008)

Numbers and dates are always really tough for me - especially the numbers in French between 60 and 100 (as they reflect the ancient Gallic fascination with twenty instead of the decimal system). My brain always freezes when I try to say a year in French ("mille neuf cent quatre-vingt... - oh the heck with it, Nineteen Eighty Four"). The same is true for trying to figure out a date in the old Roman way (you count backwards from either the first of the next month (Kalends), or from the middle of the current month (Ides), or from nine days before Ides (Nones) of the current month). I think that's right anyway. In the right-hand column, you'll also find a widget showing the current date converted into the Roman system.

In mostly unrelated news, this sounds like the very coolest way to learn Biblical (Koine) Greek.

And just en passant, while on the topic of language, a couple of books I found really fascinating: Empires of the Word by Nicholas Ostler and A Natural History of Latin by Tore Janson.'s Best of 2008

An interesting list based on sales and user ratings from Amazon.

Notice that the "best-loved" book, as rated by customers, turned out to be a political manifesto by a Republican politician - and not John McCain or George W. Bush!

With 741 customer reviews, the book garnered 682 5-stars, 42 4-stars, 7 3-stars, 2 2-stars, and 8 1-stars - which is really statistically remarkable.

I read it myself, and heartily recommend it - especially now that the political season is over, and we're now facing a potential long-term depression (predicted by the author who repeatedly warned the public and Congress, often to jeers) for the very reasons outlined in this book.

All of the sudden, the author is being treated with respect. No matter whom you voted for, nor how you might identify yourself politically, you might want to read this book and consider the ideas put forth - especially given the knee-jerk reaction of both mainstream Republicans and Democrats to seek radical and demonstrably ill-advised solutions outside the realm of freedom and the Constitution.

This book explains all the reasons why we are in this mess, and outlines a real solution out of it, and does so in a concise and easy to grasp format that neither bamboozles the reader with data and jargon nor insults the reader's intelligence with slogans and dumbed-down prose.

The Year In Review

If you want to have a funny remembrance of a distinctly unfunny year, have a look at Dave Barry's Year in Review, which is his annual satirical look back. This year's offering is called Bailing out of 2008.

If you've not read Dave Barry, he is a satirical columnist and humorist who works for the Miami Herald. His website can be found here.

Please keep in mind that Barry is a satirist and a humorist. If you have no sense of humor, or if you are politically partisan and your feelings are easily hurt, you might want to read something else instead, like the Washington Post or Rush Limbaugh.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Father Hollywood Recommends...

The Tale of Despereaux

Fr. and Mrs. H. took Lion Boy to the movies today, and we saw The Tale of Despereaux. It was a hit all the way around. It is the story of a big-eared small-statured mouse named Despereaux who, unlike the rest of the mice, is endowed with a sense of courage, curiosity, and chivalry - all set within a rather traditional fairy tale.

We have not read the book, and were thus unfamiliar with the story and the characters. It is an animated film, but doesn't have an overdone CGI look. In fact, even though it is a CGI animation, it still has the feel of a classic hand-drawn cartoon. The cast of voices is impressive, featuring Matthew Broderick in the title role, as well as Emma Watson, Dustin Hoffman, Tracy Ullman, Kevin Kline, CiarĂ¡n Hinds (Julius Caesar from HBO's Rome), and others. Sigourney Weaver served as the narrator.

But best of all was the message behind the film. It is an unapologetic tribute to virtue, especially courage, chivalry, honor, integrity, and forgiveness. Though the movie is not "Christian" in an overt sense, it does uphold the values of Christian knighthood, traditional sex roles, a clear identification of good and evil (while even maintaining the traditional Christian view of simul iustus et peccator - "at the same time saint and sinner"), and gives historic Christianity a nod in the form of a Roman-style arena in which victims are martyred to the bloodlust of the crowd of rats (in one such scene, Despereaux is on the stage about to be devoured by a cat on a chain (symbolic of the Roman lions?) and the "stage" on the floor of the arena is in the form of a cross.

The movie is refreshingly devoid of a lot of things common to children's movies these days. There were no jokes about flatulence, no double entendres, no rap or hip-hop songs, no wise-cracks or one-liners, no glorification of glib, no attempt to drag in pop-culture references, and no attempt to make evil characters seem good, and no new-age or antichristian spirituality.

Most surprising of all, there was no political correctness. The chivalric characters were masculine (no obligatory heroic tomboy had to come to the aid of the sniveling male characters), the women were pleased to be protected by men, there was no "gender-bending" or sops to the homosexual lobby. There was no racial or ethnic agenda, no attempt to belittle the Christian faith, no patronizing of the handicapped, nor left-wing propaganda such as environmentalism and global warming, no p.c. statements against guns, nor nanny-state screeds about the dangers of cigarettes or the need for bicycle helmets.

It's just a nice, old-fashioned fairy-tale that lauds honor, chivalry, and courage, and shamelessly demonstrates the power of forgiveness.

For other views, here is Dr. Veith's take on the movie. And below is a link to Issues, Etc.'s interview with the Gary Ross, the writer and producer of the movie:

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sermon: Holy Innocents and Baptism of Emma Althage

28 December 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 2:13-18 (Jer 31:15-17, Rev 14:1-5)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

While the world is “moving on” from Christmas and retailers are already gearing up for St. Valentines Day, the Christian Church lingers in the holy festival. For Christmas is a twelve day feast, and today is only the fourth day. And though this is a time of celebration and joy – as this is the ongoing feast of our Lord’s being born into human flesh, even as today marks the spiritual birth of Emma Althage and the placing of the divine name upon her – today is nevertheless a bittersweet day.

Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, as Christians around the world remember the infants of Bethlehem who gave their lives as a ransom for the Ransomer.

For we Christians are in a war. It is a war that good has won, that right has triumphed, that our Lord has crushed the head of the old evil foe by taking on our flesh, dying in our flesh, rising again in our flesh, and giving His flesh and blood to us as gracious gifts to being us into communion with the Holy Trinity anew. But as in any war, there are casualties.

Even in triumph, there is the sounding of “Taps.” Even in victory, there is mourning of those who gave their lives for the cause.

And this cause, dear brothers and sisters, is greater than any worldly state or political battle. This cause, the cause for which the Holy Innocents died, is the cause of the final defeat of evil. Satan fought desperately to try to extinguish the Light of the world, the very fire that will burn him. The devil sought to commit divine infanticide and thus deny salvation to the world by extinguishing our only hope. And though the angel of the Lord warned St. Joseph, the guardian of our blessed Lord, to whisk mother and child away to Egypt for safety, Satan’s wrath still raged against the infant boys of Bethlehem for the sole reason that they had commonality with our Lord.

And on that terrible day,
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation and bitter weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted for her children,
Because they are no more.”
And though the ancestral Rachel refuses to be comforted for her descendants, there is still hope in the form of a divine promise:
“Refrain your voice from weeping,
And your eyes from tears;
For your work shall be rewarded, says the LORD,
And they shall come back from the land of the enemy.
There is hope in your future, says the LORD,
That your children shall come back to their own border.”
Even though these children were to become casualties in the ancient belligerence between God and Satan, these children are promised not only a resurrection, but a renewed life in the nation of God’s people. They will be reunited with their mothers and their ancestral grandmother. Their sacrifice is not in vain, nor will these youngest of soldiers ever be forgotten in their ultimate sacrifice for their King and His kingdom.

It is easy for us to question why the Lord allows any casualties in this battle. The Church honors her martyrs by the thousands. But His ways are certainly not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. We cannot fathom God’s will or discern why He chose, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, to recall these little warriors from their mother’s breasts are take them to Himself. But all we can do is praise God for His glory and thank Him for securing this victory for them and for us.

And lest we forget, the greatest sacrifice of all came in the form of our Lord’s death on the cross. For the Babe of Bethlehem is the only True Holy Innocent. And like the Holy Innocents whose blood was shed by a wicked king named Herod, a later Herod, in cooperation with the priests, scribes, and Romans, would also inflict a mortal wound on the cause of justice – only in this case, mortal would only be for a short time, as immortality was to swallow up mortality for all time. And the holy innocence of the Redeemer would grant Holy Innocence to the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem. Their innocence is truly His innocence.

And it is indeed only in light of this gift and in the certain hope of the resurrection that we can be joyful and thankful for these Holy Innocents whose lives continue to testify to the malignance of Satan, who continues to tempt us to doubt and fear. For as vile as the Serpent is, the Seed of the woman is greater.

It is also in this certain hope, in this basking of victory, that we can rejoice with little Emma, for today, she has likewise become a “Holy Innocent,” a saint who has died to sin and rose to life again with her Redeemer in a second birth. And though her blood was not shed today, her Savior’s blood was indeed shed – for her and for all of us. And that saving body and blood of our Lord is given to us here in this holy place, to strengthen us for battle and to mark us as “Holy Innocents,” protected like the homes marked with the blood of the Passover Lamb, rendering the angel of death harmless – for the blood of Christ has already defeated Satan and won life for us.

For this Passover Lamb has Himself come back from being sacrificed, and now, according to the holy Apostle John, is “standing on Mount Zion,” not lying in death nor humbled and kneeling, but “standing” along with those “having His Father’s name written on their foreheads.” Of course, according to our Lord’s command and promise, we baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And notice what John hears in his vision: “a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters.” John also hears the redeemed singing praise of their Redeemer, “who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God.”

What a remarkable vision of the Church, dear friends. These Holy Innocents are “redeemed,” that is ransomed, bought back by the Lamb Himself, and notice how the ransomed ones act – “they follow the Lamb wherever He goes.” They do not wander off or seek to escape. Where He goes, they are sure to follow, like a flock of lambs themselves, who know the voice of their loving Shepherd.

And even though many of these redeemed suffered on this side of the grave, many giving their lives in martyrdom for the cause, for the sake of the kingdom, and for their Redeemer-King Himself, they now find happiness and glory, serving the Lamb and singing His praises unto eternity.

Even in the time of Christmas joy, even as we welcome our dear little sister through the miracle of baptism, and even as we sing a new song unto the Lord, let us not forget that we are at war. There is a good reason we sing “By All Your Saints in Warfare.” There have been, and there will continue to be, casualties. We will have hardship and suffering as do all soldiers and men under orders. But let us never forget that the ultimate victory has already been won. The struggle against sin, death, and the devil has already been settled by our Blessed Lord, the Holy Innocent of all holy innocents, who fights for us, who prays for us, who atones for us, and who makes us “without fault before the throne of God.”

We are the victors. Emma is the latest in our band of victorious warriors, a little “Holy Innocent” herself, cleansed by the blood of the Lamb and by the washing of regeneration. The Holy Innocents were likewise washed in the Lamb’s blood, and it is He, the Lamb, the Redeemer, the King, the Son of David, the Son of God called out of Egypt, who has won the war and declared eternal peace with God, for the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, for Emma, for us, and for all who are baptized and believe, now and unto eternity. Amen.

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

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Wall Street Journal Makes Sense (for once)

This editorial is perhaps the best and most concise summary as to why Keynsian BushObamanomics will continue to create economic hardship, and this short article also serves as a well-written primer on free market economics (the Austrian School).

Amazingly, the mainstream Wall Street Journal printed it. The sad part is that almost without exception, members of the outgoing and incoming administrations, Congress, the Fed, and the Treasury Department will ignore it, or stare at it like a cow looking at a new barn door (to borrow a phrase from Luther).

Does anyone in Washington remember the age-old adages like "There is no such thing as a free lunch," "Money doesn't grow on trees," and "You can't rob Peter to pay Paul."? And where are all the "conservatives" that supposedly exist in the Republican Party?

Instead of actually addressing the problem with unpopular effective solutions, we will see the mainstream Republicans and Democrats continue to try to nationalize, stimulate, tax, spend, borrow, print, tweak, bomb, make-work, and confiscate deadbeat, bankrupt America out of the debt-hole.

Eventually, it will come down to this: "Pay your bills!" Hopefully, America and its intellectually-challenged federal government will stop believing in the Myth of the Omnipotent State and the Philosopher's Stone before we turn into a third world country. It can happen here. History is replete with examples of Humpty-Dumptys protesting that they are "too big to fall" even as horses and men are helpless to put the yolk back inside the broken shell. One way or another, we will have to work our way out of this mess - or we will fall like Rome and watch helplessly as our economy becomes like Zimbabwe's.

It might be a good idea to keep an eye on the U.S. Dollar Index and the price of gold. Barring a miracle (like President Elect Obama reading this WSJ article, doing a lot of research, and becoming an advocate of the free market), the U.S. Dollar is destined for destruction.

Can it come back after such a fell? I guess that depends on how well we learn our lessons and revert back to common sense.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Quote of the Week...

From the Rev. Aaron Koch's blog, "The Staff of Aaron", in his post Living Nativity:

"I recall even one Lutheran pastor who would kneel before a plastic Jesus as part of a school Christmas program, but who thought it wrong to genuflect at the altar during the consecration!"

I honestly didn't know whether to be appalled, to just laugh, or both. You have to have a sense of humor - and a "graveyard" sense of humor at that - in order to survive in the Missouri Synod.


This was sent to me by a chiropractor friend. Just watching this video makes me want to make an appointment. But what precision and skill!

Decline and Fall...

Christmas around the world.

Christmas in Illinois.

It's all over, folks. Not with a bang, but a laugh-track.

To spend or not to spend...

The above video is a montage of folks who saw the current recession/depression coming.

Meanwhile, mainstream economic "experts" (Keynsian) are emphatic that our current economic malaise can be fixed by just spending money. Columnist Karen De Coster has a provocative essay on the cultural implications of the borrow-and-spend mentality even as the bubble is bursting.

And here is a stunning reminder of the power of frugality, delayed gratification, and the giving of oneself as opposed to consumerism.

By contrast, the same economic "experts" (who believe we can spend our way to prosperity) in government have given us the biggest Ponzi scheme of all, based on spending as opposed to saving - and then having the nerve to call it "social security." And here is proof that the Ponzi scheme runs deeper than Social Security right to the very heart of the American economic system.

However, Citigroup tacitly admits that gold could rise above $2,000 next year - which doesn't reflect sudden demand for fancy jewelry, but rather the diminishing value of the "dollar" (which really means "Federal Reserve Notes" backed by hot air, a belief in the "philosopher's stone," and desperate hopes that people will keep spending their way to prosperity.

One can only wonder if these Keynsian economists really believe their own propaganda. How can they? It's pure insanity.

Twilight, Harry Potter, and Christianity

The recent film Twilight, based on the popular book (which is part of a best-selling series of books) by Mormon author Stephenie Meyer, aimed at teen-age and pre-teen girls has caused quite a stir.

Twilight is a teenage love story between a mortal girl and a vampire. Christians debate one another, sometimes harshly so, about whether this story is a virtuous pro-life tale of chivalry and chastity, or whether it is a destructive ode to seduction, unhealthy obsession, and the occult.

Similarly, the Harry Potter books caused a ruckus in the Christian world when they became a cultural phenomenon, with one camp arguing that the book series lauded dishonest, selfish behavior and normalized the occult and encouraged youngsters to dabble in spells and witchcraft, while others countered that the books, written by a Christian author, simply used magic as an innocent literary device in order to teach a moral of good and evil and to make reading fun and popular again among young people.

So, what are Christian parents to do? Is there anything to the argument that such pop-culture expressions of storytelling have to do with the demonic, or is this rather just fundamentalist raving?

A book that I found both helpful and eye-opening was written neither by a Protestant fundamentalist nor by a confessional Lutheran, but rather by a conservative traditionalist Roman Catholic named Michael D. O'Brien. O'Brien is a self-educated Canadian artist, novelist, and literary and social critic from Ottawa, Canada. He is also good friends with our own Rev. Dr. John R. Stephenson, a Lutheran Church - Canada (LCC) seminary professor and editor of the Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics series (the LCC is a spin-off of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, and our two communions are in fellowship). Though O'Brien has no formal academic credentials, Stephenson (who has degrees from Oxford, Cambridge, and Durham) holds O'Brien in high intellectual esteem as a churchman and thinker.

O'Brien's book, A Landscape With Dragons, was written in 1998 and published by Ignatius Press. It is a gripping read which is basically 166 pages of analysis of the symbolism of traditional western storytelling - especially the realm of children's stories - and how that tradition has been impacted by postmodernism. The latter third of the book is actually a suggested reading list for Christian families, grouped by age.

Mr. O'Brien's website has a good bit of his essays and lit-crit in addition to displaying his artwork. Incidentally, he also designed the cover art for the recent book of poetry by another LCC pastor, the Rev. Kurt E. Reinhardt called My Light and My Salvation - which I'm hoping to read and review soon.

On page 20 of Landscape, O'Brien tells of an incident at the Natural History Museum in Ottawa, involving the visceral reaction of his one-year old to the museum's T. Rex on display. When Lion Boy was the same age, the Hollywoods were in Ottawa (Mrs. H.'s home town) and we visited the same T. Rex in the same museum (Mrs. H. was a frequent visitor in her childhood). Leo's reaction was exactly the same. O'Brien uses the anecdote to introduce the reader to the ubiquitous symbolism of the dragon in literature - as well as his own theory of the dragon's literary origin.

Fascinating stuff, and truly helpful for Christian literary enthusiasts and parents.

Anyway, the book is a bargain, and though it would be nice to have a new edition, it is still an eye-opener that is even more relevant today a decade after its publication.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sermon: Christmas

25 December 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 1:1-14 (Ex 40:17-21, 34-38; Titus 3:4-7)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

I think most people know that the Bible opens with these words: “In the beginning,” for indeed, as Moses first book called Genesis begins: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And the first thing God created in this formless void of darkness was light. With the creation of light, the Lord brought matter and energy into existence, and shaped them by His own hand to bring all things into being.

But we, His rebellious creatures, often delude ourselves into believing that we are more than creatures, seeking to be God Himself. And their doing the same thing we do, our ancestors put us on a path that led us back to darkness. By our sins, by choosing to be people of darkness, by preferring to have our evil deeds covered by the shadow of night – we shy away from the very Light that animated us, that gave us the breath of life.

And another book, a Gospel, a Book of Good News written by the Apostle and Evangelist St. John, likewise makes his beginning with “In the beginning.” But in John’s beginning, we find something that precedes the creation of the heavens and the earth. We hear of the Logos, that is, the Word.

For the same Word that spoke light into existence is the very Word that “was with God” and yet at the same time “was God.” And “all things were made through Him, and without Him, nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

But so shortly after the time of the beginning, we chose darkness over light, we rejected the Word and chose our own wicked and pathetic words instead, poor imitations of the Almighty Word through which we were created and by which we have the light of life.

Instead of the light of life, we poor miserable sinners live in the constant shadow of death. As fallen men, we despise the light, for the light exposes our lawless deeds and wicked thoughts. We live in the delusion that the darkness conceals our iniquity – but the one who created all things sees all things. Nothing is truly hidden.

And as a father pities his poor children who wail out in the darkness, our Father has come to bring us light, to save us from the darkness of the grave and the decay of death.

The Word by whom all things were made becomes the Word by whom we are redeemed and re-created. Our darkness is to be yet again dispersed, as the veil is shred. The separation between God and man, the gap between the divine and the human, is to be forever bridged and occupied by the Logos Himself, for the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This Word, this Christ, this Savior, is He who is the “true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.”

And just as the Word, the Logos, commanded “Let there be light” and “there was light,” so too does the Logos - the Word of God Himself, the Light that is uncreated – burst into our dark world to illuminate us.

And yet He doesn’t accomplish this by a mushroom cloud, by a nuclear blast, by a collision of atoms into a cosmic conflagration that ignites all of creation into obliteration – but rather in the “still small voice” of a boy, a poor child lying in a manger trough in the chill of a stable in the middle of the night – the King of creation reclining with His creatures, the Good Shepherd unto whom come shepherds from the countryside who have been given a sign from the angel.

Indeed, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” in our toxic world, living in the midst of our sin, our selfishness, our suffering, our pain, and the death that we deserve, but which He was not obligated to taste. And yet He takes this cup, He allows the light of His life to be temporarily extinguished so that we may bask in the glow of His resurrection.

“And we beheld His glory, the glory as the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth.” We can behold His glory, because like the Glory of the Lord as manifested in the Tabernacle, this Glory shines forth as a Light, condemning the darkness into non-existence, and as the Word, serving as a “lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” In fact, this Word made flesh is the path, He is the “way, the truth, and the life.”

This holy incarnate Light drives us to pray:

Thy light and grace
Our guilt efface,
Thy heav’nly riches all our loss retrieving.
Thy birth doth quell
The pow’r of hell and Satan’s bold deceiving.

And we gather here, as the Church has done since the Boy of the Manger became the Man of Sorrows, and we eat his flesh that once lay in the food trough, and we drink His blood that was shed by way of a cup not of His choosing. By the light of our Lord, our eyes are illuminated by faith alone, and we see the manger become a cross, and a stable become an empty tomb. We see bread become His holy body and wine become His holy blood. We see death vivified into life and the darkness made lucid into light – a light and life that will have no end.

Dear friends, the Light is not our enemy, but our friend. This light has not come to condemn, but to save. He has come to be a beacon, not as a lamp to expose us. The glow of the Light has come to warm our cold hearts, not to melt us into oblivion. For just as darkness becomes non-existent when a lamp is lit, so too do our sins cease to be when they come into contact with this Holy Light. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” But we, dear friends, comprehend it. We grasp it, cling to it, and hold on for dear life, knowing that this Light is our only way out of the dark pit of exile and separation in which we have been living these thousands of years.

And this revelation of light was first manifest to us, the redeemed, at the manger. To us Christians, the manger is more than a feeding trough for livestock, it is the location of Eden itself. We pray with the hymnist:

O Jesus Christ,
Thy manger is
My paradise at which my soul reclineth.
For there, O lord,
Doth lie the Word
Made flesh for us; here in Thy grace forth shineth.

May this blessing of the Word Made Flesh in His Light-bearing manger illuminate the Church and keep her safe from every form of darkness and evil, now and unto eternity. Amen.

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sermon: Christmas Eve - Midnight Mass

24 December 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 2:1-20 (Isa 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The idea of midnight is associated closely with Christmas. In fact, to many people, it just isn’t Christmas without a Midnight Mass and the flickering of candles.

The carol “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” invokes this idea that the birth of Christ came at the darkest moment of the night. And this is based on a prophecy with which we began this Divine Service so close to the darkest time of the darkest day of the year. The apocryphal Book of Wisdom proclaims: “When all was still and it was midnight, Your almighty Word descended from the royal throne.”

The Book of Wisdom is included in many older Lutheran Bibles, but isn’t usually treated as authoritative. And yet, without any Biblical evidence, the Church universal chooses commemorate the birth of Christ at midnight – the time when the sun is farthest away – on December 25, which, in the days of the birth of Christ, was the winter solstice, the day on which the sun shines the least.

In other words, the birth of Christ is commemorated at the time of the peak of darkness.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the sunshine of God’s righteousness. He warms the hearts of us living in a cold and gloomy world, bringing a warm glowing flame to a desolate and dreary home of fallen man.

The prophet Isaiah speaks of the Christ child, born in the midnight of our souls, taking flesh in the solstice of the evil of the world, when he writes: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.”

“Let there be light” said our Creator, bringing order to chaos and heat to lifeless and motionless matter. And though we have dimmed this light by our sins and by our rebellion, and though man has chosen the darkness over the light – nevertheless, the light still triumphs! The light scatters the darkness and dispels all gloom, removing our sins the way a shaft of sunlight reduces a shadow to nothing less than non-existence. We worship none other than the “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God.”

And this Light was indeed “begotten, not made” and “for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man.”

Traditionally, when Christians have said the Nicene Creed, at this point, at “and was made man”, everyone would drop to one knee, even as the shepherds genuflected before the incarnate Lord in the manger, and the people confessing the Creed would stop in a holy hush and a ponderous pause to contemplate the mystery of this Christmas incarnation of God into human flesh.

For this incarnation and this holy birth took place at the depth of human darkness, even as paganism ruled the world, as the Winter Solstice was not merely a geological phenomenon that resulted in coldness and darkness, but rather was celebrated as a “holiday,” as a festival in tribute to the created objects rather than the Creator, as a devotion to the darkness that covers the evil deeds of man, the same darkness that tried in vain to snuff out the Light of Christ that truly did come upon a midnight clear.

For what does the prophet say accompanies this holy Light? “You have multiplied the nation and increased its joy. They rejoice before You according to the joy of harvest.” God Himself has “broken the yoke” of our burden in this world of sin and death, in which the sons of Adam must live by the sweat of his brow, contending with thorns, and groaning under the weight of the yoke of sin’s burden and death’s harness.

The Lord’s coming has also broken the “rod of his oppressor,” and true light will come from the fire lit by the “warrior’s sandal” and by “garments rolled in blood” – for indeed, “unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government will be upon His shoulder.” We sinful men are not worthy to untie His sandal, and yet we sinful men stripped Him of His garments bloodied with the very blood that saves us.

And the prophet testifies that the name of this Light of Light, this child whose beaming countenance splits the darkness of night, will be called “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father” and “Prince of Peace.”

For this child in the manger is God in the flesh, the One who has come to illuminate us and warm us with His very body and blood, with His Word, with His sacrificial love, and with His victory over sin, death, and the devil.

As St. Titus reminds us: “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,” the very “blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from every lawless deed.”

Our Lord Jesus Christ was born in a time of deep and profound darkness, of a multiplicity of lawless deeds. For these were the days of Caesar Augustus, the powerful man who was worshiped as a god, the head of an empire that would try to extinguish the light of Christ and to destroy the holy Church – and yet, in the process, would itself be brought to the light under the sign of the cross. Our Lord was born in the days when men worshiped the creature instead of the Creator and celebrated darkness in the form of the Solstice Festival – which some today who love the dark are trying to elevate as an alternative to our celebration of Holy Light.

And even after Herod’s attempt to destroy the Christ child, even after Caesar imposed a tax that would force the pregnant Virgin Mary to take a long and arduous trip, and even though there was no room for Him at the inn – our Lord, the Light of the World, was born into this darkness, where shepherds kept watch “over their flocks by night,” even as an “angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.” And it would later be a shining star that led the gentile kings from the orient, men of wisdom and science, to see this divine Child, whose birth was to be “a light to lighten the Gentiles and the Glory of [God’s] people Israel.

Dear friends, the darkness of our sins has been dispelled by the light of Christ, the good news that the “incarnate Deity” is “pleased as Man with man to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel” on this “silent night,” this “holy night” in which we sing:

Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus Lord at Thy birth,
Jesus Lord at Thy birth.” Amen.

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

Merry Christmas, y'all!

From the Deep South:

What Louisiana nativity would be complete without an alligator?

When December gives you lemons...

Christmas Eve oranges and the thermometer (notice it's dipping down close to 75 degrees, brrr!).

Mrs. Hollywood's homemade pralines (with a hat tip to our friend, Louisianian in exile Stacy McDonald, who reminded us not to forget the bourbon).


...and Spider Man!

O Tannenpalm, O Tannenpalm. This is a block from our house, at our "old new house" (we were going to try to buy it, but the seller decided to keep it, and we ended up in the "new new house" instead.). Now that's a Nuh-Wahluns Christmas tree, dawlins!

A blessed Festival of the Holy Nativity of our Lord to all. Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Sermon: Christmas Eve - Early

24 December 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 1:1-14

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Christmas is such a glorious time that we often hear little children wish that every day could be Christmas. And in a very real sense, every day is Christmas, for every day around the world, God takes a visible, humble, and even helpless form in order to be with His beloved people. For the word “Christmas” is a contraction of “Christ’s Mass” – the reality that Christ is truly present with us, that He is “pleased as Man with man to dwell” in his Word and in His Sacrament.

For “in the beginning was the Word.”

Over the course of many centuries, it was the custom in Christian churches to read the first fourteen verses of John’s Gospel at the very end of the divine service. After the priest gave the final blessing, he would send all the faithful off on their way by reminding them of the reality that God, the Word, took on flesh – which is especially important as this reading took place shortly after the people had just consumed Lord’s flesh and blood in Holy Communion. This custom of reading the “Last Gospel” was a fitting reminder that every Sunday is a form of Christmas.

The thing that makes Christmas special and wonderful is not merely the things that we do – the baking, the gift-giving, the visiting, the family rituals, the feasting, the decorations, the candlelight rendition of “Silent Night” and all other such things. For all of these things are there to point us to Christ, the very “Father’s love begotten.”

The thing that makes Christmas special and wonderful is what God did for us, does for us, and will always do for us. Christmas is not limited to December 25th every year, but like the Charles Dickens’ story A Christmas Carol, the spirit of Christmas is past, present, and future. More accurately, Christmas is eternal. For “in the beginning was the Word.” Our Lord Jesus Christ is God. And though He had a human birth, He had no beginning in time. He is “eternally begotten of the Father.” He is “Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending, He.”

For our God became the Christ child in those days when Caesar Augustus ordered that everyone in the empire should be counted in order to be taxed, and He comes to us anew even though Caesar Augustus is only part of the rubble that is the empire today. We aren’t merely counted by a Caesar in order to be taxed, but rather we are all counted worthy of being saved by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, a ruler who pays the tax Himself with His own blood. Our God took human flesh, became one of us to be fed by one of us, nurtured by one of us, and to die for all of us, in order to rise again as the first fruits of all of us, we who are baptized and believe in Him, so that we could then be fed by Him, nurtured by Him, and live by Him forever.

Our God continues to come to us, year after year, week after week, day after day, moment by moment. He has promised to be with us always. He is the Christ and He comes in the Mass – Christmas. And that continual Christmas bears the “always” of the Lord’s promise.

The Eve of Christmas, today’s feast, is a wonderful time to worship our God and King, our Creator and Redeemer, our Savior and Brother, our Priest and Deity. It is fitting that men should crowd into churches like the Shepherds that first Christmas squeezing into the stable, to “see this thing that has happened.” It is fitting that Christians assemble where they will find their Savior – no longer in swaddling cloths in a manger, but enrobed in bread and wine in a chalice and paten, in a cup and a plate, the Christ child that we can, in a way not completely unlike the Virgin Mary, carry the within us bodily.

“In the beginning was the Word... And the Word became flesh.”

This Christ, this Word, is proclaimed year-round in the Church, from pulpits like this one – many more humble and many more grand. This preaching of the Divine Word of Christ has gone on non-stop for nearly twenty centuries. This eternal Christmas has continued without interruption these two millennia – in spite of war and famine, in the face of persecution and bloodshed, in the constant struggle with disease and death, over the constant attacks of the devil and of our sinful nature.

That sinful nature of ours is why God did something so drastic and radical and extreme as to take on our flesh. For the Baby in the manger is only the beginning of the story. Thirty years later, He would be the Man on the cross, dying for our sins. He would be the Body in the tomb, resting that Holy Sabbath Day for us. He would descend into hell to proclaim His victory over death and Satan, and He would rise again in glory that first Lord’s Day to bring life to all of us as well, we who are the branches of His Vine.

Our sinful nature explains why we have more people in church on Christmas than on other days. Some of this is because visitors are in town to be with family members. Some of this is because some people are elderly or physically debilitated and cannot come every week. But most of it is because there are many people, even people who are members of this congregation, who do not believe church is important the rest of the year. They come on Christmas or Easter because it is a custom, or to hear beautiful music, or because they convince themselves that this makes them a Christian.

If this describes you, dear friend, please listen carefully. We Christians, we redeemed sinners, have been celebrating our Lord’s Incarnation for nearly 2,000 years. We are all waiting for the Lord to return. He will return, but we do not know when. And even if it isn’t in your lifetime, you will die. You will need the Baby in the manger, the Man on the cross, the one who rose from the dead that you might rise as well. If you truly believe the Word became flesh, it is because your flesh is sinful and in dire need, just like mine, and just like that of everyone in this church.

And that need is so great and so dire and so urgent that it isn’t a once a year or twice a year thing. If you only come here every few months, you need to repent. As the hymn says: “Let every heart prepare Him room.” You can indeed celebrate the wonder of Christmas year-round, partaking of the Christ Mass of Word and Sacrament every Sunday. You can hear the Good News of the Word made flesh, week in and week out. And this is why Christ has come! This is the one and only meaning of Christmas!

For if you really believe that God became a man and was laid as a baby in a Bethlehem manger, you will want to gather around Him at every opportunity. For He has come with good news! He has come to forgive us! We all need to hear that forgiveness and hear it often. And this is where you hear it according to the Lord’s promise. If it is important to hear that your sins are forgiven at Christmas, then it is equally important to hear it every week.

Jesus is bidding you to come, inviting you to Himself, pleading with you to open your hands to the unlimited riches He is tossing out to the whole world, the gold, frankincense, and myrrh of forgiveness, life, and salvation that comes from His Word made flesh that indeed dwells among us.

For this is all good news, dear brothers and sisters! Our Lord came into our world to save us, to rescue us, to cleanse our sinful flesh by His holy Word made flesh. Our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world not to condemn, but to save. And you will find Him here, doing His work of forgiving and transforming all of us who struggle with sin, who are beaten up by this world, who need to repent and hear the Good News week after week. Jesus is here, calling sinners to repentance and giving us “poor miserable sinners” reason to rejoice, to sing, to offer praises to God, and to be made a son of God by adoption because of the Sonship of Jesus Christ and by His promise to be with us “always.” The Lord doesn’t promise to be with us once a year, or only when we feel holy enough, or only when we are confronted with an event in life that drives us to our knees. He is here for us always, even to the end of the age.

And we know He is here, because His Word is here, His Gospel is here, His people, the redeemed sinners in need of Good News, are gathered here – like the shepherds bowed down before this humble and yet holy God who has come to save us.

Let us sing praises to Him, the Merciful One, who has come to Redeem His people. Let us adore our King, the Victor, on bended knee. Let us offer our thanks for his divine mercy and goodness to all of us, we who have done nothing to deserve it. Let us “behold His glory… full of grace and truth.” “O Come let us adore Him,” the Word made flesh, now and unto eternity! Amen.

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


The winner of the British TV show X-Factor, Alexandra Burke (video above), won with a cover of an old song that is suddenly very popular again, Leonard Cohen's 1984 piece called "Hallelujah."

I've embedded the above performance of Miss Burke, and though I think she does a fantastic job, I prefer the more gritty version of Jeff Buckley, that seems to have become the standard. But Mrs. Hollywood likes the Burke version best of all, so it gets top billing here. Interestingly, the song is currently both #1 and #2 on the British charts at the same time, with Miss Burke's getting top honors and Mr. Buckley's just behind - a remarkable achievement for Cohen and his song.

I first heard the song (the Buckley version) at the end of a House episode a couple years ago (it is also in the movie Shrek). It is a catchy tune that gets in the head, combined with a poetic use of language and biblical allusion that is cryptic if not nonsensical. And yet, the piece has a simple melancholic riff about it that is attractive and haunting.

The author, 74-year old Jewish Canadian poet Leonard Cohen is as enigmatic as the tune. Being a "Cohen," he claims descent from the Aaronic priests, and describes his sense of Jewishness growing up as "Messianic." For a while, he became a Zen monk, while still claiming to be Jewish.

Nearly all of his life savings, including his legacy from his father (who was a well-to-do merchant in Montreal) was stolen by one of his managers. Although Cohen won his lawsuit, he will likely never collect anything. He has had to go out on the road out of financial necessity. Fortunately, his song "Hallelujah" is enjoying a rediscovery in England. So hopefully, he will recover some of his devastating financial losses. If you're reading, Mr. Cohen, Fr. Hollywood is pulling for you!

Cohen is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters' Hall of Fame, and holds the honor of the Order of Canada.

Hallelujah is one of those songs that just about everyone has covered, in numerous styles: among them: Bob Dylan, Bon Jovi, Rufus Wainwright, Allison Crowe, K.D. Lang, Cheryl Crow, Amanda Jenssen (runner-up of of Swedish Idol), Jason Castro (American Idol contestant), Kate Voegele, John Cale, a Norwegian band called Lind, Nilsen Fuentes and Holm; and Linda and the Outriders (British country singer), and one that you simply have to see, an impromptu rendition by the MSU Accafellas in a college hall.

It's also on YouTube in Danish, Swedish, German, and Italian.

And here is Hallelujah as sung by the author. I think he's a better poet than singer.

Great tune. But you know what is going to happen. Some dying-to-be-seen-as-hip "emergent" type - probably a Missouri Synod Lutheran, aided and abetted by his district office - will try to turn it into a sermon series and have the "worship team" sing it right into the toilet. Hopefully, the song is too "viral" to be ruined by the "usual suspects."

I'd like to hear the song covered by the following: Mark Knopfler, Roger Daltrey, Meat Loaf, Bruce Springsteen, and the Fort Wayne Seminary Kantorei.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sermon: Funeral of Verna Keller, Monday of Advent 4 (Rorate Coeli)

22 December 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 3:16-21 (Isa 6:1-7, 1 Cor 12:31b-13:13)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and guests.

We find ourselves mourning in the midst of all the excitement of Christmas. In this sanctuary, we have a casket and an Advent wreath. We have the sadness of our grief, combined with the symbols of hope of the Christmas season. Decorated trees and waiting tombs are not the kinds of things we typically associate with each other.

And although death was never the intended result of the creation our Lord gave is, it is the reality that we all live with. For the wages of sin is death, and as the hymn we just sang at Verna’s request confesses, we can indeed all confess the same thing: that I am the chief of sinners.

However, that is not where the story ends. For we all know why the Christ child lay in a manger – He came to save us, to give us life, to re-create us anew, to pay the wages of sin, and to take on our death at the cross. And because He lives, we too, dear friends, shall also live.

Verna is experiencing this first hand. Like the prophet Isaiah as he found himself in God’s throne-room, and though Isaiah rightfully felt the weight of his sins in God’s presence, that sin and guilt was to be purged away once and for all: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

And so Isaiah could join the heavenly chorus of “Holy, Holy, Holy” – for his sin was atoned for, paid for, purged away, made no more. Verna’s sins were likewise atoned for, and so are ours, we who have been baptized and who believe, we who have been rescued. For during her sojourn in this life on this side of the grave, the Lord’s messengers placed the burning coal of the body and blood of our dear Lord in the form of Holy Communion upon Verna’s lips. The Lord Himself said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Verna also requested the passage from 1 Corinthians 13 to be read today: Paul’s famous sermon on love. For Verna knew, knows, and will always know, that God atoned for her sins by the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ – and that this sacrifice was indeed an act of love, for in the words of our Blessed Lord Himself, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

The love of Christ is given to us, dear brothers and sisters. And though we reflect His love imperfectly, the Christian life is indeed what St. Paul calls “a more excellent way.” The love you felt from Verna – be it as a mother, an aunt, a grandmother, or a dear friend – this is love rooted in Verna’s baptism, the love of Christ toward her, the love which saved her by grace and comforts us in our mourning.

That holy, divine love is purely by God’s grace and favor. For “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.” The Father gave His Son to the world, gave Him to be born of Mary, gave Him to be crucified for us as a ransom for our sinfulness, gave Him to be placed into a tomb from which He rose again, and gave Him to be given to us in the Holy Sacrament.

Like all believers, Verna was imprinted with the very cross of Christ at her Holy Baptism, being made a disciple of Jesus Christ, one of the redeemed and ransomed, one for whom our Blessed Lord has taken to Himself in heaven, one who has been given eternal life. For as the familiar passage in John 3 continues: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

This is the meaning of Christmas, and it is the meaning of Christianity. The Gospel is precisely for times like these, when we are confronted with the wages of sin, and we need the reassurance that all of these sins that bring death upon us were atoned for at the cross.

And this, dear brothers and sisters, is how St. Paul can say that although we Christians mourn the loss of loved ones like anyone else, we don’t mourn as the unbelievers. For we have been given a revelation, both in the form of the Word made flesh, the babe of Bethlehem, the Savior who died and rose for us men and for our salvation, and we also have the written Word, the Holy Scriptures, which speak of the magnificent throne-room of God, of saints and angels, of the joyful praise of our Triune God, as well as His love for us, a love reflected in the love of Christians for us and for their Lord.

And no matter how pious a person is, no matter how beloved he has been in this life, no-one is perfect. And that, dear friends, is why the Lord provided a Savior. He provided Verna with a Savior for her salvation, even as He provides for the salvation of all who are baptized and who believe. Verna was not perfect, but today she is. Like the rest of us, she had to see in the mirror dimly, but now she sees with clarity, face to face with God Himself. Formerly, she was burdened with aches and pains, with suffering, with the debilitation of age, with sickness, sadness, and mourning – but today, she has come through all of that, standing like Isaiah in the wondrous presence of the God who gave his only begotten Son as a sacrifice and atonement for her.

Dear brothers and sisters, Christmas has come early for our dear sister in Christ, and though we all have longer to wait for our perfection, for our reunion with her and with our Savior, we can still confess presently with the eyes of faith what Verna knows from standing before God in His fullness:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

It is in this love that our Lord has for us that we can bear, believe, hope, and endure all things – even unto eternity. Amen.

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

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sermon: Advent 4 (Rorate Coeli) and Baptism of Myaro Miller

21 December 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 1:39-56

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Among Christians around the world, today is named Rorate Coeli, Latin for “Rain, O heavens.”

After the heavenly water rained down on the world’s newest Christian, Myaro Miller, we sang together a prophetic passage from Isaiah:

“Rain down, you heavens, from above,
and let the skies pour down the Righteous One;
Let the earth open her womb,
and bring forth Salvation.”

Life-giving rainwater being showered upon us from above, providing us with earthly nourishment and physical nutrition is a very real reminder of the spiritual reality of the life-giving water of baptism that rains upon us from the Heavenly Realms of the Almighty Triune God into whose name we are baptized.

And on this last Sunday before Christmas, this raining down from the heavens takes on an even deeper meaning. The prophet Isaiah points us to the Righteous One, who opened the Virgin’s earthly womb, who has brought Salvation to us in a heavenly flood. For even as water destroyed sin and preserved eight people in the great flood, water also poured from the side of Him who died for all of us. And the One whose side poured out water placed men into holy orders with the charge: “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

That holy water rains down yet again, as the Church has once more become a holy mother to a son of God, born of water and the Spirit, washed in the waters of regeneration, a raining down of the living waters that are the living Christ Himself!

What a glorious time to celebrate and remember baptism, that holy second birth even as we are days away from commemorating the holy birth of our Holy Lord who preceded us in Holy Baptism.

The Holy Spirit is given at baptism, and is given even to little children. St. Luke has recorded for us the reaction of the fetal John the Baptist, who was yet to open his elderly mother’s womb. When John encountered the Righteous One who lay hidden in the Blessed Virgin’s womb, the baby prophet testified with a jump! And no true prophet speaks on his own, but rather only confesses what the Spirit has revealed to him.

The Holy Spirit was given, and the Christ was revealed to, the baby John, and the holy Spirit was given, and the Christ was revealed to, the baby Myaro – even as the Holy Spirit is given to all of us who confess Christ, we who leap inwardly when confronted with the true presence of our Lord, even as He lies hidden under the forms of bread and wine.

And notice what happens when the Holy Spirit encounters the human spirit. Blessed Mary sang: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” St. Mary is filled with praise of the Lord, whom she acknowledges to be her Savior. Many years later, her Son would say to St. Peter upon His confession that Jesus is the Christ: “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you.” Indeed, for any of us to confess Jesus as Savior, as very God of very God, is not something mere flesh and blood teaches us. This is revealed by the Holy Spirit, who attached Himself to the Lord Jesus – whether delivered through the Holy Gospel preached, through the Holy Supper celebrated, or through Holy Baptism administered – this revelation is a holy and sacred revelation, the very Word of God – the same Word made flesh whose birth we are so close to celebrating, the same Word that attaches Himself to baptismal water.

The Lord so typically comes through such revelation not to the mighty (who are so often cast from their thrones) nor to the rich (who are so often sent away empty), but rather he comes to the lowly and the hungry, to the impoverished Mary, to the formerly barren Elizabeth, to the helpless unborn child John, and yes, even to this little infant Myaro today. For our Blessed Lord Himself was to come into the world as a humble child, a prince in a food trough, a king in a stable, God Almighty in swaddling cloths and a diaper, being nursed by His mother and being protected by His step-father.

And notice too how the most highly favored Lady sings of “mercy” in her song: “In remembrance of His mercy.” The Lord has come to Mary as an act of mercy. He has given her the unique gift in all of creation to carry the living God in her womb, to birth Him, to nurse Him, to care for Him, to raise Him, to observe Him carrying out His Father’s will, even to the point of watching Him suffer and die on the cross. Indeed, the angel Gabriel who announced the Lord’s conception to Mary prophesied the bitter sword that would pierce the soul of the mother of God as she would watch her Holy Son defeat the devil and win salvation for those who are baptized and believe in Him.

And yet, that same soul pierced by the sword was the very same soul that magnifies the Lord.

But the Magnificat is not only Mary’s song. For Mary is a symbol of the entire Church. For our souls magnify the Lord as well, even as our spirits rejoice in God our Savior. We too are humble servants of low estate who have been given the riches of a reward we don’t deserve – eternal life and salvation, given through water and the Word. Like Mary, we can ponder and treasure these things in our hearts and wonder why we have been chosen to be the recipients of such great mercy.

And like Mary, whom every generation has indeed called Blessed, we too carry the Word made flesh in our bodies. Of course, Mary carried the Lord in her womb, even as her flesh nourished His flesh, but we also carry the Lord Jesus bodily – though it is His flesh that nourishes our flesh, it is His blood that makes sacrifice for our blood, so that instead of shedding our blood to pay for our sins, we receive the wine of His blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins.

The mother of God knew what the holy prophet meant when he cried out: “Rain down, you heavens, from above.” For the Holy Spirit came upon her, raining down upon her like the life-giving precipitation that falls on all men, good and evil alike, the showers that give life to the world.

And so do we, dear baptized children of God, so do we understand the prophet’s oracle. For we have all had the heavenly rain wash over our sin-soiled bodies, being cleansed in the heavenly flood with the words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We humble servants can, along with the Blessed Virgin Mary, magnify the Lord and rejoice in God our Savior.

“Rain down, you heavens, from above,
and let the skies pour down the Righteous One;
Let the earth open her womb,
and bring forth Salvation.” Amen.

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

Friday, December 19, 2008

Outstanding Documentary

This 42 minute documentary is a gem. It is called "Money, Banking, and the Federal Reserve." That is, I admit, a dry and boring sounding title, but don't let it fool you. This program is extremely well done, and is anything but dry and boring. It will hold your interest - especially if you are interested in American history. It is a look at the ancient origins of money, of banks, and of the modern American banking system. It was made in 1996, and considering the recent events in our economy, the premises of this presentation are absolutely borne out.

If you care about the future of our country and your family, you'll want to spend a little time thinking about how money is made and circulated in the United States today.

Post Election Blues

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Make it a three-fer...

Well, sort of. It's not an Aaron Wolf article, but he is quoted in this Daily Mail piece written by Brussels-based journalist Mary Ellen Synon. It's all business as usual in the "Land o' Lincoln" (hey, at least for once the spotlight of corruption isn't on my state, the "Land o' Long," and as the Great You-Know-What himself is reputed to have quipped: "You can't fool all of the people all of the time." Some lies take longer than others to shake out.

Sermon: Wednesday of Advent 3 (Gaudete)

17 December 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: 1 Thess 5:16-24

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

One week to go. One week! The pace picks up. The intensity has been turned up a notch. The activity increases. The list of things to do becomes more frantic.

Seven days to get it all done. The deadline will not slide. The calendar will not accommodate our schedule. The time is coming, ready or not.

We’re in the home stretch. There are the last decorations to put up, cards to send, lists to check. We need to drive here and drive there, wrap this and wrap that, place orders, buy food, cook this and bake that. We have to clean and make our homes ready for company. And all of this on top of the rest of our obligations. There isn’t even time to take a breath. We have to talk faster, walk quicker, and maybe even preach shorter. We wonder how it will all be done.

St. Paul’s exhortations to us in his letter to the Thessalonians has this same hurried context. Paul is getting to the end of the scroll, and perhaps running out of time. Through him, the Holy Spirit has much to say to us, and there is little time for embellishments and clever turns of phrase at this point.

St. Paul rattles off a list of things Christians are exhorted to do as part of their life as redeemed sinners, as God’s beloved people who have been saved by grace alone. Listen to both what the Apostle says, and how he says it:

Verse 16: “Rejoice always,” verse 17 “pray without ceasing,” verse 18 “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Verse 19 “Do not quench the Spirit.” Verse 20 “Do not despise prophecies.” Verse 21 “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” And verse 22 “Abstain from every form of evil.”

In a way that is unusual for St. Paul, he says a lot with a few rushed words. It is almost as if Paul has to catch a ride in two minutes, but has ten minutes worth of preaching to do.

In this letter, St. Paul has just addressed the day of the Lord, the end of time, the events that will herald in the last judgment and the resurrection. And just as our Lord’s first advent was sudden, and once the birth process was put into motion, there was no calling it off, no extensions and no delays, our Lord’s second advent will likewise come upon us suddenly. And when these events happen, there will be no turning back. The Lord will return, and all that has been promised will come to pass.

Dear brothers and sisters, this will be a time of rejoicing and glory for the Lord’s Church, a time of fulfillment for His people. His coming will be the answer to our prayer. We his weary and at times worn out people pray: “O Emmanuel, our King and our Lord, the Anointed for the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

For not only are we harried by the hustle and bustle of Christmas, we are also wearied by the changes and chances of this life. Even as we can’t wait for the seasonal commotion to end so that we can take our rest, we also cannot wait for the groaning of all creation under the burden of sin and the weight of mortality to be completed, so that we can take our eternal rest in the Kingdom of God.

For listen anew to St. Paul’s exhortation. Let us slow down for a moment and meditate, let us ponder, let us truly listen to the Spirit’s Word given to us as a free gift this evening.

“Rejoice always.” Dear brothers and sisters, there is the kind of rejoicing that is a passing thing: the celebration of the moment, the joy of giving a gift, the delight of a meal, even the victory of a sports team. But these things all pass and pass away. But the rejoicing that is done “always” is an eternal rejoicing. This isn’t a command, but simply a description of the Christian life. Think about what this means! We will rejoice for all time, without end. This is a result of what our dear Lord – born at Bethlehem, crucified at Calvary, whose body and blood are given to you here –
has done for you. You can rejoice for all time – even in the midst of the hustle and bustle.

“Pray without ceasing.” We Christians ought to offer prayers around the clock. We will certainly do this in its fullness after our Lord comes back again. But even in this valley of tears, we have access to our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier at any time and in any place. He is always eager to hear our prayers.

“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” And we can be thankful at all times and in all places, for look what awaits us, dear friends! No matter what we must endure in this brief life, we have an eternity of rapture and glory. And even in this life of sin and death, we have our dear Father’s love, a love begotten in the form of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has come to be our King and Rescuer.

“Do not quench the Spirit.” There is no reason, dear brothers and sisters, to allow the cares of this world to choke out the Seed of the Word of God that has been implanted into us. The Spirit is at work in us, brooding over us, calling us to repentance, giving us life, working by means of the Word and the sacraments to feed us. Nothing is too important to prevent us from coming here to be fed and nurtured, to hear the Good News of our rescue from sin and death, to be refreshed by the Spirit’s breath.

“Do not despise prophecies.” The Word of God is a treasure. Though it takes time and effort to study the Word of God, though it takes patience and commitment to pray the Word of God, the rewards are absolutely endless, and the strength one finds in the Word of God are like no other comfort or power on this side of the grave.

“Test all things; hold fast what is good.” Always test the Spirits, and always side with what is right. We have been given the Holy Spirit, dear brothers and sisters. We know right from wrong. We are in a great battle between good and evil. We need to encourage ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ to keep fighting, to hang in there, to support one another, and to seek righteousness. The Lord’s return is around the corner, and we can take heart like a tired runner who sees the finish line.

“Abstain from every form of evil.” The pleasure we may get in sinning is truly a passing thing. But there is a price. Sins cause damage. Evil is not something to toy with, but rather a thing to be shunned. Since we are so close to the finish line, now is not the time to be distracted, but rather to keep our eyes on the prize, put our head down, and run the race with joy.

St. Paul is not giving us a burdensome list of new commandments. These are not hoops we must jump through in order to have salvation. For our Blessed Lord jumped through every hoop on the cross, dotting every “I” and crossing every “T” when he said: “It is finished.” We are now living the life of the redeemed. And our Christian life is a life lived in the glory of that rescue. We have been freed from Satan’s tyranny, and given victory over the grave. The Lord will preserve you blameless. He is faithful and will do it.

For us Christians, though we await the coming of our Lord, our eternity has really already begun. It began when our Lord took flesh. It began for us when we were baptized and born again into the kingdom. And though the clock is ticking, we are approaching the age in which the clock will no longer tick and goad us from here to there, when the calendar pages will no longer flip and order us about, when time itself will have been completed, and we will never again be subject to hurrying and scurrying. We have a little glimpse into that eternal window, dear friends, right here, in our Lord’s presence. Rejoice! Now and unto eternity.

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.” Amen.

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

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sermon: Advent 3 (Gaudete)

14 December 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 11:2-11 (Isa 40:1-11, 1 Cor 4:1-5)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

We opened this Divine Service by singing an Introit from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again will I say, rejoice.” Because of this, today is known as “Gaudete” which is Latin for “Rejoice.” Even in the midst of Advent, a time which, for the Church anyway, is a time of focus on our sins, of meditation upon our need to repent, a season of yearning for the Lord to return to deliver us from this body of death and from this valley of tears – we are to “rejoice in the Lord always.”

The rose-colored candle on the Advent wreath has been lit as a symbol of our joy. Isaiah repeats anew the oracle from the Lord that the preacher is to “comfort My people.” Our Lord Himself can hardly contain His joy at His own report of what is happening: “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.”

And yet, where is John the Baptist? He is in a dungeon not long for this world. Can John partake of this joy?

It seems that everyone has been invited to the party except for John, the last of the prophets, the one of which our Blessed Lord said that among those born of women, no-one is greater.

So is John to rejoice as well? Is there good news for John in his prison cell?

And what about those among us who are downtrodden, the oppressed, the falsely accused, the persecuted, the sick and dying, the lonely, those gripped by chronic pain, the depressed, those with distressing family problems, those with nagging doubts, people facing medical tests, those whose jobs are in jeopardy, and every other source of grief and anxiety? Do they have anything to rejoice about?

What about people around the world who live in squalor, who are subject to civil war and military occupation, people who are decimated by AIDS or leprosy, the families facing hyperinflation in Zimbabwe and Christians staring down the sword in Saudi Arabia? What about the victims of terrorism in India and those persecuted for the sake of the Gospel in China, Russia, and Scandinavia?

Is it not an insult for us to sit here in comfortable surroundings and tell the world to “rejoice” and to “rejoice always?”

Dear friends, nobody can be ordered to rejoice on command. Rejoicing is the natural response to kindness and mercy. This is why our Introit which begins “rejoice” from Philippians is coupled with Psalm 85: “Lord… you have brought back the captivity of Jacob. You have forgiven the iniquity of Your people. You have covered all their sin.”

We are not told to rejoice in the sense of a legalistic “do it or else,” but rather we are reminded of the Lord’s goodness and mercy. For no matter what happens in this brief life, this current world overcome by sin and death, we have eternity to look forward to. We have been forgiven of all our sins! We have full communion with our loving Father through the very real forgiving work of the Son as sealed upon our foreheads by the baptismal waters which bequeathed to us the Holy Spirit.

This is why the early martyrs could go to their deaths singing hymns and praising God. This is how Christians, no matter how poor and hungry, can join together as a family and pray the Lord’s prayer with transcendent joy. This is why, when Christians partake of Holy Communion – no matter the circumstances, be it at a death bed, in a prison camp, or on a battlefield, the act of partaking of the sacrament is called a “celebration” and the pastor who serves the body and blood of the Lord is called the “celebrant.”

For the worst thing that will happen to us in this life is that we will die. And we know this will happen anyway. But the good news, the cause of rejoicing, the reason for the rose colored candle and the joy of the Eucharistic celebration, is that death will no more hold us than it held our Lord! All the suffering, all the bad news, all the causes of pain and sorrow in this life are to be wiped away in an instant, in the blinking of an eye. Our Lord is coming to restore Eden, to give us life, to bring us into harmony with the Triune God and all of creation! He has done this for us – it is as much a matter of history as Caesar Augustus and Pontius Pilate, of Bethlehem and Calvary, of the Jordan River and every baptismal font in every church in history.

The promise that brings us such joy in the midst of suffering is as tangible and solid as this marble pulpit and can be tasted and ingested in nothing less than the physical realities of bread and wine, which are truly the Lord’s body and blood, the very Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the One who is there in the flesh to bring you joy without end.

For what do we see surrounding our Lord Jesus? “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 imprisoned and the falsely accused, the faithful prophet who is to be beheaded, believers of every time and place who suffer in body and spirit, those who mourn and doubt, those who struggle in vain to feed their families or strive to avoid bloodshed and violence – can indeed all rejoice. For the worse their conditions are in the present, the greater their joy when the Lord returns to create a new heaven and a new earth.

For the same apostle who exhorted us to “rejoice… always” also proclaims: “judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.”

Our joy is not in this life of sin and sorrow, dear friends. Our joy is in Christ, who made full atonement for each one of us, who provides the Church with “stewards of the mysteries” to celebrate the sacraments and to proclaim the Good News, to bring comfort to you, His people, bearing the good tidings that the war is over, that our iniquity is pardoned, the messenger who holds the Lord’s body aloft and says: “Behold your God,” the God who will “feed His flock like a shepherd” and who “will gather the lambs with His arm, And carry them in His bosom.”

These holy words conveyed by stewards and prophets, by Scripture and the Holy Spirit, have comforted and filled our brothers and sisters with joy since the Lord sent His Word among us to do His work of re-creation – joy even in the most adverse conditions and cause of suffering.

Those times when we around us and we are bereft of joy because of what we see are precisely the times to look up and be filled with every reason to rejoice – because we have not only a promise, but a Savior, not only a blessed hope, but a holy assurance that we see now with the eyes of faith, but that we will see with our eyes when the time comes:

See, the Lamb, so long expected,
Comes with pardon down from heav’n.

Let us haste, with tears of sorrow,

One and all to be forgiv’n.

So, when next He comes in glory

And the world is wrapped in fear,

He will shield us with His mercy

And with words of love draw near.


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