Christmas Eve signals the change in season in the church from Advent to Christmas. It begins Christmas Eve with a vigil watching and waiting for the morn of Christmas. The anticipation ends with the Christ Mass and the great Feast Day hailing the arrival of the King of Kings. What better way to usher in this new season than with sacred music of praise and worship, of reverence and awe, of wonder and majesty. On Christmas Eve, you can listen to this sacred music at LutheranPublicRadio.org. Click the link and bookmark it. For more information, watch the video from Issues, Etc. below.
Doubting Thomas. He was an apostle of Jesus. All four Gospels mention him as one. He was not present that first night Jesus appeared to the disciples in the locked room. He did not believe his brothers. He demanded proof that Jesus was alive, that He did appear to them. For their eyewitness testimony was not enough for him. He needed to see for himself, touch the wounds. Only then would he believe.
On the night of Jesus’ death, Thomas Jesus a question that evoked one of the most memorable sayings of our Lord. Jesus had just finished washing the feet of His disciples and revealed that one of the twelve would betray Him to His death. Peter, ever the bold and brash jumped into the thick of it, telling our Lord that he would fight for Him to the death. Jesus brought Peter back to reality and told him that he would not only not fight to the death for Him, but that he would deny that he knew the Lord of Life three times before the rooster crowed in the morning. Jesus then began to comfort His disciples, telling them He was going to His Father’s house to prepare rooms for them. and that they knew the way to where He was going. To this, Thomas said, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus replied, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes unto the Father unless He comes through Me.” In these two short sentences, Jesus staked His claim to be the salvation of the world. There is no other name in heaven and on earth by which we may be saved. “Show us the Father,” Phillip exclaimed. Jesus must have been exasperated at their inability to comprehend and perceive what He was plainly telling them, and He tells Phillip, “Just believe my words! Or if you do not believe them, at least believe based on the evidence of the miracles the Father has done through Me!” Faith. Christ calls us to be under His Word, to be subject to it. He said it, BELIEVE it. It is true.
What the scene must have been like, when Christ appeared again to the apostles, again behind closed doors. This time Thomas is present. Knowing Thomas’ doubts, Jesus goes directly to Him and bids Thomas to place his hands in His side, in the wounds of His hands. “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.
“You have believed because you have seen. Blessed are those who believe who have not seen.” This is the reality of the cross. Thomas came face to face with the wounds and scars borne by Christ. It brought to mind all the words of Jesus, the claims He made to be God in the flesh. And here, in his presence, stood the risen Lord of the Light, shining a light on the darkened mind and sight of His apostles. That light, for that moment, opened the eyes of faith in Thomas. It illumined his path to India, the ends of the earth where he followed the Way of Christ. That Way always, always is to the Cross for us. Never around it, or through it. We do not get to pick it up and lay it down. We get to carry that Cross, the one that meets us at the beginning of our walk, just as Christ did for Thomas. And in the darkest day of the year, a time of doubt and despair for many, we call upon the light of the Morning Star to shine in this world as He did for Thomas.
God in His infinite Wisdom leaves the real work of salvation, conversion, and otherwise leading people to Christ to the Holy Spirit who brings people to Christ so that He can mark them, raise them, and present them to the Father. He exercises all power and authority in the church for it is He who possesses it (Matt. 28:16-20), not I and not you. If it were up to me and me alone to be responsible for the conversion of another person, for leading another person out of the wilderness and into the promised land, I would most certainly leave people in the wilderness. Moses did. He did not lead Israel across the Jordan, and he is most certainly greater than I. No, it was and is Christ our Lord and Savior who led His children into the promised land and still leads His children out of the wilderness. My work falls short, is never completed. Yet Jesus is the original author of my faith, and finisher of it both in belief and deed. Thanks be to God that it is so, that He continues His mission, the work that the Father sent Him into this world to do! Because Jesus was, is, and continues to be active in this world, we can ask, rhetorically with Luther, “Who can ever thank God enough for His mercy?”
May you ever cherish and treasure this thought. Christ is made a servant of sin, yea, a bearer of sin, and the lowliest and most despised person. He destroys all sin by Himself and says: “I came not to be served but to serve” (Matt. 20:28). There is no greater bondage than that of sin; and there is no greater service than that displayed by the Son of God, who becomes the servant of all, no matter how poor, wretched, or despised they may be, and bears their sins. It would be spectacular and amazing, prompting all the world to open ears and eyes, mouth and nose in uncomprehending wonderment, if some king’s son were to appear in a beggar’s home to nurse him in his illness, wash off his filth, and do everything else the beggar would have to do. Would this not be profound humility? Any spectator or any beneficiary of this honor would feel impelled to admit that he had seen or experienced something unusual and extraordinary, something magnificent. But what is a king or an emperor compared with the Son of God? Furthermore, what is a beggar’s filth or stench compared with the filth of sin which is ours by nature, stinking a hundred thousand times worse and looking infinitely more repulsive to God than any foul matter found in a hospital? And yet the love of the Son of God for us is of such magnitude that the greater the filth and stench of our sins, the more He befriends us, the more He cleanses us, relieving us of all our misery and of the burden of all our sins and placing them upon His own back. All the holiness of the monks stinks in comparison with this service of Christ, the fact that the beloved Lamb, the great Man, yes, the Son of the Exalted Majesty, descends from heaven to serve me.
Such benefactions of God might well provoke us to love and to laud God and to celebrate this service in song and sermon and speech. It should also induce us to die willingly and to remain cheerful in all suffering. For how amazing it is that the Son of God becomes my servant, that He humbles Himself so, that He cumbers Himself with my misery and sin, yes, with the sin and the death of the entire world! He says to me: “You are no longer a sinner, but I am. I am your substitute. You have not sinned, but I have. The entire world is in sin. However, you are not in sin; but I am. All your sins are to rest on Me and not on you.” No one can comprehend this. In yonder life our eyes will feast forever on this love of God. And who would not gladly die for Christ’s sake? The Son of Man performs the basest and filthiest work. He does not don some beggar’s torn garment or old trousers, nor does He wash us as a mother washes a child; but He bears our sin, death, and hell, our misery of body and soul. Whenever the devil declares: “You are a sinner!” Christ interposes: “I will reverse the order; I will be a sinner, and you are to go scotfree.” Who can thank our God enough for this mercy?”
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 22 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (Jn 1:29). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House (1999).
The Orthodox really know how to dress up a church. The Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow is a tribute to persevering in the faith and how God preserves His church throughout time. This cathedral was recently restored to the 360 degree beauty you see in the panoramic photos at the website linked here: http://www.360pano.eu/xxc/ Thanks to Pr. Peters’ for the post at Pastoral Meanderings for posting this one.
HT to Saint Austin Review:the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. It’s a spectacular presentation that moves in a 360 degree perspective around this holy space, in full color.The original cathedral was blown up by the Bolsheviks. Stalin planned to erect the world’s tallest building on the site, and a statue of Lenin was supposed to perch on the top of it. But difficulties with water seepage and other problems prevented the monstrosity from ever being completed.