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The Mysteries Hidden in the Gospel of Christmas Eve, Luke 2:1-14

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Preached rightly, the Gospel does not change, but is timeless. 486 years later the Word preached should still apply to us today, otherwise it is not the Gospel of God. Below are some excerpts of a sermon preached by Martin Luther on Christmas Eve 1525. Luther addresses the Gospel hidden in the Christmas story, in the shepherds, the manger, the proclamation of Christ to the World from heaven itself. He notes that Christ must be preached in every proclamation of the Gospel — Christ for YOU and for ME, Christ for SINNERS. Christ must become ours and we His before we can take those steps forward in service to our neighbor to do any good work. And no work is good either if it does not benefit my neighbor. This is still the work of Christ, my work that is. For just as Christ serves me, so I serve my neighbor in the same way Christ does, giving everything in service to my neighbor.

May the peace, love, and joy of the Christmas season be yours, in Christ for YOU!

The Mysteries Hidden in the Gospel of Christmas Eve, Luke 2:1-14
Excerpts from the 1525 Christmas Eve Sermon of Martin Luther

Faith – What is to be Believed
Christ For YOU
The first matter is the faith which is truly to be perceived in all the words of God. This faith does not merely consist in believing that this story is true, as it is written. For that does not avail anything, because everyone, even the damned, believe that. Concerning faith, Scripture and God’s word do not teach that it is a natural work, without grace. Rather the faith that is the right one, rich in grace, demanded by God’s word and deed, is that you firmly believe Christ is born for you and that his birth is yours, and come to pass for your benefit. For the Gospel teaches that Christ was born for our sake and that he did everything and suffered all things for our sake, just as the angel says here: “I announce to you a great joy which will come to all people; for to you is born this day a Savior who is Christ the Lord” [Luke 2:10–11]. From these words you see clearly that he was born for us.

He does not simply say: “Christ is born,” but: “for you is he born.” Again, he does not say: “I announce a joy,” but: “to you do I announce a great joy.” Again, this joy will not remain in Christ, but is for all people. A damned or a wicked man does not have this faith, nor can he have it. For the right foundation of all salvation which unites Christ and the believing heart in this manner is that everything they have individually becomes something they hold in common. What is it that they have?

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Luther on Procreation and the Word

“What, then, is the reason for this remarkable procreation? The hen lays an egg; this she keeps warm while a living body comes into being in the egg, which the mother later on hatches. The philosophers advance the reason that these events take place through the working of the sun and her belly. I grant this. But the theologians say, far more reliably, that these events take place through the working of the Word, because it is said here: “He blessed them and said: ‘Increase and multiply.’ ” This Word is present in the very body of the hen and in all living creatures; the heat with which the hen keeps her eggs warm is the result of the divine Word, because if it were without the Word, the heat would be useless and without effect.” Luther’s Works, Vol. 1, Lectures on Genesis, Ch. 1:22. http://biblia.com/books/lw01/offset/164124 via the Logos Bible Android app.

The Feast of St. Mary, the Mother of our Lord Christ

Mother’s day is usually celebrated the second Sunday in May.  Today, however, the church commemorates the ultimate Mother, St. Mary, the Mother of Our Lord Christ.  Mary has always had a special place in the hearts church members throughout the centuries.  Whether she is venerated as remaining ever the virgin through an “Immaculate Conception,” or thought to have appeared at Lourdes or in various other times and places, or whether she is thought to be the “Queen of Heaven,” Mary remains Theotokos, the God-bearer.  She was at the center of one of the greatest Christological crises in the history of the church.  But no one can diminish the fact that she is the most blessed among women.   And Mary never claimed anything more for herself, according to Scripture.  She is mentioned just a handful of times in the Gospels in connection with the Birth of Christ, the Flight into Egypt, the Passover in the Temple, Jesus’ death, to name a few.  Tradition holds that she followed John to Ephesus where she died.  She is truly the things legends are made of for some say that she even was assumed bodily into heaven like Elijah, or Enoch.  Yet Scripture does not bear witness to this speculation.  And indeed, much of what we have about Mary in the traditions of the church are based on speculation and private revelation, like those matters noted above.

What we do have revealed in Holy Scripture, is the portrait of a true, earthly mother who brought her son, the God-man into this world, and watched Him leave it, hanging on a dreadful, bloody Cross.  We are shown an example of true faith, faith that is bestowed upon us only by the Holy Spirit, in accepting the gift of bearing the salvation of the world inside of her, while secretly carrying in her heart her entire life with her Son the knowledge, the aching suspicion that, if the prophecies were true, if the sacrifices pointed to the Lamb of God, she held Him in her arms, and she would watch Him leave this world and this life.  A blessing and a curse.  Gospel and Law.

The Hail Mary

Many things have been written about Mary.  The nicest come from Scripture. The Hail Mary, for example,as it is commonly known, is a prayer that developed over time in the church.  It is taken from the Angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary, as he announced to her the favor that God chose to bestow upon her to bear His Son into this world (Luke 1:28).  The second part of the prayer is taken from the greeting Mary received from her cousin Elizabeth when her yet unborn child leapt in her womb in the presence of Mary and his God (Luke 1:42).  These parts came into common use in the church by about 1050 AD according to the Catholic Encyclopedia.  It was used as a salutation, greeting, or expression of honor to Mary, but not as a prayer. Read the rest of this entry

Reflections on the Proclamation of the Gospel and the Reformation

The Reformation of the Church, ignited in 1517 by Martin Luther’s posting of the Theses on Indulgences, is and always has been about the proclamation of the pure Gospel as set forth in sacred Scripture.  The “Treasury of Daily Prayer,” from Concordia Publishing House had as part of the readings for today a paragraph from Martin Luther’s sermon on John 1:29 – Behold the Lamb of God.  The pure Gospel, as Lutherans and orthodox Christendom proclaims it – we have strayed from time to time from this proclamation – is and always has been Christ and Him crucified for our sins and raised for our justification.  It is not an intellectual concept that can be grasped by man with his own faculties.  Instead it is something that can only be received by faith, for faith, through faith.  For Christ draws us into His story of the cross.  His story becomes our story.  His life, our life.  His death, our death.  His resurrection, ours too.  His freedom, our freedom.  For if the Son makes you free, you are free indeed.  It is our eternal hope, and a promise to which must cling.  It is Christ Himself.

I give thanks to God for the faithful who have gone before us to pave the way for the freedom we have in Christ.  He gives His saints the courage to stand before kings and princes, in the face of great persecution to bear witness to the hope we have in Christ.  I give thanks to God that He used Martin Luther “to hatch the egg that Erasmus laid,” and I pray that you do too.  If you have not read any of Luther’s sermons, you should.  Do not form your opinions of Lutherans on any crass opinions you have heard about Luther’s physical infirmities, or other fantastic insights into his psyche.  Instead, read what he has to say for he points to Christ.

In the Sermon on John 1:29, Luther reflects on John’s proclamation of the Christ who approached the river Jordan to be baptized:  “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  Here Luther gives the Gospel, the pure Gospel proclamation of Christ:

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).

Be “Authentically Christian”

The Pope’s Remarks at the Augustinian Cloister in Erfurt | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

Paul McCain over at Cyberbrethren posted Pope Benedict’s remarks at The Augustinian Cloister where Martin Luther became and served as an Augustinian monk.  The Pope has a keen eye for Lutheran Theology, and, as some of the comments to McCain’s post suggests, BXVI knows our theology better than a lot of Lutherans out there.  Benedict observes that Christianity as we know it is changing dramatically.  Despite the fallenness of this world, the sin and depravity, even among Christians the primary question is no longer “How do I receive the grace of God?”  And yet, as it was for Luther, this question needs to be the question of our time:

The question: what is God’s position towards me, where do I stand before God? – this burning question of Martin Luther must once more, doubtless in a new form, become our question too. In my view, this is the first summons we should attend to in our encounter with Martin Luther.

Another important point: God, the one God, creator of heaven and earth, is no mere philosophical hypothesis regarding the origins of the universe. This God has a face, and he has spoken to us. He became one of us in the man Jesus Christ – who is both true God and true man. Luther’s thinking, his whole spirituality, was thoroughly Christocentric: “What promotes Christ’s cause” was for Luther the decisive hermeneutical criterion for the exegesis of sacred Scripture. This presupposes, however, that Christ is at the heart of our spirituality and that love for him, living in communion with him, is what guides our life.

Christocentric means Christ centered.  Martin Luther, and orthodox Lutherans that follow his example, preach the cross — Christ and Him crucified for our sins and raised for our justification and the redemption of the world.  It is clinging to the cross and, as Paul teaches, seeking to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified.  It is living your life in the shadow of death under the cross with the present reality of serving in the kingdom of God and His Christ as a son or daughter, bought with that life giving blood.  Being Christ centered means not abandoning the cross so as not to offend so-called seekers or visitors.  It means not hiding who you are so as not to turn people away.  For if we do, we abandon the very source of the Grace of God and the life giving power of the blood of our Savior.  And yet every ounce of our being as Christians should be dedicated to knowing Christ and Him crucified so that He can live and accomplish His saving work through us as His hands and feet in this fallen world.  Jesus will accomplish His work with or without me, and in spite of me and any obstacle I throw in the way.

Pope Benedict observes that Christ and His cause is the source of what we have in common as Christians.  He is the beginning and end of our faith and heritage.  This common witness to Christ is what has enabled Christians across denominational lines to make ecumenical progress toward unity.  Sadly, however, the impetus to water down Christianity, to remove the moorings of Christian denominations from the Body of Christ as grounded in time and space of this reality in which we live, the willingness to compromise doctrine in order to achieve so-called unity risks any ecumenical progress accomplished to date:

The geography of Christianity has changed dramatically in recent times, and is in the process of changing further. Faced with a new form of Christianity, which is spreading with overpowering missionary dynamism, sometimes in frightening ways, the mainstream Christian denominations often seem at a loss. This is a form of Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability. This worldwide phenomenon poses a question to us all: what is this new form of Christianity saying to us, for better and for worse? In any event, it raises afresh the question about what has enduring validity and what can or must be changed – the question of our fundamental faith choice.

The second challenge to worldwide Christianity of which I wish to speak is more profound and in our country more controversial: the secularized context of the world in which we Christians today have to live and bear witness to our faith. God is increasingly being driven out of our society, and the history of revelation that Scripture recounts to us seems locked into an ever more remote past. Are we to yield to the pressure of secularization, and become modern by watering down the faith? Naturally faith today has to be thought out afresh, and above all lived afresh, so that it is suited to the present day. Yet it is not by watering the faith down, but by living it today in its fullness that we achieve this. This is a key ecumenical task. Moreover, we should help one another to develop a deeper and more lively faith. It is not strategy that saves us and saves Christianity, but faith – thought out and lived afresh; through such faith, Christ enters this world of ours, and with him, the living God. As the martyrs of the Nazi era brought us together and prompted the first great ecumenical opening, so today, faith that is lived from deep within amid a secularized world is the most powerful ecumenical force that brings us together, guiding us towards unity in the one Lord.

The task for Christians in any age of this world, as Benedict points out, is always to bring the person and work of Christ into our present reality.  Christ is a reality who is present and active in this world.  He is not merely an idea from a book.  Nor is He simply a historical fact or a mythical figure.  No person, idea, or thing has made such an enduring impression on this world and its inhabitants — ever!  God in the flesh made manifest for us to restore this fallen world and fallen humanity to a right relationship with Him — the Triune God.  Christ entered this world to bring truth and certainty to man, to bring light to the darkness brought on by our doubt and sin.   And yet we deny Christ when we say that to be a Christian is to know nothing, that all each of us has are questions, questions that lead us each, individually, to seek and find our own way.  Claiming to be wise, we become fools.  Even in the church.  Benedict’s point here seems to be that the roots of faith must be laid deep, nourished and fed so that we live it out to its fullest.  Put another way, we are so deeply rooted and steeped in the faith handed down through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the prophets, Jesus, and the Apostles, that it makes us who we are called to be — carriers of Christ in this world.  Lights shining in the darkness, pointing to the cross.

So what is the Question of our time?  Are we concerned with what God’s position is toward us individually?  Or are we more concerned with standing before Him on our own two feet to experience something?  Is the question of our time here and now how can we make Christianity be “authentic” or “relevant” in the culture of today?  Or is the question, “What does Christ mean to take up your cross and follow me?”  What does it mean to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified?  Who is Jesus?  My buddy?  My friend?  My coach?    In our zeal for being relevant, do we sacrifice the reality of who Christ is and what He did in the past and accomplishes now in the present through His disciples?  I think it is a call to be “authentically Christian” or  really be a Christian — be who Christ called you and me to be.

Christ has Come — The Word Made Flesh — Greeted First by the Shepherds

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Lessons from the Shepherds on the Beginning of the Life of a Christian

On this Christmas Day we bring back into the present, the incarnation of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  He was first greeted by the lowly shepherds who heard the Word of God proclaimed to them by angels.  They heralded this birth an a majestic display of God’s glory in the deep of night, as the shepherds watched over their flocks on the cold Judean hillsides surrounding Bethlehem.  Martin Luther wrote about the beginning of the Christian life that these humble, lowly shepherds exemplified in his Kirchepostils, Church Postils, written during his exile in the Wartburg Castle between 1521 and 1522.  From them, we learn how God’s Word works on us, and then in and through us.  There is power in the Word of God, as it goes forth and does its mighty work.  It is this Word that produces fruit, and works signs and wonders.  The text of the following sermon from Dr. Luther , The Early Sermon for Christmas Day on the Gospel of Luke 2:[15-20] is taken from Luther’s Works, Vol. 52: Sermons II, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther’s Works, 52:iii-40 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1974).

THE GOSPEL FOR THE EARLY CHRISTMAS SERVICE, LUKE 2[:15–20]

This Gospel can be understood quite easily from the interpretation of the preceding one; for it contains an example and carrying out of the teaching which is contained in the previous lesson in that the shepherds did and found what the angels had told them. So the content of the present lesson deals with the consequences and fruits of the word of God and the signs by which we recognize whether the word of God is in us and has been effective.

The first and chief item is faith. If these shepherds had not believed the angel, they would not have gone to Bethlehem nor would they have done any of the things which are related of them in the shepherds.   Continue Reading

The Courage of Christ

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This past Sunday we remembered the Reformation, triggered by Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg.  At certain times in history, God has intervened in tremendous ways to accomplish His purposes on earth.  In no way is this more clearly demonstrated to us than in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  For in Him, God became man.  He lived with us, walked with us, talked with us.  In some ways God became our friend in and through Christ.  But from what we have seen He was much more than a friend.  Christ is the LEADER — there was none other like Him before, and none have been like Him since.  He is COMPASSIONATE.  Always taking time to speak with those around Him;  healing the sick, the lame, and the blind.  He is SELFLESS SERVANT.  Always concerned with the well-being of His flock, our Lord takes the time to prepare a meal.  He feeds His children with the bread of life.  None go away hungry.  All are satisfied.  And the baskets that are collected are overflowing with the abundant blessings He bestows on His people.  Christ is the TEACHER of TRUTH.  Never missing a moment to teach, Jesus enters the synagogues to read and expound upon Scripture.  Each moment with His disciples is a moment in which He is constantly molding and shaping their faith.  Time and time again, people walk away from Jesus, marveling at His teaching.  No matter how hard they tried, His enemies could not argue with His doctrine.  He taught what was unpopular, and challenged his people’s notions of love, mercy, compassion, and ethics.  No one was spared, not even His family or His closest disciples.  Jesus is COURAGE.  In the face of fierce opposition from the ruling priests, the scribes, the pharisees, and the supporters of Herod, Christ took His Gospel, the Gospel of God, directly to all people — to Jews, pharisees, tax collectors, Samaritans, and to Gentiles.  He took the Gospel into the heart of Israel, the Temple, to cleanse us and to make us holy.  We sought ways to kill Him, to put out the fire of the Gospel.  Jesus did not stop preaching, teaching, and healing.  The devil sought to tempt him.  He sent demons to confront Christ.  Yet our Savior did not stop preaching, teaching, and healing.  Jesus continued to do that which He had been sent to do by the Father.  He forgave sins.  He became angry and drove the moneychangers out of the Temple.  He ate in the homes of tax collectors.  He spoke with women.  In public.  He touched lepers, and was touched by unclean women.  All of these things Jesus did until the very end.  Until He was arrested.  Betrayed.  Beaten.  Tried and convicted.  Beaten again.  And then nailed to a tree, to die the death of a common criminal.  And while all these things happened, Jesus continued to serve us.  Taking the time to arrange for a room to meet with His disciples one last time.  A meal was prepared and He fed His disciples in a way that would change our lives forever.  For it was their that Christ gifted to us forgiveness and life which He sealed with His death.

“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.” (Luther’s Works. Weimar Edition. Briefwechsel [Correspondence], vol. 3, pp. 81f.).  This statement speaks of COURAGE.  And yet, as Dr. Luther points out, we flinch, we blink, we fold, and like the disciples we turn tail and run.  Yet, at the appointed time, Christ remained obedient to the Will of the Father which meant His own death.  I imagine that Lucifer stood in the courts of Heaven at the time of Christ’s trial, and conviction, accusing Him of not being worthy to sit at the right hand of God.  See Jesus was just like us — those sinful creatures.  Despicable.  So much so that he was betrayed for the price of a slave.  The Son of God convicted as a common criminal.  Unable to make His own defense.  He shows His weakness, does the Savior, by speaking the truth to the end.  He cannot even convince the chosen people of God that He is the Son of God!  Seeking all the while, Lucifer does, to unseat Christ, and usurp the throne of God.  In the face of such audacity, Jesus did not flinch.  He did not blink.  He did not back down.  His weakness, is our strength.  His death, our life.  His faith He gives to us.  And in His death, are we made right before God.  Satan is cast down from Heaven and bound in chains.  This is a cosmic story, of which we get a glimpse as Chapter 14 of Mark unfolds for us.

It is the Courage of Christ that we need now in this world.

Fifteen Minutes That Changed the World: Thoughts on the Festival of the Reformation, October 31

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From Paul T. McCain over at Cyberbrethren.com. The following is a reprint of an article that he wrote a few years ago on Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church, an act which change the very course of history, and shook western civilization from top to bottom.  From the very beginning, Luther sought a forum in which to debate and discuss the teaching and practice of the church on penance and indulgences.  Time and again he was refused.  Yet the Word of God would not be contained.  It continued to work when and where He willed, and the course of civilization and the life of the church was changed forever.  For good or ill, we are the heirs of the Reformation.  We bear the responsibility and the charge for carrying forward the Gospel of salvation by Grace through Faith for the sake of Christ alone to the next generation.  Lord make us worthy to stand with those who have gone before us.  Fifteen Minutes That Changed the World: Thoughts on the Festival of the Reformation, October 31.