Saturday, December 24, 2011

My Favorite Christmas Hymn Is . . .

"What Child Is This" (LSB 370), because I love the tune, but moreso because it contains the best, most awesomest hymn stanza ever, which gets at the heart of the real meaning of Christmas:

Why lies He in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear; for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail, the Word made flesh,
The babe, the Son of Mary!

Beauitful Video!

Pr. Rick Sawyer and the children at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and School in Brandon, MS made this excellent video a few years back. Wow! Simply sublime. "We know how to give good gifts to our children. So does God." God delivers His Gifts to us via His Holy Word and Sacraments, through which we receive Jesus Christ and the forgiveness, life, and salvation He won for us. And, this Promise if FOR YOU and FOR YOUR CHILDREN. I love how the video shows the kids running to the Christmas tree to get their presents in the beginning, and then shows them running to the altar to get their Gift of Jesus toward the end. They rush to the Christmas tree to get gifts, but then they rush to the Tree of Life to get the greatest Gift of all - the very Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, given and shed for us on the Tree of the Cross. Beautiful!

God will be delivering His Good and Divine Gifts to His children all over the world tonight and tomorrow. Rush to the true Christmas Tree - the Tree of the Cross - and receive the Christmas Present He has for you - His Son and the salvation He won for you. For in every Church around the world where the Holy Eucharist is celebrated according to Christ's institution, there is Bethlehem, the House of Bread, for there is where the Bread of Life, Jesus, is mangered upon the altar, wrapped in the swaddling cloths of bread and wine, for you.

Bethlehem will be found at Peace Lutheran Church in Alma, MI tonight at 7:00 p.m. (Service of Lessons and Carols) and 11:30 p.m. (Midnight Mass), and again tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. (Divine Service). O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant! O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem; Come and behold Him born the King of angels: O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!

A Fisky Friday

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Divine Humility and Love

Not a palace, but a stable.  Not a cushioned crib, but a feeding trough for animals (a manger).  Not in a rich powerful city, but in lowly Bethlehem.  Not to rich, powerful, royal, and influential parents, but to a simple carpenter and lowly maiden.  Not with great fanfare, pomp, and circumstance, but while the world slept unaware—the only announcement made by the angels to shepherds in the fields.  This is how the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity made His entrance into our flesh in order to bear our sins and be our Savior.  It is nothing short of amazing!  Hearing the remarkable details of our Lord’s birth never gets old, which is why the Church continues to sing, “Marvel now, O heav’n and earth, that the Lord chose such a birth” (“Savior of the Nations, Come” - LSB 332, st. 1).

Marvel, indeed!  God is born a baby!  The Eternal Word of the Father, the very Creator of all things, the One who spoke creation into existence, descends from heaven to be born into His creation.  In Mary’s arms, nursing from her breasts, is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.  He humbles Himself to assume our human flesh and become dependent upon the milk of His mother and the care of his earthly father, even while He continues to hold the entire universe in His tiny little hands.  If this does not cause you to marvel, nothing will! 

The Divine Humility of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ, is truly a marvelous thing to behold.  The holy angels are taken aback by it and long to delve into what they perceive to be the mystery of mysteries.  They have seen the One who lies seemingly helpless in a manger in all His glory.  They know Who this Baby named Jesus really is, and it amazes them to see Him in this manner.  Not only that, but they know the reason God takes on human flesh and is born into this dead and dying world, namely to save sinful humanity, and they cannot help but sing His praises.  As they gaze upon Almighty God, their Lord and Master, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a dirty, feeding trough, they marvel not only at His Divine Humility, but at His Divine Love for sinful mankind, for it is that Divine Love which moved Him to subject Himself to such humility. 

The Divine Humility and Love we see on display in Bethlehem on that Holy Night long ago continued to be exemplified in our Lord Jesus throughout His salvific pilgrimage to our sinful world.  He did not come seeking honor and fame, but to serve and love God and neighbor completely and perfectly in our place.  He did not come to conquer the world and establish a mighty earthly empire, but to do battle with, and defeat, sin, death, and the devil on our behalf.  He did not come to be served, but to serve.  The One who chose to be born in such low estate lived in poverty throughout His time here, relying upon His Father to provide for His every need.  He had no place to lay His head.  He had no accumulation of material possessions.  There was nothing about His appearance that would draw people to Him.  In short, the Divine Humility we witness at His birth continued throughout His earthly life.

Of course, the ultimate picture of our Lord’s Divine Humility and Love is seen in Jerusalem thirty-some years after His ignoble birth.  We see it when He washes the feet of His disciples.  We see it when He sweats blood while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, submitting to His Father’s will.  We see it when He submits to being arrested.  We see it when He is spit upon, beaten, mocked, and severely flogged.  We see it in His silence before Caiaphas and Pilate.  We see it when He carries His own cross to Golgotha outside the city gates.  We see it when He allows Simon of Cyrene to assist Him in carrying His cross.  We see it when the nails are driven through His hands and feet.  We see it when He hangs on that cruel instrument of torture, gasping for air.  We hear it in the Words He utters from the cross, and we see it when He takes His last breath and dies. 

And it’s all amazing; it’s all something to most definitely marvel over, for this is God Himself, Incarnate in human flesh, Who is born in such low estate, lives in such poverty, and dies such a heinous death.  It becomes all the more amazing (if it’s possible to ponder anything more amazing than God living and dying as a Man) when we consider that He did it all for us—for you, for me.  He humbled Himself and assumed human flesh to live as your substitute; to hunger and thirst as you hunger and thirst; to be tempted as you are tempted; to experience pain and suffering as you experience pain and suffering; to be mocked and suffer injustice as you are mocked and suffer injustice; to even suffer death as you suffer death.  All of it because He loves you with a Divine Love beyond our human comprehension.  All of it to rescue you from the eternity you deserve because of your sins.  All of it to win for you forgiveness, life, and salvation.  All of it because He desires that you spend eternity with Him in perfect peace, comfort, and joy. 

Dearly beloved, as we make our way to Bethlehem to celebrate our Savior’s birth, let us take our cue from the holy angels and ponder the mystery of our Lord’s Incarnation.  Let us follow the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary and treasure this mystery in our hearts, pondering with great wonder and joy the reason our God humbled Himself to be born into this sinful world in our human flesh.  He came to live and die for you, dear friends, each and every one of you.  In Divine Humility and Love, He came to save you by living the life you fail to live and by dying the death you deserve to die for your sins.  This is the true “reason for the season,” the true meaning of Christmas.

But, let us not stop at pondering and treasuring up in our hearts this great mystery, as if this was all just some bygone story to be cherished, remembered, and passed on to others.  This is no legend or fairy tale or epic saga to warm our hearts and lift our spirits as we roast chestnuts around the fire.  This is no “Hallmark Special” to talk about as we sip our eggnog and open presents.  Our Lord lives!  His Divine Humility and Love is still on full display and still as active today as it was two millennia ago, for the same God who assumed human flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary, the same God who lived to serve and love God and neighbor, the same God who allowed Himself to be treated shamefully and put to death, continues to come to us in Divine Humility and Love as we gather in His Name for Divine Service.  It should not surprise us that He makes no flashy appearance in our midst, but instead comes among us humbly and hiddenly, wrapped in the swaddling cloths of His Holy Word and Sacraments.  That’s His way.  And He comes to us in Divine Humility and Love to deliver the forgiveness, life, and salvation He accomplished for us.  This, too, is the meaning of Christmas.

“Marvel now, O heav’n and earth, that the Lord chose such a birth.”  Yes, marvel away at that!  But, marvel, too, that our Lord chooses to continue to meet us in His Church in Divine Humility and Love to deliver to us His Divine Gifts.  Marvel and come, at His gracious invitation, to receive His Gifts and to be filled with His Divine Humility and Love! 

A Holy, Blessed, and Merry Christmas to you all! 

Sacred Music for the Christmas Season

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Children's Christmas Program

We held our Children's Christmas Program this evening and all the kids did a fabulous job sharing the story of our salvation with us.  Special thanks to our Sunday School teachers, Carol, Sharyn, and Annie, for getting them prepared.  Some pics:

Greek Tuesday on the Holy Gospel for Christmas Day - John 1:1-18

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). Not, ". . . and the Word was a god," but, ". . . and the Word was God." Jesus is the Eternal Word of the Father, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. He is of one substance with the Father. God is born on Christmas Day. God. Not a god. Not a created being. God. God lives in our human flesh. God lives as a perfect human being, fulfilling all the demands of the Law in our place. God bears our sins and is our Savior, taking our sins upon Himself and putting them to death by dying on a Cross. God dies. God is placed in a tomb. God rises from the tomb on the third day and appears to His disciples multiple times over the course of forty days. God ascends into heaven in human flesh, bearing the scars of our salvation, to rule over all things. God will come again in great glory on the Last Day.

That's the Gospel. Jesus, the Son of God and Mary's Son, is the "I AM" who spoke to Moses, the Word through Whom all things were made in the beginning, despite the protestations of both ancient and modern Arians. The context in John 1 makes this clear. The rules of grammar make it clear in that section, as Pr. Fisk points out. And, Scripture makes this clear time and time again throughout. Today is the Feast Day of St. Thomas, Apostle. St. Thomas, upon seeing and touching our Resurrected Lord, declares, "My Lord and My God" (John 20:28). St. Paul refers to Jesus as "our great God and Savior" (Titus 2:13). St. Peter does the same (2 Peter 1:1). And, Jesus identifies Himself as God time and time again in the Holy Gospels. The Jews in His day knew exactly what He was saying of Himself. One of the reasons they wanted to kill Him is precisely because they knew that He was claiming to be Yahweh in the flesh, God Incarnate. You can't miss this. It's all over the place.

The irony is that heretics of old and present try to use the first verse of the Holy Gospel according to St. John to assert that Jesus isn't God, but a god, when the very purpose of that verse and all that follows it in that Gospel is to make vividly clear that Jesus is God. Already in St. John's day, there were heretics harassing the Church, claiming that Jesus wasn't God. St. John, inspired by the Holy Spirit, sets them straight. He is very clear. Jesus Is God. It is nothing short of amazing that anyone would try to deny that this is what St. John testifies. But, you know, heretics gonna heretic. That will never change until our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, returns in great glory on the Last Day and the Truth is revealed to all.

Until then, may those of us who have been gifted with the faith to confess the truth about Jesus give thanks, rejoice, and cling to Him as our only source of rescue from sin, death, and the devil. May we ponder in our hearts, with Blessed St Mary, the Great and Mighty Wonder of God being born in our human flesh to bear our sins and be our Savior. May we, with the holy angels, marvel at this glorious mystery. May we, with St. Thomas, declare about Jesus, especially as we receive Him in the Holy Supper, "my Lord and my God!" Amen.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Better Late than Never . . .

It is still Advent, after all . . .

Also, if you have not done so yet, give Pres. Harrison's article in the December issue of The Lutheran Witness a read.

The Evidence Strikes Back

Great video by Pr. Fisk. I've been reminded lately, in various ways, how hypocritical are many who simply dismiss the Bible and the Christian faith without examining the evidence. They are quick to point out how ignorant Christians must be to believe what the Bible says and confess the tenets of the Christian faith. They see this as akin to believing in myths and fairy tales, deriding Christians for being superstitious fools. But, in so doing, they put their own ignorance on full display, for they have not even given the evidence a passing glance and have no clue what they're saying. In reality, then, they are guilty of their own accusations against Christians, for they have blindly put their faith in the myths and fairy tales of men, who foolishly approach the Bible and the Christian faith with a whole boat-load of self-designated presuppositions and draw conclusions upon those presuppositions, which are in no way, shape, or form rooted in reality. Oh well. Such is life in this dead and dying world.