Friday, December 31, 2010

A View from the Andes

Another delightful posting by the Internet's foremost curmudgeon, the 65-year old Marine Corps combat veteran, freelance journalist, and American expat globetrotter, Fred Reed.

Fred's observations are, shall we say, piquant, fresh, caustic, and uproariously funny. Sometimes they are a little raw (reader discretion is advised) - but they are laced with common sense wisdom, cultural wit, and impish wordsmithery. 

Fred's latest offering is a look at American culture from the perspective of an American living abroad who is walking the streets of Cusco, Peru.

Here is a teaser:
As almost everywhere south of the Rio Bravo, the church dominates the plaza, huge and solid, lasting, Catholicism being a universal language as much as Spanish, a glue uniting the continent and north to Texas. In every town and city and country, the Mass is the same, the symbolism, the saints, the sign of the cross.  The Church is an imposing thing, old, very old, passing from the world perhaps in Europe but alive here. While the liturgy is the same, the style, the flavor and ornamentation of churches are idiosyncratic. Before the Industrial Revolution, the world was not designed at corporate.

There is a universality about the old sections of Latin towns, both geographic and temporal, in their narrow and winding streets, their arcades and fountains. Cusco is nothing special as towns go. For most of time most of the world has lived thus, with a certain chaotic anarchism of architecture and layout. It isn’t particularly Christian. You find the same walkable and unplanned streets in old Jerusalem, Taibei, Istanbul, Delhi, Katmandu. The new parts are of steel and glass and Toyota dealerships. I do not think it a good idea.

Cusco is the world until recently. There is nothing of Houston here. No towering indistinguishable office blocks or great roaring highways uncrossable by humans, no gray sprawling expanses of outlying parking lots and identical malls. America is not the only manifiestation, but it is the progenitor, a land without a past, a present it doesn’t like, and no faint idea how to arrange a livable future. But it is what the world will be. The United States has usually gotten first to what is coming, for better or worse....

As people today pop Prozac and drive along crawling freeways to bacteria-free developments with neighbors they have never met, they can thank God that they do not live in a primitive town with lovely fountains and the familiarity of years. How we progress.

That's Fred for you.  Fun, fascinating food for thought.  And free.  But you can pay if you want to.  If there is any blogger worth tossing a few pesos to, it's Fred.

Parental Cruelty and Reasons Not to Wash

Here is a link to some wisdom that just might make you laugh from the Hermeneutic of Continuity, the blog of Fr. Tim Finigan, a Roman Catholic priest in England.

HT: Dr. Tighe

Note: I've crossposted this to Gottesdienst Online, please feel free to comment there.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Second Most Pretentious Song Ever?

And for purists, here is the orig.  And for Muppets fans, this is for you; Wayne's World fans, here you go.  And here is something for everyone.

PS: HT to Steve & Bonnie Foxx, check out this for the pretentiously brassy.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sermon: Wednesday of Christmas 1 – 2010 Feast of King David and St. Thomas of Canterbury

29 December 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: 2 Sam 7:1-16

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Exactly 840 years ago this evening, a murder took place. But this was not an ordinary crime scene, for the victim was Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury. He was killed by four knights while he was conducting the service of vespers at his cathedral. Knowing they had come to murder him, the archbishop refused to run away and calmly chanted the service even as he was being brutally slain at the altar. According to an eyewitness, Thomas’s last words were: “For the name of Jesus and for the protection of the church, I am ready to embrace death.”

It was a crime that shocked England and all of Europe. For murders are not supposed to happen in churches, and certainly not bishops during services. Worst of all, this murder was instigated by the king himself, who did not like the fact that the archbishop would not do whatever the king told him. Thomas saw Jesus as his true king, and King Henry was not happy to play second fiddle to anyone – not even God.

Ever since that day, St. Thomas Becket has been a hero to every churchman who has to choose between doing what is morally right and doing what is politically expedient.

Along with being the Feast of St. Thomas Becket, bishop and martyr, today is also celebrated by some Christians as the Feast of King David, the psalmist, prophet, and king.

Interestingly, King David, like King Henry, was responsible for the death of an innocent man. The lowest ebb of King David’s life involved the ordering of Uriah into battle so as to leave Uriah’s wife Bathsheba a widow – freeing her up to marry David. David’s repentance and confession before the prophet Nathan is the source of Psalm 51, which we sing to this day in our liturgy as the offertory: “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”

For kings have the power to kill and inspire others to kill. Kings can easily lead and be led into sin. But the beauty of King David, the thing that makes him truly majestic, is his willingness to repent. Unlike King Henry, David does not try to control the one whom God called to, in turn, call the king to repentance.

When David sought to build a temple for the Lord, the Lord spoke to Nathan the prophet and ordered David not to build the temple. It was not God’s will for David to build it. And even though it diminished his own glory, King David obeyed the Word of God as sent through the prophet.

For the Lord spoke to David, telling him that God has no need of a house. He promises David that “I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more.”

Indeed, the violence of King David and of King Henry continues to this day. Our fallen world limps along waiting for the Son of David – the Lord served by Archbishop Thomas, the one spoken of by Nathan the Prophet – to come and institute peace. But that time is not yet here.

And God goes on to tell David that the day would indeed come when the Lord would permit a house to be built for Him – though it would be completed by David’s Son, a Seed “who shall come from your body, and I will establish His kingdom. He shall build a house for My name and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to Him a Father, and He will be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him.”

David’s imperfect son, King Solomon, would indeed come from David’s body, build the majestic temple in Jerusalem, and sit on David’s throne. He would also be disciplined for his poor judgment in the matter of his wives – and yet the covenant would remain with Solomon and his descendants forever.

But David would have another royal Son, a perfect Son, who would likewise come from the body of David. And in fact this greater King’s body itself would be the true temple, the one to be destroyed and rebuilt on the third day, a living temple of the Holy Spirit and not made by human hands. And though this new and greater King would not commit iniquity, He was destined to bear the iniquity of the world, take the “blows of the rod of men and the stripes of the sons of men.” And though He would pray from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” we know – even from Psalm 22 which our Lord was praying at this time, a Psalm of David, that the Lord has not forsaken Him. And in fact, in the Lord’s crucifixion and death, which is His victory over death, the prophecy is being fulfilled: “Your throne shall be established forever.”

Indeed, we worship a King that is greater than David and greater than Solomon. For the Lord Jesus does not commit murder to take that which is not His out of lust, but rather suffers murder to save that which is His out of love. Similarly, the Lord does not seek political power through idolatrous marriages, but rather remains true to His bride, the Church, being the King of the kingdom not of this world.

And our King Jesus, our Savior, inspires Thomas Becket not merely to do that which is right, but to entrust even his very soul to the hands and care of His Lord Jesus, His Savior and His King.

Let us ever honor St. Thomas and St. David, for they both served the King and Bishop of our souls, Jesus Christ. Both confessed their sins, both led a life of repentance. Both served the Lord in their respective callings – David in a palace and Thomas in a cathedral. Both died in the faith, putting their faith in the God they worshiped – trusting not in their own righteousness, but rather in the One who came to us in the manger and who died for us at the cross.

And if we are ever called upon to die for the sake of our crucified Lord Jesus Christ, let us commit ourselves to our Master as did both St. Thomas and St. David, and let us pray “The Lord is My Shepherd” along with both King David and Archbishop Thomas, knowing that we need not fear any evil, not even in the shadow of death. For we know that our Lord has overcome all evil, He who is our Light and our Life, now and even forevermore. Amen.

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

A New Friend for the New Year

We're looking forward to another trek through the Bible this coming year

I'm not a morning person, by any means, but in our hectic hustle-bustle existence of family and parochial life, our morning lectio caffea is a refreshing little mini-retreat of God's Word, prayer, quiet time, and recaffination for the daily "grind."

In fact, we want to expand our meditation, but only a little.  And so we have decided to invite a friend to join us in the kitchen for 2011: St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo and doctor of the Church.

So, in addition to our readings from the One Year Bible: Old Testament, New Testament, Psalm, and Proverb, as well as its corresponding little Q&A from the Companion Volume, we will be adding a reading from the Confessions of St. Augustine, and closing with a short quote from the good doctor and a little prayer.

I have a nice edition of the Confessions that will add to the pleasantness of the experience, and by reading only a chapter a day, we will, Deo volente, get through all thirteen "books" by about the end of September.  Also, to give us a brief supplement and a short prayer, we will close with Augustine Day by Day.

Although our kitchen is small, and it is already crowded with humans and felines, there is always room for one more.  We are gratified that Augustine will be joining us for our little retreats and daily dalliance with monastic meditation.  We expect to have much to learn from him.

St. Augustine of Hippo is simply a huge figure in not only the theology, but also the spirituality, of the Western Catholic tradition - including (and especially) among us Lutherans, given Augustine's status as the Doctor of Grace who argued against the works righteousness of the Pelagian heresy.  Augustine stands as a foremost apologist of the faith whose writings came once again to the forefront during the Reformation.

And now, he will be spending a year with us at coffee.  How exciting!


St. Thomas Becket, d. 29 December 1170 A+D


On this date in 1170 AD, St. Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, was slain by assassins at the altar of his church as he sang vespers.

Above is the trailer to the 1964 Oscar-winning movie starring Richard Burton and Richard Harris.  Here is a famous scene from the film that captures the powerful acting and compelling cinematography.  The movie is both gritty and larger than life, a real epic of the kind not made any more in Hollywood.

But let us not forget that this isn't just a well-made movie, but St. Thomas is a real churchman, a brother in Christ, and a faithful servant in the Holy Ministry only separated from us by the thin veil that temporarily segregates the Church Militant from the Church Triumphant.  St. Thomas placed his loyalty to the Triune God and the Holy Church even above his friend and king - and for that he was martyred.  May we all be blessed with such steadfastness and courage.

Let us pray:

"O Almighty God, by whose grace and power your holy martyr Thomas triumphed over suffering and was faithful even unto death: Grant us, who now remember him with thanksgiving, to be so faithful in our witness to you in this world, that we may receive with him the crown of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sermon: St. Stephen - 2010

26 December 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Acts 6:8-7:2a, 51-60

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our beautiful imagery of Christmas, of the star, the angels, the shepherds, the wise men, and Mary and Joseph with the newborn Christ child is rudely interrupted by today, the Second Day of Christmas, otherwise known as the Feast of St. Stephen.  For the Christian faith has an ugly side to it as well, the side of Satan’s vigorous assault on the Word, and our sinful flesh’s resistance against those who preach that Word of God that has come to us in the flesh to save us.

For from Abel to Zechariah, the blood of the innocent has been shed on earth.  And every prophet who was persecuted and killed for his testimony is a preview of what was to come in Christ, who is the only truly righteous Man. 

And this Satanic attack on the Word does not stop with our Lord’s crucifixion.  No indeed!  For at the cross, the Word of the Lord and the salvation of sinners is only beginning.  The Word spreads out in increasingly bigger concentric circles from Golgotha, throughout Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth.  And this good news is bad news for the enemies of the cross.

One of the first of the Lord’s preachers was St. Stephen, one of the original seven deacons ordained by the apostles.  And like the apostles, the holy deacon was “full of grace and power” and “doing great wonders and signs among the people.”  He was a preacher of our Lord Jesus Christ, and such preachers inevitably attract hatred.  Some people rose up to dispute with Stephen.  They plotted against him.  They “stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes.”  They “set up false witnesses” against him and trumped up charges of false doctrine against him.  The same people who rejected Jesus and who attempted to gag the preaching of the apostles likewise sought to impede the deacon’s good confession and proclamation.

But like the prophets who came before him, and standing nearly in the shadow of the cross, St. Stephen preached the same message, that of the Lord Jesus Christ, of repentance, and of the offer of forgiveness in His name.  And while this is a grace-filled message of good news, it makes people bitter and angry.  For there is a great irony in the Gospel, dear friends.  For by its very definition, receiving the good news of the forgiveness of sins means admitting that one needs forgiveness.  This means admitting guilt.  To welcome the Gospel is to swallow one’s pride. 

And so when the preacher calls his hearers to repentance, to react with anger is to reject the Gospel.  Our Lord and the apostles were plagued by people who reacted harshly to being called to repentance.  Our sinful flesh resists such invitations to change our ways, and instead of mortifying our own flesh, we prefer to retaliate against the messenger.

St. Stephen did not mince words.  His preaching was not what one would call “winsome.”  Stephen was not preaching in order to be liked, but rather in order that people might repent and be saved.  And this means hearing some things that we would rather not hear, dear friends.

Stephen preached: “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit.  As your fathers did, so do you.  Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?  And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

One could only imagine the phone calls to the district office if a Missouri Synod pastor were to preach in this manner today. 

St. Stephen was not preaching against his hearers to grind them down, but rather in order that the Word of God might turn their hearts from their stubborn and sinful ways, ways that are destructive to their souls.  For in their stubbornness, they were being manipulated by Satan, and they were not open to hearing the full counsel of God.  And those who will not hear the Law will neither hear the Gospel.  For a Gospel without a Law is no Gospel at all.

St. Stephen was not merely railing in anger, for he was “full of the Holy Spirit.”  He was trying to help those who would kill him.  Like our Lord Jesus Christ, he was martyred for trying to save those who resisted the Holy Spirit.  Stephen’s hearers could have repented and believed, but instead, they “were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.”  Moreover, as he continued preaching, they “stopped their ears” and attached him.  They murdered this deacon and preacher, seeking to silence the Word he spoke by stoning him as he preached.  But the Word that St. Stephen proclaimed cannot be silenced.  For it is God’s Word.  And even as this horrific crime happened, a man named Saul was watching, a man known to us today as St. Paul – the greatest preacher of the saving Word, the foremost evangelist that the Christian world has ever known.

St. Paul would likewise himself be stoned, beaten, rejected, harassed, falsely charged, jailed, and eventually beheaded.  And even then, the preaching of the Word continues and the confession of Christ goes on.

St. Stephen was only the first of thousands upon thousands of Christian martyrs from every walk of life.  Many were preachers of the Word, and many more were hearers of the Word.  Some have been bishops, pastors, and deacons, but most have been lay people.  Christians have been martyred in the arena, at the stake, in concentration camps, and in prison cells.  And yet, every attempt to silence the Word has only resulted in advancing the Gospel’s progress around the world.

Even today, the Gospel continues to make enemies, divide families, drive kings and tyrants into a rage, and bring martyrdom upon preachers and confessors – especially in lands where the faith meets resistance.  But the Gospel does something else, dear friends.  Where the Word of God does its work in convicting people of their sins, in bringing them to confession and repentance, and where the Good News of forgiveness rings out to those who welcome it, the Gospel liberates, brings peace and joy, emboldens and empowers Christian witness, brings warring peoples and feuding families back into harmony, bears dignity to all people, and most importantly, restores our lost communion with God and gives everlasting salvation and life.

The preaching of the Gospel brought St. Stephen grief and resulted in his death.  But it brought St. Stephen something even greater: eternal life, salvation, forgiveness, and the privilege to preach this good news to others, likewise opening the heavens to his listeners – even if at the time they were hostile.  For the preaching of the Word never returns void, and there is always hope that people will repent and be saved.  St. Stephen took this very hope to his grave, a grave that will be opened on the last day.

For St. Stephen died a blessed death.  He was faithful to the end.  And the greatest way for a preacher of the Gospel to die is to die like his Lord Jesus Christ, with the words of Holy Absolution upon his lips.  For even as our Lord prayed “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” St. Stephen trod in the path of the Lord’s cross by praying a similar prayer, even as the painful rocks pelted his dying body, and even as his lifeblood ebbed from his wounds: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

Dear friends, do not resist the Holy Spirit.  Don’t allow your pride to stand in the way of repentance.  Confess your sins and embrace the Gospel, the good news of the forgiveness of sins.  Hear the Word of God as has been proclaimed by the prophets, by the apostles, by saints and martyrs, and by humble pastors for thousands of years.  Hear St. Stephen’s call to repentance, and pray that the Lord would never allow your ears to be stopped to the doubled edged sword of God’s mighty and merciful Word.

For the beauty of the Christ child is beheld even in the midst of an ugly world.  It is a short distance from the manger to the cross, from the cattle stall to the prison cell, from the angelic serenade to the catcalls of the mockers.  For Christ came into the world to save sinners, to redeem a dark and ugly world, to become Himself stained by blood but unsullied by sin, and all to save us from ourselves.

Like St. Stephen, we thank our Lord Jesus Christ, and we acknowledge Him as our Savior – especially at this time of Christmas as we ponder His coming in the flesh to save us.  And let us embrace the calls to repentance that come from the Lord’s messengers who likewise share our flesh, even as we glory in the forgiveness of sins and those beautiful words of St. Stephen’s absolution to all of us who carry sin within our fallen flesh and who hear the Word of God proclaimed anew to us today, even as we pray: “Lord, do not hold this sin against us.”  Amen.

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

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sermon: Christmas - 2010

25 December 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 1:1-18

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear Christian brothers and sisters.  The first known Christmas sermon was preached one thousand six hundred and twenty four years ago by a preacher named John.  John was the archbishop of Constantinople, and was nicknamed Chrysostom – “golden mouth” – because of the clarity of his proclamation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Every Christian should hear this Christmas sermon at least one time in his or her life.  It is with great joy that I proclaim the Good News yet again in the words of our departed and sainted brother in Christ, and to the honor of the same Lord Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate today with St. John, with the whole church on earth and in heaven, and with the angels and archangels who surround His holy throne.

St. John preaches:

“BEHOLD a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, He had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech. For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.

What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend.

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see. For since men believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.

Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature. For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infant’s bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.
For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me.

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things are nourished, may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost, we offer all praise, now and for ever. Amen.”

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

Friday, December 24, 2010

Sermon: Christmas Eve – Midnight Mass - 2010

24 December 2010 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.

A prominent Jewish celebrity once quipped: “Jews know two things, suffering, and where to get great Chinese food.”

He is right about suffering, anyway.  For God’s people have suffered greatly ever since the fall in the garden of Eden.  All mankind has suffered because of sin, that of our ancestors, and that of our own.  Sin has brought suffering and death upon our world.  Sin has put us at enmity with the very God who created us.  And sin stands in the way of ever restoring peace and life and wholeness.

The Old Testament people of God have suffered even more.  For in addition to their own sinful flesh, the children of Israel have had to contend with the attacks of the devil.  For God made Satan an offer he could not refuse: the promise of a Savior of mankind who would destroy the devil, the “Seed of the woman” who is God in the flesh Himself come to put things right.

And as a result of that threat that is also a promise, Satan has attacked and harassed the children of Israel.  For the Seed was carried within the bodies of this chosen people from the very first giving of the continuation of that promise to our father Abraham. 

As the holy prophet preached to suffering Israel: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”

Satan has fought from the very beginning to keep us all in darkness and to prevent even the flicker of the light of hope from being kindled.

But darkness is not to win the day, dear friends, and suffering and persecution are defeated by joy and vindication.  “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” 

The darkness of the Judean night on that most extraordinary day in history was rent in two by the glory shining in the heavens, the angelic hosts singing with us in our liturgy: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.”

For God is pleased with us, dear friends, not in our sins, but in our confession, in our repentance, in our forgiveness – for this is a gift of God – the Savior, born to us and to the people of Israel; “Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.”  He is pleased with us, His children, because He is pleased with Jesus, His Son.

In spite of the devil’s attempts to destroy the Son, the Seed, by destroying the people in whom the Seed dwelt, in spite of the suffering of the children of Israel, in spite of the sins we have all committed and the punishment we all deserve, God has not abandoned us, the devil has not defeated us, death does not get the last word, and hell itself is defeated and turned away.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.”  The covenant with the children of Israel has been extended and offered to all people.  The Lord, the Seed, the Christ child, is born to us, and He is our Savior, our Champion, our Redeemer, “who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession.”  He is the one who overcomes darkness and defeats the devil – and God has done this through His chosen people Israel for the sake of His chosen people, the Church.

Unlike Mary and Joseph and the shepherds witnessing this “thing that has happened,” we have two millennia of hindsight.  We know exactly what happened to this Christ child.  We confess the truth of history and of the Church that He “was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.  He suffered and was buried.  And the third day, He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.”  We see Jesus suffering for and with Israel, and we see Jesus suffering for and with us, for our vindication and for our salvation.

He suffers for us by taking our sins to the cross, and He suffers with us taking flesh in our fallen world.  He suffers that which we have earned and deserve, and we glory in that which He is and gives.  And even knowing all of this,  we nevertheless join the Blessed Virgin Mary in treasuring up all these things and pondering them in our hearts.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, dear fellow saved and redeemed and beloved of the Lord, let us not only treasure and ponder, but let us also rejoice and live in the hope that is ours by means of the gift of the Christ child.

And let us not marvel when Satan continues to attack us.

For even as Mary bore the Seed within her and was persecuted by Satan, and even as the children of Israel were attacked and harassed by the devil over the course of thousands of years, so too does the church face diabolical attacks.  She is attacked for the sake of Christ.  She carries Christ within her in her very core of being – not in the form of the Christ child in the womb as did Blessed Mary, but in a similar way of carrying our Lord in our hearts and in our bodies through the preaching of the Word and our participation in the sacraments.

And though the devil will indeed harass us, let that encourage you, dear friends, for it means that the Christ dwells in you as well. 

For hear anew the promise, dear brothers and sisters: “The rod of His oppressor you have broken as on the day of Midian.  For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.  For unto us a child is born, to us a Son is given.”

And that is not just a promise given, but a promise delivered: at the manger, on the cross, in the font, from the pulpit, and at the rail.  It is a promise that gives everlasting life and salvation, delivered to Jew and Gentile alike, and it is a promise that all suffering will cease.  And it is in that promise that we “are waiting for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”  Amen.

Christmas blessings to each of you, “from this time forth and forevermore.  Amen.

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