Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Yes, this is one of those boring posts about how our day is going for the benefit of friends and family.

We're having a nice eclectic New Year's Eve.

  • I worked on some French through LiveMocha.
  • We went to the zoo with the Rev. Philip Miller (Pastor of Christ Lutheran, Chalmette, LA), his wife Monique, and their children: Grace, Isaiah, Silas, Nathaniel, Sarah Rose, and one yet to be born!
  • We bought a gift for a wildebeest (now that is something I have never done before).
  • We had dinner at IHOP and called to mind the old days of New Year's Eves past - especially in Ottawa.
  • We went home and watched fireworks from the front porch.
  • We looked at the pictures we took today.
  • We are half-watching the festivities on TV, which is flipping between the local celebrations (instead of a ball dropping at Times Square, we have a Fleur-de-lis at Jax Brewery) and the national stuff. Whoever invented the "mute" button should get a medal.
  • If I make it to midnight, I think I'll sip a little B&B. I bought the bottle in 2006, and I think it works like the seals on the dishwasher if you don't use it every few months. I think I should be able to have this bottle done some time in 2014. It's good to have goals. If you haven't had B&B, it really is remarkable. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that you can take a sip, enjoy it, and not even swallow - and it will evaporate in your mouth.
Happy New Year to all of our family, friends, colleagues, parishioners, neighbors, and anyone else who may be reading this. A blessed 2010 to all.


An amusing article about what to call the new year.

A happy and blessed MMXAD, y'all!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sermon: Wednesday of Christmas 1

30 December 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 2:33-40 (Isa 11:1-5, Gal 4:1-7)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Simeon and Anna should be considered the patron saints of patience.

Both are elderly and advanced in years. Both cling to the promises of God. Both center their lives in the Lord’s Temple. Both have made it their life’s ambition to see the Lord fulfill His prophecies of the Messiah, the “shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots” that is promised to “bear fruit.”

Sts. Simeon and Anna are at the very end of a long train throughout the millennia of people waiting for, longing for, praying for, and hoping for the Advent of our Lord. Like the new year being represented by a baby, and the old year being personified as an old man, Simeon and Anna are hanging on in this life to hand the baton off to the Child who will not only ring in a new year, but a new age.

And what a joy they experience as the promise is fulfilled!

St. Simeon, acting under the discerning eye of the Holy Spirit, instantly recognizes the Christ Child, and offers a blessing of Him. In Simeon’s actions we see a preview of our Lord’s “happy exchange” in which Jesus swaps His righteousness for our sins. For as “righteous and devout” as Simeon was, he was not perfect. He was suffering the results of sin in this fallen world, being harassed by age and waiting for his own death. And yet, this imperfect man blesses the Perfect Man. This man who is near death offers a benediction upon the one man who does not need to die, and yet who volunteers to do so, even for the one blessing Him.

And having seen the Lord according to the Lord’s Word, Simeon is ready to depart in peace. And it is fitting that we close our Divine Service, after having seen and experienced the Christ Child ourselves in His flesh and Blood, by praying again with St. Simeon his psalm of praise, his comforting canticle of being ready to depart this veil of tears knowing that the world is being recreated anew, and that our dying flesh is being redeemed by the “Light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.”

And yet after his song, Simeon is not yet done. The Lord still has one more word to speak through him. He prophesies that the Christ child will cause the rise and fall of many – even as John the Baptist spoke of valleys being raised and hills being brought low – and that Christ would be opposed. St. Simeon warned Mary of her own soul-piercing pain that she was to experience thirty years later at the cross. But Simeon also speaks of revelation as well.

And having seen and having said what the Lord called him to do, St. Simeon was now ready, in peace and joy, to depart.

At the end of this age, and at the beginning of the next, we also encounter another elderly saint, who likewise patiently waits for her Savior to come. She is St. Anna, a widow who devotes herself to the Temple, to prayer, to worship, to fasting, and to serving God “night and day.” She too encounters the Christ Child and “at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Notice that St. Anna did not pursue a life of pleasure and self-gratification when the Lord called her husband to himself. Anna went to where her Lord was to be found, in the Temple courts, offering herself as a “living sacrifice” as St. Paul implores all of us believers to do. She did not pine away or agitate that she was not permitted to preach in the public assembly and not allowed to assume the Levitical priesthood – rather she rejoiced in the priesthood shared by all believers. And rather than preach sermons, she spoke of the Lord to people in her daily discourse where the Lord placed her.

St. Simeon centered his life on the Word of the Lord, the Word revealed to him in the form of a revelation from God, a promise that was to be fulfilled in Christ. And Simeon encountered Christ in the Lord’s House, in the very flesh, and was blessed to proclaim the Lord’s Word there – not only for the benefit of the Holy Family, but for our larger holy family: we the Lord’ brothers and sisters, we the children of God, we who have been made heirs, we who have been given the right to call God “Abba! Father!” and to pray to Him as “our Father who art in heaven.”

St. Simeon knew where to find the Word. He did not know how it would take shape, or when the Word of God would be fulfilled. Yet he took it on faith and patiently waited. But he waited in the House of the Lord. He prayed and heard the Word. He partook of the worship of the Lord’s people in the very presence of God. And in the fullness of time, he sang (and taught us to sing) his hymn: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word.”

Likewise, St. Anna knew where to find the Word. She did not treat the House of the Lord as just one more thing on her social calendar. She did not see the Temple as an institution designed to give her money as a widow. Rather she patiently devoted herself to the Lord’s House and to the Word. The Temple is the place of the sacrifice, where the lambs of God were offered as a preview of the “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.” She enrobed herself with the divine sacramental presence of the Lord and placed herself where the Lord is found in His Word according to His promise.

And though Sts. Simeon and Anna were aging, and though they watched year after year of the Lord’s promises seemingly not fulfilled, they waited patiently on the Lord. They prayed. They kept their eyes open. They surrounded themselves with the holy things, and remained in the holy places. They did not interpret the Lord’s timetable to be license to do whatever they pleased, but rather gave of themselves willingly to watch and pray, to hear the Word of the Lord and participate in the sacrifices, to offer thanksgiving and praise, and to teach others about the Lord’s Word fulfilled and brought to fruition, which sprouted forth in the body of Jesus Christ.

Whether we are elderly or not, we wait. Whether we are married, single, or widowed, we wait. And like Sts. Simeon and Anna, we too have received the Word of God, we have been given the Word made flesh, we have been baptized and brought into the living stones of His House. We have been given the opportunity to hear the prophetic Word proclaimed, to partake of the body and blood of the Lord, to hear the Word of forgiveness and life, and to be made ready to depart in peace.

Let us patiently continue in the House of the Lord, in the Word of the Lord, and in the flesh and blood of the Lord. Let us “give thanks to God and… speak of Him to all who [are] waiting for… redemption.” Let us likewise bless God and be a blessing to the world, proclaiming the salvation seen by our eyes and “prepared in the presence of all peoples.”

Let all together praise our God
Before His glorious throne;
Today He opens heav’n again
To give us His own Son,
To give us His own Son.


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

St. Thomas of Canterbury

Yesterday, the western church throughout the world commemorated St. Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury (1118-1170), who was martyred on December 29 by the king's henchmen while singing Vespers at one of the altars of Canterbury Cathedral (in England).

Thomas had been pushed and advanced as primate of all England by his friend King Henry II, though Thomas was not even a priest (he was a deacon at the time, was ordained a priest, and consecrated bishop the next day). Thomas's blatant political elevation (leapfrogging over other qualified churchmen) angered the other English bishops, as Henry was shamelessly using his friend (who was simultaneously chancellor of England) to control the church.

But the Holy Spirit had other plans, and Archbishop Thomas had a conversion of sorts.

He gave much of the church's treasury to the poor. He took his vows most seriously. He bucked the king's authority when Henry tried to illegally control the church. He also surrendered his position as chancellor and embraced his vocation as primate, bishop, and pastor of the English Christians. This resistance to his authority and foiling of his plans to control the church led Henry to blurt out: "Will no-one rid me of this pestilent priest!" Considering this a tacit order to assassinate the archbishop, four knights brazenly entered the cathedral and hacked the archbishop to death. Even with swords raised above his head, Bishop Thomas courageously refused to flee, and calmly went about his prayer office. Churchman Edward Grim was an eyewitness of the murder, and wrote an account about it.

Europe was outraged and shocked at this act of naked aggression against the church. Abp. Thomas was quickly hailed as a martyr and canonized. King Henry II did public penance for his part in St. Thomas's death.

Though it does take liberties with the historical record, I highly recommend the 1964 movie Becket, which stars Richard Burton as Thomas and Peter O'Toole as Henry. It is a beautiful film and the acting is powerful. It does capture the tension between church and state, as well as St. Thomas's conversion and faithful devotion to the Lord Jesus and to the church into which he was placed into orders.

A hat tip and a thanks to Br. Latif for this post and reminder of this feast day of the Church. I agree that it is sad that St. Thomas did not make it into the LSB list of commemorations - especially given our heritage as English speaking Christians. Thomas is especially an encouragement to pastors to resolve to serve the Lord no matter what threats or difficulties come our way, and is a reminder that there are those who would do violence to the church, even various governmental agencies around the world who are working to stifle the Gospel.

May we all, clergy and laity alike, stand ready, like St. Thomas, to remain faithful to our Lord and our various callings, even in the throes of death, as Edward Grim testifies:

"At the third blow he fell on his knees and elbows, offering himself a living sacrifice, and saying in a low voice, 'For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.'"

"For the name of Jesus."

Thanks be to God for the life and ministry of St. Thomas, bishop, martyr, and servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ringing bells is "too Catholic"

So says a guy about Pastor Weedon and his historic LCMS congregation in Illinois that has (gasp!) church bells.

Note Pastor Weedon's fine retort which quotes C.F.W. Walther, the LCMS's first president, who likewise (along with the rest of the Missouri Synod) had to deal with the tiresome "too Catholic" charge.

There really is nothing new under the sun.

Come to think of it, just about every Christian denomination has church bells. Sigh.

Goodness! Next thing you know, people will be claiming that we Lutherans ought to stop folding our hands in prayer or having an organ in our churches because other denominations do that. When people cite such things, they only prove that they really don't know what the Reformation was all about.

It was not about bells.

As Pastor Esget's new favorite Christmas crooner sang, ring them bells!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Some things never change...

Packing a church full of people is easy:

"It happened to Ambrosius. He was once told by his parishioners, after they had been admonished to hear the Word and the sermon: The truth is, dear pastor, that if you were to tap a keg of beer in the church and call us to enjoy it, we would be glad to come."

-- Martin Luther

HT: Discovering the Hope

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Not a Good Pro-Life Witness

It's like being flipped off by a driver with a Jesus fish on the back. As one of our local political ads said: "Not good, Guidry. Not good."

HT: Probably Bad News.

Sermon: St. John

27 December 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: 1 John 1:1-2:2 (Rev 1:1-6, John 21:20-25)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

St. John, the evangelist and apostle whom the Church around the world commemorates today, wrote about Jesus: “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

Indeed, if there were an account of every work carried out by Jesus – from the Creation at the beginning of time, to the miracle of people around the world who are being baptized this very moment, to those whose sins are being forgiven right now, to all the millions in far flung nations of the world receiving the holy body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ unto forgiveness and life on this very day, even the universe would begin to run out of room.

The works of Jesus are beyond comprehension – and yet, they are personal. The Lord Jesus is not about racking up big numbers on a tote board, rather He comes to us as His humble and beloved people – for as St. John also revealed what was revealed to him, this same Jesus “loves us and freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father.”

And instead of giving us a book bigger than the world itself chronicling every work of Jesus, the blessed evangelist wrote that which the Spirit impelled him to write, proclaiming the Word necessary for our salvation and life, as he also testifies: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”

“…written that you may believe” and “have life in His name” – this is the work of the holy evangelist. As his own gospel teaches us, St. John’s task is “bearing witness about these things,” and he “has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.”

St. John was not a blogger, a fiction writer, an essayist, a philosopher, or a wit. Rather he was an eyewitness, a disciple, an apostle, a preacher, a minister of the Gospel, a bishop, a man to whom the Lord appeared miraculously, giving revelations to John, and commanding him to “write what you see in a book.”

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life,” writes John, “the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life.”

And because the Lord used faithful John to record His Word, we Christians living twenty centuries later can continue to read, pray, meditate, sing, memorize, teach, and proclaim God’s Word. St. John was called to write the Gospel that bears witness to the life of our Lord, unambiguously declaring Him to be God in the flesh. He also wrote three letters to Christians teaching us how to live out the faith, teaching us that God is love, and warning us about false teachers in the last days, antichrists who will deny the incarnation of God in the flesh. And John also penned the final book of Scripture, the Revelation, the Apocalypse of our Lord Jesus Christ, Scriptures that comfort us in showing us the glories that await all believers in heaven, as well as putting forth prophecies that will be unsealed when the time of their fulfillment when the Lord’s return draws near.

“The disciple whom Jesus loved” is also beloved by the Church. St. John remained with our Lord and the Virgin Mary at the cross, and was entrusted by our Lord to take care of His blessed mother. John was persecuted by the emperor Domitian, being exiled to Patmos where he received the Revelation that became the Bible’s final book. St. John served the church in Ephesus and was the last living apostle, dying around 100 AD.

St. John was himself a teacher to many other bishops who served under him, who later transmitted the faith to future generations, such as St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna and St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch. St. John was revered as the last living link to our Lord, the “apostle whom Jesus loved.” His students were particularly careful to transmit the Word of the Lord faithfully and precisely, and to lay down their lives for the sake of the Gospel they were taught so forcefully by their own teacher and bishop, the beloved apostle and eyewitness of the Lord.

St. John’s testimony is so powerful in part because of its simplicity. John’s Greek is the easiest to read, and his portrait of Jesus most clearly confesses our Lord’s divinity and His humanity. The beloved summary of the Gospel, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” of course is from the Holy Gospel According to St. John, 3:16. Many of the texts in the Christian liturgy, Scriptures used in funerals, and words used in the creeds of the Church come directly from St. John’s Gospel. And the formula of confession used in many Lutheran churches is word for word out of John’s first epistle: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

As a preacher, John did not shrink from proclaiming the law, nor did he hold back in lavishing the Good News of the forgiveness of sins, tenderly calling his hearers “my little children” and constantly pointing them back to our Lord Jesus Christ, whom he calls the “propitiation of our sins, and not for ours only, but also the sins of the whole world.”

We celebrate St. John in the Church because we celebrate John’s Lord, the Lord of the Church. St. John provides all of us, pastors and laity alike, with an example of holiness and single-minded sense of purpose to hold Jesus before the world in thought, word, and deed – just as He is, was, and is to come.

St. John and his writings constantly hold before us the fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the sacrifice whose blood sets us free, and that Jesus is also a real physical man who dwells in real space and time. Motivated by love and carried out by blood, our Lord Jesus Christ is truly the “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” He is “an Advocate with the Father” and “the propitiation for our sins.” He is the “Light of the World.” He is the “resurrection and the life.” He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” He is the Word that was God, was with God, and the Word that became flesh.

We know all of these things about our Lord Jesus Christ because of St. John’s faithful ministry as an evangelist and preacher of the Good News, one sent out by the Lord to proclaim the simple truth that “God is light” and “if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

“To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom of priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

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

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Once again, parents: private schools or home schools are simply way better

The latest unsurprising nonsense from the alternative universe known as "public education."

How long will people put up with this stuff? I know there are exceptions, but public schools are regulated by the same people that run the VA healthcare system, the IRS, the post office, and FEMA. Is it reasonable to expect common sense? These stories just keep popping up, and nobody seems to learn from these incidents. In fact, they seem to just get more ridiculous as time goes on. And these people are in the "education" business. Scary.

When you've had enough, you might want to look into a Lutheran school. We don't operate like the government.

Remember our Persecuted Brethren

Those of us who still have the freedom to openly celebrate the Christmas season should keep our persecuted brothers and sisters in our prayers. Our Atheist friends are often more than eager eager to deny, or even mock, the fact that Christians are persecuted, but their blood is being shed all over the earth, as it will be until the Lord returns.

Related to this particular persecution in Orissa, India is the following strange account that comes from a Roman Catholic archdiocese in Sri Lanka. If it is true, it seems to be a demonstration that the Lord will truly avenge the blood of the martyrs.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Putting the "A" in "Atheism"

Here is an interesting window into the culture.

The prefix "A" in Greek negates a word. A "Theist" believes in God. An "A-theist" does not. But the "A" in "Atheism" is increasingly becoming "Antagonist" and "Anti-freedom."

Atheists believe the Christian faith is simply a fairy tale. But notice that the Atheists do not put agitate and push their intolerance next to displays of Aesop's Fables or Harry Potter. They don't hand out leaflets in the children's section of the bookstore. It's interesting that in this Illinois State Capitol incident, the "festivus pole" was not targeted - the Atheists' religious display was put next to the Christmas tree. How can anyone conclude that their goal is anything other than specifically targeting Christianity? This serves to bolster our claim that the Christian faith is the one true faith and that it is the one faith that is hated by Satan. Where is all the Atheist bile aimed at the Dalai Lama? Why aren't they putting such signs up in front of the Holocaust Museum in Washington? Let's see them open a chapter in Riyadh.

The current vapid and intolerant materialist culture that denies the existence of God and worships the self is increasingly in bed with the state. Even many of the politicians who claim to be Christian often make a mockery of our faith. I think the best thing would be to sever all ties between the Christian faith and the godless state. The Triune God and His bride do not need the stamp of approval of tax-feeding bureaucrats. We don't need to have our faith mocked or in any way tainted with this circus. When it comes to religion, government is not our friend. This is why the founders sought to protect the Church from the state by the adoption of the first amendment.

Lutherans, of all people, should be leery of such church-state coziness. This kind of partnership led to the rise of the monstrous medieval papacy, the bloody government purges of Lutheran cities and states in the sixteenth century, and even the collapse of the once-pious Scandinavian state churches in the twentieth century, having been taken over by Socialists, Atheists, and skeptics. Confessing Lutherans were on the outs in Nazi Germany, and it was the king of Prussia in the nineteenth century that compelled Lutherans and Reformed Christians to take communion together. It was also the Atheist state that executed Lutheran pastors and seized the churches of Lutherans in Russia. Make no mistake, this has happened everywhere in the world where Atheism has fully seized the mechanism of the government. Unlike Christians, Atheists see no intrinsic value in human life. Atheist governments do not protect life. Our own government is increasingly under the sway of those who protect convenience and selfishness over life.

Will we ever learn from history?

There is plenty of private property to erect Christmas trees and displays. We don't need to be putting them up in statehouses. How about we not authorize the bureaucrats to spend our money to buy Christmas trees, menorahs, Asherah poles, and moronic signs put up by sour Atheists - and instead pay down the deficit that the politicians continue to run up? I think we Christians may even find common ground with Atheists on this point - at least with the Atheists who are truly reasonable, who genuinely want freedom - as opposed to those who are simply being obnoxious and adolescent attention-grabbers who would like nothing more than the eradication of Christianity (even if it means using force to get the job done).

We have to accept the reality that the world is increasingly hostile to the holy faith, and the culture and the state will continue to decay and spiral into utter savagery. Let the Barbarians and the politicians have their Atheism, and how about we focus on keeping them out of our churches?

A Spate of New Pics Uploaded

Okay, I'm not sure what exactly constitutes a "spate," but I think it is somewhat subjective. But I uploaded a spate of pictures to my Flickr site.

All in one fell swoop, you can see:

Nothing profound, just a lot of fun.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Joy

Mrs. and Fr. H., photo courtesy of Leo

Christmas is a time high stress and a lot of hard work for everyone - including clergy families.

This year, with Christmas falling on Friday, for us it meant separate services (and different sermons) for:
  • Last Sunday - Advent 4
  • Wednesday Night - Advent 4 Midweek
  • Thursday Afternoon - Christmas Eve (Lessons and Carols)
  • Thursday Night - Christmas Eve (Midnight Mass)
  • Friday Morning - Christmas Day
  • Sunday Morning - Feast of St. John the Apostle
Leo behaved himself very well at all of our services. He is a real trooper. And on top of all the baking and Christmas preparation, Mrs. H. worked like a maniac making a chasuble for our church.

Well, that explains the sore back...

Having made it through five of the six above hurdles, we have been able to take a little breather and relax. It has been a wonderful Christmas cycle in spite of the intense amount of work. The congregation as a whole and many parishioners individually have been most generous and kind to us with their gifts, cards (including their overwhelming generosity to Leo), well-wishes, and goodies. We have also enjoyed family time even amid the hustle and bustle. And of course, preaching the Word of God and administering the Holy Sacrament to the wonderful people the Lord has placed me to serve as their pastor, an honor I neither deserve nor merit - is especially poignant as we ponder anew the meaning of the Word Made Flesh, Immanuel, God With Us.

On Christmas Eve, between the two services, (and Brother Latif will not want to read this next part) we ate dinner at IHOP. I know that some of my parishioners are probably crossing themselves about now, given that IHOP is a (children, cover your ears) national chain. Their menu is strangely bereft of po-boys, jambalaya, fried oysters, seafood platters, gumbo, and red beans and rice. But having said that, even Louisianians sometimes need a pancake fix.

Gingerbread pancakes - get them wile you still can!

And IHOP is much more than pancakes - though you cannot beat their 'cakes. They have huge omelets to die for, waffles, crepes, a good number of meat entrees of every type, and nice desserts. And at least at our local IHOP in Harvey (on Manhattan), the food is always fresh, perfectly cooked, and presented beautifully. The coffee is good, and the service is always outstanding!

Our waitresses are not just efficient, but friendly and fun. They put up with all of Leo's antics (like hearing him explain with gusto how a typical arachnid has eight eyes, an abdomen, and a cephalothorax) and didn't bat an eye when I asked for something not on the menu. They really have a great sense of humor, and watch over us like we are their best friends. Leo and I typically make our way to the maps of the world engraved on glass windows for a "geography quiz." We always have enough food left over to bring home for another meal. The prices are good too. Going to IHOP is just plain fun.

"Show me Madagascar!"

We had a blast unwinding after our two-hour Lessons and Carols service Christmas Eve. Our waitress, Karen, did an outstanding job, as always. Salli was also working the holiday (as many of our other familiar waitresses were). Danielle was away visiting family for Christmas - but she is also an excellent waitress, and deserves a shout-out. I hope the management of IHOP appreciates them. They really do a great job.

Salli and Karen rock! (Photo courtesy of Leo)

We went home to find that someone had broken into our home while we were IHOPping. But it's okay. It was just Santa Claus. Leo must have been a really good boy, having received (among other things) a toy truck, a rubbery spider with visible internal organs, and (causing him to gasp and bounce with joy), a large and anatomically accurate model of a jumping spider. "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace..."

"Oh... my... gosh...! It's a JUMPING SPIIIIIII-DER!"

Mrs. H. was giddy to receive a pair of brown boots to match her black ones, and a couple of ancient history books. The history is ancient, but the books are actually new. Oh yes, and a waffle iron (was that wrong of me?). I was graced (pun intended) with a mug that you can actually write on with chalk, a kind of blackboard that holds liquid - perfect for chalking up Latin and Greek vocabulary to enjoy over a portion of coffea arabica. Being on my feet all the time, I'm also grateful for the (Lisa, skip this next part...) foot massager that Mrs. H. bought for me! I also have a couple of Bibles on order - since I don't seem to have enough already...

Christmas Day was likewise a great joy.

After the 10:30 am Divine Service, we went next door to Aline's house for a meal (in the words of Arlo Guthrie) that "could not be beat." Aline also had invited the couple across the street, as well as another related couple - all of whom have fairly recently moved to New Orleans and are (like us) a long way from family. We had an absolute blast!

The menu read like that of a fine restaurant: Greek chicken, stuffing, mirliton dressing (often pronounced "mellyton," with a nasal French "n"), turkey, sweet potatoes, as well as homemade pralines, a carrot cake that could win awards, and baked apples. And, of course, CDM coffee and chicory made the old fashioned way. All that was missing was the cigar.

Aline commands the kitchen and keeps us laughing

But even better than the meal (which hardly seems possible) was the company. Aline is quite the hostess, and the two other couples kept us in stitches. We even listened to an antique Elvis Christmas record on vinyl.

Peov spins the Elvis while showing off Aline's retro nutcracker as wife Destiny enjoys the tableau

So, thank you to Aline, to our friends, to our waitresses at IHOP, to everyone at Salem Lutheran Church, to Santa, and of course to the Triune God for making this a joyful Christmas.

Melody and husband Ben having a laugh (one of many)

This is the day the Lord has made...

Salem's New Chasuble

As a Christmas present to our congregation, Mrs. H. completed her work on the white chasuble on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, in time for the 5:00 pm Service of Lessons and Carols. It takes its place next to Salem's earlier purple chasuble, which we were using for Advent.

The white chasuble is made of silk, is lined with gold fabric, and has gold orphreys. The appliqué in the middle of the vesica is an Agnus Dei design, Christ symbolized as the Lamb reclining on a book with the seven seals from the Book of Revelation. It matches Salem's altar carving. Mrs. H. painstakingly embroidered around the Lamb, the book, the banner, and each of the seals, all by hand in red and again in gold - as well as adding some further gold embellishment - to enhance the appearance of the appliqué. She also modified the pattern of the chasuble, and improved the neckline. The final result is breath-taking.

Here are photos chronicling Grace's work on this beautiful ecclesiastical vestment. And below are just a few more glimpses:

Thank you, Mrs. H.! We appreciate your work to the glory of God - soli Deo gloria!

Sermon: Christmas Morning

25 December 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 1:1-18 (Ex 40:17-21, Titus 3:4-7)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

For some reason, people who shun the church love to teach pastors about theology. Often they will instruct me that all religions are equal, that it doesn’t really matter what one believes as long as one is sincere, and that one need not go to church – since God is everywhere.

This latter observation is a most convenient application of the Lord’s omnipresence. Since He is everywhere, the argument goes, I can experience God by sleeping in, playing golf, reading the paper, or doing all sorts of things that are more fun or convenient than going to church.

And while it is true that God is everywhere, that His presence is outside of space and time, that He is not forced into the restraints of creation like us humble creatures – His omnipresence is really is of no comfort. For when God is simply everywhere, He can seem impersonal. When God is so transcendent and otherworldly, I cannot relate to Him. I might as well do what I want on Sunday morning and pretend that it doesn’t matter to God. We might misinterpret God’s vastness as inattentiveness to us.

But on this Christmas morning, we celebrate the True God who allows Himself to be limited in a humble form, taking the flesh of a man – a baby that willingly takes on limitations, being present for us in a miraculous way within space and time. We can look at Him. We can touch Him. We can watch Him grow. He can speak to us personally. He can cast out our demons and heal our infirmities. And He does go to the cross to take away our sins. He does crush the head of the devil. And He does rise from the dead to blaze a trail for us unto everlasting life. And He does all of this while tabernacled in a physical body like ours.

This merciful tabernacling of God is foreshadowed in the Ark of the Covenant being placed in a tabernacle, a tent where the Lord’s Presence, miraculously limited to specific space and time, hovers over the Ark’s lid, known curiously as the mercy seat. And “the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” Far from taking comfort in the Lord’s omnipresence, the people knew that “throughout their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out.”

It comforted the people of Israel that God was right there with them. And they sought out His Presence, going where He promised to be, following His Presence wherever the Lord wanted them to be. That Presence was not in their beds nor on their fields of play. The Presence was where the Lord chose to be, where His Word was proclaimed, and He called the people to join Him there.

“In the beginning” says the Apostle John, “was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” God the Creator is outside of all creation. And unlimited by time and space, God and His Word are omnipresent. John then tells us about another man named John, a man who is not omnipresent, but living in first century Judea. He came to “bear witness about the light” for “the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”

The light that tabernacled above the mercy seat is preparing to tabernacle yet again, coming to us in space and time. And “the Word became flesh and dwelt,” – that is, “tabernacled” – among us. And we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Just as the Presence hovered above the mercy seat and led the people, the Presence is once again – in the incarnation of Jesus, the Word made flesh – self-limited to a specific time and a specific place. This is the miracle of Christmas. God does not relate to us as the infinite, otherworldly, omnipresent Creator, but robes Himself in humble flesh. He comes to us where we can find Him. He appears and speaks where we may see and hear Him. And like the Israelites of old, we take comfort in the fact that God is present, Immanuel, God with us, the Word made flesh who dwells among us, “as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

And just as the Magi traveled far and wide, following the sign of the star, seeking the God who limited Himself to a tabernacled presence, so that they might worship Him – we Christians too can follow the signs, seeking the God who continues to tabernacle with us in His flesh and blood, in His Word, and in His ironclad declaration of Holy Absolution by virtue of the authority delegated to His ministers.

You cannot find that Presence at a party, sports event, movie, or even sleeping in on Sunday. God is everywhere to be sure. But out of love for us, out of our desire to seek Him and be with Him, and out of His desire to be with us, to forgive us, to proclaim the Good News to us, He takes on flesh and dwells with us, present where He promises to dwell.

He becomes the Christ child. He preaches to a world that rejects Him. He tirelessly works miracles. He casts out demons and heals. He takes away the sin of the world. He sacrifices Himself, the perfect Lamb, the immaculate oblation, on the altar of the cross. He bears our sins and crushes the vile serpent’s head. And He rises from the dead. He advocates with His Father on our behalf, making us righteous. He nourishes us with His very body and blood. He purifies us again and again by His absolution. And He proclaims good news to us wherever and whenever the Word is preached and where His sacraments are administered. And this is Good News indeed!

This church, dear brothers and sisters, is a holy place. It is a tabernacle where the presence of the Lord dwells. This baptismal font is indeed a sacred space above which the Holy Spirit hovers like a dove, the Lord and giver of life, who broods over us, calls us, and draws us back to where we find the flesh and blood Presence of God.

And this God incarnate has completed His mission, as St. Paul preaches: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by washing of regeneration.”

This salvation is ours because of Christmas, because God chose to tabernacle with us though we do not deserve it. For we, though spirits, are also bodies. Though we, created to be eternal, dwell in time and space – so too is the gift of the Holy Spirit “poured out on us richly” is given to us in space and time, in the creation we dwell in, “through Jesus Christ our Savior.”

The Lord doesn’t come to us in good feelings, in imaginations and mantras, in clever words or in entertainment, rather He comes to us in the way and in the place that He Himself chose, “so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

Dear friends, by virtue of the flesh and blood Christ, through His flesh and blood sacraments, and in His flesh and blood proclamation of the Good News – this Christmas gift is yours. It is the greatest gift of all, for even though it exists in our material world, this gift is eternal. It is a gift that “neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” This gift never goes out of style, becomes boring, or wears out. The Lord’s gift of Himself as the enfleshed Gospel never needs to be exchanged or returned under warrantee.

The gift of our flesh and blood Christ is here in space and time for you, so that you might have eternal life. May the Presence of the tabernacled Lord in the flesh and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ guide each one of you, even as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, in all your travels, now and unto eternity. Amen.

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

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sermon: Christmas Eve Midnight Mass

24 December 2009 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.

In these last days, we take light for granted. With the flip of a switch, our formerly dark world is bathed in light. And in that light, we can carry on at night as though it were day. And we don’t even think anything of it.

In this sense, the world of the 8th century BC prophet Isaiah was different than ours. He wrote of “walking in darkness,” and people knew exactly what that meant. Walking in the darkness could be annoying, or even dangerous. Darkness hides obstacles that we can trip on, or even bandits and robbers who can do us violence. Darkness symbolizes ignorance, fear, sin, and death itself.

The first thing God created was light, and light is mentioned in the last chapter of the Bible as well – as that new and perfect world will be so glorious and filled with light that there will be no need for sun or moon.

But caught in the middle of the two paradises: the golden age of the past, and the glorious age of the future – we do have to contend with darkness – in this world and in our hearts.

“The people who walked in darkness,” prophesies Isaiah, “have seen a great light. Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”

The darkness of sin and of a broken world has been interrupted and conquered by the coming of the Light of the World, our Lord Jesus Christ, born under the light of a star that was a sign to the far-flung peoples of this dark world, the Word of God made flesh, whose Word that ordered “Let there be light” brought all things into being.

While the shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem went about their routine work in the dark, protecting their sheep from predators and watching over them lest they wander away into the gloom, a light shined on them as well: “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.” But this angel, bathed in light, bid them: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

The darkness was obliterated and cast aside by the luminous glory of the Lord. And the angel’s good news was nothing other than this: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And the hosts of heaven gloriously appeared in this heavenly light, singing even with us twenty centuries later, as we join them in their heavenly liturgy: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”

The coming of Jesus dispelled the darkness of sin and of ignorance, making the glory of the Lord a light to be shared with men and by men, a lamp to be put on a stand, so that all may see and give glory to God! The light of the Gospel enlightens our darkened hearts and dimly burning wicks of faith by bathing us in the glorious light of the good news of the forgiveness of sins, of peace with God, of the restoration of man before His Lord, of God’s image glowing in the face of Jesus, of the coming of the Creator into the fallen world in order to create a new and greater world! And this, dear friends, is all for you – for as the holy prophet proclaims: “For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given,” and the angel quotes this Word of God to the shepherds: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

The darkness of the Old Testament’s waiting for the Savior has been chased away by the light of the New Testament in the blood of this very fleshly Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

This is the Christ, our God most high,
Who hears your sad and bitter cry;
He will Himself your Savior be
From all your sins to set you free.

For this Light of the world doesn’t merely illuminate our lives so that business as usual can go on after hours. Jesus is not simply a light that keeps us from stubbing our toes in the middle of the night. He is the Light that illuminates our sins so that we can repent, whose Light then shines on us the warm glow of the love of God, whose mercy enlightens us and fills us with the Holy Spirit, praying for us and with us, calling us and empowering us to holiness, and using us to share this light with “them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death.”

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,” says the holy apostle, “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

The Light of Christ is the very source of all light, the Word that first uttered: “Let there be light.” And it is He who implores us to let our light shine before men, that they too might be illuminated by the Gospel. And even as Christians around the world this holy night ignite candles off of the lit candles of their neighbors, whose flame originates from the Christ candle stationed near the baptismal font, we thank and praise God for providing the true Light to us, as a free gift, as an act of mercy and grace.

For to us a child is born, “who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.”

Dear Christians, you are no longer terrorized by darkness. You are no longer held hostage to evil that lurks in the darkness. For on that silent night, that holy night, God Himself took flesh to redeem you, forgive your sins, enlighten your darkness, and lead you to a bright and shining eternal future.

Silent night. Holy night.
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.


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

Sermon: Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols

24 December 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Isa 7:10-14, Mic 5:2-4, Isa 9:2-7, Matt 1:18-25, Matt 2:1-12, John 1:1-14

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“For to us a child is born” the Lord spoke through the prophet Isaiah seven centuries before the first Christmas, “to us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Blessed Isaiah also gave us the sign of the virgin giving birth to this child, also called by the name “Immanuel” – God with us. The prophet Micah preached that this Ruler, this Shepherd, the One who will make all of us “dwell secure” will come out of the little town of Bethlehem.

The Lord committed these prophecies to paper, where they were read and reread in the Temple and in the Jewish synagogues for hundreds of years. The people waited, and waited. They prayed, they hoped, they suffered, and yet they waited. Some people scoffed that the Messiah would never come. Others turned these prophecies into politics, determined that the Messiah was going to kick out the bad party, put in the new party, and run an efficient government bureaucracy without corruption and excessive taxes.

And not everyone wanted the Messiah to come. King Herod, who was a Roman puppet king, lied about his interest in the Messiah, for as St. Matthew reveals to us, Herod was “troubled.” He tricked the magi into telling him where the Christ was to be born, and then proceeded to terrorize Bethlehem in an act of mass infanticide.

But whether you love Jesus or hate Him, whether you think about Him at all, His coming changed the universe. Even the way the entire world, Christian and non-Christian, measures time is based on the assumption that things are different now – dividing the years into BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini – in the year of the Lord).

For St. John reveals the true nature of this Messiah, this Christ-child born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, worshiped as God by foreigners from the East, and targeted by the corrupt rulers of Israel. John tells us He is not just an Israelite hero, not just a prophet, not just another preacher, nor a politician of any stripe. He is the very Word of God:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made through Him.”

St. John is making the extraordinary claim that this Christ child existed before His birth! That in fact, He is God and He was with God at the creation. And furthermore, when God, using His Word, said “Let there be light, and there was light,” it was this Child, yet to be born in flesh, through whom all things were made.

And what’s more, on this first Christmas in Bethlehem, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Of the Father’s love begotten
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the source, the ending, He.
Evermore and evermore.

And this pre-existent state of Jesus is spoken of by our Lord Himself, who caused a scandal by saying: “Before Abraham was, I am.” He attests to His eternal pre-existence as God.

And it is this, His claim to divinity, that makes Jesus controversial. For a happy teacher of peace and love would anger no-one. But a man who claims to be God in the flesh, who calls people to repent from their sins and change their lifestyles, who refuses to conform to the wishes of the people who want a Messiah who is a politician, a terrorist, an intellectual who minds his own business, a man who will tell us that whatever we are doing is just fine – that is a man who will end up on a Roman cross if He allows it.

And, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, He does allow it! He accepts His lowly incarnation, His humble life in the flesh, His teachings to be rejected by most, and His own death on the cross. He does this out of the same love as from which He was begotten of the Father.

For listen to what St. John says: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Do you know Him? How do you receive Him?

Is Jesus just a pretty drawing on a Christmas card at a safe distance on the shelf? Is He just a picture on the wall of a long-forgotten religious figure? Does Jesus take a back seat to the New Orleans Saints, to the new big screen TV, to our jobs, our social lives, and providing creature comforts to ourselves? Do we begin and end our days with prayer? Do we teach our children the catechism? Do we read the Bible as a family? Do we faithfully attend the services of God’s house where God’s Word is read, where the very body and blood of Jesus – the same body and blood born of Mary, crucified, and rose from the dead – are given to you in a miracle known as Holy Communion?

Does God and His Word even matter to us?

This, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is what Christmas is all about. It is God’s Word confronting us and comforting us. Jesus came into our world. Unlike the centuries of Israelites, we know how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. We know about the Virgin Mary, the magi, Herod, the Word made flesh, the Light of the world, the forgiveness of sins, and everlasting life. We have the Bible, we have the Church, and we have preachers. If we don’t know Jesus, it is no-one’s fault but our own.

And that, dear friends, is the very reason Jesus has come! We are all sinners. We all have a messed up sense of priorities. We are all spoiled and self-centered. We are all guilty of idolatry. We all sin against God and against our neighbors continuously. And “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.”

Every Christmas the story of Ebenezer Scrooge is read, acted in plays, and shown in movies. And though the story doesn’t directly deal with Jesus, it is symbolic of what Christmas means, how Jesus affects us and our world. Scrooge was transformed from greed and being self-centered – and not to mention miserable in all of his material wealth. By being confronted with his sin and being called to repent, Scrooge had a change in heart, became compassionate, and resolved to keep Christmas every day. In short, Jesus became his priority. And what a blessed and happy life he had after this repentance.

That is the Christian life. Jesus came into our world not so we could celebrate His incarnation only on December 25th, but rather so that our lives can be transformed from January 1st to December 31st, year in and year out – even as every year is the “year of the Lord.”

Who says we have to limit Christmas cheer to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? Why should this be the one day we cut people a little slack, the one day we greet total strangers and bless them, the one day we are willing to give presents, and maybe even give a few dollars to a charity or to the poor? Why can’t every day be Christmas – as it was for the transformed Ebenezer Scrooge?

Well, dear friends, the answer is that it can be, should be, and will be in eternity. It is only our own selfishness and sin, our own refusal to let God be God, our own stubborn reliance on ourselves and focus on our entertainments that get in the way. Jesus came into the world for you. He preached and taught about the kingdom for you. He died on the cross for you to take away your sins. He rose again for you. And he comes to this place in His Word and in the miracle of His sacrament – all for you. He delivers forgiveness of sins to you. He gives eternal life to you!

If you like giving and receiving Christmas presents, think about how every Sunday, week in and week out, is another Christmas, another coming of Jesus in the flesh, where He can be adored, worshiped, touched, heard, and even become part of us. He calls us to a better life, a life of love, of contentment, and of meaning.

This is all yours, dear friends. It is a gift, a pure gracious gift, an unearned Christmas gift from the Christ child, Immanuel, God with us. “For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given.” May this gift of the Christ child transform and comfort you, day in and day out, even unto eternity. Evermore and evermore. Amen.

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Green Baby Godchild!

Congratulations to my former parishioners Michael and Amy Green (who now live in Utah) on the birth of their first child, little Jillian. She is a Green baby, but as you can see, not green at all, but rather a nice healthy pink. She was born during our Christmas party potluck last Sunday, as Mrs. H. and I were seated across the table from Grandma and Grandpa. What excitement when the phone rang! The picture below was snapped on Mike's camera phone moments after Jillian's birth.

And if that weren't enough joyous news, the Hollywoods are to become Jillian's godparents when Mike and Amy make a Christian of her.

Congratulations again to father Mike and mother Amy (as well as grandparents Gary and Beth) as the Lord has answered their prayers in a dramatic fashion and has given them a glorious Christmas present. May the Lord grant Jillian divine protection, many years of life, and a strong and abiding faith in her Savior!

Veni, Veni Emmanuel

This evening is the last use of the O Antiphons for the year, for our Lord says: Ero cras! We pray as we always do, "Come, Lord Jesus." Courtesy of Gaudium Mundi.

Yep, it's New Ahluns, Dawlin'

Courtesy of There I Fixed It.

Sermon: Wednesday of Rorate Coeli (Advent 4)

23 December 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 1:39-56, (Mic 5:2-5a, Heb 10:5-10)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“O Emmanuel, our King and our Lord, the Anointed for the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God.”

On this evening we pray this same prayer with millions of our brothers and sisters in Christ across the globe. We Christians are not just followers of a teacher, adherents of a philosophy, or members of a feel-good club of do-gooders. We are the Christian Church, a holy assembly of brothers and sisters united in the Body of Christ, transcending time and space, a kingdom of priests and a priesthood of kings, a holy nation of those who have overcome death, a family of believers who wait for the Lord’s return to save us from the decaying and dying world.

We acknowledge our Lord and Teacher to also be our God and our Savior – even as the Lord’s mother prayed and sang: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

God my Savior. “Come and save us, O Lord our God.”

And this is why the people of the world hate Jesus and hate the Church. We have rejected them. We are not comfy and cozy in this sinful, rotting world. We are only aliens living in this place, marking time until our true King returns to establish a new and better world, a world without evil, without pain, and without death. Instead of relying on the glories of science and technology, on wealth and self-reliance, we Christians look to the mercy of God, putting not our trust in princes and riches, instead seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

This angers the unbelieving world. It is offensive to them.

For those who like this fallen world just fine are offended that we do not like it as well. And since the days of the Caesars, those whose allegiance is to their bellies and whose trust is in the kind of wealth that rusts away, have hated the Church. Who does she think she is, claiming to be the Bride of God, considering herself holier than thou, unhappy with all the pleasures of the flesh and the material benefits this world has to offer? In calling herself holy, the Church is tacitly calling the world “unholy.”

And in this day and age and to the world we live in, that kind of exclusivity is the unpardonable sin.

This same attitude was hurled even against the city of our Lord’s birth, even centuries before the first Christmas: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be Ruler in Israel.” Nobody thought anything mighty could come from something so ordinary as Bethlehem.

But God has compassion on the little, the despised, the weak. In fact He chooses such a weaker vessel to carry His most precious cargo of all – His Word made flesh. The Blessed Virgin Mary was a girl of “humble estate,” a “servant.” She is one who knew hunger and humility; she is one who was gossiped about and scorned. Though she was of the royal line of David, she was poor. And in her motherhood of God in the flesh, the Blessed Virgin Mary would be harassed by the devil, even to the point of being pierced with a figurative sword in the heart as she watched her holy Son die on the cross.

And even as Mary is hated by Satan, she is loved by the Church. She is our “most highly favored lady.” She is hailed as blessed among women by Elizabeth and by Scripture, and she is blessed in every generation, the lowly one chosen to bear the One who bore the cross.

We sing and confess her, though so humble, to be: “higher than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim,” even as we sing to her: “Thou bearer of the eternal Word, most gracious, magnify the Lord.”

For as the Son prepared to take on flesh in her womb, Mary prayed, “let it be to me according to your Word.” And this very same Son would similarly pray, “not My will but Yours be done” as He prepared to sacrifice His flesh on the cross.

For this is why Jesus took on flesh in Mary’s womb to begin with, to offer Himself as a sacrifice of atonement: “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus once for all.” He entered the closed womb of Mary by the word of an angel in order to exit the closed tomb, appearing to another Mary after she received word of His resurrection from another angel.

What costly sacrifice
To cover human sin!
Who but Christ Jesus had the right
To enter in?
His blood, that sprinkled price,
So we might be assured
That our inheritance in light
Has been secured.

The world mocks such a notion as God taking flesh and paying for our sins. Those who scorn the Church’s holiness and faith in her Savior openly deride the Church as foolish, or even in some cases, evil. Tyrants and dictators always seek to abolish the Christian faith. Academicians and celebrity nonbelievers who are “proud in the thoughts of their hearts” try to brainwash Christian children and bully Christian adults into surrendering the faith once delivered to the saints. Satan, behind it all, wages war against Christ and His bride. And every Christian is caught in the crossfire of this warfare.

And even in the fiercest of attacks from within and without, we cling to Christ, to His flesh, to His blood, to His incarnation, to His crucifixion, and to His resurrection. And like those who waited for the Messiah to come in the days of Zechariah and Elizabeth, in the time of Mary and Joseph – we too wait. We wait for our Bridegroom to return. We wait in anticipation of a new creation. We wait praying the Magnificat in praise of God our Savior who emerged from the virginal womb, and pleading the “offering of the body of Jesus” in praise of God our Savior who emerged from the virginal tomb as atonement for our sins.

We proclaim the Good News that “He shall stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord.” We continue to preach the cross and the Crucified One whose blood frees us from the ravages of the devil as a once-for-all offering. We stand vigilant and sober in expectation of His coming, warning others and praying for our brothers and sisters and ourselves to remain steadfast in the Lord’s Word and promises until the end.

And in our weakness we find our strength. For the Lord is still using the lowly to humble the proud. His mercy is truly on those “who fear Him from generation to generation.”

Even as we find ourselves in these last days at the pinnacle of our waiting, closer to the Lord’s coming than at any point in history, we wait in joyful expectation, in humble anticipation, and in the “remembrance of His mercy” as we partake in His body and blood, in his forgiving Word, and in the cruciform remembrance of baptism. We sing with Mary and with all the saints, unashamed of our weakness and in the fervent hope that the world will repent of its folly and likewise pray with us in our hopeful expectation of God our Savior:

“O Emmanuel, our King and our Lord, the Anointed for the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God.” Amen.

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More Walgreen's Music Musing

Today's trip to Walgreen's, unlike my 1980s-pop memory trip of December 13, yielded the above music selection, which is actually a prayer written and performed by the late George Harrison, MBE in 1973, Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth).

Mr. Harrison was not a Christian (apparently, he was baptized in infancy, but was raised in a non-practicing Roman Catholic home, and subsequently embraced the Hare Krishna sect of Hinduism in 1969), and yet his desire for peace is certainly universal among men, along with the other petitions in this song for love, life, light, freedom, hope, faith, and physical communion with God (or some alleged supreme being Harrison calls "Lord").

That same desired universal peace, the peace which passes all understanding, can only truly be found in Christ.

This theme of peace through the Lord Christ was sung by the hosts of heaven to the Bethlehem shepherds when Jesus was born, and the prayer for peace lives on in different parts of the Eastern and Western Christian liturgies - such as in the prayer to Christ known as the Agnus Dei, which contains the line: "Grant us Thy peace," (sung in Latin as "Dona nobis pacem"); the Pax Domini ("The peace of the Lord be with you always"); and the great hymn of praise the Western Church copied from the East, known to us by its Latin name, the Gloria in Excelsis (the above, mentioned angelic prayer which includes the line: "Peace, goodwill toward men").

"Peace" is explicitly mentioned in many of our Christmas hymns, including Silent Night (LSB 363), It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (LSB 366), Where Shepherds Lately Knelt (LSB 369), and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (LSB 380) - with many more hymns addressing the concept without using the word "peace."

"Peace" became the way modern Jews greet each other (Hebrew: "Shalom"). Jesus Himself greeted the disciples this way after the resurrection. A variation of this Hebrew word, incorporated into the name of the Holy City (Jerusalem), was chosen by the 19th century founders of my congregation: Salem.

Caption needed...

There is just something funny about our blessed Lord, His virgin mother, his step-father, the magi, and the angel all posing in front of the "Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers." There is either something very silly, profound, or both that could be said here. But I could not come up with a caption.

Can I get a little help here?

A blessed remainder of the week of Rorate Coeli and a Merry Christmas to all. (And boy is it ever hard to find just the right Rorate Coeli card at Walgreen's!).

Monday, December 21, 2009

A History Quiz

Here is a little quiz regarding an American president by the legendary Clyde N. Wilson, professor emeritus at the University of South Carolina, perhaps one of the last conservative historians to hold a professorship at a major state university.

I had the privilege to meet Dr. Wilson while I served as a vicar just a few feet from the USC campus in the beautiful city of Columbia. I wish I could have found some way to audit one of his history classes.

HT: Lew Rockwell